Fan developers Lilith Walther and Corwyn Prichard have revealed that their beloved PS1 “demake” of FromSoftware’s Bloodborne will be released for PC on January 31, 2022.
As the name suggests, Bloodborne PS1 Demake is an elaborate fan project that recreates Bloodborne in the style of a PS1 game. While the project won’t go beyond the boss fight against Father Gascoigne (though its creators say it will feature “extended areas and some bonus post-game content”), Bloodborne PS1 Demake will be released for free early next year, so there’s really no reason not to try it if you’re one of the many PC gamers who still lay awake at night wondering when FromSoftware and the PlayStation team are finally going to port Bloodborne to that platform.
While Bloodborne PS1 Demake does incorporate a few modern gameplay concepts that you certainly wouldn’t have found in an “authentic” PS1 game, the project does an excellent job of recreating the PS1’s unique visuals. Of course, that also means that it’s a fantastic opportunity to talk about just how awesomely bad the PS1’s graphics were.
Like many gamers of a certain age, I’ll never forget what it was like to see a PS1 cutscene for the first time. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever really “felt” the impact of a new generation of gaming technology quite the same way I did the first time I saw a Final Fantasy 7 cutscene. Even once I figured out that those cutscenes didn’t represent actual gameplay (more on that in a bit), they still made me realize that video game graphics were going to be so much more advanced than I ever dared dream they could be. It’s impossible to deny that the PS1’s visuals opened gaming up to a wider audience that saw them and immediately had to answer the question “What is that?“
It also has to be said that PS1 developers were bold enough to use the console to create true 3D games at a time when many people rightfully doubted that 3D console games were ready for primetime. The PS1 (and, to be fair, the Sega Saturn) managed to convince millions of people to embrace the 3D gaming age (and all the complexities that came along with it), which is the kind of feat that can’t be easily overlooked.
With all of that out of the way, it has to be said that time has not been kind to PS1 graphics. I mean…just look at these shots:
Yes, PS1 graphics improved over time as developers mastered the hardware (as is always the case), and yes, certain PS1 games looked considerably better than others (and still hold up reasonably well today in the proper context), but PS1 technology had limits that even the greatest developers weren’t able to overcome. Most PS1 games were incredibly blocky, filled with “fog,” and packed with low-res textures (at least in games that weren’t pre-rendered). Things get worse when you actually try to play these games and find yourself staring at a nightmarish blend of constantly warping textures and scanning/filtering issues all complimented by absurdly long load times. Strangely enough, most PS1 games somehow look even worse when you try to play them on anything but the CRT displays there were clearly designed for.
That’s the thing about PS1 visuals. Whereas many SNES games still look visually impressive simply because it’s easy enough to look past the console’s technological limitations and appreciate the artistry, it is incredibly difficult to look at PS1 games now and not see the wrinkles. A game like Chrono Trigger looks pretty much exactly how the artists intended it to look. Games on the PS1 that were striving for a kind of “realism” that they were never actually going to achieve will always be at least partially defined by their shortcomings.
In the early 2000s, I convinced myself that nobody would ever be nostalgic for the era of PS1 visuals. Yet, projects like this Bloodborne demake or even new indie titles such as Omnibus show that quite a few people seemingly do have fond memories of PS1 visuals and have helped create a modern market for graphics that were often considered to be “ugly” even at the time that some of these games were released.
After all this time, though, I’ve finally realized that all of this love for the PS1’s “bad” graphics is as much about respect as it is nostalgia.
Some of that respect can obviously be attributed to the PS1’s innovations, but some of it can be attributed to the fact that no other games look quite like PS1 games (with the possible exception of Sega Saturn titles). The PS2/Xbox/GameCube generation essentially created the template for modern 3D gaming visuals, and there’s a degree to which developers have just been improving upon those visuals over the last few console generations. There are beautiful PS2 games, but many PS2 games look like strictly worse versions of PS4 and PS5 games (as remakes of some of those titles perfectly showcase).
Granted, the PS1’s…style can just as easily be attributed to technological shortcomings as artistic ambition, but there is something so charming about this time when developers were clearly shooting for the moon in terms of video game visuals and were forced to try to make this console produce a reasonable interpretation of the graphics they dreamt were possible. I’ve heard the word “character” be used to describe PS1 visuals, and I think that might just be the quickest way to describe what makes them work. Their ugliness is often reflective of the effort and ambition that went into them. They’re a callous, not a wart.
Besides, as the Bloodborne demake’s developers pointed out, there are just some games that can so clearly be traced back to the PS1 era that it only feels appropriate that the visual style that clearly defined that time lives on and is celebrated in some way rather than simply glossed over or looked past as developers start to toy with the idea of remaking more games from this era to make them more visually appealing to modern audiences.
At a time when so much media has to be a little too close to perfect, there’s is something enduring about the PS1’s lovably bad graphics.