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Classic Games (Games) Entertainment Games

Classic Game Console Design Mistakes 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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Classic Game Console Design Mistakes

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  • I had an Atari 2600 (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @02:47AM (#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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • by Z80a ( 971949 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @03:28AM (#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.
  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @04:38AM (#29020737)

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

  • Re:N64 cartridges (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:12AM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:31AM (#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:X-Box controller (Score:4, Informative)

    by koolfy ( 1213316 ) <koolfy@gma i l . c om> on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @05:44AM (#29020987) Homepage Journal
    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)
  • 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?

  • Re:X-Box controller (Score:3, Informative)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:35AM (#29021915) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:55AM (#29022145) Homepage

    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.

  • by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @09:08AM (#29022313) Homepage

    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:Correction (Score:3, Informative)

    by mzs ( 595629 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @09:43AM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @10:45AM (#29023531)

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

  • by IntlHarvester ( 11985 ) * on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @10:52AM (#29023623) Journal

    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.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) * on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @11:08AM (#29023831) Journal

    Did you never play Major League Baseball on the Intellivision? Selecting your outfielders with the numeric pad was awesome.

  • I owned a 5200 (Score:3, Informative)

    by IBitOBear ( 410965 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @10:42PM (#29032939) Homepage Journal

    I loved the box as technology. The thing where the power came down the line from the RF diverter was outstanding, and never a problem. I think I owned all eight games made for it as well. And the track ball. And the plastic thingy that let you mount both controllers together so you could play space dungeon. Hell, I still might. The thing survived, fully functional, for numerous moves over like 20 years, and every now and again I would plug it back in only to remember...

    Its death was the controller. I opened one once and discovered that they basically had the X and Y potentiometers on the same circuit. I never did understand how it worked, but as near as I could tell the magnitude of change of resistance for X was way different than for Y so it could (sort of) tell what you were doing with the joystick. But _only_ sort of. Moving from the extreme corners to other other extreme corners was super obvious and worked okay. Trying to maneuver Pengo from the north side of a cube to the east side, so that you could then shove the cube west was basically impossible.

    The fact that the four "trigger" buttons were stacked one above the other, two to a side, on the east and west sides of the controller, in side semi-recessed rectangles was "freaking impossible".

    I eventually figured out that they wanted you to hold the controller in your left palm, use your left thumb and fore-finger to operate the triggers, while _gently_ and _unerringly_ operating the joystick with your right index finger. My response to this realization was "ch'yah right".

    Then again nobody invented "ergonomics" till like five years later. 8-)

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson