The Pennyfarthing Effect
A true gentleman's ride of predilection.

You're partaking in an older game for any number of reasons: maybe your friends recommended it to you incessantly for years; maybe you've recently gotten interested in the series or genre it's part of and want to go back to the source; maybe you got it on a Steam sale as part of one of their gigantic all-inclusive packs. Anyhow, this is an old game.

While you can certainly see its quality, there's just something in it that's bugging you. There's a gameplay mechanic that is not only outdated, but needlessly complicated compared to the equivalent you would most likely find in a modern game. You can't help but wonder: how could anyone come up with this extremely complicated version of a simple concept, years before the simple one appeared?

For example, imagine if for decades a popular American dessert was apple and carrot pie. For decades everyone would love their mom's apple-carrot pie and nobody would even think that just apple pie would be good. Then at some point someone comes up with good ol' apple pie, and it turns out that, to everyone's delight, apple pie is much, much tastier than apple-carrot pie. The absence of carrots in apple pie would then be obvious in hindsight - it takes an extra degree of invention to put carrots in it and therefore make the pie worse.

The correct, simple way to do things is obvious in hindsight. It's not just that the old way to do things is outdated, or that a crucial gameplay development that made games much more convenient to play hadn't yet been invented, it's that somehow it seems like the old way took more effort to invent than the new way.

Another way to put it is that these are essentially Real Life examples of Schizo Tech.

Almost always a side-effect of Technology Marches On, and a frequent cause of Seinfeld Is Unfunny.

Compare Hilarious in Hindsight and Early Installment Weirdness; contrast Older Is Better, Retro Upgrade (where the old way of doing things gets a new lease on life from new developments).


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    Video Games 
  • Free mouselook in First Person Shooters. Until the late 90s, somewhere around Quake II, if your typical FPS even supported mouse input (which itself wasn't all that common until around the same time), it was likely that the mouse controlled the same thing the arrow keys did: forward and backward movement, and left/right turning. If you were really lucky, the game would let you configure it to something close to modern mouselook, but it was generally clumsy (severely limiting vertical tilt or requiring holding a button to even allow it).
    • And in a related issue, having the main left/right input control strafing instead of turning. Until mouselook became common, pressing left or right would usually turn, and two other keys would need to be pressed for strafing, or it had a key you would need to hold down to temporarily change your "turn" keys into "strafe".
    • This trope is defied with modern source ports and re-releases: it sometimes takes some configuration, but you can easily get proper mouselook on Doom, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D.
    • A related issue is with what control the right-mouse button is used for. In the early days before Secondary Fire became common, right mouse would control all sorts of odd things depending on the game - even when secondary-fire started becoming a thing, it would usually sooner be stuck on middle-mouse than right. This even still bites as you start entering the Turn of the Millennium, where right-mouse was standardized for either secondary-fire or aiming down your weapon's sights and some holdouts still insist on odd control schemes for no reason. Want to aim down your sniper rifle's scope in Max Payne or Ghost Recon? E and T key, respectively - right mouse instead enters Bullet Time or makes you sprint.
  • WASD controls, again mostly in first-person shooters. This took even longer to become commonly accepted than mouselook, and many games as late as 2000 or 2001 still used the arrow keys (or, slightly better, the numeric pad) as their default movement keys, sometimes not even giving the player the option of changing them. It's slightly baffling that it took anyone this long to realize that WASD is where your left hand naturally rests on a keyboard note , and that it puts more than a dozen other keys within easy access of the same hand without having to move it away from movement, while arrow keys only get about nine other keys within easy access.
    • This issue is probably linked to the previous one: in the days when all controls were on the keyboard, left-hand movement control was not needed.
    • For that matter, in much older games, WASD controls in general. Odd schemes like OPQA for movement (OP for left/right, QA for up/down) were used in a lot of 8-bit computer games because cursor keys tended to be inconveniently positioned and, in the case of the ZX Spectrum, Atari 8-Bit Computers, and Commodore 64, required modifier keys.
    • One way in which this still bites even in modern source ports or rereleases of old games is that inventory items still tend to be bound to using with Enter and switching with the bracket keys - relatively easy to reach from the arrow keys, but from WASD requiring you to either move one hand nearly across the entire keyboard or take your other hand off the mouse. Some games, particularly Build-engine shooters, at the very least tend to have hotkeys for inventory items, but, thanks to often sharing the first letter of the item's name (or close to it if that's already in use), they're often scattershot in placement and at distances from WASD that are inversely proportional to how useful they actually are or how often you want to be using them (R for Duke 3D's Steroids is a real quick recipe to completely waste them after coming from shooters where R is always reload).
    • Of course, if you are left-handed, WASD controls are the bane of your existence and you long for the days of arrow-key movement.
  • Speaking of first-person shooters, Marathon has no jump key. This was common in early-90s shooters, but Marathon made it especially egregious given that you need to Rocket Jump to get to many secrets (in an actual "jump" sense rather than Doom's typical "propel yourself forward with a rocket blast"), and made even worse given that one puzzle, if you can't align the platforms exactly right, actually requires rocket jumping.
  • Context-sensitive action buttons like those made famous in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Resident Evil 4 are this. Such things existed beforehand to a degree, but it was the norm to have a menu of commands to choose from or to map different actions to different buttons. Then the idea of having one dedicated button whose function changed depending on the circumstances became commonplace and you'd be hard-pressed to find a game that didn't use this when it could.
  • Extra lives have nearly gone extinct due to the ubiquity of save files on modern systems and save states on emulators of older systems. Around the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation era, many games ended up having them due purely due to their status as The Artifact and they served largely cosmetic reasons: for example, Super Mario 64 infamously would only plop you off outside the castle if you ran out of lives, meaning the difference between a lost life and a game over amounted to about 30 seconds of running through an enemy-free world to reach the level portal, and Megaman X 6 had absolutely no consequence whatsoever for running out of lives and choosing continue note . Nowadays, it's increasingly rare for games to actually have extra lives and play them completely straight, and gone are the days that running out of lives and/or continues means restarting the game from scratch.
  • Go back to some very early Real-Time Strategy games (for example, WarCraft: Orcs and Humans), and you'll be shocked to discover you can't drag a selection box around your units. At least not with just your mouse - most of the time holding the Ctrl key will let you do it (though you'll still have to deal with Warcraft 1's cripplingly limiting 4-unit groups). Clicking and dragging the mouse without holding any keys at all? Does absolutely nothing. It's just an extra button press that makes an already convoluted interface a nightmare to use for absolutely no reason at all.
