[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AppleLine: One of Apple's Two Rarest Products

April 14th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) - circa 1991One of the only photos of this device on the Internet at present.

Almost thirty years after its introduction, the AppleLine Protocol Converter (1985) remains one of the rarest pieces of commercial hardware Apple has ever produced. It allowed a single Lisa, Mac, or Apple II to communicate with IBM mainframes using the IBM 3270 terminal protocol.

As far as I can tell, this is only the second photo of the AppleLine ever posted on the Internet (the first was in a slideshow from last year — see below). I bought this particular Apple service sheet just to share a photo of this elusive beast with you.

In 1983, Apple released a similar (and similarly rare) product, the Apple Cluster Controller, which I wrote about in this Macworld slideshow from last year. One model of the Cluster Controller allowed up to seven Apple Lisas to connect to an IBM mainframe (again, via IBM 3270), which required an intelligent protocol conversion process. As such, the Cluster Controller contained its own CPU and was a miniature computer unto itself, but technical specifications of either device are hard to track down.

If you or anyone you know owns an Apple Cluster Controller or AppleLine protocol converter, I'd love to hear from you. They are so rare I'm not sure if they even exist anymore. (Perhaps Apple only leased them out and recalled all the units when they phased them out, keeping them largely out of private hands. But this is pure speculation on my part.)

[ From AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the rarest Apple product you own?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Side Pocket for Game Boy

May 13th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Data East Side Pocket for Nintendo Game Boy ad - 1991The balls are moving and the cue ball hasn't even hit them yet. Spooky.

[ From Video Games and Computer Entertainment, January 1991, back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what's the best pool/billiards video game of all time?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Tiny Pocket Ultima

January 7th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Origin FCI Ultima Runes of Virtue for Game Boy ad - 1991Ultima: Runes of Virtue for the Game Boy

I'm not a huge fan of Ultima: Runes of Virtue for the Game Boy. However, its sequel, Runes of Virtue II on the SNES (which was also released on the Game Boy) is quite an interesting action RPG to me — despite its general clunkiness. It feels sort of like a Zelda title set in the Ultima universe with Ultima VII-style graphics.

Just a small administrative note: I'm moving the Retro GIF of the Week column to Fridays. So expect the next entry in that column this Friday.

[ From Video Games and Computer Entertainment, August 1991, p.27 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If EA made a new core Ultima game today (think Ultima X — and no, not the failed MMO), would you buy it?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Quickshot Joysticks

December 3rd, 2012 by Benj Edwards

QuickShot Joysticks by Bondwell - Python Maverick Starfighter Flightgrip Apache - 1991INSIST ON QUICKSHOT! THE GENUINE PIECE!!!

I own a few QuickShot joysticks, but I don't believe I've used any of these particular models. Third-party console controllers weren't all that popular in the age of the NES (relative to the 2600 days, at least), likely because the NES's own pads (and the NES Advantage and Max) were so good to begin with. Same with the Genesis and Super NES. That fact alone probably killed a few third party video game peripheral companies that were hanging on from the Atari 2600 era, although the QuickShot brand lived on until the late 1990s.

[ From Video Games and Computer Entertainment, August 1991, p.21 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did/do you commonly use third-party controllers for your classic video game systems? Which one is your favorite?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Dr. Chaos

October 29th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Dr. Chaos for NES Nintendo Ad - 1991That purple monster skipped out mid-treatment and he's angry!

Happy Halloween from VC&G

[ From Video Games and Computer Entertainment, Jan 1991, p.163 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the scariest video or computer game you've ever played?

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Great Moments in Shareware: ZZT

September 3rd, 2007 by Benj Edwards

ZZT

Read any popular game publication these days, and you'll probably come across ample mention of Epic Games' Unreal Engine, the 3D powerhouse behind blockbuster first-person shooters like Bioshock and Gears of War. Believe it or not, one of today's hottest game engines traces its roots back to a 2D text-based game programmed by a University of Maryland college student during the golden age of shareware.

