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Classic Game Console Design Mistakes

Soulskill posted about 5 years ago | from the you-could-land-a-helicopter-on-that-controller dept.

Classic Games (Games) 185

Harry writes "Some bad decisions in game console design get made over and over. (How many early systems had nightmarish controllers?) Others are uniquely inexplicable. (Like the Game Boy Advance's lack of a headphone jack.) Some stem from companies being too clever for their own good. (Like the way the RCA Studio II and Atari 5200 drew their power through their RF switches.) Benj Edwards has rounded up a few classic examples, and has attempted to figure out what was going on in the designers' heads — and what we can learn from their mistakes."

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Or the old one where... (1, Offtopic)

Fluffeh (1273756) | about 5 years ago | (#29020187)

Or the oldest mistake in the world, where developers/publishers DO NOT listen to beta testers and preview testers and PUSH their "better" ideas to the final gold cut even if they get told by everyone playing it that it's wrong/stupid/not enjoyable etc.

Hello, Star Wars: Galaxies combat system for probably the BEST example of being pig headed and pushing through a joke of a combat system even when EVERYONE playing the game says it sucks ass.

Re:Or the old one where... (0)

von_rick (944421) | about 5 years ago | (#29020213)

If they listen to beta testers of Bloody Carnage console before its first release, how can they make money on Bloody Carnage II - The Ultimate Destruction Edition?!

Re:Or the old one where... (1, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 years ago | (#29020737)

I don't think Star Wars Galaxies is a console. The subscription may cost as much as one, mind you.

Re:Or the old one where... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29022971)

As someone who has worked with more than a few people who worked on SW:G I can say that all the developers knew the idea was shit at the time. The trump card is Lucasarts' IP ownership.

If they insist the options are slowly strangle your subscriber base or lose the game immediately (possibly with litigation depending on the contract).

They'd sell a LOT MORE if they were FREE asin BEER (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29020203)

Just think !!

Those Who Forget The Past... (1)

AnonymousIslander (1603121) | about 5 years ago | (#29020207)

... are doomed to repeat it...

Some stem from companies being too clever for their own good. (Like the way the RCA Studio II and Atari 5200 drew their power through their RF switches.)

Anyone fancy some DRM? Or a bullshit non-standardized mobile adapter? I know imitation is flattery but...

TurboDuo (1)

AmigaHeretic (991368) | about 5 years ago | (#29020233)

Perfect System ;-)

Re:TurboDuo (1)

mzs (595629) | about 5 years ago | (#29022597)

How have you not had to replace some bulging caps?

I had an Atari 2600 (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29020259)

My cousin had an Atari 5200. I recall him at some point noting his Atari being "better." But seemed every other time I saw him, the 5200 was away being repaired or some such.

My 2600? Never broke. Paddles did develop the jiggles, but I never lost a joystick. Then again, I never had Activision Decathlon.

Re:I had an Atari 2600 (3, Informative)

Dogtanian (588974) | about 5 years ago | (#29022313)

My cousin had an Atari 5200. I recall him at some point noting his Atari being "better." But seemed every other time I saw him, the 5200 was away being repaired or some such.

The 5200 was internally based on the 400/800 computer system (in fact, the insides were near identical, albeit with some minor memory map and OS changes that killed direct compatibility). The 400/800 was miles better than the 2600- unsurprising when you consider that it was originally meant as a next-generation successor to the 2600.

I've never used one, but from what I know, the 5200's problems primarily stemmed from the horrible external hardware design (particularly the controllers) and lack of 2600 compatibility.

The former wouldn't have been a problem with the 400/800, which used the same style controls as the 2600, and the latter wouldn't have been such an issue, since they had plenty of pre-existing software.

Atari later released the XEGS (XE Games System) that- unlike the 5200- retained compatibility with the 400/800/XL/XE series it was virtually identical to. However, that was the late-1980s, and another era.

Re:I had an Atari 2600 (1)

PumpkinDog (1253988) | about 5 years ago | (#29023151)

My cousins (who gave it to grandma where i played it) had an Atari 5200. They had the 3rd party controllers (where the joystick was separate from the keypad). Never really seemed to be any problems with the system (other than what you'd expect from a console in those days). I saw a 2600 years after playing many games on the 5200 and remember thinking "meh, that looks kinda boring/outdated". Most of the "hate" against the 5200 I tend to disagree with... Guess it depends on what you grow up with.

Re:I had an Atari 2600 (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 5 years ago | (#29023379)

I bought a 5200 a while back. It came with 6 controllers, not one of them worked. Other than that, the 5200 was far superior to the 2600, being based on Atari's 8 bit computers. Compare Star Raiders on the two systems, there's just no contest.

