Archive for April, 2014

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM Smart Desk

Monday, April 28th, 2014

IBM 3270 PC Smart Desk 1985Multitasking in the early days.

Ah, the IBM 3270 PC. What a strange beast. It was essentially an IBM PC that could also emulate an IBM 3270 terminal, which allowed it to link up to IBM mainframes. In a sense, this was IBM's version of the AppleLine protocol adapter (featured in a Retro Scan a few weeks ago), albeit one built into an IBM PC.

By the way, look at the keyboard on this machine. Function keys galore. I've always wanted one of those.

[ From TIME, May 6 1985, p.B14-B15]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used an IBM mainframe computer?

[ Newsbits ] April 24, 2014

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

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Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Recent News

  • Seattle Retro Gaming Expo 2014
    Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 10:00 AM - Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 5:00 PM (PDT) in Seattle, WA

    "The Seattle Retro Gaming Expo is an organization dedicated to creating a network of gamers in the Seattle area, and providing outlets for us to express our passion for all facets of the geek culture in general, and classic videogames in particular.

  • Richard Garriott Holds Contest to Resurrect his Teletype-era RPG; Ends May 15
    Hit the link for a BASIC source printout — and a smidgen of self-aggrandizement

    "D&D #1 represents one of the earliest known computer role playing games. Originally created and refined between the years 1975-1977, this game is one of the few true founding efforts of the entire computer gaming genre. Interestingly the ascii based tile graphics are a clear forerunner of what followed in Ultima and many other computer role playing games, and thus remains relevant to the genres history.

  • Nintendo Game Boy Turns 25 (The Onion)

    "Lets just call it what it really was: a Tetris delivery system.

  • Almost Every PlayStation Classic and PSP Game Now Downloadable on PS Vita
    They perfectly emulate the two minutes of introductory logo screens too

    "In a rather sudden turn of events, almost every PlayStation Classic and PSP game on Sony's SEN marketplace is now downloadable on the PS Vita including those that previously weren't available on Sony's portable console.

  • Super Mario Bros. 3 Released on Wii U and 3DS Virtual Console
    Sixth time is the charm.

    "Jump, swim, and fly through one of the most beloved Super Mario Bros. games of all time on the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U systems!

  • NES Remix 2 Launches For Wii U April 25
    With Super Luigi Bros., Nintendo makes an unconscious nod to ROM hackers

    "NES Remix 2 also features two exciting new modes. Super Luigi Bros. stars our nervous hero, Luigi, and dares players to beat each level of the original Super Mario Bros. backward! The other new mode has you trying for high scores in three rapid-fire levels from different NES games, using a scoring system inspired by the 1990 Nintendo World Championships.

  • Retro Platformer Cave Story Coming to 3DS in Europe on May 1
    Loved it on the Wii

    "It's happening! Cave Story comes to Europe on the Nintendo 3DS eShop May 1st, 2014!

Cool Links

  • The History of Technology, as Told in Wacky British Pathe Newsreels
    These ancient computer videos should keep you busy for a while

    "In an inventive, generous act, British Pathe has uploaded its entire collection of 85,000 pieces of footage from vintage newsreels to YouTube. I pulled up some choice bits relating to computers — especially how they got used to automate practically everything in the 1960s.

  • If Sega Made Easter Eggs
    Clever Eggman art
  • See Pac-Man Rendered in Physical 3D Space
    Demo for the "voLumen" rotating 3D display. Check out 1:34 for Pac-Man in the video and 2:34 for a shout-out to Super Mario Bros.
  • Sex Sells — Even on the Moon
    Either the best or most sexist arcade video game flier ever made, circa 1981. Remarkable for what it says about the arcade vending audience at the time (probably not safe for work)
  • Street Fighter II: What Did Critics Say in 1992?
    Neat review roundup from Defunct Games

    "Not only was it the biggest arcade game around, but it forced every other publisher to come up with their own fighting game. Could this Super NES game possibly live up to the hype? To find the answer to this question, we decided to look through the pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly, GamePro, N-Force, Super Play and other magazines of the era.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Crystal Quest for Game Boy

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Crystal Quest for Nintendo Game Boy Advertisement 1991Game Boy: The Final Frontier

Fans of early Mac games will no doubt remember Crystal Quest, which (I believe) was the first Mac game to use color graphics just after the Mac II came out in 1987.

Crystal Quest on the Mac played like a space-based Robotron: 2084 controlled with the mouse, albeit with a loose trackball feel because your ship kept moving in the direction you nudged the mouse until you corrected its course. So I'm not sure how it played in this obscure Game Boy port from 1991. Perhaps I'll fire up an emulator right now and find out.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, August 1991, rear cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Can you think of any other game that started on the Macintosh then received a port to a Nintendo console?

[ Newsbits ] April 17, 2014

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

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VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Recent News

  • The New Age: Leaving Behind Everything, Or Nothing At All
    A piece about digital legacies from NPR

    "Perhaps in your attic or basement there is a box of papers — letters, photographs, cards, maybe even journals — inherited from a grandparent or other relative who's passed on. But what if that box isn't a box at all? What if it's an ancient laptop? And if we are starting to leave behind an increasingly digital inheritance, will it die as soon as the hard drive does?

  • Nintendo Embraces NES History in its Twitter Marketing
    I like this trend

    "Its time for #SpringCleaning! Did you find any forgotten gems while organizing your Nintendo gaming collection?

  • This 1981 Computer Magazine Cover Explains Why Were So Bad at Tech Predictions
    This piece from Harry McCracken at TIME gives a hat tip to the greatest magazine illustrator of all time

    "If you were passionate about personal computers between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, the odds were high that you were a reader of Byte magazine. And if you read Byte, you were surely a fan of Robert Tinney, the artist whose cover paintings were one of the magazine’s signature features for years.

  • Solid Snake Pixel Art Graffiti
    Whoever did this is free to vandalize my office wall

    "Solid snake graff piece. I like the dude in the box. Nice touch…

  • Make Your Very Own "Game Boy Macro"
    Got a broken DS lying around? Chop off the top and you'll have a new system.

    "i personally first saw it on kotaku made by Maarten, from the Bureau voor Gamers. so i decided i would make a couple of my own because i had some brokens DS's laying around. decided to go with Macro, since its like a GB micro but huge.

  • Five Unemulated Computer Experiences
    Jason Scott makes a point about emulation nitpickers

    "While I and many others work to turn the experience of emulation into one as smooth and ubiquitous as possible, inevitably the corners and back alleys of discussions about this process present people claiming that there are unemulated aspects and therefore the entire project is doomed. I thought I would stoke that sad little fire by giving you five examples of entirely unemulated but perfectly valid vintage computer experiences.

Cool Links

  • The Lost Ancestors of ASCII Art
    Awesome piece I missed from January — by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic

    "The history of ASCII art goes deeper, and much of it is told only in Geocities blog postings, abandoned websites, Google Books, and scattered PDFs across the web This post traces a fascinating and mostly lost strand of that history: The way thousands and thousands of people made typewriter art, from amateurs to avant gardists.

  • PabloDraw: A Modern ANSI Art Editor
    We don't need no steenkin' TheDraw. (link via @blakespot)

    "PabloDraw is an Ansi/Ascii text and RIPscrip vector graphic art editor/viewer with multi-user capabilities.

  • An Early English-Language Image Diplay from a Computer, 1957
    Dynamic text display on a CRT in 1957? Not bad.

    "The screen of the picture tube shown will present as many as 10,000 characters per second. Each character is formed by an array of bright spots, a selection from a rectangular array of a total of 35 spots, five wide and seven deep. For a capital letter T, for example, the selection is five spots across the top and six more spots down through the middle…

  • Pinterest Gallery of Ugly Computers
    One of Blake Patterson's amazing Pinterest boards

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If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AppleLine: One of Apple's Two Rarest Products

Monday, April 14th, 2014

AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) - circa 1991One of the only photos of this device on the Internet at present.

Almost thirty years after its introduction, the AppleLine Protocol Converter (1985) remains one of the rarest pieces of commercial hardware Apple has ever produced. It allowed a single Lisa, Mac, or Apple II to communicate with IBM mainframes using the IBM 3270 terminal protocol.

As far as I can tell, this is only the second photo of the AppleLine ever posted on the Internet (the first was in a slideshow from last year — see below). I bought this particular Apple service sheet just to share a photo of this elusive beast with you.

In 1983, Apple released a similar (and similarly rare) product, the Apple Cluster Controller, which I wrote about in this Macworld slideshow from last year. One model of the Cluster Controller allowed up to seven Apple Lisas to connect to an IBM mainframe (again, via IBM 3270), which required an intelligent protocol conversion process. As such, the Cluster Controller contained its own CPU and was a miniature computer unto itself, but technical specifications of either device are hard to track down.

If you or anyone you know owns an Apple Cluster Controller or AppleLine protocol converter, I'd love to hear from you. They are so rare I'm not sure if they even exist anymore. (Perhaps Apple only leased them out and recalled all the units when they phased them out, keeping them largely out of private hands. But this is pure speculation on my part.)

[ From AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the rarest Apple product you own?

[ Newsbits ] April 10, 2014

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

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VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

There are too many good links this week. I honestly don't know what happened. Maybe I'm getting better at this.

Recent News

  • Vintage Computer Festival Southeast 2.0
    The AHCS does it again

    "The Atlanta Historical Computer Society and the Computer Museum of America are pleased to announce the second annual Vintage Computer Festival Southeast. We have selected the dates of the 3rd and 4th of May to make it easy for people to attend both VCF East and VCF Southeast this year.

  • Nintendo Launches Game Boy Advance on Wii U Virtual Console
    Another painfully slow trickle of games from Nintendo, but the emulation is very well done.

    "From April 3 through April 24, select Game Boy Advance titles will launch in the Nintendo eShop on Wii U each week. In addition to off-TV play, these games feature Restore Points that save progress during game play, and Miiverse functionality.

  • Microsoft Ends Support for Windows XP
    Spoiler: It's not really dead

    "Windows XP, Microsoft Corp.'s beloved seventh major operating system and arguably the company's most successful, was left to perish on Tuesday at its creators' hands. It was 12 years, seven months old.

  • Fifty Years of IBM System/360
    The most successful computer platform that the least number of people know about

    "50 years ago today, IBM unveiled the System/360 mainframe, a groundbreaking computer that allowed new levels of compatibility between systems and helped NASA send astronauts to the Moon.

  • Gmail 10th Anniversary
    A great piece by Harry McCracken I missed last week

    "If you wanted to pick a single date to mark the beginning of the modern era of the web, you could do a lot worse than choosing Thursday, April 1, 2004, the day Gmail launched.

  • Raspberri Pi Announces New "Compute Module"
    A new variety of this vertsatile, hackable machine

    "The compute module contains the guts of a Raspberry Pi (the BCM2835 processor and 512Mbyte of RAM) as well as a 4Gbyte eMMC Flash device (which is the equivalent of the SD card in the Pi). This is all integrated on to a small 67.6×30mm board which fits into a standard DDR2 SODIMM connector (the same type of connector as used for laptop memory*).

Cool Links

  • Story of the Windows XP Bliss Desktop Image
    Hachman hits it out of the park with this research piece

    "It's not too far-fetched to believe that a billion people have viewed the "Bliss" image that defines the desktop view of Windows XP, the seminal OS that Microsoft is retiring Tuesday. But you'd barely notice the real-world "Bliss" scene if you stepped out of your car and gazed at it today.

  • A Custom Portable N64 Console
    Kotaku drools all over a Bacman forum post

    "We've seen portable retro consoles before, but this N64 mod is beautiful. It uses a 3.5″ screen, internal memory and Rumble Pak, an Expansion Pak, a GameCube analog stick and 4 hour battery life.

  • Kevin Mitnick Befriends a Former Foe on Facebook
    …an old hacking target of decades past

    "You gotta love the old friends you meet on Facebook.

  • Looking at the Web with Internet Explorer 6, One Last Time
    Lee Hutchinson explores the modern web with IE 6 in all its splintered glory

    "Windows XP wasn't the only thing to be shuffled into unsupported purgatory yesterday. Also included in the group of applications to be dumped down the memory hole is the browser that everyone loves to hate: Internet Explorer 6.

  • 1988 Inside Edition Story on Nintendo
    Retroist digs up a vintage scare piece

    "In 1988 parents were still baffled by the spell that video games had cast over their children. This segment from Inside Edition tries to get to to the bottom of it all.

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  • Project: MEGAFOOT
    An indie sci-fi action film seeking funding on IndieGoGo. One of the rewards ($150 level) is a limited edition Megafoot NES cartridge.

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If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super Game Boy Commander

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Hori SGB Commander Super Game Boy Controller Super NES SNES Box 1994Like a Game Boy outside your pocket on a leash.

Ah, the Super Game Boy. What an enchanting peripheral it was. (I wrote about my feelings for it in eighth-ever RSOTW entry back in 2006.)

In case you missed it, the Super Game Boy was a special cartridge that let you play Game Boy games on the Super NES using a TV set and a SNES controller.

Around the time the Super Game Boy came out in Japan (1994 I believe), the always-amusing Hori released a special controller that partially simulated the look and the feel of the original Game Boy unit itself — right down to the speaker grille in the lower right corner. The resulting product, the SGB Commander, never saw the light of day in the US, but that didn't stop me from importing one about a half decade ago when they were on sale at NCSX for a very reasonable price.

As far as controllers go, the build is sturdy and responsive. It works as well as any decently-made controller with the Super Game Boy, although I'm not sure it was entirely necessary. For that reason it remains a very neat oddity in the history of game controllers.

By the way, here's what the back of the box looks like.

[ From Hori SGB Commander (HSD-07) product packaging, circa 1994]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite game to play with the Super Game Boy?

[ Newsbits ] April 3, 2014

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

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Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Recent News

  • Microsoft Releases Source Code for MS-DOS and Word for Windows
    A great move by Microsoft and the CHM

    "On Tuesday, we dusted off the source code for early versions of MS-DOS and Word for Windows. With the help of the Computer History Museum, we are making this code available to the public for the first time.

  • Yoshi's New Island Out Now on 3DS
    A Nintendo 3DS sequel to the Super NES classic with all-new stages.

    "New island. New adventure. Same awesome Yoshi. The little Mario Bros. are in big trouble. Help Yoshi save the day — with help from cool power-ups, giant Eggdozers, and crazy transformations.

  • New Ultima Online Shard Freeshard Open
    by the name of "An Corp"

    "A brand new freeshard for Ultima Online has opened up and it is amazing. T2A era, full-loot, open-world PVP, revamped loot tables, exciting new expansions like the Township/Kingship system, and Order/Chaos/Balance battles.

Cool Links

  • Play Zork on an Altair 8800 Clone via Telnet
    and watch the panel lights blink in realtime

    "Logon using your favorite telnet client to: altair.micronick.com on port 23. You can SAVE and RESTORE your Zork game. I suggest using terminal type vt100 or ANSI.

  • Magpi: The Micro Arduino Gaming Platform Interface
    A retro portable game console built from scratch

    "Here's a retro hand-held gaming console I built with my son. It uses an Arduino micro-controller, a small LCD screen, push-buttons, a 3D printed case and home-grown "PC" board. It's really pretty easy to solder and put together. My son & I wrote two games and a drawing program for it.

  • Classic Game Room Reviews the Sega Dreamcast Dreameye Camera
    A neat peripheral many people have forgotten

    "TV phone, video mail and photo mail with your Sega Dreamcast and the Dreameye camera! Hook this up to your Dreamcast and connect to the Japanese Internet in 2000 for some great times!! Records 25 second clips of video from a terrible webcam, but it's great for laughs.

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Top 1000 Video Games of All Time

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

The Top 1000 Video Games of All Time

Today, PC World published my latest slideshow, The Top 1000 Video Games of All Time.

The in-depth piece — split into 1000 separate slides, each with its own paragraph of text — took over two years to create.

You may be asking yourself how one person could create such an epic work. Well, I got a little help from custom algorithms I programmed partially in Haskell — and partially in Minecraft's redstone circuitry using Boolean algebra.

But I didn't just rely on computer wizardry. Much self-deliberation went into choosing the order of the items on the list. I argued with myself for hours while sitting on the bench at a local park, on the bus, and in the North Regional Branch of the Wake County Public Library. After being arrested 13 times (twice in the nude), I decided to perform future deliberations in the privacy of my own bathroom. I feel that it made the results more pure.

Here's a sneak peek at the bottom 11:

1000. Halo (Xbox)
999. Silpheed (IBM PC)
998. Sewermania (TI-99/4A)
997. Quadrapong (Arcade)
996. Section Z (NES)
995. Pooyan (Arcade)
994. New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
993. Popeye: Beach Volleyball (Game Gear)
992. Lloyd the Squirrel (???)
991. Snafu (Aquarius)
990. Descent (PC)

And here's a selection from somewhere near the middle:

555. Superman (2600)
554. Bioshock Infinite (PC)
553. Slipnosis (iOS)
552. Star Trek: Phaser Strike (Microvision)
551. Farmville (Flash)
550. Deadly Towers (NES)

As for the top 10, you may be in for a surprise. My Haskell program determined with scientific precision that the 10 greatest video games of all time are, in fact, different versions of Ms. Pac-Man:

10. Ms. Pac-Man (Apple iPod)
9. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 2600)
8. Ms. Pac-Man (TI-99/4A)
7. Ms. Pac-Man (ColecoVision)
6. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 5200)
5. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 800)
4. Ms. Pac-Man (IBM PC)
3. Ms. Pac-Man (Intellivision)
2. Ms. Pac-Man (Arcade)
1. Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 7800)

Oddly, my redstone program placed Super Mario Bros. 3 in the top 10 seven times — that's how good it is. But I can't do the same game on the same platform in multiple spots, so I compromised. To see the full, final list, you'll have to check out the slideshow yourself. I hope you enjoy it.

And remember: unlike most of my previous ranked lists, I used computer algorithms to ensure its accuracy, so don't get mad if you disagree with the list. You're completely wrong.

—-

Discussion Topic: What are your top 1000 video games of all time?