[ Retro Scan ] The Atari Trak-Ball

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

Atari 5200 and Atari 2600 Trak-Ball advertisement scan - 1983A controller bigger than your head

The reports of Retro Scan’s death are greatly exaggerated.

I just emerged from the other side of a huge house move that taxed my body and soul. Moving my huge collection was very difficult, and now dealing with where to put it all keeps that stress going. I feel behind on lots of things, but it’s time to catch up. One of the best ways to do that is with a new Retro Scan. So here we go — let’s talk trackballs.

As far as I know, the first arcade video games to use a trackball were Midway’s Shuffleboard and Atari Football, both from 1978. As to which came first, I have no idea at the moment.

Atari really ran with the trackball (they called it a “Trak-Ball”) and produced several mega arcade hits that used the interface, including Missile Command and Centipede. It only makes sense that they would bring the tech home to their Atari 8-bit computer line — and the Atari 5200, as seen here — in the form of the Pro-Line Trak-Ball controller.

(An aside: Despite the ad saying the Trak-Ball controller works for the Atari 2600, I know of no vintage 2600 games that support trackball mode natively. There is a joystick mode switch on the bottom of the controller, however, that lets you use it with any game.)

Of course, the 5200 version of the Trak-Ball controller is legendarily huge. It’s almost as big as the (already big) console itself. But I’ve heard good things about it, despite never having used one. I do have the smaller CX22 Trak-Ball controller and I enjoy games of Missile Command on my Atari 800XL with it from time to time, although it is criminally under-supported (in Trak-Ball mode) by games on that platform.

So how about you guys: Have you ever used the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball? What did you think about it?

[ From Video Games Player, October-November 1983 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever used a trackball with any game console? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan ] Computers in Kids’ Bedrooms

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Apple IIc Apple //c Computer Kids Bedroom After School advertisement scan - 1985Simple beginnings

Since I first saw this in a magazine about 12 years ago, this Apple IIc (//c if you prefer) ad has probably been my favorite Apple ad of all time.

The reason is nostalgia — it portrays a kid’s bedroom in the 1980s, and it reminds me of being a kid back then.

I also like the details tucked in there, such as the Motley Crue poster, the Bazooka bubble gum, the ATV helmet (next to a tiny photo of a three-wheeled ATV), the hamster, and an Apple Modem 300/1200 sitting under the telephone. I also wonder what those circuit boards up on the shelf are supposed to be (and what they were actually from).

The Apple IIc was indeed a great machine for young students in the 1980s.

* * *

At 37, my circa-1985 bedroom was outfitted mostly with He-Man figures and stuffed animals, but my older brother’s bedroom looked more like the room in the ad.

Come to think of it, I actually have a photo of my older brother’s bedroom from December 1985, and part of it looked exactly like this:

Benj's Brother's Bedroom in December 1985 - Atari 800 Atari 400

You’ll notice the nice Atari 800 setup, which I have no doubt talked about many times before.

At that time, we did have an Apple IIc as well, but my dad kept it in his home office. It was the first computer I ever used a mouse with.

And what do you know, I have a photo of my dad’s office too — labeled July 1985:

Benj's Dad's Office in July 1985 - Apple IIc and Star Printer

You’ll notice the Star brand dot matrix printer on the floor beneath the desk. I still have many vivid memories of crawling around the floor and watching Print Shop banners and calendars emerge with an intense and persistent screech.

Good times.

In 2016, I did a whole slideshow about my family’s computers through the years for PCMag. If you enjoyed these family computer snapshots of mine, you’ll enjoy that as well.

[ From Popular Computing, February 1985 ]

Discussion Topic: Did you have a computer in your bedroom as a kid? Tell us about it.

A Jedi Builds His Own Weapon

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Benj

I’ve been playing around with making my own custom joysticks recently. Just yesterday, I built this Atari VCS-compatible unit you see above using a Sanwa arcade joystick assembly and two Sanwa arcade buttons, both of which are available on Amazon.

I also used an old Bud project box from my late father’s things for the housing, some screw-in rubber feet on the base, a cord from a non-working Atari CX40 joystick, and some scrap steel inside to give the stick more weight and heft.

