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The Top 7... Insanely stupid video game storage media that had no right to work

5. TV broadcasts

Those modern, online-enabled consoles are such smug bastards. Downloadable content. Game demos. Exclusive game-related video content. They’ve got it all, and oh do their digital willies wave hard and fast as they show off their exciting brave new world of disc-free offerings on a daily basis. But the thing is, it’s not their brave new world. It’s not their brave new anything. In fact it’s all just a bunch of recycled ideas that were being done years ago. And the funniest bit of this throbbing ball of secret irony? One of the first pioneers of this sort of gaming content was the company currently lambasted as the most backward in the industry when it comes to DLC. Yeah, alongside Sega, Nintendo was smashing this stuff out in the ‘90s.

With the internet still fairly rubbish back in the 16-bit era, and the consoles of the day woefully under-equipped to deal with the likes of web-browsing and on-board data storage, a different method was used. And that method, my friends, was the very medium that games have come to supersede for a lot of us. TV. Nintendo’s solution was the Satellaview, a plug-in unit that connected to the SNES and allowed it to receive scrambled data broadcasts over a Japanese satellite TV network. The Megadrive opted for a cable TV-driven system, but both worked in similar ways.

Sega’s version, The Sega Channel, provided mainly games and demos in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. Although certain games had top be modified to work (Street Fighter II had less characters, for example, and some games had to be downloaded in multiple chunks), there was a hell of a lot of content on there, and some games even got special editions.

 
Above: The technology Nintendo and Sega used was EXACTLY the same one perfected by Willy Wonka. Maybe

Nintendo’s approach was even more experimental. With multiple hours of live game broadcasting every day and an 8 Mb memory card for saving data, the Satellaview provided the usual array of pre-existing and exclusive games, but also provided episodic content. You might get the first few hours of an RPG on Monday, for instance, then have a new area unlocked on Tuesday, and a new set of quests or plotlines on Wednesday. There were live competitions on certain games at scheduled times, with real prizes, and even fully-voiced “SoundLink” games, which brought genuine voice acting to the 16-bit era. Most notably, BS Zelda no Densetsu became the first Zelda game to have fully-voiced dialogue. Other games used streamed vocal performances to add hints and tips to games, or add radio-play-like narratives. The only disadvantage was that the voiced content had to be played ‘live’ at the designated broadcast time. But in a way, that actually made it cooler.

Greatest advantage as a format

Fresh, dynamically-updating game content every single day.

Greatest disadvantage as a format

The possibility of missing your favourite game because you were having your tea.


4. Someone else’s hard drive

No, before you start getting ideas of dastardlyiness and skulduggery, we’re not talking about having a rifle through the games on a PS3 you’ve just lifted from some unfortunate sod’s house under the cloak of darkness. Stealing people’s hardware is wrong, and would render you completely unable to enjoy all of those illicit games. It’s a known biological fact, you see, that human guilt seeps out of the fingertips as an acrid and slightly acidic secretion. It plays havoc with the grippy surfaces of analogue sticks, and it’ll melt your keyboard right through to the desk. No, instead we’re talking about the wonderful futuristic innovation of streamed gaming, whereby games are run on a central server and a video feed fed to your computer over the internet. It’s fresh, exciting, a bit laggy, and can make your games look a bit like this:

PROGRESS! In fairness, the performance of services such as OnLive has been proven to be at least adequate since live game streaming started trying to eke its way into the market. Not as good as playing locally, as a result of control lag and inconsistent video quality, but... Well, yes, let’s say ‘adequate’ and leave it at that, shall we? At least for more casual players, who aren’t that bothered about graphical crispness or ultra-responsive controls, anyway. Though ironically the system does seem marketed as a cheap alternative to a hardcore gaming PC, whose purpose is sure ultra-pimp graphical output. Anyway, there are other issues that bother us, beyond those that can be fixed with a beastly broadband connection.


Above: Shelves will never pull this bullshit. Streamed gaming could

Take the concept of ownership. Streamed gaming has, and it’s locked the concept away in a box and buried that box somewhere you can’t get to it. Because the games you buy are never actually operated in your presence, either by disc or downloaded files on your PC, if a streaming service has a server meltdown, or worse, goes out of business, you could find yourself with no game collection at all. Immediately. And without warning. And you’d have paid for that shit.

Imagine if your games shelf at home behaved like that. You’d be livid.

Greatest advantage as a format

You don’t need to fork out £500 – £600 for a monster of a gaming PC

Greatest disadvantage as a format

You’ll sort of wish you had once you realise that you’re playing in sub-standard-def resolution with a four-hour input delay.


3. UMD

The idea sounds logical at first. Sony made MiniDiscs in the early '90s. It also made the first PlayStation. So why not use MiniDiscs as a storage device for a handheld PlayStation? It makes perfect sense. Smaller discs, same games, right? But PSone ran its course, and lo, there was no handheld. Then PS2 games came along, which were too big for puny MiniDisc. Finally, a portable PlayStation was announced along with the sort-of-like-a-rounder-MiniDisc Universal Media Disc, or UMD. Designed to be a new way of buying movies, games and even music, the format was bespoke, but supposedly 'universal'.


Above: There it is – a triumph of self-defeating design

But nobody else made a UMD-playing device, restricting the market solely to PSP owners. If anything, PSP itself was (and is still) a poor fit for the format. Optical discs require moving parts to turn them and read them – all of which are going to sap the battery of any handheld unit. UMDs are also physically way bigger than DS cards, so anyone with a half-decent game library is stuck carrying around a huge, clattering great bag full of storage media. Oh, and the clear plastic 'protection' on the outer casing of early discs is too easy to accidentally push in, which stops the disc itself from turning.

