Archive for November, 2013

The VC&G Thanksgiving Collection (2013 Edition)

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Things That Nerds Should Be Thankful ForHello, and welcome to VC&G's 2013 Thanksgiving Spectacular. I'm your host for this evening, Burt Edwards.

Thanksgiving is a great excuse to spend time with family around a four-player game of Gauntlet IV for the Sega Genesis. Or perhaps a Super Bomberman tournament. Or eight-player networked Atari Jaguar Battlesphere? Did I mention a 16-player Mario Kart Double Dash LAN battle?

One of each, please.

But before you stuff yourself with turkey and get lost in multiplayer fragfests, feel free to enjoy the following Thanksgiving-themed posts I have culled from the annals of VC&G history.

That is all for now. Let the thankfulness begin!

Happy Thanksgiving from Vintage Computing and Gaming

Internet Archive's Historical Software Collection is the Best Thing That Has Ever Happened to Software Preservation

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Internet Archive Historical Software Collection

Three cheers for Jason Scott and his push to create a JavaScript-based port of the MESS emulator platform. The result, the Internet Archive's Historical Software Collection, is nothing short of brilliant.

The collection puts dozens of vintage computer games and applications at your fingertips by allowing you to run them, emulated, from a browser window. It's a huge step forward for preserving the heritage of our software culture. Here, ease-of-access is key.

I've been horribly remiss by not mentioning this earlier — but better late than never for something this important.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Gather 'Round the Videotex

Monday, November 25th, 2013

AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal TV set-top box online modem - 1983A time when TVs were made of wood and children were not yet rabid.

In honor of Thanksgiving, a holiday which tends to emphasize family, I've dug up this AT&T Sceptre Videotext Terminal box art that I captured years ago. Look at those gloriously generic 1980s folks gathered around the TV set.

(I say "captured" for this image and not "scanned" because the image is actually a photo of the side of the box — the box itself is far too large to fit on a scanner. It's roughly 14″ tall by 18″ wide by 11″ deep, if memory serves.)

Videotex: Smart TV in 1983

It's funny: I've purposely avoided talking about Videotex on this blog for eight years because I was saving up material for a story about Teletext and Videotex. I have bought maybe a dozen vintage books on the two subjects since 2006 and mined news archives for information. But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go to Disneyland. Maybe I will get around to finishing that piece some day. Probably not.

So here's the skinny. "Videotex" is the name for a graphical computer communications standard that was designed to display mixed visual and text information on regular TV sets. The idea was that a customer would buy a terminal (such as the one seen here), subscribe to a CompuServe/Prodigy/AOL-like online service, and use the terminal to connect to the service and view the information on their home TV set. Kinda like WebTV before the Web. Heck, kinda like smart TVs before the smart.

Graphically, Videotex used the NAPLPS protocol (similar to Prodigy, which grew out of these commercial Videotex experiments) to quickly transmit graphics to the user's terminal. NAPLPS saves bandwidth because instead of storing/sending data on every pixel (like a bitmap image), the protocol describes graphics in terms of mathematical geometrical shapes (i.e. "draw a triangle at this location and fill it with orange," like vector graphics).

By the mid-1980s, Videotex services fizzled in the marketplace. Their failure was likely due to low utility (not very useful), plus high cost of subscription (likely from high overhead on the service's part in both hosting and creating content), and from competition from much more versatile and easier-to-interface-with personal computers.

AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal

And so that brings us to this side box art for a circa-1983 AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal. I bought this vintage gadget unopened, new-in-box on eBay for literally $1 plus shipping back in 2000.

The terminal works, but it has nothing meaningful to connect to — after all, the related Videotext service shut down almost 30 years ago. The last time I hooked it up, I believe I tricked its internal 300 baud modem to talk to my PC using a phone line simulator and perhaps even displayed a Linux console on the TV set. But that was many years ago. I also remember that the Sceptre has a horrible rubber IR keyboard that barely works.

One could conceivably create a Videotext simulator, hosted on a modern PC, that would pump NAPLPS graphics into to this vintage beast to bring it back to life. Maybe someone already has. If so, I'd like to know about it.

By the way, AT&T has a really neat vintage Sceptre promotional video on its website. It's worth a watch.

