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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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  • Re:N64 cartridges (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Z80a ( 971949 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @03:24AM (#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.
  • 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.....
  • Re:N64 cartridges (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TSDMK ( 979550 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @07:12AM (#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).
  • 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.

  • Re:N64 cartridges (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @08:45AM (#29022009) Homepage

    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.

  • 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.

  • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @10:45AM (#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 [walkabout.com] 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:X-Box controller (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Tuesday August 11, 2009 @12:24PM (#29024909)

    What made the original Xbox controller nice (for anyone who actually used it, as opposed to Sony fanwanks and Tycho/Gabe who don't ever even fucking play the games or consoles they talk shit about) is basic ergonomics.

    The original Xbox controller is not designed to be held in the "traditional" controller position (wrists curled, hands tucked under, 3rd/4th/5th fingers curled in to support the console). That position is why people get carpal tunnel and "nintendo thumb".

    Instead, you can keep your hands vertically oriented ("handshake position", like these absolutely fucking fantastic mice [evoluent.com]), rest the controller in the crease of your palm, and allow the fingers to rest. Much less worry about RSI, much easier to actually use the damn buttons without worrying about losing your grip on the controller.

    If Gabe/Tycho and the Sony fanwanks would ever have used it, they'd know this. Instead, they just screwed around hating on it because it was from Microsoft, and the rest of us now have to suffer with ergonomically incorrect pads because of it.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers