The Lost Civilization of Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems

November 7th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

The Cave BBS Logoff ANSI by Nukemaster

Last Friday, The Atlantic published an article I wrote in which I explore modern-day dial-up BBSes.

Some of you may remember that I've visited this topic before — on this very blog — way back in 2006. In my recent virtual travels, I found it very interesting to see how things in the dial-up BBS space had changed over ten years, and I allude to that in my Atlantic article.

I've mentioned this many times before, but for those of you who are unfamiliar, I ran a dial-up BBS called "The Cave BBS" between 1992 and 1998. Since 2005, I have also run a telnet version of The Cave.

To read more about my BBS adventures, check out the "BBS History" category on VC&G.

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[ Retro Scan ] Game Boy, All Grown Up

November 2nd, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo Game Boy Political Campaign Speeches GQ 1992 Presidential Election advertisement scan - 1992"Have you had your fun today?"

So we've got this election coming right around the corner in the US. It hasn't been fun. In fact, it's been pretty nasty and stressful for everyone involved. But there's a solution: video games.

In this October 1992 ad from GQ magazine, Nintendo offers its Game Boy handheld console as an antidote to our grownup troubles during a long, grueling campaign season. Among displays of men's fashion, cologne ads, and strutting female models, you can find a rather remarkable sales pitch for this groundbreaking gadget aimed at adults.

In 1992, portable electronic entertainment pretty much meant one thing: Game Boy. There were no smartphones in everyone's pockets to twiddle away the time with. And the alternative handhelds like the Sega Game Gear, NEC TurboExpress, and Atari Lynx had such horrible battery life that very few people actually took them on the go. Of course, one could tote along a Walkman or a portable TV, but they weren't interactive.

The Game Boy was different. It was compact, light, durable, ran over ten hours on four AA batteries, and it had that killer app: Tetris.

I remember reading news reports, not long after the Game Boy's launch, about how adults were playing Tetris ("the jigsaw puzzle that fights back," the ad says) on long commutes. In retrospect, Tetris seems like the first video game for adults — especially since it had no cartoon protagonist, and its single-screen drama unfolded in four serious shades of gray (or green, technically). It was a thinking man's game, and it was addictive.

Or thinking woman's game, I should say, since we have this amazing 1993 photo of Hillary Clinton playing the Game Boy. While commuting, no less. So maybe the ad worked. Or maybe Tetris was just an essential, can't-miss game that finally legitimized video games for an older audience.

[ From GQ, October 1992, p.150 ]

Discussion Topic: Did your parents ever play console video games when you were younger? What games did they like the most?

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[ Retro Scan ] A TurboGrafx Halloween

October 31st, 2016 by Benj Edwards

TTI TurboGrafx-16 Turbografx TurboExpress TurboDuo Dead Moon Ghost Manor advertisement scan - 1992Ghost Manor and Dead Moon on a Zombie Console

[ From VG&CE, November 1992, p.47 ]

Discussion Topic: What's the scariest 16-bit era game you've ever played?

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[ Retro Scan ] Dune II

March 14th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Dune II PC Game Advertisement Scan - 1992I just got a craving for The Spice

Dune II is to the real-time strategy genre as Wolfenstein 3D is to first-person shooters. Like Wolf-3D, Dune II wasn't the absolute first example of its genre, but it was the first game to bring together all the distinctive elements of its respective genre into one title — in this case, those elements would later be copied and expanded upon over and over again by games like Command & Conquer and Warcraft.

That being said, I've only played Dune II a few times — only many years after its release. I never got into it, but I can see why it is a historically important game. Warcraft was my first modern RTS game.

[ From VG&CE, November 1992, p.4 ]

Discussion Topic: What's your favorite Real-Time Strategy game of all time?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super High Impact

January 11th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Super High Impact Football Game Sega Genesis Arcade Ad Advertisement Scan - 1992The NFL really needs to do something about these bone-crunching incidents

People seem to be talking about football a lot these days, and I'm not quite sure why. To appease the raving hordes, I thought I'd throw out a Football retro scan. In this case, it's for Super High Impact on the Sega Genesis.

I've never been a fan of Football video games in general — my favorite is probably still Tecmo Bowl for the NES. Nostalgia for that game's intro music alone is enough to get me to play it a couple times a year.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, November 1992, p.15 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your all-time favorite American football video game from the pre-32-bit era?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Wordtris

August 17th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Spectrum HoloByte Wordtris Game Boy Super NES advertisement - 1992How Video Games Are Designed

[ From VG&CE, November 1992, p.59]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite Tetris spin-off game?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Air Zonk

August 3rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Air Zonk TTI TurboGrafx-16 TurboDuo Bonk in Space Shooter advertisement - 1992The 4-inch Michael Jordan

I remember seeing a playable demo of Air Zonk in my local Toys 'R' Us around the time it came out (probably early 1993). I remember it being marketed as a pack-in for the TurboDuo. Upon playing the demo, my first thought was along the lines of: "Wow, the TurboGrafx-16 is still around? They must be desperate."

(For those of you who don't know, my brother and I took the TG-16 plunge circa 1990 or 1991.)

By 1993, the SNES and Genesis were in full force — I owned a SNES and enjoyed it quite a bit. I was deep into Street Fighter II fever at that point. I drooled over the TurboDuo when it came out, though, and I always had a soft spot for the TG-16.

My second about Air Zonk was, "Hmm, this game isn't very good." So I released the controller and didn't play it again until perhaps 20 years later on an emulator. I still don't like it very much.

[ From VG&CE, November 1992, p.46]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Which do you like better: Air Zonk or Bonk's Adventure?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] George Foreman's KO Boxing

June 22nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

George Foreman's KO Boxing SNES Genesis Game Boy NES Game Gear advertisement - 1992It's not a grill, but it'll do.

[ From VG&CE, November 1992, p.29]

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

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Kodak Photo CD

February 2nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Digtial Photo scan Kodak Photo CD advertisement Picture CD - kids next generation on a TV set - Scientific American February 1993Because the best place to look at photos has always been your TV set

In September 1990, Kodak announced a brand new system for storing and viewing photographs: Photo CD. At a time when Compact Discs represented the vanguard of consumer electronics technology, Kodak capitalized on the excitement by blending digitized photos with a custom CD format.

Kodak designed that format for viewing through special a Kodak CD Player device (think DVD player for still photos) that hooked to a standard TV set. Using such a player, one could view the digitized photos via a virtual slideshow.

It would not be until August 1992 until Kodak finally launched the system, releasing its first Photo CD player and beginning production of Photo CD discs for customers.

With a base image resolution of 512 x 768, Photo CD was far from an archival medium. It tried to offer convenience, but instead ended up adding needless cost and encumbrance to the photo viewing process. In an era before most people were equipped to view, edit, or print digital photos from a PC, the fact that the photos came in an electronic format did not add anything notable to the experience. Predictably, adoption of the Photo CD system never gained much steam. (Wikipedia's article on Photo CD has some pretty good additional analysis of why Photo CD never took off.)

I personally remember encountering a Kodak Photo CD player in either a photography store or a Radio Shack as a kid. I thought it was amazing — your own photos on a TV set! But my dad, an experienced photographer, never bought into the system.

P.S. For more CD history, check out my Compact Disc 30th Anniversary article that I wrote back in 2012.

[ From Scientific American - February 1993, p.17 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever use the Kodak Photo CD service or own a Photo CD player?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super Mario Kart Photo

May 26th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Benj's Super Mario Kart Photo Screenshot - circa 1992

I took this photo around 1992 or 1993 not long after Super Mario Kart came out. I had rented the game from Blockbuster (See "Secret Cartridge Messages"), and I was amazed to see that the cartridge would save high scores (in this case, track records) between sessions.

That blew my mind a little, because it meant that the scores I saw on the screen came from previous renters of the game — I was playing against previous renters' track times! So when I set a new record on a particular track, it carried a little extra weight.

(It struck me, even then, that this sharing of scores between players formed a sort of primitive pass-along gaming network, and coming from a BBS background, that excited me.)

In retrospect, I am positive that the track record you see in this photo is nothing record-breaking in the broader competitive Mario Kart universe. But just getting first place — as a 12 year-old, first-time Super Mario Kart player — filled me with enough pride to take a photo of the game screen as viewed from my family's 1983 TV set.

Remember that this was the era when people used to take photos (with film cameras) of high score screens and physically mail them to Nintendo Power so they could be listed in the magazine. I'm sure that's where I got the idea to snap the photo.

[ From a personal photo by Benj Edwards, circa 1992]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever take photos of your video game high score screens?

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