  • If you played any PC game with a point-and-click interface that was made prior to them becoming commonplace (sometime around the mid-to-late 90s), and it's a game that involves being able to identify items you can interact with and differentiate them from the background, you'll be annoyed to discover that there's bound to be no hint, identification, or highlighting on the objects when you hover your cursor over them. Then, after you've played around with the game's interface for a bit and gotten used to it, you'll be even more annoyed to discover there's an alternate cursor or function that you have to manually activate in order to get feedback when you hover over usable objects. It's seemingly just there as an extra layer of obfuscation between you and playing the game, and there's absolutely no reason the game couldn't just give you that line in its interface that says "this is a needle" when you're hovering your regular interaction cursor over the haystack. Early SCUMM games like Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, plus the first two Fallout games, are made particularly unplayable because of this.
  • In the world of point-and-click adventure games (and some RPGs), older games have something like a dozen verbs you must cycle between in order to interact with objects (ex. "Talk", "Pick up", "Examine", "Use", etc.), never mind that in the vast majority of them, only one usually-obvious verb does anything interesting per object. Probably a holdover from text adventures, where the alternate verbs would have to be typed into meaningful sentences, but still rather unnecessary in graphical games. Newer games only ask you what you'd like to do with an object after you select it, and even then only if there's a good reason to have multiple things to do.
  • Players going back in the Ratchet & Clank games will find difficulty with one particular problem - quick weapon switching. You see, the first game didn't have a dedicated button for it; you had to go into the quick select menu every time you wanted to use a different gun. Even then, the quick select itself wouldn't pause the game, so it was often preferable to use the pause menu. Speaking of which, the quick select menu was rather... restricting in earlier installments due to there only being eight slots in it - far fewer than the number of guns and gadgets you would have around midgame. Starting around Up Your Arsenal, they began adding a secondary window, and the Future series added a third.
    • Strafing was only fully implemented in the second game, making the combat in the first seem much more awkward in comparison to later games. Strafing is technically possible in that game, but to do so you must:
      A. Obtain the Thruster Pack, found over halfway through the game.
      B. Keep the Thruster Pack equipped at all times - annoying if you prefer the Heli-Pack.
      C. Double tap the crouch button to enable strafing, every time you enter a situation that requires it.
  • Players going from Persona 4 to Persona 3 will find out just how much of a blessing it is to be able to manually control your party members when Mitsuru decides that casting Marin Karin is more important than healing you, or, if she does heal, doesn't prioritize you.
    • Interestingly, RPGs where you could control your entire team were the norm for years before Persona 3, and in fact were standard even in earlier entries of the same franchise (Persona 1 and Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment). The dev team made a conscious choice to force the player to use a tactics menu to give commands to the AI.
  • Players of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena sub-genre who go from a newer game to an older game will often find many instances of this trope due to the extremely iterative nature of the market. Casting abilities with QWER? That's a League of Legends invention - in Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars, the ability hotkeys were all over the keyboard. However, the situation is interestingly different when switching from League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth to the newer incarnations of DOTA or its Valve remake as the genre codifier has evolved significantly since it first caught on.
  • Going back to the original Dragon Quest for a fan of modern role-playing video games can be a very jarring experience. There is only one place to save in the entire game, necessitating long treks back to the starting area. The player needs to open their menu and select a "Stairs" command in order to climb or descend a staircase, which gets tedious extremely quickly. Seeing as there are other terrain-based effects that trigger as soon as the player character enters a given map tile, there would seem to be absolutely no reason for the "Stairs" command. The Super Nintendo remakes of these old games found something of a compromise: you still had to deal with the clunky menu system, but pressing the L button served as a generic action button that would activate whichever menu choice was most valid.
  • Early MechWarrior games with directional Jump Jet Packs required a separate suite of movement controls for controlling the jets (left, right, forward, reverse, turning left/right, and up) necessitating that players shifting between the arrow keys and the numberpad when shifting between walking and jetting; odd, when you can never be walking and jetting at the same time (bar jet-assisted turning). It wasn't until MechWarrior Living Legends came out in 2009 that the separate controls were nixed and regular movement keys affected the direction of the jump jets, along with making the default control scheme more in line with modern standards (WASD versus bizarre arrowkey and all-over-the-keyboard controls).
  • A surprising amount of Third-Person Shooters and similar for the PlayStation 1 and 2 lacked proper aiming on the right analog stick. If the stick did anything, it would usually make you go into first-person, which you couldn't move or shoot from unless the gun required you to do so, like a sniper rifle. note  Grand Theft Auto noticeably didn't get this grace until 2004's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Other games such as The Thing (2002) and Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain used it for strafing instead of turning, which quickly becomes very disorientating, especially if you come from First-Person Shooters that had all aiming on the right stick.
  • Metal Gear's 3D installments didn't get easy first-person viewing until Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in 2001. In the first game, you have to hold Triangle to look, then separately hold Square to aim and shoot - there's no way to aim and shoot from first-person. The addition of first-person shooting in The Twin Snakes makes the Ocelot boss battle much easier, among other things.
    • Running and shooting at the same time is a weird example. In the first MGS, aiming/firing a weapon locked you in place unless you also held down the button for crouching and crawling, requiring you to press the fire button with the tip of your thumb while you held down the crawl button with the knuckle, which is hard to do for any appreciable length of time without accidentally letting go of one or both buttons. Supposedly, this was intentional, to emphasize how difficult it is in real life to fire a gun accurately while moving at any appreciable speed. Nevertheless, later games made moving while shooting easier to do, Sons of Liberty moving the second button to L1 on the other side of the controller, and then Snake Eater onwards removed the need to hold a second button except for auto-aim.
  • Armored Core: Nexus introduced the ability to tune parts for increased performance, but strangely did not allow the player to redistribute tuning points - if the player wanted to change their tuning settings for a part, they would need to sell it and buy it again. The following two games, Ninebreaker and Last Raven, simply allowed the player to reallocate their tuning points at will.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog gives Mercy Invincibility after taking damage, but there was extra code written to negate that invincibility if Sonic fell on spikes. The sequels don't have that extra code, so it's perfectly possible to traverse spikes during that moment of invincibility.
  • Pac-Land, one of the earliest side-scrolling Platform Games (predating Super Mario Bros., though the Famicom port came out slightly later), originally used a control scheme that in retrospect seems downright bizarre: buttons are used to move Pac-Man left and right. The arcade version lacked a joystick, and some of the console versions use the D-Pad only for jumping.
  • It took four generations note  for Pokémon to differentiate Physical and Special moves on an individual move basis rather than by type. For non-players, that meant that, for example, Bite was calculated with the equivalent of your "Magic" stat, and Hyper Beam is calculated using your "Strength" stat. It also meant that some Pokemon simply couldn't be used properly, like Absol, which had a stellar Physical Attack stat, but was a Dark type, which was Special, so all its same-type moves ran off its weakest stat. Going back to earlier games can be quite a shock.
  • The earlier Ys games had a unorthodox way for the player to execute melee attacks: instead of pressing an attack button, the trick was to ram into the monster at an offset angle, with the monster winning the attack if it lines up directly. The series largely abandoned this system from Ys V on.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons introduced the Attack Bonus: you roll a 20-sided die, add your attack bonus, and compare it to the Armor Class of your enemy. If your roll is equal or higher, you hit. The 2nd Edition had THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0): you roll a 20-sided die, subtract the Armor Class of your enemy (which can be a negative number), and compare the result to your own THAC0. If the result is equal or greater than your THAC0, you hit. The odds are completely identical in both systems. The 1st Edition had all the math done for you - in the form of a chart buried halfway through the Dungeon Master's book that had to be consulted for every single attack. Older generations of players (who had years to get used to their own Edition's system) think it's all the same thing; newer players know that "eventually learnable" is not the same as "intuitive".
    • A related innovation, common to most RPGs that took inspiration from D&D (which is to say, most of them) was handling attacks, non-combat skills, and reactions ("saves" in Dungeons & Dragons) in one system. 3rd Edition had actually simplified the three to the point where they had the same mechanic (roll 1d20, add a bonus, compare to the target number) but were tracked and derived separately, whereas in other systems such as Dark Heresy or Spirit of the Century they were typically all "skills" that were acquired and adjudicated the same way.
  • Some of the changes that were implemented into Magic: The Gathering years after it first came out are obvious in hindsight:
    • Removing ante
    • Rarity can't be used as a balancing mechanism (it wasn't that they didn't know how powerful Black Lotus and Time Walk were, it's that they thought there not being many of them would work to balance it, failing to predict just how many cards people would purchase)
    • The stack, which replaced the "Batch". They're both first-in/last-out stacks. But batches had a number of oddities to them. The most important is that, while effects do resolve off in that order, damage doesn't get dealt until all effects in the batch have been resolved. Thus, Giant Growth could "counter" Lightning Bolt, no matter what order they were cast in. Sixth edition regularized everything around the stack, so that damage always went with the effect that caused it.
    • There was also the 6th Edition ditching of the distinction between "instants" and "interrupts". The idea with interrupts was that these were spells that manipulated other spells in flight: countering them, changing targets, changing the text on them, etc. And you could only respond to an interrupt with another interrupt. However, the only real mechanical functionality of interrupts was that they allowed you to "interrupt" the resolution of effects in a batch. Back then, once a batch started to resolve, only interrupts could be cast. So... they just changed the resolution rules to allow instants to interrupt the stack.

