Remembering Net Yaroze, the liminal spaces of video games


Remember Net Yaroze? I’d bet a considerable portion of you have a simple answer: “No”. But I’d also bet that after reading the title, a sizable number of you would have had a deep-seated memory in the back of your brain, taking you back to the 90s when you played one of those weird Playstation. Games.

What is Net Yaroze?

This “game” from Net Yaroze is a slideshow of images from Japan.

Net Yaroze is the name of a development kit for the original PlayStation, allowing independent developers to try making their own games on the console. For $750, hopeful indie developers would get a PlayStation debug unit and dev kit, with them able to hook it up to their PC and build games for the hardware.

Sony created a forum for users to share their creations, and then some popular games among that community would end up on demo discs bundled with official PlayStation magazines in PAL regions. This is how I was introduced to the incredibly strange world of Net Yaroze games, where young developers showed off their unusual and unpolished ideas at a time when 3D gaming was still in its infancy.

Indie developers these days have a myriad of tools to make games the way they see fit, and they also have plenty of pioneering, low-budget games to draw inspiration from. Back in the days of Net Yaroze, such comparables didn’t exist, and they were developing their projects just as games had made the seismic shift to 3D. Even now, many indie games are opting for 2D side-scrolling gameplay for ease and budget constraints, so the odds were against any Net Yaroze game being anything other than peculiar oddities.

And it was the case. There were nearly 100 Net Yaroze games made available to play, and each of them took a developer’s basic idea and forced them into what felt like a video game, but something was definitely wrong. When I played these games back in the 90s, I had no idea Net Yaroze was a PlayStation debug unit, and I was always confused as to why these games were sitting on demo discs next to great video games such as Crash Bandicoot, Gran Turismo, etc. They stood out like a sore thumb, but that made them linger longer in memory than many “decent” games.

How Net Yaroze games were essentially liminal spaces

Take The Incredible Coneman, for example – essentially a 3D Pac-Man, the limitations imposed on the developer mean that the recognizable yellow Atari mascot is replaced by an indecipherable, limbless block of a protagonist, walking through a maze floating in a backdrop of Windows screen, while playing a single looping bassline.



Like many Net Yaroze games, The Incredible Coneman feels like it’s stuck between the familiar and the unfamiliar. It’s recognizable as a video game, but something is off, from the blocky color textures to the repeated audio and jumble of primary shapes you control. Basically, it feels like we’re in a liminal space.

Liminal spaces have been a growing online phenomenon over the past few years, ever since a thread on 4chan’s paranormal board asked users to “post disturbing images that just feel ‘offbeat'” (via Aesthetic Wiki). This has led to an increase in images of liminal spaces being posted online, including the hugely popular @SpaceLiminalBot Twitter account, which posts images related to the phenomenon to 1.2 million followers.

Images of liminal spaces typically present a location in a time of transition, whether it’s an abandoned mall, a desolate waiting room, or an empty hallway. They often evoke a confusing and unsettling feeling of discomfort and longing – there’s a part of you that recognizes them, but you know it’s impossible. Net Yaroze provided the video game equivalent.

Take Yaroze Rally. It’s a racing game, but it takes place in a barren environment, with nothing but a gray track lined with the same tall buildings that appear and disappear. There is no other sound other than a thud intended to mimic a car engine. The track itself doesn’t follow any traditional path either – checkpoints are scattered throughout the course, meaning you’ll need to make almost 180-degree turns to keep up with the peloton. It feels like a racing game developed by artificial intelligence:



Or there’s Pandora’s Box, a bizarre puzzle game where you traverse a claustrophobic series of red brick walls to push boxes. This mundane activity is accompanied by the same infuriating piano loop and “oof!” sometimes breathless. of the player-character as he clashes with his surroundings:



Then there’s Adventure Game, the only Net Yaroze game I played at the time that came close to being worth it. This parody poked fun at role-playing games – of which there weren’t many 3D examples at the time – with a quintessentially British sense of humor. Although, like other Net Yaroze games, that unfinished feeling is still present throughout. Characters are faceless, backgrounds are little more than color gradients, and its soundtrack sounds like a church organ being forced through a synthesizer.



Net Yaroze developers didn’t intend their games to be so haunting. Much like liminal spaces, there’s nothing that should be unsettling about them, but it’s their haunting familiarity that makes them frightening. With a resurgence in PS1-style horror games such as No one lives under the lighthouse and the aptly named Haunted PS1 Demo Disc 2021it would be cool to see something inspired by these weird homemade games.



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