Archive for January, 2007

Retro Scan of the Week: Atari Lynx, Only $99.95

Monday, January 29th, 2007
Atari Lynx Advertisement
Once upon a time, in another age, there was a handheld console war brewing. The fighters in this epic battle were Nintendo, with its modest Game Boy; Sega, with its sleek Game Gear; NEC, with its ultra-expensive TurboExpress; and Atari, with its unwieldy Lynx. Despite being the least powerful system and the only one without color, the Game Boy triumphed over all, most likely thanks to its respectable battery life and Tetris, the ultimate handheld gaming killer app.

But this scan isn't about the Game Boy. It's about the Atari Lynx, that weird, large, oblong battery guzzler of a handheld that was seemingly designed by a team of monkeys with three arms. And at the point in time captured in this scan (1991), it was "only" $99.95, which was a lot of money back then. Nonetheless, I wanted one anyway — we all wanted one. But the only person I knew that had one was a rich kid from school. I eventually did get my (two) hands on a redesigned Lynx 2 model around 1994 for about $70 with two games. I (or more properly, my parents) bought it through the mail from a kid who called my BBS at the time. It was a great system to have, but I didn't have any games for it that were any fun.

Much more could be said about the Lynx, but that tale will have to be saved for another day.

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Retro Scan of the Week: The Art of the Vectrex Overlay

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Flipper Pinball Vectrex OverlayFor those of you who might not know, the GCE Vectrex (1983) was a unique game system that had a built in black and white vector graphics display. Vector graphics are composed of lines drawn point-to-point on a specially-driven CRT rather than through a bit-mapped pixel graphics method on a raster scan display (like an ordinary TV set). That may be a bit too technical for you, but the least you need to know is that vector graphics are different than usual and, in the case of the Vectrex, consisted of white lines on black backgrounds only.

In order to spice up the system's monochrome gameplay, each Vectrex game came with its own custom translucent colored overlay that snapped in place over the Vectrex's built-in monitor. The white vector lines on the monitor underneath shone through and gave the illusion of a color display for certain parts of the screen. The one you see above is for Flipper Pinball. Notice the different regions of the play field which have different colors to add more life and variety to the game.

It should be noted that colored overlays were not a new idea to the Vectrex. Their use in video games spans back to the medium's very genesis, from the days of Ralph Baer experimenting in his lab at Sanders, and later on the first video game system ever, the Magnavox Odyssey. Also, most early arcade games used black and white displays with colored overlays to keep production costs down, as the components needed to generate and the monitors needed to display colored graphics were expensive at the time.

Personally, I've never been a fan of overlays — I find them a chintzy substitute for a true color display, and instead prefer to play my Vectrex games without them. Monochrome ain't so bad.

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Name Those Pixels: Challenge #7

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Pixel Challenge #7 - 1This week's pixel challenge is our first to have a theme. This week's theme is "Sega Systems," which means that all three of these pixel blocks came from video game systems produced by Sega. That should help you pin them down. The first block is to the right, the other two are below. As always, post your guesses in the comments section of this entry, and don't be bashful. Good luck!

Pixel Challenge #7 - 2    Pixel Challenge #7 - 3

The answers to last week's challenge are after the break.

[ Continue reading Name Those Pixels: Challenge #7 » ]

StarTTY: Turn Your Vintage Computer Into an Information Appliance

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

StarTTY ServiceInstead of simply letting their classic machines collect dust on a shelf as display pieces, vintage computing enthusiasts regularly struggle to find modern uses for their equipment that also double as good excuses to keep them "around" and active. I know this because I've been looking for novel ways to use my obsolete computers since I started collecting them. Thankfully, a new Internet service just popped up that will give us all a reason to pull that old terminal out of the closet again. It's called StarTTY.

StarTTY, created by Dorian Garson, is an information "push" service designed for old serial terminals and computers than can run terminal emulators. It turns your old computer or terminal into an "information kiosk" by displaying live, up-to-the-minute weather, news, date/time, and other features directly on your terminal's screen. It accomplishes this feat through the ancient-but-perennially-useful protocol known as telnet, which is commonly used for remote server administration, MUDs, and Internet BBSes these days.

