Archive for the 'Regular Features' Category

[ VC&G Anthology ] The Ghosts of Christmas Games Past

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

The Ghosts of Christmas Games Past by Benj Edwards Title Image

The Christmas Games of Yesteryear

Of the tens of thousands of video and computer games released since the 1970s, few have featured Christmas themes. That’s surprising considering that the holiday is an insanely popular topic in other forms of media (especially movies–the number of Christmas-themed films could probably fill the Grand Canyon).

Here are twelve video and computer games, all released more than ten years ago, that dared to buck the trend. Some failed, some succeeded, but all tried to deliver holiday cheer with Santa, sleighs, elves, evil snowmen, flying turkey helicopters, and other beloved symbols of Christmas.

Many were released on more than one platform; whenever possible, I’ve included the cover art for all of the versions. Some of the games are still available, and I’ve given links to the ones you can download online. Our list of Christmas games is not exhaustive, though, so if you have a favorite that we left out, please share it in the comments.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] The Ghosts of Christmas Games Past » ]

The VC&G Christmas Collection (2019 Edition)

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Vintage Computing and Gaming Christmas Xmas Megapost

It’s that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past eight 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.

This year, I updated the PC World/MacWorld/Techhive links to Archive.org WayBack Machine links. The images on all of my old PCWorld features are now sadly broken.

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 (2019 Edition) » ]

[ Retro Scan ] 9.9.99 – Dreamcast Turns 20 in America

Monday, September 9th, 2019

Sega Dreamcast 9.9.99 9/9/99 9_9_99 September 9 1999 American Launch advertisement scan - 1999Gaming used to be very painful

On September 9, 1999, Sega launched the Dreamcast in America. This is one of its pre-launch print ads.

20 years later, I am still not sure exactly how to interpret this advertisement. The tagline in the corner seems the most obvious part. To me, “it’s thinking,” implied that the Dreamcast packed a powerful CPU and could generate complex gaming experiences.

But the screaming, eye-pain stuff? At the time, video game advertisement in the US leaned toward cryptic and edgy. This was drumming up interest for a launch date, so it threw in some mystery, not even naming the console itself.

But if taken literally, the ad makes it look like playing games on this upcoming console could be a painful or negative experience. Somehow marketers calculated that dark and painful imagery attracted American gamers. What this cultural masochism says about American gamers, I am not sure. That’s a deep one to unravel.

I didn’t like the ad much at the time. But I was hyped for the Dreamcast launch, so maybe it worked.

9.9.99

1999 was a big year for me. In June, I graduated high school and started my first full-time job. A month later, I moved out of my parents’ house. I had money to burn, my own bank account, my own credit card. So I did what came naturally to an 18 year-old at the time: I bought a Sega Dreamcast. It was one of the highlights of my adult life — a symbol of independence.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan ] 9.9.99 – Dreamcast Turns 20 in America » ]

[ Retro Scan ] IBM 4341 Super-Mini

Friday, July 12th, 2019

IBM 4341 Super-Mini Mainframe computer University Big man on Campus advertisement scan - 1984A controller bigger than your head

As far as I recall, this is the first time I’ve ever featured an advertisement for an IBM mainframe computer system on VC&G. The system in question is the IBM 4341, a System/370-compatible model first launched in 1979 and discontinued in 1986.

In this 1984 ad, we catch the system — apparently used commonly at universities — near the end of its lifespan. Other than this ad, I know nothing else about it. But Wikipedia does.

Huge IBM mainframes at universities predate my time in college — I’m actually glad I never had to use them.

[ From Discover Magazine, January 1984, p.22-23 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever used an IBM mainframe computer? Tell us about it.

[ Fuzzy Memory ] Mouse and Snake Labyrinth Game

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Fuzzy MemoryEvery once and a while, I receive emails from people looking for a certain game, electronic toy, or computer from their distant past. I then pass it on to intrepid VC&G readers to crack the case.

The Clues

Roberto writes:

I’m trying to find an “nostalgy” old game, I remember a mouse running through a labyrinth eat cheeses and a boa pursuit it.

Several years I’m trying to find this old dos or ms dos game.
Can you help to find it?

Thanks in advance,
Roberto

The Search Begins

It’s up to you to find the object of Roberto’s fuzzy memory. Post any thoughts or suggestions in the comments section below. Roberto will be monitoring the comments, so if you need to clarify something with him, ask away. Good luck!

