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The Pennyfarthing Effect

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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 There's a gameplay mechanic that is not only outdated, but needlessly complex compared to the equivalent you would most likely find in a modern game.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 complex 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 It's not just that the old way to do things is outdated, or that a crucial gameplay development that made games much more convenient to play hadn't yet been invented, it's that somehow it seems like the old way took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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    Comic Books 
  • An early method for speech in comics was to simply print it as text underneath the comic panels. This lead to hybrid forms of wordless comic strips with dialogue (and often some narrative) underneath. Tom Poes is a well known example of this. One of the major innovations Hergé made with Tintin was to introduce speech balloons, inspired by the emerging trend in American comics, into Franco-Belgian comics.
  • Early comic books didn't have ads within stories. A short story would take a few pages, end, then we'd get some ads, before a new story started. During The Silver Age of Comic Books, books started being advertised as "novel-length stories", which meant each segment was a "chapter", divided by ads. Later still, the chapter headings were removed, but a text in the lower-right corner of a page preceding ads assured the reader that the story would be "continued after the following page". It took a few more years before publishers decided that readers understood that the story didn't end abruptly when an ad showed up.

    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.

  • 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.
  • James Herriot has two cases described in his books:
    • When cattle horns went out of fashion, the initial tactic was chopping them off. It was done with a guillotine which took a lot of strength to operate, the cattle required full anesthesia, the blades of the guillotine tended to cut some blood vessels, leading to a Real Life case of High-Pressure Blood (there was a way to put a rope ligature to prevent it, but the blades often cut the rope as well)... then someone realized that it's far simpler to give the cow some local anesthesia and saw off the horns.
    • He also tells how he had to operate on a cow with an abscess in her throat. It was a frightening piece of work, because a single nick at the jugular or the carotid would have meant death, and both were all too close. Later, he realized one can tie the scalpel to his fingers and reach the abscess through the mouth.

  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Roleplaying as such. Despite the name of the genre, early tabletop RPGs were nothing more than miniature battles scaled down to a squad-size and focusing almost exclusively on the combat, with routine use of Excuse Plot and character interaction reduced to combat order and exchange of commands. More, they were treated as competitive, with GM and players expected to go against the other. Why would you even want to play a game of pretend, anyway?
  • You would think something as obvious as Point Build System would be around from the very start of the tabletop RPG, given how much freedom it gives to player and how relatively easy to design it is. But for years the only way of making characters in various systems was to just randomly generate them by rolling dice. In some of the oldest game you couldn't even swap the dice outcome between various statistics, instead rolling them in sequence. But the most obtuse part of the design was eventual emergence of tables full of modifiers for different scenario types and classes to help with the outcome of rolls - rather than just let people set their stats as they needed them. Still got terrible stats in the end thanks to Random Number God? Tough luck. More, the sheer concept of having an idea for your character first and then spreading skills, stats and what not to fit the concept was considered as cheating and sneered upon. Much of this was due to the "dungeon crawl" style of early Dungeons & Dragons. Roleplay was light on the ground and games were expected to be fairly lethal, meaning that having to quickly roll up a new character and not get attached to a wacky concept were both part and parcel of the experience—similar systems survive in the modern day in games like Dark Heresy. But it showed up in a lot of games that lacked this approach, where roleplay was expected to be important and characters weren't expected to die often, yet you could still be stuck for months playing the wrong end of a bell curve.
  • 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. It may come across as the same thing in the end, at least if you started with the old systems and grew used to it, but it's hardly intuitive.
    • A related innovation was handling attacks, non-combat skills, and saves into one system. 3rd Edition was the first to simplify the three to the point where they had the same mechanic (roll 1d20, add a bonus, compare to the target number) but were still tracked and derived separately. Prior to it, each was handled differently and separately, in often confusing ways, as over the first 25 years of its existence, most changes made to the mechanics were ad-hoc and often done in a design bubble, without any or almost any interaction with pre-existing rules. For all the hate it gets, 3rd and 4th editions were the first ones in decades to finally start cleaning up the ruleset into something more coherent, rather than a patchwork of ad-hoc fixes introduced over the 80s and 90s.
  • Some of the changes that were implemented into Magic: The Gathering years after it first came out are obvious in hindsight:
    • 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.
    • Over the game's long lifespan design paradigms in general have shifted; most notably, creatures have gone from being a second fiddle to powerful instants and sorceries to the main focus of most decks, and fast mana is almost entirely absent from modern releases. Many other, smaller things have changed — color hate (cards that are arbitrarily powerful or useless depending on which of the five "colors", and respective cardpools and playstyles, your opponent is using) is significantly rarer, only generally being included in core set releases, the going rate for an unquestioned Counterspell has increased by one (which is actually a very big diference), and certain effects have been given to or taken from various colors.
    • One problem many people have with Magic is the issue of 'mana screw', where you either have too many lands in your hand (and not enough spells to cast), or not enough lands (and you don't have the mana to cast the spells you do have). Additionally, Lands are cards that usually only make mana, and do nothing interesting. Duel Masters has a similar mana system, but with the crucial difference that instead of having cards whose only purpose is to give you mana, any card can be played as one. This prevents mana screw and stops you from having boring but necessary cards in your deck.
  • When the Dark and Steel types were introduced in Pokémon Gold and Silver, the Pokémon Trading Card Game followed suit, adding in the Darkness and Metal types, along with their corresponding Energy types. The problem was that those Energy types were classified as Special Energy, meaning they were limited to up to 4 per deck, whereas all other types were Basic Energy, which weren't bound by this rule. Worse yet, both Darkness Energy and Metal Energy were Rare. As Energy is required for almost every attack, this made using dedicated Darkness and Metal decks difficult to impossible. Two generations later, Basic Darkness and Metal Energy cards were released, finally allowing Darkness and Metal Pokémon wider use. The card designers would not make this mistake again when the Fairy type was introduced later still, with Basic Fairy Energy available right from the start.

