PSO - it was good to talk!

Reading this interesting article by SEGAbits about the pioneering aspects of the DC got me thinking about Phantasy Star Online . Back in the day, although it was the bane of my parents who could never get on the phone, I adored PSO, it gave me fond memories of my first online gaming experience which I spent harassing any Japanese player who I thought was female (they weren't) and trying to speak Japanese (I couldn't).

Luckily for hot-blooded adolescent's like myself the game's producer, Yuji Naka had a plan. Mr Naka's vision was that communication was intrinsic with his philosophy for PSO which was to enable the whole world to communicate through a video game. Sonic Team got together and tried to solve the conundrum of communicating in a multilingual, international environment which PSO was to be entrenched in. They implemented a system in which players could choose from a variety of set phrases which would then be automatically translated into your online friends native lingo. This was amazing at the time and probably the first time gamers were able to play with, and actually communicate with another gamer of a different language, all in real time!

Even better was the fact that gamers could also rely on icons, such as smiley faces and frowns, or create their own to convey quick bits of information. Of course, the system wasn't perfect, a lot of the set phrases were of no use past initial introductions and a keyboard was a necessity purchase, but the system as a whole, worked great for the time, especially considering that it was at a time of 56k modems and voice chat were simply not an option.

In fact, this system could have put the game at a disadvantage, but instead it actually became an unexpected strength. It negated the needless chit-chat which is so prevalent in modern day gaming. Words were precious in PSO, people said what they needed to and then let their gaming do the talking. There was also a unique feeling due to the pioneering status of the title with gamers from around the world, generally feeling apart of something and together as a team, and not just a group of American youths babbling on about random crap.

The icons also added a personalized feel and an extra splash of colour to the proceedings as the whole world of Ragol became reminiscent of Jet Set Radio with players creating a variety of hilarious prompts and pictures of encouragement (as well as a few insults) to interact with their peers. Of course, you couldn't always type while in the midst of battle, so the game allowed you to shortcut phrases to specific keys on the DC controller and keyboard, or like most people you could accost a friend to be the "designated chat person." Ah, the memories....

It was a system which, considering the financial woes the company had at the time, you could argue may have been better spent elsewhere, especially as the Japanese server opened a full month and a half before the US and Europe killing any kind of possible collaboration. But the sheer scope of the system, intrinsic with Yuji Naka's aspirations for PSO being at the centre of the Dreamcast's online vision, will be remembered for its pioneering approach and its position as the forerunner for today's online focused gaming landscape. And if nothing more, it enabled me to practice my Japanese while slaying dragons with old men dressed as pink robotic maids.