Looks liek this guy learned... (1)

JordanL (886154) | about 5 years ago | (#29020277)

His last article submitted to slashdot had 24 pages... and over half of the replys were people loudly complaining.

He's cut it down to four. Much more reasonable. (Though still unnecessary.)

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (4, Insightful)

hairyfeet (841228) | about 5 years ago | (#29020525)

The guy also seems to be remembering history through rose colored glasses. And I quote: "It took a long time before one innovator clearly came along (in this case, Nintendo with its NES pads) and provided a truly easy-to-use, accurate, sensitive, and comfortable solution."

He obviously doesn't remember the NES pads, or is confusing them with the SNES pads, because those little square brick NES pads were the definition of cramped hands. The first truly long term comfortable controller I ever held in my hands were the Sega Genesis original 3 button. The curved shape made it easy to tear through some Altered Beast or Super Thunder Blade. Anybody who gamed for hours with the original NES pads knows the lovely hand and finger cramps that would come after hour 2.

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (3, Funny)

Kratisto (1080113) | about 5 years ago | (#29020711)

The guy also seems to be remembering history through rose colored glasses.

Do those glasses produce eye-strain-inducing three dimensional images as well?

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29020919)

I must agree, only for me it wasn't cramped hands, it was "Nintendo thumb". My thumbs would get completely sore playing on the standard NES pads after about an hour. I ended up buying a NES Max, which was much, much better but shouldn't have been required. When the Genesis came along, it had basically a perfect controller out of box.

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (1)

cbackas (324088) | about 5 years ago | (#29023423)

Assuming you didn't mind the incredibly short cord. That thing kept me from being able to sit on a couch while playing. I actually switched to Master System controllers (which were compatible) for games like Sonic that didn't need more than 1 button as those had insanely long cords.

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (2, Insightful)

walshy007 (906710) | about 5 years ago | (#29021121)

because those little square brick NES pads were the definition of cramped hands.

I started playing nes when I was 4, I stopped around age 13, those controllers were very comfortable for me. Perhaps now that I'm not a child they wouldn't be, but to children they were fine

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (1)

TheCowSaysMooNotBoo (997535) | about 5 years ago | (#29021577)

I liked them because I didn't know better. I'll pick a round controller every day over the bricks we used to have.

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (2, Interesting)

Moryath (553296) | about 5 years ago | (#29023535)

Therein is the underlying problem.

Different people, of different ages, will play your game console. Those different people, for the most part, will want (at least if they are going to be comfortable) different-sized controllers.

Yeah. Most of the Japanese population has small hands. They're also shorter. Remember, the reason that Asian societies never had much use for the idea of the straight-blade sword, and never developed the single-handed "lunge" maneuver, is that those don't work very well for people whose arms and legs are proportionally shorter than most of the Western people. If they wanted something to poke at someone at distance, their best bet was a spear.

Look back on controllers and what do you see? Large-sized (Atari 2600, Colecovision etc controllers). American companies. Switch forward after the crash, what do you have? NES/SNES - kiddie-sized controllers. Hard for adults to use for long. Genesis, a little better but not that great.

N64 controllers - heck, these things are just as big as an original Xbox controller. Set them side by side once. Playstation controllers, back to the small size, but your help came from companies like Pelican and Nyko that released adult-sized controller replacements.

Gamecube controller - smaller again, looked like something drawn by someone's 5-year-old.

Now we're stuck in the same boat. Xbox360 controllers could do to be a bit bigger for adults, smaller for kids. PS3 uses the same damn form factor, and I've wound up buying a couple of 3rd-party replacements once more.

BTW, I don't have "huge hands." According to standard sizing [] I use a Men's Medium and my girlfriend uses a "Women's Small." I prefer the larger controllers anyways (original Xbox especially) because I can hold my wrist straight in "Handshake position" and don't have to curl my 4th and 5th fingers underneath just to support the damn thing. The crease of my palm can do all the holding work and leave my thumbs and trigger fingers free to manipulate the buttons and triggers.

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (1)

weszz (710261) | about 5 years ago | (#29022197)

I remember the blisters my brother and I would get from the corners of those controllers... the rounded sides were SO much better...

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29022377)

actually, i was playing final fantasy for NES this past weekend, and I love those controllers - my only issue is that my down button no longer works well. i never experience hand cramps or the like

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29022439)

I must agree. Granted, I never had NES or SNES, but my friends did. I was the only one with a Sega Mega Drive (the European Genesis, for you youngins) and found that it was much nicer to hold that controller than the square shaped Nintendo ones

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 5 years ago | (#29023351)

He obviously doesn't remember the NES pads, or is confusing them with the SNES pads, because those little square brick NES pads were the definition of cramped hands.