  • Transformers Generation One:
    • In the later years of the line, the designers found a flaw in engineering that was problematic for safety standards: many toys in those days didn't have outward leg movement, which created a potential breaking hazard of kids trying to pull the legs apart and snapping them at the hips. To solve this issue, the toys would often have their legs bolted together, restricting their already limited range of movement. Later toys simply redesigned the hips so the legs could swing outward naturally, which not only solved the problem but added posability to boot.
    • Joint designs in general could be really weird in the G1 days, because designers seemed insistent on giving characters "just enough" posability to successfully transform—even if the figures had tons of points that could allow for meaningful movement, those points were invariably given limitations that made them useless for that purpose. Using the joints to give figures meaningful articulation took a while to catch on, which led to weird cases like characters having fully-functional ratchet-jointed knees that could only bend sideways, or even backward.
    • The original Optimus Prime toy has the peg with which Optimus holds it on the magazine, instead of the gun's actual grip (which the toy can't use, because it doesn't fit in his hands). There is no good reason for why this is, and it actually hampers the figure in some ways (most notably, in its original release, he can't actually hold his gun straight because the worthless fake grip bumps into his forearm). Every Optimus toy since then puts the peg where an actual gun handle would be.

    Video Games - Controls and Mechanics 
  • Mouse and keyboard. Yes, the control scheme that every PC game uses nowadays. Before it was a thing, the arrow keys served to move your character forward and backward, as well as turn left or right. Many of them didn't allow you to strafe, and for those that do you had to hold a modifier like Alt and press the arrow keys. Not only was this uncomfortable, it also made it hard or even impossible to execute moves such as moving and turning at the same time, until someone figured out that we should make use of the fact that a) most people have two hands, and b) there are more than 4 keys on a keyboard, and thus no reason to stuff every control just on those four keys plus modifiers.

