The Pennyfarthing Effect

aka: Obvious In Hindsight
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 There's a gameplay mechanic that is not only outdated, but needlessly complicated compared to the equivalent you would most likely find in a modern game.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 It's not just that the old way to do things is outdated, or that a crucial gameplay development that made games much more convenient to play hadn't yet been invented, it's that somehow it seems like the old way took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, contrast Older Is Better.


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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".
  • 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.
  • WASD controls, again mostly in First Person Shooters. This took even longer to become commonly accepted, and many games as late as 2000 or 2001 still used the arrow keys (or, slightly better, the numpad) 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 a dozen other keys within easy access of the same hand without having to move it away from movement.
    • 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.
  • Speaking of first-person shooters, Marathon has no jump key. Especially egregious given that you need to Rocket Jump to get to certain points; in fact, at one point, it's even required if you can't cross the gap the "correct" way.
  • 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.
    • Trope Codifier Dune II has no grouping at all. If you want to move a lot of units, you'll have to click each one, move across the map to where you want to send it, move back to the next one and do the same again.
  • If you played any PC game with a mouse cursor 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 and the original two Fallout games are made particularly unplayable because of this.
    • The early SCUMM games would tell you what objects were interactable with, you just had to select the command "What is". This was a pain, but a BIG leap forward on text games (at least you didn't have to guess the parser).
  • 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 Ratchet And Clank 2002 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.
  • 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. However, the situation is interestingly different when switching from League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth to the newer incarnations of Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars 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)

     Tabletop Games 
  • The third 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 dice, 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. Older players, who played with the mechanic for years or decades, tend to say that THAC0 is no more complicated or less intuitive that the Attack Bonus from later editions. To everyone else, it seems entirely illogical and is regularly given as the primary reason why people don't play the older editions.
  • 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 (or at least something other than the convoluted mess that card timings were implemented with prior to sixth edition)

  • 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 

     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.
  • 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 wasnote  or that parents needed all the help they could get in controlling their childrennote .
    • 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. Nowadays it's standard for televisions, dvd players, and etc to have at least one set of connection points on the front and additional ones on the back.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s):

Obvious In Hindsight