[ Retro Scan ] Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

First Castlevania Symphony of the Night Magazine Advertisement - EGM 1997Fear has an address: 677 Bluebonnet Ln., Wichita, Kansas 67218

20 years ago today (Oct 2, 1997), Konami released Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in the US. My life has been demonstrably better ever since.

After reading a review of it in EGM, I knew I had to get the game. So I did, and it was awesome. This is probably still my favorite video game — or at least in the top three. This is the game that inspired our beloved Metroidvania term and genre, and it’s still one of my favorite game genres to this day.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1997, p.8-9 ]

Discussion Topic: What’s your favorite Castlevania game?

‘The History of Civilization’ Updates, 10 Years Later

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Sid Meier's Civilization I for MS-DOS Screenshot

Ten years ago today — on July 18, 2007 — Gamasutra published my in-depth history of the creation of Sid Meier’s Civilization called The History of Civilization. (Here’s my original VC&G post on the topic.)

My article was originally intended to be part of a series of articles — conceived by Simon Carless, if I recall correctly — that would cover the histories of the then-recently announced “Game Cannon.” (I wanted to do a piece on Tetris next, but I could not figure out how to get an interview with Alexey Pajitnov.)

Treating video games as legitimate cultural artifacts worthy of preservation and study was a very novel idea at the time. My work, and that of others, over this past decade has made this idea far more mainstream, although there’s still a lot of work to do.

My Civilization article still gets a lot of attention. Gamasutra re-promotes it every once and a while, and it has been cited in books, other articles, and more. So imagine my embarrassment as I tell you, right now, that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing back when I wrote it. I was never formally trained as a journalist; I learned my craft and absorbed lessons as I went along.

The lesson I learned from the Civilization piece was to never make assumptions. The History of Civilization was only the second big history narrative piece I’d written in my career, and I remember being nervous about making a few assumptions about things that I did not firmly know to fill in gaps in the narrative.

I did not have the time or budget to interview more one person fully the article (Sid Meier, though I asked Bruce Shelley questions via email), so I wondered: How on earth do I fill in those knowledge gaps? I just went with what made the most sense, and I was lucky that it did not lead to any problems. Today, many journalists still do this, and it’s a terrible practice.

Since that time, I typically go way way way over budget with interviews and research so that I never, ever have to make any assumptions in the storytelling process. As we speak, I’m about three months late on a big feature because of this obsession of mine. It’s not an economical way to do business as a freelancer, but at least my editors know I can deliver an accurate product.

Does that make The History of Civilization a bad article? No. It’s still a good piece overall, although I would do things differently if I wrote it today.

…But there is this nagging issue, always in the back of my conscience, of a very long email that Bruce Shelley sent me about it just after it was published.

And that, my friends, will be the first of several updates related to this article that I collected have for you today, in three acts:

I. Bruce Shelley’s Notes on the Article
II. Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley in the Flesh
III. History of Civilization Translated into Chinese

[ Continue reading ‘The History of Civilization’ Updates, 10 Years Later » ]

Atari’s Forgotten Arcade Classics (1972-1975)

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

Atari's Forgotten Arcade Games

Rolling Stone recently launched a dedicated gaming site called Glixel, and just recently, EGM alum and Glixel’s General Manager, John Davison (of whom I am a big fan), asked me to write something for the site.

So I did. Atari turns 45 this month, and I thought it would be fun to look back at some of Atari’s early coin-op titles that very few people have heard of. The result is called “Atari’s Forgotten Arcade Classics,” and you can read it now over at Glixel.

If I weren’t so busy with other projects, I’d dive more in-depth into the origins of Atari — I certainly have a lot to say about it. But that will have to wait until another time. Until then, I hope you enjoy this piece.

Ms. Pac-Man Turns 35

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Ms. Pac-Man Arcade Flier Flyer

35 years ago today, Ms. Pac-Man made its worldwide public debut during a press conference held by Namco at Castle Park Entertainment Center in Sherman Oaks, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Ms. Pac-Man launched on February 3, 1982.

In 2011, I interviewed three of Ms. Pac-Man’s creators in depth for a planned feature I was going to write about the game’s 30th anniversary. That project fell through, and although many journalists have written about Ms. Pac-Man since then (and its creators began giving public talks years ago), I found that my old interviews still contained fascinating nuggets of information on the game that had not yet come to light.

So I turned all of my source material on Ms. Pac-Man into an oral history, which FastCompany.com just published. It’s likely that just about everything you’d ever want to know about Ms. Pac-Man’s creation is covered there.

