Hear Benj on the Retronauts Podcast

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Retronauts Episode 98 Mac Games

Since February, I’ve been appearing on episodes of Retronauts, a long-running retro gaming podcast traditionally hosted by Jeremy Parish and Bob Mackey. Retronauts traces its origins to the now defunct 1UP.com, but it has moved along with Jeremy wherever he goes.

And that includes a move across the country: About five years ago, Jeremy relocated to sunny Raleigh, NC from San Francisco. After resigning from his editor-in-chief position at USGamer.net late last year, Jeremy decided to rely on Patreon to fund Retronauts as a full-time project.

Retronauts East Apple II Games ArtworkThere’s only one problem: Bob Mackey is still located on the west coast, and Jeremy can’t afford to fly out there every time he wants to record a show. So while Bob still creates episodes on the west coast, Jeremy started up a “Retronauts East” wing of the show featuring a local crew of regulars.

Fortunately, I am a Raleigh native, and I still live here. So the Retronauts East roster includes both myself and Ben Elgin, a Hillsborough, NC software engineer and a veteran of Jeremy’s Gamespite forums.

Since then I’ve been on five episodes (with another micro episode on the way), and it’s been a blast. Jeremy is a gin aficionado, and we typically drink a gin and tonic before or during the show, which is why you may hear high-resolution ice clinking in the background.

Here’s a run-down of the episodes I’ve appeared on so far:

Episode 87: Apple II Games
Episode 91: Early Sega Arcade Games
Episode 95: Early Batman Games
Micro 59: Atari Swordquest
Episode 98: Mac Gaming in the 1980s

There’s more to come. So stay tuned and enjoy.

VC&G Anthology Interview: Ed Smith, Black Video Game and Computer Pioneer

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Ed Smith, Black Video Game Pioneer of APF ElectronicsIn 1978, APF Electronics introduced the MP1000, an early cartridge-based video game system. It wasn’t a smash hit like offerings from Atari, but it carried within its faux woodgrain housing a hidden kernel of cultural brilliance: The console would not have existed without the work of an African-American electronics engineer named Edward Lee Smith (b. Nov 4 1954).

I first learned about Ed Smith while researching Jerry Lawson, one of the first known African-Americans in the video game industry. Not long after Lawson did his pioneering design work on the Fairchild Channel F in Silicon Valley, Smith began a similar task on the opposite side of the country, crafting his own contributions to the industry while at APF in New York City.

VC&G Anthology BadgeAs part of a small engineering team, Smith helped design the MP1000 and its plug-in computer expansion module, the Imagination Machine. That work got him noticed by Black Enterprise magazine, and in 1982, Smith and Lawson were both interviewed for a feature written by S. Lee Hilliard about the roles African-Americans had played in the video game revolution, which was a hot business topic at the time.

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Ed Smith, Black Video Game and Computer Pioneer » ]

[ Newsbits ] June 29, 2016

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

I’ve recently received a big influx of news, announcements, and press releases, so I thought I’d bring Newsbits out of cold storage and use it to share everything all at once.

Recent News

  • Producer of The Oregon Trail Donates Collection to The Strong

    It’s wonderful to see this stuff preserved, as always

    A group of former employees from the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC) recently donated an extensive collection of materials to The Strong museum documenting the history of the pioneering company from 1973 to 1996. The collection includes hundreds of pieces of software, internal documents, and press clippings.

  • EveryMac.com Turning 20 Years Old

    Brock Kyle recently let me know that his essential Apple info site is turning 20 this Saturday. Quite an accomplistment!

    Established in 1996, EveryMac.com is the complete guide to every Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and Mac clone in the world, with technical specs, configuration details, system identifiers, performance benchmarks, and global pricing info.

  • Atari Video Documentary Project Needs Support

    They’ve assembled some incredible footage so far; would be a shame to see this disappear

    This 100 minutes long documentary about the Atari story will feature a list of unreleased interviews with the key people of these events, including a very rare one with Warner VP Manny Gerard and a unique one with Atari CEO Ray Kassar, the man held responsible for Atari success and the video game industry crash at the same time, who never appeared in a documentary before.

  • YouTube Gamer on a Quest to Play 1001 Games Hits 100th Episode

    Quite a project

    My name is Gaming Jay. I’m a retro gamer who started a challenge this past year to play through a book called ‘1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.’ Each week I’ve been playing 2 games and recording my gaming sessions and uploading them to YouTube. I have also recently developed a new website to document my journey with written summaries to supplement my YouTube videos.

