A specialized version of the Reset Button: Any dangerous device or technology owned by a villain, particularly a supervillain of the James Bond mode, that is not off-the-shelf exists in a metaphorical vacuum. There is only one of it, there are no plans or schematics for it and no earlier generations of development exist. In the case of expensive and rushed projects, the final project might have been made by cannibalizing parts of the prototype, or might actually be the prototype after a whole lot of upgrades and patches. Either way, no backup copies exist at all of either the device's hardware or software. Thus the hero may safely blow it up, blast it with EMP or otherwise render it useless, confident that no one can recreate the technology — or worse, just take version 0.9 out of storage and use that the moment he leaves.
Note that in the real world, scientists and engineers make and keep very detailed notes — this is often what differentiates Science from Mad Science. Mad Science is magic-like in how it can inexplicably summon up something that its own creator doesn't quite understand.
This trope usually does not apply when the scientist who designed the technology is treated as a sympathetic character. In this case, the remorseful researcher does keep notes, which he will either attempt to burn or erase himself, or will ask the heroes to destroy for him. Nor does it apply when the experiment results in a Psycho Prototype; in these cases, the researcher will make changes to the plans and build a second, "good" version, to fight the first, "bad" one.
Occasionally subverted after the customary celebration of the superweapon being destroyed, with one hero ominously pointing out, "yes... but there's nothing to stop them building another." Or the superweapon hadn't actually been destroyed as they thought.
Compare Reed Richards Is Useless, where the formula exists, but is only applied to fantastic problems. It may appear as a justification for Never Recycle Your Schemes. See Also: Black Box, for situations where the device in question has extraterrestrial or otherwise fantastic origins that would justify not being able to build another. And in addition, if you get to use something but only have the single try even if it works then It Only Works Once.
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One Pieceaverts this trope through the characters of Robin and Franky, and at least one story arc. Robin is the last survivor of an archaeological society that knew how to decode ancient glyphs that tell the location of a powerful superweapon; Franky is the most recent in a line of shipbuilders to inherit the superweapon's plans. The World Government is both trying to erase memory of the superweapon from the general populace and either find or recreate it.
It also becomes a plot point, as Franky's mentor Tom and later his fellow apprentice Iceberg want to destroy the plans to Pluton, since it's dangerous having the possibility of someone building the superweapon, but they need it in case Robin revives the weapon. When Franky realizes that Robin wants to live and stay with the Straw Hats rather than revive the weapon he burns the Pluton blueprints, betting everything on the Straw Hats saving her so that if they succeed, the World Government will lose the ability to acquire Pluton.
Used in Shaman King in reference to Mosuke's most powerful sword, Harusame, which was ironically made of melted up junk metal and an old hunting knife. After creating it, the emperor ordered Amidamaru to kill Mosuke so as to make Harusame follow this trope. Even though the Emperor's plan somewhat fails, Harusame remains a sword of unparalleled power.
Ram-Dass in Soukou No Strain was an illegal experimental prototype, and The Gloire was a modified "regular" Gloire whose modifiers did quite well for people that didn't have the plans for the original.
Braver in Transformers Victory invents a device that can detect Decepticons within ; Jean, Holi, and Star Saber all seize on the idea of placing a bunch of them at strategic points around the world. Braver handwaves this away by saying the device requires specialised components, but they still put the device to good use. At the end of the episode, however, Leozack steals it, and Braver vows to start his research from scratch. Couldn't he just have remembered how to make it?
Shin Mazinger averts this. The reason Dr. Hell always has unique robots instead of rebuilding the good ones is because he didn't build them to begin with, and he's a biologist, so it's not like he could fix them up if he wanted to. And in the case of Mazinger Z not only was there a prototype, but Juuzou Kabuto also made numerous objects out of Super Alloy Z, and was known for having loads of patents that most likely came out of testing parts for the eponymous robot.
Subverted (and yes, it really is a subversion) in Darker Than Black. A Mad Scientist had constructed a particle accelerator that could be used to destroy Hell's Gate, which would wipe out every single contractor instantly. Amber's group, naturally wishing to prevent this, sent in a strike team to destroy it. After they managed it, the scientist was ranting about what a waste it was... at which point his bosses informed him that they'd made a backup without telling him.
Gundam SEED has ZAFT failing miserably in terms Gundam prototypes, making several powerful suits which become the source of agony for them as they get a Grand Theft Prototype and the Federation of all groups managing to mass produce at least one feature into their new mobile suits (The Jet Striker pack for the Dagger-L and the Windam look like a smaller version of Justice's backpack, while the Wild Dagger is an Alliance Dagger-L with the ZAFT Gaia Gundam's transforming ability.). The Earth Alliance second set of Gundams gotten a mass production upgrade for their non Brainwashed and Crazy soldiers.
Averted in Gundam SEED Destiny with ZAFT's new generation of Gundams: Of the five, Chaos and Saviour have prototypes, and ZAFT made multiple Impulses with Mecha Expansion Packs that reproduce the abilities of Gaia, Chaos and Abyss — and then MSV introduced a Destiny pack for the Impulse, as well as a prototype for The Lancer's Legend Gundam.
Also subverted in the Federation mobile armors. The first one usually served as an occasional Monster of the Week, but afterward multiples would appear in their forces.
The biggest aversion comes at the climax of the series. Not only did they apparently get their hands on Patrick Zala's designs for the Genesis Superweapon, they even duplicated it and improved it, going so far as to make it so that it doesn't melt the reflector mirrors AND mounted it on a moving asteroid fortress.
This actually went back all the way to Gundam SEED Astray when the Junk Guild claim GENESIS Alpha, a second GENESIS as their own home base.
The 1/100 Master Grade model for the Strike Freedom Gundam revealed that it was meant to be mass produced, but Terminal, Lacus Clyne's secret organization, found the plans when they'd been shoved away, took them for their own and deleted the original copy from ZAFT's computers.
The Gundam series set in the Universal Century averts this to all hell and back, especially once Anaheim Electronics comes into the picture.
In the original series, this is played straight... from Zeon's point of view. They did make plans and backups and even prototypes of their Zakus. The only error is that Amuro has all the files on his personal computer... Luckily for the Zeon, Amuro has learned absolutely nothing about the Zaku II, its combat capabilities and future Mobile Suits, despite the fact that we saw him studying the schematics in the beginning of the first episode.
It still happened once, with the F99 Recordbreaker Gundams in Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam: The Steel Seven. These Gundams were equipped with the super-powerful "Wings of Light" system a full twenty years before it showed up in Victory Gundam. The Jovian Empire managed to destroy all three prototypes, along with all the plans and research for it in their attack on the lunar base, forcing the system to pretty much have to be re-invented from scratch.
One could infer that Gundam 00 Aeolia Schenberg played this straight deliberately when it came to the original GN technology, since the Tau replications that Ribbons leaked to the three factions, as well as used himself, were nowhere near their capabilities. This one's All In The Manual — the "real" GN drives have a specific component (the "solar blanket") that can only be manufactured in the Jovian gravity well. An "incident" at the facility where they were made has guaranteed that no more will be forthcoming any time soon.
Pointedly averted with the Memento Mori. The heroes destroy it in a badass manner before it can do too much damage, and are badly damaged in the battle, but happy in the knowledge that they've denied the enemy a superweapon. Turns out the enemy built two of 'em, just in case.
Averted in Mobile Fighter G Gundam as the Rising Gundam was the prototype for the Shining Gundam, a (manga-only) second Shining Gundam called Shading Gundam was built and when the original Noble Gundam was destroyed as the Walter Gundam, Allenby just got a new one to replace it.
The Big O: Justified: Megadei can be repaired but never engineered, the same goes with all the other Lost Technology from 40 years ago.
Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds: After spending two days and nights straight creating a new D-Wheel program, Yusei and Bruno are so exhausted, they go to bed without bothering to install or backup said program... which gets stolen that night.
The dub adds a few additional handwaves: the thief not only copied their files but deleted them off the hard drive, and the two can't expect to recreate the program from scratch because there was a lot of on-the-spot ad-libbing involved.
Lampshaded aversion on Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z: Him steals the metal drum full of Chemical Z from the lab and is surprised when The Professor shows up later with a loaded Chemical Z beam. The professor explains he stored the supply of Chemical Z in multiple places for just such an occasion.
Averted in Steam Boy when a mad scientist is told to destroy his invention he replies it can never be destroyed, now that the world has seen in.
In Full Metal Panic!!, Mithril's Arbalest is one of these. It is a Super PrototypeReal Robot made using Black Box technology that only certain Whispered can create, even if they do not fully understand the underlying principles. Its creator went suicidally insane after building it, killed himself and destroyed his own notes, and Mithril doesn't have any other Whispered who understand the Lambda Driver technology that drives it. Their counterpart Amalgam does have one, however, and can mass produce mechs that use the same technology.
Getter Robo averts this in general. The Getters are a line of mecha that are evolved (ha) from the same breed of 3-piece combiner, and even they are shown in numerous tales to have prototypes.
In the OVA Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo, it's revealed that Dr. Saotome had constructed various prototype Getters in its various forms. The Dinosaur Empire used ALL of them to good use, pummeling the weaker Neo Getter Robo.
An episode of Doki Doki Precure introduces a man-made Cure Commune that Alice's butler, Sebastian, made after studying his charge's Transformation Trinket. While not magical, it gives a regular person the same abilities as a Precure. It gets destroyed near the end of the episode and never mentioned again.
In the cancelled continuation of GaoGaiGar, Project Z, it's revealed that Phantom Gao/Gao Far can't be rebuilt as the young genius that designed it lost all of her intelligence after falling into a coma.
Comics love this trope, as it allows for unique items that only the hero or villain has. It's also used as a MacGuffin generator.
The reason Captain America is one of a kind in the Marvel Universe is because the only person who knew the formula for the Super Soldier Serum got shot right after administering it to Cap. Furthermore, for security reasons, that scientist kept no notes of the full treatment, relying on his memory. Attempts at reproducing it haven't gone so well.
So, of course, Arnim Zola was able to create a clone of Cap complete with Super Solder Serum — and never attempted to experiment to figure out how to extract the stuff. Especially since the Serum has been completely extracted at least once and it's been shown that a blood transfusion from Cap also comes with that particular bonus. (Making it more Holding Back the Phlebotinum than anything else, now.)
Same goes for the Red Skull, who cloned Cap's physique to be his own on at least one occasion.
