Retro Upgrade - Crowner Open
The latest technology works best with something that was previously obsolete.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-08-04 17:11:26 sponsor: Bisected8 (last reply: 2012-10-27 04:59:12)

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This is a sister trope to Magikarp Power where something which appears useless or obsolete becomes more effective because it's more compatible with the very latest technology than what came in between (either in technology or the ability of the user). The two can be distinguished thus; a Magikarp Superpower becomes more effective after working and improving it (e.g. levelling a magikarp up until it evolves into a gyarados), while this trope becomes more effective because something else has improved (e.g. a high level item which gives magikarps in particular a significant boost in power).

This can include previously obsolete technologies that suddenly prove to be a vital part of (or to complement) the latest ones or (on a more individual level) someone with a great deal of experience in a given field using a technique beginners avoid because their experience allows them to do it more effectively. All that matters is that the method in question is genuinely ineffective without the advancements or experience to take advantage of it. Historically, it can include technologies and ideas which were too ahead of their time and needed other advancements to be fully realised.

This doesn't just mean technology or techniques that have been around for a long time being used; they have to actually be obsolete. So a vehicle which uses technology which has been around since the dawn of time, like wheels, wouldn't count because nothing has ever replaced the wheel, but a new, renewable fuel which turned out to be more efficient in a steam engine rather than a petrol or diesel engine would.

In speculative fiction settings this is a common way for a work to justify the prevalence of swords over guns using Technobabble (or Magibabble) to establish some technology which shifts the mechanics of combat in favor of melee weapons somehow.

This can also overlap with Break Out the Museum Piece (if said museum piece uses a technology which is advantageous in the situation at hand). A subtrope of Older Is Better. Also related to Bishonen Line (for cases where the creature crossing it originally had a more human form). Compare Minovsky Particle, where a new development justifies otherwise impossible technology.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Veritas, after spending long periods training to purify his Ki flow, Gangryong discovers that he gets much better results if he deliberately clogs the flow until it bursts and washes out his system. Overlaps with Dangerous Forbidden Technique, since timing it wrong could kill him.
  • In the second half of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the Gunmen are dropped in favor of the new Guparls. It turns out that the Gunmen are still more useful against anti-spirals because they were designed specifically to fight them.

Film
  • In Woody Allen's film Sleeper: After waking up in the future, Miles orders some health food for breakfast (he used to own a health food store). It's revealed that in the future they've discovered that "unhealthy" foods are actually extremely good for you.

Literature
  • In Dune, both laser weapons and shielding technology have been well developed, but due to the Technobabble behind them if one meets the other then a catastrophic explosion occurs. Most warfare is waged through unconventional projectile weapons - or through simple knife and swordplay.

Live Action Television
  • In Star Trek: Voyager the ship's engine and hull get improved using technology based on a carburetor and the hull of the Titanic, respectively.
  • Old Klingon ships in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were protected against the Breen energy-draining weapon, by an obsolete component (it might even have been a reference to the outdated plasma coils in the cloaking system from Star Trek: Generations), with which the rest of the Romulan, Klingon and Federation fleets were quickly retrofitted.

Video Games
  • In Pokémon Pikachu, despite being pretty much the official mascot for the franchise, was never very useful in game due to its low stats. Later generations, however, included a special item called the Light Ball, which could only be equipped by Pikachu and would significantly boost its speed and damage, giving it a viable role as a Glass Cannon.
  • In Chrono Trigger, Robo, a robot from year 2300, can be equipped with stone arms you find in prehistory and they're the best weapons you can find (at the time).

Real Life
  • Most computer programmers are taught not to program in "machine code" and other low level languages (basically the code the computer's processor itself uses) because it's not worth the effort, however a particularly dedicated and skilled programmer might do so to draw the most out of a given piece of hardware (this practise is a lot less common now as higher level languages have become more efficient and hardware's improved to the point where limitations on software efficiency aren't so strict).
  • In warfare;
    • The state of the art in artillery has see-sawed between impacting and explosive projectiles as different generations of armor and target hardening have come and gone.
    • "All or nothing" armor strategies. If something's armor isn't strong enough to withstand a direct hit from the weapons it's expected to face, then it's better not to give it any armor at all and enjoy the benefits of lighter weight.
    • Modern fighter jets are deliberately made less aerodynamic so that they can be more easily maneuvered.
    • Silencers reduce the noise generated by rifles, but the best weapons that have been developed for silent work are... crossbows with rifle scopes.
  • In car design;
    • Diesel cars became trendy around 1980, but they had their problems and quickly disappeared for the most part. Then some time in the 2000's, diesel-powered autos made a comeback due to improved technology.
    • The rotary engine. Mazda touted the Wankel as the engine of the future, as highlighted in this oft-played commercial from 1973. But the Wankel had its problems and was pretty much forgotten at least for automotive use, except in the RX-7. Technological improvements brought on the Renesis, a new rotary engine in 2003 for the RX-8. The other wiki says Mazda discontinued that as well, though, for emissions standards reasons.
  • When electric cars were invented they failed to catch on because they weren't as efficient or powerful as internal combustion driven ones. With advances in electric cells and motors (as well as the development of hybrid cars, thanks to computers becoming advanced enough to manage the energy in them) they're beginning to become more viable.
  • Airships. The airships of old had a lot of safety and maneuverability issues and thus were phased out by airplanes. Modern technology, though, can provide cheap nonflammable helium and an effective slightly-heavier-than-air design that greatly improves maneuverability. As a result, new airship projects are starting to appear, since they are much more fuel-efficient when carrying heavy cargoes than airplanes.
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