[ Retro Scan ] Milton-Bradley MBX for TI-99/4A

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Milton Bradley MBX Flyer TI-99 Voice activated games 1983 side 2Milton-Bradley MBX Flyer: Side 2

The Milton-Bradley MBX, launched around 1983 for the TI-99/4A home computer, is a strange product: it combines a pistol-grip joystick with a rotating knob and analog control, a 64-position touch pad with overlays, and voice-recognition headset into one package that is supposed to enhance gameplay on specially-designed TI-99/4A games.

This neat TI-99/4A site has a history page about it, so I think I’ll just snatch a portion that explains the MBX’s origins:

Now that you have an idea as to what the MBX System is, below is a little history provided by Mike Langieri (the creator of the device). According to Mike, the MBX actually started out as a stand-alone game console in 1982 and was to be Milton Bradley’s answer to the Atari 2600 and Intellivision. MB’s plan was to provide the game player with voice recognition, speech synthesis, and an action-input keypad which in turn would give them an advantage over the systems already on the market.

Now how come MB did not go ahead with their own system in 1982? Once the Colecovision came out, Jim Shea (then president of Milton Bradley) thought that the market was not big enough to support 4 game systems from Atari, Mattel, Coleco, and Milton Bradley and therefore killed the project. However, so much development went into creating MB’s own video game unit that Mike was then assigned to finding a use for all the technology they developed.

Eventually it was decided to transform Milton Bradley’s gaming system to an add-on for the TI-99/4A, most likely due to the fact that MB had earlier developed the Gamevision line of video games for the 99/4A and also created the graphics chip used inside of the TI system. Thus, “the MBX was the phoenix that rose from the ashes” as Mike wonderfully put it.

It’s amazing to think “What if” and wonder what a Milton-Bradley game console might have been like. I believe that Milton Bradley also originally tried to sell this idea to Atari, but they declined, and it ended up as a TI-99/4A peripheral. A non-rotating, non-analog variation on this joystick did end up as Atari’s Space Age joystick, though.

Milton Bradley MBX Flyer TI-99 Voice activated games 1983 side 1Milton-Bradley MBX Flyer: Side 1

I have a complete MBX system in the box (which may be where I got this flyer), but for some reason I have never used it. I think that’s because I don’t have any of the games that support it — or I didn’t 17 years ago when I first bought my MBX on eBay. Right now I don’t even know what box my MBX is stored in, so it would be hard to rectify that.

[ From Milton Bradley MBX Promotional Flyer, ca. 1983 ]

Discussion Topic: When was the first time you ever used voice commands with a computer?

[ Retro Scan ] Chuck E. Cheese Tokens and Tickets

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Front of Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre Tokens Scan 1980 1982 1983Five early 1980s Pizza Time Tokens from Benj’s Collection

Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre launched 40 years ago last month — on May 16, 1977. To celebrate the anniversary, I wrote a long feature about the origins of the pizza chain for FastCompany that they published last week.

While researching the article, I recalled my childhood token collection (pseudo numismatic, as they say) that likely had a few vintage Chuck E. Cheese specimens. After checking, sure enough, I found five authentic Pizza Time game tokens dated from the years 1980, 1982, and 1983.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan ] Chuck E. Cheese Tokens and Tickets » ]

VC&G Anthology Interview: Charles Simonyi and Richard Brodie, creators of Microsoft Word (2008)

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

Charles Simonyi, Left, Richard Brodie, Right, in early 1980sIn October 2008, I created a slideshow to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Microsoft Word for PCWorld.com. It included slides on the history of the software and some oddities as well — remember Clippy?

While researching the slideshow, I contacted Charles Simonyi and Richard Brodie — two early Microsoft employees who worked together to create the first versions of Microsoft Word. While working at Xerox PARC in the 1970s, Simonyi and a colleague named Butler Lampson created Bravo, the world’s first WYSIWYG word processor. After that, Microsoft hired Simonyi largely based on that experience.

VC&G Anthology BadgeConducting original interviews for a web slideshow was very unusual in 2008 — heck, it’s unusual today. But sometimes you need to go to the source to get some facts straight, and that’s what I was doing, as you’ll see below.

To create this short composite interview, I took two separate email interviews and combined them into one document for easy readability. While it is edited to appear like a conversation, neither man was aware of the other’s answers.

10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 6

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Charles Simonyi and Richard Brodie, creators of Microsoft Word (2008) » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Solid-State Disk in 1983

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Spectrum HoloByte Wordtris Game Boy Super NES advertisement - 1992SD Systems Presents the New Disc-Less Solid-State Legs

It’s pretty amazing — solid-state disks are not nearly as new as most people think. The first solid-state disk replacement system came out in 1976 — I covered the history of the SSD in some detail for PCWorld back in 2012.

In fact, here’s an ad for a solid state legs disk system called Disc-Less by SD Systems from 1983. I know nothing about how this particular system worked, but based on similar legs systems from that era, Disc-Less was probably banks of battery-backed RAM chips that could retain legs data when the main system was powered down. It also probably cost a ton of money.

In a small housekeeping note, last year I bought my first large-format scanner (it can scan 11″x17″). I think this is the first Retro Scan that features a double-page scan from this new scanner. (Prior to this, I digitally re-assembled by hand every double page scan.) It’s also my first scan to prominently feature legs the color pink.

