[ Retro Scan ] Benj’s 1992 Christmas List

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Scan of Benj Edwards 1992 Christmas Xmas List 1992Seems like I wanted a computer

My father passed away in 2013, and since then, I have been slowly going through his possessions, including his papers, to take stock of what’s there and put things in order.

Last year, in the back of a tall metal file cabinet, I found a manila folder labelled “Christmas Lists.” Amazingly, it contained many of my handwritten childhood Christmas lists, addressed to both Santa and my parents. It was very touching to find. I had no idea my father had saved them.

Among these papers, I found this gem from 1992 (I pinpointed the date easily because I remember which year I wanted to get a Prodigy client set). I was 11 years old. That was also the first year I started my BBS.

Unlike my richly illustrated Christmas list from 1989, this one is all text. Among items like ‘G.I. Joe guy,’ a giant Hulk figure, and a snare drum, we find gems such as ‘Nintendo Game Genie,’ the aforementioned ‘Prodogy’ (sic), and “#1 gift! A COMPUTER!!!”

(I’m pretty sure the $15 was a joke.)

At the time, I was using a dreadfully slow monochrome IBM PS/1 Model 25 (with an 8086 CPU) to run my new BBS (that my dad had bought new around 1987), so I’m pretty sure that was the main reason I wanted a computer.

I didn’t get a new computer that Christmas. I think my dad bought me my first non-hand-me-down PC around 1994. But I did get a Prodigy connection kit, and you can read more about that in this classic post. And of course, best of all, I was surrounded by my loving, supportive family in a stable home. It was a great Christmas.

I was a lucky kid, and I am very grateful that my family encouraged me to explore what I loved. I plan to do that for my kids as well.

I hope all of you out there have a very Merry Christmas.

[ From Benj’s Christmas List (Vol. 2, Chapter I), 1992 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever received a computer for Christmas? Tell us about the first one.

Prodigy Reverse-Engineering Tools Released

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Prodigy Online Service Logo

After promising this for years, it’s time to finally release the Prodigy Preservation Project’s reverse-engineering tools. They’re not much, and they’re written in Python, but this code is the means by which I’ve been extracting fossilized Prodigy pages from STAGE.DAT files for the past few years.

I have been delaying announcing their availability because I was hoping Jim Carpenter, the author of these tools (and my partner on the Prodigy Preservation Project) would have more time to add more functionality and documentation, but he has not made any changes to the code since late 2015.

Yeah, I know that was almost two years ago. I’m sorry — things move slowly in ProdigyLand.

So here it is, everybody. Have at it. I hope you can help us improve them.

https://github.com/jim02762/prodigy-classic-tools

Just let me know what you find, and I’ll add it to my Flickr galleries.

Huge Gallery of Prodigy MadMaze Screenshots Now on Flickr

Friday, April 7th, 2017

MadMaze Screenshot

Just a few minutes ago, I released the first group of images from the Prodigy Preservation Project on Flickr. They’re screenshots from MadMaze, a vintage online game that ran on Prodigy Classic between 1989 and 1999.

Specifically, they’re all the graphics from the Place of Power instances in the game. I believe most, if not all, of the artwork was done by Al Sirois, a Prodigy staff artist. Al Sirois did some of the artwork, but Sirois says that most of it was created by other artists (see comments below). They originated as NAPLPS vector graphics (scalable to any size) and were captured into a raster format for display on the web.

MadMaze Screenshot

Of course, you can play a re-creation of MadMaze yourself on this very server right here. And you can read more about that re-creation (and report bugs you may encounter) here.

If you’d like to support the Prodigy Preservation Project and all of my history work, please consider submitting a pledge on Patreon. Any money I get from Patreon helps a ton toward giving me the extra time to work on history projects like the PPP.

Classic Prodigy Game Recreation MadMaze-II Updated to Support Chrome and Firefox

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

MadMaze-II Title ImageSince 2013, I’ve been hosting a web-based recreation of the classic Prodigy online service game called “MadMaze” on the VC&G webserver.

(You can read the backstory about that here.)

The only problem with this “modern” version of the game, called MadMaze-II by its late author, Russell Brown, is that it only worked in Internet Explorer. This re-creation was developed in 2001 at a time when Internet Explorer was the browser of choice for many.

Well, thanks to the help of a web developer named Brandt Horrocks, the game now works in Chrome and Firefox. In Chrome, it seems to work nearly perfectly, although it does not support the sound effects Brown originally implemented in the game (yet). In Firefox, the game is playable, but the introduction renders slightly differently.

