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Portables (Games)

20 Years of Handheld Console Evolution 74

Posted by Zonk
from the watch-darwin-in-gorgeous-8-bit-action dept.
marcellizot writes "It has taken a while for handheld consoles to crawl from the primordial 8-bit slime to today's apex predator polygon juggling brutes. To illustrate just how much things have advanced over the last 20 years, Pocket Gamer has pulled together a few facts and figures in pretty chart form. Pitting the vital statistics of the critical handhelds of today and yesteryear against one another, there are some interesting facts to be gleaned from this infotainment extravaganza."
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20 Years of Handheld Console Evolution

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  • "8 bit slime"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    That's an awfully funny way of talking about something that I can still go buy new games for at many stores. The gameboy was a wild success, and still is, 20 years later.
  • I dunno, but it's not all that comparative if in certain graphs, certain machines are missing. Most stats for the Sega Game Gear are missing. So either, they didn't have one lying around or they didn't find the data in their reseach.

    They could have just asked me about the Game Gear, because I still got mine and it's functional and I got a few games.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by toolie (22684)
      They could have just asked me about the Game Gear, because I still got mine and it's functional and I got a few games.

      I'm sure you were at the top of the 'call them because they still have a Game Gear and a few games' list, but just didn't get around to calling you. They did say if somebody sent the information in that they'd update the charts, though.
      • How serious do you think I was with that statement? Frankly?

        • So you don't still have your Game Gear?

          Or you still have it but it's not functional?

          Or you have it and it's functional but you don't have any games for it?

          • It's functional, it has games and I still have it. In a shoebox somewhere in the closet. It's a Japanese import: all manuals are in Japanese and so was the first game I got for it. Out of memory, I have "Castle of Illusion", "Sonic I", "Sonic II", "Lemmings", some F1 racing game, some plane action game, and a game with Taz the Tasmanian Devil. I might have others, but I have to find that shoebox.

            I wasn't being serious about people calling me about it, after all, how could they have known...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      They could have just asked me about the Game Gear, because I still got mine and it's functional and I got a few games.
      They would have, but they assumed your Game Gear would run out of batteries a few minutes into the questioning.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jawtheshark (198669) *

        Hehehe, actually those new 2500mAh NiMH AA cells should work for quite a long time. Back in the day, I only had NiCad, and not rated that high. 1h30 playtime at best...

        Now, that I think of it, I should really try it with modern batteries.

  • having owned a GB, GBA, SP, DS, GameGear and PSP, I've played my SP the most, DS second most, and PSP distant third.

    I like the instant on of the SP, makes a quick gaming break more timely. Of course I'm usually playing NES games via pocketnes on the thing... was a big fan of the GB when I was a kid. Used to do a lot of car trips so games like Final Fantasy kept me occupied.

    The GBA sucked only because it lacked a light. I liked the shape. Though the SP folding is nice nad the light works well.

    Tom
    • by Dan East (318230)
      Going back a couple generations, the original GB sucked because of the display update rate. When the GB was released platformers like Super Mario Brothers and Castelvania were the rage on the NES. Ironically the display refresh rate clashed horribly with that genre, in which the entire display had to scroll. Thus the crisp, high-contrast (relatively) display turned into a total blur as soon as you moved your character. Tetris, which Nintendo wisely shipped with the GB, was the perfect game for the hardw
      • The GB LCD *controller* runs at the same rate as the one from the GBA, that is 59.97Hz or whatever approximation thereof it is.

        That said, the LCD itself updated about half that if that. But I think you just get used to it. I used to play SMB1/2 for the GB back when it was a big deal to rent a game [e.g. 17-18 years ago]. Me parents would take me to the shop once in a while to rent a game, usually for the weekend.

        The NES was generally more apt for flashy graphics though, aside from being in colour, the sc
        • by akheron01 (637033)
          Hell yeah I remember the plastic gameboy game cases! I used to sell weed in those back in high school :)
        • The NES was generally more apt for flashy graphics though, aside from being in colour, the screen was bigger and sound was more FM-tastic [than the Game Boy]

          I think you mean "chip-tastic".

