Diecast #213: Early Consoles, Starships, and Flawed Games

By Shamus Posted Monday Jun 4, 2018

Filed under: Diecast 48 comments

Heads up! I plan to stream a little later in the week. I’m thinking maybe some Destiny 2? I’m aiming for Wednesday, but I haven’t picked a time yet.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes: 00:00 Intellivision

I talked about this last week.

For the record, this is the original Atari joystick:

The ridges at the base of the stick were perfect for trapping a mixture of dust and sweat in the grooves where you could always see it, but never properly clean it. The single-button interface smothered game design. The case was made of rigid plastic and was designed to fit the hands of an adult male, even though the machine was marketed to kids. Gaming was off to a rough start.
The ridges at the base of the stick were perfect for trapping a mixture of dust and sweat in the grooves where you could always see it, but never properly clean it. The single-button interface smothered game design. The case was made of rigid plastic and was designed to fit the hands of an adult male, even though the machine was marketed to kids. Gaming was off to a rough start.

And when I talk about “affordances”, I’m referring to this Extra Credits episode. The game Paul was talking about was Striker.

15:19 The Story of Activision

I related this story from memory without preparing beforehand. Hopefully I didn’t botch too many of the details.

26:52 Technology Connections

Vacuum tubes were still in use when I was a kid. By the time I hit adulthood they were long gone, and I never went back to figure out what they were and how they worked. So this was pretty educational for me.

Link (YouTube)

31:33 Paul’s Spaceship Game

Here is the Girl Genius art Paul made, and here is his thing on starship design.

47:52 Mailbag – flawed games.

Dear crossers of the Rubicon,

While answering my question last week you (Shamus) stated something that resonated with me.
You said that you are sometimes buying games because they look intriguing. Furthermore you elaborated, that these games might be more interesting to discuss.
This leads to my point I once made in the comment section, where I theorized, that flawed games might be more interesting to analyze than those, really good or really bad.
As I see it great and aweful can be analyzed but only in one way. For one you have to extol its virtues and for the other you have to catalogue the shortcomings. That leads to it being somewhat boring. The worst games to discuss I found were those middle of the road, bland, average games, where the only thing to say is “It exists”.
But in my eyes the motherlode of this discussion topics can be found at the fringes of the “Meh-region”. With inhabitants like Mafia 3 and Far Cry 5.
Your thoughts on this?

Gresman, who has no idea how to read or write phonetic alphabets

I think I got distracted on a tangent rather than answering Gresman’s question, so… oops.

Anyway, just look at this guy:

Oh gweat ledah, I'm pwoud to therf you in thith conqwetht of Erth.
Oh gweat ledah, I'm pwoud to therf you in thith conqwetht of Erth.

It’s not just me, right? The guy on the right looks like a cartoon character with a hilarious speech defect, doesn’t he? Please tell me I’m not the only person who laughed at him.


From The Archives:

48 thoughts on “Diecast #213: Early Consoles, Starships, and Flawed Games

  1. JoshuaDolman says:

    Hey Shamus, interesting to hear you’ve been playing Destiny 2! Glad that you’ve been liking it well enough. Just wanted to drop the offer here that if you get to endgame and need a group for a raid or two, hit me up on Twitter @_joshuadolman – we’ve got a group that would be more than willing to show you the ropes!

    Also, would love to discuss the story/gameplay things with you if you ever want someone who really desperately wants to love Destiny 2 but manages to find fault with a lot of what the game does.

    Lastly, the story in the base game is fine, but I think you might take umbridge with the storytelling in the DLCs – they are much less coherent, but I’m definitely curious to hear your thoughts.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It’s not just me, right? The guy on the right looks like a cartoon character with a hilarious speech defect, doesn’t he? Please tell me I’m not the only person who laughed at him.

    Every time I see someone like that I hear banes voice.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      So, unintelligible then? It certainly looks like that alien race has some Star-trek Insurrection level poor personal care problems.

    2. Phil says:

      One presumes that, under the mask, Ghaul looks the same.

