A Jedi Builds His Own Weapon

December 6th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Benj

I've been playing around with making my own custom joysticks recently. Just yesterday, I built this Atari VCS-compatible unit you see above using a Sanwa arcade joystick assembly and two Sanwa arcade buttons, both of which are available on Amazon.

I also used an old Bud project box from my dad's things for the housing, some screw-in rubber feet on the base, a cord from a non-working Atari CX40 joystick, and some scrap steel inside to give the stick more weight and heft.

I built it mostly so I could have a 4-way only joystick for maze games on the Atari 800. (The Sanwa joystick is switchable between 4-way and 8-way upon installation.) The result is absolutely incredible either handheld or set on a table, and my high score in Nibbler has gone through the roof.

On this joystick, both buttons do the same thing, although my next Atari model will probably have three buttons — one for fire, one for up, and one for down so I can play Asteroids on the 800 like a pro.

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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 ] Pitfall in LIFE

October 10th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Activision Pitfall! for Atari 2600 LIFE Magazine scan - 1982Watch out for that jungle crude oil pit

As a kid, we had an Atari 2600, and before the NES era, Pitfall! was very popular in our household. Unlike most Atari VCS games, it felt like a real adventure, and it was thrilling to directly control a tiny jumping human on the screen while avoiding crazy jungle hazards like alligators and, well, huge pits that led to nowhere.

By the way, this is the largest single-page Retro Scan I've ever scanned — it comes from a large format LIFE magazine ad. I found the magazine in my grandparents' washhouse in Texas back in the 1990s and saved it because of this ad.

If you're curious, here is the full scan jumbo size at 600 dpi (it's a 5919 x 7761 pixel 38 MB JPEG, so watch out).

[ From LIFE magazine, November 1982, p.113 ]

Discussion Topic: Which is better: Pitfall! or Pitfall II: Lost Caverns?

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[ Newsbits ] June 29, 2016

June 29th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

I've recently received a big influx of news, announcements, and press releases, so I thought I'd bring Newsbits out of cold storage and use it to share everything all at once.

Recent News

  • Producer of The Oregon Trail Donates Collection to The Strong

    It's wonderful to see this stuff preserved, as always

    A group of former employees from the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC) recently donated an extensive collection of materials to The Strong museum documenting the history of the pioneering company from 1973 to 1996. The collection includes hundreds of pieces of software, internal documents, and press clippings.
  • EveryMac.com Turning 20 Years Old

    Brock Kyle recently let me know that his essential Apple info site is turning 20 this Saturday. Quite an accomplistment!

    Established in 1996, EveryMac.com is the complete guide to every Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and Mac clone in the world, with technical specs, configuration details, system identifiers, performance benchmarks, and global pricing info.
  • Atari Video Documentary Project Needs Support

    They've assembled some incredible footage so far; would be a shame to see this disappear

    This 100 minutes long documentary about the Atari story will feature a list of unreleased interviews with the key people of these events, including a very rare one with Warner VP Manny Gerard and a unique one with Atari CEO Ray Kassar, the man held responsible for Atari success and the video game industry crash at the same time, who never appeared in a documentary before.
  • YouTube Gamer on a Quest to Play 1001 Games Hits 100th Episode

    Quite a project

    My name is Gaming Jay. I'm a retro gamer who started a challenge this past year to play through a book called '1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.' Each week I’ve been playing 2 games and recording my gaming sessions and uploading them to YouTube. I have also recently developed a new website to document my journey with written summaries to supplement my YouTube videos.
  • iOS Camera App with Retro Filters Released

    Neat iOS camera app that simulates vintage graphics

    I created Famicam64, an 8bit RetroGaming style Camera app. Famicam64 lets you take photos with 40+ real-time filters that emulate the nostalgic look of retro computers (and games) of the 80s and 90s. CGA, EGA, VGA, Hercules and old PC graphic modes are all there, as well as style emulating home computers and handheld consoles (C64, Spectrum or Gameboy etc. etc.).
  • Secret History of Mac Gaming Book Seeks Funding

    It's a niche subject, but a story worth telling

    The Secret History of Mac Gaming is the story of those communities and the game developers who survived and thrived in an ecosystem that was serially ignored by the outside world. The work draws on archive materials as well as 60+ new interviews with key figures from Mac gaming's past.
  • Cool Links

  • Circuit Classics Boards Re-Create Classic Forrest Mims Designs

    Very, very creative electronics project from Star Simpson

    Forrest M. Mims III is a trusted name in the electronics world for good reason: his charming and engaging texts have drawn millions of people into the world of electronics for the first time. I am bringing some of those hand-drawn circuits projects to life by creating an exquisitely designed series of finely crafted and highly detailed boards. These are the Circuit Classics.
  • NES Coffee Table on Etsy

    VC&G reader Ben Winchester built a NES-shaped coffee table; it's up for sale on Etsy.com

    I wanted to show this to you because I feel this piece is truly unique and original to me. I got my start by replicating your NES DVD player and then moving on to putting my own twist on the NES coffee table, and now I think I have created an original design.
  • Artist Re-Creates Classic Byte Cover in Photo

    Bob Alexander turns Tinney's train illustration into a photo composition

    I've just completed an art project that was inspired by Robert Tinney's painting "Computer Engineering" for Byte magazine. That's the one with a train chugging around a printed circuit board. I made a printed circuit board that resembled the one in the painting, photographed it, and Photoshopped a picture of an HO scale model train onto it.
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    [ Tech Songs ] Baked at Atari

    June 20th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

    Benj Edwards Tech Songs Album Cover

    Some of you may recall that from 2002-2005, I ran a band/website called Request-A-Song.com. Well, since March of this year, I've been publishing music online again as part of a musical project I call Tech Songs.

