These days, everyone and their mother loves indie games. Digital distribution has made it feasible for even the smallest of developers to push their games to wide audiences, and console manufacturers are opening their platforms to more or less anyone with a shred of coding knowledge. But when consoles became dominant in the UK market, they heralded the closure of the market. You could write games for the 8-bit and 16-bit home computers, but if you wanted a go at the innards of the Mega Drive or SNES, you had to pay through the nose to do it. And in between it all, there’s the Net Yaroze.
You had to pay through the nose for a Net Yaroze too (about £550 on launch), but it was much cheaper than a proper PlayStation development kit and Sony would sell them to anyone. The hardware itself was an attractive-looking black PlayStation, which is attractive to players primarily as an intentionally region-free machine, which hooked up to a PC to receive code. But like most players and possibly even most Yaroze fans, I’ve never actually played on one or used one. What I have done is enjoyed what people made using the Yaroze, and that’s why I love the machine.
Put simply, Net Yaroze demos were the highlight of PlayStation demo discs. You were never quite sure what you’d get, but it would always be entertaining. Sometimes, as with Haunted Maze, it’d be unintentionally hilarious, or like Adventure Game above the programmer would just let loose with sarcasm not possible in a retail game. Other times, you’d get something interesting that didn’t quite work out, or a clone of an old game. But then there were the truly special games, which stood out on their own merits. Some were unbelievably polished like Blitter Boy, others were conceptually excellent like Time Slip. Terra Incognita was a 3D showcase, and Total Soccer was just playability incarnate. It was the closest we’d ever get to the return of incredible cover tapes, and it’s all thanks to hobbyist coders and a company that did something to support them.