Created By: Bisected8August 4, 2012 Last Edited By: Bisected8October 27, 2012
Troped

Retro Upgrade - Crowner Open

The latest technology works best with something that was previously obsolete.

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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 Pokemon 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.
Community Feedback Replies: 65
  • August 5, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    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.
  • August 6, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Buffy The Vampire Slayer, "A New Man." Buffy meets The Initiative, a government Covert Ops team dedicated to studying, killing, and/or experimenting on demons.
    Walsh: And to think all that time you were sitting in my class. Well, most of those times. I always knew you could do better than a B minus. Now I understand your energies were directed in the same places as ours, in fact. It's only our methods that differ. We use the latest in scientific technology and state-of-the-art weaponry and you, if I understand correctly, poke them with a sharp stick.
    Buffy: Well, it's more effective than it sounds.
  • August 7, 2012
    Bisected8
    That's more Rock Beats Laser, since "poking them with a sharp stick" is what's been done traditionally.
  • August 9, 2012
    SquirrelGuy
    Does this count? The vinyl record. Started out as dominant, then faded to oblivion with the invention of the Audio CD, and is now making a comeback.
  • August 9, 2012
    Bisected8
    It's only an example if;

    • It's well and truly obsolete technology or something a beginner is told never to do.
    • It's a newly developed technology or experience which makes it useful.

    Vinyl isn't an example, since there's no new technology taking advantage of it and it's always been favoured by some people for its sound quality.
  • August 10, 2012
    Prime32
    Bishonen Line should be noted as a related trope.

    Real Life examples:
    • "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.

    Other
    • 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 Star Trek Voyager the ship's engine and hull get improved using technology based on a carburetor and the hull of the Titanic, respectively.
  • August 11, 2012
    TonyG
    In the Futurama episode "The Thief of Baghead", Bender is still using photographic film a thousand years after everyone else has switched to digital photography. This becomes relevant when a photo needed for the plot is destroyed and Bender is able to make a new one because, while a deleted digital photo is gone forever, an optical photo can still be printed from the original negative.
  • August 16, 2012
    SquirrelGuy
    Two automotive examples (someone who knows more about cars than me may correct this):

    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.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHzeGEHWMjo
  • August 17, 2012
    Bisected8
    Can anyone think of any fictional examples?
  • August 17, 2012
    randomsurfer
    This is a food example so IDK if it counts. From 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).
    Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he [Miles] requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk."
    Dr. Aragon: Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
    Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?
    Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of What We Now Know To Be True.
    Dr. Melik: Incredible.
  • August 17, 2012
    Bisected8
    Sounds like an example to me (assuming that the health benefits were ones which were overlooked).
  • August 20, 2012
    Salda007
    In the new Battlestar Galactica, Galactica and her museum-piece fighters are some of the only ones left working after a Cylon virus disables the state-of-the-art, networked computer systems that the modern fleet has.

    (Edit: actually, on re-reading the original, this might not be a good example since it's not advances in skill that make the older tech useful)
  • August 20, 2012
    Salda007
    Okay, here's one that's better:

    Snipers in many militaries around the world still make use of bolt-action rifles, which haven't seen widespread use for general infantrymen since World War II, because their simpler construction and fewer moving parts means they can be made more accurate. Semi-automatic sniper rifles have recently been introduced in many countries, but many of the most accurate rifles are still bolt-action.
  • August 21, 2012
    Bisected8
    That's more an example of Older Is Better, since there hasn't been an advancement which has made bolt action rifles more effective; they've simply always lacked the tradeoff in accuracy of semi-automatics.
  • August 25, 2012
    Bisected8
    So, any thoughts on the name?
  • September 4, 2012
    KageNara
    I think this may be an example (The description kind of confused me).

