Archive for September, 2006
If someone wrote a book on the history of personal computer art, chapter one could only bear the name of one man: Robert Tinney. As cover artist for over eighty issues of BYTE magazine — microcomputing's first and finest major publication — and as one of the first men to illustrate topics related to the fledgling field of personal computers, he near single-handedly shaped the popular visual idiom of what computers were, could be, and would be for the for a whole generation of microcomputer enthusiasts.
That proud generation has long since grown up and moved on to a myriad of different fields and disciplines, spreading its knowledge, love, and expertise of all things technological around the world. Collectively, they have arguably become the world's most influential, yet sometimes underrated, segment of the modern populace. So imagine if you could go back in time and visit that same generation in 1978. What would you see? A lot more pimples, no doubt, and a lot more hair. And most likely, you'd find a copy of BYTE in their hands — with a Robert Tinney illustration on the cover.
Tinney's BYTE artwork is amazing. It displays unparallelled creativity in the use of visual metaphors to convey typically intangible, abstract, and sometimes abstruse technical concepts. His illustrations penetrate all pretense and cut straight to the heart of the main idea of the topic at hand, laying it out in an appropriately minimalistic fashion that, while sometimes visually spartan, richly sparks the imagination and places the viewer firmly in the scene. His work communicates, and it does so in ways that words never could. For most commercial artists, the idea of illustrating for a completely new field without artistic precedent would probably be daunting, if not completely nervewracking — and who's to say it wasn't for Tinney — but despite that immense challenge, he pulled off the assignment not only handily, but with the kind of proficency and mastery that made the genre, in this writer's humble opinion, firmly his own.
It was with all these superlatives in mind (and a stack of 1987 BYTEs as my bedside reading material) that I recently requested an email interview with Robert Tinney. I am delighted to say that he accepted the offer, and you can read the result below.
Ah…it's Friday again; time to have some fun. In our inaugural match of the recently formed (some 5-10 minutes ago) VC&G Wrestling League (or VWL, if you will), we're pitting two of personal computing's most auspicious luminaries against each other in a no-holds-barred "battle of the grizzled." Who will come out on top? Let's take a look at our contenders:
So it's a classic battle between hardware and software gurus in our first fight! Best of all, both of these men are perennially known as being really nice guys, so how will that affect the match? Will they just shake hands and call it off, or will they ruthlessly nice each other into submission? Will Brick trick Woz with a stick to the ribs, or will Woz smack Brick with a Mac to grab the upper hand?
Who will win this epic battle? I have no idea, you tell us!
No, I'm not starting a lame VC&G merchandising blitz. I designed this mousepad as the prize for the winner of our first ever RSoTW caption contest that took place a few weeks ago. The winner received her mousepad yesterday and was extremely happy with it. Instead of taking it offline, never to be seen again, I asked her if she'd mind if I shared it with others. She responded, "I would not mind at all if you sell the mousepad design. You should be proud of it and show it off all you can." And so, because of that, and since I'm fond of CafePress's quality (I have a number of their mousepads in use at the moment), here it is.
The photo on the mousepad is pun-tastically entitled "Apple Free." As you can see, it's of the ill-executed Apple III computer system sitting in "in the rough" — a picture I took myself in July or so, when it was so ridiculously hot and humid that I nearly slipped down a low-grade hill and drowned in a river of my own sweat.
I was really reluctant to post an entry about this, since it might seem like an attempt at merchandising — not to mention that everybody and his brother can sell mousepads on CafePress. But it should be known that the price for the mousepad is set at CafePress's "base price," which means that I will not make any money on it. None, nada, zilch. I just wanted to share it with you guys in case someone out there was interested in buying one before I took it down. I might change the mousepad design every once and a while, so get it while it lasts — if you dare!
Back in the good old days of computer gaming (we're talking late-80′s to mid-90′s here, folks), one thing that could be said about the games market is that it was a crap shoot. Before the advent of the Internet, the few dead-tree review magazines couldn't keep up with the number of newly-released titles, and computer game companies didn't seem to take advertising very seriously. This meant that the chances of knowing the details of a game before purchasing it were pretty slim. Usually, all a gamer had to go on was the box copy, and whatever word-of-mouth could be picked up while hanging out at the local Babbage's.