In Captain America I #153, a man who found the formula, heretofore overlooked in Axis files (due to Allied bombings similar to Dresden, not even the Axis knew that they had it), noted that he found it untraceable in animals he had experimented upon and then dissected. He used this as leverage to force the US government to allow him to serve as a new Captain America for the Korean War — which ended before he could serve. This man later went mad due to the effects of the serum, suggesting its unpredictability on subjects. Incidentally, MLJ's the Shield seems to have inspired Captain America (the shape of Captain America's shield turned round when MLJ pointed out how closely it represented the front of the Shield's costume). The Shield's father had perfected a similar formula, but enemy agents slew him. The Shield, however, recreated his father's formula. Why he did not use it other than on himself is not stated.
However, the Ultimate Marvel universe is practically built around deconstructing this particular trope. The original Cap was one-of-a-kind — which is why every government and corporation on the planet has spent the last fifty years trying to duplicate the process, or at least come up with something similar, leading to a superhuman arms race. The Ultimate Hulk was the result of a failed attempt, the OZ formula that gave Ultimate Spider-Man his powers was another — pretty much every superhuman in this universe, except for the mutants, owe their powers to some attempt at recreating the super-soldier project.Eventually, even the mutants are revealed to be a result of a super-soldier-related project, making the deconstruction even more wide-ranging.
More, Captain America's shield is one of a kind, never duplicated; the guy who made it had no idea what he was doing and thus, wasn't keeping records and, according to some stories, fell asleep while working on it, and when he woke-up, the shield was made.
A tweak to Ultimate Cap's origin established that the head scientist was simply a cruddy record-keeper and did not write everything down before rudely getting shot.
Captain America: The First Avenger puts a different spin on his shield: Howard Stark presents Steve with multiple options for a shield, but Cap spots a disc shaped one that Howard explains is a vibranium prototype. Why can't more be made? That was all of the vibranium they had.
Double Subverted in Ultimate Spiderman. During the Venom storyline, Pete is infected with the symbiote. He manages to get rid of it, then convinces Eddie Brock to let him destroy the rest of the sample. Peter leaves with the container, then Eddie walks over to a locker and opens it to reveal another container with a backup. He even lampshades this, saying "Guess they haven't taught you about backups in high school." However, after this backup sample turns Eddie Brock into Venom, none of the work is left, and he never attempts to recreate the formula, even though he'd be able to sell it to the military for billions.
It's moot point anyway since earlier in the comic, Peter found out that the symbiote, as well as all notes and research involving its creation were seized from Richard Parker and Eddie Brock Sr. by Trask Industries, the company that was funding it. Dr. Parker had something of a mini-breakdown after finding out, and Peter couldn't sell the formula if he wanted to. After Venom becomes known, all research about the symbiote is seized from Trask by Nick Fury and the Ultimates to make absolutely sure the suit is never re-created, except by them.
The Golden Age "Good girl" Phantom Lady had a "blacklight projector" whose inventor literally died just as he delivered the only copy straight into her hands.
The minor Marvel character Jack Of Hearts got his power from a Freak Lab Accident involving his father's Zero Fluid, an apparently limitless energy source that would have solved the world's energy crisis... had the creator not been shot dead and the only sample in existence absorbed into Jack.
The Silver Age Flash got his powers because a lightning bolt struck a cabinet full of random chemicals, which then spilled onto him. Subsequent attempts to find out which combination of chemicals would, when lightning-struck, yield similar results have all been failures.
However, by sheer coincidence, the Flash just happened to set up the right combination of chemicals when demonstrating this to his young protege — without taking any notes, of course — and lo, another freak lightning bolt created Kid Flash.
Actually, this eventually turned out to be the origin of the original Professor Zoom who started out as a fanboy who successfully duplicated the accident after years of painful treatments in order to use Barry's old treadmill to go back and hang out with him.
Aversion, or at least subversion: Iron Man. He not only has multiple versions of his armor stretching back to his first one (and has used previous versions to solve a current problem), but one of the key storylines in the comic series was how his foe Obidiah Stane got a hold of all his armor research and technology when he took over Stark's company.
Not to mention that, almost uniquely, there is actually another superhero running around with his toys — War Machine uses one of Tony's suits modified with More Dakka.
V in V for Vendetta. He blew up the research plant, killed the doctor and was the only survivor anyhow. It hardly matters since the formula that created V had totally random effects on everyone it was injected into (One test subject who died from it was mentioned to have had fingers growing inside her calves for example).
Atomic Robo, the sentient, intelligent, super-strong robot built by Tesla in the 1920s is one of a kind, and Tesla made certain no records or information on the countless innovations in Robo exist outside his own mind. In a letter from Tesla in the back of Volume 2, he states that this was because he would not allow living beings to be created as weapons.
Ultmate Marvel again. 'Ultimate Galactus Trilogy'. Faced with another alien invasion, the Genre Savvy government pulls out all the stops to build a space shuttle capable of reaching the Capital Ship and giving them a hard time. The aliens step up and blow it away. They think they won. This was a trap designed to garner intelligence on the bad guys. The aliens didn't think to check the neighboring tower at the launch facility.
The Justice League of America villain the Red King is a sideways look at this trope. He had the ability to access multiple universes, try various things in them, and keep the ones he liked. He used this to (among other things) win horse races, become a billionaire/media darling, and get a hot girlfriend. When he decides to get super-powers, he has research teams in billions of universes try various approaches and keeps the best ones. As far as his employees knew, the boss just showed up one day and gave them a disc with files showing perfect, foolproof, side-effect-free procedures for giving virtually any super-power imaginable. After his defeat by the Justice League, one assumes the disc is still in his corporate files somewhere...
In Adrenalynn: Weapon of War, the only scientist capable of creating the revolutionary cyborgs such as Adrenalynn (who was the last cyborg he created), hung himself out of shame for doing that to a little girl.
This turns out to be the case in the Tintin book Tintin Destination Moon for the moon rocket and the entire Sylvadian moon landing mission. Which is why when Professor Calculus got amnesia, the entire project was put into jeopardy.
Averted with the Super-Skrull from Fantastic Four. He was created from a process the Skrulls used to mimic super powers, placing the combined powers of the FF into one warrior. They used the process again over the years, eventually creating an entire army of them in Secret Invasion.
It didn't work out too well for them with Deadpool, though.
An aversion was what lead to the creation of the super hero Steel: Dr. John Henry Irons had devised a high-powered gun, nicknamed the "Toastmaster", but had hidden away the plans when he realized they'd be too powerful. It's assumed that a fellow scientist found the plans, produced the weapons and sold them to other groups. When these guns got to Metropolis' gangs in the wake of The Death of Superman, Irons decided it was time to break those guns once and for all.
At least in one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continuity the "ooze" which mutated the turtles and Splinter was described as a chemical compound which was exposed to radiation and thus randomly altered, and therefore it was impossible to replicate it at will. Of course, radiation should alter it only one atom or molecule at a time rather than causing a consistent change throughout a batch of liquid. If radiation did cause such a consistent change, there is no reason the same chemical exposed to same kind of radiation at another time would not change the same way.
The second film makes it more clear by say the compound was mixture of unknown chemicals, making it fully impossible to replicate.
Initially averted, and ultimately invoked with X-23. As shown in Innocence Lost, X-23 is the prototype, and once she is successfully created essentially is also the plans since the Facility can (and does, as is discovered near the end) use her genetic material to create additional clones (which would also serve as a backup). The entirety of the last act is Sarah setting X loose with specific orders to destroy her unborn "sisters," and all equipment and research associated with the project to prevent the Facility from recreating her.
Subverted in Limitless where the main character gets his supply of the drug from a person who gets killed off pretty quickly, but he eventually gets labs up and running that not only make it, but work out the kinks in the drug.
In Godzilla, Doctor Serizawa is seen burning the notes for the creation of the Oxygen Destroyer, and implicitly destroyed the prototypes as well. Of course, the knowledge still exists in his brain, and there's only one thing to be done about that.
Also subverted in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and its direct sequel. The main gun of Mechagodzilla is broken at the end of the first movie, and can't be replaced - but this is purely because the JSDF can't afford to replace a key component. The head scientist flatly states that if they can give him the enormous diamond he needs to replace, he can get the weapon working again within a day.
Averted in The Incredibles; it is explicitly shown that Syndrome put his Omnidroid through many prototypes so each new version could kill whichever superhero beat the old version.
Justified in The Rocketeer. The rocket pack in the film is the prototype, and the creator of the rocket pack is shown burning the plans in the first scene of the film. The Mentor is seen reverse-engineering said rocket pack, drawing plans for a new and improved version.
And notably, the prototype didn't work until the mechanic had made some modifications to the design.
Classic example: In the failed pilot TV movie Exo-Man from 1977, a scientist is attempting to create an ill-defined compound or alloy that will do something equally ill-defined but apparently magical with ultraviolet energy. The research process consists of the scientist and his assistants mixing up batches of stuff and testing them, over and over again. Naturally, the only sample that works is the one that gets whipped up by one of the assistants just goofing around and tossing random junk into the mix — right before he is killed by mob hitmen in the same attack that paralyzes the scientist. In perfect keeping with this trope, the scientist doesn't think to analyze the working sample to figure out what it is and reproduce it, thus achieving his original research goals. Instead he builds a suit of power armor using the few bits of the stuff he has, and goes out fighting crime in it.
Done deliberately by Batman in The Dark Knight. He creates a device that turns every cell phone in Gotham into a sonar emitter, allowing him to map the city and its inhabitants in real time. He knows this thing is too powerful to morally use on a regular basis, so he gives it to Lucius Fox with instructions to type in a password when the mission is over. Fox does so, and the whole thing promptly falls apart as Lucius performs an Unflinching Walk.
Of course Batman didn't actually personally create the device. Earlier in the film it was discussed that he had diverted lots of Wayne Enterprises money and resources into having specialists build the thing. Specialists who presumably treated it like any other project and kept appropriate notes. This is never mentioned again.
The Genesis Device featured in Star Treks II and III. One of the main scientists who built it was killed, and before his death, it was revealed that the technology used a semi-unethical shortcut that essentially robbed the results of all long-term utility by turning an instant terraforming device into a Weapon of Mass Destruction that temporarily improves its target. Starfleet didn't see fit to pursue the issue further, which isn't surprising considering how the Klingons reacted to it. Given that the Genesis Device didn't receive a proper test its viability is unknown. It was designed to be used on an existing planet/moon, not create a new planet. The science team deliberately wiped all their notes to try and keep them from being captured, and then most of the science team got killed, leaving the key part of the formula only in David Marcus' memory. Then he got killed.
