Fifteen Classic Game Console Design Mistakes

By  |  Monday, August 10, 2009 at 9:59 pm

15 Classic Game Console Design MistakesVideo game systems may be toys of a sort, but they’re also complicated machines. They require precision engineering, specialized hardware design, and careful industrial design to successfully achieve what seems like a simple goal: to play games on a television set. Throughout the history of home game consoles, each generation of machines has brought new opportunities to innovate. Along the way, companies have often slipped up and made mistakes that came back to haunt them later–some of which were so serious that they helped to destroy platforms and even entire corporations.

This list is by no means exhaustive, nor are all of these consoles bad overall (see The Worst Video Game Systems of All Time for that list). And though some of these problems keep popping up in one form or another–like the bad call of feeding power to the console via the RF switch shared by RCA’s Studio II and Atari’s 5200–other errors in judgments were unique to one console. Thank heavens for that.


In chronological order…

RCA Studio II (1977)

studio2

Problem #1: Poor Controllers

The RCA Studio II shipped with no external controllers, just a pair of built-in ten-button keypads. These keypads were awkward and uncomfortable to use. It made games difficult to control and limited the potential of software for the system.

What Were They Thinking?

My best guess is general cluelessness as to what constituted a decent game controller on RCA’s part. To some extent it’s excusable, since home video games were in their infancy in 1977. And there’s no doubt that omitting detachable controllers reduced the system’s overall complexity and thus manufacturing costs overall — but it also greatly reduced the consumer’s desire to buy and play the system.

Problem #2: Power Through RF Switch

rca_SwitchboxSimilar to the Atari 5200–see below–the RCA Studio II received main system power through the video output cable. An AC adapter plugged into a special RF switch that provided power to the console, but unlike the 5200′s switch, the Studio II’s did not include any special functionality. Studio II owners with lost of damaged RF switches found themselves regretting their purchase.

What Were They Thinking?

RCA’s engineers probably felt that it was simpler to have one cable going in and out of the system. It was simpler — in the short term–until someone lost their switch box. Today, the special Studio II RF switch is extremely difficult to find (and for an already difficult-to-find system, that’s bad).

Mattel Intellivision (1979)

intellivision

Problem #3: Ergonomically Hellish Controllers

Like most keyboards on early personal computers, the hand controllers and joysticks included with early video game systems were typically pretty bad. 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.

Mattel’s Intellivision controller is no exception to the early-but-awkward rule. It includes a digital 16-direction disc that players pushed inward to control an onscreen character, similar to operation of +-shaped Nintendo control pads, but nowhere near as precise. If you were tempted to rotate the disc while depressing it for quicker maneuvers, you’d quickly be disappointed by the controller’s erratic performance.

The controller also included two buttons on each side of the unit (each set with the same function) that were hard to push and provided poor tactile feedback. Even worse, the controller was an odd shape that didn’t fit well in any human’s hands.

What Were They Thinking?

The designers at Mattel responsible for the Intellivision controller probably thought they were being clever and innovative. Sadly, they were wrong. Many players suffered through the controllers anyway, as the Intellivision hosted a large share of great games. Like proponents of other bad-but-classic technologies, those who defend the Intellivision’s knucklebusters primarily do so out of nostalgia (i.e. we walked uphill both ways on nails and we liked it).

Interestingly enough, the Intellivision wasn’t the only “-vision” game console to ship with bad controllers — the ColecoVision also came with a pair of its own stumpy, keypad-laden ergonomic nightmares. But that’s for another article.

Atari 5200 (1982)

5200

Problem #4: Unreliable Analog Joystick

The Atari 5200 shipped with a pair of analog, non-centering joysticks whose rubbery buttons provided little tactile feedback and would wear out or break easily.

What Were They Thinking?

Atari engineers likely wanted to try something new with the Atari 5200′s analog controller, which unfortunately didn’t translate well to the arcade ganes of the day. The controller’s absolute worst application was Pac-Man–a game that demands precise, 4-way digital control–that ironically shipped as a pack-in game for the console during its later years.

Had Atari put forth any sort of effort to develop new, original games that specifically took advantage of the 5200′s analog stick, the system might have fared much better than it did.

Regarding the buttons, they were unreliable due to the thin plastic flex circuits beneath them, which were prone to tearing from repeated pressure — the kind commonly seen in any button application. Oops. It’s likely Atari used flex circuits due to space concerns (the unit was pretty cramped) and because they were less expensive than rigid PC boards.

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

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168 Comments For This Post

  1. Thrashy Says:

    I've never understood the ahte for the big XBox controllers. When I first picked up one, I said to myself, "this is the best-feeling controller I've ever used." No joke. My hands aren't that big, but I have do have long fingers; the button and joystick placement just seemed much more natural to me than the later S controllers or the PS2's midget-sized gamepads (I seriously feel like I'm gong to drop them whenever I use a Playstation). I shouldn't have to operate the lower rows of buttons with the middle knuckle of my thumb, dammit! To this day, when playing games on an old XBox I will opt for the bigger controller if it's available.

  2. Seumas Says:

    Sometimes I wish I was older and had experienced more of this history. I wasn't even born until the first item existed and I didn't own my first console until… well, it isn't even listed on here because the 360/PS3/Wii which I own didn't come out until just three years ago.

    As for the XBOX Controllers… the original ones were a little ridiculous as far as I can tell, but currently, I am an absolute fan of the XBOX 360 controller. It is the most ideal controller that I can envision and may have benefited from lessons in the initial XBOX iteration demonstrated in this article.

    Also, two words: Dreamcast Controller. :)

    In comparison, the PS3 controller is just so small and lightweight and oddly shaped and the triggers are miserable (fortunately, you can get these little attachments for $5 that you can snap onto the triggers which helps a little bit).

  3. Gadgetfan Says:

    Where is Sixaxis? Modern console pad without rumble? How big mistake that was?

    Original xbox pad was great, smaller one was quite ok, but the 360 is awesome again.

    Playstation pads are good also but sixaxis is far beyond normal standards of that company. DS3 is awesome again. But for perfect we should mix the good parts of both pads from 360 and PS3..

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  5. kevicoid Says:

    I think the obvious missing item here is the drive mechanism in the original PlayStation requiring its users to eventually balance the system at crazy angles just to get it to work properly.

