Archive for the 'Gaming History' Category

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Nintendo Smartwatch

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Nelsonic Nintendo Game Watches Zelda Watch Super Mario Bros. Watch Service Merchandise catalog advertisement - 1989Why not put LZDN1WBF and LSMN1WBF on your Xmas wishlist?

As you probably know, Apple recently introduced the Apple Watch. That got me thinking about other nerdy watches of yore, and I remembered something I recently found in my mom's attic.

Last month, my mother and I searched through boxes and boxes of my grandmother's old dishes to see what might be of use to me now. The dishes had been sitting in my parents' attic untouched for two decades. Many of them were padded with old newspaper from eastern Tennessee, which is where my grandmother lived until she died in 1992.

Among the usual black-ink-on-yellowing-paper fare, I found a handful of gloriously full-color advertisement circulars. A December 1989 mini-catalog for Service Merchandise caught my attention immediately because it featured a pair of Nelsonic Game Watches licensed by Nintendo. (That segment of the circular is what you see scanned above.)

Each of these two watches, which sold for ($19.97 a piece — or $38.37 today when adjusted for inflation) played a simplified prefab-LCD interpretation of its console namesake. If you remember Tiger's LCD handheld games, you're on the right track. In the Zelda watch game, you were forever trapped in a dungeon, and in Super Mario Bros. you were forever hopping between platforms.

While these watch games were limited at the time, it was amazing to think you could fit a portable, battery-powered "video game" on your wrist and play it wherever you liked. I personally recall seeing more than one of these watches getting confiscated by teachers during my elementary school days.

That desire to carry functional video games with us has never abated. Heck, I bet that within days of the Apple Watch's release next year, someone will hack it to play emulated versions of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda — allowing us to finally have the full NES experience on our wrists. It may be 25 years too late, but it will be amusing to see how things have come full circle.

[ From Service Merchandise Circular (IE499J), Dec 1989, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned a watch that played a game? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Space Bucks

Monday, September 1st, 2014

Sierra Space Bucks advertisement - 1995So now we've entered the 3D font era.

I've never played Sierra's Space Bucks, but it looks like a fascinating strategy game. I was a big fan of SunDog: Frozen Legacy on the Atari ST, so I'm a sucker for any game that shows the inside of your spaceship from a top-down view (even if only in a non-functional splash screen). Has anyone out there played it?

(As an aside, when I started this blog in 2005, I could just say "I've never played this game, does anyone out there know anything about it?" And get away with it. That's because very little game info was out there; Wikipedia had very few video and computer game entries — especially obscure ones — and MobyGames was incomplete. Now I have no excuse for not looking it up myself. And what do you know: here's a Wikipedia entry on Space Bucks, first created in 2012.)

I have this feeling that most Windows games from the 1995 era slipped through the cracks and were mostly forgotten. It's my impression that not many people played early games created for Windows 95 and late-period games made for Windows 3.11. Maybe it's because the IBM PC world was in the middle of a big transition from MS-DOS / Win 3.11 to Windows 95. I remember still buying MS-DOS games well into 1997, for example.

[ From Computer Gaming World - September 1995, p.55]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the earliest game you bought that ran exclusively on Windows 95/98?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Joust Guy

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Illustration from Joust Atari 2600 instruction manual - 1982If I were riding a flying ostrich, I'd probably be smiling too.

I don't normally take scans out of context, but I made an exception for this amazing illustration. It comes from the instruction manual for Joust for the Atari 2600. I isolated the image years ago for possible use in one of my Halloween costume ideas posts, and I've been staring at it in my scans folder ever since.

Joust is one of my favorite arcade titles, and I'm particularly fond of the Atari 7800 home version.

I'd like to find out who created this glorious piece of video game art. I'll do some digging in a bit, but if you know already, please leave a comment and I'll update this post. (The illustrator may be referenced in the manual itself, but it's packed where I can't get to it.)

By the way, I think this illustration would look awesome on a t-shirt. Anybody want to make one?