      The one meme I have in my head of Ghaul is, at the end, altering his line to, “You DO see me, sempai!” complete with ridiculously-drawn-in blush marks.

  3. Gordon says:

    For your greater than 10x speedup, move from 4Mhz to 40Mhz would put you in the right time period (386 / 486) for a hardware math unit, either as a coprocessor or in the CPU itself. Hardware math units could do floating point math substantially faster than the software equivalents.

  4. Joe says:

    I really liked your discussion of space ships. It’s funny, I’m writting my own space opera. On the one hand, I try to make it practical. People can’t handle the sight of hyperspace, so no windows. All navigation is done by sensors, with the bridge somewhere in the middle of the ship.

    On the other, it’s rule of cool. The most notable ship, that’s designed to land on planets, is just an oblong. Very little streamlining, and relying purely on thrusters for maneuvering. Of course, that was an experimental prototype that was rescued from the scrap heap.

    And while I know you were most likely riffing on Trek ships, the biggest offender would probably be from Star Wars. The Nebulon B is terrible for that. And even by the standards of SW, it overdoes the greeblies on the front section.

    As for ships running purely on wish-power, that's the Orks from Warhammer 40,000.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I once read an article/blog post, that showed rough calculations, justifying a sphere as the optimal shape for a large spaceship. Basically it came down to:
      – most volume for equipment compared to armor needed
      – best shape for turning the ship, if it had direcitonal equipment (angular momentum of a sphere, vs a long shape that takes more turning power)
      – if it’s using missiles, they can just shoot from any direction anyways, so a sphere lets you have lots of missiles

      I can’t find the link anymore, but it was a good read!

      1. RFS-81 says:

        And it doesn’t look stupid when you spin it to make gravity! It’s perfect!

        1. Hector says:

          Wel, no, that would be hideously bad. Rotation when you need to be at various points of a sphere would be guaranteed to induce nasty and unexpected bouts of nausea.

          While the idea of a spherical ship is actually pretty old, it has a lot of practical drawbacks which can be awkward.

          *Do you actually need to turn it around that much and/or can you have thrusters pointing every which way? Because if not, then the shape makes less sense.
          *Turning doesn’t require all that much thrust regardless of the shape of the vessel compared to achieving the kind of velocity needed in space, so it’s going to be a non-issue in most reasonable sci-fi settings, or even current technology.
          *If you’re talking space combat, it presents the easiest-to-hit possible target.
          *It provides more volume per surface unit, but it can be very awkward to use a lot of that due to the curvature. Also,thinking of either combat or possible impacts there’s a reasonable likeliehood you may want to spread any incoming fire over as *much* surface area as possible, whether you’re talking armor or “shields” or whatnot. In a sphere, any hit could be penetrating and fatal, so it may make sense to have a ship with a strongly angled surface against whatever you expect. A sphere could be optimal if you expect possible hits to come from any angle, but is not optimal otherwise.
          *Finally, it’s a potentially much more commplicated design due to needing a lot of rounded fittings inside and out and probably requiring weird curving conduits everywhere. Also, potentially much harder to build, repair and maintain (one reason that geodesics an domed roofs aren’t commonly used). And it’s not going to be easy to make it landable, as it in any atmosphere it will have the worst possible flight characteristics and the landing gear will be inherently complicated and difficult-to-use.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            This was actually fire large battleships, although some of this applies to fighters too.
            – you’ll want to point your non-rocket-propelled-missile weapons towards the enemy, so rotating easily and quickly does actually matter. Larger thrusters to turn a weird shape quickly take more fuel, armor, and are bigger targets to hit. Alternately, you can have small weapons pointing every direction, which are less effective against your intended size of target.
            – a sphere is only “easy” to hit if you assume you know where your attacks are coming from. Otherwise, it’s minimizing the target size (cross-section area, arc-minutes, however you want to think of it) compared to the useable volume. Alternately, this can be thought of as minimizing your detection size.
            – armor isn’t free. Making a gigantic target that’s mostly armor under the assumption that you will get hit is a waste of precious money, thruster power, turning speed, etc.