The game is still at its original VC&G address, http://www.vintagecomputing.com/madmaze/, so give it a shot and see what you think. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments here, and I will show them to Brandt, who may be able to do more bug fixes in the future.


See Also:

Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead: The Prodigy Restoration Project (2014)
MadMaze-II Now Hosted on Vintagecomputing.com (2013)
Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web (2006)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Gather ‘Round the Videotex

Monday, November 25th, 2013

AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal TV set-top box online modem - 1983A time when TVs were made of wood and children were not yet rabid.

In honor of Thanksgiving, a holiday which tends to emphasize family, I’ve dug up this AT&T Sceptre Videotext Terminal box art that I captured years ago. Look at those gloriously generic 1980s folks gathered around the TV set.

(I say “captured” for this image and not “scanned” because the image is actually a photo of the side of the box — the box itself is far too large to fit on a scanner. It’s roughly 14″ tall by 18″ wide by 11″ deep, if memory serves.)

Videotex: Smart TV in 1983

It’s funny: I’ve purposely avoided talking about Videotex on this blog for eight years because I was saving up material for a story about Teletext and Videotex. I have bought maybe a dozen vintage books on the two subjects since 2006 and mined news archives for information. But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go to Disneyland. Maybe I will get around to finishing that piece some day. Probably not.

So here’s the skinny. “Videotex” is the name for a graphical computer communications standard that was designed to display mixed visual and text information on regular TV sets. The idea was that a customer would buy a terminal (such as the one seen here), subscribe to a CompuServe/Prodigy/AOL-like online service, and use the terminal to connect to the service and view the information on their home TV set. Kinda like WebTV before the Web. Heck, kinda like smart TVs before the smart.

Graphically, Videotex used the NAPLPS protocol (similar to Prodigy, which grew out of these commercial Videotex experiments) to quickly transmit graphics to the user’s terminal. NAPLPS saves bandwidth because instead of storing/sending data on every pixel (like a bitmap image), the protocol describes graphics in terms of mathematical geometrical shapes (i.e. “draw a triangle at this location and fill it with orange,” like vector graphics).

By the mid-1980s, Videotex services fizzled in the marketplace. Their failure was likely due to low utility (not very useful), plus high cost of subscription (likely from high overhead on the service’s part in both hosting and creating content), and from competition from much more versatile and easier-to-interface-with personal computers.

AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal

And so that brings us to this side box art for a circa-1983 AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal. I bought this vintage gadget unopened, new-in-box on eBay for literally $1 plus shipping back in 2000.

The terminal works, but it has nothing meaningful to connect to — after all, the related Videotext service shut down almost 30 years ago. The last time I hooked it up, I believe I tricked its internal 300 baud modem to talk to my PC using a phone line simulator and perhaps even displayed a Linux console on the TV set. But that was many years ago. I also remember that the Sceptre has a horrible rubber IR keyboard that barely works.

One could conceivably create a Videotext simulator, hosted on a modern PC, that would pump NAPLPS graphics into to this vintage beast to bring it back to life. Maybe someone already has. If so, I’d like to know about it.

By the way, AT&T has a really neat vintage Sceptre promotional video on its website. It’s worth a watch.

[ From AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal product box, circa 1983 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did your family ever subscribe to a non-ISP online service? Tell us about it.

MadMaze-II Now Hosted on Vintagecomputing.com

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

MadMaze-II Title Image

In 2006, I wrote about a version of the classic Prodigy game MadMaze that had been adapted for the web by Russell D. Brown, an electronics engineer based in Rome, New York.

Just today, a commenter on that original post (thanks Joshua) let me know that Russell Brown passed away last year on July 1st. That means his implementation of MadMaze-II is now offline.

(Please note that the original author of MadMaze, Greg Costikyan, is still alive and kicking as far as I know.)

Luckily for all of us, I asked Russel Brown back in 2011 to share his MadMaze-II code with me in case his version of the game ever went down. He complied, and I have just now set up a fresh copy of his adaptation on this web server at the following address: http://www.vintagecomputing.com/madmaze/.

The game still requires Internet Explorer 5 or up, and it seems to work in IE 9 for me. Brown programmed the game in such a way that obfuscated its function to prevent cheating (he even incorporated a copy protection scheme), so at the moment I have no idea how to successfully modify it if players find any bugs. But if you encounter any problems, please feel free to let me know, and I’ll have a look.

Have fun in the maze. And may Russell Brown rest in peace.

[ Update – 01/18/2017: Thanks to the work of Brandt Horrocks, MadMaze-II now works in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox web browsers. Read more about it here. ]