  • The Nintendo 64 controller's oddball three-pronged design was created due to Nintendo feeling tentative about the analog stick, and therefore they sequestered it off to the bottom, making it an alternate control method to traditional D-pad controls. This created a controller where, infamously, it was impossible for someone to have access to all the buttons at once (including the Z button on the back of the controller) without shifting their grip. Every single future console to feature an analog stick planted it well within reach of the other buttons, and there even exist third-party Nintendo 64 controllers like the Retro Fighters N64 that have a restructured layout with all the buttons being reachable.

  • Extra lives have nearly gone extinct due to the ubiquity of save files on modern systems and save states on emulators of older systems, except in games where taking one hit normally kills you (which are also much less common than they once were). Around the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation era, many games ended up having them 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 Hub Level to reach the level portal, and Mega Man X6 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.

  • 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.

  • 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, something that's present since Windows 95. 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.

  • 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.
  • Likewise, if the game 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. Except that's not true - actually, you totally can do this, but you need to activate an entire extra command to do it, for no apparent reason. There's absolutely no reason the game couldn't just give you that line in its interface that says "this is a needle" all the time. Early SCUMM games like Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, plus the first two Fallout games, are made particularly difficult to play because of this.

  • The Select button, at least in its originally intended purpose of moving the cursor through menu options. At the time of their conception it made sense as it was similar to the option select switches on older consoles, albeit put on the controller. However many developers simply used the directional pad to make menu choices and tended to assign the Select button as a utility key (going to an alternate menu than Start, swapping weapons, etc). Nowadays the name "Select" is The Artifact at best and is never used for moving a cursor, if the button even exists at allnote .

    Video Games - Specific Titles 
  • 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.

  • City-Building Series by Impressions Games introduced walkers in Caesar III, reworking completely how their entire management system operated. Rather than having an area of effect, buildings were sending out people outside, walking the streets of your city and providing services as they went. Along with that, each building was sending out an employment walker, which had limited range and obviously couldn't be controlled either. Out of range of employment walker? The building remained unoperational, even if you had unemployment counted in hundreds - and this included places like far-away farms or resource gathering buildings that by default had to be away from everything else. There was no way to control walkers in general or stop them from taking wrong route, so they were walking whenever they wanted, rather than where they were needed. Players figured out a solution by building massive, defense gates of city walls, just to prevent walkers from going through that area, while allowing deliveries to pass. Pharaoh addressed the problem by adding road-blocks, but those in turn stopped all traffic entirely, so no walkers could pass them other than deliveries, and employment walkers still needed a slum to be set up in the industrial district or in some far-away sector of the map, just to get things up and running. And slums had the issuse of lowering various ratings city-wide, along with requiring deliveries and some basic services to not turn into source of diseases and crime, which in turn meant they required far more manpower than they were providing, routinely collapsing the supply of workers. Zeus unified the workforce, so all that was needed was just having any spare manpower and employment walkers were retired, allowing to keep your cities developed and getting rid of the slums. But it wasn't until Emperor where there was a selective road-block in form of an ornate gate, so some of services could pass through it, while others were blocked, along with generic roadblock and unified workforce. All of this in turn lead to the point where the most anticipated mod in the whole community, rather than being new maps, campaigns or extensive reworks... simply added roadblocks to Caesar III, along with option for unified workforce.

  • 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).

  • 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 uncomfortable and 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 (thus allowing you to use a finger that you otherwise won't use while shooting for the purpose), and then Snake Eater removed the need to hold a second button, repurposing the "run while aiming" button into an auto-aim button.

  • 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.

  • It might be surprising to Animal Crossing players who started out with New Horizons that something as simple as choosing one's facial features used to be needlessly complicated, being based on a bunch of questions asked to the player when beginning a new game and requiring help of online guides if you wanted to choose a specific face rather than just a character creation screen.