            1. Decius says:

              Missiles have to carry their own reaction mass. Making them able to fire and then turn has a real cost. If you can fire them towards the foe, a rail gun launcher system can save a lot of propellant, making the missiles cheaper and more effective.

    2. Decius says:

      Anything that needs to land or dock with anything else needs windows.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    There have been a few backsplenations as to why these ships are the way they are(other than because its cool).For enterprise,I think there was something about engines having to be arranged like that in order to make the warp bubble around the ship.For the falcon,I think that it was because it was a pusher of heavy cargo,or something like that.

    Personally,the best reasoning for ships being weird is from wh40k,where orks can paint their ships red to go faster,and that makes the ships actually go faster because of how magic works in that universe.

  6. MadTinkerer says:

    Fun fact: The Atari VCS joystick might have been better off with a D-pad, but they certainly couldn’t do it at the time because Nintendo had a patent on D-pads thanks to the Game & Watch. That’s why the Master System had the weird square thing that functioned like a D-pad but was patently distinct.

    As for why the company that invented the video arcade cabinet didn’t just make a portable arcade stick controller, that will remain a mystery to me.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Yeah, those early joysticks were ridiculous. The later ones from around the 90s were shaped to a human hand, like Shamus describes for rifle/pistol grips. The electronics inside them were more expensive/modern, but I don’t think shaping the plastic in that way is substantially more expensive than the gross boxy look from the Atari – they’ve both got several pieces of plastic that need to be made in a mood, then assembled and held together with screws.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        I’m assuming that was meant to be “in a mold,” but I’m finding the idea of the Atari joystick coming out of a Dwarf Fortress-style strange mood pretty funny.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I had a portable arcade cabinet style joystick myself,that I could use for multiple computers and consoles,including atari.It was actually a nice little contraption.It was also more expensive than any regular one,so I guess thats the reason why such a thing was not the norm.

  7. Nixorbo says:

    There’s nothing broken [in Destiny 2]

    Clearly Shamus has never set foot in the Destiny Subreddit.

    1. Mephane says:

      Well, the amount of actual bugs is very low indeed. The issues are more about game design, writing and tone. That said, I also play it and enjoy the game a lot, however I am kind of afraid of the future with its new direction towards increasing the grind in order to please the hardcore streamers (who proceed to be capped out on power level in week 2 anyway, so the bigger grind only really hits everyone else).

      1. Geebsi says:

        I think the idea is that the endgame is broken. For the initial single player campaign of both Destiny 1 and 2, Bungie’s “20 seconds of fun” loop is absolutely present, although admittedly I haven’t quite felt the one-on-one thrill of duelling an Elite (on the top two difficulty settings) since Halo 2.

      2. modus0 says:

        There’s also the fact that they drastically toned down subclass ability options in Destiny 2, and decreased movement speed, ability recharge and the feeling of power the super abilities granted. They also removed a lot of loot from activities to put behind their “gain through leveling, or by spending real-world money” Eververse engrams.

        Then Bungie spent about 4 months not really talking about the game, then they released their first DLC and only after that did they acknowledge that there were design flaws that made the game less fun to play than the first game. They did put up a road map on how they intended to fix those flaws, but most of them were (at the time) 8-12 months away from being addressed.

        There was also apparently little to no communication between the Destiny 2 dev team, and the Destiny 1 live team, so none of the quality-of-life additions the live team introduced (like larger vault space and kiosks) didn’t make it into Destiny 2, making the game feel like a step back in many ways.

  8. Chris says:

    21:30 – “huh”, love that moment when the quarter drops for Shamus.

    Also a question for the mailbag. How do you feel about 4 face buttons being a standard for all consoles. I’ve been playing a lot with my old xbox recently and noticed that the black and white buttons are neat for some extra functions. So, now electronics have advanced a lot, why wouldn’t they put on 2 more.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Black and white buttons were replaced by bumpers in the next generation. Bumpers are a lot better because they’re easier to hit without having to move your hand.