[ From Joust Atari 2600 Instruction Manual - 1982]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Which is better: Joust or Balloon Fight?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Many Faces of Popeye

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Parker Brothers Popeye multi-system screens advertisement - 1983Well blow me down

[ From Personal Computing - December 1983]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Of the systems listed in the ad above, which is your favorite?


See Also: Eight Ways to Play Q*Bert (RSOTW, 2007)
See Also: Multi-Platform Mania (RSOTW, 2009)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The $99 Virtual Boy

Monday, July 21st, 2014

The Nintendo Virtual Boy for $99 Nintendo Power Advertisement - 1996…in which Nintendo begs, "Please, PLEASE, buy a Virtual Boy."

[ From Nintendo Power - August 1996, p.107]

Oh how times change. Back in January, I posted a scan of an early, cocky Nintendo Virtual Boy advertisement from 1995 (the year the Virtual Boy launched). Here's an ad for the Virtual Boy just one year later in which Nintendo advertises the console's new low price of $99 (its original MSRP was US $179.99, which is $275.26 today when adjusted for inflation).

As you probably know, things didn't go so well for the Virtual Boy. I bought one new for $30 from Toys 'R' Us in either late 1996 or early 1997.

Discussion Topic of the Week: Imagine a world in which the Virtual Boy had a full color display but cost twice as much (say, $399.99) new. Do you think the Virtual Boy would have fared better in the marketplace?


See Also: Virtual Boy Wasteland (RSOTW, 2014)
See Also: Virtual Boy Vortex (RSOTW, 2012)
See Also: The History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming (PC World, 2011)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Oculus / Koronis Rift

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Lucasfilm Koronis Rift Advertisement - 1985A convincing illustration of a migraine headache

After seeing this ad, am I the only one who has the urge to play Lucasfilm's Koronis Rift on the Oculus Rift? Retro stereo 3D action!

See Also: The Eidolon (RSOTW, 2013)

[ From Compute! - November 1985, p.35]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Can you think of any vintage games that would translate well to the Oculus Rift?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sega Saturn Manual Cover

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Sega Saturn Instruction Manual Cover - 1995The Saturn: No Connectors Required

Why am I showing you the cover of the Sega Saturn manual but not the manual itself? Because I can — ha ha ha!

Such power.

That, and I like the photo.

[ From Sega Saturn Instruction Manual, 1995, cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best Saturn-exclusive title?

[ Newsbits ] June 6, 2014

Friday, June 6th, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Despite what you may think, Newsbits is not dead. It just needs more fiber.

Recent News

  • The RetroN 5 Launching June 6th (Today!) in the US
    (Source: Destructoid)

    Hope it works as advertised.

    This thing is a beast, supporting NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and GBA cartridges. All of that, with 720p output via HDMI and original controller support.
  • Wii U plugs first DS game into Virtual Console in Japan

    Once upon a time, Nintendo frowned strongly upon emulation. Now its business model depends on it. Oh, how times have changed.

    Puzzle-poser Brain Age is the first DS game to arrive on Wii U Virtual Console, and it's out now in Japan for free until June 30.
  • Unearthed E.T. Atari games will be curated by New Mexico space museum and then sold
    (Source: Polygon)

    A unique situation where one of these games in unopened, mint condition could be worth far less than one crushed and buried in a landfill for 30 years.

    Seven hundred of the 1,300 E.T. and other Atari cartridges recovered from a New Mexico landfill will be appraised, certified and put up for sale, the Alamogordo City Commission decided this week.
  • The Verge Publishes Rarely-Seen Photos of Apple's 1980s Prototype Case Designs
    (Source: The Verge)

    Incredible photos of early 1980s Apple products that never were

    Some of its earliest and most iconic designs, however, didn't actually come from inside of Apple, but from outside designers at Frog. In particular, credit goes to Frog's founder, Hartmut Esslinger, who was responsible for the 'Snow White' design language.
  • Watching kids trying to figure out how to use an old Apple II is totally hilarious
    (Source: Cult of Mac)
    This video of children from the ages of 6 to 13 trying to figure out how to work a vintage Apple II … shows just how inexplicable computing was to pretty much everyone before Steve Jobs released the original Mac in 1984.
  • Modder Stuffs a Raspberry Pi into a Game Boy Pocket
    (Source: Hackaday)

