[ Retro Scan ] WorldsAway Mousepad

March 9th, 2017 by Benj Edwards

CompuServe Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldsAway mousepad scan - 1995Echoes of Ancient Technicolor Greece

Back in 1995, CompuServe and Fujitsu launched a graphical online chat world called WorldsAway. I used it from the very start (at least within a month of the launch, I think), and quickly became enveloped in the beautifully illustrated world and the sense of community it fostered.

I've written in-depth about WorldsAway before — both on VC&G in a previous Retro Scan (for its first print ad) and in a "This Old Tech" column on PCWorld back in 2015.

Not long after the WA launch in 1995, Fujitsu held a contest on CompuServe that was simple to enter — you had to send an email or answer a short survey (forgot what it was exactly). Lucky for me, I won the contest, and I received a really cool package of WorldsAway-branded swag. I'll try to remember everything: a sweatshirt, a pen, a clear acrylic coffee mug, a keychain flashlight, and the mousepad you see here.

The coolest thing about this mousepad is that it shows an illustrated overhead map of the Dreamscape/Kymer/whatever it was called as Fujitsu staff originally designed it. It stayed within its Greco-Roman-inspired theme. When WorldAway launched, only a handful of these locales were accessible — I think it wasn't until 2000 or so that all of them were actually completed and opened to WA users (although I don't really remember the Theatre opening up, but I quit in 2001).

Speaking of mousepads, while they were essential in the days of rolling-ball mice (some nice mouse history I wrote here), they are technically optional with today's optical mice. But I still use one on my desk to provide a uniform surface for my Microsoft optical mouse.

[ From Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldsAway Mousepad, 1995 ]

Discussion Topic: Let's talk about mousepads. When was the last time you used one?

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan ] Voice It VT-40 Digital Recorder

October 19th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Voice It VT-40 Flash Memory Digital Voice Recorder Discover Magazine advertisement scan - 1995A 40-second safe deposit box, mind you

In 1994 and 1995, several manufacturers released the first batch of solid state digital voice recorders. All of them used newly available flash memory chips to record audio notes digitally without the need for magnetic tape.

This VT-40 recorder from Voice It was among the first, launching around May 1995 in the US. It could record 40 seconds of audio in 10 audio clips — all that for a mere $69.99 MSRP. Unlike some competing units, the audio clips recorded by the VT-40 were stuck on the recording device and could not be digitally transferred to another medium or a computer. Around the same time, Voice It also launched a higher-capacity unit, the VT-75, which could record 75 seconds of audio.

Despite the convenience of having a small, thin audio recorder with no moving parts, the low capacity of these first generation flash recorders made them more of a novelty than anything else. I remember around 1996 when my dad brought home a keychain digital audio recorder that could record about 30 seconds of audio. It was fun to play with — and a marvel of technology at the time — but it didn't have enough capacity for useful note taking.

Of course, today we have endless solid state audio recording capacity through removable flash cards, etc., and digital note recorders are the mainstream (and have been for at least a decade). But it's neat to look back on how it all started.

[ From Discover Magazine, May 1995, p.91 ]

Discussion Topic: When was the first time you used a solid-state or digital audio recorder? Tell us about it.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan ] My First Website Setup Email

August 16th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Benj's first website setup email scan - 1995"Don't give your password out." Oops!

21 years ago today, I received this email from Mike Leber of Hurricane Electric, a company that rented out web hosting space, among other services (in fact, they're still in business).

Since it was a setup email describing how to utilize my first-ever website space, it was important enough for me to print out on my nifty Canon BubbleJet printer. That's what you see scanned here. I probably have the original email too in electronic form sitting around somewhere.

You'll also notice that I wrote down a convoluted URL (in which I wrote a strange "(e)" after the ".com" — perhaps I was confused), which turns out to have one pointed to a ghost hunting website. I was big into that stuff back then (I was 14 at the time, if that explains anything). The Purdue email address scrawled in pencil probably has something to do with that as well.

Reading through this old email is fun today. System resources were relatively scarce back then, so the rules about what you could do with your minuscule web space were pretty strict. I particularly enjoy the "MUDS will not be tolerated" line. And the thing about calculating the mass of an electron.

Late last year, I wrote a big article about the process of creating this website (which I called "The Schmeli Caborgan") for FastCompany. I also wrote about my first ISP, Nando.Net, in a Retro Scan post earlier this year.

[ From Benj Edwards personal email printout, August 16, 1995 ]

Discussion Topic: When did you set up your first website?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan ] Vectorman "Play to Win"

May 23rd, 2016 by Benj Edwards

BlueSky Software Vectorman Play to Win Sega Genesis Advertisement Scan - 1995IT"SSSS AWEESSSOOOMME

I was a big fan of Vectorman back when it first came out. Around that time, I bought a used Sega Genesis from a friend (my first), and I rented a copy from Vectorman from Blockbuster (or did I rent an entire Genesis itself first — my memory is hazy on that point). I was blown away by Vectorman's fluid animations, great sound effects and music, and tight overall feel of the game. I still think Vectorman is one of the best games on the Genesis.

This ad comes from Wizard (the comic book magazine), and in a two-page spread, it took up one whole page on the left and about a third of the page on the right. I have cropped out the remaining 2/3 of the right page which was unrelated to the ad.

That right portion, by the way, describes Sega's "Play to Win" contest that tied into the game. Apparently, certain randomly distributed Vectorman cartridges contained in-game messages that advised the player to call a phone number and claim a prize. The top prize was $25,000 and some other perks, which you can read about on Wikipedia. The contest was a clever way to entice people to play the game at a time when 16-bit systems were on the way out.