  • In DuckTales, you perform Scrooge's Pogo Jump by holding down and B while in mid-air. Considering Scrooge has no other mid-air moves that use the B button, the holding down part is rather unnecessary. The remastered version lets you do the Pogo Jump by just holding B with no directional inputs required. It gives you the option to activate the Pogo Jump the old way, but in Extreme mode, it's mandatory.

  • Pokémon
    • In the first two games, if you filled up a box, you couldn't catch any more Pokémon until you selected another box to put them in. The first generation games didn't even alert you when your latest catch filled up the box, so tough luck if you encountered a rare Pokémon only for the game to tell you that you can't catch it. Starting with the third generation, in addition to the Storage System getting a graphical overhaul with a more user-friendly interface, when your box was full, it simply put the new Pokémon in the next box in order.
    • Another example involves transferring Pokémon from older games to newer ones. Transferring between Generations 1 and 2 required actual trading, needing two Game Boys and a Link Cable, and the Pokémon being sent back to Generation 1 had to be manually stripped of any moves that didn't exist back then. Transferring Pokémon from the Gen 3 games to the Gen 4 games (and from the Gen 4 games to the Gen 5 games) involved playing mini-games that were so tedious it almost made it not worth the effort to transfer Pokémon. It also doesn't help that you need to move six Pokémon at a time (no more, no less). Moving monsters from the Gen 4 games to the Gen 5 games was also inconvenient as you also need a second Nintendo DS system for the other cart. Transferring when it comes to games in Gen 5 and onwards finally simplified things: no more weird mini-games, just take whatever is in the first box of the PC in the game you are transferring from. The introduction of Pokémon Bank, and later Pokémon Home, even allows you to skip generations (meaning you can go from Gen 5 to Gen 7 without needing a Gen 6 game), in addition to only requiring a single game system (Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Switch, respectively).
    • Hidden Machines were a case of this. They allow the Player Character to perform certain actions in the overworld, like cutting down shrubs that get in the way or fly to locations they've been to before. However, for the first six generations (which was about two decades), Hidden Machines had to be taught to a Pokémon, upon which it would take up one of four move slots, and the action could only be performed if you had a Pokémon knowing that move on your team. As you can only have up to 6 Pokémon on your team, and some games had up to 8 different Hidden Machines, that meant these overworld actions could occupy up to one-third of all of the moves slots you had. Most of these Hidden Machine moves weren't even useful in battle, so players took to having "HM Slaves," non-combat Pokémon on the team with nothing but these moves. It took until Pokémon Sun and Moon for these overworld actions to run off a separate system that didn't take up move slots. Once you unlocked the action, you could start doing it anywhere you wanted without any additional steps.

  • The earlier Ys games had an 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.

  • It's occasionally claimed that Pac-Man level patterns work because the game has no RNG. This is not quite true — the game does have an RNG, but it's reset to the same initial value at the beginning of every life. For some reason. Ms. Pac-Man, amazingly, solved this problem by not doing that (and randomizing the ghosts' movement for the first 7 seconds of each level, but that wouldn't have worked if they had kept the misfeature of constantly resetting the RNG).

  • A variation: in the BioShock series, the right hand shoots the weapon, the left hand shoots a special power... and yet the first game allows you to only use one or the other. BioShock 2 fixed this, and now Plasmids and weaponry can be fired simultaneously.

