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Can it get any worse than a combo of the Atari Jaguar and the Virtual Boy?
April 14, 2010 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Platypus Comix has compiled images from around the Internet of prototype game consoles and peripherals spanning from the original NES all the way to the Sony PlayStation 3. You'll see the NES's tape recorder, a touch pad for the Sega Genesis, the infamous Nintendo PlayStation, a PlayStation Portable you can clip to your backpack ("...or whatever reckless thing they thought you'd try."), a Wii controller with just one large button, and the embarrassing PS3 "serect" button.

Some of these early concepts are unique at best and downright ugly at worst, but I kind of like some of the alternate Sony PlayStation controllers purely from an aesthetic point of view. There's one variation that looks like an inverse Super NES controller melded with a traditional PS1 controller smashed into the Wii's + and - buttons. If that's not the grand convergence of controller layouts, I don't know what is.
posted by Servo5678 (38 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll show my age here, but...no Atari? No Starpath Supercharger? Man alive, FAIL.
posted by jquinby at 4:20 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Powerglove?
posted by yoyoceramic at 4:21 PM on April 14, 2010


No Virtual Boy? Or are we just pretending that never existed?
posted by The Whelk at 4:25 PM on April 14, 2010


.....read the headline Whelk ...head the headline.
posted by The Whelk at 4:26 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Games for the Supercharger were stored on normal audio cassettes.

Wow. This was technology ripe for duplication, but with a built-in copy-protection: generational decay. In this day of P2P and lossless digital audio transfer being no big thing, it sounds archaic to think of copy corruption, but I'd like to imagine bootleg copies of Communist Mutants From Space looking like the Pac-Man Kill Screen.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:28 PM on April 14, 2010


This page is for prototypes that never made it to market - the Supercharger, Powerglove and Virtual Boy actually existed.
posted by AndrewStephens at 4:29 PM on April 14, 2010


From the article/page:
... things can change in the final product. This happens all the time. When the Gamecube was announced Nintendo said it'd run on DVDs and when the Game Boy Advance was revealed they claimed websurfing would be a function. Sony frequently lies on purpose: they claimed the PS2 would be able to "jack you into the Matrix" (not kidding here).

Every game machine goes through a pre-production experimentation phase. For historical purposes, let's take a look at some.......
Keen find, Servo5678!
posted by filthy light thief at 4:39 PM on April 14, 2010


(retires to his rocking chair, mumbling)

someone fetch me a blanket

posted by jquinby at 4:44 PM on April 14, 2010


stored on normal audio cassettes.

Wasn't uncommon then, both my TRS-80 and C64 had (audio cassette) tape drives. Slooowwwwww. Getting the 1541 was such a wonderful day.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:49 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nintendo ultimately made the NES a side-loader to, once again, make it seem less like a game console (it worked; kids called the NES cartridges "tapes" back then).

Nah, it was the parents who called the cartridges tapes. Kids, who obviously knew better, rolled their eyes at this and other incredibly mind-infuriating misconceptions.

"No, you can't go over to play Ataris at Jason's because his mom told me the last time you were over, you got mad and threw a tape at his little brother."

"MOMMMMMMMMMMMMM HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAFTA TELL YOU THEY'RE CARTRIDGES NOT TAPES AND IT'S NOT AN ATARI IT'S A NINTENDO and Andy totally deserved it"
posted by Spatch at 4:57 PM on April 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


Man, when I was a kid, I hung on every EGM, waiting for leaked pictures of Saturn, PS1, U64 and Katana.
posted by subaruwrx at 4:58 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Getting the 1541 was such a wonderful day.

First time I ever cried getting a gift. It was from my grandparents, who probably had no earthly idea what it was, but knew it was Something Important for a computer to have, and that there might be something to this whole computer thing worthy of investment. As it was, it set me on the path to a hobby, then an avocation and finally a profession.
posted by jquinby at 5:00 PM on April 14, 2010


Wasn't uncommon then, both my TRS-80 and C64 had (audio cassette) tape drives. Slooowwwwww.

It didn't need to be that fast if all you were doing was playing Hangman on a Commodore PET.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:02 PM on April 14, 2010


Wasn't uncommon then, both my TRS-80 and C64 had (audio cassette) tape drives. Slooowwwwww.

MAME emulates some old arcade games that were stored on cassette tapes, and since the point of the MAME project is to have perfectly authentic emulation it also emulates the extremely slow load from the tape at start up.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:19 PM on April 14, 2010


I don't know, I heard a lot of kids call them "Intendo Tapes."