  • iOS Camera App with Retro Filters Released

    Neat iOS camera app that simulates vintage graphics

    I created Famicam64, an 8bit RetroGaming style Camera app. Famicam64 lets you take photos with 40+ real-time filters that emulate the nostalgic look of retro computers (and games) of the 80s and 90s. CGA, EGA, VGA, Hercules and old PC graphic modes are all there, as well as style emulating home computers and handheld consoles (C64, Spectrum or Gameboy etc. etc.).

  • Secret History of Mac Gaming Book Seeks Funding

    It’s a niche subject, but a story worth telling

    The Secret History of Mac Gaming is the story of those communities and the game developers who survived and thrived in an ecosystem that was serially ignored by the outside world. The work draws on archive materials as well as 60+ new interviews with key figures from Mac gaming’s past.

  • Cool Links

  • Circuit Classics Boards Re-Create Classic Forrest Mims Designs

    Very, very creative electronics project from Star Simpson

    Forrest M. Mims III is a trusted name in the electronics world for good reason: his charming and engaging texts have drawn millions of people into the world of electronics for the first time. I am bringing some of those hand-drawn circuits projects to life by creating an exquisitely designed series of finely crafted and highly detailed boards. These are the Circuit Classics.

  • NES Coffee Table on Etsy

    VC&G reader Ben Winchester built a NES-shaped coffee table; it’s up for sale on Etsy.com

    I wanted to show this to you because I feel this piece is truly unique and original to me. I got my start by replicating your NES DVD player and then moving on to putting my own twist on the NES coffee table, and now I think I have created an original design.

  • Artist Re-Creates Classic Byte Cover in Photo

    Bob Alexander turns Tinney’s train illustration into a photo composition

    I’ve just completed an art project that was inspired by Robert Tinney’s painting “Computer Engineering” for Byte magazine. That’s the one with a train chugging around a printed circuit board. I made a printed circuit board that resembled the one in the painting, photographed it, and Photoshopped a picture of an HO scale model train onto it.

  • [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Benj’s Apple II Notes

    Monday, February 1st, 2016

    Benj Edwards Apple II+ AppleSoft BASIC handwritten programming notes scan - circa 1990 or 1991An authentic, Coke-stained programming reference

    I’m sure I’ve told this story somewhere else — probably about five times at this point, but here it goes again. When I was maybe 9 or 10 (in 1990 or 1991), my dad bought me a nice Apple II+ setup from someone at the local hamfest for about $100.

    (I recently found the original handwritten price tag for that machine, which you can see here. I said about $100 because haggling was common, and he may have actually paid $70 or $90 for it. It’s worth noting that $100 was a lot of money for an old computer back then, and it commanded that price because it was perceived as still being useful at the time. Later, used Apple II prices sunk, then went back up again as they became collectible.)

    As I learned to program BASIC on the machine using Apple’s fairly well-written AppleSoft programming manuals, I began to make a list of frequently-used programming techniques that I could easily reference.

    It was my dad’s idea — and he was very big into making notes, dating papers, and documenting things. However, I found that handwriting cramped my hand because I didn’t hold a pencil properly, so I absolutely hated it. And yes, that gave me trouble in school. But I can still remember my dad’s words now. It was a familiar conversation:

    “Write this down: Initialize prepares a new disk.”

    “Ok, dad.”

    “WRITE IT DOWN.”

    Obviously, I did as he instructed, then continued to add to the list over the following days. Not long after creating it, I taped the notes to my desk right beside my Apple II+. There they stayed for at least a few years as I continued to tinker with BASIC.

    Eventually, that desk (made out of a hollow, uncut door laying across two shelf pillars) got so nasty with stickers and writing that it went to the dump. Just before it departed, I peeled my BASIC note off and stuck it in my files. There it stayed until I rediscovered it just last year in some old papers.

    As dirty and Coke-stained as the note is today, I am glad I still have it. At the risk of stretching a metaphor, it’s a little bit like rediscovering an old friend that helped me through a tricky period of my life. At the very least, I will always remember PR#6.

    [ From Benj Edwards personal handwritten AppleSoft BASIC notes ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first programming language you ever used? How old were you?

    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Thoughware JingleDisk

    Monday, December 7th, 2015

    Thoughtware JingleDisk Jingle Disk Animated musical computer christmas card animation artwork Xmas - 1985Jingle disk, jingle disk, jingle all the way

    Throughout the ages, fans of Christmas have found new and varied ways to express their love for the holiday. In the 1980s, personal computer users joined in the fun, using their machines to host a new breed of animated Christmas greetings that were distributed through magazines, BBSes, or even sold on disk like Thoughtware’s JingleDisk, seen here.