          Neither the Game Boy nor the NES used FM Synthesis for their sound production (except for selected Famicom Disk System titles, but I don't think you meant you were playing those). They both had Nintendo-designed simple tone generators in them which were less advanced (but often also much less cheezy) than the FM synthesiz
          • OMG SHUT UP shut up why the hell aren't you shutting up?

            Tone generator might as well be FM Synth for all the rats ass I don't care. It went beep beep blip boop beep. Good enough for the average 6 year old, or for peeps like me who are basically six years old no matter how old we get :-)

            Tom
      • Going back a couple generations, the original GB sucked because of the display update rate.

        About the refresh rate, tomstdenis is right. The problem with the Game Boy wasn't the frame rate (59.73 frames per second) but the response rate of the pixels. A lot of later Game Boy games (Balloon Fight, Super Mario Land 2, Pokémon) dropped to 30 fps just to hide the blurring, in order to allow each pixel to turn fully on or fully off.

        Tetris, which Nintendo wisely shipped with the GB, was the perfect game for the hardware, as nothing (not even the falling pieces) required pixel-level scrolling.

        Except real Tetris is a lot faster [youtube.com] than the Game Boy version, which was slowed down to keep pace with the screen.

  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:26PM (#18929567) Homepage Journal

    8KB. How the hell did anyone make games that ran in 8KB? Talk about dedication to your art.

    Of course, the answer is that they didn't. It was true that the GameBoy had only 8KB of RAM, but when you've got a socket for nearly unlimited ROM, that 8KB doesn't matter as much. All the graphics, sounds, code, and other space wasters are all in a read-only section of memory while the teeny-tiny information on the X and Y positions of characters is contained in the (suddenly quite massive) 8KB of memory.

    If you want to talk bad, let's talk about the Atari 2600's 128 bytes of RAM. ;-)

    Now if you're paying attention, you may have just realized why the PSP needs so much internal memory. That's right, it has to load all of the graphics, sound, code, and other assets off the UMD disk and into main memory. Thus it requires significantly greater RAM capacity than the DS, which uses an advanced form of the venerable ROM chip. Yet the increase in memory gives the programmer options on whether or not to load those assets into main RAM (say, because they're compressed in the ROM chip) or stream them directly from the chip.

    I wouldn't go as far as to say that the design makes the DS superior to the PSP, but it certainly demonstrates how clever Nintendo is in building gaming systems. Very few hardware designers would even dream of designing seemingly underpowered machines the way Nintendo does. Yet Nintendo consistently demonstrates that they know how to focus on games, not hardware features that may or may not be necessary.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tomstdenis (446163)
      To be honest, the cartridge makes more sense for portables. They take less power, less prone to breaking, load faster, etc. Sure they cost more to produce but in the end the value is higher.

      Also why I play my SP more than my PSP even though various PSP games are teh fun.

      Tom
    • Now if you're paying attention, you may have just realized why the PSP needs so much internal memory. That's right, it has to load all of the graphics, sound, code, and other assets off the UMD disk and into main memory. Thus it requires significantly greater RAM capacity than the DS, which uses an advanced form of the venerable ROM chip. Yet the increase in memory gives the programmer options on whether or not to load those assets into main RAM (say, because they're compressed in the ROM chip) or stream t

    • Yes you can stream data from the card BUT that is exactly what you do, you stream it. It is NOT part of "main memory". In a way it is pretty similar to reading data on the fly from the HD or CD or offcourse the UMD disc.

      The PSP can and does in certain games also keep the UMD running to load data as needed (this offcourse sucks battery power). With GTA on the PSP it is pretty amazing (until you remember the low resolution that the game actually has) how it can once load a level and then play smoothly.

      The D

      • actually the way it worked on the original GB and NES/SNES it actually acted more like a memory mapped file (this allowed carts that actually had more data than either system could directly access, since they could use banking to switch which part it was looking at) that you could use just like it was in main memory. don't know about the GBA and DS specifically but i doubt they changed that since it made things more useful.
      • by ClamIAm (926466)
        The DS design itself is NOT superior.

        Why?