It still irritates me to think of it.
posted by TrialByMedia at 5:44 PM on April 14, 2010


The mention of the possible tape drive bought up the memory of Nintendo's insistence on using cartridges. That was the big drawback of the N64 compared to the competition; Nintendo was very insistent that cartridges were better.

They were right, in the sense that they had no load time, but the sheer size of CD and DVD drives in comparison made the load times worthwhile for the much more complex games you could do with them. Nintendo just flat missed the shift to huge amounts of raw data that would dominate later gaming. They'd made their fortune on instant-load, relatively simple games, and they really believed that cartridges were the way to go. It badly damaged their credibility in that generation; up until the Wii, in fact, they were looking a bit moribund.

Oddly, the thought's been occurring to me lately that they may be becoming right again. Flash memory is getting so ridiculously cheap that I can't help but wonder if a cartridge-based console system might not prosper in the next generation. You can put a GIANT amount of memory in a very small space. You'd still see some load time, because flash memory doesn't map directly into physical RAM. It's more of a super-fast disk. But they can be so fast that loads could be nearly instant with some decent software engineering. I think the overall experience on a flash-based system could be much better than what you can get from DVDs or Blu-Rays. And then as they got their costs down and their electronics miniaturized, it would be easy to move the system to handheld format with a minimum of fuss.

That would also make a download game market perfectly viable; you could either buy the flash preloaded from a store, or flash it yourself at home if you had enough bandwidth. You can already kind of do that with the Wii, I think; I believe you can download N64 games and run them right off an SD card. It wouldn't be much of a transition from here to go fully to flash, and at the rate the costs keep dropping in that market, you could probably achieve price-parity with DVD within the next year or two, and with Blu-Ray in three or four. And by tying the games to an interface, instead of a physical storage medium, they can just keep shipping bigger and bigger games that plug into the same slot, rather than having to worry about the physical limitations of Blu-Ray media.

Further, since Sony owns Blu-Ray, nobody else in that market will want to use it, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see both Microsoft's and Nintendo's next console generation switch back to cartridges.
posted by Malor at 5:56 PM on April 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Malor: They were right, in the sense that they had no load time, but the sheer size of CD and DVD drives in comparison made the load times worthwhile for the much more complex games you could do with them.

Final Fantasy VII drove me up the freaking wall with its loading from disk for every random encounter. It made me want to hit things. FFVII was the first FF game released in the US I never finished; I tried twice, but both times I got fed up around the twelve hour mark, maybe not coincidentally soon after leaving Midgar. Instead of poking around the overworld looking for caves and stuff, I just wanted to get to town and make the hurting stop. In fact, I had that problem with many Playstation games. I'd say that optical media didn't really work for RPGs until the PS2; even Skies of Arcadia on the Dreamcast, which has a number of rather nice features, is nearly ruined by battle load times. (Of course, the PS2 was about the time when I finally realized that most JRPGs suck....)

It badly damaged their credibility in that generation; up until the Wii, in fact, they were looking a bit moribund.

And yet, some N64 games are unequaled classics. The same thing happened with the Gamecube and Dreamcast. It's like having the #2 console gives developers a license to try inventive and wacky ideas. A platformer controlled using bongos! A virtual pet game involving talking (with a microphone) to a fish with the head of a Japanese man! Pinball on the battlefield of feudal Japan! A yellow giant interacts with the inhabitants of an island! Cube animals tear the crap out of each other! An arcade taxi driving simulation! It's a shame that Nintendo's alsmot stoppered the fount of creativity they displayed for the Gamecube this generation with its bid for the casual game market.

Oddly, the thought's been occurring to me lately that they may be becoming right again. Flash memory is getting so ridiculously cheap that I can't help but wonder if a cartridge-based console system might not prosper in the next generation.

The DS still uses game cards and it still seems to be doing pretty well. The PSP Go only plays downloadable games. But for consoles the media size was less the issue on the N64/PS1 front than media cost, and while flash is getting really cheap it's still nowhere near as cost-effective as an optical disk, which costs pennies to manufacture.

That would also make a download game market perfectly viable; you could either buy the flash preloaded from a store, or flash it yourself at home if you had enough bandwidth.

In Japan Nintendo did something like this with magnetic disks. They also made (maybe still make, as far as I know) an N64 variant for the Chinese market called the iQue that uses flash carts to which games are loaded at a store.

You can already kind of do that with the Wii, I think; I believe you can download N64 games and run them right off an SD card.