 
Above: Never mind the fact Family Guy's perfect for compressing to memory stick, early UMDs were flawed

So, while it all made perfect sense on paper, the reality is that UMD became the most un-universal storage format ever. Film companies ducked out as soon as they realised nobody was going to pay £15 for a UMD video when they could rip their DVDs to a memory stick and watch them on PSP anyway FOR FREE.

Perhaps recognising the sinking ship, even Sony tried to move away from it, with the UMD-less PSP Go. Still, credit where it's due... PSP Go itself was an even bigger failure and is already obsolete, whereas the bog-standard PSP is still regularly topping the Japanese hardware sales charts. Go figure.

Greatest advantage of the format

Bigger than DS cards, so… harder to lose? #strawclutching

Greatest disadvantage of the format

All of the above. Plus, handhelds had been load-time free forever. And then UMDs came along.

Next: Could there be two whole things more ludicrous than the UMD? Why yes there could. Sweet Jesus...

Topics

Top 7

31 comments

  • Darkwun - August 12, 2011 9:40 a.m.

    i wouldnt wipe my arse with a umd! (i really wouldnt... andrex is much better) and i still have my barcode battler... i remember making a comic book with all the characters for it back in the day :D won an award for it in school lol u know, the lore and character would make an ok rpg!
  • Kipper - August 11, 2011 10:32 a.m.

    I'll just say that loading games onto a ZX Spectrum from a cassette tape was so unreliable, that when it finally worked, you appreciated the game so much more...
  • TitanofRock21 - August 11, 2011 8:46 a.m.

    and i thought the virtual boy was bad.....oh yea it was, just not quite so horrifyingly terrible.....i mean at least it could pass 20 minutes.....if you spent 15 of those minutes throwing it around the room till it broke open and the tortured souls of the damned flew from its innards back to hell....yea, not too bad.....i'm going to stop reminessing now. great article and a hell of a top 7.
  • MidianGTX - August 11, 2011 12:13 a.m.

    Urgh, UMD. What a pile of crap. Shoddy, cheap, rattling, space-wasting rubbish. Nothing but more reason for the PSP to break, even when you don't count the stupidly thin bit of wobbly plastic that somehow passes for a disc tray. I hope it dies soon.
  • p4nhead - August 10, 2011 1:39 p.m.

    Anyone remember Scannerz? They were handheld games and you collected monsters by scanning barcodes and then could use em to fight. I had one and loved it as a kid.
  • AuthorityFigure - August 10, 2011 9:14 a.m.

    I like the UMD better than MiniDisc, floppy disk, CD-ROM and tape.
  • beemoh - August 9, 2011 5:09 p.m.

    >5. TV broadcasts IIRC, the BBC tried something very similar with radio broadcasts early in the home computer era.
  • Hyawatta - August 9, 2011 4:23 p.m.

    I had the Captain Power Mountain Base with break away walls! Also, the ships that ejected your pilots after taking too many hits. Has anyone ever shot themselves in the mirror with these? We also used them as flashlights during powerouts. Good times.
  • Fusionmix - August 9, 2011 4:04 p.m.

    Huh, I actually like UMDs. Though I just got my PSP last year, so... :P I can fit about six in my case, and as long as I rotate them out with games on my shelf I don't have a space problem, and I don't have to worry about getting fingerprints on the disk. While Sony certainly tried to overextend themselves in respect to the UMD's functionality (lol movies), for gaming purposes it's no less irritating than cartridges. And DS carts are too small; I'm constantly afraid of dropping on in the train or on a plane or bus and not being able to find it. Great list, though.
  • Yeager1122 - August 9, 2011 6:28 a.m.

    @Codystovall Same here.
  • Aforextreme - August 9, 2011 4:54 a.m.

    Oh man, I thought we were going to get some Pops Ghostly!
  • 44Patriots44 - August 9, 2011 12:12 a.m.

    UMD wasn't terrible. It just didn't make much sense...
  • batmanboy11 - August 8, 2011 11:29 p.m.

    I thought UMD should have been number one, but then I saw that VHS was. *nods approvingly*
  • FauxFurry - August 8, 2011 11:06 p.m.

    I actually bought a Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future tape along with Lord Dredd and his vessel instead of an NES. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhvSE1ay1-o That horrid mistake had to be rectified as soon as possible.
  • jackthemenace - August 8, 2011 10 p.m.

    Why the HELL was Agent 47 in the Barcode Battler advert? @Cody- I was '94. You had, like, THREE WHOLE YEARS before i was BORN to get to grips with this crap.
  • LordZarlon - August 8, 2011 9:28 p.m.

    Good article. Of course since this was written by GamesRadar UK, the TDar Boys will probably be bored with it and skip over any conversation about it.
  • DeadlyViper95 - August 8, 2011 9:18 p.m.

    UMD wasnt THAT bad.. i guess its true, the internet DOES make everything sound worse than it is.. (Navi in OoT, switching boots in the water temple...ect)
  • rxb - August 8, 2011 8:13 p.m.

    Haha good top 7. I loved my barcode battler, chasing after cool barcodes was half the fun.VHS aint that old Im still use them now.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - August 8, 2011 7:37 p.m.

    I thought nothing was worse than the UMD...How could anyone play that Action Max shit?!?
  • Thequestion 121 - August 8, 2011 7:12 p.m.

    Haha, great article

Showing 1-20 of 31 comments

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