Archive for the 'Gaming History' Category

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.

Manufacturing Quality

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Photos by Benj EdwardsAreaware's Solitaire Cards, which currently sell for US $14 a pack, come nicely packaged in a clear plastic reusable case with a cardboard slip cover. The deck arrives crisp and clean within, neatly wrapped in cellophane.

Physically, the cards feel well-made, about the same quality you'd expect from a $3 pack of Bicycle poker cards. Each Areaware card is coated and feels about as thick as a normal playing card. You get 54 cards in total — all the cards of the four Western playing card suits plus two joker cards that Susan Kare designed especially for this set (see photo above). The new joker design fits well with the vintage card theme.

Regarding the card's coating, they are perhaps a little too slick, because they very easily slide all over the place when you try to set them on top of each other. It's the kind of thing you do frequently when you, well, play a game of solitaire.

Card Design

Image DescAside from the new joker card design I mentioned above, the 52 other cards in the deck take their designs almost directly from Windows 3.0 Solitaire card faces. The card back design is also from the original Windows game.

Each of the cards has a square notch cut out of all four corners to add a pixelated motif. It's a nice touch, but the notches can catch on other cards and get in the way a bit if you're handling cards quickly. That being said, the notches are not a big problem.

Curious to see how accurately the Windows designs were reflected in the print cards, I scanned and compared several of the face cards. I discovered many subtle differences — none of them major enough to get in the way of the enjoyment of using the card deck. But still it is worth nothing that the cards are not 100% authentic facsimiles of Microsoft Solitaire card designs.

Here is a good example: the king of hearts card. All of the major design elements are there, and the corner suit markers have been re-positioned to better fit the card. If you directly overlay the two cards, you can see a few different pixel colors here and there. Aside from the removed magenta anti-aliasing, you have to be eagle-eyed to spot the differences (take a look at this GIF which alternates between the two cards).

Areaware Windows Soltiare Cards Photos by Benj Edwards

The king of clubs card has even more changes, many of which I'd say were unnecessary. But again, if you didn't sit down and study the differences like I did, you probably wouldn't notice.

As you can tell, I am a huge Windows Solitaire nerd — perhaps the only person who might bother with such a comparison. But then again, this Microsoft card game is probably one of the most (if not the most) played computer games of all time, so the subject is not entirely trivial.

I have been in touch with Susan Kare over the years, so just today I sent her an email asking about the design differences. Were they mistakes? Here's what she said:

"We had slightly to adjust the aspect ratio for the printed cards. I also had to make vector versions of each card and it's possible that I inadvertently changed a pixel or two in the KJQ cards; nothing intentional. It was a chance to look over everything and aim for consistency. I made the jokers new for Areaware. (I worked with Lisa Smith at Areaware — she was great.)" — Susan Kare

After looking a little more closely at the comparison I sent her, she also said, "I see where I missed one pixel but made decisions to remove another and make the hearts all red."

Again, this is just minutia, really. Kare is the designer, and if anyone can modify the design and get away with it, it's her. She did a great job optimizing the cards for a print run.

Playing Solitaire

So how to the cards play? Well, when you lay them all out in a Klondike pattern, they look like this:

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Photos by Benj Edwards

It's enough to make yer teeny Windows-lovin' heart go pitter-patter.

But I'm not going to lie: I had no idea how to set them up at first. Although I have played Klondike solitaire thousands of times on a computer, I had only played it with real cards once or twice, so I had to look up how to arrange the cards on Wikipedia. It would be nice if it came with printed instructions on how to play — or at least set up — Klondike solitaire.

Once it was set up, though, I had no trouble playing. It was quite fun until I got into an unwinnable situation. I was tempted to cheat because, unlike on the computer, the cards were sitting right in front of me (and no one was watching), but I didn't. After a re-shuffle, I played another game that I promptly won.

And just like in the Windows version, the cards started flying everywhere, bouncing all over the room.

