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.

[ 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 ] 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.

VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012)

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Trip Hawkins Interview on EDGE-online.com
10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 8

[ This interview I conducted was originally published on Edge.com in June 2012 to roughly coincide with Electronic Arts’ 30th Anniversary. Since then, the interview has disappeared from the web. A few people have asked me to make it available again, and since I retained the rights to the interview, I am free to publish it on VC&G for everyone to enjoy. ]

Originally Published on Edge.com in June 2012:

VC&G Anthology BadgeElectronic Arts is 30 years old, and there is no denying that the behemoth game publisher casts a long shadow of influence over the entire industry. The company, founded in May 1982, pioneered a business model that treated game designers like rock stars and software publishers like record labels. It pushed the use of big names and big licenses in sports (think Madden, NFL) and soon grew to gobble up many renowned development studios to become a massive entertainment conglomerate.

These days, that conglomerate catches lots of flack from gamers on various issues including employee treatment, content milking, premature server termination, and more. Whether or not those criticisms have any merit, there is no denying that Electronic Arts was once revered as a top corporate impresario for identifying and cultivating the world’s best game design talent (although one would have to admit that time was very long ago).

The man behind the early, creatively-rich image of EA is Trip Hawkins, an Apple veteran who founded the company with a simple dream: to bring his sports simulations to life. Hawkins, now 58, left EA in 1991 to start The 3DO Company, which folded in 2003. He then launched mobile game developer Digital Chocolate that same year. Just recently, Hawkins announced he was stepping down as CEO of Digital Chocolate to face an as-yet unrevealed future.

In late May of this year [2012 — Ed.], on the occasion of EA’s 30th anniversary, I spoke with Hawkins over the telephone and via email about the creation of Electronic Arts, the design of its early games, and at some length about the negative criticism the company tends to attract today. Along the way, we touched on the personal source of his creative spirit and about heady days as a close friend of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012) » ]

[ 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?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Axiom Printer Card

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

AXIOM EX-801 EX-820 printer card TRS-80, Commodore PET, Apple II advertisement - BYTE November 1979* Feathered hair not included

Ah, the good ole days when you had to pay $535 (that’s $1,744 in today’s dollars) for the privilege of merely being able to hook a printer to your home computer. What can I say — it was a useful feature.

My first computer, an Apple II+, came equipped with a Grappler+ printer card (from the previous owner), although I can’t recall ever using it. Instead, I printed school reports by that time from whichever family MS-DOS machines we had at the time, each of which included a built-in parallel port for printer use.

What a great day it was when I switched from a noisy dot matrix printer to the that awesome Canon Bubblejet we had. Silent printing! And the day we got our first full-color photo capable HP inkjet printer around 1996. It was pretty low resolution, but still amazing.

Today, I don’t print much. I have a color laser copier in service to reproduce scanned documents (in lieu of a copy machine) in case I need a hard copy of something — usually a form or contract — to mail.

[ From BYTE Magazine – November 1979, p.162 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you regularly print anything from your computer these days? What do you print?

[ 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?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Aplus 3000 Apple II Clone

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Aplus 3000 Apple II clone advertisement - 1985Everything looks cheaper in black and white print.

The IBM PC wasn’t the only American microcomputer that got cloned in the 1980s. The Apple II also inspired its fair share of software-compatible copycats, such as the Aplus 3000 system seen here.

This appears to be a grey market VTech Laser 3000 computer with the name plate removed — possibly to avoid any trade import bans on Apple II clones that may have existed at the time.

Clones like this were popular in certain underground circles, and for good reason. Take a look at the price list in the ad. The Aplus 3000 retailed for US $499 (about $1,104 today when adjusted for inflation) verses $1745 for a bona fide Apple IIe (about $3,863 today). And on top of that, the Aplus 3000 contained integrated peripheral cards that would cost thousands of extra dollars if purchased separately for use in a real Apple IIe.

As I’ve mentioned before, peripheral integration was a great way to undercut official products. It happened quite a bit in the IBM PC universe.

[ From Compute! – November 1985, p.85]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you could buy an unauthorized clone of an iPad or iPhone that ran iOS and had better specs for less price, would you do it?


See Also: Orange+Two Apple II Clone (RSOTW, 2010)
See Also: Apple II Box for C64 (RSOTW, 2013
See Also: How I Got My First Computer, and How I Got My First Computer Back