  • In Life On The Mississippi, Mark Twain expressed bewilderment as to why in his time their steamboats had no crew uniforms:
    It is so manifestly sensible, that it might have been thought of earlier, one would suppose.
    • ...and handled the stages manually:
    Next, instead of calling out a score of hands to man the stage, a couple of men and a hatful of steam lowered it from the derrick where it was suspended, launched it, deposited it in just the right spot,
    and the whole thing was over and done with before a mate in the olden time could have got his profanity-mill adjusted to begin the preparatory services.
    Why this new and simple method of handling the stages was not thought of when the first steamboat was built, is a mystery which helps one to realize what a dull-witted slug the average human being is.

    Web Original 

    Game Shows 
  • The shopping segments on Wheel of Fortune. Contestants would be encouraged to spend their winnings on prizes before continuing, and any leftover cash could be kept on the scoreboard, albeit with the risk of being lost to a Bankrupt spin in the next round. This was done in the hopes of making the show more appealing to women, because women be shoppin' and all that - in fact, the original pilot (shot in 1973) was called Shopper's Bazaar and had a different "shopping" mechanism that declared the winner as "whoever bought the most prizes". note  In the late 80s, the shopping element was retired: whoever solved the puzzle now banked their winnings in cash and would receive it in cash when they left - giving the show more available airtime to devote to puzzles.

  • The drop target, a target that drops when hit by the ball, was invented before the stand-up target, a target that stays in place. That is, the idea that a target can stay where it is and doesn't need to fall (which is both cheaper and lower-maintenance) came after the drop target had already been invented.
  • Before any other electronic devices in pinball machines were invented, the tilt sensor was the first to come about, which would detect when a player has jostled a machine too hard and penalize him or her by ending the game. Justified, however, as this is an anti-cheating device, so its existence had to be prioritized over other things. Harry Williams' tilt sensor, invented in 1929, has remained mostly unchanged to this day.