    • Independence Day - The heroes using Morse Code to send the Earth's battle plans to the other pockets of human resistance, something extremely obsolete being used to defeat something extremely advanced.
  • September 4, 2012
    Bisected8
    That's not quite what I meant either....I'll try rewording the OP.
  • September 4, 2012
    Bisected8
    OK, reworded.
  • September 4, 2012
    TheArbitrageur
    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. As a result, most warfare is waged through unconventional projectile weapons - or through simple knife and swordplay.
  • September 5, 2012
    Bisected8
    Are there any problems with the description still or is it clear now?

    Also, any thoughts on the name?
  • September 5, 2012
    spacemarine50
    Name can be better. Also, is this the same as the idiom "reinventing the wheel"?
  • September 6, 2012
    Bisected8
    Not really; as the description says, the idea is that an obsolete technology is repurposed to use with a newer one (the wheel isn't obsolete and reinventing isn't the same as repurposing).
  • September 12, 2012
    sgamer82
    • In the second half Gurren Lagann, Rossiu declares the Gunmen that Team Dai-Gurren had used to win the previous battles in favor of the new Guparls. However, while the Guparls are more advanced, the Gunmen are still the better countermeasure against the Anti-Spirals. This is largely because the Gunmen were built specifically to fight them.
  • September 15, 2012
    Rognik
    I've been following this thread for a while, ever since it was first proposed, and I'm not entirely certain I understand it. I mean, I follow that it's making old technology new again for some reason, kind of like how vinyl records are still cool because of scratch DJ'ing (among other reasons), but even then, I don't think that applies. So can someone explain this to me in "100 words or less"? (I won't be counting words; it's just to show a small number.)
  • September 15, 2012
    Bisected8
    How's this;

    1. Something is either abandoned or avoided because there's a better way of doing things.
    2. Something newer than whatever replaced the thing from "1." is developed.
    3. This new thing turns out to work better with 1. than whatever replaced it.
  • September 23, 2012
    aurora369
    Airships. The airships of old had a lot of safety and maneurability 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 maneurability. So new airship projects start to appear today, since they are much more fuel-efficient with heavy cargoes than airplanes.
  • September 23, 2012
    bulmabriefs144
    • Pre-electric devices (oil lamps, crank engines, etc.) They generally were phased out because electricity worked cleaner with less a chance of fire problems. Also, they could use any source of energy because their power came from power plants. There are two instances where you'd use one of these items however, if you were remote from civilization (camping or outright living off the grid), or if you were in a secure facility that needed to be able to work without power (such as a suspension bridge, or ironically, a power plant) in case of a brown-out, terrorism, etc.
    • Electric cars were actually around in the early periods of the auto industry. Either due to outright popularity or the fact they couldn't drive as far without refueling, gas-powered cars outcompeted them. Today, with improvements on function, and given we now have conflicts with the Middle East over oil, electric cars have been advertised again.

    Bisected, the description is fine as is. Also, it doesn't always work like that. Sometimes they shift back entirely, but market the new one as advanced. Sometimes, they use it, but only under specific examples (like mine). And then sometimes, yes it works with a piece of the old.
  • September 23, 2012
    Bisected8
    The first one isn't quite an example, since the older devices aren't being made more useful by technological advances. Also, it's entirely possible to use batteries and fuel powered generators....

    Changes in politics or the market don't count either; remember this is primarily a trope which occurs in fiction, not an essay on real world economics.
  • September 24, 2012
    Nomic
    The trope namer for Magicarp Power also provides a good example for this trope: Pikachu, despite being pretty much the official mascot for the Pokemon franchise, was never very useful in game due to its low stats. Later generations, however, included a special item called the Lightning 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.
  • September 24, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    Rrrgh... I think I understand the idea, but the title doesn't seem related. It makes me think of the quote by I forget that 'I don't know what weapons the next world war will be fought with, but the war after that will be fought with sticks and stones'.

    This is more proving that Technology Levels aren't a thing, isn't it? How advancing on one branch of the Tech Tree can suddenly make 'regressing' on another branch an improvement?
  • September 24, 2012
    Bisected8
    Good point. Do you have an alternative suggestion for a title?
  • September 24, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    Umm... Retro Upgrade, maybe?
  • September 25, 2012
    Bisected8
    I quite like that one...
  • September 25, 2012
    tlayton
    Expanding on the Dune example, one common way for a work to justify the prevalence of swords over guns using Technobabble (or Magibabble) is to establish some technology which shifts the mechanics of combat in favor of melee weapons somehow.