Nope, I still play mine regularly, and the pads are fine. Don't hold yours so tight. The difference in comfort between the NES and SNES or Genesis is much smaller than that between the NES and the 2600/intellivision/colecovision pads.

Re:Looks liek this guy learned... (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 5 years ago | (#29023827)

I dunno, the Genesis controller was just too big for me when I was a kid.

Correction (5, Informative)

MattG91 (1330553) | about 5 years ago | (#29020299)

Correction: The Gameboy Advance SP had no headphone jack; the original Gameboy Advance did, as did the Gameboy Micro. But who bought a Gameboy Micro, anyhow... My first video game platform ever was an Advance SP. And I had to go buy a dongle to use headphones.

Re:Correction (0)

master5o1 (1068594) | about 5 years ago | (#29020351)

I saw no point in buying that for my SP.

Re:Correction (0)

OrangeTide (124937) | about 5 years ago | (#29020505)

then you simply didn't want/need headphones badly enough to pay the Nintendo $5 headphone tax.

To Prevent Hearing Damage (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021381)

I believe the logic behind the lack of a headphone jack was so that you could feel comfortable that Your Kid (who you got the Game Boy Advance-SP for) couldn't run the game system with the volume turned up and hurt their hearing.

Even if they snuck out and started spending their hard-earned game/candy/graphics board/DEScracker money on a headphone adapter, you could easily confiscate it without taking away their Mariopium.

Re:To Prevent Hearing Damage (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29022419)

Why yes, and the whole reason for Nintendo not including a backlight in the original GBA was so that you could be sure your children wouldn't be up all night playing a game, for otherwise you'd be able to tell easier! This makes just as much sense as your post (not).

Re:Correction (1)

MistrBlank (1183469) | about 5 years ago | (#29022211)

Did they actually ever release this in the US? I had to import mine, fortunately I still managed to get one for only $5.

Re:Correction (2, Informative)

mzs (595629) | about 5 years ago | (#29022703)

Yes but I only ever saw it on their online store. They still have them in fact: []

I bought two sets of madcatz adapters that allowed me to charge and plug in head phones at the same time. The most disappointing thing about the SP related to the GBA was that when you played four swords you could not charge. The great thing about it (even the first rev SP) was the backlight and small size.

2009, and still we need a bloody dongle (1)

pimpimpim (811140) | about 5 years ago | (#29020977)

My suggestion for the series: classic smartphone design mistakes: on the t-mobile g1, you need a humongous dongle with two mini usb slots (one for power, one for a headset), and two normal headset jacks. And with the battery life of the g1 you need to connect it to a loader as much as you can... Just search for htc yc a300 to see how ugly it is...

Re:2009, and still we need a bloody dongle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021743)


If I could plug my CX300s straight into my HTC magic, my iPod classic would stay in the car. Meridian Player is awesome.

As it stands though, the iPod is in my pocket, taking up the space that the Magic would be in.

Ho Hum...

Re:2009, and still we need a bloody dongle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021877)

Since when did the term 'dongle' (a specific type of hardware key) come to be a generic term for 'adapter'?

Re:2009, and still we need a bloody dongle (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29023531)

Dongle is a physical description that predates any computer applications, retard.

X-Box controller (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29020311)

Am I the only one who liked the X-Box controller (to the best of my memory)? It fit in my hands great.

Re:X-Box controller (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 5 years ago | (#29020355)

It's a nice controller for sure. I've go the X-Box 360 version for my PC just so I could play Burnout Paradise (The Ultimate Box). It was well worth it IMHO. But if your into console emulators such as the SNES, Genesis, and PS1, nothing beats the Gravis GamePad Pro (USB). It's basically a Playstation controller for the PC. I'm surprised they didn't get sued by Sony unless a deal was already cut between them.

Re:X-Box controller (3, Informative)

koolfy (1213316) | about 5 years ago | (#29020987)

Or you can simply buy a 5$ adapter to plug your PS1/2 on your computer (USB) and use the actual PS controller. (linux even supports PS3's wireless controller)

Re:X-Box controller (2, Informative)

tepples (727027) | about 5 years ago | (#29021915)

But if your into console emulators such as the SNES, Genesis, and PS1, nothing beats the Gravis GamePad Pro (USB).

I have one. Its D-pad makes it too easy to press diagonally, which screws up my Tetris big time. So instead, I bought an Adaptoid for my N64 controllers and an EMS USB2 adapter for my PlayStation controllers.

Re:X-Box controller (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29022533)

nothing beats the Gravis GamePad Pro (USB)

This does [] .

