Archive for the 'Everything Else' Category

Steve Bristow (1949-2015)

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Steve Bristow in Memoirum[The following news comes to us via video game historian Mary Goldberg, who has allowed VC&G to republish his Facebook announcement here so more people can see it. –Benj]

It is with a sad heart that we announce the passing of Atari legend and friend Stephen D. ("Steve") Bristow, who died this past Sunday, February 22, 2015 at the age of 65 following a short illness.

Bristow was one of the originals, helping Nolan Bushnell out during the development of the world's first commercial arcade game, Computer Space, while an intern at Ampex.

He then moved to Nutting Associates, the publisher of Computer Space, as an intern. At Nutting, he soon took over for Nolan Bushnell when Bushnell and business partner Ted Dabney left to form Atari.

In the early 1970s, Bristow joined up once again with Bushnell at Atari for a short while before being tapped to form secret Atari subsidiary Kee Games with Joe and Patricia Keenan. There, he lead the creation of several groundbreaking arcade games such as the full-color multiplayer Indy 800 and the seminal game Tank.

Bristow occupied many positions at Atari throughout the 1970s an 80s. Upon the merger between Kee Games and Atari, he oversaw Atari's Coin Engineering as well as later projects like the Electronic Board Game Division. He later became Plant Manager of Pinball Production at Atari before moving to VP Engineering, Consumer and Home Computer Division, then VP Engineering of Atari's Consumer Game Division in the early 1980s.

From there, Bristow moved to VP Advanced Technology, then VP Engineering, AtariTel Division (which produced telephone products). Then finally, he joined Atari's Engineering Computer Division as VP and became an Atari Fellow before leaving Atari all together in February 1984.

Bristow continued with an impressive electrical engineering career afterword, but it's his time and accomplishments at Atari (and all the fun he brought us) that are the reason we're all here. He will be sorely missed.

The Glorious, Colorful World of Radio Shack Toy and Game Box Art

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Old Radio Shack LogoAfter 94 years in business, it is likely that Radio Shack will soon be no more. And sadly, it has taken the impending death of Radio Shack for me to realize how absolutely ingrained its products have been in my life.

As the son of an electronics engineer living in the US, our home growing up held at least five Radio Shack products per room (or those of its related brands: Tandy, Realistic, Optimus, Archer, or Micronta).

I am not joking or exaggerating. I could probably go through my parents' house today and fill a whole room with that stuff: speakers, tapes, radios, hi-fi receivers, turntables, headphones, microphones, clocks, intercoms, outlet timers, telephones, cables, wires, adapters and more.

It's almost absurd, I tell you. My first IBM compatible PC was a Tandy 1800HD laptop. My first cassette recorder, microphone, telephone, cordless telephone all came from Radio Shack. My first kiss…well, a Radio Shack robot, of course.

And who can forget the batteries. The batteries!

Radio Shack LCD Football GameAbove and beyond all that were the games, the toys, the amusements. The Armatrons and Cosmic Fire Away 1000s. Pocket Blackjack, electronic chess, Pocket Repeat, RC cars, tiny kid DJ stations, microphone FM transmitters, electronic coin banks, joysticks, talking alarm clocks (Dare I add the Tandy 1000 series and the TRS-80 Color Computer). The list is endless, I tell you.

In honor of the foundering electronics retailer, I pulled together a slightly massive collection of Radio Shack toy and game box art from the late 1960s up to the early 2000s. For good measure, I threw in a handful of non-toy product boxes as well (such as one for a Zack Morris-sized cell phone and a pocket TV set).

As you look through them below, I have but one question to ask:

How many of these have you owned or played?

[ Continue reading The Glorious, Colorful World of Radio Shack Toy and Game Box Art » ]

The Invention of the Video Game Cartridge

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

The Untold Story of the Invention of the Game Cartridge

Three and a half years ago, I started writing a history of the Fairchild Channel F, the world's first commercial game console to use software cartridges. As part of the research, I first interviewed two Fairchild veterans to follow up on my 2009 interview of Jerry Lawson.

As I kept digging, the rabbit hole of history went deeper and deeper, and the story turned out too complex and nuanced to properly research for whatever venue I was planning at the time. Budgets were tight, and the economics didn't work out, so I had to shelve it.

Just last year, I picked up where I left off and did the rest of the legwork, summoning primary source documents from around the world (special thanks to ICHEG) and interviewing over 15 people who worked for Alpex, National Semiconductor, Fairchild, Atari, and RCA to piece together the most accurate portrait of the birth of the game cartridge that I could possibly manage.