        The DS can NEVER play GTA even if it had the horsepower.

        I assume this is why you think the DS is "not superior". However the word "superior" is extremely subjective, and you give no qualifiers to this effect. While you are perhaps correct regarding "computing power", you are completely wrong in, say, "battery life".

        Also, if I upgraded the DS's "horsepower" to a 4 GHz processor, a gig of RAM, a 1080p screen, and a DVD attachment, it still couldn't "play GTA"? Wow,
      • The DS design itself is NOT superior. It is just different. The DS can NEVER play GTA even if it had the horsepower. The DS will forever be limited to its small memory, it can "swap/stream" faster and more random but it can never hold as much at the same time.
        The Game Boy Advance ran Payback, a GTA clone rendered in software 3D. The reason you never heard about it is because it was released everywhere but the United States and Canada, just like Kuru Kuru Kururin.
    • 8K! 8K? Hah! In my day we had to use 32 nybbles [wikipedia.org] because the Kaiser had stolen the word byte!

      But seriously, this is not the first time that I been frustrated that a "history" of handheld computing didn't include the Microvision [wikipedia.org]. I remember when the Gameboy came out in 1989, and I thought, "But, I had one of those 10 years ago."

      As for 8K, as recently as 2006 people were designing games to run on modern computers that were entirely under 4K [javaunlimited.net].

      • As for 8K, as recently as 2006 people were designing games to run on modern computers that were entirely under 4K.

        To be pedantic for a moment (since I happen to know a thing or two about the Java4K contest), the contest is not about trying to get Java programs to run in 4K of memory. It's about creating the best game possible with only 4K of code/asset space. The games can potentially eat up hundreds of megs of memory at runtime. As long as they fit within 4K on disk, it doesn't matter. This has lead to a v

  • Game gear (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LordBafford (1087463) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:40PM (#18929825) Homepage
    It's really unfortunate the game gear didn't take off better, it was color screen and they even had an adapter to watch TV on it. Game boy just had a better variety of games then game gear did. i still have my original gameboy and it still works just fine.
    • by otacon (445694)
      The game gear was great (i had one), but what I thought was an even better idea was the nomad, it allowed you to play the larger library of genesis games on a handheld...I don't even remember a marketing campaign for it.
      • PocketNES allows me to play the large library of legitimately acquired NES games on my GBA. :-)

        Tom
        • PocketNES allows me to play the large library of legitimately acquired NES games on my GBA. :-)

          What brand of copier did you use to legitimately copy your legitimately acquired NES Game Paks to your GBA card? And is it possible to go the other way? I want to get into NES development on the actual hardware, but I want a copier that can write my homebrew [pineight.com] to an NES cart that has flash soldered onto it.

      • I remember playing NHL '95 (genesis) on a Nomad on a bus trip in school. It had an additional controller port on top, and the viewing angle on the lcd was good enough for two people to split. I can't remember who won though. Probably whoever played as the Bruins.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I love my Game Gear. In fact I'm playing Sonic on it rig-
      Wait, I've got to find some batteries
      -ght now, and it's one good gam-
      more batteries...
      -e for the time. I'm amazed at how they sho-
      another set of batteries
      -ved the guts of the Sega Master Sys-
      this thing needs better battery life
      -tem into a handheld. They even ma-
      this is getting real old real fast
      -de a TV addon to watch stuff whi- ...
      -le waiting for more games to come out.

      You know, I think I've heard about something like that recently...
      • Do nickel metal hydride batteries improve the battery life of the Game Gear system?

        • I don't know about nickel metal hydride batteries specifically, but I do know that the game gear came with an optional rechargable battery pack that had a few hours of battery life. I was actually pretty happy with it as a kid. I've still got it laying around somewhere, and I'd bet it still can hold a bit of charge. Game gear was definitely the best of all portable systems back in the day.
        • They don't all that much. Not to mention that I've never seen a 6-battery charger, so you'd have to buy two chargers or wait longer for them to charge, while the Game Gear will drain them just as fast as always. There was a battery pack, but I don't know how much longer they lasted
  • I have one and I play it regularly. I'm not sure why the article slams it so much.
    • I have one and I play it regularly. I'm not sure why the article slams it so much.

