Archive for the 'News & Current Events' Category

Ideas for VC&G 10th Anniversary?

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoI just looked at the calendar and realized that Vintage Computing and Gaming is turning 10 this year. I started this blog in November 2005.

I'm not quite ready to break out the party hats yet, but I'm wondering if you guys had any ideas of what I could (or should) do to celebrate this milestone.

I've considered possibly compiling some of the site material into a book of some kind, but I'm not sure how well any of the VC&G content will translate to book format. Of course, 99% of the posts on this site over the past 7-8 years have been Retro Scans, so maybe there isn't much to celebrate. There are a lot of stories buried in there, however — maybe I could pull them out into some kind of collection (although I am loathe to be responsible for yet another crappy eBook or print-on-demand tech memoir).

So…any ideas? Contests? Retrospectives? Or just sit back and do business as usual? (Not a bad option.) I'm all ears!

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 go through my parents' house today and fill a moving van 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. 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?

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.

Andrew Kay (1919-2014)

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Andrew Kay, founder of KayProIn Memoriam: Andrew Kay (1919-2014), founder of KayPro
and inventor of the digital voltmeter

The Kaypro II (1982), sold by Andrew Kay's company, was one of the earliest vintage computers I added to my collection (and my first CP/M machine) way back in the early 1990s. Its high-quality components, including its sturdy metal case, its integrated serial and parallel ports, its full-sized keyboard, and its sharp 9-inch green-screen monitor made it a joy to use. And man, it had an 80-column display, which made it a competent word processing machine even in 1994.

With everything integrated, the Kaypro II was a truly plug-and-play machine at a time when other systems required hooking up chains of various peripherals to get things done. With the KayPro II, you folded down the keyboard, plugged it into an outlet, inserted a disk, and flipped it on. It was an island oasis in a sea of endless computer cords.

Andrew Kay's achievements were great (among his other works, he invented the digital voltmeter in 1952). He will be missed.

Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Prodigy Online Service Logo

Since last year, I have been working with Jim Carpenter, a freelance programmer by trade, on hunting down old Prodigy data so that we may preserve it, display it again, and perhaps even one day use it to recreate Prodigy itself.

We're calling it the Prodigy Restoration Project.

By now you may have seen my latest piece for The Atlantic entitled Where Online Services Go When They Die: Rebuilding Prodigy, One Page at a Time. That article describes the genesis of the project while also diving into the technical back story of the Prodigy service.

The reason we have any hope of doing something like this is because Carpenter discovered that Prodigy screen data can still be found in the STAGE.DAT and CACHE.DAT files located in used Prodigy client directories.

Those two files were used as cache files to speed up load times when using the service. When connecting to Prodigy, the client would download page data into the files. Whenever the client last connected to Prodigy, that data got frozen in time. If a vintage Prodigy client install still exists, we can get at the "frozen" data today.

Here are some screens that Carpenter pulled from a STAGE.DAT I had in my personal archives (these are from a STAGE.DAT file dated October 6, 1996):

Prodigy Login Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Rebel Space Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Encyclopedia Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Golf Tour Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT

Prodigy Greeting Cards Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Email Template Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Phone Directory Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Problem Error Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT

We can extract these screens using a series of Python programs written by Carpenter. They read through a previously used STAGE.DAT file, generate a list of pointers to the pages or object data contained within, then direct the Prodigy Reception System client to display them one at a time so we can take screenshots.

Jim's code is not ready for release yet, but he hopes to polish it up enough to put up on GitHub soon. It has a long way to go before becoming a turnkey solution to extracting and displaying the data found in STAGE.DAT files. We're working on it.

With that in mind, I've written the rest of this post in the form of a Frequently Asked Questions.

[ Continue reading Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead » ]

In Turing Test, VC&G writer Ulaf Silchov Fails to Convince Judges He is Human

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Ulaf SilchovUlaf Silchov, our resident Ukranian computer and video game expert, recently decided to volunteer as the human control in a recent Turing test conducted at the University of Reading in the UK.

The only problem? Everyone thought he was a computer.

Here is an excerpt of one of his conversations with a judge:

Judge: Hi, I'm Cathy.

Entity: CATHY! THE NAME OF A WOMANS.

Judge: Yes, I'm a woman.

Entity: WHAT IS A WOMANS, REALLY? BUT A MANS WITH THE UNSTOPPABLE THIRST FOR KRELBS.

Judge: Right. What is your name?

Entity: WHAT IS YOUR NAMES?

Judge: I'm Cathy, remember?

Entity: THAT IS NOT A REAL NAMES.

Judge: Yes, it is. At least where I come from. What is your name?

Entity: ULAF HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE NAMES ULAF IN UKRAINE, BUT FRIENDS CALL ULAF "ULAF" FOR SHORTS IN SVADLOST.

Judge: Nice name. Are you from either area?

Entity: THE AREA OF A TRIANGLES BECOMES THE HYPOTENUSE…ULAF FORGET.

Judge: Uh huh. How could you forget something so important?

Entity: NO, ULAF NOT IMPORTENT. ULAF HAVE AT LEAST 3.5 CHILDRENS (ONE HALF SIZED).

Judge: That's a very personal issue. What's your specialty?

Entity: ULAF FORGET TO ASK WHERE EITHER OF YOUR MINDS ARE FROM.

Judge: The universe and you?

Entity: ULAF, ALSO, BECOMES FROM THE STUFF OF STARS, AS THE MIND OF CARLOS SAGAN ONCE TOLD.

Judge: Do you have any hobbies?

Entity: NO TIMES TO TALK NOW, RUSSIANS KARUMPING ON THE DOOR OF ULAF. REMEMBER, THIS IS ULAF SAYING, "BE THE MASTER." *END TRANSMISSION*

Judge: I'm still here.