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Old 08-19-2011, 07:10 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Retronauts: Now You See It, Now You Don't!

From the recent announcement of a GameCube-free Wii to Sony's earlier decision to drop Linux support from recent models of the Playstation 3 (and all the old ones, too), no generation of gaming has given players more for their money... then taken it away when they weren't looking. Still, it's important to keep a sense of perspective. Feature drop seems to happen most often now, but it wasn't totally uncommon in the 1980s and 1990s, either. Here are a few examples.

Atari 5200

The Atari 5200 was an example of smart hardware anchored to a very stupid marketing department. While the machine had brighter colors and smoother scrolling than its rival the ColecoVision, some aspects of its design were pulled straight from the bowels of focus testing hell. Early models of the 5200 came with a gadget that connected the system to both the television and a power outlet. This was supposed to make setup a breeze, but the "shock box" hung off the television like an ugly tumor and angrily spat sparks at anyone who dared to plug cables into it.

A later model of the 5200 gave 'ol sparky the boot and split the AC and RF connections, just as nature intended. However, this new system came with its own nasty surprise... two of the controller ports had vanished along with the shock box! This wasn't a huge loss, since only two games supported those extra ports, and one of them was Super Breakout. However, the system's reprogrammed BIOS made it incompatible with three more games, including Pitfall! and Mountain King, a digital tribute to the musical genius of Edvard Grieg. Granted, everyone had already had their fill of Pitfall! in 1983, but a 5200 that can't play Mountain King is like a dinner plate that shatters when you put cheesecake on it.

Nintendo Entertainment System

The video game industry has come a long way in the twenty five years since the NES was released, but in terms of innovation and historical significance, Nintendo's first console is still hard to top. It brought considerable depth to the gaming experience, introduced the world to such nifty peripherals as the dance mat and light gun, and offered a controller with unparalleled precision. Sure, the game pad's sharp corners would sting the hell out of your hand after long sessions of Metroid, but it was still miles ahead of the mushy, oversized joysticks that had come before it!

The NES was massively successful, but in the 1990s, when the machine entered its twilight years, Nintendo released a second model to shore up sales. Designed as a cost-conscious introduction to the world of gaming, this new NES actually improved on the original by retiring the finicky front-loading cartridge slot and rounding off the edges of the controllers, making them more hand-friendly. On the down side, the composite video jacks that made NES graphics seem that much sharper in 1986 were history, a casualty of the system's $50 price tag. As for the case with that bodonkadonk cartridge slot, that was more a victim of fashion than cost-cutting...

Playstation/Playstation 2

The Playstation was one of the first systems to drop features not only to cut production costs, but to take the wind out of the sails of would-be pirates. Early models of the original Playstation had an I/O port on the back. Sony doubtlessly had grand plans for this at first, but it quickly became a vestigial organ, used only for unlicensed cheat cartridges like the Game Shark. When hackers discovered that the port could also be used as a back door for pirated games, Sony performed a hasty appendectomy, plucking the I/O port from later models of the system.

Sony's headaches didn't end when the company moved on to the Playstation 2. The system was originally designed with a hard drive bay hidden inside. An optional broadband adapter not only let you get online with the Playstation 2, but connect a hard drive, greatly boosting its storage capacity. Unfortunately, Sony didn't think this feature through, and let players pop in any old computer hard drive, making piracy sinfully easy for anyone with the right software. The company's response was to release a slim model of the Playstation 2 with the ethernet port built in and the hard drive support taken out. A simple fix, right? Not to the dozen developers which had already written games that supported the hard drive. They were understandably miffed, but none more than Square-Enix, whose first online Final Fantasy game required it. Looks like customers aren't the only ones bitten in the ass by feature drop!

  Nice but short. Should have covered many more systems.
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