Archive for the 'VC&G Anthology' Category

[ VC&G Anthology ] The Evolution of Computer Displays

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

Evolution of Computer Displays by Benj Edwards Title Image

Take a good look at this sentence. You’re reading it thanks to the magic of a computer display — whether it be LCD, CRT, or even printed out on paper. Since the beginning of the digital era, users have needed a way to view the results of programs run on a computer — but the manner in which computers have spit out data has changed considerably over the last 70 years. Let’s take a tour.

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[ VC&G Anthology ] Video Games Turn Forty (2007)

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Note: this article was originally published on 1UP.com on May 15, 2007 under the title “Videogames Turn Forty.” (Original URL: http://www.1up.com/do/feature?pager.offset=0&cId=3159462).

Since 1UP is no longer with us, I decided to republish the article here for historical reference. I have learned quite a bit about video game history in the decade since this was originally published, and naturally some of my conclusions have changed. But this is still a great overview of the work done by Baer, Harrison, and Rusch in the 1960s. I plan to republish my other 1UP articles on VC&G as well in the near future. — Benj

Video Games Turn Forty 1UP Screenshot

The nineteen-inch screen flashed in waves of blue and black as two normally reserved professionals threw themselves into a competition destined for the history books. Mashing furiously at hand wired buttons, each battled to be the first winner of a unique contest never before played by man: the contest of the video game.

VC&G Anthology BadgeIn 1967, a bold engineer with a vision led a small team to create the world’s first electronic games to use an ordinary television set as a medium. Wary of naysayers from within, the video mavericks sequestered themselves behind closed doors, and for good reason: they worked under the payroll of Sanders Associates, a giant Cold War defense contractor.

As hippies on the streets of San Francisco stuck flowers in the barrels of guns, three men in snowy New Hampshire crafted the future of electronic entertainment deep in the heart of a commercial war machine. In May of 1967, the world’s first video games — as we know them today — made their quiet, humble entrance into the world.

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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 (b. Nov 4 1954).

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 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.

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

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Trip Hawkins Interview on EDGE-online.com
10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 8

[ This interview I conducted was originally published on Edge.com 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 Edge.com 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.

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

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

The First CD-Player - Sony CDP-101
10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 7

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.

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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 PCWorld.com. 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.

10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 6

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

Friday, November 6th, 2015

IBM Smiley Characters
10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 5

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.

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

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

10 Greatest PC Games of All Time
10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 4

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

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.

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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 1UP.com. 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.

10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 3

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VC&G Anthology Interview: What Makes a Video Game? A Short Conversation with Nolan Bushnell (2011)

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Nolan Bushnell HimselfBack in 2011, I wrote an article about the creation of Nutting Associates’ Computer Space on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. If you’ll recall, Computer Space was the world’s first mass-produced and commercially sold video game. It started the video arcade game industry.

While researching the piece, I conducted extensive telephone interviews with Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell, the co-creators of the game (who went on to become the co-founders of Atari). During my conversation with Bushnell, we touched upon some other topics too — when you have a guy like Bushnell on the phone, you tend to ask whatever you need when you have the chance.

VC&G Anthology BadgeWhile looking through the transcript of that 2011 interview again recently, I came across a section near the end where Nolan and I talked about what it really means to be a video game. During our conversation, Nolan hit on something that I think is rather profound, yet completely obvious in hindsight. I thought other folks might find our conversation, and its resulting conclusion, interesting.

I’ve kept this transcript nearly verbatim because I feel it reflects the spontaneous, free-flowing nature of the conversation. We were talking as he was driving home from a business appointment, so he was slightly distracted at the time.

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