Buying a game could be a gamble, pure and simple. Sure, Origin was a safe bet for action or role-playing, and Sierra was the uncontested king of the adventure genre, but so many smaller companies were trying to make it big that it was impossible to know exactly what would be on the shelf on any given day. Sometimes, a search though the $5 rack would reveal an unlikely-sounding game written by two guys in a smelly basement, only to be unmasked later as a true gem of programming skill. More often, a slick-looking box with beautiful images and promising descriptions would turn out, when unboxed at home, to fall somewhere between maddeningly dull and outright unplayable (I'm looking at you, Rocket Jockey). But rarely, very rarely, a game would crop up that would cause an immediate and almost-universal reaction among gamers: "What were those guys smoking, and where can I get some?"
Quit fiddling around with your nancy-boy software, pansy. It's time to get Hardcore. With Microsoft.
They want you on their team. They'll give you a door. They'll give you Windows. And you'll get a health club membership, access to workout facilities (with a golf course), and an array of benefits like health, dental, vision, and retirement packages. If that doesn't sound totally hardcore, then I don't know what is.
But seriously — once you sign up to work at Microsoft, they're so hardcore that, on your first day on the job, they lock you stark naked in a ten-foot-square, windowless, blank white room with two cans of spray paint. Your next move will determine your position in the company. This Kobayashi Maru-like "no-win scenario" originates from an incident in 1981 when Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen was painting their new office space over the weekend and somehow locked himself inside a closet. Thinking quickly, he fashioned a makeshift air horn out of a spray paint can and some cardboard. Of course, no one ever heard him, and that's probably why we've not seen Paul Allen since.
When they ran the same test on Steve Ballmer a year later, he immediately ate both cans of paint and had to be revived with fifteen minutes of intensive CPR. Although he lived, he has still never fully recovered from the incident. Bill Gates took the challenge last, and by day two, he was so bored that he spray painted a window on the wall and tried to climb through. A couple hundred bruises later, Bill Gates emerged from the room bloody, but victorious. Since he is the only man to have ever won the "no-win scenario," he became president of Microsoft, and the rest is history.
If you use this image on your site, please support "Retro Scan of the Week" by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.
What was the first computer you ever used? Was it a mainframe? A hobby kit? An early consumer PC? An IBM clone? I've heard numerous neat stories of people's first experiences with computers since starting Vintage Computing and Gaming, but here's your turn to share one of your own. Tell us about your "first time" with a computer. What kind of computer was it? Where were you when it happened? Was it the first computer you ever owned? Post a comment telling your story, and let us know. I'd love to read them.
I think the first computer I ever used was an Atari 800. My father bought one as our first family computer, but it ended up mostly being used to play games (but some great games). My brother learned to program BASIC on the machine, and he's a professional programmer today, so it was definitely a valuable experience for him. Aside from playing games on it, my use of the 800 was limited to loading game binaries off of disks in Atari DOS, or perhaps even loading a BASIC program my brother had written. To this day, the Atari 800 is my favorite vintage computer because of the nostalgia it evokes for me personally.
Way back in the land before time (1995), when a little ole company you might have heard of called "Nintendo" was tinkering with its worst gaming experiment ever (Virtual Boy), another company called Tiger Electronics (famous for its handheld LCD games, if you'll recall), tried to capitalize on the hoopla surrounding Nintendo's red-headed stepchild. Tiger's answer was the R-Zone, a LCD-based gaming system that used red-tinted game cartridges and projected them onto a HUD mirror strapped over the player's pimply forehead (see picture). An extremely uncomfortable-to-hold detached controller held the batteries, and the player plugged the cartridge — each containing its own LCD screen — into the headset. It worked very poorly, as you might imagine; but what more could you expect for $30 (US) MSRP?
(The main scan above is of the paper insert from the blister package that my original R-Zone came in back in 1995.)
[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]
When I first played Super Metroid in April 1994, it was the most incredible gaming experience I'd ever had up to that point. Period. The atmosphere created by its top-notch graphics, music, and gameplay was palpable, enveloping me deeply into an incredible world of sci-fi fantasy and exploration.
There was only one problem with this otherwise excellent game: once you had finished it — exploring every nook, finding every secret, and collecting every power-up along the way — you had squeezed nearly every ounce of replay value out of the game. For years I wished so badly for a new Super Metroid, even if it were the exact same engine with a completely new world to explore. Well, my friends…in 2006, that wish was granted. Fans of this seminal work can explore the planet Zebes all over again in a new hack by Drewseph and crew called, quite simply, Super Metroid Redesign.