  6. Fred Says:

    I agree with Thrashy here. Whenever discussion of the original XBOX comes up it always gets bashed for its size (whether the original controller or the unit itself is in question).

    Like Thrashy, I was over the moon when I first held the Xbox controller, as it was comfortable to hold like an N64 controller, but with many buttons, all reachable and ergonomically placed (for me). I found that with my clumsy hands (which may be bigger than average but by no means abnormal) I could still press complex combinations of buttons without mashing them or hitting more than one at a time by accident. This is the sole reason I never had a PlayStation or PS2, as the controller was so compact and full of buttons everywhere I felt like a great big oaf (joke's on me now though, my 360 crashed and burned for the 3rd time and I got myself a PS3 in anger…)

    As for the criticism the original Xbox recieved for being so big (at the time… I mean look at the PS3…) all I could say to those people were "what, are you gonna take it backpacking? No, you're gonna bring it home from the store and it will sit under your TV.. I dont see a problem".

  7. owyn999 Says:

    I can't understand now, after seeing the direction that Solid State Drives have taken recently, how we can still see Nintendo's notice that solid state "cartridge" based games were not the way to go. I understand that at the time solid state memory cards were small in comparison to cds in the storage medium and this is why Nintendo HAD to go with a larger cartridge to get the storage space they needed, but there were a number of things cartridges could do better starting with load times.

    As we have seen though had stuck with the cartridge up until now, we would be seeing a Wii that had an even smaller form factor than what they have now and would be using a proprietary MMC/SD or a similar media for their games. And would be just as large as the BluRay discs.

    Furthermore, I think that had Nintendo not been ridiculed by the gaming media at the time we would be seeing cheaper games as the cost to copy 1.000.000 games onto say SD style cards is significantly cheaper than putting them onto CDs or DVDs.

    Finally, I would like to point out that had this been the case we may even have seen a HD Wii console NOW instead of in the next generation as they would have 16GB of space to work with per game.

    CDs and by extension DVDs were the worst the worst thing to happen to console gaming IMHO.

  8. DavidP Says:

    I don't think the Intellivision controllers can be considered a mistake since the console was far from a failure. The main competition at the time was the venerable Atari joystick with its 8-position vs. 16-position Intellivision directional disc, and the one red button vs. the 3 Intellivision action buttons (2 of the 4 were wired together).

    By your logic, the Atari controller was a design mistake as well since no console manufacturer today includes in their package an 8-way full-size joystick, single fire button controller. It's all thumb-based controls – just like the Intellivision used.

    Plus the notion of "keypad gaming" is still alive and well today – it lives on in the form of PC gaming with a mouse and keyboard!

  9. Tsu Dho Nihm Says:

    I remember the Intellivision controller. I loved that thing. The side buttons were truly a pain, but I never had any problems with the disc (perhaps that's because I had an Intellivision II) and the keypad + overlays added quite a lot to a game.

    If there's a design mistake there, it was the side buttons alone.

  10. Old Atari Fan Says:

    A very disappointing article. You didn’t answer the question of ‘what were they thinking’, you just guessed. Instead of telling us what they “probably thought”, “probably wanted” or “likely wanted”, why not interview the actual engineers and get the answers? This article is nothing but guesswork. Imagine how interesting it would be to hear from one of those engineers and learn what really influenced these horrible design choices.

  11. Mike Cerm Says:

    Most people don’t remember it now, but the 3DO console launched in ’93 with a retail price of $700. Designing a console that you can’t build for a price people are willing to pay is a pretty serious design mistake. In that regard, the 3DO is very much a spiritual successor to the PS3, which is still losing money for Sony.

    Neo Geo was another incredibly expensive console of that era with a (literally) huge design mistake: $200, cartridge-based games. Other console makers were already experimenting with CD-ROM drives as a cheap way to distribute large, data-intensive games, but the load-times were terrible. At the same time that SNES and Genesis carts were topping out at 24Mb, Neo Geo carts went up to 256Mb, making them 10-times as expensive to produce. Meanwhile, CD-ROMs offered 10x more capaticity than the pricey Neo Geo carts at 1% of the cost.

    Both of those were 24-bit consoles that tanked during the 16-bit era. The Dreamcast failed for similar reasons. It had trouble getting traction against the aging PlayStation, and then the PS2 came in and blew it out of the water. However, the Dreamcast really didn’t have any design flaws (maybe the VMU), it was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, and couldn’t compete with Sony.

  12. Simon Starr Says:

    “…it’s possible that Microsoft thought they needed a large controller body to fit two plug-in expansion slots. Or maybe the designer had really huge hands?”

    Obligatory Penny Arcade link: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2001/08/29/

  13. Martin Says:

    You overlooked the Nintendo Gamecube’s proprietary HD Video cable that one could only buy from Japan since it was never released in North America “officialy”. Other big flops from Nintendo the Nintendo 64′s Dial-Up modem… oh yes little known fact the N64 was the first commercial gaming system with Internet access again never released in North America or even the can’t use a rumble pack and memory card at the same time factor.

    All systems had their quirks… no mention of the playstation at all in this article… ever play a game on playstation using the system link cable… seriously that was literally like making a proprietary null modem cable and not that many people had two playstations and two tv’s within the like 3 feet that the cable could span.

  14. Frank P Says:

    Maybe not a huge blunder, but the Turbo Grafx 16′s choice of providing only one controller port on the console made it necessary to buy a special adapter to do multiplayer.

  15. d_bogdan Says:

    I think the Dreamcast should have been here. It appeared a bit before the PS2 beeing the first 128 bit console but it lacked the abillity to play dvd’s which led to the downfall of SEGA and the ultimate withdrawal of the company from the console market.

  16. JEDIDIAH Says:

    Compared to other controllers of it’s era, the Intellivision was
    really not bad at all. A lot of this stuff might seem “obviously
    wrong” in hindsight but I don’t think it really takes into account
    the broader context some of these “mistakes” existed in.

    The keypad with plastic overlays was decades ahead of Intellivision’s
    competition and allowed it’s games to be more interesting while avoiding
    the inherent usability problems with keyboards or lots of unmarked
    buttons.