Ok, I'm kidding: I just threw them up in the air and laughed like a crazed Solitaire fan. It's been a good day.

Q&A With Susan Kare, Designer of Microsoft Solitaire Cards (from 2008)

Back in 2008, I planned to write a feature about Windows Solitaire, so I asked Susan Kare a handful of questions via email. She answered them very briefly, so I never used them. But looking back, I think there are some interesting tidbits in there. — Benj

VC&G: How did you end up being the designer of the Windows Solitaire cards?

Susan Kare: It was part of the Windows 3.0 contract

VC&G: Was any particular card more challenging to draw than another?

SK: Kind of obvious, but the K, Q, J were the most complex.

VC&G: Do you have a favorite card design from the bunch?

SK: Not really

VC&G: Did you model your cards off of any particular brand of real playing cards?

SK: No

VC&G: What method did you use to design the cards?

SK: Studio 8 (from Electronic Arts) and the paint program that came with Windows — 16 VGA colors

VC&G: While designing the cards, how much did you interact with Wes Cherry, programmer of Solitaire?

SK: Not at all.

VC&G: To your knowledge, have the Windows Solitaire card face graphics remained unmodified from your original Windows 3.0 version until XP?

SK: Believe so

VC&G: When's the last time you played Windows Solitaire with your card designs in it? Did you enjoy it?

SK: I love Solitaire. I mostly play on my phone now though.

The Skinny: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards
Good Features: Clever idea taps into nostalgia, high quality card material, good quality printing, Susan Kare involvement
Bad Features: Not 100% accurate to Windows card faces, corners and slickness make handling more difficult, slightly expensive, no solitaire instructions included
VC Rating:
(10 Being Best)
[ 8 out of 10 ] Shiny Marbles - Excellent

[ Retro Scan ] Mindscape NES Games

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Mindscape NES Games Flier scan - 1990ULAF SAY, "MIND SCRAPE"

I believe this Mindscape flier came packed with Days of Thunder for the NES. I am not a huge fan of the games depicted here aside from 720 and Gauntlet II, both of which are pretty good Atari Games arcade ports.

And while M.U.L.E. is a favorite of mine on the Atari 800, I am not a big fan of the NES version. It's nice that it uses the Four Score / Satellite four player adapter though (Gauntlet II does as well).

[ From Mindscape Flier MIN-NES-US, 1990 ]

Discussion Topic: What's the best four-player game for the NES?

Analogue Launches 'Nt Mini' Modernized NES Console

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Analogue Nt Mini

The upcoming NES Classic has its first high-end competitor.

Just today, Seattle-based Analogue is announcing the Analogue Nt Mini, a miniaturized version of its videophile-grade NES-compatible console that debuted earlier this year. The intention, according to Analogue founder Christopher Taber, is to go head-to-head with the NES Classic console from Nintendo that ships in November.

It will not be undercutting the NES Classic in price, however. This little beauty will cost you $449.

Unlike the earlier Analogue Nt, which was partially made out of recycled parts from authentic Nintendo Famicom circuit boards, the Nt Mini utilizes FPGA technology to simulate the authentic NES chips in a smaller package.

The Mini also includes RGB+HDMI output by default (HDMI was an upgrade option for the original, limited-edition Analogue console) and an 8Bitdo wireless NES controller and Retro Receiver for wireless play. It plays games off of original NES and Famicom cartridges.

Despite its attention to built quality, the Analogue Nt Mini is a very expensive proposition — especially when you can buy a working original NES on eBay for anywhere from $40-$100, and Nintendo's own HD NES Classic will retail for $59.99 (of course, that model will only play 30 built-in games).

And if you think $449 is expensive, keep in mind that this is the same company sold a 24K gold version of the first Analogue Nt for $5000. So much like buying a $200 bottle of wine, cultural cachet is a big part of Analogue's marketing angle.

