Archive for April, 2007

Retro Scan of the Week Special Edition: "At Last! Reality For the Masses!"

Monday, April 30th, 2007

VictorMaxx Stuntmaster VRThere was a time in the early 1990s when "Virtual Reality" via bulky goggles strapped to your head seemed like the promise of the future. Video game console manufacturers like Atari, Sega, and Nintendo all dipped their toes into the virtual reality waters, but none devised a practical and cost-effective solution. Those attempting to create affordable consumer VR headsets encountered common problems: a true stereo display using two high resolution color LCD screens and motion tracking was too expensive, and even high quality goggles caused serious motion sickness and disorientation with many users.

Apparently VictorMaxx knew something that companies with multi-million dollar R&D budgets didn't. They released the StuntMaster VR, a "3-D interactive virtual reality" headset with seemingly impressive motion tracking capability ("point-of-view instantly scrolls or rotates with the turn of your head!"). But alas, I own one, and I know that VictorMaxx only surpassed the competition in hyperbole and false advertising. The StuntMaster VR is a terrible piece of junk.

VictorMaxx Stuntmaster VRImagine that: reality for the masses.

Dare you step forward, cheeze ball? Despite what the box says, the StuntMaster VR is not a 3D display. It contains one extremely grainy low resolution LCD screen in the center of the goggles. If you put it on, it hurts your face. The display singes your retinas with an intensely fuzzy, VictorMaxx Stuntmaster VRhard-to-focus-on image. The head tracking mechanism is nothing more than a stick you clip to your shoulder (see picture above) which slides through a loop on the side of the headset. When you turn your head, the StuntMaster detects the stick sliding in the loop and translates this into a left or right button press on a control pad, assuming you've actually hooked it up to the controller port of your SNES or Genesis. Remember the "point-of-view instantly scrolls or rotates with the turn of your head" quote? I'd love to see that happen in Super Mario World. Obviously, it couldn't actually work unless the game were programmed for that functionality in advance. Unless, of course, you're playing Doom and you want to turn left or right by moving your head.

VictorMaxx Stuntmaster VRA disturbing, tragic world, yours? Then please, do not buy the StuntMaster VR headset. Mine was so useless that I took it apart about four years ago and wired up some connectors to use it as a tiny LCD monitor. Even then, the LCD screen's extremely low resolution makes it nearly useless. So now it spends most of its days sitting in its box, partially disassembled, reflecting on the good old days when plants were still green and the Lawnmower Man played out like a guaranteed guide to the future. I still want one of those springy mid-air virtual reality harnesses, by the way.

The StuntMaster headset makes me wonder how long VictorMaxx stayed in business. Who knows, we might hear from a former employee in time. Did anybody else have one of these, or any other VictorMaxx products? Leave a comment and we'll talk.

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Name Those Pixels: Flying Creatures

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Pixel Challenge #14 - 1Flying is not just for birds anymore. This week's theme is "flying creatures." Each of these three pixel blocks are from 8-bit games. Can you guess which ones? 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.

Pixel Challenge #14 - 2    Pixel Challenge #14 - 3

The answers to the last challenge are after the break.

[ Continue reading Name Those Pixels: Flying Creatures » ]

Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Vintage Computer Keyboard QuizKeyboards, keyboards everywhere, but not a drop to drink. How many different computer keyboards have you used in your lifetime? Do you remember the good ones? The bad ones? By golly, I've known quite a few.

See if you can recognize which vintage computer system each of these keyboards comes from. Feel free to post comments about them and share your memories about keyboards of yore. Answers to the quiz will be posted next week as an update to this entry.

Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz - 1 Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz - 2
Number 1 - Number 2


Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz - 3 Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz - 4
Number 3 - Number 4


Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz - 5 Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz - 6
Number 5 - Number 6


Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz - 7 Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz - 8
Number 7 - Number 8

Answers after the break.