I built it mostly so I could have a 4-way only joystick for maze games on the Atari 800. (The Sanwa joystick is switchable between 4-way and 8-way upon installation.) The result is absolutely incredible either handheld or set on a table, and my high score in Nibbler has gone through the roof.

On this joystick, both buttons do the same thing, although my next Atari model will probably have three buttons — one for fire, one for up, and one for down so I can play Asteroids on the 800 like a pro.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Dad’s Christmas Art

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Benj's Dad homemade Christmas Xmas art drawing computer art KoalaPad KoalaPainter Atari 800 Polaroid print - 1985A Christmas Tree in the Window

Back in the day, my dad bought a KoalaPad drawing tablet for our Atari 800. Perhaps that very December — in 1984 or 1985, he drew this scene of the front of our house at Christmas time, complete with a view of our Christmas tree through our living room window. So proud was he of his creation that he snapped a photo of it with a Polaroid camera, and that’s the print I am showing to you now.

Merry Christmas from Vintage Computing and Gaming!

[ From Personal Polaroid SX-70 print, ca.1985, front ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you draw any Christmas art on your computer when you were a kid? Tell us about it.

[ 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 ] 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 ] Oculus / Koronis Rift

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Lucasfilm Koronis Rift Advertisement - 1985A convincing illustration of a migraine headache

After seeing this ad, am I the only one who has the urge to play Lucasfilm’s Koronis Rift on the Oculus Rift? Retro stereo 3D action!

See Also: The Eidolon (RSOTW, 2013)

[ From Compute! – November 1985, p.35]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Can you think of any vintage games that would translate well to the Oculus Rift?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Epyx Winter Games

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Epyx Winter Games Summer Games Summer Games II Advertisement 1985Just in time for Sochi. Sorry for the page fold.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.37]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your favorite winter sport(s) video game? This is mine.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Halley Project

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The Halley Project Atari 800 8-bit computer Ad - 1985“Just tell your friends you’re going on a very long trip.”

As a kid, The Halley Project blew my mind.

I remember flying through the solar system, first person, in what seemed like a real-time simulation of space flight. All the distances between and positions of the planets were accurate, and you could visit each one by traversing the vast gulfs between them. It was one of the most awe-inspiring games on the Atari 800.

I haven’t sat down and played The Halley Project in at least a decade, so I’m kinda fuzzy about the point of the game. I believe you’re trying to track down Halley’s Comet. On the way, I think you have to make stops at each of the planets in our real solar system. And, if I’m not mistaken, there’s something special about the comet itself (once you actually find it) that I won’t spoil for you guys.

The real Halley’s Comet made a famous fly-by of our planet back in 1986. I still have vague memories of being awakened in the middle of the night when I was 5 so our family could drive out to a local school field and catch of glimpse of the comet. I remember seeing a fuzzy dot, perhaps through binoculars or a simple telescope. That real life celestial visit inspired a sort of frenzy in the media and popular consciousness here in the US, and I’m guessing this game played off of that.

I know I could look up the real plot / purpose / gameplay of The Halley Project online, complete with screenshots and analysis, but I don’t want to. My warm memories are good enough.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.13 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you see Halley’s Comet in 1986? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Lucasfilm’s 1985 FPS

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Lucasfilm Games The Eidolon Advertisement 1985Disney now owns this game.

In 1985, LucasFilm Games released one of the earliest first-person shooters, although they didn’t know it at the time. In The Eidolon, players fluidly navigate corridors from a first-person viewpoint, shooting monsters that they encounter along the way.

The Eidolon utilizes a novel and technically impressive vector graphics engine to dynamically generate tunnel interiors from various angles as players maneuver through them. The engine also served as the basis of other LucasFilm titles like Rescue on Fractalus! (1984) and Koronis Rift (1985).

Although this game appeared on the Atari 8-bit computer platform (which I grew up with), I never got a chance to play it until about ten years ago. If I had seen it in the 1980s, it would have immediately become a favorite.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.33 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your favorite pre-1996 first-person shooter?