Re:X-Box controller (1)

cbhacking (979169) | about 5 years ago | (#29020729)

Actually, I miss the older, larger controllers; Everything switched to the smaller controllers (which apparently many folks preferred, but which I found uncomfortably small), then to the 360 controller (which corrected some of the small controller's other flows, but is still physically smaller than I like). It's not even like I have gian hands - I just like holding something larger than the smaller controllers, and find the button positions more natural.

comfort zones (2, Insightful)

Goffee71 (628501) | about 5 years ago | (#29020325)

Nice that this article fails to consider that all of these technologies come from companies developing within their comfort zones, unaware another company was pushing the boundaries or under immense budgetary pressures to save every last cent.

In the author's world of retrospect, everything should be fantastic.

Re:comfort zones (0, Flamebait)

Shin-LaC (1333529) | about 5 years ago | (#29020799)

Nice passive-aggressive tone without a reason there. Maybe the writer just wanted to get straight to the point and not waste time making excuses for designs that are irrelevant nowadays.

Re:comfort zones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021067)


Which is a problem with all technology companies

Re:comfort zones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29023095)

Well, apart from the "what where they thinking?" section after every one of them where he considers these exact points.

World's first pause button? (4, Informative)

Hamster Lover (558288) | about 5 years ago | (#29020339)

On the bright side, the 5200 joysticks included the world's first on-controller pause button.

Er, the Intellivision had a system-wide pause function that would pause any game when you held the "1" and "9" keys (I believe "3" and "7" also worked) on the keypad simultaneously.

If you want to get picky there was not exactly a button marked "PAUSE", but it served the same function.

Re:World's first pause button? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021501)

Yes. 2 buttons are never 1 button.

Re:World's first pause button? (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about 5 years ago | (#29022955)

Well, at least it gave that goddamn numeric keypad SOME usefulness.

N64 cartridges (5, Insightful)

Mozk (844858) | about 5 years ago | (#29020377)

Loading times for games on CD were very long in the mid-1990s, sometimes trying the patience of the player. [...] In contrast, the access time for ROM chips in cartridges was nearly instantaneous, with nary a loading screen to be found. It made for a better user experience up-front, but ultimately that feature alone wasn't worth the price of admission.

Unfortunate, as long load times is one of the things that really irked me with the PlayStation.

They state that game publishes were reluctant to invest in cartridges, as CDs were less risky and had higher profit margins, but if the focus had been on making good games that people want to play rather than trying to weigh risks and balance game quality with profitability, they really shouldn't have had to worry about that.

Nevertheless, there were a few good N64 games and couple of great ones. Cartridges weren't a complete mistake.

Re:N64 cartridges (3, Interesting)

Z80a (971949) | about 5 years ago | (#29020449)

well, if you take account Nintendo 64 had almost twice the ram of playstation console, and probably the devs would want to use it, that would mean in a lot of cases that N64 would have two times more loadtime than the playstation console, unless they used a more expensive 4x drive.

and that without the expansion pack thing of course, with it, we re talking about 8 mb to fill now.

Re:N64 cartridges (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29020861)

Too bad it only had a 4kb framebuffer and you were still stuck with tiny, horribly stretched or repeating textures all over the place despite any amount of system RAM.

Re:N64 cartridges (1)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | about 5 years ago | (#29021027)

It worked out okay though. Games like Blast Corps and Donkey Kong 64 looked decent for what they had to work with.

Re:N64 cartridges (2, Insightful)

Z80a (971949) | about 5 years ago | (#29021103)

actually thats not a frame buffer, but a texture cache, but you're correct on that being the cause of the crappy blurry textures.

Playstation had a 2k texture cache, but if i'm not mistaken, its hardware automatically did cut the bigger textures in smaller parts to fill the cache with the pixels that only would be used on that triangle, unlike N64 that needed to pull that off manually or not at all, as the cases you pointed.

Re:N64 cartridges (1)

walshy007 (906710) | about 5 years ago | (#29021149)

Too bad it only had a 4kb framebuffer

hate to be pedantic, but it had 4kb texture cache, if it had a 4kb framebuffer it wouldn't even pull of snes style graphics.

Re:N64 cartridges (1)

Z80a (971949) | about 5 years ago | (#29021185)

unless you use it to raster a single line of picture, and change it every scanline of the television, just like on atari.

but you still needs a triangle rastering method that works like that to this thing actually work.

Re:N64 cartridges (1)

mzs (595629) | about 5 years ago | (#29023241)

Ha! yes texture mapping like that would be fun.