  17. intellifan Says:

    I can attest that the intellivision number pad was far from useless. The slipcovers provided guides to the number pad and in most games it would provide all sorts of functionality (Both AD&D games, Utopia, B15 Bomber, Baseball, Football. etc). I had (and still have) 40+ intellivision games all complete with the controller covers and they almost all served a purpose (except for snafu I think).

  18. Mike Says:

    In sequence:
    - The Intellivision (and Colecovision) had a major use for the keypads + overlays idea. It’s simply this: memory was SO PRECIOUS back then (consider that the entire Intellivision library will fit onto a few floppy discs, and the entire Intellivision+Colecovision+Atari2600+Atari5200+Atari7800+NES library can be fit onto a single Zip Disk) that the idea of “menus” was almost impossible. Every bit was precious – your average Intellivision game fit into 12K of space and a text menu might mean you used up 80-90 bytes just on the text.

    The solution? Put all the “menu” options onto the pad. In B-52 Bomber, it’s a pad to switch your viewpoint screen (belly gun, rear gun, front gun, side guns, instrument panel, navigator’s map, bomb-bay door). In Tron: Deadly Discs, it’s a 9-direction fire button (8 directions plus “mode switch” to blocking) so that you can run in one direction and throw your battle disc in another. In another game (I forget the title) that was a tactical marine battle, it’s your selection menu to deploy your various ships available throughout the game. In Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin it’s your way to cycle through inventory and enter combat commands. Most of the Intellivision games actually made really good use of their numeric pad.

    As for the “too big” Xbox controller: I for one do not have “Huge” hands. On the other “hand” (pun unintended), I found it to be the most comfortable controller I’ve ever held. Why? Because the larger controller nestles firmly into the crease of the palm with the hand straight (in a “handshake” side position), rather than forcing the player to twist their wrists inward and curl their 4th and 5th digits underneath in a RSI-inducing position. With the larger controller, I can let my thumbs and trigger fingers work freely and easily. I wish that somebody would put out a similar form-factor controller for the Xbox360.

    This is not an uncommon feeling, either, or the larger-scale controllers and “game grips” (produced for Wii, Playstation, PSP, DS, etc) would not be so common and profitable.

  19. Jeff Says:

    The Intellivision “disc” was actually better than the NES four way pad. A lot of people don’t realize the Intellivision disc equivalent to a 16 way joystick. There was more than four ways (N, E, S, W) and diagonals (NE, SE, SW, NW), you has more precise compass points (N, NNE, NE, ENE, E, ESE, SE, SSE, S, SSW, SW, WSW, W, WNW, NW, NNW).

    These precise digital movements were not heard of in other consoles at the time. Not all Intellivision games that could have taken advantage of the precision exploited them. Driving games worked better than other consoles (without switching the other consoles to paddles) with 16-way precision.

  20. Lee Says:

    I for one loved the old xbox controller. -insert generic rant about how great I found it-

    Odd nobody ever mentions the sega master system’s fail excuse of a controller.

  21. Charles Forsythe Says:

    The 7800 design was driven largely by cost. The goal was to develop a system that could reproduce coin-op games such as Joust on a home console. Since these coin-op games were created in the late-70s to early 80s, the sound was not particularly advanced.

    Backward compatibility with the 2600 was also a feature of the 7800 and having the same sound chip made that much easier.

  22. Richie 3 Says:

    The Intellivision disc controller was incredibly awesome for a six-year old in 1980, but I discovered I had trouble playing it when I unboxed the system again in my teenage years. There was a joystick adapter offered by the INTV Corporation several years later but it was eh. Kinda worse. My issue back in the day was the side-firing keys. Too much pressure required as they got older. I still have my original system and can see why the grownups had issues with the disc, can’t get my whole thumb in there like I could. But I almost got my Astrosmash patch with that controller. Too bad you actually had to SHARE a TV set back in the 80′s..

  23. Richie 3 Says:

    And about the 5200– Those controllers were MADE for Breakout. The analog stick worked like the 2600 paddle controllers. It lacked a center re-alignment spring but allowed precise control, almost like a mouse. Just wasn’t game oriented. You could make your Galaga ship move quickly or slowly, that was cool, and that Super Breakout game.. man we were hardcore addicted.

    ALSO about the pause–The Intellivision paused if you pressed 1 and 9 simultaneously on the keypad. Guess that’s not exactly a “button” but it was a standard feature of the system in 1979.

  24. Mike DiBenedetto Says:

    The 360 does not scratch discs unless the console is moved while on which the console has a warning right on the disc tray when you buy it. In turn the person is dumb or is having a serious lapse in awareness.

  25. Derek Says:

    What about the Oddessy Game system? It had better graphics and controls than the Atari, but the controls were not removable, so when one broke the whole system had to be sent in.

  26. Jerome Lapointe Says:

    I loved the original xbox controller. I got regular sized hands but it wasn’t uncomfortable in any way.
    I think that one was a case of exaggerated press…
    In reality the people that brought the topic up the most were probably PS2 fans as they tried an XBOX for the first time.

  27. Neeneko Says:

    In regards to the original xbox controller.

    They got the size specs from focus groups. Unfortunately the focus groups tended to be, shall we say, demographically not that diverse. Very narrow age range, single gender, and the controllers fit very well for those people. So it is kinda a failure to gather statically useful information about your customers.

    That being said, for me, even the new smaller xbox controller hurts my hands. I find it large and heavy, and requires constant gripping to hold. The PS2 controller on the other hand fit nicely and rested in my hands. This is why more market variaty in controllers is a good thing.. no everyone has the same hand sizes or preferences in how much they want to ‘grip’.

  28. Rob Browning Says:

    owyn999, you have no clue what you’re talking about. A DVD costs at most 50 cents, while an SD card the size of a DVD costs around $7. Even taking the cost of disc pressing into account, this is a huge and insurmountable gap. A card the size of a Blu-Ray disc would cost more than the game! And the only real benefits would be decreased loading times and increased durability; most people will not spend $10+ extra per game for those minor privileges, just like they didn’t back in the N64 days.

