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Gaming’s Best and Worst Hardware Quirks You May Not Have Known About

We’ve seen 40 years of home gaming hardware and, with each new system, there’s always some wrinkle of innovation to discover. Sometimes, those innovations are obvious and ingenius such as Sony’s Dual Shock controller design. (It’s still incredible to think that it was a controller evolution and not part of the original system release.) Others, though, are so subtle you may not have even realized they were there.

And they can vary in how successful they are, too.

Today, we’re going to discuss the Top 5 Best and Worst hardware quirks you may not have known about.

Top 5 Best Quirks

The best quirks are the ones that are small, subtle and add great convenience to your gaming experience. Often, they’re so subtle that you may not have noticed, and I bet you didn’t know about all of these. How many did you know about?

1. Newer Wiimote straps have a “nub” to make it easy to click the red sync button.

Before you can use a Wiimote with a new Wii (or Wii U), you need to synchronize it with the base system. Doing this involves pressing the red button on the system and then the red button on the Wiimote. In the early days of the Wii, this wasn’t a difficult process, though both buttons were “hidden.” The Wii concealed its button under a small panel and the Wiimote’s button was underneath the battery cover.

Fast forward a little bit and Nintendo had to start addressing issues with Wiimotes being flung into walls and TV’s. This is when they started mailing free Wiimote bubble cases and they’ve become a standard since. The problem, though, was that accessing the batteries (and thus the red button) involved pulling the cover off. This was a minor inconvenience, but years later Nintendo quietly made a tweak many people still haven’t noticed.

First, and more obviously, the button is now accessible on the back of the Wiimote, no longer requiring the battery cover to be removed and it’s also clickable through the cover. This is handy, but it’s something even more subtle that wins the prize! On every Wiimote strap, there’s a small “nub” that can be used to click that button without having to go find a small object (such as pencil) to do it.

How smart was that?

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So thats what that little pick is for! Did you know?

2. PS4 controller lights match the color of your player in most games.

The PS4 controller features a light on the front (back?) of the controller. What does this light do? I don’t know, and it’s pretty funny that many of my casual gamer friends don’t even notice it because it faces away from them all the time.

Yet, it’s even gamers themselves that haven’t noticed what these lights represent. You see, these lights can change colors, and in many PS4 games the colors are configured to match the color of your player in multiplayer games. So, for example, if you are playing Nidhogg, the color of your character is the color of the light on your controller. (Either yellow or orange.) It’s a fun little way to figure out which controller is controlling which character!

Such pretty little things. And useful!

Such pretty little things. And useful!

3. You put a DS to sleep by simply closing the lid.

This one is probably the better known item on the list, but early on in the DS’s life it wasn’t. If you were a normal human being and didn’t read the DS manual, you wouldn’t know. The GBA didn’t do it. One funny story I recall is a friend of mine who was trying to tell me why the PSP was better than the DS. He explained that he can put his PSP to sleep simply by pressing “this button.” I said it’s easier on a DS. He challenged that it wasn’t even possible on a DS! At that moment I flipped the lid shut on mine and put it down.

“Oh.”

4. The NES has two AV outputs and they can be used simultaneously.

Normally, this isn’t a very handy thing, but indeed you can hook up both of the NES outputs (RF and composite) at the same time to two different TV’s or other devices. So, if you were a cool kid, you could put two TV’s next to each other and have them both displaying the game you’re playing.

Not terribly handy, sure, but if you’re playing a multiplayer game it might be nice to have both players sit centered in front of their own TV’s, right…?

You can do cooler stuff, though, too. The best example is being able to play a game on a TV (with RF) while also streaming it to a service like Twitch via the composite cables.

I think it’s cool and I’m not sure any other systems can do that…?

5. The New 3DS carved out a space on the hinge for your thumbnail.

When Nintendo released the New 3DS, a speedier version of their original 3DS hardware, they added an analog nub so that games like Xenoblade Chronicles and Majora’s Mask would translate better to the portable hardware. While the new nub was obvious, most players never noticed the slight change Nintendo made to the hardware to allocate just a liiiiiiiittle more space for your thumb. In fact, if Nintendo didn’t carve out this little inset, your thumb would be rubbing against and scratching up the internal hinge.

Nintendo does a great job with these little nuances.

Look at that, built in space!

Look at that, built in space!

Top 5 Worst Quirks

Where we praised the subtle nuances of hardware as a means to make our gaming lives better, sometimes manufacturers really drop the ball as well. In these cases, we have mistakes we can look back on now and wonder why more thought wasn’t put into their designs.

1. The Sega Genesis 3-button controller is the most poorly designed in history.

The Sega Genesis was a fine system and the years we spent debating which was better between it and the SNES make for some great memories. Even today, the PS4 and Xbox One compete, but not in the same way those consoles did in the past. (It’s mostly fanboys yelling at each other for no reason.) The SNES did win the war, but it’s the dichotomy between their controllers which is the most interesting comparison between them.

The SNES controller had 4 front-facing action buttons, configured in a diamond format. This was extremely well designed, and perhaps it was in response to one of the more terrible controller design decisions in memory. Somehow, some way, someone at Sega decided that lining up the 3 front-facing buttons on their controller in a straight line was a good idea.

Let’s take a look at it:

Is it obvious why three buttons in a line is an awful design choice?

Is it obvious why three buttons in a line is an awful design choice here?