In Contact, a terrorist attack destroys the first device. There are plans, but building the device was so expensive for the entire world that the prospect of building a second one (especially since it would invite yet another attack) is summarily dismissed. It is then that a second, backup device is revealed to have been built in secret. It is explained with the Crowning Moment of Awesome line:
"First rule of government spending: why build one, when you can build two, at twice the price? Only, this one can be kept secret.
At the end of the 1954 Disney adaptation of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, armed forces of the Great Powers, following bottle-messages from Ned Land, track the Nautilus to Captain Nemo's home base on the island of Vulcania. Nemo blows up his laboratory to keep his technological marvels from falling into their hands. Professor Arronax, who moments before had bemoaned the impending destruction of all that wonderful tech, remarks, "Perhaps you did mankind a service, Ned."
Flubber: Weebo is mostly an example of this, Brainard remarks on her creation as a "happy accident". There is a back-up, but it was made by Weebo and promptly hidden from the professor.
The Adventures of Ford Fairlane: Mr. Rock-N-Roll Detective, Ford Fairlane, spends much of his investigation searching for three computer disks that were stolen from antagonist Julian Grendel. This trope is initially averted, since it doesn't seem to matter whether or not Grendel had the information on the disks — he wanted them back because they were evidence of his criminal sceme. Fairlane later uses the disks to lure Grendel into a final confrontation, at which point Grendel destroys the disks by attempting to eat them. This trope is then subverted when Ford reveals that he made backup copies.
In the 1975 Disney live action movie The Strongest Man In The World, a formula for super-strength is created when several random chemicals combine. Unfortunately, the chemists think that a different (and much more well-documented) mixture is responsible for the super strength, and schedule an intramural weightlifting competition with the wrong formula on center stage. Hilarity Ensues.
In Thor, the destruction of the Bifrost seems to be regarded as permanent, even though it's a machine which a society as advanced as Asgard should logically be able to reproduce. In The Avengers, Thor does make it back, but only through the use of Dark Energy, and it's a one-way trip without the Tesseract to send him back.
The Asgardians of the movie appeared to be a fairly rigid and tradition-bound people. It's entirely possible that they have been using the same technology for so long that they've forgotten how it works.
Or simply that rebuilding it takes a long time. If building a new one requires, say, 200 years, it's functionally permanent as far as current events go.
Subverted, the Bifrost is rebuilt sometime prior to The Dark World, so clearly not lost tech.
Justified in Captain America: The First Avenger. The super soldier serum that Erskine created was too easily exploited, since it also amplifies the person's inner nature: "Good becomes great. Bad becomes worse." To prevent this from happening again as it did with the Red Skull, Erskine kept the notes all in his head to protect the serum's formula. He gets killed and the secret dies with him. The vibranium shield is also stated to be unique because all of the Unobtanium element they ever found was only just enough to make the shield.
Escape from New York. The tape with the secret of nuclear fusion. Apparently every shred of data that was involved in creating it was destroyed and everyone involved in making it either given amnesia or killed, because absolutely no attempt was made to obtain a backup copy after it was lost in New York.
This trope is the objective of the T-800 and the young John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where they have to destroy the prototypes of what would eventually become Skynet before it goes sentient.
Subverted and avoided in every way the writers could think of in Iron Man 1. The first suit and its plans are recovered and used as a basis for Stane's. Stark has two functional suits in his house, and the facilities to build a new one from scratch in five hours... Except one. If not for Pepper's leaving the original mini-Arc Reactor as a gift to Tony, Obadiah would have successfully left Tony for dead.
In a deleted scene of Iron Man 3, as Maya is dying, she transfers the Extremis data to the Stark Industries mainframe, asking Tony to delete it as soon as he can, just before the computer she is using explodes.
Atlas Shrugged has an anvilicioussubversion, where Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden discover a prototype perpetual motion machineabandoned and decayed in the gutted ruins of the Twentieth Century Motor Company, along with the plans and theoretical research that led to it. John Galt later points out that he designed it on the clock and the company had a right to it - but also, he knew he didn't have to fear anyone replicating it. No-one capable of understanding it would ever again work at the company, because civilization had ceased to value the original "perpetual motion machine" - the human mind.
This is a core part of the mythopoeia in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. A uniquely powerful or supremely beautiful piece of Art cannot be duplicated because the creation of such works seem to use up the "concept" of that item, or to require the artist to put something of their own spiritual nature into their craft that they can't just replace.
The Two Trees of Valinor, the Trees of Light, were a unique creation of the Vala Yavannah, miraculous even by angelic standards. After UngoliantŽ and Big Bad Morgoth killed them, she knew she could never again make anything like them.
The means by which the Silmarils were devised is unknown, nobody knows what they're physically made of, and their maker, FŽanor, insisted that their production was so demanding, physically, psychologically, and spiritually, that to remake them would be impossible, and would produce only flawed imitations, lacking everything that made them special. After the Two Trees are destroyed, the Silmarils really do become irreplaceable — they were created using the Trees' holy light. Then FŽanor's killed and for his crimes he's sentenced never to be reincarnated, so they're really irreplaceable.
This even applies to FŽanor himself — he was imbued with such a lifeforce that his mother could never have another child. Having children is much more physically and spiritually draining for elves than for humans, but even so FŽanor's birth was unique. His mother later died, which should be impossible for elves. And his own uniqueness is the reason he was capable of making things like Silmarils.
The Rings of Power in The Lord of the Rings are similar to the Silmarils, but their irreplaceability goes a step further. Not only are they unrepeatable works of superlative craft whose maker is dead, but destroying the One Ring also effectively destroys their other maker. Since Sauron made the One Ring to control the others, their power cannot survive its destruction, and everything that was made or maintained with their power will also fade away.
In the Temps superhero-parody books, the famous Mad Scientist Cranston did keep detailed notes of his experiments in robotics, cloning and advanced nuclear power... but because his superpower was the Placebotinum Effect, almost all of them are total nonsense.
In the Wild Cards novels, the creations of several eccentric tinkerers are irreproducible, even by their creators, because they don't actually work: the "devices" are actually just props, extensions of their Ace powers. In one case mentioned, the device contained only a schematic diagram of the circuitry it was supposed to hold, yet worked exactly as designed.
In a possible subversion, though, the android Modular Man does appear to be a completely functional robot, whose subsystems can be (and have been) broken; whether the sentience occupying that android is a completely separate individual from its creator is unclear, though.
If memory serves, Modular Man's creator ace had a superhuman gift for robotic design or something along those lines. When said creator was infected with another version of the wildcard virus he lost the brilliance. When we see Mod Man again he is in less then perfect order because the creator has lost the ability to maintain his creation.
In the universe of the Wearing the Cape novels, devices and processes created by Mad Scientist characters similarly work simply because their creator made them: they can't be reproduced, even by another Mad Scientist. In something of an aversion, it's mentioned that said characters often make money by reproducing and selling some of their own inventions.
In the book Battlefield Earth, the Psychlo race has teleportation technology and nobody else in four universes (see: Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale) has been able to develop it on their own (except for one species that the Psychlos eradicated a few thousand years ago) or reverse-engineer or figure out the equations that allow teleportation to succeed. As it turns out, the Psychlos make every single teleportation device with about fifteen booby traps that completely fry the console if it is tampered with, and the circuit board inside the console is a fake, and the mathematical books are written in base 11 math and encoded in an obscure dead language that their people do not even use anymore, and every member of their race has a secret chip in their head that makes them become violently psychotic and eventually suicidal if any non-Psychlo asks them about teleportation.
The chip is a textbook example of an Awesome but Impractical security system. One guy with a loudspeaker turns your entire army into a raving emo mess.
From the beginning, the New Republic had opted to build a larger number of smaller vessels ... rather than adopt the Imperialdesignphilosophy. [Former Chief of State] Mon Mothma had given orders to scrap rather than repair or make a museum piece of the sole [Super Star Destroyer] captured from the Empire. Consequently, [a newly detected SSD] circling N'zoth had anything in the New Republic Fleet badly outgunned.
If you go by Timothy Zahn's Outbound Flight, decades before the prequel movies Palpatine had a vision of the Yuuzhan Vong and decided a united Empire with superweapons was the best way to fight them, making the rebellion a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. Though Han in Destiny's Way pointed out that superweapons as built by the Empire were little more than colossal wastesof resources with stupid names, and Pellaeon points out to a subordinate in another book that if The Empire couldn't handle the Rebellion, what makes them think they would be that much more effective against the Vong?
Later media set in the Clone Wars period also features weapons that, while not capable of disintegrating a planet, are still significantly powerful enough to be built more than once, such as the Dark Reaper (a weapons platform that kills anyone who approaches it), the Seismic Tank (a massive floating fortress that crushes any forces beneath it) and the Malevolence (a vessel comparable in size to a Super Star Destroyer capable of destroying entire fleets by itself).
Incidentally, the Death Star itselfis actually anaversion, with this class of superweapon being the threat in twomovies, and various blueprints and "proto-concepts" floating around various EU works before being featured in Attack of the Clones. Indeed, the same trilogy that introduced the Sun Crusher also had a Death Star prototype (about 1/4th the size and Superlaser only). The Hutts even made an attempt to build something based on Death Star plans. Ultimately, the impracticality of these superweapons is the main reason why everyone doesn't have one.
In James Blish's Welcome To Mars, the protagonist built an antigravity drive in his garage, so he built a homebrew spacecraft and got himself stranded on Mars (which was a less hostile environment than we later discovered). Eventually he was rescued by a ship with another antigravity drive. Since he'd already done it, the engineers who made the second drive knew it must have been possible.
In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll deliberately destroys all notes of his experiments to prevent another man from suffering the same fate as he, and also comments that the solution as written wouldn't have worked, as it was only an impurity in the original batch that made the stuff effective.
In Wells's original The Invisible Man the hero does keep detailed notes, but after his death they are kept by his landlord who has dreams of recreating the formula for himself: but (says the author) he never will, because he is too stupid to realise that it takes learning he doesn't have. (The film of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen implies that their Invisible Man is that landlord who finally worked it out.)
In The Last Hero by Leslie Charteris, the Saint engineers the assassination of a weapons designer who had created a sort of death cloud device. However, we do not find out what happened to a prototype death cloud machine seen earlier in the novel, nor what, if anything, the Saint did with the plans for the machine.
In Xenocide, biologista Quara keeps her notes on re-engineering the descolada into a more benign form in her head so that the (near-omniscient) AI Jane can't find them — but mostly just to be a bitch.
Subverted in His Dark Materials: The Subtle Knife: Mary Malone goes to great lengths to destroy all of the existing equipment necessary to facilitate communication between humans and angels.