The Wii runs downloaded games, including N64 titles, directly from build-in flash memory. While you can "play" games off a SD card, internally they are copied to internal flash. This is probably partly to do with access time, but mostly to do with design flaws in the Wii's OS. The Xbox 360 and PS3 both downloading games to hard drives and running from them; I seem to recall reading that the 360 now even supports using USB drives for such purposes.
posted by JHarris at 7:37 PM on April 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


They were right, in the sense that they had no load time, but the sheer size of CD and DVD drives in comparison made the load times worthwhile for the much more complex games you could do with them. Nintendo just flat missed the shift to huge amounts of raw data that would dominate later gaming. They'd made their fortune on instant-load, relatively simple games, and they really believed that cartridges were the way to go. It badly damaged their credibility in that generation; up until the Wii, in fact, they were looking a bit moribund.
Interesting that now you can store a lot more on flash memory then you can on a DVD, And 32gb memory cards aren't that expensive, in a few years they'll likely be cheaper then Blue-Ray discs (which are 20gb, IIRC)

Nintendo was just ahead of its time. By being behind the times.
posted by delmoi at 7:48 PM on April 14, 2010


This is probably partly to do with access time, but mostly to do with design flaws in the Wii's OS.

If I recall correctly, it actually had to do with them being really sketchy about protection and the ease with which people would be able to pirate the data. I know that's kind of a head-scratcher because if you're inclined you could easily go about getting what you want by way of pirates (arrgghh).
posted by P.o.B. at 7:48 PM on April 14, 2010


Oh my god. I absolutely love stuff like this. For more weird unreleased consoles and dev kits, check out AssemblerGames (subject of a MeFi post from 2005 where, unsuprisingly, I am the first commenter).
posted by zsazsa at 10:17 PM on April 14, 2010


I'll show my age here, but...no Atari? No Starpath Supercharger? Man alive, FAIL.
I still have my Supercharger, and my 2600. And a copy of Dragonstomper that still plays. :D
posted by xedrik at 10:31 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I recall correctly, it actually had to do with them being really sketchy about protection and the ease with which people would be able to pirate the data. I know that's kind of a head-scratcher because if you're inclined you could easily go about getting what you want by way of pirates (arrgghh).

marcan of HackMii made an informative post about this, which is what I base my statement off of: http://hackmii.com/2009/02/why-the-wii-will-never-get-any-better/

In summary, Nintendo chose to implement most of the Wii system code as libraries that are compiled into each game. Each game contains its own set of most of the hardware drivers, support code, UI elements, system service access routines, etc. The result is, to games that were released before major feature updates, it is as if those features don't exist. There is fairly little on-board Wii code that is called by games, and what code is called is usually tied to a specific version of IOS, the Wii's OS.

The Wii saves multiple, complete copies of IOS in its onboard memory. When your Wii's system software updates, either online or from a disk that requires it, it stores a new copy of IOS in system flash. All Wii software must specify which version of IOS it is made for, which is loaded invisibly before the software itself is loaded. Nintendo did this likely because it is loathe to introduce incompatibilities into its system. For all their faults, Nintendo does seem to take software compatibility seriously. Maybe a little too seriously, since this seems to be an excessively nuclear approach for the potential problem of updating libraries introducing bugs in already-released software.

Overall Nintendo has been loathe to update previously-released IOS versions. They've only done this once I think, and that was to fix the Trucha bug that allowed unsigned code to be run trivially. Since the buggy code is in IOS, a game could get around it simply by choosing to run under a bugged version. Nintendo did backport that fix to old IOS versions.

But anyway, the result is that there is not a lot that Nintendo could add to the Wii in terms of features. Any features added will be for new games only.
posted by JHarris at 1:32 AM on April 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Nah, it was the parents who called the cartridges tapes.

Part of what ruined Cloak and Dagger for the 13-year-old me* is that the characters insisted on calling the Atari 5200 cartridge hiding the MacGuffin a "tape".

Looking back on it now, though, I'm oddly nostalgic for the frothing at the mouth I did whenever one of the characters said "Cloak and Dagger tape". They were some of my first instances of Nerd Rage.

*Apart from, y'know, it not being a very good movie.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:39 AM on April 15, 2010


While you can "play" games off a SD card, internally they are copied to internal flash. This is probably partly to do with access time, but mostly to do with design flaws in the Wii's OS.

Yeah, I worded that poorly. That's why I mentioned future cartridges still having load times; the cheap equipment that's easily available all presents flash memory as an abstracted disk device. I don't think there's any way the Wii could directly map an SD card into memory, and even if it COULD, it would be too slow to be very useful. Flash is wildly faster than any kind of spinning storage, but it's at least an order of magnitude slower than standard RAM. You'd absolutely have to copy the flash storage into RAM to run it, or it wouldn't be playable.