The result was finally published last night — in a somewhat abridged format — on FastCompany.com with my friend and longtime collaborator Harry McCracken editing the piece.

What I have created sheds light on a heretofore completely unknown segment of video game history (especially regarding Alpex), and it is my hope that I have done so in a way that does justice to the achievement of those involved some forty years ago.

I am grateful to everyone who helped with my research — especially Ron Smith, the mechanical designer of the Channel F, who provided me with countless documents and a patient ear for all of my questions, and Wallace Kirschner and Lawrence Haskel, who decided to talk to the press for the first time ever for my piece.

There is more to the story than could fit in the article, but don't despair — it will probably end up as part of a book.

I hope you enjoy the piece.

Remembering Ralph Baer (1922-2014)

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Ralph Baer, inventor of TV video gamesIn Memoriam: Ralph Baer (1922-2014),
co-inventor of TV video games and the home video game console

Our dear Ralph. What a man. 92 years old. A life full of technology, audacity, and gumption (with equal measures wise prudence). He died on December 6, 2014 at his home in Manchester, New Hampshire. May he rest in peace.

Just summarizing Baer's biography with keywords sounds impressive: Germany, Nazis, Kristalnacht, WWII Service, small arms expert, Lee De Forest, TV technician, Sanders, engineering, Apollo, inventor of TV video games, game console, Odyssey, cable TV, patents, Simon, toy inventor. The list could go on and on. He achieved quite a bit and lived a very full, very fulfilling long life.

Ralph Baer at Sanders, Circa late 1960sOf course, he is most well known for inventing the concept of television video games and co-inventing, with William Rusch and William Harrison, the world's first video game console during his time at Sanders in the mid-late 1960s. The prototype console that the trio finished in 1968 later became the Magnavox Odyssey (1972), the world's first commercial video game console.

But there was much more to the man, and I count myself lucky to have known him.

[ Continue reading Remembering Ralph Baer (1922-2014) » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Family Quizagon Night

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Quizagon family Apple II IBM PC Commodore 64 VIC-20 computer game advertisement - 1983“Whoa…what’s in these brownies, Grandma?”

Thanksgiving is almost upon us again, so it's time to gather around your home PC for a game of…Quizagon?

Yes, Quizagon. A game I've never played, nor will I for the foreseeable future. It looks like a hexagon-themed family trivia game, which is not my bag, man. But what a great photo.

Instead, I'm going to host a The Seven Cities of Gold marathon on an Atari 800XL with my brother. We plan on exploring a completely new continent while interacting vigorously with the natives. Meanwhile, my brothers- and sisters-in-law will be playing Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on my dedicated gaming PC that is hooked to the flat-screen living room TV. It's a great kart game to play on Steam with four Xbox 360 controllers that's easy to set up and jump into. Fun times shall be had by all.

By the way, I first used this amusing scan in a 2009 Thanksgiving-related slideshow I did for Technologizer (hoping I'm not repeating it on VC&G). If you're in the mood, here's some other Thanksgiving-related material from the VC&G archives.

[ From Compute! - November 1983, p.15]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have any family video gaming planned for this Thanksgiving? If so, what are you going to play?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Disk Box Modern Art

Monday, October 20th, 2014

From Fellows 3.5The beauty of silent instructions

[ From Fellows 3.5″ Softworks Instructions - 1994, back]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you had to guess, how many floppy disks do you own?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Donkey Kong Puzzle

Monday, October 13th, 2014

MB Puzzle Milton-Bradley 200 piece Donkey Kong Puzzle box cover art - circa 1983That is one dangerous and sexy construction site

When it comes to vintage 1980s puzzles, few can beat the sheer cultural nostalgia value of this 200-piece Milton-Bradley Donkey Kong puzzle, which comes straight from my childhood. This is a scan of the front of the box.

It's not often that I find a true surprise lurking in our old family toys, but I had completely forgotten about this puzzle until I ran across it in the back corner of my mom's attic a few months ago. Memories of poring over the lush, vibrant artwork on the box rushed back to me as I pulled it from where it had lay, dusty and neglected, for 25 years.

Look at the the highlights, the curves, the gradients. The richness.

Luckily for me, all the pieces were still in the box, so I have now re-assembled the puzzle and framed it. It will never be lost again.

The artwork for this puzzle no doubt echoes the side cabinet art of the Donkey Kong arcade machine, but with added detail and an airbrushed vividness. I think it would make an awesome poster — does anyone know who the artist was?

