Top 10 Gaming Disasters

By Mike on 6:00 pm

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Another top ten list for today, this time we look back at gaming's greatest failures. First of all, this list doesn't deal with bad games but with everything else that makes gaming possible, or impossible. What is a failure in gaming? Well, it's something so bad that nobody ever wants to make that mistake again. So right there we can throw out stuff like the and the Sega CD, as these two systems did influence later, better designs. No, it has to be something so awful that you just have to ask yourself "what the hell were they thinking?!"

10. Xbox 360
The argument over Xbox 360 vs PS3 has been going on for a while now. While Xbox fans have valiantly defend their console's honour, it's hard even for them to ignore that it had some problems. Namely the dreaded three red rings of death. The original Xbox 360 used two very hot running processors and the designers failed to give them adequate cooling. Also, Microsoft had switched to new ROHS (restriction on hazardous substances) compliant tin solder instead of lead. While tin isn't toxic, unlike lead, it melts at a lower temperature than lead does. Tin also has other issues when compared to lead. While lead is a malleable metal, tin is brittle. It can also whisker, causing hair like crystals on the surface which can short out electrical contacts. The Xbox's design flaws created a perfect storm that made high failure rates inevitable. As the console began to overheat due to inadequate cooling, the solder became soft & brittle, causing the processors to become unseated and break electrical contact. Once this happened, the system was basically toast and had to be replaced. (The famous "towel trick" remelts the solder in hopes of reseating the processor, but it's not fool proof) Failure rates for the first generation of 360s were pegged between 16% and 33%, the majority of which were caused by the Red Ring of Death and most short into the system's life. For consumer electronics, failure rates in this situation should be no more than 1%. The RRoD proved to be a PR nightmare for the company. It was the reason why I chose to go for a PS3 instead; well that and I couldn't find any Wiis for sale. Microsoft was eventually forced to admit there was a problem and increased the warranty for the system to three years instead of the usual one. The company has since reduced the transistor sizes of both processors down from 90nm to 65nm for their new Jasper models. Smaller transistor sizes allows processors to run more efficiently. The new systems now run cooler, largely eliminating the problem. Moral of the story, if you're thinking of buying a 360, make sure it's a Jasper.
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9. The Save Checkpoint
This is one of those things that can be done right, or really wrong: the saving checkpoint. That is, certain specific spots in a game that you use to save your progress. A lot of games have this, such as Okami. However, in that title, save points where everywhere and you could never loose your saves unless you deliberately deleted them. One of the most notorious examples of a bad saving checkpoint system that I can think of was Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Save points were few and far between by using the owl statues. However, the statues were only good once. If you restarted the game and didn't save again, you lost the previous save and were sent back to the beginning of the three day cycle instead of the last statue you visited. Sure, you kept your progress when you last used the Ocarina of Time to send yourself back but anything in between would be lost. I just want to know why I can't just save anywhere at any time. There's nothing worse than being interrupted then having to rush around looking for the save point so you can go do more important things. I hate having to backtrack in games because of this.

8. Games for Windows & Windows Vista
Seeing the PC gaming market was faltering, Microsoft decided to launch it's Games for Windows campaign, which sought to market PC games in the same way console titles were. To get the badge, games had to meet certain compatibility requirements. They had to be easy to install, run on Windows Vista, run on 64-bit Vista, support widescreen resolutions, support parental controls, launch from Vista's media centre, and support the Xbox 360 wired controller. It was a good idea but it failed to reach it's intention of revitalizing the PC as a legitimate gaming platform and boost Vista sales. To add to the problem, Windows Vista was not an ideal operating system for gaming. It was slow and failed to properly support older titles due to backwards compatibility issues with DirectX 9 and earlier. If a pre-Vista game worked on XP, there was no guarantee it would work on the newer OS despite the nuts and bolts of the two operating systems essentially being the same. DirectX 10, which Microsoft said could not be implemented in XP, offered dubious graphical improvements at best. Many gamers chose to keep using XP instead of upgrading. Sales of Vista have been more driven by new consumer PC sales than anything else, as opposed to system builders and people upgrading.