    A related case (although arguably not an example of this trope) would be the use of the Minovsky Particle in Gundam to explain the use of Humongous Mecha in space, despite that environment normally favoring extreme-long-range weaponry.

    However, I notice that the current description seems to require that the new tech specifically act to augment the old tech (hence 'upgrade'), whereas, in examples such as the Dune one, the old tech stops being obsolete because the tech which replaced it is in turn made obsolete by the new tech, in a way which does not affect the previously-obsolete tech. This can only be described as an upgrade in relative terms. Is the trope meant to encompass instances like this, or must there really be an actual upgrade to the old tech involved?
  • September 26, 2012
    Bisected8
    The old tech can be used as is or incorperated into something new (either by retrofitting existing tech or just using the same design). The main part of this trope is that something else being furthered is what made the old technology useful again.
  • September 29, 2012
    LobsterMagnus
    I have read somewhere that if we today wanted to do something similar to the Apollo program, the modern electronics being very delicate would be a problem that the original moon rockets from the sixties didn't have.
  • September 29, 2012
    LobsterMagnus
    • Many digital cameras make an artificial "click" noise (they lack the mechanics for a real one), just so that you can tell that the photo has actually been taken.
    • There is the issue of modern car engines being so silent that it can lead to dangerous situations when a pedestrian on the street doesn't hear the car approaching. (Can also apply to other factors supposed to reduce traffic noise, such as special road surfaces.)
  • September 29, 2012
    Bisected8
    None of those are examples; they're just features which have been retained because they're needed rather than obsolete features which became useful because of something else.
  • September 30, 2012
    KarjamP
    Related to Warfare Regression.

    (NOTE: it's still a YKTTW.)
  • October 2, 2012
    Bisected8
    Anymore thoughts on a name?
  • October 4, 2012
    Neospectre
    Perhaps, in regards to a name, a reworking of the current one would suffice. Maybe... "Upgraded to Retro" or "Retro Edge Technology"?
  • October 4, 2012
    Bisected8
    That seems to be along the right lines. It just needs something to make the "works better with something new" part clearer (I'm a bit worried most of the names so far give the impression that this would just be any case where old technology is more useful than newer technology).
  • October 5, 2012
    zarpaulus
    The Futurama thing was just a joke and a means of adding suspense since it takes so long to make a copy of a traditional photo from the negatives, you know perfectly well that a digital photo can be copied endlessly and quickly and that Farnsworth just tore up a print.
  • October 5, 2012
    Bisected8
    Good point. Removed.
  • October 5, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Old Klingon ships in Star Trek Deep Space Nine were protected against the Breen energy-draining weapon, if I recall correctly, by some 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.
  • October 9, 2012
    morenohijazo
    I don't know if it fits, but in Chrono Trigger, Robo, a robot from year 2300, can be equipped with stone arms you find in prehistory.
  • October 13, 2012
    Bisected8
    So, are there anymore title preferences (it might be worth starting a crowner, but I don't want to unless there are already a few names to go on it).
  • October 13, 2012
    jatay3
    Partial example: when steam came in, one of the main businesses of sailing freighters was hauling coal.
  • October 14, 2012
    Bisected8
    ...I'm not sure how that's an example?
  • October 15, 2012
    Bisected8
    So, anymore title ideas?
  • October 15, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    What's Old is New Again?

  • October 16, 2012
    Bisected8
    That sounds good. I'll add it to the list.
  • October 18, 2012
    Bisected8
    Since there doesn't seem to be much discussion on the name, I've created a crowner; http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/crowner.php/AlternativeTitles/RetroUpgrade
  • October 18, 2012
    rolranx
    I have a follow up to the Dune example, but not sure it applies. In this case new technology invalidated the old technology until someone realized a new way to utilize the old technology tactically; but no real upgrade to the technology was invented. The technology *was* considered obsolete in-universe though, so I think it counts. Perhaps the trope should clarify, or add as an example, if new idea for how to utilize old technology which was considered totally obsolete count if no technological upgrade has been made?