In Discworld, Leonard of Quirm both subverts this trope and plays it straight. He frequently creates brilliant inventions, such as coffee makers, helicopters, bicycles, guns gonnes, submarines, and nuclear bombs, complete with detailed diagrams and a list of parts. He goes into such detail because they're supposed to be "mental exercises," and omitting the details would be cheating. Fortunately, he is kept under lock and key by Lord Vetinari, who recognizes the dangerous potential of his inventions and keeps them away from the populace.
The Gonne deserves special mention — the self-aware prototype invoked this trope because it didn't want to be reproduced.
In fact, Leonard designed his prison himself and is shown in Jingo to be more or less free to come and go as he pleases. His hideously destructive designs are intended for constructive purposes (mining, hunting dangerous animals) and he's always immensely disappointed that people want to use them otherwise and is grateful to Vetinari for the opportunity to be sequestered in a light, airy space with plenty of paper and modeling material.
The fact that he leaves gratuitous plans around means that this is actually a subversion.
In the Repairman Jack novel, a group of pharmacists produce a drug from the monster the Rakoshi. However, due to the mystical aspect of the Rakoshi, the substance turns inert after roughly one month. Moreover, all records of the chemical structure of the substance, whether on computer or hard copy form, would change to match the inert form. Therefore, once Repairman Jack engineers the deaths of the pharamcists, all records of the substance literally disappear. (Somewhat of an unusual example, since this story explicitly involved mystical forces.)
Subverted in Isaac Asimov's short story The Dead Past. At the end of the story, the creator of a machine for seeing into the past is convinced by a government agent that it will end society as we know it, and agrees to destroy it... and then his research assistant confesses that he's already published details of how to make the thing in several scientific journals.
Doubly subverted because the existing technology is kept under close government control, and the creator mentioned actually tries to recreate it with the little information that is publicly available — and makes it better than the original version. The fact that it doesn't even work for his intended purposes, looking into "The Dead Past" of Carthago, is the reason why the technology is under wraps. It only allows one to take a peek at any place in the recent past, about a generation ago — or... (if you still don't get it, read the story or the entry in the Other Wiki)
Another Asimov story involved a robot designed to operate a mining laser getting lost and being found by an ordinary man. The robot then builds a mining laser out of various junk found in the man's toolshed. The only named part is a flashlight. When the robot turns on the laser, he takes out a nearby mountain. The human orders the robot to destroy the machine and then to forget everything. When the owners of the robot find it, they are outraged — the robot had somehow managed to build a laser strong enough to take out a mountain that was powered by a pair of flashlight batteries, and with the robot having followed the order, they couldn't reconstruct it.
And another Asimov story, "Light Verse" involved a roboticist who was trying to find a method to make beautiful light sculptures. He received an invite to a famous sculpture artist's party. On the way in, he notices and repairs a robot who only seemed to function as a coat rack. The artist is furious because that robot created the sculptures, and she murders the roboticist. He is said to have welcomed death when he find he missed his chance by repairing rather than studying the robot.
In "The Dying Night", a man who invented a teleporter dies of a heart attack. The device, being a prototype, has burned out after a single test, and another man destroyed his notes, with the film upon which he copied them ending up sunburned. Ultimately subverted, however, when the investigator points out that the person's brain can be probed for the image of the notes.
The Heechee technology in Frederik Pohl's Heechee Saga novels, especially Gateway. They are alien artifacts and technology, of there is no documentation nor manuals, and of which is only known that they work. Attempting to use them is insanely dangerous gamble, and attempts to reverse engineer them lead only in explosion.
Divide and Conquer, one of many G.I. Joe novels (yes, they exist), subverts this. Lots of trouble ensues because Cobra was just as happy to have the huge bulky disintegration ray as they were to have the small portable version. Things went blooey just as well with either one. There was almost a mutiny when one of the Cobra lieutenants guarding the device decides he wants to rule everything and will zap those who disagree.
Subverted in the Helen McCloy novel The Imposter. The plot involves an attempt to fashion a laser with greater power and capability. At one point, the heroine points out that scientific research normally operates as a cooperative effort. The person speaking to her acknowledges this, but notes that for the purpose of secrecy, only five people worked on the laser project, so their elimination kept it secret. When someone later points out that destroying the prototype laser would do no good, since someone will inevitably follow the chain of research and stumble upon the way to make it anyway ("Because other researchers will discover it again at any moment? Why do you think Darwin and Wallace discovered evolution at the same time?"), the heroine responds that even the delay that destroying the prototype could produce might prove useful ("...a cipher can't hide a military secret forever, but it can delay discovery long enough to change the course of history").
Subverted in the Dale Brown novels. After Patrick McLanahan makes off with the Soviet Fisikous-170 stealth plane in Night of the Hawk, we learn in the later book Warrior Class that the Russians held onto the technology and used it to build a second plane, the Fisikous/Metyor-179.
Older than Television: Played straight, to a Fridge Logic degree, in H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. Once Cavor's been lost on the Moon and his planet-hopping sphere's likewise lost in space, the secret to making the gravity-blocking metal Cavorite is lost forever until, as Cavor says, someone else rediscovers it entirely by accident. This is in spite of Cavor working for years on it, in spite of the extensive blueprints and notes that are mentioned, despite his plans to submit his research to a scientific journal, and in spite of the heroes having left for the Moon with Cavor's research lab intact.
Played quite straight in Lois McMaster Bujold's novel Cetaganda, in which the eponymous planet's rulers keep their genetic records (necessary to continue "improving" the race) in one facility with exactly one key to unlock the genome. No backup records. No backup key. The protagonist, offworlder Miles Vorkosigan, learns this secret and bursts out, "Are you people insane?"
This was sort-of justified in that the Cetagandans reasoned that if they only have one facility with one key, then they only have to guard one facility with one key. They actually got away with it until, ironically, an attempt to create backups provided an opening for someone to steal the key.
Robert A. Heinlein liked to play with this one. In general he averted this trope, because he was pretty damn hard on the Mohs scale of hardness, so his scientists (typically Genius Ditz eggheads) realistically kept detailed notes and communicated with each other, but sometimes...
Methuselah's Children: The long-lived Howard families have ended their masquerade and the short-lived rest of humanity is upset. They refuse to believe that the Howards are the result of a selective breeding program and they demand the non-existent secret. The families steal a space ship and flee to the stars. Not finding any suitable habitats, they decide to return to Earth and demand their homes back, only to discover that humanity has spent the intervening decades discovering the secret the Howards did, in fact, have. Unfortunately, the Howard scientists hadn't taken it far enough and discarded it as an unworkable technique.
In order to justify some of his later, softer technologies, Heinlein came up with the phlebotinum of Shipstones, basically awesome batteries that recharge themselves using cosmic radiation, invented by a guy named Shipstone. There are plans, there was a prototype, and there aren't just back-ups, they're produced on an assembly line! However, the process for how they're made is a closely guarded secret so that the inventor can maintain a monopoly, and somehow no one can reverse engineer them.
Completely averted again in Sixth Column: the scientist who created the initial radiation-emitting device of the heroes was killed by it in a test run before the start of the book, but the prototype and the notes remained, and the scientists who survived the test used the notes to make a directed version (essentially a beam gun) before they started developing variants.
Subverted in Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine. The eponymous time machine doesn't have any blueprints, but the main character who built does remember how it was made and quickly makes up a copy. Unfortunately, it doesn't work (or, at least, it doesn't act as a time machine. It simply works as a photon source which the original machine was supposed to be). Once the character arrives sixteen years in the future, and his professor published all his notes and has received the Nobel Prize in Physics, there are over a thousand copies of the machine in existence... which all also don't work.
Averted in Animorphs with the Anti-Morphing Ray. The kids realize, early on, that simply destroying the device won't be enough — the Yeerks will only build another one. They decide, instead, to first convince them that it doesn't work and that the project should be abandoned, and then "accidentally" destroy it for good measure. It doesn't go exactly the way they planned it would. Because it's Animorphs.
Darwath is your standard Dark Age/Medieval world, and so far as we know from the few glimpses we get, was much the same when it was first attacked by Lovecraftian Monsters From The Deeps. Then the King called together the greatest mages and they created the Keep of Dare — a multi-storey arcology of fused stone with artificial light, piped water, air conditioning and hydroponics gardens, where all the survivors of the first attacks could live in safety till the monsters went back underground. Whereupon everyone emerged... and went back to the same primitive level of technology as before, and left the Keep forgotten for the next three thousand years till the monsters return and they suddenly realise they need it again. Granted, there was a religious pogrom against wizards and all their works, but the idea that in all the subsequent millenia no rebel thinker ever bothered to explore the place and think 'Hey, I could use that trick,' carries Medieval Stasis to absurdity.
Averted in the Known Space detective story "ARM". A key plot element is an experimental machine that accelerates time in a localized bubble. The detective realizes that since the machine they see is all smoothly-built, with a nice plastic casing and no loose wires, there must have been a version 0.9 that worked pretty much as well but wasn't so nicely put-together (and which was stolen from the lab after the murder).
Subverted in He, She and It. An experimental robot decides that its kind shouldn't exist, so it kills its creator and destroys his lab, and then blows up itself. However, another character later realizes that she has backup copies of the plans on her computer, and could probably figure out how to build it again if she wanted to.
Averted in When Worlds Collide; the builders of The Ark build several test vehicles to try out their atomic engines, and when they complete the first ship early, they immediately start work on a second, larger one for the rest of the construction team. In addition, other countries are building their own ships.
Septimus Heap: The Glasses for time-travelling were built without any backups, and the plans were destroyed to prevent replication. This not only caused the first prototypes to malfunction, it also prevented the repair of the main Glass.
This is the case with the Whisperer in the The Mysterious Benedict Society books. Mr. Curtain has gone to great pains to protect it and it would take a long time to rebuild it if it were destroyed.
The Frontier Magic series has an interesting variation: The creators of the Great Barrier Spell left behind plenty of documentation on their legendary spell, but since Benjamin Franklin was self-educated and Thomas Jefferson had an unfortunate tendency to assume that everyone else was as well read as him, their notes are so idiosyncratic that nobody else can understand them.