Tim Sweeney founded Potomac Computer Systems in 1991 with the release of ZZT, a graphical ASCII character-based game that ran on a simple object-oriented platform programmed by Sweeney. With an in-game editor, Sweeney created multiple ZZT episodes that he sold to finance the new company. Luckily, Sweeney didn't limit the in-game editor to himself; it featured prominently on the title screen of the free shareware edition. Much to Sweeney's surprise, the editor itself soon became the most popular part of ZZT, allowing players to create their own games in the ZZT engine. Potomac changed its name to Epic MegaGames, and a shareware giant was born.

ZZT Title Screen ZZT Game Screen ZZT Board Editor ZZT-OOP Code

A large community of rabid ZZT fans still thrives thanks to the Internet, where enthusiasts trade nostalgia, user-made games, and the latest attempts to squeeze every last drop out of the ZZT engine through emergent programming techniques. For example, clever world builders have managed to reproduce just about every major 2D game genre — even genres the engine wasn't designed for — in ZZT's editor, albeit in primitive forms. For modern ZZT fans, the game's fun lies not only in playing the community's user-created games, but in the challenge of creating new and unexpected things with a simple set of tools and components.

The original shareware package of ZZT only included one game: Town of ZZT, a whimsical adventure created by Sweeney that calls upon a player's action and puzzle-solving skills. But in the late 1990s, Epic released all of Sweeney's classic ZZT episodes as freeware, so you'll find those worlds in the file below as well, including Dungeons of ZZT.

Have fun. Feel free to share your fond ZZT memories (or latest ZZT exploits) with the rest of us.

(Update - 05/25/2009: If you love ZZT, check out this interview I conducted with its creator, Tim Sweeney.)

ZZT 3.2
Release Date: 1991
Author: Tim Sweeney (Epic MegaGames)
Platform: MS-DOS
Runs Best On: Any 286 PC or faster with MS-DOS
Notes:
Includes full Town, City, Caves, and Dungeons of ZZT episodes. ZZT runs pretty well on modern computers under Windows. You might also want to try running the game under DOSBox. Uses the PC speaker for sound.
- Download ZZT 3.2 - (175KB)

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Great Moments in Shareware: Scorched Earth

July 12th, 2007 by Benj Edwards

Scorched Earth

Sixteen years after its humble emergence in the golden age of the BBS, Wendell Hicken's timeless 1991 artillery simulation remains a hallmark in shareware history. Scorched Earth stands as nothing less than a masterpiece in the field of computer games.

With its numerous gameplay settings, variable computer AI, and an impressive variety of entertaining power-ups, Scorched Earth possesses nearly infinite replay value. It's also one of the greatest party games ever devised: up to ten players can take turns plotting the explosive demise of their closest friends at the hands of a Nuke, MIRV, or Death's Head over as many as 1000 rounds. As a testament to the pure strategy of the game, veterans skilled in the ways of Scorch know the best ways to dispatch foes — or merely survive as others duke it out — under any circumstance, rain or shine, springy walls or rubber.

Title Screen Tank Selection Screen Weapon Selection Screen Game Screen

Many of today's game designers seem envious of Scorch's ability to consistently entertain for over a decade. Fans of Hicken's classic have attempted modern remakes of or improvements upon Scorched Earth, but to this day, none has even begun to approach the solid feel, intricate balance, or professional production values of the original. That's how good it is.

Hicken didn't invent the artillery game; he perfected it. And as long as our computers run without smoking, we'll still be playing the original Scorched Earth as good Wendell intended.

Scorched Earth 1.5
Release Date: 1991 (1.0), 1995 (1.5)
Author: Wendell T. Hicken (aka "Sprig")
Platform: MS-DOS
Runs Best On: Any 286 or 386 PC with 640K+ RAM and a VGA card
Notes:
Amazingly, Scorched Earth runs pretty well on modern computers under Windows. If the game seems too fast, adjust the in-game "Firing Delay" setting (under "Hardware"). You might also want to try running the game under DOSBox. The game uses the PC speaker for sound.
- Download Scorched Earth 1.5 - (633KB)

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