I will try to get my hands on an Analogue Nt mini for a review and see if that price can possibly be justified. Until then, Analogue is opening up its site for Nt Mini pre-orders today if you'd like to dive into boutique NES waters head first.

It's amazing to me that it's 2016 and the the NES console market is heating up in ways I never thought possible. (We've come a long way from the Generation NEX, which inspired me to launch this site back in 2005.) Between this new unit from Analogue, Nintendo's NES classic, and RetroUSB's AVS — a $180 HD NES remake which I intend to review soon — I can see that I am going to have a fun and busy fall.

[ Retro Scan ] Hi Tech Expressions NES Games

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

Hi Tech Expressions NES Games Flier scan - 1991High Times with Hi Tech Expressions

This fold-out flier celebrating NES games published by Hi Tech Expressions came packed with a NES game, likely Sesame Street A-B-C and 1-2-3. (Although the "DMG" in the flier name gives me pause, because that was Nintendo's in-house abbreviation for the Game Boy.)

The games shown here aren't particularly well noted for being classics, but I am very fond of Big Bird's Hide & Speak, a fun game for small children which features impressive sampled voice work by Caroll Spinney. I was older than the target audience when it first came out, but I have played it with my youngest daughter a number of times over the years, and she loved it.

[ From Hi-Tech Expressions Flier HIT-DMG-US-1, circa 1991 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever played any educational games on the NES?

[ Newsbits ] June 29, 2016

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

I've recently received a big influx of news, announcements, and press releases, so I thought I'd bring Newsbits out of cold storage and use it to share everything all at once.

Recent News

  • Producer of The Oregon Trail Donates Collection to The Strong

    It's wonderful to see this stuff preserved, as always

    A group of former employees from the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC) recently donated an extensive collection of materials to The Strong museum documenting the history of the pioneering company from 1973 to 1996. The collection includes hundreds of pieces of software, internal documents, and press clippings.
  • EveryMac.com Turning 20 Years Old

    Brock Kyle recently let me know that his essential Apple info site is turning 20 this Saturday. Quite an accomplistment!

    Established in 1996, EveryMac.com is the complete guide to every Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and Mac clone in the world, with technical specs, configuration details, system identifiers, performance benchmarks, and global pricing info.
  • Atari Video Documentary Project Needs Support

    They've assembled some incredible footage so far; would be a shame to see this disappear

    This 100 minutes long documentary about the Atari story will feature a list of unreleased interviews with the key people of these events, including a very rare one with Warner VP Manny Gerard and a unique one with Atari CEO Ray Kassar, the man held responsible for Atari success and the video game industry crash at the same time, who never appeared in a documentary before.
  • YouTube Gamer on a Quest to Play 1001 Games Hits 100th Episode

    Quite a project

    My name is Gaming Jay. I'm a retro gamer who started a challenge this past year to play through a book called '1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.' Each week I’ve been playing 2 games and recording my gaming sessions and uploading them to YouTube. I have also recently developed a new website to document my journey with written summaries to supplement my YouTube videos.
  • iOS Camera App with Retro Filters Released

    Neat iOS camera app that simulates vintage graphics

    I created Famicam64, an 8bit RetroGaming style Camera app. Famicam64 lets you take photos with 40+ real-time filters that emulate the nostalgic look of retro computers (and games) of the 80s and 90s. CGA, EGA, VGA, Hercules and old PC graphic modes are all there, as well as style emulating home computers and handheld consoles (C64, Spectrum or Gameboy etc. etc.).
  • Secret History of Mac Gaming Book Seeks Funding

    It's a niche subject, but a story worth telling

    The Secret History of Mac Gaming is the story of those communities and the game developers who survived and thrived in an ecosystem that was serially ignored by the outside world. The work draws on archive materials as well as 60+ new interviews with key figures from Mac gaming's past.
  • Cool Links