Have a memory of a computer, video game, computer software, or electronic toy you need help identifying? Send me an email describing your memories in detail. Hopefully, the collective genius of the VC&G readership can help solve your mystery.

[ Retro Scan ] Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Promotional Photo

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out NES press photo 8x10 black and white scan - 1987Nude boxer plays Nintendo

I have a framed print of this 8×10 photo hanging on my office wall. The first time I put it up and my kids came in, the conversation went something like this:

“Daddy, why is there a photo of a naked man on your wall?”

“That’s Mike Tyson.”

“…”

“A famous boxer from the 1980s.”

“…”
“But why is he naked.”

And so I hit upon a 1980s cultural zeitgeist I never thought I’d have to explain to anyone.

Nintendo’s 1984 arcade classic Punch-Out!! — which used richly detailed graphics for the time and dual monitors — was a masterpiece in creative arcade design. And in the 1980s, watching Mike Tyson fight (which I did a couple times on pay-per-view) was a thrilling experience. He was scary powerful. So when Nintendo combined the two together in 1987 as a game for the hottest console of the day, they cooked up the recipe for something amazing: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!.

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! still holds a place as one of my favorite NES games. It’s dynamic, beautiful, and fun. It’s challenging, but doesn’t feel unfair. Curiously, I must have only played friends’ copies of MT’s Punch-Out!! (or we traded it) because we also bought the non-Tyson version (with Mr. Dream) Nintendo released in 1990.

This photo is a promotional handout Nintendo sent to the press in 1987. I believe I own the only known physical photographic print of this image. (I’m sure there are others out there, but we don’t know where they are). Last year I sent a high-res scan of this image to The Gaming Historian for one of his YouTube features and also to Frank Cifaldi for Video Game History Foundation exhibits. So you may be seeing it more often in the future.

The back of the photo says this:

Mike Tyson, undisputed heavyweight boxing champion, has signed a promotional contract with the world’s leading manufacturer of home video game systems, Nintendo of America. Tyson will offer his name and likeness to “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!”, a game which allows players to participate in a series of challenging matches, leading up to a battle against the champ himself. The Game Pak, designed exclusively for play on the Nintendo Entertainment System, will be available in October.

[ From Nintendo of America Press Photo, 1987 ]

Discussion Topic: What’s your favorite classic boxing video game?

Paul G. Allen (1953-2018)

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Paul G. AllenIn Memoriam: Paul G. Allen (1953-2018)
co-founder Microsoft, prominent philanthropist

[ Retro Scan ] The Atari Trak-Ball

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

Atari 5200 and Atari 2600 Trak-Ball advertisement scan - 1983A controller bigger than your head

The reports of Retro Scan’s death are greatly exaggerated.

I just emerged from the other side of a huge house move that taxed my body and soul. Moving my huge collection was very difficult, and now dealing with where to put it all keeps that stress going. I feel behind on lots of things, but it’s time to catch up. One of the best ways to do that is with a new Retro Scan. So here we go — let’s talk trackballs.

As far as I know, the first arcade video games to use a trackball were Midway’s Shuffleboard and Atari Football, both from 1978. As to which came first, I have no idea at the moment.

Atari really ran with the trackball (they called it a “Trak-Ball”) and produced several mega arcade hits that used the interface, including Missile Command and Centipede. It only makes sense that they would bring the tech home to their Atari 8-bit computer line — and the Atari 5200, as seen here — in the form of the Pro-Line Trak-Ball controller.

(An aside: Despite the ad saying the Trak-Ball controller works for the Atari 2600, I know of no vintage 2600 games that support trackball mode natively. There is a joystick mode switch on the bottom of the controller, however, that lets you use it with any game.)

Of course, the 5200 version of the Trak-Ball controller is legendarily huge. It’s almost as big as the (already big) console itself. But I’ve heard good things about it, despite never having used one. I do have the smaller CX22 Trak-Ball controller and I enjoy games of Missile Command on my Atari 800XL with it from time to time, although it is criminally under-supported (in Trak-Ball mode) by games on that platform.

So how about you guys: Have you ever used the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball? What did you think about it?

[ From Video Games Player, October-November 1983 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever used a trackball with any game console? Tell us about it.

Ted Dabney (1937-2018)

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Ted DabneyIn Memoriam: Samuel Frederick Dabney, Jr. (1937-2018),
co-founder of Syzygy and Atari

Samuel Frederick (“Ted”) Dabney, Jr., who co-founded Atari with Nolan Bushnell in 1972, died of esophageal cancer just three days ago. He was 81 years old.