      Maybe because it was way too big?

      The original gameboy already looks massive, blocky and heavy by today's standards...

      A friend of mine told me that he read somewhere (a friend of a friend of the postman's friend's cousin of the original guy...) that the original lynx design was smaller, but that the focus group came up with a somtething along the lines of "it's too small, we want something bigger, show us what we pay for!". There is absolutely no proof about that AFAIK, but I have no problem believing

      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        A friend of mine told me that he read somewhere (a friend of a friend of the postman's friend's cousin of the original guy...) that the original lynx design was smaller, but that the focus group came up with a somtething along the lines of "it's too small, we want something bigger, show us what we pay for!". There is absolutely no proof about that AFAIK

        Actually, the person who said that was R J Mical [wikipedia.org], (co-inventor of the Lynx and several other major machines, including the 3DO and the Amiga), and the interview [1up.com] in which this was mentioned was linked in another of my posts in this thread. [slashdot.org]

        Unless you believe that the interview was faked, or that Mical was distorting the truth (intentionally or otherwise), I'd say that was pretty reliable.

        • Actually, the person who said that was R J Mical, (co-inventor of the Lynx and several other major machines, including the 3DO and the Amiga), and the interview in which this was mentioned was linked in another of my posts in this thread. Unless you believe that the interview was faked, or that Mical was distorting the truth (intentionally or otherwise), I'd say that was pretty reliable.

          My apologies. I read your comment way after posting mine. I honestly did not know who said that, just what a friend of

          • by Dogtanian (588974)
            I wouldn't worry about it. There are a lot of urban myths and half-truths surrounding consoles from people who think they "know" "facts", and personally I'd rather someone express their scepticism if they're unsure about something. BTW, it wasn't meant as a "you should have read my comment!" attack; that was placed later in the thread hierarchy (although posted earlier), and I've done the same thing myself on occasion. :-)
            • by mshurpik (198339)
              His name is Dennis Troller. Come on.

              I would say that Lynx's real strength was bringing VGA-color gaming to the console. Gates of Zendocon had eight times more game (50+ levels) than your average 6-8 levels of space shooter. The better Lynx games had depth that reminded you of a 386 PC.

              It was also 100x100 resolution pitiful. That's laid out clear as day in the article, and if any of these people had played Lynx, they would certainly remember.
    • You can get NiMH batteries cheaply these days. If that were the case in 1989, it might have met with a different fate. Their complaints were that it was big and chewed up batteries. Atari forgot to make their portable system portable.
  • by Dogtanian (588974) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:07PM (#18930313) Homepage
    Apparently, Atari made the first version of the Lynx larger deliberately because focus groups told them they equated that with value-for-money (see this R J Mical interview, search for "never trust focus groups"...). [1up.com]

    They later released a second version with almost identical specs, but which was quite a bit smaller and much better looking.

    The Lynx may have been battery greedy and a bit bulky (even the revised version), but the spec was still *amazing* for something that size at the time. There was a good case to be made that it filled a somewhat different niche to the Game Boy. Shame it lacked a *really* must-have game like Tetris; and *that* was fantastic- the GB's horrible flat and smeary greeny-grey graphics really didn't matter there.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Atari was crippled, as they always were, by poor third party support. They could never get it into their heads, even when better companies like Activision started showing them up, that good third party software is the key to a healthy console (particularly when your corporate culture is as anti-designer as Atari's was). No matter how many times they failed because of this, they kept making the same mistake--right up until the Jaguar finally finished them off.
    • Atari didn't design or create the Lynx, Epyx did. The handheld was already created, however the company was going bankrupt and sold it to Atari.
      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        Atari didn't design or create the Lynx, Epyx did. The handheld was already created, however the company was going bankrupt and sold it to Atari.

        You're right; the interview doesn't actually say it was Atari that did that.

        FWIW, I personally wouldn't assume that the "complete" design Atari got would include the final case design; the insides would be enough. Partly because I'd have assumed that this wouldn't have been finalised until more in-depth market research had been done, much closer to launch. Maybe Epyx really did get that close to releasing it themselves, though.

