With all the exciting new gadgets on the horizon, such as the Steam Deck and other numerous Cloud Gaming consoles and interfaces, it looks like we are on the cusp of a new wave of gaming technology in 2022. Before we look forward, one has to remember all the failed technology that made modern gaming the way it is now. Some technologies look bad at first, yet somehow come back. Take the motion control peripherals of today and compare them to their failed forefathers such as the Nintendo Power Glove and the Sega Activator. What about a camera based game like Kinect? It’s a long way from the lukewarm reaction to the original EyeToy. What about Virtual Reality? That was all but dead many years ago until recently. The following list contains eleven innovative gaming technologies that, while popular at the time, ended up as novelties or luxuries and floundered completely. This is the top eleven great gaming ideas that ultimately failed, in no particular order.
3-D Home Theater Systems
Towards the end of my time working retail for a “Big Box” home media store that is now defunct, the big new thing was 3-D home theaters. Every film was being released in 20 different formats including DVD, Blu-Ray, 4K, and multiple types of 3-D. Almost every action film coming to theaters was in 3D, and some directors were going nuts with the concept. Even gaming was starting to gear up for the upcoming revolution. The big assumption was that everyone was going to go out and drop tons of cash on new expensive Blu Ray players, new TV’s, and multiple pairs of glasses – some upwards of $200 dollars each. This of course did not happen and this market is largely VERY niche.
In terms of gaming, we only really saw this take off with the Nintendo 3DS, but even then it was largely superfluous with many games, and later versions of the popular handheld removed the feature entirely. While I would not say the 3DS was a failure, nobody really seems to be doing anything like that again.
Commercial Independent Emulators
It’s no great secret that many people emulate video games on their home computers. The idea of playing legacy games on newer systems is one of those great ideas that have eventually led to things like Nintendo E-Shop to great success. Sadly the tech behind these innovations does not have such a successful story. In the past, emulators where sort of a “gray market” piece of computer software (still are). Technically one has the right to make copies of things that they purchase, but the problem is that folks don’t keep these rips for personal use. Once the internet got off the ground, one of the more common things that you could find was NES and SNES game rips, just to name a few. To give the movement a bit more legitimacy, things like the Bleemcast! were born.
Bleemcast!, in a nutshell, allowed the gamer the option to play Sony PlayStation games on their Sega Dreamcasts. The company had a large number of problems, mostly with technical aspects of the emulator and its seeming inability to “play nice” with PlayStation games as well as a huge amount of court shenanigans with Sony. Although Sony never successfully sued them, Bleem! was ultimately crushed under the weight of court fees. Since then the whole “commercial independent emulator” idea has sunk back into the shadows of the internet.
Card swiping games
Nintendo has a fairly successful track record with innovative new gaming ideas. Aside from the Virtual Boy and perhaps even the underperforming Wii U and GBA Micro, Nintendo hasn’t really had too many things that were released “Dead on Arrival.” Well except maybe the Nintendo E-Reader. This is one close to my heart as I am one of the few people to actually drop cash on one of these things. While at the time the novelty of playing NES games on my GBA was nice, it never outweighed the terrible selection of games available or the fact that keeping track of a bunch of cards, and keeping them pristine, as well as actually transporting the stupid things was pretty annoying.
For those that never saw this beast of a game peripheral, the whole thing was a monstrously large cartage that stuck out of your GBA like some sort of hideous tumor. Once turned on and ready for swiping, the user had to swipe cards that contained the data for various games, mini games, and ad-ons for existing games. Some highlights included extra levels for the GBA release of Super Mario Bros. Advance 4 (the reason I got it) and rudimentary games that were included on Pokémon cards, ones that somewhat resemble Game & Watch games from years prior. The problem with the E-Reader wasn’t a lack of imagination or technical prowess, but sadly a lack of support. Third parties really didn’t care about the quirky peripheral, and it suffered an immediate drought that it never came back from. With downloadable games catching on, even with handheld systems, there really isn’t any way that something like this will ever catch on again.
Live Action Video Genre
Who would have thought that the release of games like Astron Belt in Japan and Dragon’s Lair in the US would ignite such a fever for a particular genre that Laser Disk-based live action games did. While animated stories, such as Dragon’s Lair, appeared occasionally on these popular arcade machines, most were shot with live action video, much like an interactive film of sorts. The problem was that many of these games were horrendously directed and were a whole new class of cheese that would make even Ed Wood blush. Games like Mad Dog McCree were flagships for the genre, containing an all star cast of performers that probably came from an amusement park’s “wild west show.” These games phased themselves out as game machines were able to handle better and better graphics throughout the years. Occasionally we see things like a handful of interactive film games still using live action sequences, but that’s more for nostalgia’s sake, or making experimental films. For a review of a recent one, check out my thoughts on the PlayStation 4 game, The Bunker.
