[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Visual 1050 PC

March 3rd, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Visual 1050 Personal Computer System Advertisement 1983"The complete professional solution at an unbeatable price."

I've never owned a Visual 1050 Personal Computer System (seen here), but I have an old Visual brand terminal that uses the same (or a very similar) keyboard. That's the first thing that comes to mind when I see this, because it's a distinctively wide, flat keyboard.

The 1050 sported a Z80 CPU and ran the CP/M operating system, the grandfather of MS-DOS. Curiously, even though CP/M was a popular platform for business computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I only have a a handful of pure CP/M-based machines in my collection. (My favorite such machine is probably the Kaypro II.)

In regard to the chart in the advertisement above, it's interesting to note that it was pretty easy to undercut IBM, price-wise, not long after the IBM PC came out. Fast advances in IC design allowed computer makers to inexpensively cram more functions (think serial, parallel, game ports, disk controller, graphics card, etc.) directly onto motherboards instead of offloading them onto separate plug-in cards. While the 1050 was not an IBM PC clone, true PC clone makers took advantage of this effect to hollow out the inside of IBM's hold on the PC market from the bottom up.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.40-41]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have a favorite machine that runs CP/M?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Pro 200 Super Electronic Handheld Gaming System

February 24th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Protech Pro 200 Super Electronic Handheld Gaming System Catalog Advertisement 1998Plays the 200 variations of Tetris that Pajitnov rejected.

I must admit that I wanted this "Pro 200 Super Electronic Handheld Gaming System" upon seeing it in 1998 — even through I knew it was almost certainly a piece of junk. Not to play it, per se, but to collect it and to admire its gloriously gimmicky nature.

If history is any guide, I'm guessing that the Protech Pro 200 didn't actually ship with 256 (or even 200) built in games. Rather, it likely contained 250 variations on a handful of distinct games — like most "1000-in-1″ cheap off-brand multicarts from back in the day.

16 years since its release, I have still never played the Pro 200, so I can't say if it had any play value. I did find this commercial on YouTube though.

Has anybody out there played one of these?

[ From Spilsbury Puzzle Co., Holiday 1998, rear cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the cheapest, crappiest piece of video game hardware you've ever bought (think peripherals too)?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sharp Wizard 9600

February 17th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Kraft Super Mario Bros. Macaroni and Cheese flier flyer Advertisement 1994tap tap tap…tap tap…tap

In the early 1990s, a kid in my neighborhood had his own Sharp Wizard (we all thought he was rich or spoiled — probably both), and it was one of the most incredible things I'd ever seen. It was a tiny electronic organizer with a full QWERTY keyboard that one could have mistaken for a pocket-sized PC.

That same kid later offered to sell his Wizard to me, but my dad turned him down because he was asking too much. So I've never had a Wizard of any model in my collection. I did buy a NES advantage from him for $7 though.

[ From Scientific American, February 1993, p.19]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the smallest device (from the pre-smartphone era) you've ever used for word processing?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super Mario Mac & Cheese

February 10th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Kraft Super Mario Bros. Macaroni and Cheese flier flyer Advertisement 1994The princess has lost her floatation powers…and Yoshi loves bongs.

My mom saves everything. Case in point, I ran across a mountain of mid-1990s coupon flyers — the kind that arrive stacked in an envelope through the mail — at her house this afternoon while I was looking for some old papers. This particular 30-cents-off coupon for Kraft's Super Mario Bros. Macaroni and Cheese from 1994 caught my eye. It measures 4.5″ x 7.5″ (for those of you at home keeping notes).

I've never eaten Super Mario Bros. mac and cheese, but I bet it was every bit as delicious as the regular noodle variety. And besides — there was an adventure in every bowl.

[ From a coupon flyer mailing pack, ca. 1994]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever eaten any food products based on licensed video game characters?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Epyx Winter Games

February 4th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

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.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Stickybear Games

January 27th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Weekly Reader Educational Software Stickybear Educational Game Software Advertisement 1983"Stickybear," in retrospect, is a kinda disgusting name.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.108]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite educational video/computer game of all time?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Internet in a Box

January 20th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

CompuServe SPRY Internet In a Box Advertisement 1996There was a time when you could fit the entire Internet in a box.

[ From Internet World, February 1996, p.1]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What ISP did you use to first connect to the Internet?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Virtual Boy Wasteland

January 13th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo Virtual Boy Wasteland advertisement- 1995Virtual Boy: The #1 video game console on Mars.