    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 (the door was normally on the "passenger" side, though parking on one-way streets turn this into a disadvantage half the time) or that parents needed all the help they could get in controlling their children (this was no longer a concern once child locks became commonplace). It's also possible having one side be solid made the van structurally stronger.
    • 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.
    • It can perhaps be traced back to the Volkswagen Type-2, essentially the predecessor to modern minivans and light cargo vans; the reason it had a door on only one side was that, as a camper, having a door on one side allowed for amenities such as a small counter or even a stove to be installed on the other side. The same for cargo vans, though instead of camping amenities, it was rack space for cargo.
  • Integrated magazines for repeating firearms were invented about two decades earlier than the current standard detachable magazine. This is likely a matter of cost (no need to manufacture multiple magazines per gun) and beliefs by officers that adopting a detachable magazine would risk careless soldiers losing them. The Lee-Enfield rifle, for example, has a detachable magazine but was never issued with spares and even frequently had its issued magazine chained to the rifle for precisely this concern; by the time this was realized to be an outdated fear, the Lee-Enfield was already obsolete as a front line rifle.
  • Similarly, one of the earliest forms of the modern cartridge was the paper cartridge, which wrapped all of the necessary components to load and fire a muzzle-loading firearm in one convenient package for far faster reloads while carrying less overall weight. Strangely, however, the Rocket Ball - which was a bullet with a hollowed-out section in the back to hold the gunpowder, plugged with a percussion cap at the very back - came about and saw widespread use about two decades before the modern metallic cartridge, which is basically the same idea as the paper cartridge but with all metal, did. The Rocket Ball failed to catch on due to the tiny amount of gunpowder that can fit in a hollow bullet making it incredibly weak. The Rocket Ball's design also makes it conceptually identical to the more modern idea of caseless ammunition, but modern caseless ammunition involves encasing the bullet and primer in an entire block of propellant, rather than encasing a very small amount of gunpowder within the bullet itself, to allow for similar velocities to standard metallic cartridges.
  • When invented, submachine guns were expensive, high-tech weapons. Early designs like the German MP 18 and American Thompson had wooden stocks, complex and heavy clockwork-driven drum magazines, and made almost exclusive use of machined parts. Other designs of the period followed this pattern, relegating submachine guns to niche applications where the high cost could be justified and leaving the world's armies to stick with bolt-action battle rifles as the standard-issue guns. While the German MP 40 and Soviet PPSh-41 made a run at lowering the cost of submachine guns through the use of metal stampings (though the latter still keeping wooden furniture, which wouldn't be eliminated until the later PPS-43), and the Soviets realized how effective they could be when issued in more extensive numbers (compared to other armies that typically reserved around only one submachine gun per squadron, the Soviets would often arm entire divisions with nothing but PPShes), it wasn't until 1941 that the British developed the submachine gun concept into the dirt-cheap everyman weapon it is today. The resulting Sten Gun could be manufactured in less than 5 man hours, using basic tooling for under a pound. It was so cheap and easy to make that they were able to airdrop thousands of them for use with resistance fighters in occupied countries (who themselves could manufacture even more with little difficulty, and even find ways to improve the design) and still have more than enough left over to equip themselves.
  • The intermediate cartridge fired by assault rifles has been technically possible since the invention of smokeless powder back in the 1890s, and some people experimented with the idea pretty quickly with the intention of taking out lightly armored targets like periscopes and balloons. However, it still took people more than half a century to realize that most soldiers don't need a rifle that fires a full-sized bullet when something a fraction of the size can get the job done, while also allowing soldiers to carry the same amount of ammo for less weight.
  • In a somewhat odd example, bolt hold-open devices on automatic firearms were originally designed in a way wherein a raised piece on the magazine's follower pushes up on a separate spring-loaded piece within the rifle itself, which in turn holds the bolt open on firing the last round; it was only later when designs came about where the bolt simply locked back on that raised piece on the follower. This is justified, however, in that the original designs that locked the bolt open, like the M1 Garand, needed it to stay open so the user could then load new rounds in through the opening, and ultimately the more complex version of the hold-open is more common, because there are more and greater merits to a bolt which locks open on emptying a magazine and stays that way when the mag is then removed, especially when future designs extended the locking piece to reach outside the rifle, letting the bolt be closed to chamber a new round from the next magazine literally at the push of a button.