[ Continue reading Vintage Computer Keyboard Quiz » ]

Retro Scan of the Week: P1-14 Punch Card Terminal

Monday, April 23rd, 2007
Phone 1 P1-14 Card-Reader Terminal
Have a dusty stack of old Hollerith-type punch cards sitting in your closet? Then you need this amazing bridge to the past: the Phone 1 P1-14 Card-Reader Terminal. This advertisement, proclaiming a "powerful new concept," appeared in the February 1979 issue of BYTE magazine. Somehow this terminal seems like an unlikely fusion of new and old, similar to building an abacus into the case of a PowerMac G5. Maybe that's why no one has ever heard of this unit.

It's sad to think that some people might have still been using punch cards for data input in 1979, but with the speed at which universities and other institutions updated their equipment, it would be no big surprise. Still, I think this terminal was mainly designed for legacy applications.

Let the punch card memories commence!

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Retro Scan of the Week: Wico Computer Command Joystick

Monday, April 16th, 2007
Wico Computer Command Joystick Ad
Back in the day, Wico was "king" of all joysticks. At least, they wanted to be. They had quite a variety of different models, this "Computer Command" stick being only one of them. I've never used this particular analog computer model, but I've definitely laid my hands on more than a few gangly Wico "Command Control" joysticks in my time. My brother loved using his Command Control joystick for Asteroids on the Atari 800, but I never could get used to it. He probably just thought it looked cool.

Did/does anybody have one of these and wish to share their thoughts on it?

[ From Personal Computing magazine, December, 1983. ]

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.

Name Those Pixels: Name That Kong

Friday, April 13th, 2007

Pixel Challenge #13 - 1Now we move from crowds to Kongs. This week's theme is "Donkey Kong." Each of these three pixel blocks is from a version of Donkey Kong. Can you guess which system or computer each is from? 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.

Pixel Challenge #13 - 2    Pixel Challenge #13 - 3

The answers to the last challenge are after the break.

[ Continue reading Name Those Pixels: Name That Kong » ]

Best Week Ever for Vintage Computers on the News Wires

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Sellam and Merhle, Buddies ForeverThe two most popular news agencies have published no less than two articles in the last two days about vintage computers. Are the planets in alignment, or does there now exist a vast conspiracy (the conspiracy of "twos" perhaps?) to cover vintage computers in the national media? Either way, it's been a great week for our hobby.

The first article (Reuters via Yahoo) focuses on the ever-popular Sellam Ismail, organizer of the Vintage Computer Festival, and his lovable buddies (Bruce Damer, Evan Koblentz) from the festival scene. Poor Sellam has been covered so many times that he's probably getting tired of it by now. The second article (AP via Yahoo) "unearths" a relative newcomer to media publicity, Jeremy Mehrle, whose Basement Mac Museum I covered back in February (along with a short interview with the Mehrleman himself). It's true that many news outlets get some of their news by culling blogs these days. But with cool topics like these, can you blame them? And obviously, the door swings both ways.

Retro Scan of the Week: Daddy's Little Surgeon

Monday, April 9th, 2007
Facemaker Software Ad
The popularity of plastic surgery, finally explained.

[ From Personal Computing magazine, December, 1983. ]

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Retro Scan of the Week: Isaac Asimov's "Favorite Color Computer"

Monday, April 2nd, 2007
Isaac Asimov TRS-80 Color Computer Ad
Take it from Isaac. Now you can save $100 on any TRS-80 Color Computer.

Let's see. Texas-Instruments had Bill Cosby, Commodore had William Shatner, and Atari had Alan Alda. But did you know that Tandy-Radio Shack's computer spokesperson in the early 1980s was science fiction author Isaac Asimov? I've seen a number of TRS-80 ads featuring him, and he always looks way too happy. But that was his job. And I've always loved Asimov's sideburns. It's like I've always said: nothing sells a home computer like a hairy man with a joystick. Take that, Commodore.

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.