On VC&G, I would like to talk specifically about how I discovered the release date for Ms. Pac-Man, since I’d like people to correct the information that’s out there. (Prior to the publication of my article, sites stated the launch date of Ms. Pac-Man anywhere between late 1981 and January 1982. Wikipedia still says “January 13, 1982” as the launch date — I’ve asked Ms. Pac-Man’s creators, and none of us can figure out where it came from.)

While I found evidence in a single newspaper arcade advertisement that Ms. Pac-Man was anticipated as early as January 31, 1982 (possibly from a test location), Bally Midway formally announced Ms. Pac-Man to the world during a press conference on Wednesday, February 3rd, 1982. A key newspaper report confirms this:

Newspaper Article Describing Ms Pac-Man Launch Date

That’s an article from the Los Angeles Times dated Thursday, February 4th, 1982. It mentions the press conference happening on Wednesday of that week — hence, Feb 3, 1982.

Here’s another article Ms. Pac-Man announcement article newspapers reprinted verbatim widely across the US. It is based on the article above and sent out as a wire report for syndication:

Newspaper Article Describing Ms Pac-Man Launch Date

Anyway — what a game, what a story. I hope you enjoy reading about how a band of plucky New England upstarts created the most popular arcade game in U.S. history.

[ Retro Scan ] My First Website Setup Email

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Benj's first website setup email scan - 1995“Don’t give your password out.” Oops!

21 years ago today, I received this email from Mike Leber of Hurricane Electric, a company that rented out web hosting space, among other services (in fact, they’re still in business).

Since it was a setup email describing how to utilize my first-ever website space, it was important enough for me to print out on my nifty Canon BubbleJet printer. That’s what you see scanned here. I probably have the original email too in electronic form sitting around somewhere.

You’ll also notice that I wrote down a convoluted URL (in which I wrote a strange “(e)” after the “.com” — perhaps I was confused), which turns out to have one pointed to a ghost hunting website. I was big into that stuff back then (I was 14 at the time, if that explains anything). The Purdue email address scrawled in pencil probably has something to do with that as well.

Reading through this old email is fun today. System resources were relatively scarce back then, so the rules about what you could do with your minuscule web space were pretty strict. I particularly enjoy the “MUDS will not be tolerated” line. And the thing about calculating the mass of an electron.

Late last year, I wrote a big article about the process of creating this website (which I called “The Schmeli Caborgan”) for FastCompany. I also wrote about my first ISP, Nando.Net, in a Retro Scan post earlier this year.

[ From Benj Edwards personal email printout, August 16, 1995 ]

Discussion Topic: When did you set up your first website?

The IBM PC Turns 35

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Benj's IBM PC 5150

35 years ago today, IBM launched the IBM Personal Computer — the first-ever IBM PC. While it was simply called the “IBM Personal Computer” back then, we now know it more commonly by its model number, 5150.

PCWorld recently asked me to do something to celebrate this anniversary, so just a few days ago, I took apart my personal IBM PC 5150 and documented the process on my workbench. And back in 2011, I wrote some other articles about the IBM PC on the occasion of the machine’s 30th anniversary.

In fact, I’ve done a lot of coverage of the IBM PC over the years, so I thought you guys might enjoy seeing a collection of all of them in one place. Here we go.

Features

IBM PC Retro Scans of the Week

IBM PC-Related VC&G Posts

There may be more lurking out there, but that’s quite a bit of reading if you’re interested in the IBM PC.

VC&G Interview: Benj Edwards, Creator of Vintage Computing and Gaming

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Benj Edwards with a Commodore 64[ Earlier this year, I asked readers what they wanted to see on VC&G’s tenth anniversary. Most people said “behind the scenes coverage,” but I wasn’t sure how to approach that. So I asked my longtime editing partner Harry McCracken to interview me in the hopes that I might accidentally say something interesting about the history of the site. Happy Anniversary, VC&G readers. — Benj ]

I first met Benj Edwards back in 2007, when I worked at PC World magazine and he submitted an article — “The 10 Worst PC Keyboards of All Time” — over the transom. (Actually, we didn’t meet in person until later, and his submission arrived in my inbox like any other email, but you get the idea.) Even then, I was already a fan of his Vintage Computing and Gaming website, which was then a couple of years old.

We ended up publishing Benj’s keyboard slideshow at PCWorld.com, where it became a monster hit with readers. Since then, Benj and I have continued our writer-editor relationship: first at Technologizer, and today at Fast Company, where I’m an editor and he’s a frequent contributor, writing deeply-reported pieces about fascinating topics which everyone else has forgotten about. He’s also contributed to The Atlantic, Macworld, PCMag, Wired, and other publications.