  • I still have my original Game Boy, purchased in 1990. Then again, I still have my original Atari 2600 too. >.>

    The article made me start thinking again about buying a Sega Nomad, and I'm surprised at how cheap and available they are on eBay. I should probably just get a laptop and load it with emulators instead though :p
    • by aichpvee (631243)
      I'd offer to sell you mine, but I lost half of that detachable battery case that came in two pieces for replacing the batteries.

      Would have been a great system if they'd made it a little more comfortable to hold and gotten the power consumption down to something reasonable. I was never a huge fan of Genesis, but somehow the games seemed better when they were portable.
  • The good old days (Score:2, Insightful)

    by navygeek (1044768)
    I still remember playing the old Tiger handhelds. They weren't 'console' systems, but they were among my first introduction into portable gaming. They sure were fun ways to pass the time. I still have several of them, like Castlevania, Paperboy, Double Dragon, and Star Trek. Then again, I also remember playing the old Baseball [handheldmuseum.com].
    • by mshurpik (198339)
      My favorite was the Defender handheld by Entex.

      http://i4.ebayimg.com/03/i/000/9b/fb/8196_1_b.JPG [ebayimg.com]

      Defender had a full 2D grid of sprites which allowed up/down movement, left/right scrolling and placement of enemies anywhere on the screen. It also had eight buttons and a speed control knob!

      In terms of gameplay, Entex's Defender was (amazingly) pretty close to the Atari version. You had to catch falling civilians all over the place. I never got a Tiger because, judging from the commercials, they sacrificed s
  • Microvision (Score:3, Informative)

    by vjmurphy (190266) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:29PM (#18930761) Homepage
    Forget these fancy handheld consoles. Give me a Microvision http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microvision [wikipedia.org]

    Here's a representation of a Klingon from Star Trek: Phaser Strike:

    ###

    Now that's graphical power.
  • In TFA, Pocket Gamer lists DS' weight w/ battery as being 218 grams. This is for the Lite revision. The Chunky original was 275 grams w/ battery.

    It's also notable that the article lists PSP's weight as being 280 grams while it is in fact 260 grams.
    • by tepples (727027)

      It's also notable that the article lists PSP's weight as being 280 grams while it is in fact 260 grams.
      What is the mass of a UMD at rest?
  • ... in favor of the PSP, it would seem. All the graphs and commentary seemed (to me, at least) to say, "Wow, look how much memory the PSP has! Look at how huge the screen is! Our processor runs circles around everyone else!" Then it kind of glosses over the fact that the DS is outselling it even with its "inferior" specs.

    "It's the games, stupid!"
    • by beef623 (998368) *
      I thought the article bashed the PSP more than it supported it. The graphs are just the spec comparison, don't know why they didn't make a graph for the price comparison too.
  • No love for NEC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brywalker (738506) on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:31PM (#18931795)
    What about the TurboExpress? It was by far the best portable of it's time...
    • by ab (5715)
      'Cause it'd mess up his graphs. :-) There are some other machines that could've been included too- this isn't a huge domain to survey. But the leaving off the TurboExpress- when including the Nomad!- is unforgivable in any case.

      I mention this because the Nomad is to the Genesis as the TurboExpress is to the TurboGrafx- only NEC got there a lot (lot) sooner. Also, the Nomad gets very little love, seems to me. I sure like mine, though the Ms. Pac thing stinks.

      ab
  • The article is somewhat interesting, but I'm left with the impression they did nothing more than browse a few Wikipedia entries. And even then they overlooked significant details and didn't even include some important systems, like the numerous versions of the original Gameboy among others.

    Regarding the apparent preference towards the PSP, I have a DS Lite myself, but having played the PSP a bit I'd say it's immediately more impressive. It feels like a true jump in technology over past portable devices, mor
  • No love for the GP32 or GP2X, the Linux-based homebrew god of handhelds. For that matter, they include the Ngage but skip the Gizmondo? Poor article.
  • Well? Why isn't it there? They are easy to find, as I know many people who loved theirs.

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