In the Dune prequels, a Richese scientist invents the no-field and builds the Baron his personal no-chamber and a small no-ship. Giddy, Rabban kills the scientist. However, no one bothers to have him teach someone how to build more of these. So when Rabban stupidly ends up getting the no-ship destroyed, the Baron berates him for eliminating the scientist. It later turns out that there are plans back on the research space station orbiting Richese, and a number of his colleagues discover them and try to recreate the technology. The station is blown up by the Sardaukar on The Emperor's orders as punishment for the Richese stockpiling spice. Thanks to some Applied Phlebotinum on the station, the nuclear explosion ends up blinding half the population of the planet below. It's not until thousands of years later that the technology is rediscovered (possibly independently, although the Bene Gesserit are known to have studied the crashed no-ship before burning it). The technology is further improved to make it immune to Psychic Powers (this was a big flaw of the original no-ship, as the Bene Gesserit saw right through the cloak).
Live Action TV
Subverted in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sarah finds that an intern from Cyberdyne has built a super intelligent chess computer (presumably using the knowledge that Cyberdyne gained from examining the terminator's chip) that could be a precursor of Skynet. She burns down his house, destroying the computer. Then a few episodes later, it turns out that he spent every day since then programming another one. He even thinks it was a good thing the original was destroyed, as when building a new one from ground up he could make it better.
It's implied that at this point that sentient AI is the logical next step in computer technology — there's no realistic way to prevent it, because even if they kill the person who came up with idea, someone else is bound to make the same advance.
Subverted in Stargate SG-1: when the first Ori supergate was destroyed, they just secretly built another one a few episodes later. When the good guys' prototype starship is blown up, they roll out the finished production model — and several duplicates not long after. About the only things that fall victim to this trope are the good guys' attempts at higher technology than they can maintainthe plot allows and the bad guys' unique weapons — Apophis's special mother ship, or Anubis's superweapon.
Anubis' superweapon is justified: it was powered by six powerful artifacts that SG-1 destroyed, and attempts to use an alternate power source both failed and were thwarted (failed on the first attempt, and subsequent attempts to refine it were prevented). The superweapon was then destroyed, and Anubis had to build another flagship without the superweapon.
One notable incident in Stargate Atlantis is the Ancients' attempt to extract zero-point energy from their own universe, in comparison to ZPM power which extracts said energy from a much smaller pocket universe. The problem was that doing so created exotic particles which inevitably caused the energy extraction to spiral out of control, creating deadly radiation and ultimately resulting in explosive failure. This one project and its offshoots become a recurring plot device.
When McKay first discovers the facility, his attempts to complete the project fail, and take out most of a solar system. He's chided for letting his ego convince him that he could solve a problem the Ancients could not. Didn't stop him, though.
The process is duplicated on Atlantis in the next season, this time using a matter bridge to extract power from an alternate universe instead of their own to get around the instability. It technically worked, but that universe complained about their near-annihilation and it was shelved.
An alternate universe Sam Carter further refined the technique to grab power from multiple universes, minimizing the damage to any one, but that too failed when the main universe Sam Carter's phasing experiment interacted with it, zapping her over to that universe and killing the alternate Carter in the process.
In a Busman's Holiday episode in season 5, McKay spends some time on Earth and is invited to a presentation by his old nemesis — who has gotten his hands on the secret paper Rodney wrote about the matter bridge project. He figured out that using it as a massive heat sink would avoid the exotic particle problem. While he did avoid that problem, the instability of the matter bridge, coupled with the fact that they couldn't turned it off, threatened to drain all the heat from the planet, and McKay has to save the day.
Happens too many times to count in every series of every incarnation of Star Trek.
The Klingon Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The prototype is destroyed, and apparently all the notes and engineers responsible for creating it must have been on board, because it isn't until Star Trek: Nemesis that the Remans finally manage to recreate that ability (and further improve on the design).
In the same film, a plasma-seeking torpedo is used to track the cloaked ship, destroying it. This technique is never repeated. It's a wonder Federation scientists never thought of this before or after that moment. This might be justified by advancing technology, though; such a fatal weakness would be corrected with all haste upon discovery. The ship was also outdated by Klingon standards. Furthermore, the novelization suggests that its ability to fire while cloak compromised its ability to conceal its exhaust gasses the way ordinary cloaked vessels do, hence why the torpedo was a viable option.
Interestingly, like the example of the Scimitar, the MMO Star Trek Online brings them back as features for the more advanced ships (re: ones you gotta pay for)
On the other hand, DS9 completely averts with the Defiant. She started out as a prototype for a pure warship to deal with the Borg threat, but had numerous problems and work on the project was suspended. Then the Dominion turned up, and Starfleet restarted work, made her a functional warship, sent the now-fixed prototype to the front lines, and began building more. There are enough in service by the time that the Dominion War breaks out that one, USS Valiant, is used as a training ship for cadets (though said ship was no better than an off-the-shelf Defiant in terms of performance, possessing numerous flaws which O'Brian had long since corrected).
Also on DS9, the Cardassian Obsidian Order develops a device that is designed to prevent a changeling from changing its molecular structure, trapping it in its current form until it crumbles apart. It is small enough to be placed anywhere, and works. It is never seen again after its debut, "The Die Is Cast." Justified, as the design shown is a prototype that was likely destroyed when the ship it was on was, and one of the Romulans involved around the time of its first test was a Founder.
Averted in the case of Lieutenant Commander Data, who was preceded by numerous prototypes, which included his "brother" Lore. However, with the passing of his creator Dr. Soong, no one is quite able to construct Soong-type androids. Even Data himself can't quite get it right, though he came remarkably close by building a viable "daughter". She eventually broke down, but the fact that she ran as long as she did is a far sight better than Starfleet ever managed. Judging by the fact that Starfleet at one point attempts to acquire (or, to put it less charitably, enslave) Data for the purpose of backwards engineering him, one assumes that Dr. Soong left behind no plans or blueprints, since otherwise Starfleet could have just undergone construction of androids based on any such plans.
This is not necessarily Soong's fault. The planet where he built Data and Lore was laid waste, and presumably his notes went with it. And even then, he was able to make a perfect replica of his wife.
Also averted with the Scimitar in the Star Trek Expanded Universe, where the Remans are shown using other Scimitar-class warbirds (they're weaker though). It is unlikely that each of them features a thalaron weapon (as the lead ship was essentially built around it), making the original a Super Prototype. It may seem strange that the Romulans would allow the Remans to keep building warships that can be used against them, but in Star Trek Online, a large group of Remans have defected from the Romulan Empire.
In Star Trek: Enterprise, during the Xindi arc, over 19 XB of information relating to the Spheres and Anomalies in the Delphic Expanse, gets wiped when a group of religious extremists who worship the Spheres seize control the ship. Presumably the writers realised how stupid it was that in the 22nd century, humans still don't remember to backup hard-drives containing apocalypse averting information, as the the subsequent episode has T'Pol and Hoshi mention having to recover the data from a redundant memory core.
Furthermore, the Xindi arc itself was kicked off when the Xindi Weapon was launched prematurely by the impatient Xindi-Reptilians and Xindi-Insectoids, despite still being in the prototype stage. As later shown, numerous other test versions exist and are still going through extensive weapon tests, meant to iron the kinks out for the final version of the weapon.
Airwolf has plans — inside the helicopter. The prototype got nicked by The Evil Dr. Moffett and then retrieved by Stringfellow Hawke, who didn't return it.
At least one episodes features another invocation of this trope with a helicopter claimed to be even more dangerous than the Airwolf. Naturally, after Hawke destroys each one, no further attempts to build them are shown.
Somewhat averted in Firefly, where the Academy that created River is implied to have other test subjects just like her, but that the reason River is being pursued so intently is both because she was the most powerful psychic they had ever produced and that she is believed to know nearly every important military and diplomatic secret the Alliance possesses. The Movie shows that they're not wrong.
Played straight in the newer The Invisible Man show from the Sci-Fi Channel: the only one who could remove the Quicksilver gland from Darien's head successfully was Darien's dead brother. (The series Big Bad Arnaud could as well, but he wouldn't because, you know, evil.)
Factors in big time in the last season of the new Battlestar Galactica: The Cylons have had forty odd years of using resurrection tech, and are shown as having multiple Resurrection Ships for their Basestars. But apparently, they never thought to even keep plans around for the Resurrection Hub — without which, every Resurrection Ship becomes useless. (And guess what the Leobens, Boomers, and Sixes do after they rebel from the other Cylons? That's right — they blow up the Hub.)
Later, it's revealed that Cavil and the others can't reproduce resurrection technology because they never knew how it worked — it was always a Black Box to them, and only the Final Five had the knowledge to recreate it. Their original equipment is still on the Colony, but the Cavils can't figure it out. Each of the Five had exclusive knowledge of one part of the system, which means all five have to be together to recreate it. Which still seems a bit odd, unless the Five kept it that way on purpose.
The memory of anyone who has been Downloaded can be accessed by another Cylon (see: the Number Eight that had accessed Athena's memory). The Final Five can also download (see: Ellen Tigh). There is no reason why Cavil wouldn't have figured it out before the Cylon War, and before he re-inserted the Five to teach them a lesson.
There's also the occasional sign that Ranger technology is being copied and reproduced, usually to explain how these new guys with no known connections to the old ones got their hands on morphers. (Lightspeed Rescue and Operation Overdrive each appeared to develop theirs independently after observing previous Rangers, while some think the Jungle Fury mentor's vague explanation implies he got his off the black market.) Time Force also has a running subplot about a company studying Ranger technology in order to reverse-engineer it.
Played with and eventually averted in The Outer Limits episode "Final Exam". A high school genius suddenly realizes how to make a cold fusion bomb, builds one and tries to force the government to kill his enemies in exchange for not destroying the city. He eventually admits that he's secretly terrified and suicidal, because if he realized how easy it is to build one, then others will likewise discover the answer and civilization is doomed. Just before he dies, the police negotiator asks him what made him realize it, how can they stop others from finding out and doing the same thing, and the boy only has time to say that it's simply a matter of asking the right question. As the episode ends, the scene cuts away to another classroom where a science exam asks the essay question "demonstrate why cold fusion is impossible" ...and a disgruntled boy who's intently pondering it gets a look of sudden realization, and then an evil smile, on his face.
A later episode, mostly a Clip Show, has a time traveler recreating the technology and threatening the US government against lifting the anti-technology ban, as he claims that advanced technology will doom humanity. His opponent is another time traveler who claims that humanity is doomed without advanced technology. When the government decides to lift the ban, they send the first time traveler into the past, but he leaves his bomb behind and blows up Washington.
The Cheers episode "Young Dr. Weinstein" ends Woody's subplot this way. He obsessively tries to concoct a new beverage to get into the Bartending Hall Of Fame, only to find out that several of his attempts already exist. He finally comes up with something new, unique, and tasty, but can't remember what he put into it.
