Archive for the 'Regular Features' Category

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Laser 128 Family

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Laser 128 Apple II Compatible clone machine computer advertisement - 1987A family on the move

This Apple II-clone machine became popular in the mid-late 1980s as a low-cost alternative to the Apple IIc (almost half the price but twice the RAM), especially for home use. I have a Laser 128 in nearly pristine condition in the box, and it feels nice to use. It echoes the integrated form factor of the IIc, which makes it convenient to setup in a pinch if you need to pull out an Apple II in an emergency. Or at least that's how I use it.

Happy Thanksgiving from VC&G

[ From Family and Home Office Computing, November 1987, p.69 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have any Thanksgiving computer or gaming traditions? Tell us about them.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Ultima VII For SNES

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Origin FCI Pony Ultima The Black Gate for SNES Super NES Ultima VII port advertisement - 1994This keychain looks like it would hurt in your pocket

Here we see an ad for the Super NES version of Ultima VII: The Black Gate. Apparently, when VII received its port to Nintendo's console, its Roman numeral designation got the axe. As a result, the title became merely Ultima: The Black Gate.

I'm not a big fan of the SNES ports of the Ultima games (VI and VII). In the process of chopping things down to fit in a reasonably-sized ROM cartridge, a lot of content and features were lost (including the Roman numeral in this case). But at the same time, those ports likely gave console fans a taste of the Ultima universe that they would not have had otherwise.

As for me, I was lucky enough to originally play the Ultima games on the PC (and the Atari ST, in the case of Ultima III), so I guess I am spoiled.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1994, p.100]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what's the best console port of any Ultima game?

See Also:

Ultima VII Immortality Contest (RSOTW, 2007)
Ultima VI (RSOTW, 2009)
Ultima V (RSOTW, 2009)
The Savage Empire (RSOTW, 2010)
Tiny Pocket Ultima (RSOTW, 2013)

VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012)

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Trip Hawkins Interview on

[ This interview I conducted was originally published on in June 2012 to roughly coincide with Electronic Arts' 30th Anniversary. Since then, the interview has disappeared from the web. A few people have asked me to make it available again, and since I retained the rights to the interview, I am free to publish it on VC&G for everyone to enjoy. ]

Originally Published on in June 2012:

VC&G Anthology BadgeElectronic Arts is 30 years old, and there is no denying that the behemoth game publisher casts a long shadow of influence over the entire industry. The company, founded in May 1982, pioneered a business model that treated game designers like rock stars and software publishers like record labels. It pushed the use of big names and big licenses in sports (think Madden, NFL) and soon grew to gobble up many renowned development studios to become a massive entertainment conglomerate.

These days, that conglomerate catches lots of flack from gamers on various issues including employee treatment, content milking, premature server termination, and more. Whether or not those criticisms have any merit, there is no denying that Electronic Arts was once revered as a top corporate impresario for identifying and cultivating the world's best game design talent (although one would have to admit that time was very long ago).

The man behind the early, creatively-rich image of EA is Trip Hawkins, an Apple veteran who founded the company with a simple dream: to bring his sports simulations to life. Hawkins, now 58, left EA in 1991 to start The 3DO Company, which folded in 2003. He then launched mobile game developer Digital Chocolate that same year. Just recently, Hawkins announced he was stepping down as CEO of Digital Chocolate to face an as-yet unrevealed future.

In late May of this year [2012 — Ed.], on the occasion of EA's 30th anniversary, I spoke with Hawkins over the telephone and via email about the creation of Electronic Arts, the design of its early games, and at some length about the negative criticism the company tends to attract today. Along the way, we touched on the personal source of his creative spirit and about heady days as a close friend of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012) » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Ceiling Fan Robot

Monday, November 9th, 2015

CasaBlanca Fan Company Casablanca 1985 Robot Intelli-touch world's first computerized ceiling fan advertisement - 1985Play it again, Samtronic

I ran across this ad for CasaBlanca's Intelli-Touch, "the world's first computerized ceiling fan," in a 1985 issue of Home magazine that I found in my mom's house.

My mother has subscribed to house decorating magazines for as long as I can remember, and Home is only one of many (other examples: Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living). I never thought that I'd feature a scan from one, though.