One thing though, the VCS only had half a scan line of raster data. All the playfield graphics in the register was reversed for a mirror image by default. Many games had to update the register just as the scanline was in the middle of the screen to not have a pong-like play field. In fact some games would change colors or sprite, missile, ball coords during the scanline for effects like having more colors and more objects on screen. The game could more easily do effects like multicolored sprites by changing the color on a vertical retrace, but then the sprite would need to be the same color left to right. Also by moving the sprite during the vertical retrace it could double the sprites, but they would seem to flicker. So it was much more impressive of an effect to change sprites and the register during the raster.

Re:N64 cartridges (2, Interesting)

TSDMK (979550) | about 5 years ago | (#29021469)

Optical discs as a storage medium suck. They're fragile, slow to read in non-sequential order and make the machines noisy and more prone to failure. They can't die fast enough.

I always find it a bit sad that game consoles have almost entirely gone from the switch it on and play instantly to the PC's wait-half-an-eternity-to-install-and-patch routine (I'm looking at the PS3 in particular).

Re:N64 cartridges (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021533)

The ability to instant play (at least as far as we used to know instant play) is probably gone forever. Game data has simply become too large and pushing gigs (and soon terabytes) of data around is going to take more time no matter what kind of media its on.

That said, I seriously doubt that the throughput on a N64 style cartridge could keep up with a modern optical drive.

Re:N64 cartridges (1)

reub2000 (705806) | about 5 years ago | (#29021907)

Sure load time on the playstation where very annoying, however there is no doubt that the decision to use cartridges hurt the N64. Final Fantasy and it's cinematics where the killer app on the playstation.

Re:N64 cartridges (2, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | about 5 years ago | (#29022009)

In fact, it worked so great that Nintendo lost most of big 3rd party studios/exclusivity, and all but the best N64 games had soap in place of textures.

Re:N64 cartridges (2, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about 5 years ago | (#29023663)

I agree. The N64 suffered in terms of digital music and cutscenes, but the cartridges were plenty big enough to hold great games. You don't need digital music or cutscenes to make a great game.

"what we can learn from their mistakes." (0)

PaganRitual (551879) | about 5 years ago | (#29020447)

And yet the 360 controller still has a d-pad that bad.

Do I really have to try and prove that this isn't a fanboy, flaming comment?

The d-pad on the 360 controller is terrible, the triggers on the PS3 controller are a total joke. There, I hope that helps.

The 360 devs learnt nothing from the PS2, I can't remember if the Xbox d-pad is bad or not, I don't have any games that come to mind that need it a lot.

And hopefully future game console developers learn from the PS3 mistake. Don't make triggers that are hard to keep held down and feel like they are constantly slipping.

Re:"what we can learn from their mistakes." (2, Informative)

Z80a (971949) | about 5 years ago | (#29020465)

the d-pad question sounds more like a patent problem than a real design problem.

good luck doing a good D-pad without running into a sega, sony or nintendo patent.

Re:"what we can learn from their mistakes." (1)

tepples (727027) | about 5 years ago | (#29021927)

good luck doing a good D-pad without running into a sega, sony or nintendo patent.

Exactly copying the design of the Famicom (NES) D-pad from 1983 shouldn't be illegal, given that patents run out after 20 years. Yes, unlike trademarks and lately copyrights, patents actually expire,

20/20 hindsight (0, Offtopic)

iamacat (583406) | about 5 years ago | (#29020589)

More contemporary (and popular) products have horrible design flaws. Kindle, where pressing back button loses track of dozens of pages you read since opening the book. iPhone, which has to be charged every day just so that it's thin. MacOSX, which makes access to trivial UNIX configuration files an exercise in frustration. Windows, oh well let's not even go there.

Re:20/20 hindsight (1)

amplt1337 (707922) | about 5 years ago | (#29022817)

If you're charging your iphone daily, you're doin it wrong. Just turn down the screen brightness and the auto-lighting-adjust feature, and it'll run for three-five days on one charge (depending on your usage levels of course).

bit short of ideas... (1)

dissolved (887190) | about 5 years ago | (#29020603)

Problem 1: Poor Controllers, Problem 3: Ergonomically Hellish Controllers, Problem 4: Unreliable controllers. That and the fact power through RF is mentioned twice - this could have been a lot more concise without losing a lot of the facts.

Re:bit short of ideas... (1)

Megane (129182) | about 5 years ago | (#29022189)

I agree. If you're going to list ten design mistakes, you should list ten different design mistakes, not three consoles each with the same mistake.

