127: Slimlining


"While there was no reason to shrink the PS2, it may, in retrospect, have been a prophetic opportunity to give it one last push while the console's third incarnation struggled to be born by medieval cesarean section. The slimlined PS2 even saw a resurgence of third-party support once the PS3 proved such a difficult platform, and as we look back now at the vast and sprawling sea of Platinum Collections under the PS2 banner, there's a gold mine (well, Platinum mine) of gaming value to be had."

Spanner examines the phenomenon of the incredible shrinking console.


For the most part, the first line of this article sums it all.

The GBA Sp has been one of the most exciting handhelds I ever had the pleasure to buy. Sure, no console is perfect, but this one really had something truly delicious about it. I never loved a direction pad so much, yet, I know, it's far from perfect. But the way it goes down when you press on it so easily, it is class. Besides, the screen is rather large, which is a funny thing, especially when making the transition "back" to the DS.
The GBA SP really perfectly nailed the concept of a pocket console, without shrinking the whole volume beyond stupid.
Besides, it looks like it could be part of one of these Transformers anime from the eighties.
On the other hand, the Micro disappointed me. Gone was the fabulous screen, and that loss wasn't excusable in the slightest. Besides, it was the milking that should have not happened.

Sony's been constantly giving me "mehs" about their designs, but I was truly delighted by the PStwo. I do think it was a much necessary retooling. It needed a new shell, which made the console much more living room friendly than its bulky, ugly and radiatoresque ancestor, especially with the silver coating.
The PS3 owes much to designs as they burgeoned two decades ago, with a bit more polish and one generous curve. But it still looks horribly cheap and plasticky once you start flipping the front panel.

The gloss helps to sell the design, and under certain angles, the shell shines, though the global cut is rather uninspiring. But it really becomes horrible when you start to stare at the grid side.
Jesus, what the hell?
My point is that they should have handled Jaren a juicy cheque and gave his design a Goh.

As for Microsoft, it's all flashy, big, loud, with no grace nor substance. Well, I can't said I'm surprised either.

I think I'll give the forum a chance instead of sending my questions and complaints directly to the editor. Perhaps, by taking advantage of the collective reasoning of thousands of loyal Escapist readers, I can figure a few things out, primarily what is Spanner's point? I cannot tell by the end of the article what exactly he is advocating or even, in many cases, what he means. Please help me by completing this short poll.

1) Slimlining is...
A) Awesome because it brings the version of the console that should have been from the start.
B) Terrible because it's unneeded (unless you're poor or a foreigner...WTF?) and often ugly.
C) Of dubious value since it has no overarching pattern nor reason that anyone, including Spanner, can find.

2) If you see the warning signs a console is about to be slimlined, hang on to your money because...
A) The slimlined version will incorporate features the company stupidly omitted and you should wait for it.
B) The slimlined version signals the end of the console's lifespan and you should wait for the next generation.
C) I don't know, money feels good in your hand.

3) Those warning signs, by the way, are...
A) Poor design from the outset; companies recognize their mistakes and correct them.
B) Being made by Nintendo; those guys slimline everything.
C) Trick question! Slimlining itself is actually the warning sign that you should...well, it's never made quite clear.

4) The Wii, 360, and PS3 are...
A) Next-gen (as stated in the section "Slimlining Today for a Better Tomorrow").
B) Current-gen (as stated in the conclusion paragraph).
C) Gee, kinda sorta both, y'know?

5) The current-next-gen system most in need of slimlining is...
A) The XBOX 360 because it's noisy, prone to failure, and has a large power supply.
B) The PS3 because it...doesn't have any problems other than it's expensive and ugly?
C) Another trick question! Slimlining is often bad, remember?

6) The NES version 2 update was left off because...
A) How dare they fuck with the NES!
B) Replacing the prone-to-failure cartridge dock of the original NES with a drop-in slot isn't actually noteworthy.
C) There wasn't a usable analogy about sports cars nor starships.

7) Slimlining, as we now understand the term, thanks to Spanner's retrospective, means...
A) Making a console smaller.
B) Making a console less expensive (for the poor and foreigners...WTF?).
C) Fixing problems with the original design.
D) Appeasing consumers.
E) Appeasing corporate interests.
F) Yeah, all those, it's just that slimlining sounds sexier than "redesigning."

I mean, forget the misleading claim Atari reduced the number of switches on the 2600 (when they were in fact moved to the back of the console). Forget the invention of a word like "postmodernistic" where "postmodern" would work just fine (though a curious choice since simulated wood paneling was still very much in style in 1977 and not really considered "retro"). Forget the judgment that the PS2 didn't need a redesign (when the original was easily as noisy as the current 360 iteration he picks on). Forget the idea that the slim PS2 isn't seducing gamers (since there have been nearly 20 million in sales since its introduction and the slim version regularly sells on eBay for $20 more than the old juggernaut). Forget all that and I'm still at a loss.