But this ceiling fan ad was too fun to pass up. It reflects a time when you could slap the term "computerized" on any electronically-controlled consumer product (even if it didn't actually have a computer inside, which was often the case) and use it as a marketing angle.

The robotic take on Humphrey Bogart's classic film reminds me of those famous Maxell ads. Perhaps the same people were responsible for both campaigns? I don't know, but frankly, this would have terrified me if I had seen it as a kid. Luckily, I found it when I was 34, so I'm only slightly afraid.

[ From Home, May 1985, p.3]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you woke up one day and everyone looked like a metallic, boxy robot, what would you do?

[ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012)

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

The First CD-Player - Sony CDP-101

When I write articles about the history of technology — which, I'll admit, is fairly often — a few readers will sometimes say, "The author is obviously too young to remember X or Y," or "He forgot to include X." Sure, I don't know everything. But most of the time, if there is ever an omission of something notable in one of my articles, a) I know about it, and b) it was done for a good reason.

(That reason, by the way, is usually brevity — editors almost always trim things out to make the article shorter. The second most common reason is that the omitted info, while generally understood to be true, is actually false.)

VC&G Anthology BadgeWhen the occasion warrants it, and if time allows, I do the most exhaustive research I can manage on a topic. While browsing through my old writing files recently, I came across a fairly vivid illustration of this: a very detailed timeline of CD technology that I created while writing an feature about the 30th anniversary of the CD Player for TechHive back in 2012.

During that process, I set out to understand the history of the CD Player and the Compact Disc medium as much as possible so I could explain it with confidence. One of the best ways to do that — to cover 30+ years of history and get it all straight — is to make a timeline. So that's what I did.

The published article on TechHive includes key selections from this timeline at the bottom, but not everything. With the hope that my more detailed CD timeline might some day help future researchers, I am publishing it below, complete with sources when available.

This kind of thing makes me wonder how many other man-hours of journalistic research lay just out of reach because there is no proper context in which to share it. In this case, I'm lucky to have the VC&G Anthology series.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012) » ]

VC&G Anthology Interview: Charles Simonyi and Richard Brodie, creators of Microsoft Word (2008)

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

Charles Simonyi, Left, Richard Brodie, Right, in early 1980sIn October 2008, I created a slideshow to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Microsoft Word for It included slides on the history of the software and some oddities as well — remember Clippy?

While researching the slideshow, I contacted Charles Simonyi and Richard Brodie — two early Microsoft employees who worked together to create the first versions of Microsoft Word. While working at Xerox PARC in the 1970s, Simonyi and a colleague named Butler Lampson created Bravo, the world's first WYSIWYG word processor. After that, Microsoft hired Simonyi largely based on that experience.

VC&G Anthology BadgeConducting original interviews for a web slideshow was very unusual in 2008 — heck, it's unusual today. But sometimes you need to go to the source to get some facts straight, and that's what I was doing, as you'll see below.

To create this short composite interview, I took two separate email interviews and combined them into one document for easy readability. While it is edited to appear like a conversation, neither man was aware of the other's answers.


[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Charles Simonyi and Richard Brodie, creators of Microsoft Word (2008) » ]

[ VC&G Anthology ] Origins of the ASCII Smiley Character: An Email Exchange With Dr. David Bradley (2011)

Friday, November 6th, 2015

IBM Smiley Characters

The famous IBM PC 5150 turned 30 in 2011, and I spent quite some time preparing for that important anniversary. During my brainstorming process, I thought it would be fun to celebrate the 30th anniversary of another famous cultural icon — the "smiley" ASCII character, which originated with that seminal IBM machine.

To me, the the smiley character (seen above in its original and inverse forms) is best known as the protagonist of pseudo-graphical text-based games like ZZT.

VC&G Anthology BadgeTo find out the origins of this whimsical denizen of Code Page 437, I sent an email to Dr. David J. Bradley, one of the creators of the IBM PC, whom I had corresponded with before. In fact, Dr. Bradley is best known as the inventor of "CTRL-ALT-DELETE" keyboard combination that once reset almost every IBM PC-compatible computer.