    Real Life 
  • The Trope Namer, the Pennyfarthing bicycle, popular in the 19th Century and seen in olde-timey photographs (or, more likely, works that make fun of olde-timey things), is Not an Example due to the "crucial gameplay development" exception. The reason why "gigantic front wheel" was the early standard versus "reasonably-sized wheels of the same size and a seat at a height where the rider can touch the ground and keep his balance when not moving" was that differently-sized gears, needed to amplify movement with equally-sized wheels, increased both the cost and the weight of early bicycles. The "gameplay developments" came around 1890, when machine-made chain drive became cost-effective and John Dunlop made his rubber tires, improving ride quality. The tires also made differently-sized wheels less cost-effective, due to the need to create two sizes of tire for the same bike.
  • As far as a Trope Maker goes, enter the woodblock printing press, which was invented in the 3rd Century and was eventually replaced by movable type printing, which was invented around the 11th Century, making this one Older Than Feudalism (at least in China, as it took until Gutenberg and the Renaissance for Europe to catch up, making the European side of this one literally Older Than Print). It took several centuries for printers to figure out it was easier, quicker, and more economic to carve out single-character sorts (essentially small stamps each representing a single letter or character, much like the ones you find in a typewriter) than carving out a big stamp out of a single piece of wood for an entire page, making correcting mistakes impossible and requiring a new hand carving for each new page. Granted, the lower character count of the Latin Alphabet versus Asian character sets made the development more practical in the West than the East: several people in East Asia had come up with the idea of movable type - even movable metal type - well before Gutenberg, but because of the logographic system used/then used note  to write the languages in question, there were just too many characters for the system to be useful. With the Latin alphabet and its relatively-limited character set, movable type was much more useful and found a market much more easily.
  • Putting a door on both sides of a minivan. Minivans existed for decades before someone had the bright idea of putting a sliding door on the driver's side as well as the passenger's side. Made loading and unloading much easier, but for some reason no one thought of doing it that way for years. Perhaps the designers thought that Parallel Parking was more commonplace than it actually was note  or that parents needed all the help they could get in controlling their children note .
    • Most likely, the lack of a fourth door was seen as an acceptable tradeoff for the lower price it afforded, especially when minivans were new and mainly trying to compete with the smaller but cheaper station wagons. As time went on, the march of technology made the vans cheaper to build overall, allowing them to add obviously-sought-after features without increasing the sticker price. Second-row windows that roll down didn't show up until almost ten years later, likely for the same reason.
  • The Split pins were originally all of "standard" form, which meant the prongs had to be parted by some other tool before bending with pliers, until someone figured out the extended prong configuration which allowed immediate bending.
  • Once upon a time, all the various connection points for televisions and various accessories were on the back. Finally someone came along and decided that was a pain, and devices started coming out with connection points on the front and side where they could more easily be accessed. It eventually became standard for CRT televisions, DVD players, etc. to have at least one set of connection points on the front and additional ones on the back. Annoyingly, flatscreen televisions have largely reverted to hiding all the ports - and often times even vital controls - on the sides in the pursuit of making them look as sleek as possible.
  • Very old automobiles such as the Ford Model T have bizarre control schemes; some due to engineering issues and cost-cutting measures, others due to experimentation. The Model T had no gas pedal, instead having it on the steering column, like on some modern handicap cars. It also has a confusing gearbox design: to get in reverse, you have to put it neutral and push on the reverse pedal. To go forward, you push the clutch all the way in for low gear or let it out for high gear. The E-brake and gear lever are the same unit; full back is neutral and brake, vertical is neutral, forward is drive. Top Gear ran a segment on these archaic vehicles, trying to find the first "modern" layout: steering wheel with gas/brake/clutch pedals.
  • Writing systems around the world started off as ideograms, with one glyph representing one word. This makes for a very complex system with thousands of symbols to be memorised, essentially a second language. It took millennia for some of them to develop into syllabaries (one symbol for each syllable) and then into alphabets (one for each phoneme). At each step they became much simpler and more versatile, yet they required a cognitive leap, of dismantling the spoken language into components, that is difficult for fully literate people today to appreciate. Moreover, the changes weren't always smooth, or even particularly conscious. For instance, the first script to purely apply the alphabetic principle, the proto-Sinaitic script, was basically created by (1) taking some simplified Egyptian hieroglyphs, (2) taking their meanings in Egyptian and translating them to the language of the creators, who were some kind of Semitic people, and (3) using each hieroglyph to represent the first sound of each of its Semitic meaning. Okay, so far, so good. Except that the "alphabetic principle" doesn't actually start here. The Egyptians had used hieroglyphs to represent sounds for a long time by then - centuries, perhaps. It's just that they never ditched the logograms, using letters and logograms in a hybrid system (a bit like how modern Japanese is written in a hybrid of logograms and syllabic characters). Moreover, both in Egyptian and the "new" proto-Sinaitic script, only consonants are represented: to oversimplify a bit, in Afro-Asiatic languages like Egyptian and the Semitic languages, vowels do not convey as much meaning, and can be omitted in writing with the understanding that a reader will be able to infer the vowels from context. Peculiarly, this system not only spread to the other Semitic languages of the Middle East, but also to the distinctly Indo-European Persian, which, although heavily influenced by Semitic languages (Aramaic in ancient times, Arabic today) It wasn't until the Greeks came along that anyone actually started writing out all the vowels in a word.
    • The writing systems for individual languages fit the pattern even more, since the way languages are pronounced gradually shifts and spellings that made sense in the past start making less and less sense, so reforms will occasionally spring up to kick out unnecessary letters (like the changes in Russian during the founding of the Soviet Union), add new letters to make sound changes more obvious (like in Armenian), remove silent letters (like Portuguese did during the mid-20th Century), or simply reform patterns so that spelling was more predictable (like nearly everybody else has done over the past couple of centuries). English is the major exception, which is partly why English spelling is so terrible. Reading some old texts isn't a huge problem if you know what the differences are, but actually writing the old way is a lot more complicated, and in some cases really unpredictable.

Alternative Title(s): Obvious In Hindsight