I was not close with Ted, but I did interview him at length for articles about Computer Space and Pong back in 2011 and 2012. During our conversations, he was candid, detailed, kind, and very helpful. During my conversations with him, a lot of the details of early Atari history you can now read online were coming out of him for the first time, so he was a vital source of fresh information on that subject.

Ted did critical work as a partner of Nolan Bushnell in the early 1970s. He served as a creative sounding board for Nolan’s ambitious ideas and also as a key implementer of some of them.

Ted met Nolan around 1969 while working at Ampex, where they were office mates. They shared big dreams and secret sessions of the board game go while in the office, and in off-hours, they hung out and scouted locations for a new restaurant idea Bushnell had that involved talking barrels.

With Nolan at Syzygy Engineering, Dabney created the video control circuitry used in Computer Space, built the prototype cabinet for that game, designed its sound circuit, and more. On Pong, Dabney built the prototype cabinet and gave feedback to game designer Allan Alcorn. He also provided ideas for Atari’s third game, Space Race, before he left Atari in 1973.

There is some confusion about the reason Dabney left Atari. Dabney told me that Nolan forced him out. Bushnell commonly cites poor work performance as the reason Dabney left. Absent some documentary evidence, the real answer will always be one of those fuzzy historical points left to interpretation. What we do know for sure is that the two founders were no longer getting along.

(By the way, I have recently read some reports about Dabney that say he left Atari because he was angry that Nolan patented his motion control circuitry without including him on the patent. This is plainly false. Dabney did not even know that Nolan’s motion control patent existed until I informed him about it in a 2011 interview.)

A lot of the key info I gleaned from Dabney can be found in my 2011 piece on Computer Space, which is a primary source for some of the secondhand knowledge you’ll read about Dabney and Atari’s early days on the web. Some day I need to publish my full interview with Dabney on Pong, because it is very insightful.

It’s also worth noting that Dabney remained friends with Nolan throughout the 1970s despite the Atari business acrimony. They were never truly close like they were circa 1969-1972, but they still kept in touch, shared a hot tub or two, and Dabney created a trivia game for Nolan’s Pizza Time chain in the early 1980s.

I will miss talking to Ted. He was laid-back, easy going, and straightforward. He had so much skill and experience from his days before Atari, and I need to write about that some time. I had hoped to interview him again at some point, but life delayed those plans. May he rest in peace.

[ Retro Scan ] Computers in Kids’ Bedrooms

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Apple IIc Apple //c Computer Kids Bedroom After School advertisement scan - 1985Simple beginnings

Since I first saw this in a magazine about 12 years ago, this Apple IIc (//c if you prefer) ad has probably been my favorite Apple ad of all time.

The reason is nostalgia — it portrays a kid’s bedroom in the 1980s, and it reminds me of being a kid back then.

I also like the details tucked in there, such as the Motley Crue poster, the Bazooka bubble gum, the ATV helmet (next to a tiny photo of a three-wheeled ATV), the hamster, and an Apple Modem 300/1200 sitting under the telephone. I also wonder what those circuit boards up on the shelf are supposed to be (and what they were actually from).

The Apple IIc was indeed a great machine for young students in the 1980s.

* * *

At 37, my circa-1985 bedroom was outfitted mostly with He-Man figures and stuffed animals, but my older brother’s bedroom looked more like the room in the ad.

Come to think of it, I actually have a photo of my older brother’s bedroom from December 1985, and part of it looked exactly like this:

Benj's Brother's Bedroom in December 1985 - Atari 800 Atari 400

You’ll notice the nice Atari 800 setup, which I have no doubt talked about many times before.

At that time, we did have an Apple IIc as well, but my dad kept it in his home office. It was the first computer I ever used a mouse with.

And what do you know, I have a photo of my dad’s office too — labeled July 1985:

Benj's Dad's Office in July 1985 - Apple IIc and Star Printer

You’ll notice the Star brand dot matrix printer on the floor beneath the desk. I still have many vivid memories of crawling around the floor and watching Print Shop banners and calendars emerge with an intense and persistent screech.

Good times.

In 2016, I did a whole slideshow about my family’s computers through the years for PCMag. If you enjoyed these family computer snapshots of mine, you’ll enjoy that as well.

[ From Popular Computing, February 1985 ]

Discussion Topic: Did you have a computer in your bedroom as a kid? Tell us about it.