    Upon inserting JingleDisk into your Commodore 64 or Apple II computer (It’s a double-sided disk with data for the different platforms on each side) and booting it up, the user is presented with a Christmas-themed animation set to various holiday musical standards. It’s fun to watch.

    There is something about the warmth of the glow from a cathode ray tube screen that lends itself well to computerized Christmas celebrations — perhaps it echoes some primal link to prehistoric man sitting around the fire telling stories.

    By the way, this JingleDisk came to me by way of a family friend who just turned 40 years old today. Happy Birthday, Chris!

    [ From Thoughtware JingleDisk product packaging, 1985, front/back ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever programmed a Christmas-themed demo or sent a computerized Christmas card? Tell us about it.

    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Laser 128 Family

    Monday, November 23rd, 2015

    Laser 128 Apple II Compatible clone machine computer advertisement - 1987A family on the move

    This Apple II-clone machine became popular in the mid-late 1980s as a low-cost alternative to the Apple IIc (almost half the price but twice the RAM — scratch that, Apple IIc had 128K too), especially for home use. I have a Laser 128 in nearly pristine condition in the box, and it feels nice to use. It echoes the integrated form factor of the IIc, which makes it convenient to setup in a pinch if you need to pull out an Apple II in an emergency. Or at least that’s how I use it.

    Happy Thanksgiving from VC&G

    [ From Family and Home Office Computing, November 1987, p.69 ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have any Thanksgiving computer or gaming traditions? Tell us about them.

    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Dad’s Halloween Card

    Monday, October 26th, 2015

    Personalized custom homemade Print Shop Halloween greeting card - circa 1984-85Happy Halloween from 1984

    My family has this way of saving everything. Not through conscious, organized preservation, but by virtue of never throwing anything away.

    In that vein, I was digging through some old papers at my mom’s house after my father passed away in 2013, and I came across this homemade Halloween greeting card.

    From the looks of it, my dad made the card for me and my brother using Broderbund’s Print Shop on the family’s Apple IIc. It is printed on a single sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper; one is supposed to fold it in half twice to achieve a gatefold design with a front, inside, and back. Click the image above to see the whole thing unfolded — the other side is blank.

    As for who colored it with crayons, I’m guessing I did (perhaps my dad or brother did it neatly, then I gave it a once-over with a brown squiggly line). What a great momento from the home PC era. Happy Halloween!

    [ From Personal scan of homemade Halloween card, ca.1984-85]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever made a personalized greeting card using your computer? Tell us about it.

    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Microsoft Multiplan

    Monday, April 13th, 2015

    Microsoft Multiplan Apple II advertisement  - Personal Computing - 1983Leeloo Dallas Multiplan

    [ From Personal Computing, October 1983, p.160 ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first electronic spreadsheet program you ever used?

    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Apple II SwyftCard

    Monday, March 30th, 2015

    Jef Raskin Steve Wozniak Information Appliance Swyft Card SwyftCard Apple II advertisement  - Personal Computing - March 1986Paid for by SwyftCard Veterans for Truth

    From the land of exotic Apple II accessories comes the Information Appliance SwyftCard, a plug-in peripheral card that gave the Apple IIe a built-in suite of ROM-based productivity tools, all unified around a novel scroll-based [PDF] user environment called SWYFT.

    SWYFT was the brainchild of former Apple employee Jef Raskin, who originally spearheaded the Macintosh project. After disagreements with Steve Jobs over the direction of that project, Raskin left Apple and founded Information Appliance, Inc. (consequently, Jobs took the Mac project in a completely new direction).

    The SwyftCard originated as an Apple IIe-based prototype for a dedicated machine centered around Raskin’s SWYFT environment, but it proved so effective and compelling that it became its own product. The dedicated concept would later emerge as the Canon Cat in 1987.

    SwyftCards are very rare (I’ve never seen one in person over 20 years of collecting Apple II hardware), so Apple enthusiast Mike Willegal has provided instructions for building your own. Pretty neat!

    P.S. I emailed this ad to Steve Wozniak (who is featured in the ad) and he said, “Cool reminder!”

    [ From Personal Computing, March 1986, p.163 ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: Jef Raskin vs. Steve Jobs: Who do you identify with the most?

    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] HI-RES ADVENTURE #4: Ulysses and the Golden Fleece

    Monday, March 23rd, 2015

    Sierra On-Line Systems Ulysses and the Golden Fleece HI-RES ADVENTURE #4 Adventure Game Apple II Atari 800 advertisement  - Compute - June 1982HI-RES ADVENTURE #4

    [ From Compute!, June 1982, p.15 ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your favorite static-screen graphical adventure game of all time?