Archive for the 'Everything Else' Category

VC&G Anthology Interview: Ed Smith, Black Video Game and Computer Pioneer

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Ed Smith, Black Video Game Pioneer of APF ElectronicsIn 1978, APF Electronics introduced the MP1000, an early cartridge-based video game system. It wasn't a smash hit like offerings from Atari, but it carried within its faux woodgrain housing a hidden kernel of cultural brilliance: The console would not have existed without the work of an African-American electronics engineer named Edward Lee Smith.

I first learned about Ed Smith while researching Jerry Lawson, one of the first known African-Americans in the video game industry. Not long after Lawson did his pioneering design work on the Fairchild Channel F in Silicon Valley, Smith began a similar task on the opposite side of the country, crafting his on his own contributions to the industry while at APF in New York City.

VC&G Anthology BadgeAs part of a small engineering team, Smith helped design the MP1000 and its plug-in computer expansion module, the Imagination Machine. That work got him noticed by Black Enterprise magazine, and in 1982, Smith and Lawson were both interviewed for a feature written by S. Lee Hilliard about the roles African-Americans had played in the video game revolution, which was a hot business topic at the time.

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Ed Smith, Black Video Game and Computer Pioneer » ]

Ms. Pac-Man Turns 35

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Ms. Pac-Man Arcade Flier Flyer

35 years ago today, Ms. Pac-Man made its worldwide public debut during a press conference held by Namco at Castle Park Entertainment Center in Sherman Oaks, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Ms. Pac-Man launched on February 3, 1982.

In 2011, I interviewed three of Ms. Pac-Man's creators in depth for a planned feature I was going to write about the game's 30th anniversary. That project fell through, and although many journalists have written about Ms. Pac-Man since then (and its creators began giving public talks years ago), I found that my old interviews still contained fascinating nuggets of information on the game that had not yet come to light.

So I turned all of my source material on Ms. Pac-Man into an oral history, which FastCompany.com just published. It's likely that just about everything you'd ever want to know about Ms. Pac-Man's creation is covered there.

On VC&G, I would like to talk specifically about how I discovered the release date for Ms. Pac-Man, since I'd like people to correct the information that's out there. (Prior to the publication of my article, sites stated the launch date of Ms. Pac-Man anywhere between late 1981 and January 1982. Wikipedia still says "January 13, 1982″ as the launch date — I've asked Ms. Pac-Man's creators, and none of us can figure out where it came from.)

While I found evidence in a single newspaper arcade advertisement that Ms. Pac-Man was anticipated as early as January 31, 1982 (possibly from a test location), Bally Midway formally announced Ms. Pac-Man to the world during a press conference on Wednesday, February 3rd, 1982. A key newspaper report confirms this:

Newspaper Article Describing Ms Pac-Man Launch Date

That's an article from the Los Angeles Times dated Thursday, February 4th, 1982. It mentions the press conference happening on Wednesday of that week — hence, Feb 3, 1982.

Here's another article Ms. Pac-Man announcement article newspapers reprinted verbatim widely across the US. It is based on the article above and sent out as a wire report for syndication:

Newspaper Article Describing Ms Pac-Man Launch Date

Anyway — what a game, what a story. I hope you enjoy reading about how a band of plucky New England upstarts created the most popular arcade game in U.S. history.

[ Retro Scan ] Can You Take the Terror?

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Arena Entertainment Alien 3 for Sega Genesis and Game Gear advertisement scan - 1992A very good existential question for these times

I seem to recall Alien 3 being a fairly well-received game for the Super NES. But I'm not sure I've ever played the Genesis version. In fact, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever even seen the Alien 3 film, despite being a fan of the first two films in the Alien series.

So what do I know about this game? Nothing!

But I like the art in this advertisement. Its headline question very clearly conjures up how I feel these days about uncertainties in life, the economy, and politics.

Speaking of the economy, I recently started a Patreon campaign to fund my work on this site. In fact, everyone donating $10 or more a month on Patreon is getting access to a 600 DPI version of this scan (along with access to full research interviews used in future articles). At some point I hope to make available high-res versions of all the previous Retro Scans available to select patrons as well.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, November 1992, p.23 ]

Discussion Topic: What's the scariest classic video game you've ever played (let's say pre-1997)?

Classic Prodigy Game Recreation MadMaze-II Updated to Support Chrome and Firefox

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

MadMaze-II Title ImageSince 2013, I've been hosting a web-based recreation of the classic Prodigy online service game called "MadMaze" on the VC&G webserver.

(You can read the backstory about that here.)

The only problem with this "modern" version of the game, called MadMaze-II by its late author, Russell Brown, is that it only worked in Internet Explorer. This re-creation was developed in 2001 at a time when Internet Explorer was the browser of choice for many.

Well, thanks to the help of a web developer named Brandt Horrocks, the game now works in Chrome and Firefox. In Chrome, it seems to work nearly perfectly, although it does not support the sound effects Brown originally implemented in the game (yet). In Firefox, the game is playable, but the introduction renders slightly differently.

The game is still at its original VC&G address, http://www.vintagecomputing.com/madmaze/, so give it a shot and see what you think. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments here, and I will show them to Brandt, who may be able to do more bug fixes in the future.


See Also:

Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead: The Prodigy Restoration Project (2014)
MadMaze-II Now Hosted on Vintagecomputing.com (2013)
Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web (2006)

VC&G Patreon Launches Today

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

Today's the big day. I just launched a Patreon Campaign with the aim of supporting my history work.