7. CD-in-Drive Requirement for PC Titles
For most PC titles, the CD or DVD has to be in the optical drive before you can play the game. I just want to know why this is. Originally it was meant as a form of copy protection but now it's become obsolete due to intrusive DRM schemes and online connectivity. It's just irritating to still have to put the disc in the drive every time despite the fact that all game data is stored on the hard disk. Take Sam & Max Seasons 1 & 2 for example. If I play the downloadable versions, I just have to be connected to my Telltale account to play them. However, to play the DVD version, the disc has to be in the drive. Why? I already have a Telltale account, why can't they just treat it like the downloadable version. This is just asinine in this day and age, especially if you're a laptop gamer. There is a huge double standard between downloadable and boxed copies. The former seem to get all the perks while people who buy the latter get screwed.

6. Phillips CD-I
When Sega released the Sega CD, it was one of the first consoles to store data on a compact disc rather than cartridges. CDs had several advantages over conventional carts. They could store up to 700mb of data compared to the 16mb cartridges were limited to at the time, and could be produced at significantly lower costs. CDs could also hold full motion video and high resolution audio. The only downside was long load times. The CD-I was one of the first stand alone CD based console, created by compact disc pioneer Phillips. It was developed as a joint venture with Nintendo who was looking to produce a CD add-on for the SNES. Sony was also working with Nintendo on the same project, which eventually culminated in the Playstation. The CD-I didn't do as well. The system was massive, the size of a typical VCR at the time. It was combined with an awful TV remote like wireless controller that was difficult to use. Most of the games available for it were similar to early point and click CD games that were being sold on the PC and Mac platforms. Many of them were educational. The CD-I did come out with some more conventional games though. Due to a contract agreement with Nintendo, Phillips was allowed to use the licenses for some Nintendo characters. The agreement continued even after Phillips pulled out of the SNES CD project. Slumping sales of the CD-I encouraged them to start taking advantage of this. The result was Hotel Mario and a series of Zelda titles known by fans of the series as the Unholy Triforce. The four of these games are considered to be the worst titles featuring Nintendo characters and are not considered to be part of cannon for their respective series. To give the CD-I credit, it was one of the first multi-media consoles. Aside from games, it could play back your audio CDs, karaoke discs, and Video CDs provided it was equipped with the optional MPEG1 decoder. Like all early CD based consoles, the load times for media were horrendously slow. The final nail in its coffin though was the price. It sold for $700 in 1991, which is over $1050 today. While the Sega CD sold a modest 6 million units, the CD-I only managed 500,000, less than the Virtual Boy! It was finally discontinued in 1998, though why Phillips kept it around that long is a mystery.

5. Virtual Boy
How do you wreck the Gameboy? Slap a second screen on it and rename it the DS. I'm joking, relax. Well, half joking as that's what Nintendo did with their greatest failure, the Virtual Boy. It was a goggle like apparatus with two LCD screens to give a stereoscopic 3D effect. It was made to bridge the gap between the SNES and N64. The games themselves were vary primitive compared to what the system was supposedly capable of, and few used the 3D effects to their full potential. It wasn't in colour either, instead opting for black on a blood red background. It gave numerous people headaches and seizures. Furthermore, though marketed as a portable, it was difficult to use. It was basically goggles on a stand with no head strap, forcing you to awkwardly lean on a table to use it. There was no way it could be used while travelling despite what Nintendo claimed. The controller was somewhat innovative, integrating two D-pads but it was just a total flop. Only 14 games were ever released for it in North America out of the 22 games ever made for it. Less than 800,000 Virtual Boys were sold worldwide. It was discontinued after only one year on the market. It proved that not everything Nintendo makes is gold.

4. Sega 32X
The 32X represents a seemingly good idea that was poorly executed. After all, PC gamers could upgrade their systems on the cheap, so why shouldn't console gamers have the same luxury. The 32X was made as a stop gap solution to extend the life of the Genesis by upgrading it to a 32-bit system. The mushroom shaped peripheral plugged into the Genesis cartridge slot but ran off its own power and required a special video bridge cable. Sega had insisted on using massive wall-wart AC adaptors; so if you had the Sega CD as well it would be impossible to plug all three into a normal powerbar, let alone a standard outlet. The games were touted as being 32-bit, but like the ill fated Atari Jaguar, they didn't look much better than regular 16-bit games. I've only played one 32X game, Knuckles Chaotix, and it looks pretty much identical to Sonic 3 and Sonic CD. To top it off, the add-on itself was expensive and the Sega Saturn was only a few months away. Most gamers knew it was better to just wait and so the 32X sold poorly. The Sega Neptune, a stand alone 32X was also made but never sold. Genesis does what Nintendon't... maybe that's not such a good thing.

