Game Design Talk: Turning Limitations into Strengths

So as some of you may know, a lot of iconic game features were made in response to technical limitations the developers had to deal with. One of the most famous examples is the fog in the first Silent Hill. Obviously the PS1 wasn’t a graphical powerhouse, so in order to render prettier models they made the draw distance abysmal. While this seems like a problem, that lack of visibility actually helped define the survival horror genre.

So as a fun think piece, I thought I’d post a few more examples and encourage you guys to look into your own favorite games to see if your favorite features may have been by accident.

I think my favorite example may actually be kinda controversial: the console versions of Doom3 and Doom2016. See, when a PC focused shootet is ported to consoles there’s going to need to be compromises. Consoles don’t have the power of a good PC, and a controller doesn’t have nearly as many buttons as a keyboard. However, some of the compromises mad sin the face of these issues I feel may make the console ports better games than their PC counterparts.

In Doom 3, this comes from the PDA. In the PC version, the game still runs when you open your Personal Data Assistant, but the Original Xbox didn’t have the processing power to have it running at the same time as the PDA interface. Plus, the PDA loaded and unloaded much slower. To keep these issues from cropping up, the game pauses when you pull up your PDA to save data and keep the load times from being bad on the console. However in the end this made the PDA a lot easier to use. Without the game audio running in the background, it was much easier to hear audio logs and videos, which was super helpful. Now when I boot up the PC version I can’t help but be annoyed by the background noise interfering with my PDA.

In Doom4/Doom2016, I started out with the console version. In that, the right stick is the button for both melee and the “use key” (opening doors, picking up weapons, etc). This works really well both functionally (not as many buttons to fiddle with, and being on the rights stick was convenient in that it allowed me to keep moving and aiming while punching/grabbing stuff). So when I got the PC version I hoped it would be the same, or that I’d at least have the option of binding it that way. But since they only let you bind one action per key, I can’t and it’s annoying. Another point where the console version has a really cool feature the version that should be objectively better lacks.

Well now that I’ve had my soap box, I’m interested to see what y’all turn up with!


The iconic Varia Suit Samus wears in Metroid games was designed due to the color limitations of the Game Boy. In the original NES Metroid it was a simple color change. But since the Game Boy could only show 4 shades of greenish they gave Samus the huge shoulder design we all know today to designate the armor upgrade.


Because of the limitations of the 3DS hardware, the Ice Climbers were removed from Smash 4 entirely. Seeing as how I hate those guys, would that be considered a strength?


I can’t think of any console hardware limitation that can be turned into strenght.

Pardon me for sounding ignorant but why consoles won’t just plug mouse and keyboard to solve lack of buttons on gamepad issue?

I’m just gonna leave this here, because while the GBA wasn’t capable of doing polygonal graphics (at least not very good) this game used lots of 2d trickery to give the illusion of 3d graphics, especially for the backgrounds of the tunnel stages, and the sky stage.

The game itself is rather meh unfortunately.

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The MK palette swap Ninjas… Anybody growing up in the 90’s can remember that Ed Boon and John Tobias were able to create a variety of characters (Sub Zero, Scorpion, Rain, Kameleon, Noob Saibot, Ermac, Reptile, Smoke, Kitana, Mileena, Jade…) using only two models. (There was also mustard and ketchup).

By switching colors they were able to make ton of characters.


One I love in particular is the SNES version of Orchid’s theme, the stripped-down vocals never fail to make me laugh! My fella also loved the SNES version of KI for it’s missing frames of animation, it did actually seem to help to make the whole thing look even faster than it actually was, he likes the stripped down music, too.

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…now that I’m awake and my breain’s functionalying properly…or not. :unamused:

Anyway, all of Rare’s games during the SNES era that used still images of Silicon Graphics renders to make sprites, backgrounds, etc…including a couple we all know so well (KI 1 & 2).
Also, Spinal’s ender in KI1 where he morphs into a black & white version of his opponent was created due to memory limits.

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That’s mostly a software incompatibility issue these days. Plus older consoles only had plug in ports for their specialized controllers.

And the reason why hardware limitations can be turned into strengths is because it forces creativity. A lot of innovations have been made because there was something preventing developers from doing it the easy way.

A good example of this is the music from just about any older game. Since gaming PCs and consoles of the late 80’s and early 90s didn’t have enough memory (and developers typically didn’t have the kind of cash or status needed) to hire an entire orchestral suite for their game, they needed to make sure they kept the music easily recognizable. That’s why a lot of 8/16 bit games as well as stuff like Doom and Street Fighter had more melodious tunes than a lot of modern games. They needed the music to sound good as a series of beeps and chip tunes since they didn’t have the technology at the time to digitize more realistic music

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Interesting point about early video games music. I personally love that old school approach with making catchy chiptune or MIDI.

Like, System Shock 1 music is godlike for example, a survival horror you can headbang to :smiley:

Speaking of chiptune, the music for the Commadore 64 version of Commando only had 3 channels for music, but each channel could be changed on the fly from square wave to saw tooth, etc. And check out the results…sounds like a lot more than just 3 voices:


Majora’s Mask uses the same textures, engine, and character models as Zelda: Oot and manages to make something new and different. Majora’s Mask is up there as one of my favorite Zelda titles.


Yoooo…that track is straight :fire: I love old videogame music :3


You could say the same about the MSX, which had three channels, able to switch frequencies quickly like the commodore. Six registers controlled the pitches made in the three primary channels it had, with frequencies able to go above and cycle around 20 hz , making Bass-like sounds.

Which led to masterpieces like this:

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