      1. Chris says:

        Yeah, but I thought, imagine 4 shoulder buttons and 6 face buttons. Seeing how often games have multi-button presses or tap/hold or multifunctional buttons (search and swap weapon for example) it seems silly not to just give devs a few more facebuttons to work with.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          I don’t think it’s silly to stop adding buttons. In fact, judging by the success of simpler control schemes, we might have too many already. In console shooters, the most talented players use different control schemes (bumper jumper) or the Elite Controllers on the X1 to have their fingers NEVER leave the control stick while performing all the necessary functions. Games that demand you press multiple buttons at the same time have to make sure the human hand can easily hit those buttons and no others without shifting the person’s whole grip on the controller. So any face buttons on a diagonal from each other in the diamond are fine to press together, you can’t ask for buttons on a straight line to be pressed though, as the player would necessarily jam several extras. Adding extra buttons makes this worse.

    2. John says:

      I’d love to have six face buttons rather than four, but that’s because I play Street Fighter and occasionally other fighting games. I have a really hard time doing complicated d-pad inputs like the dragon punch and hitting the left shoulder button at the same time. I should probably just suck it up and buy an arcade stick or a fight pad.

      Otherwise, I have no particular issue with contemporary controller layouts.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Heh, I’ve only started using a controller two or three years ago after being a mouse and keyboard player for some two-three decades. I actually still have issues with mulitple face buttons combinations. To be fair I haven’t played that many games that use those (which may actually be a big part of the reason why I have difficulties with them).

        1. John says:

          I’m in a similar situation. I bought my first modern controller just a few years ago. If we don’t count the GBA or the DS, my most recent previous controller experience was with the Sega Genesis. For me, the big hurdle was remembering which buton was A, which was X, and so on. I still sometimes struggle a bit when I pick up a new game. I don’t have that problem with Street Fighter, though, probably because the basic button functions are all pretty straightforward. Punches in top row, kicks in bottom, etc. I don’t need to remember what any of the buttons are called; I can tell what they do by their position on the pad. I’m still a little hit or miss with multi-button inputs. Throws, focus attacks, EX moves, and taunts in SFIV are all two-button commands and I screw them up somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of the time. Fortunately, you can get around that by mapping some of those inputs to the triggers.

    3. Retsam says:

      I don’t want more face buttons, necessarily, but the Steam Controller has two back “grip buttons” (in addition to the standard four shoulder buttons), and I wish all controllers had them, now. They add more buttons without cluttering up the face of the controller and they’re great “modifiers”, since they’re easy to press or hold while pressing other buttons.

      1. Droid says:

        I really like those as well. They need some getting used to so as to not accidentally trigger them (probably because of my giant hands), but after that, the free remapping of keys outside of the game is a godsend. There’s no way pressing L3 (i.e. the very stick you’re currently pushing forward to run) to jump is in any way better than just clamping down on the controller when you want to nail some precision jump that doesn’t allow much lateral movement (e.g. due to input errors while pressing L3).

  9. Soldierhawk says:

    Hooray for more streaming!

  10. RFS-81 says:

    My favourite example of faster computers making old games unplayable is Battle Chess. You select the difficulty by choosing how much time you give the computer to think, so if your computer is too fast, then there’s no easy mode for you!

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I used to love playing Privateer 2: The Darkening as a pre-teen, and tried it again in high school on the newer family computer. On that machine, it played about 10x the speed, which was nearly unplayable even with my young-person reflexes. Luckily I found some config file, or other such trick from the internet, which allowed the game to be slowed down. :)

  11. toadicus says:

    I got Destiny 2 a few months back to play with some friends and was immediately disenfranchised by the fact that it has loading screens for its loading screens

    1. BlueHorus says:


      But yeah, that sounds bad.

    2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      What are you referring to here? The moment where your ship takes a second before jumping to hyperspace? That whole animation is just set dressing for loading. There isn’t “a loading screen for the loading screen”, they’re just showing your team’s ships flying rather than a screen with names on it, like Halo. And Destiny 2 has the material benefit over 1 that you don’t have to go to Orbit FIRST to choose a new activity each time, you can fly from place to place directly.

      1. modus0 says:

        It’s been about 6 months since I last played, but I seem to recall choosing to go somewhere, Loading screen, view of ship in orbit then going to jumpspace, Loading screen, then arriving at my destination.

