Net Yaros – Sony’s exciting first step into the world of indie game development
In the 1980s, the amateur sports development scene in the UK was absolutely thriving. Home computers such as the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, and Commodore 64 allowed their users to write custom code from scratch, known as native programming languages.
As a result, each system had an incredibly dedicated audience of bedroom developers who honed their programming skills by creating computer games, copying them to cassettes, and the like any way they could. were curious
It was a golden age of creativity and grassroots development that saw the rise of great software houses like Psygnosis and Ocean. Series like WipEout, Lemmings, and Colony Wars would never really have seen the light of day if it weren’t for this pioneering period.
Fast forward four decades To this day, and independently made video games are everywhere. With development tools like Unity so easily accessible, and an almost limitless number of online storefronts, creating and distributing it has never been easier. Visa.
Games like Stray and Tunic have also been featured in Sony’s State of Play presentations. It’s clear that indies are a very important part of the industry these days – but there was a time when that wasn’t the case.
The rise of the home console
In the late 80s, home computers such as the ZX Spectrum began to fall out of favor with gamers, and were slowly being replaced by smaller, more intuitive, dedicated video game consoles. Systems like the NES brought many advantages to players, but the closed-off nature of the platform meant that bedroom developers were largely shut out.
Development kits for these brand-new home consoles were prohibitively expensive for the average Joe, and publishing restrictions were often strict. If you wanted to launch a game, you needed to convince a company with the necessary publishing and distribution grunt that it was good enough to market.
The era of the bedroom developer, it seemed, was over.
Enter Net Yarrows
In 1997, long before initiatives like XNA on rival platforms, Sony launched Net Yarrows – a home development kit for the hugely popular PlayStation, for just £550/$750.
Net Yarrows – literally ‘let’s get it together’ – was conceived by Ken Kutraghi, the godfather of the PlayStation himself. The UK division, however, was led by Paul Holman, a man who had cut his coding teeth at the BBC and Atari computers, and his goal was simple: bring back the bedroom coding scene for the 32-bit era.
The kind of money Sony was asking for in ’97 was by no means a small outlay, but crucially, it was thousands of pounds less than a ‘proper’ PS1 dev kit, and it gave developers all that provided something that they needed. Code PlayStation games on their home computers.
Adopters were given access to an online community of hobbyist developers who would share builds of their projects for other members to playtest and provide feedback. Some Sony devs were also on hand to offer tips and tricks to new creators.
Like sports Gravitation Zero gravity saw players racing and fighting cursor-like ‘ships’ around a 2D arena by feathering the throttle and peeweeping lasers at each other. It was a simple, but incredibly fun little game. You can also click to play it in your browser here!
Puzzle games were also popular – Super Bub Contest was a competent and charming Bust-A-Move clone with a cast of oddly cute characters, and a slightly redundant electronic soundtrack. Seriously, they didn’t need to go It hard.
Tumre—resting on you
So, the developers were doing what developers do best – develop! – but it soon became clear that Net Yarows had some very serious limitations.
Some features such as multi-tap support were not accessible, meaning that 3 or 4-player games were out of the window, but perhaps the biggest limitation was related to file size: since the system did not support burning CD-ROMs. , the entirety of any Net Yaros project – sound and all – had to fit into the PlayStation’s measly 3.5MB of RAM.
When you consider that titles like Final Fantasy VIII were filling up several 700MB-capacity CDs at the time, it’s no surprise that most of Yarrow’s games were incredibly simple by comparison. But there was another, more pressing problem with these games: there was no way for anyone outside of the Yarrow community to play them.
Home computers of the 1980s allowed developers to copy their games onto cassettes and share them freely. Creators can sell their finished games in mail-order magazines, at computer fairs, or even in independent computer stores.
But Yarrow’s lack of a disc-burning facility meant that none of this was possible. In fact, to run a Net Yaros project, you need access to the entire development environment – PC and all.
These games, then, were stuck in a community of a few thousand enthusiasts, with no way for the public to get involved. That is, until Sony began including selected Net Yaros games on the demo disc that came with the official UK PlayStation magazine.
A lasting legacy
This move raised public awareness of Yarrows (it was certainly the first time this writer had heard of it), and no doubt helped many developers get their start in the industry.
An amateur Japanese developer named Mitsuru Kamiyama produced an impressive RPG tech demo called Terra Incognita. He later became the director of the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series at Square Enix.
The code that Chris Chapman wrote for Total Soccer would eventually form the backbone of the FIFA series on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, while Devil Dice itself was picked up by Sony and brought to market as a full retail release. was
The online community ran for 12 years before finally being pulled in June 2009. There’s no way to know for sure how many games were made using Net Yarrows, but Sony claims several thousand systems have been sold worldwide, so it’s only logical to assume. Similar projects were at least initiated, even if not all of them saw the light of day.
Net Yarows never had a direct successor, but with Sony’s strong desire to champion indie games on its platforms in recent years, its DNA has undoubtedly become woven into the fabric of PlayStation. It can continue for a long time.
Do you remember Net Yarrows? Do you remember those iconic demo discs that came with Official PlayStation Magazine? Feel free to develop your own in the comments section below.
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