Subverted in Weird Science TV in the episode "Fatal Lisa". Lisa, under a spell to love Wyatt, deletes her own files to show that she's in love with him. The teens try to stop her but it's too late. She disappears and her files are gone. Then Wyatt points out he has backups.
However, played straight on "Lisa's Virus" a while later. She gets a computer virus and restoring backups is not even mentioned.
''The Ghost Busters'' had the Ghost Dematerializer mkI. It was the only one they carried or even had. It's implied that Tracy (the gorilla) built it, but made it up as he went along, without plans or notes of any kind. Neither Spenser nor Kong is quite sure how it works...
Kamelion, the Fifth Doctor's "appliance" companion from "The King's Demons" to "Planet of Fire." Long story short, Kamelion really was a robot as opposed to a man in a suit, and only his (real life) designer/programmer knew how to operate him. Unfortunately, that man died without leaving his notes.
Chuck: The Intersect, the joint CIA/NSA supercomputer that is able to implant knowledge and training into agents' brains was only built once, and efforts to rebuild it are extraordinarily difficult. Averted in later seasons as apparently they started taking better notes, Intersects start cropping up more often and are more easily built.
The Machine from Person of Interest was designed this way deliberately. Finch deliberately left behind no documentation or prototypes when he delivered it, and encrypted the software so that nobody can try to reverse engineer it. With his partner dead, Finch is the only person with the slightest idea how the thing works (The audience is occasionally informed of various places it gets data from, but not how it compiles the information), and since the government may not even know he exists, there's no way they could make another Machine if something happens to the original.
Averted in Frasier; when Fraiser inadvertantly destroys Martin's beloved chair, he improvises blueprints from numerous photographs and tracks down the original manufacturer of the fabric (with the only hiccup being getting them to admit they made it), and then has the whole thing assembled by a master craftsman, ironically making it the most expensive item in his apartment.
Jean Michel Jarre's album Music for Supermarkets. Recorded for a one-off art exhibition in 1983, the sole copy was auctioned off for charity and the master tapes deliberately destroyed. Subverted somewhat with a few of the tracks being reworked in the albums Zoolook and Rendezvous.
The Opstrukcija song "Odam". The only MP3 copy of the full version was on an old version of Karter's Geocities site, now only one minute of the music video exists.
In the GURPS IST superhero setting, the technology for the "power cells" used in most sci-fi style gizmos is a monopoly held by a single company since 1950; the UN likewise maintains a monopoly on fusion power started in the 80s. Neither of these technologies has been duplicated or reverse-engineered even semi-successfully, and it is implied they simply cannot be (despite the existence of several comic-book-style Professors, Techno Wizards, and Mad Scientists.) Word of God, however, has said that the fusion monopoly was finally broken in 1996.
Likewise, the creations of the "Rube Goldberg Scientist" class of heroes in the GodlikeTabletop Games are nothing more than a collection of convenient parts that serve to focus powers — in fact, they cease functioning when removed from their creators' sphere of awareness.
In Warhammer the most awe inspiring weapon that The Empire has is the Steam Tank, the brain child of Leonardo of Miragliano. He built twelve and then apparently threw away all his plans. The engineers of The Empire can repair them but they can't build new ones and they have lost four forever.
This varies by source, sometimes the above is true, sometimes they are Super Prototype versions of the more common form, and sometimes they are known technology but just really expensive to build.
Warhammer40000 actually inverts this as plans, prototypes and backups — the Holy Grail!— are all that's left of technology from the Imperium's Golden Age. Individual examples of devices or STCs may play the trope straight before the Techpriests get their hands on them, however.
In the Battletech tabletop game, the open warfare of the Succession Wars was so destructive, with so many factories, shipyards, and research facilities targeted that many of the most advanced technologies were lost for centuries before a Star League Memory Core (basically a supercomputer database) was accidentally discovered.
There were two other big reasons for the loss of technology during the Succession Wars: first was that the Terran Hegemony had been the most technologically advanced state and aggressively guarded its superiority to control the other states in the Inner Sphere. Between the massive destruction caused by the war when the Hegemony's ruler was assassinated and the subsequent destruction after the Succession Wars broke out in the wake of the Hegemony's collapse, many research and construction facilities that built the most high tech equipment were destroyed. Second, the quasi-religious organization Comstar had for centuries the practice of carrying out false flag operations to assassinate scientists and destroy research facilities (and provoke more wars) as a means of hastening the Inner Sphere's collapse into barbarism.
In the Paragons setting for Mutants & Masterminds, ACME Tech is this—superscience devices that only work because the Paranormal using them believes it does. How much this comes into play is determined by the sort of game the Game Master wants to run, which allows for a justification for this trope.
The board game Time Agent ends when time travelers prevent time travel from ever being invented. The players add up the score reflecting the relative strength of the civilizations after the new history that always existed...
Subverted in Metal Gear Solid. At the end of the game, Solid Snake destroys the prototype nuclear-armed Humongous Mecha Metal Gear REX. Just a few minutes into the sequel, it is revealed that the plans for REX were sold on the black market, and consequently, numerous countries are working on or have already completed their own sui generis versions, leading to the creation of the anti-Metal Gear weapon Metal Gear RAY.
It also helps that REX was in itself already a knock-off of Metal Gear Mk. 1 and Metal Gear D from the first two MSX Metal Gear games.
And in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the first time we see Sokolov, he actually is burning the production notes to the Shagohod, explaining why nobody tried building another.
Interesting one; Another Code's "Another I" unit was actually the prototype of Another II — of course this was only revealed in the second game. Whilst it technically isn't considered a weapon (because it wasn't intended as one) there are some very bad people out there who would like to use this as one. Despite them being untested and in development, the first time they're used, they work perfectly.
In the first Metal Slug, we have the Tani-Oh, a gargatuan land master and boss of mission 3. According the additional info provided by SNK, the Tani-Oh was actually a prototype that was being tested in the mountain range. The tank was subsequently destroyed by the peregrine FALCONS before it could be mass produced. Note this does not apply to other creations of the Rebel Army: The Iron Nokana, a rusty armored carrier and boss of Mission 6, has appeared a few other times in the series.
Nemesis from the title that bears his name is the only one of his kind. Umbrella never bothered to make more copies of him, despite the entirety of the game proving that the Stupid EvilMega Corp. obviously had a winner on their hands with him; he's stronger, smarter and faster than the Tyrants Umbrella did decide to mass-produce, and the only thing that could finally, definitively kill him was a nuclear missile strike.
The Metroid series always involves lead character Samus collecting items for her Power Suit. She is able to equip a wide variety of Chozo artifacts, including the Power Ball, the Screw Attack, and various armor upgrades (including the Varia and Gravity suits). Despite the fact that she has collected these items multiple time over in the course of the game series, and has interacted with Federation scientists and soldiers (see Metroid Prime 3 and Metroid Fusion), no one has been able to replicate her upgrades for use successfully with their soldiers. The Space Pirate race has (according to logs found in Prime) tried to back-engineer the Morph Ball, but those experiments killed many of the subjects on which the prototypes were tested. As of now, the Chozo artifacts are still only compatible with Samus' suit.
Still, the Space Pirates did, in fact, manage to reverse-engineer Samus's various beam weapons, and her Thermal Visor seems to be a Pirate creation. It seems that the Pirates probably had the wrong idea of how Samus goes into her Morph Ball.
On the other hand, there is at least one "backup" to the technology, albeit one that borders on the mystical. When her original was destroyed during a crash landing near the end of Zero Mission, she was able to find a new and improved one at the Chozo ruins of her childhood.
Later entries in the series tried to explain this away by stating that Samus' Power Suit is a specially modified version of a Chozo Battlesuit, linked to her unique biology (part Human, part Chozo) and made of refined Unobtanium, since the creators (the Chozo) were a technologically super-advanced race who up and disappeared less than twenty years ago (when they were still super-advanced compared to everyone else). Also, the Galactic Federation has been able to design weapons based on Samus' suit, including upgrades for her suit, most notably the Diffusion Missile technology from Metroid Fusion.
The Metroid series in general is very good about this. The Chozo seem to have backups everywhere, but in a way that only they can use them. Despite this, the Pirates and Federation have at least attempted to recreate them. The Pirates ended up with weaker beams immediately, and the Federation got some really good missile systems after a few years. Everyone has a Chozo door system, however. On their own, the Pirates have been able to recreate everything they've stolen, and the Federation keeps backups of Metroid DNA and whatever else was on BSL (they probably have more).
During the Prime series of games, you frequently attack Space Pirate bases conducting research into Phazon-enhanced supersoldiers. The bases are filled with failed or developing experiments and computer records. Destroying not only the successful experiments, but the entire bases and research team merely sets back the research, and other stations find new applications for Phazon to try and kill you with.
In Metroid Prime Hunters, Sylux had a power suit that was stolen from the galactic federation that allowed him to transform into its second from, Lockjaw, which used a compression technology similar to the morph ball. The same could be said for the other hunters, but the secondary forms of the rest are all part of their biology, save for Weavel who splits himself in two. Sylux's prototype suit would indicate that the Galactic Federation has been doing some research into morph ball technology as well.
Also in Super Metroid there is a "blue Samus," he was a GF marine but died, so apparently the Chozo suit was recreated but was a inferior copy.
Averted in All Things Devours. You have to destroy a prototype for a device you created, before the people who took over the lab end up running an experiment that will end disastrously. This would be quite straightforward — except that you soon discover your notes are no longer in the same room as the device, and if you don't deal with them as well, they can just build another one.
Completely averted in Crysis. The Nano-suits are not unique and pirate/knockoff copies exist.
And the North Koreans decided to make it a fashion statement with it as they brag about their new toy.
In Time Shift the time-altering beta-suit the player is wearing is the second, improved version, with the old alpha-suit being in the baddie's hands. (He didn't grab the Beta version because that version had Anti-Paradox protection. The Alpha version does NOT. So, the Alpha version could be used to change the past!) Additionally, it turns out the technology has been used in cyborg soldiers who can activate the same time extension power you have, and super-advanced soldiers who can use time freeze to teleport around (but not shoot you, strangely enough).
Justified in Final Fantasy X-2. The technologically-advanced Bevelle was able to construct a prototype superweapon supposedly capable of taking down Zanarkand's Sin... but the weapon, Vegnagun, went sentient and became unable to recognize friend from foe. Instead of risking annihilating themselves by activating it, the leaders of Bevelle sealed it away deep within the city, and the Church of Yevon became its keeper. Naturally, no other attempts were made, especially as the Church of Yevon needs Sin, and wouldn't want to create something capable of destroying it. He was an Anticlimax Boss though, and it's questionable whether it was a good enough prototype to defeat Sin.