Seriously, someone help me.

A, A, A, B, A (get rid of that damn power brick!), B (sarcasm ftw), and F.

i'm totally with you, Ironmaus. the article doesn't really have a thesis, it's just a narrative of the history of slimlining.

my only problem, Spanner, is that you seem to lean towards Nintendo quite a bit. you started off by saying, "Nintendo does it too much" but then only were critical of the Micro after that. i have to repeat Ironmaus's words that i have never heard of the older ps2 being a hot commodity for its looks. some people would rather have it because a select few games have compatibility issues on the slim PSTwo, and that's about it. it actually 1UP's the old ps2 by having the network adapter built-in (which you neglected to mention). in terms of aesthetics, i personally think that the PSTwo is one of the best designed consoles. the flip-top case prevented problems that came up in the original ps2 with the dvd drive tray. less moving parts is good, that means less things to break.

and btw, you forgot to mention a huge fault of the SP... it had no headphone jack, even though the original GBA did.

1) A
2) A
3) C
4) C
5) A
6) A
7) F

I have to agree, this is a rather poor article, lacking any sort of point or direction.

Reminds me of one of those cleverly worded articles a college professor would use to trick it's class with the hard question of, "What is wrong with this article?" and everybody would sit there stumped until he tells them.

I'll agree that Nintendo's had the most success here, if only for their portables. I'll also agree that the PSP sales, slim or no, aren't what Sony would like, but to say they suck at slimlining doesn't compute.

"awful, tacky, little, cheap knockoffs of once great consoles - their slowing sales no longer sufficient enough to stay Sony's cruel marketing hand"
"And yet, even today, the slimlined PS2 struggles to seduce. ... A most unfitting end to a great console, and one clearly designed to wring a few extra drops of blood from a stone that deserved better."

These statements are nice and all but they are categorically untrue. Sales figures from last holiday season prove that the slimline PS2 was the best-selling console. It outsold the PS3, 360, and Wii. Look it up. You get points for "Sony? Bony." though. I forgot what that movie was called but it was from back in the day.

Also, you don't seem to mention that slimlining is easier to do once technology is better, so many home consoles can be cheaper to make (and buy) and be smaller. It's win-win. It's also why the Wii can be smaller than the next-gen consoles - because it is basically a Gamecube as far as technology goes. I'm not knocking the system - they have a good thing going. But no one will argue that there is cutting-edge technology within that box.

what is Spanner's point? I cannot tell by the end of the article what exactly he is advocating or even, in many cases, what he means.

My thoughts exactly.

Interesting topic. Though it may be true that Nintendo does it often, they have sure mastered it. Wish I could say the same with Sony and Microsoft.

Microsoft did slimline their original xbox controller. That thing was massive.

Microsoft did slimline their original xbox controller. That thing was massive.

Yes, and thank God they did. Still, whenever there was a Halo party in my neck of the woods, there were always a few guys who lugged the big controllers for their big hands. I have no idea what they're doing now that there's only one size.

Microsoft did slimline their original xbox controller. That thing was massive.

is that really considered slimlining? they just brought the japanese xbox controller to the US and Europe, and called it the "S Controller," and then axed the big one.

I have no problem with the slimlining of an old console to lower prices and help sales. BUT, I do have a major problem with the current gen version of slimlining, where there is a new or tweaked version of each console every couple months. It is ridiculous that my particular xbox 360 is only the same as about 6% of the other 360s out there, and that since I bought mine in x month, I missed out on the upgrade introduced in y month.

I see this as sort of an equivelant to a developer releasing a buggy game early to rely on patches to fix it later. The only problem is, I can't patch my console, only new customers get that patch.

Nintendo didn't master slimlining. It mastered the illusion of slimlining in order to gain more profit. Because I truly believe that every portable console Nintendo puts out in the market is simply a draft, in exception for the last one of each generation. It's incredible how they repeat the same thing at least two times in a row.
First we had the Gameboy Advance, which I bought and getting a reliable source of light was quite a task, having to go so far as buying a separable Nintendo lighter to see the screen better.
Then came the SP a short time after, and I was fooled once. But even though I spent more money, due to being a fan of Nintendo, believing they fired the people that did the previous version and begged on their knees for people who were any good at making portable systems, I felt so satisfied with this new version. I could play it in the sun, since the screen absorbed light well and the back light was perfect for dark environments. And it was chargeable, which pretty much helped me crap my pants off.

Then came the DS and not only I was fooled twice, but thrice. So shame on you, shame on me and shame on me again for thinking the saying only went to fool me twice. Everybody knows how the DS had so many faulty problems, but I'm not mad at Nintendo. They were innovating with a new type of gameplay, so I give them the benefit of the doubt for not getting it right at first.

But then came the Lite, and they got it right with weight, they got it right with the color definition but they got it wrong with the lighting again. Or I should I say, they didn't get it totally right.
The addition of several levels of light was nice. But only being able to change it at the starting screen of the system was a bad idea. What was wrong with having a small button to switch it on and off like the SP did? And while you could play the SP on sunlight, you can't with the Lite which makes me glad they haven't released another Boktai game based on the sun absorption system, which would make so many people angry once they saw what they needed to play the game was the same thing that crippled their vision of what was going on.
It makes me wonder if the people who are responsible for designing the portable consoles have any good reason for scratching good ideas or do they just forget?

Add all that along with the several re-releases of each portable with new colors or art on the box or new features or with a function to create a pokemon in real life and you kind of start to fear to buy their systems once they come out, since it's pretty much guaranteed the first version will have annoying problems and a better version ends up showing up some months later. And since there doesn't seem to be any support by Nintendo for people who buy a handheld (Specially in Europe) and want to get the upgraded generation without having to pay full price for it, unless you're a member of a specialty shop like I am and I had to give my DS, my Sonic Rush and some more money to trade for a Lite, you'll probable have a sour time before you forget about it once you get addicted on the new upgrade.

So you either:
A) Get the patience to wait some months so a new version comes out.
B) Be lucky enough to be born and grown into the last version of a handhelds generation, if you're starting to play games.
C) Get your money screwed out if you're an avid Nintendo fan. Which there are many.

Somehow, Nintendo has a mastery to make people spend their money on them unlike any other company. It's like a legal drug.

I was also confused by the seeming schizophrenia in this article. It begins sounding like a condemnation of slimlining, but then seems to hail the rather marked improvements that manifested in the SP and the DS Lite. I suppose then that a reasonable, but rather obvious, conclusion that is slimlining for new or better features is good, slimlining as a cash-grab is bad.

Most pronounced to me was a rather stark lack of technical considerations in this article. Part of the reason why new console are bigger than the old ones is that miniaturization is expensive. For example, it is technically possible to incorporate that massive power supply into the XBox 360, but it's going to increase the price quite a bit (especially if they want to keep the form factor relatively the same). Hardware design is almost always constrained by price. Hardware designers and engineers do the best that can, but they still have to ensure the units costs less than $400 (or whatever) to produce. Given that limitation, it's simply not possible to incorporate all the features you want. We can certainly take issue with the decisions that are made, but acting like no compromise was required, but rather features were absent simply due to neglect or oversight is naive.

But technology marches on, even when it isn't time to release a new console. Features that were previously too expensive to incorporate are now fiscally viable. One important consequence of Moore's Law is that every two years, transistors take up half as much space as they used to. It's not as if Nintendo forgot the lessons they learned evolving the GSA into the SP when they were designing the DS. It's simply that due to the ultimate constraint of cost, some things had to give. A year or two later, however, prices have come down and features that were not available due to price can be incorporated. Previously unseen problems have been discovered and corrected.

I work in mobile software development and this is something the mobile handset manufacturers deal with all the time. Nintendo/Sony's slimlining is child's play compared to what the engineers and designers at Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, et al. deal with continually. Customers always want more features in a phone: slimmer, more storage, more battery-life, better camera, wi-fi, GPS, etc. Unfortunately, something has got to give. If it doesn't, the phone ends up costing about $500 (e.g. Nokia N95). In a year or two, the price will drop and there will be another cutting edge handset that boasts even more features in a better form factor.

Ultimately, I'm not saying that cost is the only factor that effects these decisions, nor that some instances of slimlining aren't just looking to milk the same cow again. But more often the not, fiscal and technological constraints dominate these decisions. Finding both of these things absent in this article was pretty disappointing.

Agree 100% Nelsormensch. I offhandedly mentioned the technology aspect but you give a great breakdown of it.

I thought that by making a console slimline you made it cheaper to use, maybe even less noisy and less clunky.

In the future, maybe the Xbox console will be the size of a regular brick, 1/10th the weight and ten times more powerful than any current computer? We can only hope.

I would like to see manufacturers make consoles into a more rack friendly design instead of putting time into designing slim versions. I hate having a pile of plastic toys stacked up next to my tv. Now that the old school gamers are getting older (me included) it seems like giving people this option would be better than offering more of the same.

How can the author say that the PS2 slim "has failed to seduce?" It has sold like gangbusters since it came out!


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