    This is one of the most amazing mods I've ever seen

    After sanding down the bosses on the inside of the case, gluing the battery door shut, and installing a bit of plastic over the cartridge slot, WarriorRocker was able to fit a Raspi inside. The buttons use the same PCB as the stock Game Boy, connected to a Teensy 2.0 board that simulates a USB keyboard.
  • Exhibiting .gifs: An Interview with curator Jason Eppink
    (Source: The Signal)

    Wonder if they know about Retro GIF of the Week

    Jason recently curated 'The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture,' which exhibits a set of GIFs he identified in consultation with redditors.

Cool Links

  • Where Have You Gone, Peter Norton?
    (Source: Technologizer)

    A look back at the PC utility guru's career by Harry McCracken at the newly-reborn Technologizer

    Norton’s empire grew to include multiple software products, articles (including a long-running PC Magazine column), and books. He was everywhere that PCs were. And then, in 1990, he sold Peter Norton Computing to Symantec, which made the Norton line of software even more successful.
  • Wolfenstein game graphics, 1992 vs 2014
    (Source: Twitter)

    A million more pixels, but the jaw remains the same

  • The Most 90s Thing That Could Ever Exist
    (Source: The Atlantic)
    The zeitgeist summed perfectly in one technological artifact, which is a VHS tape promoting Windows 95, starring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry.
  • Total Chaos is the Best-Looking Doom II Mod You've Ever Seen
    (Source: PCGamer)

    More like a "GZDoom mod," but still very impressive.

    Total Chaos doesn’t run on the Doom 2 engine from 1993 proper, but a modified version of the original source code that brings in OpenGL, mouse looks and other features like 16x motion blur, high resolution textures, 3D models, and bloom effects.
  • The Secret History of Hypertext
    (Source: The Atlantic)
    Historians of technology often cite Bush’s essay as the conceptual forerunner of the Web. And hypertext pioneers like Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee have all acknowledged their debt to Bush’s vision. But for all his lasting influence, Bush was not the first person to imagine something like the Web.
  • The Woman Behind Apple's First Icons
    (Source: Priceonomics)

    …and Windows 3.0 to XP's Solitaire cards! (I did an interview with her about that once, gotta find it.)

    For many, Susan Kare's icons were a first taste of human-computer interaction: they were approachable, friendly, and simple, much like the designer herself. Today, we recognize the little images — system-failure bomb, paintbrush, mini-stopwatch, dogcow — as old, pixelated friends.

Submit News

If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "Newsbits" in the subject line.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super Mario Kart Photo

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Benj's Super Mario Kart Photo Screenshot - circa 1992

I took this photo around 1992 or 1993 not long after Super Mario Kart came out. I had rented the game from Blockbuster (See "Secret Cartridge Messages"), and I was amazed to see that the cartridge would save high scores (in this case, track records) between sessions.

That blew my mind a little, because it meant that the scores I saw on the screen came from previous renters of the game — I was playing against previous renters' track times! So when I set a new record on a particular track, it carried a little extra weight.

(It struck me, even then, that this sharing of scores between players formed a sort of primitive pass-along gaming network, and coming from a BBS background, that excited me.)

In retrospect, I am positive that the track record you see in this photo is nothing record-breaking in the broader competitive Mario Kart universe. But just getting first place — as a 12 year-old, first-time Super Mario Kart player — filled me with enough pride to take a photo of the game screen as viewed from my family's 1983 TV set.

Remember that this was the era when people used to take photos (with film cameras) of high score screens and physically mail them to Nintendo Power so they could be listed in the magazine. I'm sure that's where I got the idea to snap the photo.

[ From a personal photo by Benj Edwards, circa 1992]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever take photos of your video game high score screens?