    • In the middle of the first book of the series the baron manages to trap House Atredies unites and nearly kill them by utilizing old fashioned projectile based artillery weapons which he claims were considered completely obsolete due to shield technology, which can easily block direct attacks, but which can't stop an indirect attack destroying the entrance of the cave trapping the shielded troops In fact there are so many cases where this supposed old fashioned technology could still prove quite useful in situations like the one in the book, or any time a shield isn't on 24/7 that one has to wonder why it's considered obsolete in the first place

    something that may want to put as an example, or just include in the trope description itself...

    • Many of the more complicated competitively played strategy games run into this regularly as the Metagameevolves over time. As the common tactics used by competitors change previously obsoleted tactics can become valid again. Some tactics even manage a cycle of obsolescence, especially in games with limited knowledge of Fog Of War mechanics. A tactic may grow obsolete as the enemy grows to expect and defend against it. But once no one uses the original tactic it becomes wasteful to spend resources defending against an obsolete tactic and fewer bother to do so. However, once no one is 'wasting' resources to defend against the tactic the original 'obsolete' tactic can be brought back to ravage undefended opponents. Thus starting the cycle all over again.
      • To give an example, one common tatic for Terran strategy vs Protoss games was to put down two factories and produce lots of units to make an attack. Then the Terran metagame evolved to incorporate acting like you're putting down two factories and making a little attack to put the opponent on the defensive but you're actually only making one factory and saving for an expansion to gain an economic advantage - the fake double. This became so popular that it is normal and Protoss players anticipate it, so now Terrans can now also try to give the appearance that they are doing the fake double but meanwhile they actually really are putting down two factories to make a serious attack. Which is known as the fake fake double. Mindbending.

    and yes, I stole that example from the metagame page because I don't know enough about metagames to give exact examples lol
  • October 19, 2012
    Bisected8
    Those both sound more like using the technology in an unusual way, rather than using them with more modern technology. I'm not sure if that counts....
  • October 19, 2012
    rolranx
    Yep I agree I don't know if it does count. But I think it's something that *could* count; since the technology/tactic was considered completely obsolete at one point before being revived. to quote:

    "This doesn't just mean technology or techniques that have been around for a long time being used; they have to actually be obsolete"

    The implication is that anything that *was* obsolete previously would count. Perhaps if this isn't to count that paragraph should have something like this added to describe it isn't an example?

    Yeah sorry to nitpick ;)
  • October 21, 2012
    Bisected8
    Well...that single clarification didn't overide the rest of the description (which does specify that something more advanced needs to make it useful). ^^;

    Also, there don't seem to have been many votes, but Retro Upgrade's winning. I'll leave it a bit longer and see if it can be launched at some point in the middle of the week, if there are no objections?
  • October 23, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    If Retro Upgrade is the best we can come up with it'll work, though I'm still not entirely happy with it (yes, I know I suggested it, but still).

    Something that occurred to me that should probably go in the description somewhere, or might make a good Laconic - this is something like 'Rock DIDN'T beat laser, until we invented new and improved rocks'.
  • October 23, 2012
    Bisected8
    Technically it would be more like "...until we found a way to make rocks fire better lasers."
  • October 24, 2012
    rolranx
    I actually like retro upgrade.
  • October 24, 2012
    Bisected8
    OK, if RU is still in first place on Saturday, I'll launch it then (leaving this up for a few more days can't hurt).
  • October 26, 2012
    Rytex
    One small correction, but otherwise all good.

    Pikachu's item is not Lightning Ball, but Light Ball.
  • October 26, 2012
    Bisected8
    ^ Fixed.
  • October 26, 2012
    Bisected8
    Well then...launching tomorrow. =3
  • October 27, 2012
    Bisected8
    One more hour.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable