Archive for March, 2010

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Hyper Lode Runner

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Hyper Lode Runner Game Boy Ad - 1990Our Viking Future

Earthdate: 2264. These are troubled times for the planet. After centuries of peace, the renegade Red Lord of Darkness has led his cyborg fanatics in a bloody revolution that has overthrown the United World government. Millions of political prisoners are being tortured in his infamous Labyrinth of Doom far beneath the surface of the planet. Very little is known about this subterranean maze of brick-walled catacombs. Just vague rumors about the hidden millions in stolen gold guarded by a ruthless army of mutant cyborg zombies commanded by the merciless General Zod, governor of the Red Lord's death camps. Only one thing is sure…none of your predecessors have ever come out of this dreaded place alive. But, you must find a way out with a lode of gold big enough to launch the counterrevolution. You are the last hope; the last of the great Lode Runners.

I don't know what's scarier about the future: the Red Lord of Darkness or the United World government. Hard to choose.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, January 1990, p.60 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what computer or video game has the best plot/story of all time?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Flying Disks of Formaster

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Formaster Disk Duplicator Ad - 1983A deleted scene from Disney's Fantasia.

[ From Interface Age, May 1983, p.25 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Tell us your copy protection horror stories. Have you ever tried to copy a disk but couldn't? What did you do about it?

Inside the Atari 1040STf (25th Anniversary)

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Inside the Atari 1040STf on PC World

Atari Corporation premiered the first member of its ST series, the Atari 520ST, at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show 25 years ago this January. After the 520ST shipped mid-1985, Atari released an upgraded model in 1986 called the Atari 1040STf — variations of which remained best sellers throughout the ST's run.

In honor of the Atari ST series' 25th anniversary, I've dissected the popular Atari 1040STf in my usual style for PC World, making this the ninth entry in my "workbench series" of tech autopsies. I think it turned out very well, and I hope you enjoy it.

Benj Plays Gauntlet on the Atari 1040STfI have fond memories of the 1040STf because my father bought one for the family back in 1986. Games like Phantasie, SunDog, Exodus, and Gauntlet always come to mind when I think of Atari's GUI-based wonder.

Is anybody else out there a fan of the Atari ST series? If so, tell us about it. What ST model(s) did/do you have? What are your favorite ST games? Bonus points to anyone who can provide a picture of themselves using an Atari ST before 1990!

Here are my previous workbench teardowns, if you're interested: Atari 800, Commodore 64, Nintendo Game Boy, Nintendo Famicom, Apple IIc, IBM Model M Keyboard, TRS-80 Model 100, and Macintosh Portable.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Lawfully Wedded Tomato

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Princess Tomato NES Ad - 1991Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (NES)

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, June 1991, p.81 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the weirdest video game you've ever played?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The DEC Rainbow 100

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Digital Equipment Corporation DEC Rainbow Ad - 1983"Look over the Rainbow"

In the early 1980s, mainframe giant Digital Equipment Corporation (aka DEC for short) tried its hand in the personal computer market with the DEC Rainbow (1982). Since the market had not settled on an industry-wide PC standard at that time, DEC decided to support the two major operating system platforms of the day: Z80-based CP/M and 8088-based MS-DOS. The Rainbow contained both these processors and was capable of booting both OSes. Interestingly, despite the machine’s use of the 8088 and MS-DOS, the computer remained largely incompatible with the IBM PC from a hardware standpoint.

[ From Interface Age, November 1983, p.51 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Imagine a world in which Digital Research CP/M, rather than MS-DOS, became the standard operating system for PCs worldwide in the 1980s. (That is, far beyond CP/M's market share of the 1970s.) How might PCs today be different?

Secret Cartridge Messages

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Benj's Secret Cartridge Messages

In the early 1990s, I rented quite a few video games from my local Blockbuster store. I felt compelled to try any and all new games that showed up for rental — up to the point my parents would allow, anyway.

Around the same time, I figured out how to disassemble video game cartridges. I thought myself very clever and began disassembling NES and SNES games I'd rented to see what was inside. Blockbuster wouldn't have liked this, of course — to prevent such a practice, the chain sealed its game cartridges with tamper-resistant security stickers designed to show if someone had opened them up.

Luckily for me, the stickers didn't always cover the screw holes, allowing me to work around them. With a careful bend at the sticker joint between two sides of the plastic cartridge case, I could examine the cartridge interior with impunity.

Initials in Concrete by ww_whilstIt was then that I struck upon a weird idea. Similar to how kids would scratch their initials on a tree or a school desk, or perhaps draw their initials in wet concrete, I realized I could leave my own mark hidden within the cartridges themselves, gaining a small form of immortality in the process.

The key idea being that I would stick a note on the inside of the cartridge case, so people (most notably, Blockbuster employees) could not normally see it; one would have to open the cartridge again to reveal the secret message.

My youthful imagination fantasized about exchanging covert correspondence between video game renters this way. Even better, I could imagine someone, some day, far in the future randomly opening up an old SNES cartridge and finding a note from me inside. They'd be completely perplexed and amazed, and my goal would have been achieved. But even if no one ever found my message, it still would feel good to have it out there.

Placing The Golden Ticket

The next time I rented a game, I disassembled it and set to work with my plan. I found some small self-adhesive labels and wrote a short note on one, along with a date. After sticking the label to the inside of the cartridge, I closed it up and later returned the game to Blockbuster as usual.

Super Mario Kart Title Screen (SNES)I probably only wrote my initials on the first label (simulated above), but on the subsequent labels — maybe two at most — I might have written a short phrase such as, "Greetings from the past!" I don't recall exactly. I believe I left the first such note inside Super Mario Kart in the Raleigh, NC area around 1993.

If you find it, let me know. It will be even better than finding the Golden Ticket in a Wonka Bar. As a reward, I'll give you a personal tour of the VC&G Museum — and I promise you won't drown in a river of chocolate.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color

Monday, March 1st, 2010

SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color Ad - 2000"Get Pocket Power!"

I scored my first Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC) along with Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure and SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium for my birthday in 1999. It was an amazing little machine — in my opinion, the only US market competitor that stood a chance against the Game Boy in the long run.

SNK clearly studied Nintendo's winning handheld strategy and succeeded where previous Game Boy competitors failed by keeping the Neo Geo Pocket Color's technical specifications minimal and omitting a backlight, allowing for low retail cost and long battery life.

The NGPC even sported an innovative and satisfyingly clicky thumb stick that in some ways surpassed the traditional D-pad in functionality. Still, SNK couldn't keep up with Nintendo's first party franchises and voluminous third party support, and the NGPC died on the vine, never to realize its full potential.

Along with the Sega Dreamcast, the NGPG lives on in gamer memory as one of those rare consoles that failed due to commercial reasons alone, not technical ones. The NGPC hardware is currently cheap and plentiful, so if you don't have one, I highly recommend picking up a unit and a handful of games.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, April 2000, p.122 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What are your favorite Neo Geo Pocket Color Games? What game you think was best, over all, for the system?