3. Virtual Reality
Back in 1995, everybody thought the future of video games was donning a silly looking helmet and entering a ring where you played the game, as yourself. The first and last time I experienced VR was back in about 1995, shortly after Mississauga landmark Sega City Playdium opened. They had a couple of these simulators: a first person shooter and some hang gliding games. Naturally I tried the shooter but died pretty quickly. I must admit it was cool but maybe it was the novelty factor that wowed me more than anything else. I mean, how cool would it be to step onto the holodeck from Star Trek: TNG? A lot of R&D went into VR but it never really took off. When it first came out, we were told that it was what all gaming would look like in 10 years time. We're still using our hands though as if it were a baby's toy. VR failed for a lot of reasons. It was expensive, bulky, and required double the processing power to fuel the high resolution stereoscopic displays. It was also known to give some people headaches and seizures. Not something you want in a video game. The VR concept eventually fizzled out by the late 90s. In it's defense, it has seen extensive use as training aids for pilots and ship crews. VR simulators are still open to the public at places such as Air Combat Zone. However, these don't require the silly helmet and are not 3D, at least not in the sense VR was meant to be.
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2. Atari
Atari just has so many gaming blunders, I could fill this whole list with them. Their biggest mistake was way back in 1983, which eventually culminated in the crash of the video game industry, putting the "fad" on the back burner for two years before Nintendo saved it. Atari developed one of the best consoles of all time, the 2600. Unfortunately, they overestimated it's greatness when they produced more Pac-Man and ET cartridges than there were 2600s. It was assumed that these two blockbuster titles would drive sales of the system. Lesson #1 of of game marketing: Cartman Economics works, flooding the market does not. Unfortunately for Atari, the two games bombed and the compnay nearly bankrupted itself in the aftermath. Unsold ET cartridges were rumoured to have been unceremoniously buried in a New Mexico landfill for tax writeoff purposes. With the rise of home computers like the Commodore 64, interest in stand-alone consoles declined and the market for those kind of games collapsed.
It's unfair to blame Atari alone for the '83 Crash, but it wasn't their only failure. The ill fated 5200, which was the size of a VCR and had controllers that didn't work is another such example of an Atari flop. The last nail in the coffin was the Atari Jaguar, a 32-bit console masked as a 64-bit system. It wasn't much better than other 16/32-bit consoles at the time and had inferior graphics to the Playstation and N64, the latter of which was a true 64-bit system. Gamers quickly learned that once you hit 32-bit, the number of extra bits a chip has means little. (Current consoles still haven't reached the only limit of the 32-bit process, with is 4gb of RAM. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have only 512mb. Both use 64-bit CPUs though.) The system failed to take away market share from Sega and Nintendo. Atari decided to pull out of consoles after that. More recently, Atari was embroiled in a scandal for using RIAA-like spy tactics to track down pirates.

1. Digital Rights Management
Piracy has always been a problem on PC games and it shot up as soon as people were able to easily burn CDs or transmit games over the Internet. DRM came about to prevent copying. If one single thing can be linked to the death of PC gaming, this is it. As time wore on, DRM went from simple CD keys and passwords to more intrusive piracy prevention methods. It began installing unremovable spyware on people's computers without their knowledge. Eventually limits were placed on how many times a game could be installed, on the same computer. The general public got their first real taste of what had been harassing hardcore gamers for years when Spore came out. It featured the most intrusive form of the SecuROM DRM scheme to date, restricting installs on the same system to three and making it impossible to deactivate copies. The general public didn't like it and Electronic Arts was sued for failing to disclose the restriction on the game's packaging or in the EULA. Ironically, these DRM schemes have done little to discourage the actual pirates. Spore became the most pirated game of 2008, with 1.7 million illegal downloads in it's first three months alone, a rate five times higher than the next title on the list. EA has since offered Spore DRM-free for legal download through Steam.

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