        Has that changed, or was it only like that for me because I have Frontier as an ISP?

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Basically, it’s all a loading screen and there’s different things that happen in it, but they can happen at any speed. Your ship leaves orbit of the place you are at, and there’s a cut. You’re in a hyperspace tunnel for a while. Then your ship breaks out of hyperspace and starts entering orbit as the loading music plays. If you queue up for Crucible and it finds you a match instantly, you can be up and running in a minute or so. Or, it could struggle and you could sit in orbit for a long while without entering hyperspace. Or a person on your fireteam can have internet trubs and hyperspace lasts like 2 minutes. So at no point is the game “loading up a loading screen” it’s just putting a pretty picture on top of a necessary wait time for the activity to start going.

    3. Phil says:

      WarFrame is kinda like that. You start it up, it loads, you press the button, it goes to another screen where it loads, then you press the button, and then you’re in. Definitely something they could streamline a bit.

      But yeah, Destiny (1 at least) was bad at that. You’d go somewhere, it’d have a brief load of the warp animation, do that while it loaded whatever, then you’d be on a loading screen flying through the planet’s atmosphere (while someone like Cayde or Ghost talked about the upcoming mission).

  12. default_ex says:

    Never worked in the industry, for me it’s just been a lot of random open source stuff and contributing to wikis and forums. However having worked ordinary every day jobs I can answer the inverse of that question. Still have to work the same life eating amount of hours but ordinary jobs leave me starving for a challenge. Always been the guy that would do lots of things that we didn’t have to do as part of our job but did need to get done. Primarily because I was chomping at the bit for anything that would bring in some form of creative problem solving. That’s my dream job, a job that has me using creative problem solving on a regular basis, doesn’t much matter what it is as long as it’s not marketing or customer support, I suck at pimping product and way too honest to be a good customer support guy.

  13. Mark says:

    The helicopter game Paul’s referring to might be Fort Apocalypse? Sounded like he was talking about something more complex than Choplifter.

    As far as worst joysticks go, the all-time winner is the joystick for the TRS-80 Color Computer. A VCS style plastic box with a more painful square button and the joystick is a limp piece of metal that does not spring back to the center, making just about every traditional game impossible to play. Just the worst in every way.

    1. Shamus says:

      Don’t forget that the top of the joystick is tiny so you have to grip tight, and it has SERRATED EDGES on the top to make gripping painful!

      The TRS-80 joystick was insane.

      (Although the model I owned allowed you to switch from “floppy stick” mode to a more traditional spring-centering joystick. So there’s that.)

      1. Galacticplumber says:

        So the unholy demon love child of the N64 joystick and the Atari? No I’m not still bitter about Mario Party one why do you ask?

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Dang! I remember a friend of my dad having two of those joysticks back in the day! I didn’t care about the shape, because the dog-fighting air-plane game was so fun to play! :)

  14. cassander says:

    The helicopter game you’re thinking of sounds like armor alley, one of the first RTSs.



  15. Lazlo says:

    I have this mental image of a left-handed engineering-minded person being given an Atari, holding the controller “naturally”, and getting confused by the controller layout. They then naturally make the assumption that these games are meant to be played by turning your television on its side. They then pop in a Galaga cartridge, and the side-scrolling shooter genre is born.

  16. DeadleDark says:

    That starship discussion made me wonder, what does Shamus thinks about ships in Expanse TV show…

    Though, Expanse reminds me mostly of Kerbal Space Program mixed with Mass Effect.

  17. Jason says:

    I broke a ton of Atari joysticks as a kid. Both the stick itself and the buttons inside. As far as how to hold it, my brother is left handed, but he just held it like a right handed person. I did have some friends who would hold it upside-down in their right hand. I have no idea how they managed to play like that. They probably rewired their brains (like Shamus and the invert-Y story) and they probably paid for it later.
    We didn’t know there could be better joysticks because there really weren’t any, although there were a lot of different 3rd party ones out their that tried to improve on the model. I had one that had a grip and the button was on top for your thumb.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *