The third entry in the “From Bedrooms to Billions” series of documentaries is about to be publically released, and we couldn’t wait to take a look at “The PlayStation Revolution”. Here’s what we thought and why this is another excellent expose of videogame history.
The first film in the Bedrooms to Billions series focused on the early videogames and specifically the rise of the UK games industry, with a firm focus on small (or even solo) developers creating games using home computers like the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and BBC Micro. Their impact on the videogaming landscape still echoes into today, and the second film was a logical next step for the series as it explored the Commodora Amiga and its effect on the videogame scene in the second half of the eighties and early nineties.
Now, for the first time, filmmakers Anthony and Nicola Caulfield are focusing on the console side of things – areas that were merely mentioned in previous films but never took center stage. At 2 hours and 42 minutes this is a lengthy documentary feature, and the bulk of the film revolves around the birth of PlayStation as a technology, company and brand.
The first two thirds of the film are about this period, and it’s clearly the best part of the feature. We learn about the creation of the PlayStation not only from Sony’s perspective, but also hear about and from Nintendo and Sega, the two dominant players in the console business at the time. What drove some of the decisions at the time? What were the turning points in how the PlayStation brand was established, and how did it become a success when other console hardware failed?
All of these topics are explored in detail, and Anthony and Nicola Caulfield tell the story without the need to rely on a narrator, making for an outstanding bit of storytelling and editing. Montages of memorable games of the era are included here and there, but the focus remains on the stories of those who were involved, starting off with the creation of the hardware and gradually moving to the game development side of things.
It’s here where the creation of the ecosystem comes into play, because Sega and Nintendo were dominant at the time largely because of how well their first party titles did. Anyone who looks at PlayStation in 2020 will see that their range of exclusives is doing something very similar for them right now, so going back to the early/mid nineties is fascinating as it uncovers a completely different picture: Sony enticing third party developers to create games for their new hardware because it would give them amazing new capabilities.
The revolutionary tech behind the console attracted the developers of games like Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Ridge Racer and Tomb Raider, all of whom speak about this period in the film. It explored a step forward in the development of games not just in terms of technology, but also in the opportunities and challenges that game creation in 3D brings with it. Here, the leap from arcades to home consoles is also addressed, especially through an exploration of Namco’s classics like Ridge Racer and Tekken.
The latter part of the film explores the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, chronologically and through much shorter segments. Because of this, the discussion of the PS3 feels a bit rushed as it first sings its praises for introducing not only new technology but digital downloads (and thus opportunities for smaller, cheaper and non-boxed games) and then goes on to paint the PS4 as a ‘redemption’ for Sony – why it needed to be seen that way is never explored in much detail. We grow to understand that it was hard to develop for, but this was hardly a first in the history of the PlayStation…
The PS4 segment is probably the weakest portion of the film. Ironically, even though it’s about Sony’s current flagship console, it’s because it feels dated. The PlayStation Revolution was originally scheduled to release back in 2017, and the content reflects this. It’s perfectly understandable that the PS5 isn’t discussed, but the way the PlayStation 4 is addressed makes it sound like PlayStation VR is the next best thing for gaming, where in reality it’s a headset that was released back in 2016 and a lot of big VR releases aren’t even coming out for the platform anymore.
Having said that, the project originally started as a Kickstarter project for a 90 minute documentary and even at 2 hours and 42 minutes it feels like there is very little padding. The exploration of the origins of the first PlayStation is incredibly interesting for anyone who lived through that era as a gamer as well as for those interested in the birth phase of the now dominant console. As such, it’s an excellent addition to a great series and we can’t wait to see what its creators pick as their next project.