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Hacking the PlayStation

Learning International Thumb Language From Japanese PSX Game Software

by Steve Raymond

The American appetite for Japanese games was first whetted when the Nintendo boom of the 1980s introduced America to Japanese games. Once gamers realized that a whole alternate universe of Japanese games existed, they often bought Japanese versions of the game platforms (like the Neo-Geo). The latest twist in the market is the Sony Playstation hack, a way to adjust the American playstation so that it will play games intended for the Japanese version. A once-marginal cult of Western gamers buying untranslated Japanese game software is swelling. Figuring out how to play them despite the language barrier has become part of the fun.

The hack utilizes a widget available in most stores or mail-order catalogues specializing in video games. You can even make it yourself—it's just a small spring with a weight on one end. Executing the hack itself is a simple process. Kickstart the PSX into CD player mode and insert an American game. Install the widget; the drive should spin, then stop. Then swap the American game with the Japanese one. Now you can exit the CD player mode; the Japanese game should boot properly. You must leave the drive door open and the widget on the button while you're playing.

Sony claims that current Playstations have been fixed so this version of the hack no longer works. I called their tech support line and was told not to even try performing the hack; if I damaged my Playstation, I was warned, I would be fully liable for the repair fees. They told me that Sony has received broken units from overeager gamers who've accidentally burned their Playstations trying the hack, and that this kind of damage isn't covered under warranty. Other reasons Sony suggested to preclude my tinkering included, "exposing the delicate interior of the console by playing with the drive door open is risky," and "many Japanese games are authored for the slightly different voltage requirements of the Japanese Playstation console."

However, anonymous sources from within the gamer community revealed a burgeoning cottage industry of sales & trades in pre-fix Playstations - as well as detailed rumors of new hacks which defeat the "correction." Every gamer I spoke with who plays Japanese titles hasn't experienced a problem, aside from having to pay up to $100 for a game. Try your luck, but please keep Sony's official warnings in mind!

To actually sniff the crotch of wildly obsessive Playstation rumor-mongering, check out the usenet group "rec.games.video.Sony". An international crew posts information that would make Sony's collective corporate skin crawl. Multiple ways of defeating Sony's new hack protection are detailed, $20 bootleg Japanese titles are up for grabs in lists numbering above 100 titles, and one particularly good post alerts us to the IRC# Playstation chat channel where all the true believers refuse to log in before midnight. Sifting through these posts gave me a much more realistic vision of the platform gaming cults, where the PSX/Saturn/Ultra64 war is hotter than the IBM/Apple conflict could ever hope to be. This newsgroup blueprints a world where one-directional corporate control of media is sagging beneath an onslaught of teenage twitchers and gray marketeers.  </end>

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