Benj has never stopped blogging at Vintage Computing and Gaming, which celebrates its tenth anniversary today. To commemorate the occasion, he asked me to interview him about the site, his other writings, and his pursuit of collectible tech products and the stories behind them. I learned a lot from his answers — and so will you.

–Harry McCracken

10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 1

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Benj Edwards, Creator of Vintage Computing and Gaming » ]

Vintage Computing and Gaming Turns Ten: Announcing 10 Days of Vintage

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoTen years ago today, I posted my first entry on Vintage Computing and Gaming. It was a long, rambling piece about my personal history with computers and video games.

Ten years later, I’m still rambling. It’s been fun.

Little did I know when I started this blog how long I would be doing this, and what it would lead to. These past ten years, I have been fortunate enough to meet or interview many of my childhood heroes. I have been able to contribute, in a positive way, to the world’s understanding of computer history. And I have scanned enough material to wrap around the…

Writing this postWait a minute. I’m getting a feeling of déjà vu — like I’ve been in this exact position before. Same blog software and everything. Same familiar white form box starting at me with unflinching eyes, yellow JavaScript-enabled editing tags lined along the edges like they want to jump in and join the party.

Oh, that’s why. I just checked, and I have previously celebrated the anniversary of this site four times. Every time, I pretty much say the same thing over and over again: “Thanks, this is amazing.” Here’s the proof:

The History of Celebrating VC&G Anniversaries

There may be more secret VC&G anniversary celebrations hidden away within these ten years of posts for all I know. Either way, that’s a lot of celebrating. To put an end to this, I propose a five year moratorium on VC&G anniversary celebrations.

…Starting next year, of course. For now, I’ve got something special planned.

[ Continue reading Vintage Computing and Gaming Turns Ten: Announcing 10 Days of Vintage » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] VINTAGECOMPUTING.COM

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Benj Edwards Vintagecomputing.com Vintage Computing and Gaming domain name registration Network Solutions June 2000“I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT AN INVOICE”

Although Vintage Computing and Gaming turns 10 years old today, I actually registered the “vintagecomputing.com” domain name back on June 8, 2000. This is what Network Solutions sent to me in the mail. I was only 19 years old — now I’m 34. Time flies.

It wasn’t the first domain I’d ever registered, but it was an early one. I wanted to use vintagecomputing.com for an online computer museum that would show off my vintage computer and video game collection. I never got around to creating that.

Another project got in the way of all of those plans, and I ended up working on music at Request-A-Song.com instead until October 2005.

I finally put my vintagecomputing.com domain to good use — over five years later — when I decided to make a blog on that fateful day in November 2005.

[ From Networks Solutions Domain Registration Letter, June 13 2000]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first domain name you ever registered?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Gray Zapper

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Nintendo NES Zapper Light Gun Scan - Zapper ca.1985Released because Americans like guns

The Nintendo Entertainment System turned 30 years old in the US yesterday — well, according to Nintendo, anyway. That date is still a little fuzzy, in my opinion. Still, it’s close enough.

When the NES turned 25 (exactly five years ago today — creepy!), I wrote a few features about this classic system like NES Oddities for Technologizer and a NES workbench teardown for PCWorld.

This year, I have done nothing to celebrate except scan this NES Zapper. It’s a beaut.

Just a few days ago, the designer of the NES hardware revealed that the NES shipped with the Zapper because “Americans in general are interested in gun.” Indeed they are!

In 1989, Nintendo changed the dark grey parts of the Zapper to “blaze orange” to meet new US Federal regulations about toy guns. That regulation involved required orange plugs or paint at the tips of the barrels of realistic or imitation toy guns.

The regulation passed because people were robbing banks with toy guns, and the orange plug was supposed to let cops know the difference between a deadly weapon and a hunk of plastic. (Turns out the plug requirement doesn’t work as planned. But it did ruin the toy gun industry.)

The Zapper isn’t exactly a realistic toy gun, but acting with its usual overabundance of caution, Nintendo went way beyond a barrel plug. Either way, I am proud to say that, to this date, no one has ever been shot and killed by a NES Zapper.

P.S. In January, I scanned a line drawing of the Zapper from the NES manual. You may enjoy that as well.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, January 1991, p.50-51]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you think someone could rob a bank with a NES Zapper? What about in the 1980s?


See Also:
NES Zapper Diagram (Retro Scan, 2015)
Model No. NES-001 (Retro Scan, 2010)
NES Oddities
Inside the Nintendo Entertainment System