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10 Video Game Consoles That Were Big Disappointments

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Wikimedia Commons

At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, Sony and Microsoft will be unveiling their newest next-generation video game consoles with the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, respectively. Only one of these gaming systems has the ability to be the No. 1 seller in the video game console market, so the only question is which one will dominate. Along the way, other companies will release their latest-and-greatest to very little fanfare or utter disappointment and failure. Here are 10 consoles that didn't live up to the hype.

1. Gizmondo (2005)

Although the handheld gaming console was more technically advanced than others at the time, the Gizmondo suffered from its hefty $400 premium price tag. Tiger Telematics also offered an ad-supported $229 model, but consumers became frustrated with the bombardment of promotions it offered. Without third-party support from game developers, the Gizmondo failed to attract consumers and was discontinued less than one year after its launch. 

2. Nokia N-Gage  (2003) 

Nokia’s first mobile device/handheld gaming console hybrid, N-Gage, was terribly designed, which garnered it a not-go-great nickname: "The Taco Phone." Whether it was being used as a gaming system or a phone, the user experience was poor: People had to remove the device’s battery to locate the game cartridge drive, and had to turn the N-Gage to its side to place phone calls. Although Nokia supported the N-Gage for seven years after its release, the handheld system only sold a small fraction of what other top-tier handhelds like the Nintendo Gameboy Advance sold.

3. Sega CD & 32X (1992, 1994)

In the early 90s, the Sega Genesis was on top of the video game food chain. They gained a bigger market share than Nintendo because of their innovations and emphasis on a great gaming experience. Feeling the pressure to release a video game console that was superior to the Super Nintendo, Sega released the Sega CD add-on that enhanced gameplay with CD-based video games. While the Sega CD was a top seller, its games were not as interactive and therefore less fun than regular Genesis games.

A few years later, Sega once again felt the pressure to release a 32-bit system and extend the longevity of the Sega Genesis. Instead of building a new console, Sega released another add-on that sat on top of the Sega Genesis called the 32X. It only lasted a year; in 1995, Sega released the Sega Saturn.

4. TurboGrafx-16 (1989)

Although its name would imply a full 16-bit video game console, TurboGrafx-16 was only an 8-bit system with a 16-bit graphics processor. The video game console lacked third-party support from game developers, who spent most of their energy with more wide spread video game consoles from Nintendo and Sega.

TurboGrafx-16 also lacked a two-player controller port, which upset gamers who wanted to play games with their friends. While the TurboGrafx-16 was a big seller in Japan, it failed to gain traction in North America.

5. 3DO (1993)

Touted as the most advanced video game system at the time, 3DO didn’t suffer from lack of third-party support. In fact, developing for the 3DO was relatively easy—the 3DO Company only charged $3 to publishers to develop games as compared to Nintendo and Sega’s publishing fees, which were about $15 each.

Although the console had a large array of games, the system itself had a brawny $700 price tag at launch that resulted in low sales. The 3DO was eventually discontinued two years later in 1995.

6. Philips CD-i (1991)

While Philips didn’t design the CD-i to be a video game consoleit was originally used for educational purposesafter low sales the Dutch company re-tooled the CD-i for the video game market. With lack of support from third-party video game publishers, gamers found themselves moving toward Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo 64 instead. Once Philips discontinued the video game console in 1998, it was rumored that Philips lost just less than a billion dollars on the CD-i.

7. Atari Jaguar (1993)

The first ever 64-bit video game console, the Atari Jaguar was the last nail in the coffin for the pioneering video game company. The Jaguar’s controller was giant and unwieldy—in fact, IGN named it the worst video game controller of all-time. The lack of Jaguar sales bankrupted Atari and forced the video game company to sell off the design of the Jaguar to Imagin Systems, which is a dental supply company that turned the Jaguar’s plastic shell into a dental camera.

8. Apple Pippin (1995) 

Apple Computers partnered with Bandai Company to create a video game/computer hybrid. The Apple Pippin was one of a long line of failed products from Apple during the mid-90s, including the Apple PowerCD, the Macintosh TV, and the Apple Quicktake Camera. Apple and Bandai only released 18 games for the Apple Pippin that ranged from interactive educational to racing games.

Once Steve Jobs returned to Apple Computers in 1997, he discontinued almost every current Apple product in the market or in development, including the Apple Pippin.

9. Nintendo Virtualboy (1995)

Legendary video game designer Gunpei Yokoi conceived the Virtualboy, Nintendo's first 3D video game console, as a follow up to his highly successful Gameboy handheld video game console. The Virtualboy’s limitations included the ability to only display two colors, red and black, which disinterested gamers who were used to full-color gaming.

The console also came with a warning to not play the Virtualboy for an extended period of time because it would give users excessive eyestrain and massive headaches. Nintendo only released 14 games in the United States for the Virtualboy, and the not-so-portable gaming system was discontinued just 7 months after its debut.

10. Sega Dreamcast (1999)

After losing good faith from gamers with the releases of the Sega CD, 32X, and Sega Saturn, Sega had one more chance to impress gamers and convert Sony PlayStation fans to their new-and-improved brand. On September 9, 1999 (or 9-9-99), Sega released the Dreamcast, an advanced video game console. There was an extraordinary amount of high quality games available at launch, including Sonic Adventure, Soulcalibur, and Tokyo Xtreme Racer. The system was also ahead of its time with its advanced controller, interactive memory cards, and the capability to connect to the Internet.

So why is the Sega Dreamcast a failed video game console? While the price of the Dreamcast was competitive at launch—it retailed for $199it couldn’t outsell the PlayStation 2, which was released the following year. Unable to sell the Dreamcast—and despite the fact that the company was actually giving away units if users signed up for SegaNet, the Dreamcast online video game networkSega discontinued the Dreamcast in 2001 and moved away from making video game consoles altogether to focus on developing video games for other platforms.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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