[ From Wizard, December 1995, p.10-11 ]

Discussion Topic: In your opinion, which Sega Genesis game had the best graphics?

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] 1995 Nintendo.com Promo

January 25th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo Nintendo.com Website promo AOL Keyword NOA Nintendo Power Advertisement Scan - 1995Crap. I spilled toxic waste on my keyboard again.

I've always wondered who made these in-house Nintendo promos/ads for Nintendo Power magazine. Most of them were fairly well done over the years. This vivid promo, featuring Nintendo's early website in 1995, is probably one of my favorites. It also mentions AOL (keyword "NOA"), of course, which was still a big online player at the time.

By the way, anyone who can convincingly explain (with in-world fiction, not marketing) the presence of a poison/toxic waste barrel on this kid's desk wins 10 cocoa points. Even Diddy Kong sitting there makes more sense.

[Update: 02/01/2016 - It turns out that the toxic waste barrel is actually a boss character named Dumb Drum from Donkey Kong Country. Special thanks to etranist for pointing that out in the comments. ]

[ From Nintendo Power, August 1995, back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the first video game website you ever looked at online?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Crusader: No Remorse

December 28th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Origin Crusader No Remorse PC Advertisement - 1995Beware the tiny red man

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best non-Ultima game Origin ever made?

Tags: , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] WorldsAway

December 14th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldAway Graphical Multiuser Online Chat World on CompuServe First Advertisement - 1996"There's More to Life On-Line"

Just a few months ago, the 20th anniversary of the launch of WorldsAway, a pioneering graphical online world, came and went without any major notice (it launched in September 1995). But I remembered the milestone, and I wrote a recent This Old Tech column over on PCWorld.com about my memories of the service, which I stuck with in some form or another until 2001.

WorldsAway was simply magical when it launched. It promised to put you, as a user, into a graphical world that you could share with other online users (the term "Avatar" as an online representation of your physical self came from the creators of this lineage of online worlds). It delivered on that goal with a charming atmosphere — where you could change between whimsical heads with ease — and a vibrant community that I still look back on fondly to this day.

Honestly, I miss being part of that WorldsAway community. My involvement there came at a time when I was fairly lonely and isolated with my hobbies — my high school years — during a time when few "average" people used any online service whatsoever. Don't get me wrong; I did fairly well at school, and I wasn't a freak with no friends — but the real-life friends I did have did not share my love for the online world. Online, of course, I could find others like me, and on WorldsAway, we all celebrated that commonality together in a vibrant, playful world.

Did anybody else use WorldsAway in the 1990s? I'd love to hear from you.

P.S. I was an avid reader and subscriber of CompuServe Magazine in the 1990s, which is where I found and drooled over this ad back in the day.

[ From CompuServe Magazine, March 1996, p.4 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you use any graphical online chat worlds in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Windows 95 Gaming

August 24th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Pitfall Mayan Adventure Windows 95 PC Game advertisement - 1995If swinging on vines was a good idea, everybody would do it

20 years ago today, Microsoft released Windows 95, the GUI-based operating system that launched Microsoft as a commercial Juggernaut into the mainstream consciousness. That's because Windows 95 was accompanied by what was likely the largest marketing push for an OS to date (no sources cited, just my brain), and it created a minor media frenzy. People actually lined up to buy Windows 95.

Windows 95 initiated a new epoch in PC gaming, courtesy of the then-completely new DirectX system of gaming APIs. DirectX made it easy for developers to create powerful, hardware hungry games that ran natively (and smoothly, CPU permitting) on Windows. (Windows nerds will recall that it followed up on the similar, if under-utilized, WinG API for Windows 3.11.)

The very first third-party Windows 95 game ever released commercially (to my knowledge — at least, it was promoted this way) was Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, a 1990s reboot of the classic Atari 2600-era platformer Pitfall!. Here is an ad for that game around the time of its debut in August 1995.

That being said, while I am a fan of Pitfall! and Pitfall II, I have never liked The Mayan Adventure. Seems too hard and not fun. Of course, your mileage may vary.

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, p.117]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How did you feel about Windows 95 when it came out? Did you upgrade?

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Virtual Boy Turns 20

August 21st, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Virtual Boy on a Swing

Nintendo released the Virtual Boy 20 years ago today in North America (on August 21, 1995). I wrote an article about the creation of the Virtual Boy for FastCompany, which was just published today.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tags: , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sega Interactive Comics

June 1st, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Sega Interactive Comics Sega Electronic Comics Batman Popular Science What's New - April 1995WHAM! POW! ZAP!

I've been intrigued by this Sega Electronic Comics System prototype since I first saw it in Popular Science's What's New section back in April 1995. Here is an excerpt from that very magazine.

As far as I know, this device never made it into production — in fact, the only mention I can find of it on the Internet as of this writing is this post on the Collectors Society forums.

Apparently, the Sega Electronic Comics device worked in conjunction with a tailor-made paper comic book that one would place onto the device. A series of pressure-sensitive buttons beneath the comic book could be pressed to somehow direct the narrative of the book. (Perhaps like Choose Your Own Adventure — i.e. if you do this, turn to page 3.)

This reminds me of the comic book device Tom Hanks' character outlines in the film Big (1988), albeit without any type of electronic screen. The crazy thing is that 15 years after this Sega Prototype, you could buy an iPad that could store and display thousands of entirely digital comics in a much thinner form factor.

[ From Popular Science, April 1995, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you use an electronic device to read comic books? Tell us about it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,