Click here to become a Patron of Benj Edwards and VC&G.

Also, I am doing a livestream Q&A at 1:30 Eastern today.

Here's some of the info from the Patreon page repeated below for future reference.

[ Continue reading VC&G Patreon Launches Today » ]

Need Feedback on a Potential Patreon Campaign

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Benj Edwards Patreon Header Draft

[ Update - 01/09/2016: I just launched my Patreon campaign this morning. You can see it here. ]

The Problem

Here I am. It's 2017. I've been writing professionally for over a decade now, and I'm not going to lie: I don't make much money. I support a family of four, health insurance keeps going up every year no matter what I make, and freelance budgets at publications are trending down. Competition is fierce.

What I'm trying to say is that my professional focus, as it stands now, is not sustainable in the long run. I can see the writing on the wall.

So I'm considering various options. One is a career change. But that is a hard trick to pull off. Maybe I could be a professional graphic designer, as I once was many years ago. I don't have a degree, so getting a full-time job is tricky. Maybe I could run off and join the circus. Maybe I could run off and join Burger King.

[ Continue reading Need Feedback on a Potential Patreon Campaign » ]

The VC&G Christmas Collection (2016 Edition)

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Vintage Computing and Gaming Christmas Xmas Megapost

It's that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past few years, I've been posting an annual collection of all the Christmas-related tech material I've written (both for this site and for others) into one place for easy reading. Below, you'll find list of off-site Christmas slideshows, other features, and of course, plenty of Retro Scans of the Week.

I have a soft spot for Christmas, having been raised with the tradition, so this list is for me as much as it is for everyone else. After going through these things again, it's amazing to see how much Christmas stuff I've posted over the years. I hope you enjoy it.

[ Continue reading The VC&G Christmas Collection (2016 Edition) » ]

[ Retro Scan ] TRS-80 on Christmas Morning

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1 Computer Christmas Family Christmas Morning Christmas Tree advertisement scan - 1978"Santa left us Trash for Christmas, and we like it!"

Radio Shack always knew how to market at Christmas (see links below). In the 1970s and '80s, the firm produced more Christmas-themed computer ads than any other company in the US.

Here's one of the earliest ones from 1978. It features the company's first personal computer, the TRS-80, which first launched in 1977. After other models of TRS-80 computer came out, Radio Shack began referring to it as the "Model I."

But that wasn't the only name this pioneering computer earned. The original TRS-80 was the first personal computer my dad ever bought, not long after it launched. He found it frustrating, sold it, and later bought an Atari 800 for my brother — then hand-built an Apple II clone for himself.

Thereafter, my dad always referred to that first TRS-80 as his "Trash-80," which was a common nickname for the computer. It could double as a derogatory play on words or a beloved pet name, depending on whom you asked. For my dad, I suspect it was more of the former than the latter.

[ From Popular Electronics, November 1978 ]

Discussion Topic: What's the worst present you've ever received for Christmas?


See Also:

A Very TRS-80 Christmas (RSOTW, 2006)
Hot CoCo (2) for Christmas (RSOTW, 2007)
Give The Gift of TRS (RSOTW, 2009)
Santa's TRS-80 CoCo (RSOTW, 2014)

[ Retro Scan ] Game Boy, All Grown Up

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Nintendo Game Boy Political Campaign Speeches GQ 1992 Presidential Election advertisement scan - 1992"Have you had your fun today?"

So we've got this election coming right around the corner in the US. It hasn't been fun. In fact, it's been pretty nasty and stressful for everyone involved. But there's a solution: video games.

In this October 1992 ad from GQ magazine, Nintendo offers its Game Boy handheld console as an antidote to our grownup troubles during a long, grueling campaign season. Among displays of men's fashion, cologne ads, and strutting female models, you can find a rather remarkable sales pitch for this groundbreaking gadget aimed at adults.

In 1992, portable electronic entertainment pretty much meant one thing: Game Boy. There were no smartphones in everyone's pockets to twiddle away the time with. And the alternative handhelds like the Sega Game Gear, NEC TurboExpress, and Atari Lynx had such horrible battery life that very few people actually took them on the go. Of course, one could tote along a Walkman or a portable TV, but they weren't interactive.

The Game Boy was different. It was compact, light, durable, ran over ten hours on four AA batteries, and it had that killer app: Tetris.

I remember reading news reports, not long after the Game Boy's launch, about how adults were playing Tetris ("the jigsaw puzzle that fights back," the ad says) on long commutes. In retrospect, Tetris seems like the first video game for adults — especially since it had no cartoon protagonist, and its single-screen drama unfolded in four serious shades of gray (or green, technically). It was a thinking man's game, and it was addictive.

Or thinking woman's game, I should say, since we have this amazing 1993 photo of Hillary Clinton playing the Game Boy. While commuting, no less. So maybe the ad worked. Or maybe Tetris was just an essential, can't-miss game that finally legitimized video games for an older audience.

[ From GQ, October 1992, p.150 ]

Discussion Topic: Did your parents ever play console video games when you were younger? What games did they like the most?

David H. Bunnell (1947-2016)

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

David H. BunnellIn Memoriam: David H. Bunnell (1947-2016),
tech media pioneer, founder of PC World, PC Magazine, and Macworld