    Tech Songs, for me, is essentially a writing prompt for music — a concept that inspires me to write songs about a certain topic. In this case, the topic is the past, present, and future of technology. In some ways, I think of Tech Songs as an open-ended album about tech.

    Today I am officially announcing the release of "Baked At Atari," a lighthearted, ficticious song (but inspired by true events) about engineers at Atari in the mid-1970s. Atari fans amongst you will likely pick out several familiar names and references in the lyrics.

    You can listen to the song on my SoundCloud page, or click on the embedded song below.

    When you're done listening, I'd love to hear some suggestions for new tech history song topics — just leave a comment, and I'll see what I can cook up.

    I plan to post future VC&G-related Tech Songs on this site, but you can also follow Benj's Tech Songs on Twitter: @techsongs

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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Dad's Christmas Art

    December 21st, 2015 by Benj Edwards

    Benj's Dad homemade Christmas Xmas art drawing computer art KoalaPad KoalaPainter Atari 800 Polaroid print - 1985A Christmas Tree in the Window

    Back in the day, my dad bought a KoalaPad drawing tablet for our Atari 800. Perhaps that very December — in 1984 or 1985, he drew this scene of the front of our house at Christmas time, complete with a view of our Christmas tree through our living room window. So proud was he of his creation that he snapped a photo of it with a Polaroid camera, and that's the print I am showing to you now.

    Merry Christmas from Vintage Computing and Gaming!

    [ From Personal Polaroid SX-70 print, ca.1985, front ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you draw any Christmas art on your computer when you were a kid? Tell us about it.

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    VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012)

    November 9th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

    Trip Hawkins Interview on EDGE-online.com
    10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 8

    [ This interview I conducted was originally published on Edge.com in June 2012 to roughly coincide with Electronic Arts' 30th Anniversary. Since then, the interview has disappeared from the web. A few people have asked me to make it available again, and since I retained the rights to the interview, I am free to publish it on VC&G for everyone to enjoy. ]

    Originally Published on Edge.com in June 2012:

    VC&G Anthology BadgeElectronic Arts is 30 years old, and there is no denying that the behemoth game publisher casts a long shadow of influence over the entire industry. The company, founded in May 1982, pioneered a business model that treated game designers like rock stars and software publishers like record labels. It pushed the use of big names and big licenses in sports (think Madden, NFL) and soon grew to gobble up many renowned development studios to become a massive entertainment conglomerate.

    These days, that conglomerate catches lots of flack from gamers on various issues including employee treatment, content milking, premature server termination, and more. Whether or not those criticisms have any merit, there is no denying that Electronic Arts was once revered as a top corporate impresario for identifying and cultivating the world's best game design talent (although one would have to admit that time was very long ago).

    The man behind the early, creatively-rich image of EA is Trip Hawkins, an Apple veteran who founded the company with a simple dream: to bring his sports simulations to life. Hawkins, now 58, left EA in 1991 to start The 3DO Company, which folded in 2003. He then launched mobile game developer Digital Chocolate that same year. Just recently, Hawkins announced he was stepping down as CEO of Digital Chocolate to face an as-yet unrevealed future.

    In late May of this year [2012 — Ed.], on the occasion of EA's 30th anniversary, I spoke with Hawkins over the telephone and via email about the creation of Electronic Arts, the design of its early games, and at some length about the negative criticism the company tends to attract today. Along the way, we touched on the personal source of his creative spirit and about heady days as a close friend of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

    [ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012) » ]

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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Paladin

    July 6th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

    Omnitrend Software Atari ST Paladin game advertisement - 1988Few people know this, but that's actually strawberry jelly

    [ From ST Log, December 1988, back cover]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best Atari ST-exclusive game you can think of?

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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Zork

    May 18th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

    Personal Software Infocom Zork advertisement - 1981A scene from "Zork: Brick Collector"

    This is it, folks: an early ad (maybe the first) for the original commercial release of Zork, the famous Infocom text adventure, published by Personal Software ca. 1980 for the TRS-80 Model I and III home computers.

    (This site has some wonderful background history on this release.)

    I love the artwork featured in this ad. It is excised from the full cover art for the Personal Software version, which captures a great deal of the majesty and wonder of the seminal adventure title — plus a hefty dose of out-of-place machismo.

    The mere mention of Zork takes me back to the mid-1980s when my older brother delved into the Great Underground Empire with the aid of photocopied maps and worn out InvisiClues on our family's Atari 800. Warm, fuzzy memories. Of course, by then, Infocom published the title directly.

    [ From Byte, February 1981, p.31]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite text adventure game of all time? (Modern ones count.)

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    [ Retro Scan of the Week ] HI-RES ADVENTURE #4: Ulysses and the Golden Fleece

    March 23rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

    Sierra On-Line Systems Ulysses and the Golden Fleece HI-RES ADVENTURE #4 Adventure Game Apple II Atari 800 advertisement  - Compute - June 1982HI-RES ADVENTURE #4

    [ From Compute!, June 1982, p.15 ]

    Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite static-screen graphical adventure game of all time?

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