PS1 memory cards: Remembering the highs and lows of the original PlayStation storage solution

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Saving games are now a standard commodity; you would reach a certain point at a level, decide that 2AM was the right time to stop playing for the day, and save the game.

With cloud saving now a standard, it’s easier than ever to save your progress and not even take it with you to use on another machine. But it wasn’t always this simple.

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Saves were held in a battery in many cartridges, from Super Mario World to Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and after a while, the charge would run out, losing the save forever. While memory cards on the Sony PlayStation would hold a certain amount for as long as it would work.

With that, here’s some highs and lows on the 1MB Memory Card from 1994.

Blocks Available

Back in 1994, the PlayStation launched in Japan to a huge reception, with CD-ROMS now replacing cartridges for games, allowing for a greater scope for the ideas of what developers could achieve, while full-motion-video could now be a standard to further tell a story.

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But this brought an opportunity for Sony to design the ‘Memory Card’ peripheral to only contain game-saves. Its design mirrored the original PlayStation, with it being grey, slightly rounded. While its weight was as light as a feather, mainly because it was just a circuit board; the power given to it was when it would slot into the console.

You would have ‘15 Blocks’ available; a game could take one of these, or even three, depending on how much data the game needed to store. Tomb Raider IV for instance required two blocks, while Gran Turismo could have replays saved, but it could take all of the space on one memory card.

But it also introduced something that could never be done before; you could take the card out of your console, and put it into your friend’s PlayStation, to carry on the progress if you were sleeping over, or if they needed the save to get past a certain point.

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This extended to the PS UI as well when no disk was inserted. You could go to a ‘Memory Card Manager’ and delete any game saves you didn’t want anymore. But if you had another card inserted in port two, you could transfer saves between the cards. It was ahead of its time, and it rendered passwords completely irrelevant for the generation.

READ MORE: PlayStation design history; from PS1 to PS5

Press X to Save

But while this method of saving was forward-thinking, as the years passed its storage was becoming an annoyance. As games became more refined and developers were more used to developing for the console, the amount of information in a game-save only grew. As above, Gran Turismo would take up a whole card in replay videos.

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There would never be memory cards from Sony with bigger storage, which may have been due to the console itself. They couldn’t be updated to support bigger memory cards, although there were ‘unofficial’ cards with bigger storage, but there were ways for the console to recognise these.

Alongside this, there was also the danger of them being corrupted. If one block was to go corrupt, the whole card would be rendered useless, as this writer experienced. But that was the small-risk of the ‘memory card’, the advantages outweighed these disadvantages, and with the cost of them varying between £10 and £15, they were cheap enough to be replaced when needed.

Memory Cards are a relic of its time, and even though the PlayStation 2 had bigger storage and unique avatars for the games stored on them, they will always be remembered for saving your games at the important points. They will also be remembered for guarding them with your life, just in case you were going to be away from the console for a long period of time.

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Other variants appeared on other consoles, such as the Nintendo 64 and of course, the VMU on the Dreamcast, where it took the idea to another level completely with an LCD-screen and mini-games. But the original Memory Card will always be remembered of when passwords ceased to exist for many games, and management of ‘15 blocks’ were the monthly task to every PlayStation owner.

READ MORE: PS5 Backwards Compatibility; Why it’s needed