I never did get around to writing that Smiley celebration as I planned, but I just ran across my conversation with Dr. Bradley recently, and I still find it interesting. With Dr. Bradley's permission, I am reproducing a transcript of our email conversation below, which I hope will aid future IBM Smiley researchers in their quest for information.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] Origins of the ASCII Smiley Character: An Email Exchange With Dr. David Bradley (2011) » ]

[ VC&G Anthology ] Developers Cite The Greatest PC Games of All Time (2009)

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

10 Greatest PC Games of All Time

In early 2009, I undertook my most ambitious slideshow up to that point: The Ten Greatest PC Games of All Time for

After playing dozens of games, reading opinions on forums and blogs across the Internet, and consulting every previously published list of greatest PC games I could find, I made a rough list of about 50 games. Then I stuck them in a spreadsheet and rated them based on various criteria.

During the process, I also surveyed several well-known PC game developers (and Dan Bricklin) for their nominations of Greatest PC Games. I did the best I could, and of course, the result reflected one man's opinion. Here's what I came up with:

#10: TradeWars 2002
#9: Myst
#8: The Sims
#7: StarCraft
#6: Rogue: The Adventure Game
#5: M.U.L.E.
#4: SimCity
#3: Sid Meier's Civilization
#2: Doom
#1: World of Warcraft

It pissed everybody off, of course.

(Well, just about everybody. Fellow journalist Jenn Frank and her mom liked it. But that was about it.)

VC&G Anthology BadgeEditors who had not been consulted were livid that I was apparently speaking on behalf of PC World with such an important-sounding list (not my intention), and people all around the U.S. were upset that I didn't include Half-Life or X-Com: UFO Defense.

Meanwhile, readers in the UK cried for blood and shouted, "Where is Tomb Raider??!!" I just scratched my head on that one — apparently it's a national classic over there.

It didn't help that my editor had changed the title to "The 10 Best PC Games Ever." After about two dozen angry comments, I got my editor to change it back to "greatest" — the difference being that I was going after influential and culturally important games — not necessarily the "best" games to play today. (I also regretted not making a title slide for that slideshow for the first time, so it always says "best" on there.)

The piece got syndicated on MSN and everywhere else, so the title change didn't propagate there. Hate seethed at me from all corners of the globe. I honestly don't enjoy making people upset, but man, it was fun to watch people go apeshit over a slideshow.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] Developers Cite The Greatest PC Games of All Time (2009) » ]

VC&G Anthology Interview: F. Randall Farmer, Co-Creator of Lucasfilm's Habitat (2008)

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

F. Randall Farmer HeadshotIn September 2008, I began working on an in-depth history of the early online virtual world called Lucasfilm's Habitat for After delays in hearing back from Chip Morningstar (one of the game's co-creators) and an unexpected death in my wife's family, the article got the kibosh. It's probably for the best, because I barely knew what I was doing back then.

Along the way, I did manage to interview Habitat's other main creator, F. Randall ("Randy") Farmer via email. Farmer didn't answer half of my most probing development questions (he kept pointing to an earlier piece over on Gamasutra), but what he did answer is pretty interesting.

VC&G Anthology BadgeSome of this information be recounted elsewhere by now — I think more articles have been written about Habitat since 2008 — but I'm publishing my complete interview here in the hopes that it may help someone else with research about Habitat in the future.


[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: F. Randall Farmer, Co-Creator of Lucasfilm's Habitat (2008) » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] VINTAGECOMPUTING.COM

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Benj Edwards Vintage Computing and Gaming domain name registration Network Solutions June 2000"I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT AN INVOICE"

Although Vintage Computing and Gaming turns 10 years old today, I actually registered the "" domain name back on June 8, 2000. This is what Network Solutions sent to me in the mail. I was only 19 years old — now I'm 34. Time flies.

It wasn't the first domain I'd ever registered, but it was an early one. I wanted to use for an online computer museum that would show off my vintage computer and video game collection. I never got around to creating that.

Another project got in the way of all of those plans, and I ended up working on music at instead until October 2005.

I finally put my domain to good use — over five years later — when I decided to make a blog on that fateful day in November 2005.

[ From Networks Solutions Domain Registration Letter, June 13 2000]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first domain name you ever registered?