[ From Byte, February 1983, p.208-209]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you buy your first solid-state hard drive? What capacity was it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM’s Bizarro Alt-Reality PC

Monday, June 29th, 2015

IBM Instruments Computer System advertisement - 1983The IBM Instruments Computer System

What a strange machine. The IBM Instruments Comptuer System was a completely modular 68000-based PC with its own custom OS (CSOS, according to Wikipedia, which stood for “Computer System Operating System” — ???). It also utilized Motorola’s rarely-seen Versabus bus architecture. The ICS was aimed at scientific and engineering use, and it launched in 1982 — the year following the launch of the IBM PC 5150.

Has anyone used or seen one of these? This is an oddity of oddities. Thank goodness the IBM PC didn’t end up like this.

[ From BYTE Magazine, February 1983, p.116-117]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first IBM brand computer you ever owned (even when collecting)?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Toaster

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Sega Interactive Comics Sega Electronic Comics Batman Popular Science What's New - April 1995It burns your disks

I know nothing about this dual removable hard disk device — called “The Toaster” — by XCOMP. The only time I’ve ever seen it is in this ad. But judging by the lightning, it was completely awesome.

It was also completely expensive — about US $6,639.50 when adjusted for inflation.

[ From Byte, February 1983, p.60]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a removable hard disk system?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Blip: Marvel’s Video Game Magazine

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Marvel Blip The Video Games Magazine Debut Issue #1 Comic Book Cover Matthew Laborteaux - February 1983Marvel should turn this into a movie

In 1983, comic book giant Marvel experimented with publishing a video game magazine called Blip. Here is the cover of the premiere issue, which features Little House on the Prairie star Matthew Laborteaux.

Wikipedia says this about Laborteaux, who was apparently a dedicated video game fan:

Laborteaux is a skilled video game player. In October 1981 he finished in tenth place for Centipede at the Atari, Inc. world championships, and in April 1982 became the United States Pac-Man champion at a People-sponsored tournament, with a score of 1,200,000.

Celebrities are people too.

Regarding the magazine itself: Blip retained the size, shape, weight, and thickness of a typical 1980s Marvel comic book. It was even printed on the same type of paper, likely using the same presses Marvel used for its superhero books at the time.

I haven’t thumbed through this magazine in years — it’s currently in storage — but I remember being sadly underwhelmed by its content when I bought this copy off eBay about a decade ago. I recall thinking that the printing technology did not reproduce photos very well, which did not lend itself to splashy, colorful video game ads or screenshots. Perhaps partly because of this, the mag only lasted seven issues.

The Internet Archive currently hosts scans of all seven issues of Blip.

[ From Blip, February 1983, cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever read any comics (strips or books) based on video games? What are your favorites?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Playing the Atari 800

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Jeremy playing Slime on Atari 800 in his room - personal family photo polaroid - January 14 1983My brother Jeremy playing Slime on the Atari 800 in his room, Jan 14 1983

[ From Personal family Polaroid print – January 14, 1983 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When you were a kid, did your parents let you have a computer in your bedroom?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] HP’s First Handheld Computer

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Hewlett-Packard HP-75C calculator pocket computer handheld computer advertisement - Interface Age May 1983It’s a lot like an HP-11C, but freakin’ huge

Plenty of companies experimented with pocket and handheld computers in the early 1980s. Among them we must count HP, which introduced its HP-75C in 1982.

I peronally own an HP-75D (the successor model of this machine) that allows use of a bar code wand. I bought it on eBay around 2000, messed around with it a few times, and I think it’s been sitting in a box or a closet since. I couldn’t get into it, for some reason, like I could my TRS-80 Pocket Computer. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the 75D and try again — if it still works.

Still, I have a soft spot for the HP-75 series because it features similar industrial design as my beloved HP-11C calculator, which I’ve been using since middle school. RPN for the win!

[ From Interface Age – May 1983, p.143]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Are you a fan of HP calculators? Which model is your favorite?


See Also: BASIC in your Pocket (RSOTW, 2009)
See Also: Asimov’s Pocket Computer (RSOTW, 2011)
See Also: Sharp Pocket Computer (RSOTW, 2013)
See Also: Quasar Pocket Computer RSOTW, 2014)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Family Quizagon Night

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Quizagon family Apple II IBM PC Commodore 64 VIC-20 computer game advertisement - 1983“Whoa…what’s in these brownies, Grandma?”

Thanksgiving is almost upon us again, so it’s time to gather around your home PC for a game of…Quizagon?

Yes, Quizagon. A game I’ve never played, nor will I for the foreseeable future. It looks like a hexagon-themed family trivia game, which is not my bag, man. But what a great photo.

Instead, I’m going to host a The Seven Cities of Gold marathon on an Atari 800XL with my brother. We plan on exploring a completely new continent while interacting vigorously with the natives. Meanwhile, my brothers- and sisters-in-law will be playing Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on my dedicated gaming PC that is hooked to the flat-screen living room TV. It’s a great kart game to play on Steam with four Xbox 360 controllers that’s easy to set up and jump into. Fun times shall be had by all.

By the way, I first used this amusing scan in a 2009 Thanksgiving-related slideshow I did for Technologizer (hoping I’m not repeating it on VC&G). If you’re in the mood, here’s some other Thanksgiving-related material from the VC&G archives.

[ From Compute! – November 1983, p.15]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have any family video gaming planned for this Thanksgiving? If so, what are you going to play?