  • The "dreadnought" was the idea for battleships to have the majority of their gun volley weight contained in a few big guns. It made every prior constructed warship obsolete. But the only really innovative technology in the construction of Dreadnought herself was the use of steam turbine engines, and other nations proved the concept was viable with the use of the same triple expansion engines that were traditionally used. The replacement of the steam engine cleared enough deck space for turrets; it's just that no one thought that maybe the ship should have more than just the two.
    • And after that the idea of superfiring turretsnote  took a while to catch on. The United States used it out of the gate, but everyone else avoided it like the plague. It was thought that such a design would wear down the tops of the lower turret due to the strength of battleship gun blasts. It became evident over time that any damage to the top of the superfiring turret was more than offset by stress to the hull of using offset turrets, and that the expected damage to the superfiring turret wasn't really occurring, since one: the muzzle blast from the above guns was directed more outwards than downwards, and two: the heavy armor of the lower turret was strong enough to withstand the muzzle blast anyways, though the same could not be said for hapless sailors who are caught on the open deck when the gun goes off.
    • Another major breakthrough spurned by the dreadnought concept was the invention of the destroyer. By essentially cutting an unprotected cruiser in half, and moving its torpedoes to rotatable launchers on the deck, it could fire all its armament to either side, making a ship that was cheaper and faster than an unprotected cruiser with no loss of combat effectiveness. Cue everyone wondering why they were doubling the armaments on both sides to begin with.
  • Aircraft carrier designs had two major breakthroughs in terms of design, both of which where pretty obvious in hindsight. The first was getting rid of any ancillary take off decks and going with one flight deck, adding a ton of hangar space. The second was to have a second landing runway on the main flight deck angled slightly to the take-off runway, also known as a "Bent Deck" layout, as opposed to the "Straight Deck" considered bog-standard at the time. Prior to this an aircraft carrier couldn't safely launch and land planes at the same time, since a landing plane was likely to slam into one trying to take off. To make matters worse the first ship used as a dedicated carrier, HMS Furious, had a superstructure jutting up in the middle of the flight deck (since she had been first designed as a battlecruiser and later converted to carrying aircraft) forcing the pilots to land on the forward flight deck at an angle. And they all wrote on the merits of this landing method, but it took people forty some odd years to think to combine it with a full deck carrier.
  • 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 in 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 were represented. (In Afro-Asiatic languages like Egyptian and the Semitic languages, vowels are syntactic rather than lexical,note  so do not convey as much meaning and can be inferred from context.) Peculiarly, this system not only spread to the other Semitic languages of the Middle East, but also to the Indo-European Persian, which has lexical vowels but was 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.)
  • In a somewhat literal case, Old British Money, and countless other currency systems like it. While a stretch case can be made for units of measure that are convenient to specific, common uses and easily divisible by a wide variety of amounts, the value of money versus whatever you want to buy with it has never been a fixed amount. And goods are almost always sold in fixed quantities at prices set by the vendor (e.g. you're not going to go to a supermarket where eggs are a dollar a dozen, pay 25 cents, and walk out with three eggs in your hands). And while having intermediate coins is useful for the convenience of not having to lug around hundreds of pennies, listing prices in terms of them made things even more confusing than they already were — imagine being told that one item costs X quarters and Y nickels and that another item costs F dimes and G cents. Unless you happened to have at least that many of those exact coins, you were stuck doing conversions in your head anyway. That's roughly the kind of nonsense Brits had to deal with.
    • One of the most notorious coins for foreigners to handle was the half crown, because the crown, the coin it was nominally half of, was no longer in circulation, and it was nearly the same value as the florin (the half crown was 25% more valuable), making people wonder why the British kept using both. The coin was merely one of many varied coins Britain produced over time, and it was popular enough to keep being minted. Adding to the confusion, the half crown was (especially in the later years of the old system) often called a "half dollar", since half a crown was roughly worth half a U.S. dollar (a fact that encouraged the continuance of its circulation).