Sometimes you see computer peripherals so “out there” that one knows that they will either be an immediate success or fail instantaneously. With iSmell, the latter was the case. While the iSmell was initially going to be intended as something of a novelty that people could embed on their personal webpages, much like the midi player of the era, some saw applications for videogames that never fully materialized. The unit itself contained a “smell cartridge” with 128 “primary odors,” which could be mixed to replicate any smell one could imagine. It’s a shame; I really wanted to know what a Goomba smelled like 😦
UPC barcode games
The videogame console market has always had a ton of weird offshoots, usually by much smaller companies, that try to act as an alternative for cash strapped families. Many of these are vaguely similar to “big” games such as Wii Sports, in that you are playing a simulated game with motion controls. Every once in a blue moon, something completely outlandish gets released like the Radica Skannerz UPC Scanner Game. The purpose of this unit was to carry it around while your parents went shopping scanning all the barcodes in sight. In a gameplay style vaguely similar to Monster Rancher, certain UPC codes turned out to be hidden monsters, which a child could train and fight with. This posed many problems in that the game would only grant the user a monster for use in the Pokémon styled arena battles once every 88 billion scans (or thereabouts). This kept kids running around supermarkets, annoying shoppers and royally ticking off store employees. While a novel idea, this was yet another technology we didn’t really need.
CD and DVD Players as Multimedia Consoles
We’ve all seen videos of the hilariously bad Philips CD-I Zelda games, as they have become an internet meme, so I won’t be rattling on about those specifically. As bad as those were, the idea behind the unit, and others like it was a sound one at the time. Prior to its release, the CD-I was pretty impressive on a technical standpoint, and was attended to be a “be all, end all” device that would grace every home and become the focal point in any entertainment system. The CD-I specifically had a lot of musical software titles and other educational applications, and only a few games. This sabotaged it almost immediately, as it never took the foothold into the gaming market it was intended to “sort of” enter, and was later crushed by more powerful units like the Sony PlayStation. The market tried to do the same things with the later DVD format as they did with the Philips CD-I to the same result. There just isn’t a market for something in between two markets like a DVD player and a Game console.
Modular Gaming consoles
Console manufacturers have always wanted to try things to give their units a much longer shelf-life. What usually happens is one of two things: both the unit is powerful as hell from the get-go and the company hopes it sells well so they can recoup any losses, or they try to add things onto the console. Sega was the pioneer of the latter instance with their Sega Genesis game console and it’s many add-on devices such as the Sega CD and the Sega 32X, both designed to prolong it’s shelf life into the 32 bit era. The Sega CD had a bit of success, but not at all what Sega had hoped.
Now if you want to see a company that REALLY got this wrong, check out the Pioneer LaserActive. This monstrous unit was designed for rich oil barons or something because if one tried to obtain all the separate modules for the device, they would end up spending something like a few thousand dollars just to play games that they could play on other machines for a fraction of the price. We’re also talking thousands of dollars in 1990’s money! The core unit, a Laserdisc player, cost 900 dollars by itself, about on par with most Laserdisc devices. If you wanted to add a module that could read Sega Genesis games, that was another 600 dollars. And people wonder why Pioneer and Geneon have had financial problems through the years.
LCD Game consoles
It’s no secret that handheld gaming exploded during the 8 and 16 bit eras, and that left a whole horde of smaller companies trying to get some of the cash that Nintendo (and to a lesser degree Sega) were raking in. One such company was Tiger Electronics, the guys that brought cheap LCD game handhelds to our convenience store checkout lines for hardly any money at all. At some point, somebody over at Tiger decided it would be a good idea to try to bridge the gap between LCD handheld games and cartridge based games, the Tiger R-Zone was born. The Tiger R-Zone seemed great on paper, but the gimmicks involved basically killed the system. Trying to capitalize on the upcoming Virtual Boy game system from Nintendo, the graphics were all made shades of red and it was designed to be worn over your eye. Sadly the games were VERY lackluster, and the system failed.
Virtual Reality 1.0 in the 90’s
Before the big buzz word in gaming was “3-D”, “Cloud Gaming” or “motion controls”, the big assumption of the future of gaming was that we would all be either wearing huge goggles or standing in large treadmill rooms for visit our virtual worlds. Many expected that we would abandon arcades for VR rooms, much in the way that pinball machines were basically dead thirty years ago. Sadly virtual reality never really went any farther than being a novelty at malls and amusement parks in the 90’s, and an expensive one at that. There were home VR systems released to the public, but sadly only the best-off of gamers could afford the units, and even then there were hardly any games made specifically for them.
I remember playing a game called Dactyl Nightmare, in which players fought each other while huge Pterodactyls attacked everyone. Once the novelty wore off, many realized that the game wasn’t actually very fun, and was frustrating to play. It was also a bit steep for 15 bucks for something like 20 minutes, so I doubt the market was really there after a few years.
Recently, a second wave of Virtual Reality gaming has really taken off, and that is largely because of miniaturization and making the product affordable as well as getting actual game studios on board. It has taken a decade or so, and it’s still not mainstream, but VR 2.0 appears to be here to stay. I personally think we are going to see a mixture of VR and tactile feedback take off at some point. Considering how much I LOVED a museum exhibit called War Remains this past summer, I’d love to see more museums and amusement parks create similar experiences. Time will tell if this version of VR sticks and we all live in a Mark Zuckerberg ripoff of Ready Player One, or if it’s a fad yet again.
Much like the above VR gaming heading and the earlier LCD game heading, this was a fad for a few years at some arcades, in which a few games came out that used holograms as the player characters. The most notable game from this “genre” was a game called The Time Traveler by Rick Dyer, the guy behind Dragon’s Lair. The game had very easy controls, basically an action button and some directional controls via a joystick. The game also contained live action actors, but that wasn’t the big draw. Using a reflective surface, and a curved screen, the game was given the illusion that all in game characters were tiny people walking around on the arcade machine itself. While it was a nice novelty, only The Time Traveler utilized this technology as far as I can tell.
What are some long gone videogame technologies that never really made it that you guys remember?