The ’90s were a pivotal time in gaming. Compared to the ’80s, which experienced a crash in video game interest at the start, it seemed like the interest in video games only continued to rise throughout the entire decade. Systems like the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, N64, and PlayStation created scores of devoted new fans and sparked the beginning of console wars that rage on even today, though the players are different than they once were.
Still, while much is similar to what it was then, there’s a ton of things that have changed. Some things that were crucially important are now relics of the past. So whether you’re a 90’s kid aching for simpler times, or simply curious about what your older relatives went through as a gamer, this list is for you.
10 GENESIS DOES WHAT NINTENDON'T
When Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, it sent a shockwave through the world of gaming, as video games experienced a crash in North America during 1983. But Nintendo’s massive success inspired other companies to do the same thing, resulting in a rivalry between Nintendo and SEGA, which by the ’90s that had grown rather heated.
As part of SEGA’s marketing campaign for their new console, the Sega Genesis, they came up with a so-bad-its-good slogan: Genesis Does What Nintendon’t, and used it to push both their exclusive games as well as titles they believed looked better on their console than on the SNES.
9 RENTING GAMES
Many 90’s gamers were people in their late teens or early 20’s and many more were children. In either case, few had money to afford to buy games (which in the nineties could cost anything from $40 to $90) regularly.
These days, players can simply wait for the cost of a game to drop down to $20 or less. But when Wal-Mart was the only place players could buy games, with stock rotated out quickly for new titles, they had to turn some place else. Enter video rental places, which offered the chance to rent games for reasonable prices.
8 SEGA CHANNEL
Before SEGA became known as the weird company that only makes mediocre Sonic games and amazing Yakuza titles, they were a video game hardware company, the same as Sony and Nintendo. Their biggest problem wasn’t that they were bad with games, but that they were simply way too ambitious and far ahead of their time.
They were constantly introducing ideas that would become common place in the future, but at the time were simply not feasible on a wide scale. The SEGA Channel was one such idea, where users could pay to have access to fifty different SEGA Genesis games and demos for upcoming titles. The problem was not nearly enough people had proper broadband internet, and the costs on people’s phones and cable bills were usually outrageous.
7 MULTIPLE DISCS
There’s a good chance this entry popped up and owners of Red Dead Redemption 2 thought to themselves, “we still have multiple disc games today”. But while Rockstar’s latest cowboy simulator does come with two discs, one’s an installation while the other is what players will actually play the game with.
In the ’90s, games grew so large because of all the additional Full Motion Videos taking up so much space that certain games required multiple discs, all of which were necessary to enjoy the game. RPG fans would reach a certain point in the game and be asked to insert the latest disc to continue their adventures.
6 TIP LINES
Long before websites posted guides for games, there were GameFAQs. Before that, there was the strategy guide. Before that, there were tips and tricks in gaming magazines. And just slightly before that, there were tip lines.
These lines were numbers which gamers could call when they were stuck on a particular boss or stage to get hints to allow them to progress. Companies hired people to play and beat games, keeping solutions to common problems in giant books. These calls could become very expensive, as simply a minute worth of time usually ran around $2. As usual, life before the internet was needlessly frustrating.
5 MEMORY CARDS
In today’s era, gamers are not only able to save their game to their hard drive whenever they want, but they’re also able to save to the cloud and an external hard drive. It’s more unlikely than ever that someone will lose their place. But in the ’90s, players had to pony up for memory cards to have a place to store their data, as discs couldn’t be rewritten too.
Though the PlayStation 2 would offer players the opportunity to buy a single, 8MB memory card, the 90’s PlayStation was much more restrictive. They offered fifteen blocks of space, with games taking anywhere from 1 to 3 blocks for a single save. For more serious gamers, this meant buying and keeping track of multiple memory cards.
4 DEMO DISCS
These days, developers don’t really have demos. Instead, they release betas that last for a few days to a couple of weeks at best, offering access for those of us willing to pre-order their games. But in the late ’90s (and on into the early 2000s), developers got the excitement up for their games in a different way.
They would partner up with then-popular video game magazines to release a portion of their game on demo discs. Players would pay extra for the magazines and get to play through a level of an upcoming game. Given how much extra those magazines cost...a pre-order that can be canceled and refunded might not be so bad.
3 FLIPPING THE PLAYSTATION UPSIDE DOWN
This is a weird one. When the original PlayStation released in the mid-’90s, Sony was using some pretty experimental technology. Sure, CDs had been around for years, but we weren’t used to using them for visual media at the time. So in earlier models, issues with construction caused the laser reader to stop being aligned in a way that it could read the CDs.
Though later models would correct the issue, people owning those early models discovered a fix that involved flipping the PlayStation upside down to allow the disc to be read as normal. This is in sharp contrast to the current model, where flipping the PS4 upside down has a strong chance of ruining the system.
2 BLOWING IN THE CARTRIDGE
During the early era of console gaming, games were delivered in a physical based media known as cartridges, which were inserted into the console. Younger gamers may have spotted a collection of these in a dusty box in their older brother or sister’s rooms. But what they missed was that occasionally the connection for the game would sometimes be faulty, resulting in an error and the game not starting.
Though we were frequently told not to by Nintendo themselves, the way 90’s gamers fixed this was by blowing in the cartridge in the hopes of “cleaning” it of any dust and debris. In reality, this tended to only make moisture build up inside the cartridge, making it less likely to work in the future.
1 RF SWITCH
Long before the days of HDMI cables and smart televisions but well into the days of console gaming, gamers needed a method to hook their consoles up to their televisions to play games on. One of the earliest ways they had was RF switches.
They routed the signal output by the console into the television display. To use these, it often required switching over to a specific channel—generally either channel 2 or 3. For those who didn’t know what they were doing, switching back from cable was a matter of swapping between the RF switch and the cable output, but switching frequently often resulted in televisions being turned permanently black and white. Whoops.