Archive for the 'Computer Games' Category

Ed Smith and the Imagination Machine

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

Ed Smith and the Imagination Machine

Just today, FastCompany published my in-depth history of Ed Smith and APF Electronics.

APF was responsible for several video game consoles in the 1970s (like the MP1000) and a personal computer called The Imagination Machine. Ed Smith was the primary electronics designer for the MP1000, and he has quite a story to tell.

I think you guys will really enjoy the piece.

Thirty-seven years ago, New York-based APF Electronics, Inc. released The Imagination Machine, a hybrid video game console and personal computer designed to make a consumer's first experience with computing as painless and inexpensive as possible.

APF's playful computer (and its game console, the MP1000) never rivaled the impact of products from Apple or Atari, but they remain historically important because of the man who cocreated them: Ed Smith, one of the first African-American electronics engineers in the video game industry. During a time when black Americans struggled for social justice, Manhattan-based APF hired Smith to design the core element of its future electronics business.

What it took to get there, for both APF and Smith, is a story worth recounting—and one that, until now, has never been told in full.

VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Jokers Photos by Benj Edwards

No, you're not seeing things. These are actual physical playing cards designed to look just like the classic Microsoft Solitaire card faces — the same faces Microsoft used for its Windows-based card games between 1990 and 2007.

Just this month, home decor vendor Areaware began selling the cards, which were produced with the help of the cards' original graphic designer, Susan Kare (and with the blessings/license of Microsoft).

Kare is best known as the designer of the original Macintosh fonts, icons, and interface elements. She also created most of the icons for Windows 3.0, which was the first version of Windows to ship with Microsoft Solitaire. Along the way, she ended up designing the Solitaire cards too.

Excited as I always am for computer nostalgia, I eagerly bought a pack of these new cards as soon as they became available, and I put them through the ultimate test: a game of real desktop Klondike solitaire.

[ Continue reading VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards » ]

[ Retro Scan ] Dune II

Monday, March 14th, 2016

Dune II PC Game Advertisement Scan - 1992I just got a craving for The Spice

Dune II is to the real-time strategy genre as Wolfenstein 3D is to first-person shooters. Like Wolf-3D, Dune II wasn't the absolute first example of its genre, but it was the first game to bring together all the distinctive elements of its respective genre into one title — in this case, those elements would later be copied and expanded upon over and over again by games like Command & Conquer and Warcraft.

That being said, I've only played Dune II a few times — only many years after its release. I never got into it, but I can see why it is a historically important game. Warcraft was my first modern RTS game.

[ From VG&CE, November 1992, p.4 ]

Discussion Topic: What's your favorite Real-Time Strategy game of all time?

[ Retro Scan ] DWANGO Online Service

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

DWANGO Quake Doom Online FPS multiplayer online server Advertisement Scan - 1998Looks real to me

DWANGO, which stood for "Dial-up Wide-Area Network Game Operation," was an online matchmaking service that specialized in FPS games like Doom and Quake. It has a fascinating history that you can read about more in its Wikipedia article.

I believe I signed up for a free trial of DWANGO circa 1994 so I could play Doom with someone when I was bored, but I don't remember ever getting it working for some reason. Instead, I often played co-op Doom (and later Quake) modem-to-modem with friends who called my BBS.

[ From GamePro, May 1998, p.67 ]

Discussion Topic: When was the first time you played a FPS multiplayer online? How did you set it up? (i.e. modem-to-modem, TCP/IP, services like Dwango)

One Scan Per Week for Ten Years

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Benj Edwards Vintage Computing Retro Scan of the Week Turns 10 Years Old - 10th Anniversary

On January 30th, 2006, I posted my first entry in the Retro Scan of the Week column: "When to Use Low Speed Modems." Below that first scanned image, I wrote:

I found this amusing, so I thought I'd share it. More to come.

I was right about that last sentence. Since then, I've shared weekly scans on my blog 522 times — every Monday for 10 years.

Yep, Retro Scan of the Week just turned 10.

While it is not an achievement on-par with, say, building the pyramids, working at the same company for 50 years, or hosting a late-night talk show for decades, I am slightly overwhelmed when I try to consider the scope of this anniversary and what it actually means to me personally.

Get Somma That Tinney ActionWhat I think it means is that I have been dedicated to preserving computer and video game history for an officially long time now (this blog itself turned ten last year). And I have always wanted to share it with others. Retro Scan of the Week has been a regular and effective way to achieve both goals.