When the Virtual Boy first launched in 1995, I rented the console (yep, the whole console) and a few games from my local Blockbuster store. Prior to that time, I don't remember Blockbuster offering any other systems for rent; I think it was a joint effort with Nintendo to get the novel machine into people's hands to try it out. (Later, I also rented a Nintendo 64 and a PlayStation from Blockbuster. But I digress.)

In fact, here are some early digital photos of that Virtual Boy rental, courtesy of my Snappy Video Snapshot. The first, dated 8/29/95, shows one of my cats sleeping in the plastic hard case the Virtual Boy arrived in when rented from Blockbuster. The second shows the Virtual Boy sitting alone on a stool in my room, and the third (dated 8/30/1995) shows my friend playing the Virtual Boy.

Virtual Boy Snappy Shots

The Virtual Boy was an interesting experience — not exactly mind-blowing, but neat. Its display was all red, all the time, but with stereoscopic 3D. I remember that it seemed expensive (MSRP of $179.99, which is $275.26 today when adjusted for inflation), and I remember thinking that if it only cost less, it could be successful.

But as we now know, the Virtual Boy failed to take off. Nintendo killed it the same year it launched in Japan, and the company pulled the plug in the US the following year. At that time I bought a Virtual Boy new in the box on clearance at Toys'R'Us for $30. I still have it; in fact it's sitting next to me as I write this. Wario Land ranks among my favorite games for the system, and I always wished that this odd 3D console had lived long enough to receive a proper Super Mario Bros. title.

Why did the Virtual Boy fail? I wrote about some of the reasons in this 2009 article on Game Console Design Mistakes for Technologizer. I also briefly analyzed the Virtual Boy for my History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming slideshow for PC World in 2011.

In some ways, it's a shame that the system died so early, but in absolute business terms, its early demise made perfect sense. The Virtual Boy was an odd machine without broad appeal — one of Nintendo's rare flops — but it makes for a heck of a video game collector's item today as a result.

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, p.8-9]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever played the Virtual Boy? What's your favorite game for the system?

See Also: Virtual Boy Vortex (RSOTW, 2012)
See Also: The History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming (PC World, 2011)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Low-End Virtual Reality

January 7th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

PCVR Magazine Cover Jan-Feb 1994Every new idea is an old idea with more transistors.

A few years ago, a relative gave me a couple issues of PCVR Magazine, a low-circulation 1990s periodical dedicated to virtual reality. Here's the cover of the Jan/Feb 1994 issue, which features an illustration of the magazine's build-it-yourself head tracker project.

In the early 1990s, the "virtual reality" concept hit a peak in the popular media that coincided with dozens of companies pursuing motion-tracking head-mounted displays — both with honest attempts and blatant gimmicks.

If I had to guess why VR exploded in the popular tech consciousness at that particular time, I would trace it it to the emergence of small, relatively low-cost color LCDs — the kind that made portable consoles like the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear possible. Compared to bulky, power-hungry CRT displays, the (relatively) thin, low-power LCDs could be worn on the head with mobility and without too much discomfort. That prompted a minor Cambrian explosion of VR headset hardware.

But the display technology just wasn't there yet. Affordable LCDs were very low resolution (think 320×200 or less), and higher-resolution LCDs cost thousands of dollars a piece.

In addition, the hardware and software required to generate convincing virtual reality experiences were neither affordable nor generally available. So genuinely immersive VR found itself stuck in corporate and university research labs; meanwhile, the public got trickle-down fad headsets like the Stuntmaster.

Today, we find ourselves in the middle of a VR renaissance thanks to Oculus Rift. But this time, we may actually be at the edge of mainstream virtual reality headsets because the technology has come quite a long way since 1994. I look forward to meeting your 3D virtual avatar in cyberspace soon.

[ From PCVR Magazine, Jan/Feb 1994, cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a virtual reality headset of any kind? Tell us about it.

See Also: Retro Scan of the Week Special Edition: "At Last! Reality For the Masses!" (VC&G, 2007)
See Also: The History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming (PC World, 2011)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] SNK Neo-Geo CD

December 30th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

SNK Neo-Geo CD system CD-ROM Arcade advertisement- 1995"Don't cross the line unless you're serious."

In all my two decades of video game collecting adventures, I've never personally owned a Neo-Geo console. (I have owned a Neo-Geo Pocket Color, but that's different.) It's probably because I started collecting with inexpensive systems, games and accessories, and the Neo-Geo line was always scarce and expensive. Also, I was never particularly drawn to the Neo-Geo's brand of action-heavy arcade games.

So part of me wants to rectify the lack of Neo-Geo in my life, even if only for completion's sake. But then again, I've played the games on emulators for over a decade now, and I've been satisfied with that. What do you guys think?

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, September 1995, p.74-75]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was your first CD-based video game system?

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