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Classic Games (Games) Entertainment Games

Classic Game Console Design Mistakes 185

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-could-land-a-helicopter-on-that-controller dept.
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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Classic Game Console Design Mistakes

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  • 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: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Sockatume (732728)

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

  • ... 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...

  • Perfect System ;-)
  • 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.)
    • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @03:39AM (#29020525) Journal

      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: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Kratisto (1080113)

        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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by walshy007 (906710)

        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: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Moryath (553296)

          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 wh

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by mgblst (80109)

            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.

            Yeah, I remember that from training at the Jedi Academy.

      • by Hatta (162192) *

        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.

      • by Khashishi (775369)

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

      • by Khyber (864651)

        "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."

        And you obviously don't remember the NES Advantage pad, which had that shape before the Genesis EVER existed.

  • Correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by MattG91 (1330553) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @02:53AM (#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.
    • 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...
      • And with the battery life of the g1 you need to connect it to a loader as much as you can

        Err, I get over 3 days of life out of my G1 on the standard battery with moderate use.

  • comfort zones (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Goffee71 (628501) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @03:01AM (#29020325) Homepage
    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.
  • by Hamster Lover (558288) * on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @03:04AM (#29020339) Journal

    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.

  • N64 cartridges (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mozk (844858) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @03:11AM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Z80a (971949)
      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.
      • 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.

        "more expensive" 4x drive is relative. Through the 1990s, CD-ROM read performance improved from 1x to about 40x without significantly increasing the price of the drive. And as faster drives were released, slower drives could be

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TSDMK (979550)
      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).
    • by reub2000 (705806)
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sznupi (719324)

      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192) *

      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.

    • by residieu (577863)
      If you don't think about the risks when making and marketing your game, you're not going to survive long as a software company. If you don't make profitable games, you can't pay your developers, or your marketers, or management and you go out of business.
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

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

      That doesn't follow at all. Nobody ever claimed that because the N64 used carts, it was literally impossible to ever make a good game for it. Hell, Xbox has good games that could fit on N64 carts (like Geometry Wars.)

      Cartridges were a mistake because Nintendo lost much of its support from publishers. Imagine where Nintendo would be right now if Final Fantasy 7 or Tomb Raider had come out on N64. It

  • by 16Chapel (998683) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:44AM (#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.....
  • by _133MHz (1556101) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:50AM (#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.
  • Classic consoles? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @06:39AM (#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?

    • by brkello (642429)
      I have never had an issue with this. Maybe you have over-developed thumb muscles?
  • by St.Creed (853824) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:00AM (#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 :)

    • by Miamicanes (730264) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:08AM (#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.

  • 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 origin

  • Standby/Hibernate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:42AM (#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.
    • by Rival (14861)

      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.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        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.

        As everyone has mentioned, current-gen portable systems have had this feature for awhile now.

        BUt I would really wish my Xbox360 or PS3 had it. Po

    • 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 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Megane (129182) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:48AM (#29022061) Homepage

    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.

  • 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
  • by dissy (172727)

    Wow

    It looks like this guy just discovered the angry video game nerd [cinemassacre.com] 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

  • Like every Game Boy model before it, the original Game Boy Advance model did not include a built-in light for its LCD screen.

    While it was Japan only, the Game Boy Light did have a backlight. http://nintendo.wikia.com/wiki/Game_Boy_Light [wikia.com]

  • Splitting an article over four pages.

    What were they thinking?

  • One mistake they missed that plagued the 3DO and others was having to daisy chain controllers. In theory it sounds like a genius solution. In practice it usually ended up with Player 1 ripping the controller out of Player 2's hand if they happen to move.

  • I mean seriously that design was better than the 2600. You didn't have to go behind the tv to take care of things and only one wire came from the TV to your game system. (Of course the one place most likely to have a wall socket was behind the TV.) They made it more convenient with less clutter. Why did people complain? Because they couldn't swap wires from the 2600 to the 5200 because it wasn't compatible.(Which you could do with other systems.) Yes, the reason people complained was because they were too s
    • Actually, Atari changed the design because the thing occassionally caught fire -- which really causes people to complain! (in court)

      I've seen some big sparks popping of that RF modulator, so I can believe it was fundementally defective.

      • Quoting Carson "I did not know that." Seriously, that's a good criticism of the adapter. (Not the "oh it's different so we'll whine about it") If the writer of the article had point that out I wouldn't have complained. (Especially since he missed stuff like the PSX not having a soft reset, the DC controller, the GD-Rom, and flakey analog in Sony systems just to name a few.)
  • No soft reset on the playstation. Some games had their own but it wasn't required. That was annoying since if you hit the reset button on the system the PSX took quite a while to boot up. (Saturn had start+A+B+C for what it's worth which would always take you to the title screen.)
  • The heavy power brick with the plug built into it. So many systems have done this and it's just such a pain in the ass. (I think most of us have had experience of what a bad design this really is. Fortunately all the current systems try to get rid of it and use a plug.)

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