  • Circuit Classics Boards Re-Create Classic Forrest Mims Designs

    Very, very creative electronics project from Star Simpson

    Forrest M. Mims III is a trusted name in the electronics world for good reason: his charming and engaging texts have drawn millions of people into the world of electronics for the first time. I am bringing some of those hand-drawn circuits projects to life by creating an exquisitely designed series of finely crafted and highly detailed boards. These are the Circuit Classics.
  • NES Coffee Table on Etsy

    VC&G reader Ben Winchester built a NES-shaped coffee table; it's up for sale on Etsy.com

    I wanted to show this to you because I feel this piece is truly unique and original to me. I got my start by replicating your NES DVD player and then moving on to putting my own twist on the NES coffee table, and now I think I have created an original design.
  • Artist Re-Creates Classic Byte Cover in Photo

    Bob Alexander turns Tinney's train illustration into a photo composition

    I've just completed an art project that was inspired by Robert Tinney's painting "Computer Engineering" for Byte magazine. That's the one with a train chugging around a printed circuit board. I made a printed circuit board that resembled the one in the painting, photographed it, and Photoshopped a picture of an HO scale model train onto it.
  • [ Tech Songs ] Baked at Atari

    Monday, June 20th, 2016

    Benj Edwards Tech Songs Album Cover

    Some of you may recall that from 2002-2005, I ran a band/website called Request-A-Song.com. Well, since March of this year, I've been publishing music online again as part of a musical project I call Tech Songs.

    Tech Songs, for me, is essentially a writing prompt for music — a concept that inspires me to write songs about a certain topic. In this case, the topic is the past, present, and future of technology. In some ways, I think of Tech Songs as an open-ended album about tech.

    Today I am officially announcing the release of "Baked At Atari," a lighthearted, ficticious song (but inspired by true events) about engineers at Atari in the mid-1970s. Atari fans amongst you will likely pick out several familiar names and references in the lyrics.

    You can listen to the song on my SoundCloud page, or click on the embedded song below.

    When you're done listening, I'd love to hear some suggestions for new tech history song topics — just leave a comment, and I'll see what I can cook up.

    I plan to post future VC&G-related Tech Songs on this site, but you can also follow Benj's Tech Songs on Twitter: @techsongs

    [ Retro Scan ] Vectorman "Play to Win"

    Monday, May 23rd, 2016

    BlueSky Software Vectorman Play to Win Sega Genesis Advertisement Scan - 1995IT"SSSS AWEESSSOOOMME

    I was a big fan of Vectorman back when it first came out. Around that time, I bought a used Sega Genesis from a friend (my first), and I rented a copy from Vectorman from Blockbuster (or did I rent an entire Genesis itself first — my memory is hazy on that point). I was blown away by Vectorman's fluid animations, great sound effects and music, and tight overall feel of the game. I still think Vectorman is one of the best games on the Genesis.

    This ad comes from Wizard (the comic book magazine), and in a two-page spread, it took up one whole page on the left and about a third of the page on the right. I have cropped out the remaining 2/3 of the right page which was unrelated to the ad.

    That right portion, by the way, describes Sega's "Play to Win" contest that tied into the game. Apparently, certain randomly distributed Vectorman cartridges contained in-game messages that advised the player to call a phone number and claim a prize. The top prize was $25,000 and some other perks, which you can read about on Wikipedia. The contest was a clever way to entice people to play the game at a time when 16-bit systems were on the way out.

    [ From Wizard, December 1995, p.10-11 ]

    Discussion Topic: In your opinion, which Sega Genesis game had the best graphics?

    [ Retro Scan ] Lufia and the Fortress of Doom

    Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

    Taito Lufia and the Fortress of Doom Super NES SNES Advertisement Scan - 1993"A VAST RPG WORLD IN STUNNING GRAPHICS!"

    [ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1993, p.123 ]

    Discussion Topic: What's your favorite RPG on the Super NES?

    [ 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)