The (Good?) Old Days of the Cartridge

July 19, 2009 at 7:59 pm Leave a comment

This article from Bitmob got me thinking about the old days (ie 1990’s) of gaming.  Remember cartridges?  Those clunky, boxy devices that used to hold entire games?  I do.  Unfortunately, the cartridge format has gotten a bad rep for being small in storage space, expensive to manufacture, and too cumbersome to carry around.  All are valid strikes against it.

But, it has a few pluses over the disc format.

I honestly never had a problem with them.  Meaning, they stood up to some crazy abuse.  Here’s an excerpt from a forum post I left at Bitmob:

Sometime in elementary school (maybe it was 5th grade, too), a friend found a Mortal Kombat SNES cart sitting in his desk. It was probably left there by some kid from a previous class session. Instead of keeping it himself, he decided we should try and mess it up by scratching up the connector piece that protrudes from the space at the bottom. We took pens, pencils, scissors, anything and just ran it along the inside of the cart. A few days later, he grew tired to this and just gave it to me. I took it home, popped it in, and surprisingly it still worked.

Some years later, I did the same thing to a copy of Super Mario Kart 64 another friend had found in his backyard. After attempting to destroy it, I put it in my N64 and that, too, still worked.

In comparison, I recently discovered my copy of Mass Effect was rendered almost unreadable because I left it sitting on my desk, cover-side up, with nothing to protect the disc’s surface from my (supposedly) clean desk surface. It’s a reminder of how fragile the disc medium is.

Yet another friend of mine told me of a time his younger brother attempted to flush a bunch of NES carts down a toilet from some reason.  From what I understand, those games still work.

Discs require special treatment.  I can’t just toss a disc in my bag and take it with me someplace, I need to have a special case to carry it in, lest the readable side gets all scratched up.  Sure, most adult gamers remember blowing into the bottom of cartridges to get them to work sometimes, but from my own experience, that’s all it took.  These days, I’ve had to do the toothpaste method of cleaning scratched discs that got that way by accidentally being slid a few inches across my desk.

The cart itself is your memory card.  You don’t have to worry about running out of memory space to save a game; the cart automatically comes with enough to save your progress.  Yes, I know, there’s a downside to this: you lose the game, you lose your save.  The N64 had a somewhat cumbersome workaround for this which required a secondary memory card in addition to the save capabilities of the game cart itself.  But, for the most part, it worked.

Another thing: when the PlayStation came out, it had slots for memory cards, which were required to do any game saving.  The problem, and I know this is a minor issue, was that if the card was corrupted, chances are all the files will be affected.  I remember playing the original Driver for the PS1 and getting pretty far into it, only to have the save file corrupted somehow.  A day or so later, none of my saves from any of my games on that particular card would load.  Needless to say, I never finished Driver.

Anyone that owned an original PSP, or even the newer models, will attest to some long load times.  Kinda defeats the purpose of a portable gaming system if you have to spend half your commute waiting for the damn thing to load.  Nintendo’s venerable DS/DSi handheld, while technologically inferior to the PSP, has a major advantage in significantly reduced or completely eliminated load times.  I wouldn’t even think of bringing my PSP with me for the 30 minute commute to school (the PSP is actually collecting dust in a drawer somewhere in the house).

Now, I’m not poo pooing all over the disc format (that is an argument reserved for an internet forum back in 1997).  I understand the pros and cons and why the industry has moved toward this medium.  I also don’t think the industry should go back to it (with the exception of handhelds; if portable gaming needs a physical medium before completely jumping to digital distribution, let it be the cartridge).  I just think us gamers should have at least a modicum of respect for the format that brought us some of the greatest gaming experiences ever.

On a side note: I remember overhearing a younger gamer talking about ‘old school gaming’ as being the PS1 era.


Young people . . .

(images from The Old School Game Vault,,


Entry filed under: Technology, Video Games. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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