Does anyone remember demo discs?
These things were packed full of interesting games, some of which you might not have even heard of and gave you the chance to experience small portions of gameplay, very often before the full game even released.
Now I know it’s not like the concept of the demo is completely alien nowadays, some companies still make them and there’s some really good examples of modern demos like with the Resident Evil 4’s Chainsaw Demo or the demos for the Dragon Quest series which basically acts as a trial version of the full game allowing you to play for hours.
You can even transfer your demo progress over to the full game.
Despite these great examples of modern demos though, in the grand scheme of things there aren’t actually all that many being made, especially for the big game releases.
There’s also the fact that because you have to manually search for and download these demos, you’ll probably end up missing or skipping over a lot of stuff that you might actually be interested in.
You also have to consider that because demos are entirely digital now, one day they’ll be wiped from existence when all of these online servers inevitably close.
This is where the demo disc comes into play, you’re never going to lose access to this because it’s a physical object, because there’s a variety of games on here you might discover something that you otherwise wouldn’t have even heard of and these things could be found absolutely everywhere back in the day.
I vividly remember McDonald’s offering a promotion where if you got a Big Mac Meal, you’d receive a special McDonald’s PS1 demo disc and there were four of them in total to collect.
At the time I was still quite young, so up until that point I was enjoying the Happy Meals, but of course these PS1 demo discs converted me to the Big Mac and I never went back to Happy Meals after that.
You could say that PS1 demo discs ended that chapter of my childhood, whether that’s a good or bad thing I’m not sure. But at least I got some demo discs out of it, which by the way I still own to this day.
Sometimes you even received demo discs when you purchased a full game.
The main way of obtaining demo discs though was through gaming magazines, with the best one in the UK being the Official PlayStation Magazine which was amazing because you could read about all of these amazing upcoming games and then actually play some of them for yourself first hand.
It was like you had your own private press event in your own living room!
The demo discs themselves often featured these intense opening cinematics and crazy menu interfaces and music which gave the PS1 a really distinct vibe.
To me, it almost felt like some of these discs were showing you a stylised version of what’s happening inside of the PS1 which made it seem futuristic and way more grown up and cool than what was being offered by Nintendo, and they of course couldn’t compete with these demo discs due to cartridges being so much more expensive to produce.
Some of this demo disc music and sound effects gives me bigger bursts of nostalgia than the actual games featured on them do!
Speaking of the games on these discs though, there was always such a massive amount of variety here that there was something for everyone and always something new to discover too.
There’s some obscure PS1 games like Kula World, Ghost in the Shell, Rosco McQueen Firefighter Extreme and Alfred Chicken that I’ve only ever played thanks to demo discs and other games like Tombi or even Tomb Raider where I literally only purchased them because I had experienced the demo.
So I can say for certain that these things worked as marketing tools and would’ve added a lot of things to my Christmas list!
One of the most interesting things about the games on these discs though and a reason why I still think they’re worth revisiting today is that sometimes the demo version of the game was a much earlier build than what was actually released, meaning that you get to see a sort of prototype version of the finished thing.
For example, this demo of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee features a completely different control scheme for the jumping, slightly altered background art and some different vocal recordings too.
The demo of Silent Hill that I mentioned earlier features these enemies called Grey Children and these were actually removed from the final version of the game in Europe and Japan and replaced with another enemy called Mumblers.
So this demo is the only way to encounter these enemies for yourself in those regions.
The really good demos even featured elements which were created just for the demo version, like 4th wall breaking sections where characters mention that they’re in a demo and stuff like that.
Probably the single best line of PS1 demo discs was Demo 1. These came bundled with the PS1 console and there were several different versions made through the years to reflect all of the new games that were available at the time.
This often meant that people’s very first experience with their new console would have been one of these demo discs, they were absolutely integral to the PS1 experience.
The one I have was a reasonably early version featuring games like Disney’s Hercules, Porsche Challenge and Kurushi but potentially more interesting than the actual games here were the extras.
Of course you had the video trailers which was always nice to see, although I did always find myself wishing that these were playable demos rather than videos.
You had the CD Visualizer which made it so that you could swap out the demo disc with a CD and get some trippy visuals to go along with your music, and you even had these interactive tech demos which showcased some crazy high quality graphics of a manta ray swimming around in the ocean and this absolutely terrifying T-Rex which literally walks out of a dark void towards the screen and still to this day creeps me out.
One of my favourite things about all of these demo discs is that you never know what you’re going to get.
Some have more complex menu interfaces while some are much more basic.
Some have loads of bonuses like this Official PlayStation Magazine one which features a Downloader function which lets you transfer save data over to your memory card to automatically reach certain points in a game or to unlock all of the secrets, this same disc actually featured a trailer for a film called Titan AE which is a bit weird considering it’s supposed to be a video game demo disc!
But this goes to show you never know what to expect!
Some of the best demo discs actually didn’t feature any extras at all and just came absolutely packed with games to play.
It’s not even like these demos were tiny sections of gameplay either, sometimes you’d get something like Ape Escape which not only featured two whole levels to play through but allowed you to access a heavily modified version of the hub area, go and try out some gadgets which you normally unlock much later in the game and then go back into the main levels with these gadgets to 100% complete them and unlock the time trial mode too.
And that’s just a single demo on a whole disc of them!
Of course it isn’t just the PS1 which featured demo discs, both the PS2 and even the PS3 had demo discs too, although I did find these to be much less common to come across than PS1 discs.
Then we had the Dreamcast which offered demo discs too and there’s probably a whole host of other consoles which featured them as well, but for me, the PS1 had by far the greatest range of them and because it was my childhood console, it’s the one I had most interest in.
You’d also find that by the time the PS3 arrived, demo discs were starting to get phased out in favour of straight up DVDs which didn’t feature playable demos at all and instead had trailers and behind the scenes content.
There’s this disc I have from a magazine called PLAY which has coverage of E3 from 2006 on it, with some gameplay of Rainbow Six Vegas and interviews with Ubisoft about what was originally Rayman 4, before being renamed Rayman Raving Rabbids.
And that’s the thing with all of this really.
Not only is it nostalgic and fun to take a look back at a time when all of these games were brand new, but it also somewhat preserves them in their unfinished form and allows us to play some of our favourite games in a very unfamiliar way.
It’s understandable that demo discs are a thing of the past really. The money it would cost to manufacture and distribute these things in an age where you can just put a demo online wouldn’t seem worth it. As well as that you’ve got far more ways to promote games now too with the internet and social media being so easy to access.
Even so I can’t help but miss the days of the demo disc.
It used to be a whole experience putting one of these into the console with all of the menus, the extras and of course the early versions of games and I think the art of tying all of this content together in a neat package which helped to give the console it’s identity has been somewhat lost.
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Rob has a particular fondness for the strange, obscure and quirky side of gaming and loves sharing his knowledge with others. He has been creating content on his own YouTube channel for several years and aims to take his passion to the next level with Retro Dodo.