So, why is positioning these buttons in a line a bad idea? You really have to play a Genesis game to realize it. The reality is that it’s impossible for a player to tap the A button and then the C button without physically moving the anchor position of the thumb. In fact, you’d have to move your thumb a full inch to go between them. No games require you to go back and forth too quickly namely because it’s simply too hard to do.

This also presents a few problems. For one, you can actually lose track of where your thumb is during frenetic game action. Notice the small bump on the B button of the controller there. Reminds you of a computer keyboard’s F and J keys, doesn’t it? Well, a keyboard has 101+ buttons on it. A Genesis controller has just three! Plus, you don’t have time to “feel” for the B button while you’re engrossed in a shmup!

They flubbed this bad. They should’ve put the keys in a triangle format. In fact, all controllers after this would feature 4 buttons in a diamond format. Sega, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo…they all did it. Sega never takes much flack for this faux pas, but it’s deserving.

What were they thinking?

2. The PSP buttons are impossible to detect while playing in the dark.

I’m a fan of the PSP, I really am. Currently, collecting for PSP is great…the system is cheap, the games are cheap and there’s lots of good ones to find. (You have to play Half-Minute Hero, it’s one of my favorite games ever!) The hardware itself isn’t perfect, though. In fact, the PSP is the last portable system that had problems with stuck pixels.

Remember stuck pixels? Yeah, me too. Laptops would often have these and manufacturers all but said they are bound to happen and, no, you can’t return their hardware because of it. The PSP suffered from it while Nintendo portables avoided the problem. I had two PSP’s, and both had stuck pixel issues.

Unfortunately, this isn’t even the worst hardware issue facing Sony’s portable. No, the worst is that the designer who created the hardware shell apparently never thought to test the design in a dark room. Namely, the buttons along the bottom of the device…including the volume buttons.

Oh, did you need to access the volume, select, and start buttons?

Oh, did you need to access the volume, select, and start buttons?

Ask any PSP user and they’ll tell you: when playing in the dark, it’s impossible to “feel” where the volume buttons are to adjust it. The buttons are at the same level as the shell and you can’t detect them with your thumbs. You just have to guess where they are. I end up pressing the wrong one 90% of the time. The other buttons are similarly hard to find, but it’s those volume buttons you’re most likely wanting to adjust while playing.

Oops.

3. The PS4 controller triggers are too sensitive and depress when putting the controller down.

The PS4 controller feels wonderful in your hands, especially those hanging triggers. I don’t quite know why they put a touch screen on it (gimmick!), but I like the controller design overall.

Except for one thing that drives me batty: the controller rests on the triggers.

Since I used the PS4 to replace the Blu-Ray player in my living room, we use it when we want to watch DVD movies. Have you done this? If so, you might know what I’m about to say…

See a problem, here?

See a problem, here?

Well, I bought a PS2 remote control for my PS2, and a PS3 remote control for my PS3, but I’ve passed on doing the same for the PS4 thus far, and that’s been a huge mistake. If you use the controller to start a movie, you best be very careful when putting the controller down. If you do, unless you do it as gently as humanly possible, the triggers will squeeze ever so slightly and throw your movie into fast forward. It’s utterly absurd how sensitive they are. I never realized how much other controllers protect their triggers when you put a controller down, but the PS4 doesn’t. Strange.

Sony could fix this by just disabling those buttons in movie mode, but they haven’t yet. Do they not notice? I refuse to buy yet another remote control, so I’m just going to have to live with this brain-dead design mistake for a while longer until someone there figures it out.

4. The N64 analog stick was an innovation…and terribly designed.

Really? Do I even have to explain this one? Luckily, Sony showed Nintendo how to make an analog stick right. To this day, when I look at an N64 controller’s analog stick and those concentric circles, by thumbs ache.

Madisonsthumb

The realities of N64 play.

5. You can reset a TurboGrafx game by pressing Run and Select simultaneously…and that’s awful.

When I was a kid, I didn’t have any friends who also had a TurboGrafx, so I was a lonely gamer. I was also lonely in that I couldn’t find anyone who would sympathize with my plight about a very interesting “innovation” NEC included with the system.

Reset buttons were a standard in gaming hardware before the days of dashboard-based systems. They allowed a player to reset a game without cutting power. I’m no electrical engineer, but I imagine a hardware designer prefers a player not to be constantly turning hardware on and off over and over. Something about capacitors, probably.

Anyhoo, all Nintendo hardware had a reset button up to and including the Wii. Sega had it, too. Everybody had it. So, when NEC designed the TurboGrafx in all its terribly-designed glory (short and stiff controller cables, requiring an add-on to get composite output, only one controller port, etc.), they decided to avoid adding a pesky reset button their systems. Why add to the cost of the hardware with an expensive button like that? Instead, they provided the “convenience” of being able to reset a game by allowing a player to press and hold Run (i.e. the start button) and Select at the same time.

Hey, look at that! You don’t even have to get up now!

Sure, that’s wonderful. In fact, I used to show it off to my friends. “Look at me, I can reset the game without touching the console!” Dandy. However, ask a serious TurboGrafx player what they think about it and they’ll tell you dastardly tales of how they accidentally reset their game when they simply wanted to press the Run button only.

It turns out that making a player move their thumb through the air to hit one of the middles buttons can result in small margins of error that result in extreme frustration when your game restarts. And, boy, is it cruel. The reset happens instantaneously. One millisecond you’re playing the game, the next millisecond the opening screen music is playing.

Try being several hours into a game you can’t save, fighting the Legendary Axe boss on stage 6, and accidentally resetting the system.

Brutal.

Go to hell, NEC.

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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