StarTTY Screenshot 1 StarTTY Screenshot 2

[ Continue reading StarTTY: Turn Your Vintage Computer Into an Information Appliance » ]

Retro Scan of the Week: And Now…The Atari Calculator

Monday, January 15th, 2007
Atari Calculator
In the heart of every Atari, whether it be a computer or a game system, is nothing more than a glorified calculator. But chances are that it doesn't have a durable folding case or "32 step auto recall."

I bought this Atari calculator a few years ago as a curiosity. I always wanted one back when I was an Atari freak in the early '90s. It remains as you see it, within its creased blister pack. It's so much more fun to look at than to use, especially since a dead llama could cough up the equivalent in terms of capability these days. And unfortunately, the only game you could play on this Atari is typing in "1134″ and turning it upside down for a laugh.

Anybody else have an Atari calculator out there? Tell us about it!

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Why Super Nintendos Lose Their Color: Plastic Discoloration in Classic Machines

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Discolored SNES

Sure, consoles age and get dirty. Heck, I remember a suspicious incident involving my Super Nintendo (SNES) console and a can of Coca-Cola in the early '90s that left my SNES looking more like a moldy loaf of bread than a video game system. But around five years ago, I noticed that my SNES console was aging particularly badly. I cleaned off all the remnants of fossilized Coke residue from the chassis with a wet washcloth, but the "moldy bread" look still remained. The top half of the console's plastic body retained a uniformly nasty yellow-brown hue, while the bottom half flaunted its showroom shine — that native SNES gray that we all know and love. I soon realized that a much deeper mechanism was responsible for the aesthetic disfigurement of my beloved SNES than mere dirt and sugar.

To further complicate matters, I have another SNES unit that was obviously produced more recently than my original one, and that console shows no sign of aging whatsoever. Comparing the units and the way different parts of them had discolored led me to believe that there is something different about the two batches of plastics — the one for the top half of the SNES chassis and the one for the bottom, or the plastic for the old unit and plastic for the new — that made them age differently over time.

Immediately below are two photos I took of my actual SNES units. Notice the difference between the colors of the top and bottom halves of the plastic chassis on the older unit, and also how the newer unit shows no sign of discoloration at all.

Discolored SNESMy first SNES console (right) exhibits discoloration on the top half only.
The newer unit on the left, however, looks as good as new.

Discolored SNESThe top half and bottom half of my first SNES console, disassembled.
Notice that the underside is yellowed with the same uniformity as the top.

[ Continue reading Why Super Nintendos Lose Their Color: Plastic Discoloration in Classic Machines » ]

RIP: "Apple Computer, Inc."

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Original Apple Computer Logo

It's the end of an era, my friends. At today's MacWorld keynote, Steve Jobs announced that the company is changing its name from "Apple Computer, Inc." to simply "Apple, Inc." to reflect their increased focus on consumer electronics.

The world's most beloved computer company is no longer just a computer company. That's fine with me, of course, because they make some of the best consumer products on Earth. Still, for someone who grew up with the legendary Apple Computer of old, it's a little sad to see the original name go.

Retro Scan of the Week: Ohio Scientific Challenger 4P

Monday, January 8th, 2007

Ohio Scientific Challenger 4PHere's a toast to all those that didn't make it.

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Name Those Pixels: Challenge #6

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Pixel Challenge #6 - 1Welcome to our first Name Those Pixels Challenge of 2007. I think I'll be making this column bi-weekly from now on so as not to overload your ultra-sensitive pixel receptors. Also, if you like this column and want it to continue, please show your support in the comments.

Now, on to the pixels. This week we've got three games again, and two of them are from the same system. The first is to the right, the other two are below. As always, post your guesses in the comments section of this entry, and don't be bashful. Good luck!

Pixel Challenge #6 - 2    Pixel Challenge #6 - 3

The answers to last week's challenge are after the break.

[ Continue reading Name Those Pixels: Challenge #6 » ]

Retro Scan of the Week: "Omega Race Finally Comes Home!"

Monday, January 1st, 2007
Omega Race Advertisement
Archie? Is that you?

They just don't make game ads like they used to. Say, did anybody have the Booster Grip accessory that came with Omega Race? I'd never even heard of it until I came across this ad. I'm guessing that it plugged into the 2nd player port to provide the extra controls — a really neat idea. The quantity and diversity of hardware accessories made for the Atari 2600 is astounding. Somebody should compile a list of them someday, if they haven't already.

By the way, Happy 2007!

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.