By the way — even though I find it insanely difficult at times, the original Donkey Kong is one of my favorite arcade games. It was also one of the first video games I ever played, courtesy of a port to the Atari 800.

P.S. Pauline is way hotter than Princess Peach.

[ From MB Donkey Kong 200 Piece Puzzle Box - circa 1982-1983, front]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, which is better: Donkey Kong Jr. or Donkey Kong 3?

The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Computer Dad SyndromeDuring the 1980s, a debilitating disease broke out among white middle-class nuclear families across the United States. Fathers everywhere were seen awkwardly encouraging their children during regular activities — often while playing video games or using personal computers.

Thirty years later, doctors have finally identified this malady as Computer Dad Syndrome (or "CDS" for short), which manifests itself in spontaneous episodes of uncomfortably becoming someone's dad for the duration of a photography shoot.

Diagnosis of this condition is contingent upon the appearance of three or more of the following symptoms.

Clutching of the upper arm

Clutching of the upper arm

[ Continue reading The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Nintendo Smartwatch

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Nelsonic Nintendo Game Watches Zelda Watch Super Mario Bros. Watch Service Merchandise catalog advertisement - 1989Why not put LZDN1WBF and LSMN1WBF on your Xmas wishlist?

As you probably know, Apple recently introduced the Apple Watch. That got me thinking about other nerdy watches of yore, and I remembered something I recently found in my mom's attic.

Last month, my mother and I searched through boxes and boxes of my grandmother's old dishes to see what might be of use to me now. The dishes had been sitting in my parents' attic untouched for two decades. Many of them were padded with old newspaper from eastern Tennessee, which is where my grandmother lived until she died in 1992.

Among the usual black-ink-on-yellowing-paper fare, I found a handful of gloriously full-color advertisement circulars. A December 1989 mini-catalog for Service Merchandise caught my attention immediately because it featured a pair of Nelsonic Game Watches licensed by Nintendo. (That segment of the circular is what you see scanned above.)

Each of these two watches, which sold for ($19.97 a piece — or $38.37 today when adjusted for inflation) played a simplified prefab-LCD interpretation of its console namesake. If you remember Tiger's LCD handheld games, you're on the right track. In the Zelda watch game, you were forever trapped in a dungeon, and in Super Mario Bros. you forever hopped between platforms.

While these watch games were limited at the time, it was amazing to think you could fit a portable, battery-powered "video game" on your wrist and play it wherever you liked. I personally recall seeing more than one of these watches getting confiscated by teachers during my elementary school days.

That desire to carry functional video games with us has never abated. Heck, I bet that within days of the Apple Watch's release next year, someone will hack it to play emulated versions of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda — allowing us to finally have the full NES experience on our wrists. It may be 25 years too late, but it will be amusing to see how things have come full circle.

[ From Service Merchandise Circular (IE499J), Dec 1989, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned a watch that played a game? Tell us about it.

Macworld Magazine (1984-2014)

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

In Memoriam: Macworld Magazine, print edition (1984-2014)

Today I found out that Macworld will cease to be a print magazine and that many of my friends and colleagues have been laid off. Macworld.com will continue to exist, albeit with a relative skeleton crew.

It's very sad to see a day like this come (especially when I still look forward to a new issue of Macworld coming in the mail every month — one of the last print publications I read), but all things must come to an end. It is amazing, in retrospect, that Macworld magazine remained a constant, intelligent voice amid the chaos of a rapidly churning computer industry for thirty years.

Thirty years. Think of all the change that has happened in that time — the tech uphevals, the revolutions, the fall and rise of Apple, the Jobs-as-Phoenix, and rapid spread of the Internet — and through it all, Macworld has been there.

So thank you, Macworld, for serving the Mac community so well. And thanks to its staff in particular. I'd especially like to express my gratitude to Roman Loyola, Jason Snell, Dan Moren, Dan Frakes, Dan Miller, and Philip Michaels (among many others) for their wonderful work on the publication, and their genuine humanity, decency, patience, and fairness (sometimes rare qualities in an editor) through the years.

Roman Loyola, in particular, has been my go-to guy to get my — nay, our — particular brand of Apple history work pushed out to the world, and I am immensely grateful to have worked with him.

The talent pool of editorial labor laid off from Macworld today is immense, and other publications would be fools not to snatch them up as quickly as they can.

As for me, I've been contributing to the publication since 2008. As long as Macworld.com is still around, I might still write things for it. (Completely gutting a publication of its beloved veteran staff doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the future, however.) Time will tell. Until then, it's been a great ride.