In MDK 2 Kurt Hectic is brought back from captivity without his Coil Suit. As he returns, he says to Doctor Hawkins "They've got the suit. We're all doomed. Can I go now?". The Doctor laughs and shows Kurt that he made many more Coil Suits and that losing it wouldn't be a problem at all. Kurt then loses his hope of not having to fight aliens yet again.
Subverted in Skies of Arcadia, with the Moonstone Cannon. Not only is a prototype version seen and actually used against the heroes, but when they steal the ship bearing the completed version, it is explained that it is the first unit of a line of ships, fresh off the shipyards — the rest don't show up because they weren't constructed in time, given the timescale involved. Finally, the Hydra sky fortress is one of a kind due to the fact that the sheer expense involved in constructing it made it utterly economically unfeasible — but the Big Bad had one made all the same, out of his own pocket.
The Moonstone cannon also put a good size dent in the Empire's budget, so much so that they could not afford to build any more.
Front Mission 3 plays this trope worryingly straight, as the MIDAS weapon (think "nuclear bomb without the nuclear") is stolen tech. The technology was originally intended as an energy source, but when it was discovered that it could be used as a weapon, numerous countries jumped at the chance to obtain or recreate it. Just the weapon, no notes. The main characters are witnesses to a failed reproduction of it (which works), and are on the run from the military as a result. There are only two people in the world who know how to recreate it, and one of the two ends up in your party depending on which one's storyline you choose. The main villain of the game is less than pleased that neither will share their knowledge, so in one storyline he obtains the knowledge by coercing one of them. The other storyline, he Mind Rapes the other by forcibly extracting the knowledge from her and leaving her as little more than an Empty Shell as a result.
Appropriately played straight and then subverted in Fallout and Fallout 2. Being After the End, high-tech gear like powered armor is rare and largely irreplaceable, and must be maintained vigilantly. Then the Enclave show up, having survived the apocalypse with all their technological data and manufacturing facilities intact, and are actually wielding weapons and armor more advanced than the pre-war models. Lots of them.
Fallout: New Vegas fixes the power armor issue. The old-gen (Mk1) Enclave power armor (the stock variety from 2) has the best DT of any armor that made it into the final game. The Mk2 armor (from 2 & 3) has one less DT than the Mk1, by which I mean, the Mk2 armor itself has nearly the same DT as the set of Mk1 armor. The Mk2 didn't into the final game, but was still included in the game's data files.
New Vegas also makes a major point about how the need to manufacture goods is problematic more than ever as it's pointed out that most pre-war locations have been picked bone dry.
Subverted in Second Sight. After the prototype psychic super-soldiers are killed in a battle with the protagonist, John Vattic, Director Hanson coldly informs him that the unit was one of several hundred being prepared all over America. Even worse, everything that John has done in that part of the game has all been part of the testing procedure.
Additionally, a big deal is made over how Grienko (the researcher in charge of the psychic experiments) actually managed to achieve replicable results. In the flashback or rather, present day scenes, Grienko himself actually hands a huge ream of files to Vattic and talks of how they contain detailed and comprehensive notes on his methods at every stage of the process. Hanson had planned to kill Grienko AND the original test subjects, before heading back to the States and refining the processes.
In Cammy's ending in Street Fighter IV, she found the secret research for the BLECE project and promptly deletes it. Apparently S.I.N. doesn't keep back-up copies or journal entries of all their secret experimental terrorist weapons.
The super-suit of Earthworm Jim was designed by Professor Monkey-For-A-Head, originally for the villain of the series. The manual states that he could have made another one... if the damn monkey hadn't eaten the blueprints.
Subverted in the cartoon. Turns out the professor can build another suit, but since the power source literally came from the Gods, and they ain't eager to give him another one, any suit he builds would be pretty weak.
Subverted with Prototype, where this appears to be in full force with the eponymous prototype, Alex Mercer, and the Blacklight virus. In fact, the real Alex Mercer created the Blacklight virus and stole a sample, which eventually absorbed Mercer after his death. Blackwatch is fully able to replicate those conditions, but they sure as shit don't want another Mercer running around.
It's uncertain. Your blacklight virus spread a plague through the city. Your copies are vastly inferior things you can run circles around and slay by the hundreds. You are a Super Prototype . You may be unique and impossible to backup for genetic reasons
The ASE in The Conduit falls under this trope. It's a unique super-gadget that does everything from hacking computers to revealing invisible symbols, but much of the game involves the Big BadJohn Adams trying to retrieve it from the player — even though his organization developed it.
The reason why they were after it was because it's Prometheus's only way of talking to the outside world, and by the end, he uploads himself into the ASE.
Subverted in Ratchet & Clank 3 — near the end of the game, you use a handy Giant-Ass Plasma cannon to blow up the doomsday device that threatens to "Destroy" every lifeform in the universe( by which we mean turn them into robots) ... only to find out there's a second one ready to go in case of such an attack. And it's more powerful then the first.
Modified in the Civilization series: once you have the needed technology, you can start building World Wonders, but only one civilization can actually finish and benefit from it. Some, like the Manhattan Project found in all versions, subvert this in a way: if the Manhattan Project is finished, every civ (with the other requirements like Rocketry) can then build nukes.
Nod in Command & Conquer: Tiberium Dawn works under this assumption. One of two possible objectives you get for a level in the Nod campaign, Kane either sends you out to kill the head scientist of GDI's ion cannon project, or go and blow up their prototype Mammoth Tanks to keep them from being mass produced. In either case, your actions don't prevent both weapons from appearing later in the campaign.
In Tiberian Sun, you (as Anton Slavik) are against tasked with destroying the prototype Mammoth Mk.II tank. Once again, the GDI still have plans for it, although it never really reaches full production due to costs and technical issues (i.e. you can't build more than one at a time). Then, by the time of the next war, they retire the design as costly and Awesome but Impractical, going to back to good ol' treaded tanks.
Against the vehement opposition of veteran soldiers like Nick "Havoc" Parker.
Viciously subverted in Bloodrayne 2, with much of the game devoted to disabling a gigantic tower that'll unleash "the Shroud" into the atmosphere, blotting out the Sun and allowing vampires and demons to overrun the world. She finally succeeds in shutting down the tower at the last second... and discovers too late that there are hundreds more all over the world, and stopping just one of them had no effect.
Three-quarters of Singularity is spent, at the behest of one of its inventors, traveling back in time to destroy the Singularity Generator before its technology alters the world. Except this is an aversion; when you go back to the present, the villain just laughs about how nothing stopped him from rebuilding the machine.
The TMD however was made to be like this so nobody could make another one.
In Dragon Age: Origins this is played straight for much of the Dwarves' Lost Technology. When the Darkspawn attacked the lost thaigs, the Dwarves were too busy fighting, dying, and running for their lives to bring plans and backups with them. The Anvil of the Void, the key to making Golems, was the brainchild of the Paragon Smith Caridin and only he knew its secrets. This is unfortunately averted with the Harvester in Golems of Amgarrak. There are still dozens of them left.
In Caridin's case, he purposely destroyed his research after suffering a crisis of conscience, coming to realise how horrific his "masterpiece" truly was. It turns out that Golems are created by pouring molten lyrium into a shell containing a Dwarf to animate it. For his disobedience, he was sentenced to undergo the same process, as half-remembered by his apprentices.
Partly Justified in the case of your Cool Ship in Jade Empire. Kang the Mad actually the minor inventors' deity Lord Lao hates to duplicate any invention of his because that would take away its uniqueness. One Marvelous Dragonfly is a wonder and an awe, but thousands of them would not be. He's also so scatterbrained that his notes and schematics are cryptic at best.
Thoroughly averted in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. When Leonardo tasks Ezio with destroying the war machines the Borgia forced him to build, you not only have to destroy the prototype, you need to burn the blueprints too, and often there will be a backup copy of the war machine that also needs to be wrecked.
When destroying the tank (a wooden, circular steam-powered vehicle bristling with cannons), Ezio has to pilot one of the prototypes to destroy the others.
In the novelization, Leonardo tells Ezio that he deliberately introduced flaws into the designs of all these weapons, so the Borgia wouldn't be able to use them to their fullest extent. However, even his new wheel-lock guns (which are still inferior to Ezio's gun) prove to be quite effective in the hands of the Borgia.
Persistently averted throughout the Geneforge series; the plans for it always leak through the Shapers' best efforts to eliminate them. More prototypes and upgraded versions are created each chapter.
Averted and deconstructed in The Journeyman Project series. As far as the government is aware, they possess the only functional time machine in existence. They then immediatelly create a police force solely dedicated to using that time machine to prevent anyone from tampering with the past just in case anyone else ever manages to figure out how to make a time machine. In the sequel the "any technology once created can always be recreated" is used as an argument in favour of not shutting down the Time Police agency.
Completely averted in Shin Megami Tensei I. Aware of the impending demon invasion, STEVEN deliberately emails copies of the Demon Summoning Program to as many people as possible, so they would save mankind. It's just unfortunate that only one of those people survived the Great Destruction... (at least until Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, that is.)
Similarly, it's standard operating procedure in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey to copy out their own Demon Summoning Program to other teammates and crewment from other ships so that everyone has a fighting chance within the Schwarzwelt. And in the Neutral Ending, the crew of the Red Sprite actually want to make a backup of the artificial intelligence Arthur so that his Heroic Sacrifice doesn't destroy him. But Arthur himself opposes the idea, stating that his vast insight on the Schwarzwelt and the future of humanity would make him an object of worship back on Earth.
The Harald Folders are the core of TheWorld but darned if anyone knows what they actually did or how they worked. With Harald mysteriously dead in the real world, there are no notes and everything the current developers do to The World was most likely based on how subroutines are implemented in the prototype game Fragment. Attempts at analyzing the code just leave confusion and trying to surgically remove any part of the program to see what breaks brings the whole thing to a standstill.
The developers of The World:R2 knew they could never recreate Harald's genius so most of what they did was just vaguely based on the Harald Files, at least until they recovered all eight of the Phases and attempted to recreate Morganna Gone Mode.
Endless Space has this crop up in a strange way: in the distant future, we'll only be able to store 10 ship family designs. You may delete a ship blueprints to make room for new ones, but then that entire ship family cannot be built or upgraded ever again. Besides those, you can upgrade any version of a ship to the most modern if it's docked at one of your planets, meaning you can upgrade a several-hundred-year-old ship for just a little extra money than a year-old ship.