    As for your argument that things would be different if Nintendo had stuck with solid-state technology, I’d like to remind you that it did–in the portable market. The DS currently uses proprietary cards ranging up to 256MB to great effect. This works well for portables, which are a couple of steps back in power relative to consoles and also have their own unique concerns, but it doesn’t scale. Even if Nintendo had totally abandoned solid state, however, it wouldn’t matter; other industries would still be heavily invested in the technology, such as digital photography. The simple fact of the matter is that we’ve already got the best and cheapest solid-state technology that we could possibly have at this point in time, and it’s still not good enough for modern consoles.

    BTW, the lack of HD technology in the Wii has nothing to do with storage media. The Wii uses an improved version of the regular DVDs that the HD-capable XBox 360 does.

    Rob

  29. Roger Says:

    @martin

    I was sure the genesis had a modem. Which would predate the N64, while trying to find a link I found that there was a modem made for the Atari 2600:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GameLine

  30. s. Says:

    How does one lose the RF switch box?

    I mean, seriously, do you take it anywhere with you when you finish playing? Or do you take the console to a friend, take the AC adapter but forget the switch? The complaint “RF switch box is bad because it could be easily lost” seems as valid as “external controllers are bad because they could be easily lost” or “AC adapter is bad because it could be easily lost”.

  31. Jurgi Says:

    the 7800 uses the same sound chip as its little brother

    AFAIK the idea was to put better sound chip on game cartridge, when needed, so the 7800 didn’t lack good sound completely.

  32. Coridan Says:

    My biggest problem with the Sega Saturn was that the cooling vents were on the bottom, you leave it on overnight and the motor overheats and burns out.

  33. Doker Says:

    Bit of Trivia for you… The original Xbox controller was called “The Duke”

  34. mgabrys Says:

    Amusing – none of ya young-uns know why the 7800′s sound was poor. It was because in the design phase, they decided to put POKEY sound chips on the carts instead of the system (as used in Ballblazer and Commando). Eventually they would upgrade in the future to a “Gumby” chipset for even better sound.

    Then a polish dork bought the company and all plans went down the flush while the leftover pre-production was sold off.

    I learned this from a podcast of the developers – but it’s also found in wikipedia. But that’s not too obvious is it? Or does that screw up the list?

  35. linkf1 Says:

    That is why, no matter what you say the N64 was and is the best until now.
    The N64 has the best game if not the best (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time).

  36. Silicontrip Says:

    Regarding the N64 cartridge issue. I heard that Sony and Nintendo had entered into some agreement to make the next generation console, Sony to design the hardware and Nintendo to focus on the software.

    Sony spent had considerable time and money on, what is now known as, the PSX when Nintendo decided to pull out from the deal. In retaliation Sony decided not to license CDROM technology to Nintendo, which was required to make CDROM drives with copy protection. Nintendo would’ve been left with purchasing generic CDROM drives, with no copy protection or continue with cartridges.

    I do not know if this story is true, although it does sound plausible.

  37. elc Says:

    The original xbox controller was very comfortable for normal sized hands. It only felt big because everyone was accustomed to the littler ones. The original controllers are the only controllers I’ve ever used that never left my hands sore. And no, I don’t have huge hands at all.

  38. Matt Lulz Says:

    “clever and innovative” – the reason for most bad crap.

  39. ruben Says:

    you forgot the Apple Pippin!

    Apple and Bandai created this Hybrid thing. ive only seen one! I knew one of the guys who helped design this in Japan

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Bandai_Pippin

  40. James C Says:

    How about the design decision Sony made with the original PS and repeated with the PS2. Any one ever see the bouncing screen bug? Sony cheaped out on the video output circuitry that resulted in some TV brands like Zenith being incompatible with the video signal. This caused an unstable horizontal hold control. Sony was at least willing to rechip the users machines who had this problem at no cost, but when you got it back, they included a letter blaming the TV manufacturer. Funny how no other consumer gaming system or appliance ever showed this design flaw. Their engineers clearly knew this would happen and their arrogance showed by passing the blame.

  41. dgp Says:

    @Mike Cerm
    >Neo Geo was another incredibly expensive console of that era with a >(literally) huge design mistake: $200, cartridge-based games.

    The neo-geo’s target market was people that wanted to play authentic arcade games in their home and were prepared to pay the price.

    >Other console makers were already experimenting with CD-ROM drives as >a cheap way to distribute large, data-intensive games,

    There are two CD based neogeos. Neither of them is any good.

    >Neo Geo carts went up to 256Mb, making them 10-times as expensive to >produce.

    Unless you have SNK’s books to take a look at you have no way of knowing what a neogeo cart cost to produce.

    > Meanwhile, CD-ROMs offered 10x more capaticity than the pricey Neo
    > Geo carts at 1% of the cost.

    Access latency on a 1 x CD-ROM is going many many times that of 70ns mask roms. So the console becomes more expensive because it has to have a bunch of extra SRAM in there and you have to add loading time to buffer data off of the disc, which makes your arcade authentic games not so authentic any more.

    > Both of those were 24-bit consoles

    When will people stop this ridiculous n-bit crap.. and for the record the 68k is 32bit, it has a 24bit address bus yes, but internally it’s 32bit. Lets start calling x86-64 machines 48bit. The word size of the processor used in a machine doesn’t necessarily dictate it’s graphic performance, or even how many colours it can display, so bringing up a machines word size for comparison is just stupid.

    >>The Dreamcast failed for similar reasons.

    I always wonder who decides if something “failed”. According to wikipedia the Famicom Disk System failed, but it shipped many thousands of units and had about 350 games released for it, is that failure?
    The dreamcast shipped lots of units, had lots of games, but it failed? It didn’t do as well as the Playstation2 but I wouldn’t say it failed.

  42. NeoSkye Says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the Game Gear Backlit LCD. Sure it looked amazing, but it devoured batteries and turned what was supposed to be a portable system into something that most people tethered to the wall. I remember my friend abandoning it after only a few weeks because he only could play it at home, where he already had a Sega Genesis.

  43. Greg Says:

    The orignal xbox controllers were way superior to the silly “S” type ones. They fit a normal sized hand better and the tilted oblong diamond layout of the buttons is a much more natural motion for the thumb than the rotated square.

    If the xbox had released with the “S” I probably would have gone with one of the other game systems at the time.

