Archive for the 'Design' Category

Inside the Magnavox Odyssey (40th Anniversary)

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Inside the Magnavox Odyssey Teardown Slideshow

Believe it or not, it's been almost two years since I did my last tech teardown slideshow for PC World. After 11 visual disassemblies with my haggard workbench as a backdrop, I figured I'd give the series a rest until an interesting new venue came along.

Fast forward to April 2012 — it was a beautiful spring day outside, and I had decided to take apart a 1972 Magnavox Odyssey (the first commercial video game console) in honor of its 40th anniversary. I walked out to my back yard, sat down on the moss, and the result is now up on PCWorld.com.

I hope you enjoy it.

Here are my previous tech teardowns: Nintendo NES, Atari 1040STf, Atari 800, Commodore Amiga 1000, Commodore 64, Nintendo Game Boy, Nintendo Famicom, Apple IIc, IBM Model M Keyboard, TRS-80 Model 100, and Macintosh Portable.

VC&G Interview: Carol Shaw, The First Female Video Game Developer

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Carol Shaw holding River Raid Box, 1982By her own admission, Carol Shaw isn't your average American woman. Growing up in a world of technology and science traditionally guided by men, she ignored implicit gender barriers and pursued what came to her naturally.

She says she had little interest in dolls as a kid, instead preferring to tinker with her brothers' model railroad layout. In school, she proudly excelled in math and found herself gravitating toward computer science in college, a field of study populated with few women in the 1970s.

Two degrees later, Shaw landed a job at Atari programming games for the company's new VCS console. She didn't know it at the time, but she had just become the world's first female professional video game designer.

Shaw enjoyed a short but fruitful career in video games that lasted from 1978 to 1984, stretching between two prominent California companies: Atari, of course, which all but founded the video game industry; and Activision, a firm most notable as the very first third-party video game software publisher.

During her time at Activision, Carol Shaw created River Raid, a title almost universally regarded as a masterpiece of game design for the Atari 2600 console.

For decades, Shaw downplayed her role in video game history. Now 56, she seems ready to embrace that part of her life, although she does not actively seek attention or fame. In that regard, we are fortunate that she accepted my request for an interview.

In May of this year, Shaw and I spoke for nearly two hours over the telephone in a career-spanning discussion that touched on her educational background, her time at Atari, Activision, and Tandem Computers, and her reflections on being a woman in a historically male-dominated industry. She also generously provided many of the rare photos you'll see below.

It's a long piece, but I think you'll enjoy reading the extended thoughts of this pioneering software engineer.

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Carol Shaw, The First Female Video Game Developer » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Video Rack

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Video Rack Atari 2600 Controller Accessory Ad - Tammy Sue Distributing - 1983Oh Tammy Sue, How I Adore You

How do you make a handheld controller into a non-handheld controller? By strapping on a giant block of unwieldy plastic, of course.

The Stick Station (subject of a RSOTW in 2006) achieved the same feat by using a large poplar board. The result was far more stylish than the Video Rack, but equally useless.

While there may be a handful of games that benefit from an immovable joystick base (like an arcade machine), they're in such a minority that they don't warrant a special peripheral. I back up this observation by the fact that the Video Rack and Stick Station are exceedingly rare peripherals. If everybody had wanted one, they'd be common today.

There is one one notable case, however, where a joystick stabilizer really helps. Atari shipped a special dual-joystick mount with every copy of Robotron 2084 for the Atari 8-bit computer line. I have one, and it is awesome.

[ From Electronic Games, December 1983 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what video games would benefit from using the Video Rack?

10 Unreleased Video Game Consoles

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

10 Unreleased Video Game Consoles on PCMag.com

Up now on PCMag is a slideshow I made showcasing 10 unreleased video game consoles. I hope you enjoy it.

Do you know of any cool unreleased game systems that I didn't mention? Tell us about them in the comments below.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Model No. NES-001

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Nintendo Entertainment System Face Front Scan - 1985One of the most successful consoles of all time.

Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System 25 years ago today in the US. Here's a scan of that famous console itself.

I first played a NES in 1986 or 1987, likely with Super Mario Bros. as my first game (as described here). What an amazing experience it was. To say that the NES defined video gaming for my generation is almost an understatement. From 1986-1990, the term "video game" was synonymous with "Nintendo" for kids in the US. From their perspective, there was no other.

Unlike many kids my age, I was aware of what had come before (Atari), and that made the NES all the more amazing. Happy 25th birthday, NES. My generation worships you.

[ Nintendo Entertainment System Console (face), circa 1985 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How did you feel when you played a NES game for the first time? Tell us when/where it happened and describe the episode.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color

Monday, March 1st, 2010

SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color Ad - 2000"Get Pocket Power!"

I scored my first Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC) along with Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure and SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium for my birthday in 1999. It was an amazing little machine — in my opinion, the only US market competitor that stood a chance against the Game Boy in the long run.

SNK clearly studied Nintendo's winning handheld strategy and succeeded where previous Game Boy competitors failed by keeping the Neo Geo Pocket Color's technical specifications minimal and omitting a backlight, allowing for low retail cost and long battery life.

The NGPC even sported an innovative and satisfyingly clicky thumb stick that in some ways surpassed the traditional D-pad in functionality. Still, SNK couldn't keep up with Nintendo's first party franchises and voluminous third party support, and the NGPC died on the vine, never to realize its full potential.

Along with the Sega Dreamcast, the NGPG lives on in gamer memory as one of those rare consoles that failed due to commercial reasons alone, not technical ones. The NGPC hardware is currently cheap and plentiful, so if you don't have one, I highly recommend picking up a unit and a handful of games.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, April 2000, p.122 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What are your favorite Neo Geo Pocket Color Games? What game you think was best, over all, for the system?

15 Classic Game Console Design Mistakes

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Game Console Mistakes on TechnologizerUp now on Technologizer is my latest VC&G-related freelance work: 15 Classic Game Console Design Mistakes, a non-exhaustive analysis of various hardware and design goofs in video game consoles. In it, I discuss the Intellivision, Sega Saturn, NES, Atari Jaguar, and more.

This latest article is a follow-up of an earlier Technologizer piece I wrote back in June: 15 Classic PC Design Mistakes.

Interestingly, this latest piece is proving to be far more controversial. I suspect it's because people have had more up-close experiences with video game systems than with semi-obscure computers, and because game consoles inspire quite a bit of unflinching loyalty in the general populace.

I came up with many more flaws than I listed, but I couldn't keep writing forever. So feel free to share your ideas for game console design flaws either here or over at Technologizer.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] TurboGrafx-16 Logo

Monday, June 1st, 2009

TurboGrafx-16 Logo - 1989You could eat off of this logo.

This week, I present to you the TurboGrafx-16 logo in relatively high resolution lossless PNG format for all to use and enjoy (click on the image above for the big version). Nice and clean. I've always considered this logo to be an exceptional example of good graphic design.

[ From The U.S. TurboGrafx-16 Instruction Manual, circa 1989 ]

Discussion topic of the week: What's your favorite game system logo of all time?

Game Boy Oddities

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Game Boy Oddities on Technologizer

Just up is a new slide show I put together for Technologzier that showcases Game Boy oddities. It's like a freak show for Nintendo's venerable handheld, which turns twenty next week. Ever seen a Game Boy peripheral that dispenses laughing gas? How about one that demands tributes of child blood? If not, then mosey on over to Technologizer and take a look.

Inside the Nintendo Game Boy

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Inside the Nintendo Game Boy

In honor of the Game Boy's 20th anniversary this month, I recently dissected an original 1989 model of Nintendo's famous handheld for PC World. Of course, I took pictures of the process.

This is the sixth entry in my "workbench series" of technology tear-downs for PC World. Here are the others: Nintendo Famicom, Apple IIc, Commodore 64, IBM Model M Keyboard, and TRS-80 Model 100.

I hope you enjoy it.