My Link to the Past: Demo Discs.

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A little different this month, as it’s all about the demo discs from magazines. Magazines in recent years have seen a downturn due to the rise of tablets, iPads especially.

There are two magazines that I always used to look out for, which are still in circulation today. GamesMaster and Official Playstation Magazine (OPM). Without them, I would have no idea about the new games and sequels being released for the coming months. There wasn’t a PC with internet in the household until the turn of the century, and so these were what I solely depended on.

Whereas one can simply download a trial from the Xbox Store or Sony’s Playstation Network right from their console, back then you had to go to a shop and look for the magazine if it was in stock there.

Before the magazines though, you’d be greeted with a selection of playable demos when you first bought a Playstation. This was called ‘Demo 1’.

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Here, you could not only play the best selling games of that moment in time, but you could also view two tech demos that would demonstrate the power of the console.

One was a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the other was a Manta Ray.

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It was a strange feeling to come back to these two demos after so many years. Even though this was shown when the Playstation was first shown in 1994, the graphics of the T-Rex wouldn’t be shown in a commercial game until 1999 with ‘Dino Crisis’, by then the developers knew exactly how to use the console’s graphics to the best it could be.

There were other demos such as ‘Destruction Derby’ and ‘Descent’, while videos showed ‘Tomb Raider’ and ‘Tekken’ in their compressed quality glory.

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As I said in the Tekken 2 & 3 articles, they were how I managed to first catch a glimpse of how they’d play, with their two ‘beginner’ characters to select and no music.

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Looking back, it was a great idea from Sony to have these packaged with the console, as before this with the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo, there weren’t any ‘demo cartridges’ attached to any magazines, and so it gave new owners a chance to see what was coming up and give them something else to play if they only received one game with the console.

Around this time, the ‘Official Playstation Magazine’ was also being released monthly, and by the time I had my Playstation in July of 1997, I had a couple of magazines to read to see what was being released for the Christmas period.

With these two magazines, I’d usually read GamesMaster for the everything coming up, while the OPM would mainly be for the demo that would be packaged alongside it to see if the reviews proved its worth towards the game in question.

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When you’d get home and finish looking at the front cover to see what is ‘playable’ or what is just a running video, you’d place it into your Playstation and be greeted with the following music:

Straight away it gives off that ‘techno’ vibe with a ever changing background that would go well with The Beatles’ ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, that was ever so present in the mid to late nineties.Screenshot 2014-06-15 18.55.19

I received my first demo which had ‘Actua Soccer 2’ and a unique game called ‘Rosco McQueen, which had you fighting against robots and fires in a high rise building. Another demo not long after, would include ‘Resident Evil 2’ and ‘Gex’, which gave me a further insight as to how other fun games in different genres were coming to the forefront.

There would usually be instances of an earlier version of a level that would be released, or there would be a time limit to how much you could play, which the demo of ‘Resident Evil 2’ had a timer of only ten minutes at the start of the game.

This was how I came across such classics like ‘Metal Gear Solid’, which I remember not being overly hyped until its release to rave reviews in 1998. Others such as ‘Soul Reaver’ and ‘Wild 9’ were introduced to me, and it showed that it’s one situation to read about a new game. But when you can sit down and play a sampler of it, it can usually change your perspective of it instantly.

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There were also demos which showed a game in an earlier state. Tomb Raider III is a great example of this.

In the ‘Tomb Raider III’ demo, it offered an earlier state of a level to what was in the final version of ‘Area 51’.

Due to not being in Lincoln at the time of writing the ‘Beta’ article, it wasn’t included, but now that I’ve returned, I managed to dig it out and load it into the PS3.

It was in ‘Area 51’, but a mix of the last two levels of Nevada, the beginning especially. Once you swam under a gate and escaped the compound, which is closed off in the final version, the demo ends. Other left out attributes was the appearance of items showing once you picked them up, something I didn’t like about TR 3 in my write up. So to know that it was once there in an early version and then taken out, is puzzling. All the sounds are also from TR 2, such as the pistols and the inventory ring.

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Of course, if you want to exit a trial of a game for the modern consoles, you only need to press the ‘PS’ or ‘Xbox’ button, and you can go back to the home screen.

As the original Playstation didn’t have this, you would be presented with the following options if the game was unable to simply let you press ‘Select’ at anytime:

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Sometimes I remember that either of these wouldn’t work at times, and could just freeze the demo. The ‘Soul Reaver’ demo is a haven of unfinished and deleted assets, of which can be accessed by hacking it, but it can easily crash, such as in this situation when you tried to exit the demo.

To note, there were also full games in the earlier demo disks of the magazine, which would be bracketed with ‘Net Yaroze’.

These would be games made by enthusiasts, who would develop games on a specially built Playstation, called the ‘Net Yaroze’.

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It was an expensive piece of kit, and a steep learning curve, but there were stories of people being employed by well known game companies for their efforts on these machines. The full games were usually RPG’s and platformers. One I do remember, was a time travelling snail, where you had to complete levels using multiple versions of yourself by playing as the character repeatedly to pass through puzzles and other obstacles.

With the advent of the Playstation 2 and PS3, demo disks were still present, but not as needed as before, and was essentially annihilated when you could download them from the PSN Store.

OPM and GamesMaster are still in circulation as of today, Gamesmaster impressively so, as it’s not an official byproduct of Sony.

Of course, you can subscribe to a magazine on an iPad and have it downloaded on the day its released, but it’s no comparison to having it delivered and flicking through the pages to see what demos and previews await.

The demos are a great reminder of the nineties and how awareness was brought around, and the fact that you could swap them with friends to try out the games were a great memory. Coming back to these showed of how a front cover could attract you to the game in question and make you more excited for what a sequel to your favourite game may offer.

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Nowadays beta releases or demoes are advertised as an ‘early access’ feature, such as what Steam offers, or how Microsoft are advertising a ‘Beta Access’ with their upcoming Halo 5 Multiplayer. They’ve now also become a product that companies offer to entice new players to new games with, which is a shame in a way, but also good for another, as you can give valuable feedback to improve the game. 22 Cans’ ‘Godus’ is a great example of this, as its had features added and removed due to feedback from its ‘Early Access’ release on Steam.

That time may have now passed, but with regards to smartphones and tablets which are displaying great games only recently, along with great remasters of classics, the appeal of a digital demo-book with a selection of games similar to OPM could be something worth looking into.

That sense of discovery may yet come back in a great and exciting way.

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Daryl Baxter.
@darylbaxter

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