For years, I have used the column as an opportunity to provide more than just images. When I could, I have attached personal commentary about the scans I'm showcasing because I hope it will give valuable context to future historians (assuming copies of my blog survive that long). Also, reader comments have been equally important in capturing the firsthand reactions to products and events over time.

Without that extra something that gives RSOTW its unique quality, I probably would have quit posting them years ago. But NOPE. 10 years.

The End of an Era?

On the occasion of this colulmn's fifth anniversary, I wrote a retrospective that is worth reading if you are interested in learning some historical background on my Retro Scan of the Week column. (There's also more about RSOTW in this interview from last year.)

Retro Scan of the Week ScannerThat earlier anniversary — coming in a different era where blogs and scans were slightly more relevant — felt more meaningful somehow. At that point, I had done something for a long time (in blog years). Now I've done it twice as long. And honestly, not much has changed in five years, other than the fact that I finally upgraded to an 11″x17″ large format scanner last year — and that there are twice as many scans on this blog.

But now that I have reached this milestone, I think I might be winding down the column some time soon. While it wouldn't be too hard to keep going for years on end, I think ten years is a nice emotional and philosophical cap to this project.

For now, I'll mull it over. It's a hard considering pulling the plug on something you've spent every Monday for ten years doing. But whatever happens, there will be a legacy left behind. At some point I plan to put all my high-res scans on the Internet Archive, for example. And RSOTW images still haunt Google Image Searches like nobody's business. I keep running in to my own work when I'm trying to research something else.

Whatever happens, it has been a fun 10 years. Thanks for reading along with me as we have rediscovered the past together.

[ Continue reading One Scan Per Week for Ten Years » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AOL Game Disk

Monday, January 4th, 2016

GamePro AOL Game Disk Package - 1996click on the image above to see front and back

I've previously featured a scan of an AOL CD, but so far I have not ventured into the world of America Online floppy disk packaging…until now. Here is a gaming-centric AOL giveaway disk package — still unopened — which I believe came with an issue of GamePro magazine I received as part of a subscription in 1996.

I love the AOL screenshot printed on the package here (possibly mocked up for marketing purposes) because it offers a rare glimpse into the mid-1990s AOL interface (with a Windows 3.1 window motif), centered on "The Games Channel." If anybody has a collection of AOL screenshots from the 1990s, I'd love to see them.

[ From AOL disk package, circa 1996, front and back ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever play games on America Online back in the day? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Crusader: No Remorse

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Origin Crusader No Remorse PC Advertisement - 1995Beware the tiny red man

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best non-Ultima game Origin ever made?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] WorldsAway

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldAway Graphical Multiuser Online Chat World on CompuServe First Advertisement - 1996"There's More to Life On-Line"

Just a few months ago, the 20th anniversary of the launch of WorldsAway, a pioneering graphical online world, came and went without any major notice (it launched in September 1995). But I remembered the milestone, and I wrote a recent This Old Tech column over on PCWorld.com about my memories of the service, which I stuck with in some form or another until 2001.

WorldsAway was simply magical when it launched. It promised to put you, as a user, into a graphical world that you could share with other online users (the term "Avatar" as an online representation of your physical self came from the creators of this lineage of online worlds). It delivered on that goal with a charming atmosphere — where you could change between whimsical heads with ease — and a vibrant community that I still look back on fondly to this day.

Honestly, I miss being part of that WorldsAway community. My involvement there came at a time when I was fairly lonely and isolated with my hobbies — my high school years — during a time when few "average" people used any online service whatsoever. Don't get me wrong; I did fairly well at school, and I wasn't a freak with no friends — but the real-life friends I did have did not share my love for the online world. Online, of course, I could find others like me, and on WorldsAway, we all celebrated that commonality together in a vibrant, playful world.

Did anybody else use WorldsAway in the 1990s? I'd love to hear from you.

P.S. I was an avid reader and subscriber of CompuServe Magazine in the 1990s, which is where I found and drooled over this ad back in the day.

[ From CompuServe Magazine, March 1996, p.4 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you use any graphical online chat worlds in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

The VC&G Christmas Collection (2015 Edition)

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Vintage Computing and Gaming Christmas Xmas Megapost

It's that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past few 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.

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 (2015 Edition) » ]

[ 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)