  44. Joe Says:

    Ahh, the Studio II, I have one of them and all the games save Bingo that came with the system. I still have an extra power supply and RF-Switch in the original boxes also. These are the game systems I grew up with, watching the gaming systems go from black and white boxes to the systems we have today. I still like to sometimes pull out the Atari or Colecovison and spend time playing. What I would like to see would be an Intellivision game come back out, that actually USES those type of controllers. I bought the handheld plug and play one they came out with, and you lose functionality.

  45. leandro koiti Says:

    I wonder why Sega Saturn’s story remind me so much of PS3′s story =P

  46. Judland Says:

    Although it was not a single button, the Intellivision controller had a pause “button”, too. You could pause games by pressing the key combo 1 and 9 on the keypad.

  47. Professional speed dating Says:

    Hi Benj Edwards,
    Thanks for sharing useful information.I have one of them and all the games save Bingo that came with the system. I still have an extra power supply and RF-Switch in the original boxes also. These are the game systems I grew up with, watching the gaming systems go from black and white boxes to the systems we have today.

    Professional speed dating

  48. PLucas Says:

    I have lost two Xbox360 consoles with the classic 3RL problem.
    It should at least been mentioned.

  49. James Says:

    No RRoD? Seriously?

    PS owyn999: Ahahahaha ahahahahaha ahahahahah

  50. somedude11 Says:

    This list screams Sony fanboy all over the place.
    Where’s the PSP’s lack of second analog stick?
    Where’s the PSX’s ridiculously high price?
    Where are the EyeToy bugs?

  51. Why the N64 hate Says:

    Its funny how N64 games were 40mb about in size and the graphics looked far better than PS1 graphics, and how games were as long for the N64. I rather them make a cartridge game then experiment with CD technology, Let Sony do test it before Nintendo invests in it. Games for N64 were better and nicer looking anyways..

  52. Chris Says:

    Heh. The N64 didn’t even come close to the PS1 (albeit some of this was *how* that graphical power was used–a really tight N64 game could match a mid-range PS1 game, while a bad PS1 game was indeed worse than a N64 one) generally. A case in point my brother likes to bring up is the Crystal Dynamics game ‘Gex’. Not a bad effort, but the N64 version had to cut levels, and the video sequences were converted to low-quality B&W all due to the space constraints. It took them another generation and finally converting to optical media (*very* proprietary minidiscs) on the GameCube to catch up and pull ahead of PS1 (granted, by that time they were competing against the PS2, but that’s another matter. :-) ). See ‘Twin Snakes’ as compared to the PS1 Metal Gear Solid. :-)

  53. Alexh Says:

    An interesting article but obviously sourced directly from other webpages rather than interviewing any of the developers.

    The worst part of the article is the Sega Saturn’s “Overly complex architecture” being a flaw! That is rubbish. The flaw was to have an “Overly complex, low-level SDK!”. It doesn’t matter how complex the hardware is underneath if the SDK can abstract it well enough for the thicko softies but reveal enough to give them power when they want it. The Success of the PSOne and XBOX-360 are in-part down to their much loved SDK’s.

    I think you should have put that the “HUGE” controller on the xbox only shipped for for a very short percentage of the consoles life! No mention about the main problem with the xbox which was the sheer size of the console? Not particularly portable when you want to take it round your mates on your bike! And of course it’s side problem of fan-noise when watching DVD’s.

    Do you not feel the SP thing was just nit picking? Nintendo probably did a review and found that of the 2 million or so Gameboy users, almost no-one ever used the headphone jack. Of those that did, the majority only did so when on the move. Using statistics and business sense they decided to drop the separate connector! I’m sure it didn’t put off “regular” customers one bit.

  54. Jeremysart Says:

    Everyone tries to claim a different system for “this was the first system to have a modem”.. well looks like most everyone is wrong, and the N64 was FAR from the first. Lets look back a few years earlier.. the Genesis had a modem which could be used to download a certain amount of games. This came about towards the end of the genesis’ life.
    And even earlier, the Intellivision from 1979 had the “Play Cable”, which was essentially a cable modem which allowed you to download intellivision games. This device was a service from certain cable companies from the time. And around the same time there were Atari computers, and the Coleco Adam, and IMB 5150′s that were connecting to some sorts of networks or another..

    SO.. modems were there all along.

    Also, the intellivision controllers are far from fail. The disk offers great movement. The side buttons work perfectly fine too, the only thing that throws you off is it does not feel like your pushing them, the dont “push in” like normal buttons. The keypad also added a lot to the games at the time, things you couldnt do on ANY system of the time until Colecovision. My only complain is the “telephone cord”, which does not allow you to sit very far from your system.

    Anyone who diggs on Intellivision, I have one thing to say:
    Thunder Castle.

  55. thepeng Says:

    In regards to the Xbox 360 scratching its own discs: Yeah people ought to know that an xbox shouldnt be moved or subject to vibrations while its on. Naturally they must be idiots… Except for all the other disc drives that don’t eat their own discs, for example this laptop. I just put a dvd in, its spooling up and i now i have my laptop sideways, remove the disc, inspect, hey no scratched ring! Im sick of the microsoft attitude that any failure of their product is entirely the fault of the user. That aside, my friend bought a 360, he lives near an airport. In three days every game he owned was destroyed by the vibrations of 747s taking off nearby, I imagine someone who lives under the El would have similar issues. After microsoft refused to do anything for him we took it apart(thus voiding the warranty) for seventy cents at home depot we glued four rubber pads to the inside of the dvd drive, now you can swing the thing on a rope and only get the occasional smudge you can wipe off with a rag. The price of a 360 at launch was so astronomical I doubt anyone would have noticed the 1.00 four pieces of foam would have added to the bill. Or microsoft could have used a better internal dvd drive. Seriously, if you bought a peripheral dvd burner and whenever it shifted on your desk it ate your discs, you would want a refund. I admit tipping a console while its on isnt a good idea, but there are lots of innocent, less drastic ways Discs can be destroyed. I lost my copy of oblivion because my girlfriend lifted up the xbox to dust underneath it while it was off, and the disc fell off the spindle.

  56. Chris Says:

    Regarding whomever said optical discs are the worst thing that ever happened to game consoles–I agree. Read errors, moving parts wearing out, piracy…none of those were problems until CDs started becoming the standard medium for software. I have 3 cartridge based systems (an Atari 7800, a Sega Genesis, and a Nintendo 64) that still work perfectly because they have very few moving parts that can wear out. My PSX died because its CD holder broke. Since the carrying capacity of memory cards seems to increase exponentially every year, I think the day will come when they replace CDs as gaming media-albeit in a more proprietary (sp?) form to eliminate piracy.

  57. Gary Smith Says:

    The N64 controller was guff. You had to juggle the bloody thing in your hands and the joy stick was too sensitive. Same goes with the Game Cube controller with its freakishly inbred buttons…..

    Best controller has to be the Xbox 360s. The PS controller is ok, but I cant get used to the thumb sticks being so central.

    Also note that the original Xbox was probably the most hacked console of all time as it was basically just a Pentium III PC in a flashy case (wether this is a BAD mistake is much to be debated :)).

  58. Deenox Says:

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  60. Alex Says:

    @Old Atari Fan

    >>Imagine how interesting it would be to hear from one of those engineers and learn what really influenced these horrible design choices.

    We never will, the only other otion is to speculate.

  61. Automatic Jack Says:

    @Old Atari Fan: Your comment on this article is spot on. @Alex, you ARE going to hear from one of those engineers. I worked for Atari Inc. from 1980 to 1984, and for Atari Corp. from 1986 to 1990. We in Engineering fought those !@#$%^&* controllers tooth and nail, and we were told by Michele Eberton, our fine French VP, to “calm our enthusiasm for the product”. Snailboy and his pet engineer, it so happens, had FILED PATENTS on this controller which they were “developing” at Atari. They weren’t going to lose their little cash cow (or cow flop, if you will). The fact that the controllers failed constantly we were told to ignore. Oh, and I am the reason why 5200s stopped getting slaughtered by wiggling the video cable (I put in an Engineering Change request to put a *fuse* inline with the power, and it was implemented).

    So, to make a long story short, what went on inside our heads? How about outrage and disbelief. Atari had over 10,000 employees at one time, so sources wouldn’t be that hard to find, if one were to, you know, solicit input from someone who was there, rather than someone who had been born the same year the equipment was released.

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  64. Matt Says:

    i disagree with #14 i think the original xbox controllers were brilliant.. i always prefered them and when i used the smaller ones i just played much worse

  65. emploi au maroc Says:

    i think the original xbox controllers were brilliant.

  66. weeee Says:

    The Xbox 360 headset is garbage.The wire inside of it are made of the cheapest softest copper on earth…Also the overpriced wifi ,wireless headset and hard drives MS everyone knows you use a sub $50 laptop drive in your 1st xbox's but you charge us like it's a terrabyte drive.
    On the bright sight the the 360 slim seems to have gotten the message.But then again until i get i slim who knows what glitches MS added this time.
    Anyway,it's lightyears better than the Sony"no good games" Ps3

  67. Mike Says:

    Interesting !

  68. arahman84 Says:

    Only thing I can say about your comment: flawd. 100% flawed. No. 1000%.

  69. arahman84 Says:

    Haha, I wonder what game they were referring to.

  70. arahman84 Says:

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  71. Rick Bellefond Says:

    I remember playing Pac Man with a 5200 controller a very long time ago.

    At the time it seemed pretty cool.

    We sure have come a long ways with games and controllers since then.

  72. Hungryscot Says:

    I too never really understood it. I'm only 6' — not huge at all, but the XBox's original controller was outstanding. It was never awkward for me to use, allowed gaming for hours and hours with no stress to my hands. The 'digital' direction pad had no issues at all.

    You want to talk about bad design? How could the author of this piece miss Sony's insane X, triangle, square, O button design. That was and still IS an unfixed and horrible design flaw. Why?

    When using a good controller design, in a short order a user should have the layout mentally down so that they can respond to the needs of a game. That means, however many buttons, and whichever their arrangement, a user should within minutes be able play competently.

    Sony's insanity has you trying to memorize 4 distinct face buttons, an irrational 1/2 design for L and R shoulders, along with 2 low analogs. All told, that's 13 'button rules' one must keep in mind versus XBox's 8(abxy in a logical order that requires minimal memorization (1), L R Shoulder / Triggers (2), 2 Analog, 1 Digital D-pad, Start, Select.

    Should really amend this to point out Sony's bad design.

    Also, no mention of the laughable 6-axis?

  73. HungryScot Says:

    Yeah, you're really conflating two media types that are unrelated. The ROM chips from back then are different than the Solid State Thumbdrives of today. Going to tiny thumb drives could be a future, but I think streaming'll be what you see next. Physical'll go bye bye.

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  75. Microsoft CRM Says:

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  76. Xcursion666 Says:

    thats not true the 64 was not the first system with internet access the snes had a modem attachment that could be used with doom

  77. rob Says:

    wasnt the sms controller the same design the nes a directional pad and two buttons

  78. Aryu Limitless Says:

    I have had 4 classic black Xboxes. 5 of which died from bad dvd drives OR badly grounded RV wiring. (#O.o)
    I have owned 3 XBox 360s and only had issues w/ 2– RRoD! My latest one has HDMI! I love it!
    I have owned one of every game console known to mankind (US, at least)! The Fairchild Channel-F, Atari's Video Pinball console (had to fix 2 wires: a red battery wire and a speaker wire), Magnavox Odyssey I and II, Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, NES, SNES, Saturn, Sega Master System w/ the "Shift" controller for OutRun!, and many many others. All of which had their infallible quirks and problems and bad controller hand, head and wrist pain!

  79. emploi maroc Says:

    I loved the old xbox controller. -insert generic rant about how great I found it-

    Odd nobody ever mentions the sega master system's fail excuse of a controller.

  80. kingpoop Says:

    something to note about the original xbox controller design is the striking similarities with the dreamcast's design(with a second analog nub)…..both have ab/xy/lr buttons and 2 "expansion slots" built in…
    Microsoft had a huge part in the dreamcast's development and deployment…so it's only obvious to think they conceived the idea of a game console while sega worked on the dreamcast…almost like what they did to apple(walks away)

  81. Kevro Says:

    I liked the Intellivison controller , I played the hell out of Burgertime with it after finding one in a garage sale in the 90's. The article says the only way to stop the NES “blinkies” is to replace the internal connector. That's not true. The easiest way is to clean your cartridges with a Q-tip and windex and/or break a Pin on the Nes lock out chip so it won't function.

  82. dreambox dm600 pvr Says:

    By your logic, the Atari controller was a design mistake as well since no console manufacturer today includes in their package an 8-way full-size joystick, single fire button controller. It's all thumb-based controls – just like the Intellivision used.
    The dreamcast shipped lots of units, had lots of games, but it failed? It didn't do as well as the Playstation2 but I wouldn't say it failed.

  83. jamie herbert Says:

    Considering the Neo Geo's lifespan was longer than any console (save the atari 2600) I would hardly call it a failure. It was originally in 2 flavors (MVS and AES) the MVS was designed for arcade companies to not have to move 500 lbs of cabinet to get a new game into their venue. some models even support up to 6 carts (hence the name Multi Video System) The Arcade Entertainment system (Or AES) was sold as a way to have the exact same thing as in the arcade at home it was pricey to say the leas but if offered exact arcade hardware not a "decent port" In short the game you have in the AES looks and plays exactly like it did on the MVS. IN fact the Neo Geo CD a way to hopefully better capitalize on the home system success they had (but did not expect) and further cheapen the hardware for arcades did get release (and was ironically a bigger flop due to a notoriously slow 1x CD drive in a time when the sega CD sported at least a 2x). which I would call a bigger design flaw than anything the Neo Geo Cart system does.

  84. annonce moto Says:

    I for one loved the old xbox controller. -insert generic rant about how great I found it-

    Odd nobody ever mentions the sega master system's fail excuse of a controller

  85. Ben Says:

    What about the Atari Lynx system? I was (un) fortunate enough to get one for christmas when I was 8 or 9 years old. It was a color handheld gaming system long before GB and PSP.

  86. location voiture Says:

    Maybe not a huge blunder, but the Turbo Grafx 16's choice of providing only one controller port on the console made it necessary to buy a special adapter to do multiplayer.

  87. Maroc referencement Says:

    i actualy prefer to play all alone lol

  88. Riad Meknes Says:

    Maybe not a huge blunder, but the Turbo Grafx 16′s choice of providing only one controller port on the console made it necessary to buy a special adapter to do multiplayer.

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  91. location voiture Says:

    for me I don't see that the Intellivision controllers can be considered a mistake since the console was far from a failure. as richie said that in his reple but most of all thank you on this great post , it realy gave us good information ,

  92. pissedoffamerican Says:

    i believe the angry video game nerd covered all this?

  93. lawtonaaj Says:

    Umm…all cd based games scratch, its more or less a relative thing. they use the same cd technology any cd works. The slightest resonance in the device can cause miniscule movement. These tiny movements build up over time to cause scratching. Companies are only required to write about excessive scratching causes. also the original xbox is infamous for how many had a market defect that could destroy games in 4 or less uses.

  94. Guest Says:

    You have trouble with the PS2 controllers, which were basically a ripoff of SNES controllers? What are you, motor skill deficient or something?

    And guess what? Even Microsoft agreed their original controllers sucked considering the fact that they stopped making them. Even the people you're defending is against you.

  95. Guest Says:

    Both Sixaxis and Rumble are useless gimmicks. Ooh, it shakes when something happens on screen! Big deal.

  96. web-créativité Says:

    I remember the Intellivision controller. I loved that thing. The side buttons were truly a pain, but I never had any problems with the disc (perhaps that's because I had an Intellivision II) and the keypad + overlays added quite a lot to a game.

  97. depaolz Says:

    To be honest, I had a riot making fun of the size of the XBox and, especially, its controllers. In time though, it was far and away the most comfortable controller around. PS and PS2 were both far too small. XBox S was okay, but the original just had everything in the right place. Almost everyone I knew agreed (especially my fellow XBox owners). I think most of the others were just complaining about the weight. Which, I suppose, was fair for a demographic who don't really exercise.

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  103. Narg Says:

    I too liked the original larger XBox controller. Though smaller is not bad either. I kept waiting for a 3rd party vendor to make a controller between the size of the original and the newest controller, which I find way too small. Oh well.

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  116. KL escort Says:

    This reminds me of my first gaming experiences using a commodore c64. Those analog joysticks used to break all the time lol. Still got that old baby somewhere up the attic… wondering what the games would look like when it's attached to a 52" led tv. might try someday ;) Faltdisplay

  117. Anonymous Says:

    Two things:
    A) Even though I have an original fat and a newer slim, I bet the PS3 post backwards-compatibility will be included in lists like this in the next 15 or so years.
    2) The Gameboy Advance's screen seemed fine to me late at night under the sheets with that little flip light that piggy-backed on the top connection port. Then again, it was mostly just Mario and Spyro…

  118. Brain Hartigan Says:

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  119. Gregg E. Says:

    The Atari 7800 had even more FAIL going against it. The lack of an onboard POKEY audio chip was supposed to be offset by the ability to include one in the cartridge of games usinf the better sound. Unfortunately that drove up the cost for those games and only Ballblazer and Commando for the 7800 used that feature, so that was a big fat FAIL for Atari.

    The 5200 was basically a slightly redesigned Atari 400 computer, the intention was to make it easy to port games for the computer to the console. That was quite an advanced thing for the time. Atari tried it again with the XE/GS but unfortunately the computer that console was based on was much further from current than the 400 had been for the 5200.

    Another 7800 fail was the controllers were too simple, a leap backwards to the old 4 directional switches plus one fire button (two switches in parallel for ambidextrous use). To buyers looking at the 7800 it was a big WTF? Why should I buy this new console with crappier sound than the 5200, far far less sophisticated controllers, which isn't compatible with the 5200 games?

    IIRC, the 7800 was actually going to be the next generation console after the 2600 and a ton of them had been made – then the design that was being developed to succeed the "7800" (which wasn't yet named" was pushed forward as the 5200 to catch up/leap ahead of the competition.

    I had a 4 port 5200 and loved the automatic switchbox. There were two reasons for that box, one was so there was only a single cable going back behind the TV and the other was so players didn't have to fumble around behind the TV to slide the switch.

