Archive for the 'Computer Games' Category

[ 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 Interview: Felicia Day — Actress, Author, and Geek Advocate

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Felicia Day Interview Headshot10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 10

One week ago, I had a chance to talk to Felicia Day, an American actress who has gained considerable renown for embracing her geeky side.

In 2007, Day created a pioneering web TV show called The Guild that focused on a group of disparate characters in a World of Warcraft-like MMO who are nonetheless bound together by their devotion to the game — and to each other as teammates.

After launching The Guild, Day went on to co-star in Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, an award-winning musical miniseries crafted especially for the web. She has also acted in shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and Eureka.

Just this year, Day released a memoir called You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), that I read from cover-to-cover in a few days and enjoyed immensely. In it, she talked about growing up in the American South, her gaming habits, embracing her geeky nature, and creating The Guild.

With that book in mind, I thought it would be fun to ask her some questions about her early computing and gaming habits. Along the way, we touch on the philosophy of genius and celebrity, and whether it's safe to do an interview while you're driving a car.

I hope you enjoy it.

This interview took place on November 4, 2015 over the telephone.

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Felicia Day — Actress, Author, and Geek Advocate » ]

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) » ]

[ 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) » ]

Benj's 'This Old Tech' Column Debuts on

Friday, November 6th, 2015

This Old Tech Column on Toshiba T1000

Today, PCWorld published the inaugural entry of my new column, This Old Tech. In the column, I will be writing about vintage gadgets, games, and computers — pretty much the same stuff I talk about on Vintage Computing and Gaming. So far, the plan is to publish a new piece every Friday.

For the first column, I talk about the first MS-DOS computer I ever learned to use, the Toshiba T1000 laptop. I still have the same machine from all those years ago, so aside from just waxing nostalgic, I also attempt to get it working again.

So spread the word — I am looking forward to exploring my personal tech history in this new column. I hope you enjoy it.

[ 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) » ]

Musician Shooter Jennings Launches New BBS Door Game

Monday, September 28th, 2015

[ After hearing exciting news about a new BBS door game, I invited BBS door historian Josh Renaud of Break Into Chat to write up a post about it for VC&G. — Benj]

My name is Josh Renaud, and I run a BBS wiki and retrocomputing blog called "Break Into Chat." I love old BBS door games, and I'm also fascinated by the ways today's sysops are doing new things with old technology.

I'm here to tell you about a new BBS door game launching today. Its author is none other than Shooter Jennings, son of country music legend Waylon Jennings.

Shooter's new game is called From Here to Eternity, and for the last several weeks, he has been beta-testing it on his BBS, which is called "Bit Sunrise."

I first encountered Jennings when I came across his question on Reddit's /r/bbs: "If I made a door game for money would you play it?"

I'm not into country music, so the username "ShooterJennings" didn't mean anything to me. But his question grabbed my attention. I wanted to know what he had in mind. A "freemium" pay-to-play model? A registration fee for sysops like the old days? No. Jennings wanted users to pay a small fee to join his game. Then they would compete to win a jackpot.

We had some back and forth. He told me he had come across Break Into Chat, and had been blown away by one of my ANSI game demos. So I looked him up. It was my turn to be blown away. Jennings has a successful music career. He's appeared in movies and on TV.

I wanted to know why he was spending time writing a new BBS door game, so I interviewed him at length about From Here to Eternity. Jennings explained how writing the game helped him through the loss of a close friend, and how important retrocomputing is to him (he started with an Apple IIe as a kid).

It's a fascinating story. And his game is pretty cool too.

To play it, you can access Bit Sunrise BBS and play the game over the web using a browser-based client at Or if you want a slightly more authentic experience, then fire up a terminal program like SyncTerm, and telnet to

In an email announcing the game's launch, Jennings promised that "the first player to pass through The Coil (the final gate) with all 20 artifacts will receive 1 Bitcoin (~$240) sent directly to their Bitcoin wallet!"

The game will last for 30 days, or until someone wins the game.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Windows 95 Gaming

Monday, August 24th, 2015

Pitfall Mayan Adventure Windows 95 PC Game advertisement - 1995If swinging on vines was a good idea, everybody would do it

20 years ago today, Microsoft released Windows 95, the GUI-based operating system that launched Microsoft as a commercial Juggernaut into the mainstream consciousness. That's because Windows 95 was accompanied by what was likely the largest marketing push for an OS to date (no sources cited, just my brain), and it created a minor media frenzy. People actually lined up to buy Windows 95.

Windows 95 initiated a new epoch in PC gaming, courtesy of the then-completely new DirectX system of gaming APIs. DirectX made it easy for developers to create powerful, hardware hungry games that ran natively (and smoothly, CPU permitting) on Windows. (Windows nerds will recall that it followed up on the similar, if under-utilized, WinG API for Windows 3.11.)

The very first third-party Windows 95 game ever released commercially (to my knowledge — at least, it was promoted this way) was Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, a 1990s reboot of the classic Atari 2600-era platformer Pitfall!. Here is an ad for that game around the time of its debut in August 1995.

That being said, while I am a fan of Pitfall! and Pitfall II, I have never liked The Mayan Adventure. Seems too hard and not fun. Of course, your mileage may vary.

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, p.117]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How did you feel about Windows 95 when it came out? Did you upgrade?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Retro Re-Releases

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Bubble Bobble Also Featuring Rainbow Islands PlayStation PS1 PSX MS-DOS advertisement - 1996"100% Rendered Black Void" — I like the humor in this ad

In the mid-1990s, much to my delight, game publishers began remaking and re-releasing classic games of the 1970s and 1980s in collections on Mac, PC, and consoles. You remember — I'm talking about titles such as Microsoft Arcade (1993), Atari 2600 Action Pack (1995), the Namco Museum series (1995-1998), Arcade Classic No. 1: Asteroids / Missile Command (1995), Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits (1996). Even Super Mario All-Stars (1993) counts to some extent.

That happened to be around the same time I started collecting old video game and computer systems, roughly in 1993, so I was happy that the industry seemed to be rediscovering these "forgotten" classics.

The awkwardly titled Bubble Bubble Also Featuring Rainbow Islands falls into the same category, being a re-release of the arcade version of Bubble Bobble and its sequel Rainbow Islands on PlayStation 1 and MS-DOS.

[ From GamePro, October 1996, p.5]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what are some of the best executed game retro remakes and re-releases?