Re:bit short of ideas... (1)

RoverDaddy (869116) | about 5 years ago | (#29023313)

My complaint with the article (at least after reading the 1st half) is that lots of these "mistakes" are really just laments that the technology of the 80's was not as good as today's. In any generation, design engineers have to work with the tools that are available. Poor sound? Well how much would a 'better' chip cost, and would the very best sound chip of its time really measure up to the author's expectations? Unreliable analog joystick? Were the manufacturing techniques (cheaper production, finer tolerances, advanced materials) that would lead to a more reliable (and acceptably low-cost) joystick available at the time? To anyone?

Why not complain about Classic PC Design Mistakes like 1) only 4 (or 16 or 32 or 256) colors on display. 2) Very low resolution. 3) Insufficient multitasking support. 4) Dumb AI. 5) No input devices other than keyboard. 6) Unreliable game loading with primitive floppy media.

I think I could sum up at least 1/4 of this article by saying "technology sucked in the 80's"

Re:bit short of ideas... (1)

RoverDaddy (869116) | about 5 years ago | (#29023463)

Now that I've finished the article, I see that it finally does mention "available technology" as a factor in these "design mistakes" in later entries, most notably #10 and #11 (Nintendo Virtual Boy), and #13 (Nintendo GBA). I also see comments where readers wish the author tried to contact the engineers behind these products to learn what they "really" were thinking. I agree.

Re:bit short of ideas... (2, Informative)

IntlHarvester (11985) | about 5 years ago | (#29023623)

Yeah, the author didn't put any research into this.

For example, about the 5200 controllers he says "Atari engineers likely wanted to try something new".

However it's already well documented on the web that the engineers thought the controllers sucked. It was marketing that demanded the controller design just so they could claim a greater feature set than the Intellevision controllers.

The Sega Master System (4, Interesting)

16Chapel (998683) | about 5 years ago | (#29020985)

...had two (identical) momentary buttons on the top of the console, one for 'pause' and one for 'reset'.

I remember once playing Zillion, where you had to press the pause button to switch character. I had been playing for about 4 hours when I reached for the pause button and.....

Re:The Sega Master System (1)

_133MHz (1556101) | about 5 years ago | (#29021051)

The real WTF here is having the pause button on the console itself.
It's like returning to the dark ages of TVs without remote controllers!

Also (if I'm not mistaken) the SMS' pause button fires off an NMI instead of being just another joypad input, making it more like a "Freeze" button. Notice how most SMS games pause like if you halted the main processor.

Re:The Sega Master System (1)

Dwedit (232252) | about 5 years ago | (#29022003)

Pause may trigger an interrupt, but that doesn't imply anything about how a game would handle that interrupt.

Re:The Sega Master System (1)

lyinhart (1352173) | about 5 years ago | (#29021713)

Ha ha. And I don't think Zillion had a save feature either! Join the club. Some titles like Golden Axe Warrior used button 1 to invoke a subscreen, but that meant there was one button left for in-game actions.

Re:The Sega Master System (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021809)

Anyone remember Xmen for the Sega Genesis, where the ONLY way to get to the last level was to reset the console before the timer ran out in the level before? Awesome...

Early PS1 Optical Pickup Problems (5, Insightful)

_133MHz (1556101) | about 5 years ago | (#29021023)

Remember having to put your PS1 on its side (or completely upside-down) or else it wouldn't read your games? The optical pickup mechanism of the early models of the PlayStation used a plastic piece as a guide for the sliding laser assembly, repeated motion degraded the plastic piece over time causing optical drift - turning the PS1 on its side forced the laser back to its correct position (yay gravity!).

Sony replaced that piece with a shiny metal guide in their later models, much like every CD-ROM drive has used for the past two decades or so.

Dreamcast F1 Resistor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021161)

The Sega Dreamcast was a great console. However, they made a mistake and used a crappy resistor that burned out if you put too many game pads in. When the resistor burnt out the console was unplayable. The fix for this was getting an 8hm resistor and replacing the orginal sega one. Then you could get back to playing crazy taxi and sega tennis :--)

Re:Dreamcast F1 Resistor (1)

_133MHz (1556101) | about 5 years ago | (#29021379)

And don't forget flaky PSUs which caused the console to get trapped in an infinite reset cycle.

Also the Dreamcast optical drive is obnoxiously LOUD!

Re:Dreamcast F1 Resistor (2, Informative)

Megane (129182) | about 5 years ago | (#29022145)

That's not a resistor, it's actually a mini-fuse in packaging that looks like a resistor. Those things can really be a pain in the ass if they're set up where they are easy to blow.

Classic consoles? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021267)

How about bonehead decisions on the current consoles?

Like the PS3/X-Box analog stick "button"....who in the hell thought it was a good idea for the analog sticks to double as game buttons as well? It is impossible to NOT press these "buttons" by accident in the heat of a tense moment in any game. I can't tell you the number of times I've suddenly gone into "crouch mode" in Fallout 3 or activated my "search for power sources" mode in inFamous.

Can we get rid of this idiotic controller design, like right now?

Re:Classic consoles? (1)

Z80a (971949) | about 5 years ago | (#29021429)

this is been with us since the original dual shock if i'm not mistaken. and yes, its stupid.

Re:Classic consoles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29021701)

I don't think having the button in the sticks is a problem because for some games they work really well. The real issue is game developers not allowing you to fully remap your controller like a PC game would allow.

Re:Classic consoles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29023779)

The problem is somewhere between your mom's couch and your mom's tv.

Looks like a case of patent problems (3, Insightful)

St.Creed (853824) | about 5 years ago | (#29021403)

In my experience, really bad design decisions aren't always motivated by idiots trying to push their hobby horse, but often because better solutions have been patented to death.

Case in point: electronic television guides. Every format under the sun is patented. Philips refused to submit to extortion for years and implemented one miserable scheme after another, until they finally got an agreement with a patent holder. Even then, the patent holder refused to let Philips implement the whole thing themselves but instead insisted it had to be their own, horribly buggy, implementation. You can still hear the tv-guys at Philips gnashing their teeth.

I fear it's sort of similar with these controllers: the good ideas were being patented, so the designers had to avoid them and come up with something 'original'. That doesn't always work out for the best, as demonstrated in the article :)

Re:Looks like a case of patent problems (3, Interesting)

Miamicanes (730264) | about 5 years ago | (#29021719)

Perfect example of death-by-patent: Trackpoint sticks below the spacebar. Your thumb is a MUCH better finger to use for manipulating a pointer stick... it's stronger, and it's a lot easier to execute fine isometric motions with it than with a hyperextended index finger. Unfortunately, Fujitsu included the below-the-spacebar position as part of its patent for a pointer, and nobody besides Sony has ever dared to risk an infringement lawsuit by putting an "IBM" Trackpoint in the "Fujitsu" position (Sony presumably has either a cross-licensing agreement, or feels safe from a lawsuit). The fact that Fujitsu's "stick" utterly sucks ass (slippery concave top, vs rubbery convex top... the exact opposite of the Trackpoint) is the icing on the cake.

Don't believe me that it's a better position? Try it sometime. Find a Thinkpad, then position your hands so your thumb is over the stick and give it a try. You'll be left cursing everyone responsible for putting the stick between "GHB" instead of below the spacebar.

The Jaguar CONTROLLER?! (1)

hal2814 (725639) | about 5 years ago | (#29021761)

Of all the crappy design decisions Atari made with the Jaguar, they're giving it crap over the controller? The controller was pretty comfortable and worked well for most of the Jaguar games. The crappy cartridge slot that was wearing out before mine hit year 1 of ownership, the incredibly awkward and unreliable CD drive, and hardware complexity that would stump Saturn developers would've all been better knocks to make on the Jaguar.

And as far as missing items, where the HELL is the sidetalker? The original N-Gage belongs on this list more than half the items listed.

Other mistakes (1)

lyinhart (1352173) | about 5 years ago | (#29021787)

Some other mistakes not mentioned:

Sega Master System - as mentioned in a previous comment, the pause button was on the console (right next to the identical reset button) years after the Atari 5200 placed pause buttons on controllers. There were also only two buttons on the controller, while the competing NES had four.

SNES - previously mentioned on /. Early production runs of the SNES shell used a cheap plastic that over time turned a ghastly yellow.

PlayStation - a malfunctioning CD-ROM drive on early models that caused many a PlayStation owner to play with the PlayStation upside-down.

Dreamcast - a big controller with big analog triggers, based on the Saturn's analog controller. Developers didn't make use of the analog functions of the triggers and there weren't as many buttons on the controller as there were on the PlayStation. There was also only one analog stick on the controller as well. Similarly, the VMU wasn't used for much. And it drained battery power rapidly, even while it was plugged into the controller, making it useless for playing the few mini-games that were available for it. To make matters worse, the VMU used lithium "coin" batteries that were a pain to replace.

Standby/Hibernate (4, Insightful)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 5 years ago | (#29021973)

I want the nextgen consoles to have a standby or hibernate mode like a Windows box. I would no longer have to issue fatwas against game designers who put save points three hours apart.

Re:Standby/Hibernate (1)

Rival (14861) | about 5 years ago | (#29022219)

I want the nextgen consoles to have a standby or hibernate mode like a Windows box. I would no longer have to issue fatwas against game designers who put save points three hours apart.

Thank you! I've been saying that for years.

As an side: if you're willing to wait a generation or so, emulators provide universal save points as well as many other convenient features.

Re:Standby/Hibernate (1)

MogNuts (97512) | about 5 years ago | (#29022523)

Yes! The PSP has this feature--check it out. This is the true "killer app" of gaming. When I first discovered and used this, I thought, "this is amazing--why has no one ever thought of this before?!" And get the PSP 3000 so if ur not a fan of playing on a small screen u can play it on a big screen tv.

Re:Standby/Hibernate (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29023233)

DS/DSi, close lid -> Standby. I was playing ffta2 for a couple hours, then I closed the lid. Accidentally left it in standby for over a week, I was impressed when I could still play for several hours after remembering it was in standby.

Re:Standby/Hibernate (1)

cluke (30394) | about 5 years ago | (#29023279)

Well, the DS has it too, you just close the clamshell.

I totally agree with the article about the lack of backlight on the GBA. It was invisible unless you were in very bright light - if there was no sunshine, you had to somehow angle yourself directly under a lamp, merely being in a lit room was not enough. And then the irony of the DS Phat screen, where they made the exact opposite mistake - you can hardly see it in anything but pitch darkness! You just sit there squinting at the reflection of your sad little face staring back at you - in two screens at once, for added insult.

DS already dunnit (1)

tepples (727027) | about 5 years ago | (#29023157)

I want the nextgen consoles to have a standby or hibernate mode like a Windows box.

This is on the DS and PSP, as well as in select Game Boy Advance games. Or are you asking for a separate hibernation file per title and per user? That could get real big real fast.

I would no longer have to issue fatwas against game designers who put save points three hours apart.

Yet people still bitch about New SMB's save points because they can't squeeze in a round of Nintendogs or Animal Crossing 2 while New SMB is sleeping.

Studio II (2, Interesting)

Megane (129182) | about 5 years ago | (#29022061)

First of all, let's understand something here. The Studio II was the second programmable console released, ever. I saw it in a list of "10 worst consoles ever" the other day... a list which I consider invalid for never mentioning the horrible Arcadia 2001. Basically, the Studio II had nothing other than Pong machines to use as a reference, since the Channel F hadn't been around long enough. (FYI, both systems were designed by chip companies trying to hype their own chipsets, and the Intellivision was a 3rd-party use of a pre-existing chip manufacturer's chipset.)

So you see, it's got the controllers built into the main console unit, and one wire for both the RF and power. But in actuality this design meant that the console was the controller! And the RF-powered idea was a clever idea to reduce cord clutter. If you're picking up the whole console and using it as a controller, you don't want a second wire getting wrapped around things.

As for the 5200, Atari was trying to cram as many patents as they could into that thing, and most of them were crap ideas that went into the controller. But this time, Atari wasn't just trying to reduce cord clutter, it was also the first system with an automatic RF switch. It's just that unlike Nintendo, they tried to do the switching with clunky relays. Atari were thinking in the right direction, but got it backwards. You give power to the RF switch, not the other way around.

However, both the Studio II and Atari proved that you could put DC and RF on the same wire, which is what made automatic RF switches a standard in every console since the NES.

Saturn complex?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29022509)

Why did he moan about the comlexity of development for the Saturn while the only thing that he complained about the Jaguar was the iffy controller. The Jaguar's architecture was nearly complex than the Saturn's, and also VERY difficult to develop for unless the developer(s) ignored(mostly) some of the extra processors(like they do on the DS)... Not to mention the super low quality of the Atari development tools, featuring items like incomplete/non-existent documentation/tools/etc.

cost cost cost (1)

cats-paw (34890) | about 5 years ago | (#29022975)

and trying to keep it as low as possible, is why bad decisions are made.

Eliminating the standard hard drive from the 360 (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about 5 years ago | (#29023117)

I'm a Xbox fanboy, but MS's decision to eliminate the standard hard drive from the 360 still baffles me. I know they wanted to save a buck, but it's still rare to see a console manufacturer actually take a step BACKWARDS from one console generation to the next. It basically meant that developers couldn't rely on the hard drive for caching (the way they could on the Xbox 1), and so now I can't walk through Oblivion without getting annoying texture pop-in's. Though they've largely improved on this by allowing hard drive installs and moving to phase out the harddrive-free SKU, it was still a bonehead move that left the 360 way more crippled than it ever needed to be.

AVGN (1)

dissy (172727) | about 5 years ago | (#29023723)


It looks like this guy just discovered the angry video game nerd [] video files, spent the weekend watching them all, and rehashing every complaint made in those videos for hardware on his own site in text format with the humor stripped out.

I would say it is a good list, if it wasn't for the fact I've seen all of these problems complained about in one place before

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