Some random events create "Advanced Defenders", ships that are powerful in the very early game but can never be upgraded, due to the same mechanic of not having blueprints for them, to the point that they're hilariously underarmored, outgunned, and slow even by the mid-game.
An unfortunate real-life example with Panzer Dragoon Saga. According to the developers, the original source code is lost, shooting down any chances for a port (meantime, the game remains the rarest and most valuable Saturn game.)
The Sparks of Girl Genius produce notes, prototypes, and sometimes backups, and appear to do their best work when supported by academic institutions and ordinary mechanics. However, Sparks' genius is such that their inventions are rarely possible to understand or reproduce for anyone not a Spark with talent in a related field, leading to a similar effect in practice.
In the Whateley Universe, this is a common problem with devisers. The device Spark made while she was furious at her boyfriend worked the one time, but doesn't seem to be reproducible. The one-shot forcefield blaster Mega-Death made and sold to Phase worked once, the second one exploded when Phase used it against a PK brick, and Mega-Death hasn't been able to get any new ones to work.
Also, Devises are shown as unpredictible, with one devise having different results each time it's used. [[spoiler: And the third shows WHY screwing with Devises is a bad idea!]
TQ-02 from Space Voyage does this with the Power Armor he made. Upon trying to reverse engineer it, He makes two ovens that make muffins.
While blueprints for several machines play important parts in Avatar: The Last Airbender — mostly as Chekhovs Guns — the trope is still played straight with the Fire Nation's mobile drill. The drill, designed to break through the outer wall of the city-state of Ba Sing Se, is apparently one of a kind; only one ever makes it to the battlefield, with no readily accessible back-up. Considering how effective it was (it only failed because the Avatar and his friends disabled it, and it got through the outer wall before they did), there's no reason they shouldn't try again. This might be justified as a matter of expenditure, given the drill was absolutely massive and probably used the equivalent resources of hundreds of tanks or other more practical war machines for a single campaign. It also had to be built in enemy territory to begin with. Azula conquered the city a few weeks later anyway, eliminating the need for it entirely).
In an episode of Justice League, Toyman makes an energy cannon that apparently disintegrates Superman before being smashed by the rest of the League (it actually sends him on a one-way journey through time). Superman does (thanks to some extraordinary, never-to-be repeated luck) reappear after a few days, but it's still odd that the Toyman didn't build another one and try again. It's commented in the show that Toyman "didn't know what he made" — but isn't knowing that it's a thing that makes Superman disappear for a few days enough? Of course, the implication is that the time machine was an accidental invention, and he can't remember how he created it (because he didn't keep notes; see above).
There's also the fact that even if Toyman could remember what he did to make it go from "Superman disintegration ray" to "Superman vanishes a few days ray", Wonder Woman very nearly crushed his head in her bare hands. So there's significant motivation (avoiding horrific death at the hands of a grieving Amazon) to not try to replicate the device.
In Xiaolin Showdown, self-proclaimed evil boy genius Jack Spicer creates a time machine that can send people into the past with no way back.
And he had to use one of the Shen Gong Wu just to have enough power to run the thing effectively.
The fact that he needed a Shen Gong Wu that he didn't posses at the time was the main reason he never built a device to forward in time. Without a supply of infinite energy he could only go back a few seconds in time and had no need of a machine to go forward.
All of Professor Nimnul's inventions on Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers fall under this category. Only once in 65 episodes was one of his inventions re-used (a shrinking/growth ray), and even then it was not being used by Nimnul.
The Shredder's spaceship in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003 series) (presumably) has plans, but no prototype nor back-up. This is justified, however, by the fact that several of its parts were salvaged from the remains of an alien invasion, and could not be replicated.
In Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, there is exactly one BGY-11, and exactly one person who can pilot the mech without accidentally destroying it. It is explained that the military lost the original blueprints, but since they can still perform maintenance on it, it does seem odd that they wouldn't build another one. And there really isn't any logical reason not to train a backup pilot.
To be fair one episode of the series reveals one of the other repair crew members is the backup pilot for the BGY-11. Due to the circumstances of the episode, he wasn't able to arrive in time to pilot it and over radio had to give a crash course to the shows Hot Scientist.
Further explained that the the US Army promised a working robot and didn't want to admit all they could build was a oversized suit of Powered Armor. Thus the reason they don't produce more.
In the episode with Po the Conqueror, it's stated that they can build another Big Guy, or at least scrounge one up from spare parts, but the lieutenant was the only person who had any idea how to pilot it. It's later shown that most people know how to get the thing moving (as when he gets dropped back in time and a British soldier managed to pilot it as "Iron Jack") but have no idea about how to regulate the power core from exploding.
Invader Zim justifies this by having the eponymous Villain Protagonist be completely insane as well as an utter moron, making it entirely plausible that he simply forgot how to make his sometimes amazing inventions, if he remembers that he built them at all.
Mojo Jojo, archenemy of The Powerpuff Girls, rarely seems to use the same device twice. Also, despite not being a villain, Professor Utonium seems to suffer from the same work ethic, even lampshading it in the episode "Bubble Boy":
Blossom: "Gee, Professor, you sure outdid yourself this time with that containment ray!" Professor Utonium: "I'll say! Once again, I have no idea what I did!"
But in Mojo's case, why would you repeat a plan that didn't work the first time. The one time he tries that with the Anubis head, it backfires even worse than just doing the exact same thing he did the first time.
Mojo does have some recurring tech, and usually whenever his armory is shown, all of the older tech still remains. This is probably used as a convenient background to show just how much heat he's packing, but is also a bit of fridge brilliance: each and every one of those robots, death rays and other tech are probably prototypes. the only reason he hasn't replicated them yet is because he's still improving them.
Titan A.E. parodies this a bit when both Cale and the audience meet Gune for the first time.
Gune: [holding up a small device] "Does this look familiar? Do you know what it is? Neither do I. I made it last night in my sleep. Apparently I used Gindrogac. Highly unstable."
Preed: "Gune..." Gune: "I put a button on it. Yes. I wish to press it, but I'm not sure what will happen if I do."
Played straight, and justified, with the Titan itself. The Drej attack was so swift that it's creator had no time to save anything else. Any data or tech related to the Titan either disappeared with the ship, or was destroyed along with Earth.
Grizzle's inventions in Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot are generally all of this type.
In an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, we see an inventor on a remote island who has invented a solar battery much more efficient than the ones already used by the Planeteers and commercially viable to boot. Unsurprisingly, because of the attempts of the villains to seize it, his lab is destroyed and he loses his memory, but he promises to start over from nothing.
A delightful aversion in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers with the Mindnet device. The finished prototype is broken into two pieces for safety reasons, but the main piece is stolen and brought to the Big Bad. The heroes use the other half of the device and Niko's psionics to track down the stolen piece. During the inevitable escape from the Queen's palace, the Queen makes off with the device...but Buzzwang shows up with another Mindnet. It looks like a mistake on the part of the animators until later episodes demonstrate that, while the heroes were captured, the Queen simply made her own backup copy.
At the beginning of Bring Me The Head of Earthworm Jim, Psy-Crow wonders why Prof. Monkey-For-A-Head, creator of Jim's supersuit, couldn't simply build another. The Professor explains that while he could, without the first suit's power source, the Battery of the Gods, another suit would be "Pretty weak."
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: Apparently, the intelligence-boosting microchip that Dr. Robotnik was researching in "Grounder the Genius" had only a one-in-a-million chance of being successfully created. Once that one was inevitably destroyed, his computer informed him that he'd be once again subject to that probability if he were to try to recreate it. Uh...
Averted in Kung Fu Panda 2 where we don't see any prototypes for Shen's firework cannon, but there are a lot of backups. Played with in regards to the heroes who thought there was only one cannon. Po even thought that the figurine was the cannon. Shen subverts it as while the cannon in the room could hit anywhere in the city, it was only a distraction to protect his foundry and he was halfway done arming a whole armada of ships with them.
In the first season of Code Lyoko, Odd accidentally finishes Jeremie's materialization program for Aelita by dropping some candy on the keyboard. Jeremie can only use it once, though, because he doesn't know what keys the candy pressed. Apparently, he can't simply copy the program and just reuse it, even though it is clearly something he can store and use whenever he wants. Yumi ends up needing to use it, and Jeremie completes the program permanently later in the season.
Averted with Franz Hopper, who made plenty of notes that he kept in crypted form in his informatic diary. Decrypting said diary is a major point of season 2. Also, the Lyoko-Warriors are very careful to not let the tech fall into wrong hands, so Hopper's supercalculator would most likely be replicable if taken by the army.
Also Averted violently with XANA in season 4, where the Lyoko-Warriors find out he has infected several computer over the world as backup to store his datas. They proceed to destroy them one after another... only to find out that he infected hundreds of them all over the world.
Dexter's Laboratory tends to have this happen with Dexter and Mandark as both geniuses will build something spectacular and once it breaks down, they dump it and build something else to replace it. It's not that they don't know how to fix it, it's that their egos demand something bigger and better to replace it.
When Richard Wagner was composing the Ring Cycle, he at one point intended for the operas to be performed three times in a purpose-built opera house. Afterward, all copies of the score and all the props were to be burned, along with the entire opera house. Obviously this did not happen. But it explainstheelaboratefinale...
Nikola Tesla's memory was phenomenal, so when he died of heart failure in 1943 most of his plans went with him. They still haven't been replicated.
He also invoked this intentionally in some of his work, such as his designs in the 1930s to build a "teleforce" weapon capable of shooting down fleets of aircraft at 200 miles. He said that his office had been ransacked during this time by persons unknown looking for notes or blueprints, but that they couldn't have gotten any because his plans had never been written down.
This story. A whole petrochemical factory of which nobody knew how it worked, why it was built that way, which processes it ran or how it was constructed.
Deliberately invoked by Stanley Kubrick. He had the sets, models, and production notes for 2001: A Space Odyssey destroyed once filming was finished, so they would not be reused for some low-budget B-Movie. When someone else decided to make 2010, they had to painstakingly go frame-by-frame to reconstruct the sets.
The way the turk looks is only shown by artists' drawings; there are no actual blueprints. The artist of Clockwork Game had to make an educated guess as to its functioning.
Fermat's Last Theorem. In 1637, he tantalizingly in his commentary for a book that he had figured out a proof for a theorem, but there was not enough space in the margin for him to explain. He never did, and left no notes about it. It took 358 years of stumped mathematicians until it was finally figured out, in 1995. (It was solved using mathematics which hadn't been developed yet during Fermat's time, leading some to speculate that Fermat may have just decided to leave something to annoy future generations)