In essence, we'd still have 'disk-based' consoles, but the 'disks' would be cartridges. It would LOOK LIKE the old cartridge systems, but internally it would be treating the cartridge as a drive, rather than mapping it directly into the processor's address space. I'm not sure there's any kind of ROM that's fast enough to keep a modern processor fed at full speed, although I haven't looked into that in ages.

So the scenario you mention, the Wii copying the data from the SD into main memory to run it, was exactly what I was envisioning. I failed to communicate that idea, however. :)
posted by Malor at 3:44 AM on April 15, 2010


Oh, and I forgot this part.... that's not a design flaw in the Wii, it's just a combination of flash being slow and also being presented as a disk-style device. Microsoft and Sony, AFAIK, are doing the exact same thing with 'hard drive' loads, copying it from the hard drive into main memory before running it. The Wii copies from flash, but I believe it's the same process.

It's possible that the Wii may be doing something strange, like copying SD storage into the internal flash, and then copying it AGAIN into DRAM, but I doubt very much that the system, at any time, runs code directly out of the onboard flash. It's just too slow for that.
posted by Malor at 3:48 AM on April 15, 2010


I don't think there's any way the Wii could directly map an SD card into memory, and even if it COULD, it would be too slow to be very useful.

I only know what I've been able to pick up randomly on the web, but from what I've heard, SD cards intrinsically work as block transfer devices that present the contents as a file system. It isn't possible for an outside system to map them as memory, they must be copied into RAM. I think the Wii's internal Flash is also accessed that way, and I believe DS game cards work similarly too.
posted by JHarris at 4:53 AM on April 15, 2010


marcan of HackMii made an informative post about this, which is what I base my statement off of

Heh, it's taken me a bit over a year to forget all that. I used to work at Nintendo but I don't keep up on the gaming industry that much anymore; so take what I say with a grain of salt. But they are really sketchy about protection and people pirating their stuff, and that was the reason I was given, at the time, about the SD cards.

But anyway, the result is that there is not a lot that Nintendo could add to the Wii in terms of features.

I wouldn't say that, but if you aren't aware of how Nintendo's business plan works then it goes a little something like:

->Release new system
->Release extra peripherals
->Release new color scheme for system and/or possibly new shell
->Release upgraded system
->Slowly work towards planned obsolesence of current system
->Release new system

Most of the times those steps overlap but that's a rough idea. Sony also does some of those steps but not as exacting as Nintendo and Microsoft hasn't even caught on to the consumer circus yet.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:27 AM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


The OS stupidity of the Wii is one of the main reasons we haven't replaced the Wii that was stolen 6 months ago. Whereas we got a new 360 after about a week. I remember being super excited when Nintendo finally added support for SDHC cards. I'd be able to store all my Rock Band DLC on one card! Except, wait, no. Rock Band 2 would have to get patched for that, and there's no such thing on the Wii. Bah.
posted by kmz at 6:57 AM on April 15, 2010


Is it just me, or are most of these much cooler looking than the consoles that were released?

Also, how the hell was the star-frisbee controller supposed to work?
posted by cmoj at 8:28 AM on April 15, 2010


Also, how the hell was the star-frisbee controller supposed to work?

It's a secret to everybody.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:04 AM on April 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


This was technology ripe for duplication, but with a built-in copy-protection: generational decay.

Actually, no. It is an analog storage medium, but it's digitally copied. A computer compact cassette tape drive is basically a modem with a tape player hooked up to it.

If you copy a data tape it reads the tape into memory and does some rudimentary error checking on it. This error checked data is re-written anew to the new tape. It's not copied directly from tape to tape as audio, but that's entirely possible to do using a dual deck audio player. But if you're copying it on your Vic 20, C64 or other digital computer or game device, it's de-modulating the audio tones into data before modulating them back into the new tape. Systems with very small amounts of memory would often require many tape swaps to copy a whole tape, because a whole c60 data tape wasn't likely to fit in RAM memory.

More than anything, though, it was tape wear and inferior tapes that would cause issues. Old or shitty tapes were terrible for data, and considering how much the tapes themselves were used in what amounted to a shitty portable cassette recorder with equally junky transport mechanisms in a shiny, fancy box - it was no wonder people had issues with data cassettes.

Little known random factoid about data tape drives - you could pretty much use any "cassette-corder" as long as it had the line in, line out and "control" jacks. A lot of dictaphone-style cassette-corders and later, home cassette recorders and kids recorders had these ports. The "control" port was just an audio jack that listened for side-band signaling to remotely control the transport mechanism like any wired remote control did.

All of the "magic" happened in the computer thanks to the specially wired harness that plugged into those three ports. This is also why the early modems for vintage personal computers used the same port. Because it was a modem. A modulator-demodulator, nothing more, nothing less. It just so happened to do it's modem-ing to and from a tape, instead of over a phone line to a live computer.

And, yeah, with a little trickery with the modem protocols it was entirely possible to program scripts into a cassette tape and play it over a phone line to a live computer, or upload entire programs that way. But then again you could still hear the difference between different protocols or kinds of data because we're talking about 300 baud - which for reference takes about 20-30 seconds to display a screen full of 40-column monochrome ASCII text. I've seen kids manually SMS faster than that these days.
posted by loquacious at 10:40 AM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Err, a correction - the Commodores and many other early home computers used a serial bus, which wasn't actually a modem in itself, so the modem-ing did happen in the tape drive itself.
posted by loquacious at 10:51 AM on April 15, 2010


Finds like this are why I love this site.

I do remember seeing this image in Nintendo Power, or some other gaming magazine that I read as a kid, and thinking how cool some of those designs were. If I remember correctly, it was in the feature where they'd revealed the actual design of the SNES. I remember thinking that it was just so cool that there was someone whose job was "Decide what the new Nintendo will look like."

Oh, and JHarris, it's my understanding that there's a downloadable version of Final Fantasy 7 now, if you're at all interested in going back and giving it another try. Don't know if the load times are any better, or if you're even still interested in the game, but I thought I'd mention it, in case you were. (7 does seem to be a lot of people's favorite, though I'm still partial to 5 and 6.)
posted by Katrel at 11:37 AM on April 15, 2010


Heh, it's taken me a bit over a year to forget all that. I used to work at Nintendo but I don't keep up on the gaming industry that much anymore; so take what I say with a grain of salt. But they are really sketchy about protection and people pirating their stuff, and that was the reason I was given, at the time, about the SD cards.

Just to keep the conversation current (since I did wander a little off track in my last comment), we're talking about the Play From SD feature and how its implemented internally by the Wii. My own comment did not cover exactly why the system architecture makes it impossible to run directly from SD media. That is this: Because of the Wii OS's provide-no-services, compile-it-in philosophy, the games themselves are programmed to expect to run from internal Flash. They would have to be recoded or patched to run from SD. To make it so that any game could run from SD, they'd have to go back and add the feature to all copyable channel software. The copy into memory operation is, really, just a kind of hack; it automates something the player would otherwise have to do himself.

I have no doubt that Nintendo worries daily about software piracy. I also do not doubt that preventing piracy is a factor in every decision that Nintendo makes. They probably told you that because, in their minds, piracy is a reason. But it doesn't change the fact that, if they did sit down and work out how to implement a play-from-SD feature, that they run into all of the problems marcan lays out in his post.
posted by JHarris at 1:56 PM on April 15, 2010


Oh, and JHarris, it's my understanding that there's a downloadable version of Final Fantasy 7 now, if you're at all interested in going back and giving it another try.

I could play it in emulation on my computer now. It would, however, still be 30+ hours of my life, and I don't have those to spare right now. (That, and I am no longer really a fan of the FF games.)
posted by JHarris at 1:57 PM on April 15, 2010


JHarris, I didn't mean to say you were wrong, but that's what we were told (and I could go into a long diatribe about that but it would get into ranty 'terrible job' territorry). Also the SD card functionality wasn't an afterthought, but I think some of the uses at this point are and that's where we might be missing each other.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:30 PM on April 15, 2010


And, yeah, with a little trickery with the modem protocols it was entirely possible to program scripts into a cassette tape and play it over a phone line to a live computer, or upload entire programs that way.

There was a type-in program in an old issue of Ahoy! magazine that actually took the data coming in off the Datasette and sent it directly to the SID chip, allowing you to play audio tapes on the Commodore. It sounded like the singers were using a garbage disposal as an instrument, but you could still recognize it as something like the original.
posted by JHarris at 4:01 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


even Skies of Arcadia on the Dreamcast, which has a number of rather nice features, is nearly ruined by battle load times.

It also didn't help that the random encounter rate in Skies of Arcadia was pretty darn atrocious, if memory serves. Trying to move around the overworld was a chore and nine-tenths.
posted by Spatch at 3:35 AM on April 16, 2010


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