    The Odyssey^2 / Videopac had some issues. First of them was repeating the Intellivision error of hardwired controllers. I had to hack one of mine to mount 2600 style ports in the back because the sticks wore out. Second was the graphics capability was underutilized. The bullet sprite in Armored Encounter showed how small a pixel the video *could* address but most other games used a minimum size about 4x that large. The bombs and missiles in the sub hunt game on the same cartridge looked to be 1 pixel high by about 4 wide. The minimum block size in all the other games was probably 4×4. I suppose that could be due to not having enough RAM to play with, which could be why the Armored Encounter playfields were so simple, a sacrifice made to get those single pixel bullets.

    The "fat" Playstation 2 suffered from Sony's penny pinching in using plastic sleds without even metal bushings for the DVD drive's lasers. They quickly wore, causing alignment and read errors. That was an error only corrected in the final "fat" version. (Which I have one of.)

    The Dreamcast was the first console with a modem as standard equipment. Unfortunately while Sega had carefully NOT made most of the errors they had with the Saturn (like not having dev systems available well before launch) they didn't have an online service up prior to launch. Sega wanted the DC to play DVDs but didn't have the funds to buy the drive mechanisms, so they invented the GD-ROM, a one gigabyte disc that also gave them intrinsic copy protection since nobody was going to have hardware capable of directly reading the discs outside the console. But then they put a serial port on the DC and gave the thing the capability of having software allowed full access to the port… plus the "backup plan" of having it able to read CD-ROMs just in case they couldn't get the GD-ROM ready in time.

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  121. omegle Says:

    Plus the notion of "keypad gaming" is still alive and well today – it lives on in the form of PC gaming with a mouse and keyboard!

  122. moto piste Says:

    The Intellivision (and Colecovision) had a major use for the keypads + overlays idea. It's simply this: memory was SO PRECIOUS back then (consider that the entire Intellivision library will fit onto a few floppy discs, and the entire Intellivision+Colecovision+Atari2600+Atari5200+Atari7800+NES library can be fit onto a single Zip Disk) that the idea of "menus" was almost impossible. Every bit was precious – your average Intellivision game fit into 12K of space and a text menu might mean you used up 80-90 bytes just on the text.

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  125. Ghostwriter Says:

    Actually, this is the first time I hear/read that the xBox controllers were to big.
    I liked them, and I have small hands (wearing S size gloves).

  126. Ghostwriter Says:

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  140. TomPeris Says:

    As we have seen though had stuck with the cartridge up until now, we would be seeing a Wii that had an even smaller form factor than what they have now and would be using a proprietary MMC/SD or a similar media for their games. And would be just as large as the BluRay discs.

    Furthermore, I think that had Nintendo not been ridiculed by the gaming media at the time we would be seeing cheaper games as the cost to copy 1.000.000 games onto say SD style cards is significantly cheaper than putting them onto CDs or DVDs.

    Finally, I would like to point out that had this been the case we may even have seen a HD Wii console NOW instead of in the next generation as they would have 16GB of space to work with per game.

    CDs and by extension DVDs were the worst the worst thing to happen to console gaming IMHO.
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  141. Deendid Says:

    Like Thrashy, I was over the moon when I first held the Xbox controller, as it was comfortable to hold like an N64 controller, but with many buttons, all reachable and ergonomically placed (for me). I found that with my clumsy hands (which may be bigger than average but by no means abnormal) I could still press complex combinations of buttons without mashing them or hitting more than one at a time by accident. This is the sole reason I never had a PlayStation or PS2, as the controller was so compact and full of buttons everywhere I felt like a great big oaf (joke's on me now though, my 360 crashed and burned for the 3rd time and I got myself a PS3 in anger…)external rendering | What does a surety bond cost?

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  146. buy house Toronto Says:

    @Old Atari Fan

    >>Imagine how interesting it would be to hear from one of those engineers and learn what really influenced these horrible design choices.

    We never will, the only other otion is to speculate.

    Carrol Alton

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  149. jssi78 Says:

    I remember the Intellivision controller. I loved that thing. The side buttons were truly a pain, but I never had any problems with the disc (perhaps that's because I had an Intellivision II) and the keypad + overlays added quite a lot to a game. chiptuning

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  156. Office design Says:

    In 1982, Atari introduced the Atari 5200 to the gaming public. The originally planned sequel to the 5200 was a system called the 3200, but development was halted on it as being too difficult to develop for. Atari decided to produce a game system based on its line of 8-bit computers, which also happened to be fairly decent at playing games. Games could be ported very easily from the Atari 400/800 to the Atari 5200, and many were (especially in later years). The biggest hardware difference between the 5200 and 8-bit computers was the inclusion of an analog joystick with the 5200. This controller allowed a full 360 degrees of movement, but unfortunately it was not self-centering. This made it very difficult to play many games, such as Pac-Man. In addition, the controllers were prone to failure, making it very difficult these days to find a 5200 system with working controllers. Several third-party vendors (most notably Wico) did release better controllers and devices that allowed use of 9-pin 2600 compatible joysticks.

  157. Kompressionsstrümpfe Says:

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  159. Garment Says:

    There's a design mistake there, it was the side buttons alone. But still cool.

  160. mark Says:

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  161. Barhocker Says:

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  162. Axel Says:

    Well in the old days certainly some design mistakes were made. But taking a look at some of todays controllers I keep wondering if things are just getting worse? I'd gladly replace some of those modern controllers by one of these classics.

  163. jones123peter Says:

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  164. Drucker Says:

    It's amazing to see this classics, thanks for the share. Pretty unbelieveable how much technology developed since these days. I still like the classic approach though, this whole new motion detection controlling does not work well for me.

  165. Erp Says:

    I think no problem on it, classic is cool.

  166. jones123peter Says:

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  167. kellybrown872 Says:

    What I like about your articles, Benj, is that even when I am well familiar with the subject matter, your excellent research unveils some nice tidbits of information of which I was not previously aware, such as some of the intricacies of the Virtual Boy's development.
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  168. Gordon Says:

    The Jaguar’s controllers are 15 pin, not 24. Same controller port as the Atari STe.

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