  • The weirdness of the Imperial system in the UK (and formerly in the Commonwealth) and its descendant in the US Customary system comes from the fact that there was no universal system of measurement, and many measures varied depending on where you were in a given country, and what you're trying to measure. The bushel has a number of different values depending on the grain (a bushel of corn weight more than a bushel of barley, but less than a bushel of wheat), making almost as reasonable as "a packet of X" as a unit of measure. There are still two sizes of pound in current use, with the Troy pound used to measure precious metals, and there's the difference between a mile and a nautical mile. Reforming the system was hard, since all the old measurements would be useless if the new system changed too drastically, so instead the system was cobbled together as best as it could, with a few quirks still able to survive (the cubit has been forgotten, but the hand is still in use, if only to measure the heights of horses) and what seem like bizarre unit conversions to keep existing units the same (the foot was redefined in the 16th century while keeping the mile the same, hence the weird 5280-feet-in-a-mile conversion).
  • For the longest time, there was no set color scheme for election maps in the US. What color represented what party's candidate varied from one network to another or even from year to year. In the hotly contested 2000 presidential election (which remained unresolved, and thus constantly in the news, for over a month after Election Day), it just happened that every network was using red to represent Republican George W. Bush and blue to represent Democrat Al Gore. A few months later, the terms "red state" and "blue state" were permanent fixtures in every American's vocabulary, and no one has deviated from the standard since.note  Predictive maps have even started using paler versions of those colors to indicate lower probabilities of victory, and "purple state" has entered common parlance for states where neither party is entrenched.
  • Parachutes. For a long time, to prevent them from flipping around, all kind of supports and frames were added. Then someone realized you can simply make a hole at the top and remove all these.
    • Germany had a weird instance of this during World War II, in that more complex four-riser design was made first before the simpler single-riser parachutes they actually used in combat, but then it turned out that the single-riser design was too dangerous for a variety of reasons (faster descents meant landings were always hard and, even with gauntlets and kneepads to cushion the landing, many paratroopers broke their arms or ribs on landing, and the single riser meant where they actually landed was completely at the mercy of the wind).
  • Back in the days of analog television, satellite dishes were large, clumsy things that actually had to physically move to point at another satellite in order to change channels.note  Rarely could they go on the roof, and almost never under the eaves of a house or on the balcony of an apartment. They took up space, were a real eyesore, and were a real PITA if you lived in a place that got lots of snow, since the snow not only piled on the things, but could also weigh down and even freeze the actuators needed to move the dish. And God help you if it was out of alignment. Then, as more and more communities switched to digital television, someone figured out that the dish on a residential property didn't need to be gigantic to work. Nowadays, you can get a satellite dish that's barely bigger than a dinner plate, and some even have built-in heaters to melt snow and ice off of them.
  • Minimally-invasive surgeries. Before things like laparoscopy made it possible to do surgeries with smaller incisions (or sometimes none whatsoever), surgery involved big gashes (and thus big scars). And because there was more tissue damage, a longer, slower recovery time (often necessitating a week or two in the hospital before continuing the recovery process at home), and a higher risk of complications. More modern methods mean less damage, faster recovery, less scarring, lower risk of complications, and that procedures that once had to be inpatient surgeries can now be done as outpatient procedures (meaning that the patient comes in, has the procedure, and leaves the same day).
  • Containerization is an innovation that, without it, the modern world as we know it cannot exist, permitting goods and materials to be shipped worldwide fast and cheap. What is this innovation? Transporting containers instead of the goods. Shipping and trade has been an integral part of history, yet it wasn't until the 20th century that people both realised if there's 200 bags of potatoes in a box it's probably faster to take the whole box rather than hauling 200 bags and transferring them to a different box, and put together cranes powerful enough to efficently do so.
  • Combination therapy. For a long time the standard practice was to use one drug on a disease until it became immune to it, then switch to a different drug, and repeat until the patient died. This is why childhood cancer was effectively a death sentence back in the day. Then eventually someone proposed the idea of using more than one drug at the same time. This means that the cells that would acquire an immunity to drug A would be killed by Drug B and vice versa. Survival rates for cancer skyrocketed and have become the standard course of treatment for numerous diseases because of this.

Alternative Title(s): Obvious In Hindsight


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