[ From AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal product box, circa 1983 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did your family ever subscribe to a non-ISP online service? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Choose Your Own Zork Adventure

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Atari Jaguar and Jaguar CD on Sale in TigerDirect Catalog - 1997"Don't eat me, ghostly tiger-snake!"

During the Choose Your Own Adventure (RSOTW, 2008) book craze in the early 1980s, interactive fiction meisters Infocom decided to get in on the act by publishing a series of Zork-themed "What-Do-I-Do-Now" titles through TOR Books.

Here is one of them, formally titled Zork #4: Conquest at Quendor. It was written by none other than Infocom legend Steve Meretzky, whom I met briefly in person back in 2008. He is a very personable fellow. (FYI: Back in 2007, Meretzky made a cameo in Jason Scott's video for the Zork-themed "It Is Pitch Dark" by MC Frontalot, which I love.)

As for the book, I haven't read it in ages, so I am not equipped at present to tell you if it's any good. I just recently found it in a box of my brother's old computer game boxes at my parents' house (which seems to be how a lot of these scans originate these days). My brother is and was a huge Zork fan, which reminds me that we need to play Zork Nemesis together again sometime.

I will add that the cover art featuring a translucent, floating fuzzy tiger-snake with squidlike suction cups on its body always freaked me out a bit as a kid.

[ From Zork #4: Conquest at Quendor (TOR Books, October 1984) ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite entry in the Zork game series?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Jaguar on Clearance (Atari Jaguar Turns 20)

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Atari Jaguar and Jaguar CD on Sale in TigerDirect Catalog - 1997Atari Jaguar on Sale in 1997: "Includes RISC Processors!"

The Atari Jaguar launched at retail 20 years ago this Friday — November 15, 1993.

In April 1994, I received a Jaguar for my birthday, and it was one of the most exciting days of my life. That Christmas, my parents gave me Doom for the Jaguar, and I had a blast. After that, not many truly great games came out for the Jaguar (I'd say Tempest 2000 is the system-exclusive standout).

Partly because of that lack of great software, the Jaguar sunk fast — especially in the face of strong competition from Sony, Sega, and Nintendo (throw in some 3DO and Neo-Geo in there as well). The mid-1990s was a hard time to be a video game console.

By 1997, the Jaguar was toast. If I recall correctly, TigerDirect bought up a huge inventory of unsold Jaguar and Jaguar CD systems and sold them through their catalog.

This scan is a page from a 1997 TigerDirect catalog advertising the Jaguar for a mere $59.99 and the CD add-on for $89.99. Lucky for me, this is how I bought my Jaguar CD system, along with the advertised ultra-cheap game packs. CD exclusives Myst and Cybermorph 2 were worth the purchase alone.

So happy birthday, Jag. Sorry I can't write more about you now. But I've written a lot about you on VC&G in the past. To read more, check out the links at the bottom of this post.

[ From TigerSoftware Winter PC Sale Book 1997, Vol VII Issue 2, p.2 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite Atari Jaguar game?


See Also: Rayman and Frustration (RSOTW, 2013)
See Also: Atari Jaguar Debut Photo (RGOTW, 2013)
See Also: War + Mech = "Kinda Cool" (RSOTW, 2007)
See Also: Anatomy of a Young Collector's Room (2006)
See Also: The First Atari Jaguar Press Release (2005)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Simple IBM Instructions

Monday, November 4th, 2013

IBM PS/1 Monitor Instructions - 1994Step 1: Plug the monitor into the computer.

This roughly 7″ x 10″ sheet came packed with my brother's 486SX 25MHz IBM PS/1 computer, which my dad bought him right before he started college. (Ah, the days when 486 was king.)

We were still installing programs off 5.25″ floppies then, and boy was that an adventure when the PS/1 insisted that its 3.5″ floppy drive was drive A:. Most programs assumed that drive A: in MS-DOS was always a 5.25″ drive (with the 3.5″ drive, if present, being drive B:), which screwed up many install scripts when you had to install off a set of 5.25″ disks.

What the sheet shows is almost mind-numbingly self-explanatory — how to hook the monitor up to the computer. It reminds me of these ridiculous USB plug-in instructions.

By the way, I left the authentic mold stains on the scan because I think they add character. The back of the sheet is blank.

[ From IBM PS/1 pack-in notes, circa 1994 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned an IBM brand computer when it was new?