[ Newsbits ] May 15, 2014

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Since I missed last week's column, I decided to fold some of those links into this week's edition. So there may be a few older newsbits, but at least they're still interesting.

Recent News

  • 2300 Console Games Now Playable on Internet Archive

    'Ole pal Jason Scott writes about the sudden influx of games playable on the Internet Archive website

    For the last couple of weeks I’ve been working with a range of volunteers on a massive expansion of what we call the Console Living Room at the Internet Archive. Previously weighing in at about 800 game cartridges from seven console systems, the new collection is roughly 2300 cartridges and a total of 21 different consoles.
  • George R. R. Martin Writes Using WordStar 4.0 in MS-DOS

    I'm not surprised. To avoid distractions, I sometimes write using Word 6.0 for DOS on a Compaq Aero 4/25 laptop.

    The 'Game of Thrones' author confessed to late-night talk-show host Conan O'Brien that he prefers to write his popular books on a DOS word processor instead of the latest laptop.

    'I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital letter. I don't want a capital. If I wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key.'

  • Nintendo Forces Takedown of GBA Emulator for iOS

    From the not-very-surprising department

    In order to play titles like Super Mario and Zelda on your iPhone, then, you have to look at unofficial alternatives. GBA4iOS was one of the most popular — but after its creators received a DMCA notice from Nintendo this week, it is no more.
  • Analogue Interactive's $499 NES Clone Up for Pre-Order

    TinyCartridge reports on this fancy console with a healthy grain of salt mixed in. (Memories of Generation NEX still make me shudder.)

    Analogue has opened pre-orders for its Nt, the Famicom/NES device with RGB output, four controller ports, and purported 'unparallelled'" compatibility with American and Japanese games and accessories.
  • New Book About How Sega Nearly Won the Console Wars

    Chris Kohler provides an overview of Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle That Defined a Generation.

    If a few small things had changed, might we be gaming on a Sega PlayStation right now? That’s the picture Blake Harris paints in his new book Console Wars. It is a narrative history of the brief time period in the lifespan of the videogame publisher Sega when it was on top of the world.
  • Midway Planned HD Remakes of Mortal Kombat Games

    I would have really loved to see this

    With the [ Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection], Midway's initial plan was to release HD remakes of the original games with new actors, and even though that's not what happened in the end, these images with Liu Kang, Sonya, Shao Kahn and the others show that the remakes would have been quite faithful to the original

Cool Links

  • The Last Survivors of Meridian 59

    A rare examination of obscure Internet game culture from a mainstream publication (The New Yorker)

    Today, almost eighteen years after Meridian 59’s launch, Barloque’s streets are quiet and vacant, its cobblestones buffed and rounded by little more than a digital breeze. They are rarely visited by more than twenty people in the world at any one time.
  • The Great Works of Software

    Paul Ford muses about a software canon

    Is it possible to propose a software canon? To enumerate great works of software that are deeply influential—that changed the nature of the code that followed?
  • How Steve Wozniak Wrote BASIC for the Original Apple From Scratch

    Woz himself writes for Gizmodo, re: BASIC 50th anniversary

    The problem was that I had no knowledge of BASIC, just a bare memory that it had line numbers from that 3-day high-school experience. So I picked up a BASIC manual late one night at HP and started reading it and making notes about the commands of this language. Mind that I had never taken a course in compiler (or interpreter) writing in my life.
  • How Sega is Rejuvinating its Classic Games in 3D

    I'm not sure if "rejuvenating" is the right word here, but I welcome Sega dipping into the past

    Few games have had as much attention lavished upon them as the Sega 3D Classics series. The first wave of titles was released between November and December of last year, in pairs over four successive weeks.
  • Super Mario Bros. Level Belt (Etsy)

    Incredible artistry — an entire Super Mario Bros. level crafted into a leather belt

    The images are of a belt that I crafted for my brother, who is a big Super Mario fan, and depicts the last level of Super Mario brothers where Mario finally rescues the princess.

Submit News

If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line.