[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Heretic

October 28th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Raven Software Id Software Heretic Advertisement Ad - 1995Killing the DEAD has never been so much FUN!

The Gothic fantasy atmosphere of Heretic excited me when id Software first published it as shareware episode in 1994. Either someone uploaded the game to my BBS or I downloaded it from another, but either way, I quickly found myself enveloped in a modem-to-modem online co-op Heretic session with a friend.

Fast forward 18 years later, and I played Heretic again — this time, the entire game (and again, co-op). The first episode is OK, but the level design for the others is incredibly tedious and disappointing. I can see now that it is a very mediocre game. But when first released, following hot on the heels of Doom, people loved it.

[ From Computer Gaming World, September 1995, p.61 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite Doom engine game?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Remembering My Dad

September 23rd, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Benj's Birthday FaxBenj's Birthday Fax

In 1993, I was heavily into BBSes and all things telecommunications, so my dad, an electronics engineer, lent me his old fax machine to set up in my bedroom. I hooked it to the second phone line in the house (used for my BBS at the time) so I could send experimental faxes to it from my dad's office.

On my 12th birthday, just over 20 years ago, this particular fax came in as a surprise. It was a happy birthday note written by my dad. Receiving my very own fax (probably my first one) delighted me at the time, and I tucked it away for safe keeping. It was one of the most thoughtful personal notes my dad ever wrote to me.

Earlier this year, just after my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I re-discovered the fax in a box of childhood mementos. Being printed on thermal paper, it's now heavily faded, but the message of love, acceptance, and encouragement it conveys is still strong. It represents some of the best things about my dad.

He is the reason I'm here — both in a literal, existential sense, and also as the enabler of my passion for technology. Growing up, if I wanted to experiment with something, he made it happen. If I was curious, he was curious with me. We shared thousands of tech adventures together, and that made him an awesome dad.

Yesterday morning, my father passed away after a 9 month bout with that terrible disease. There will be no more tech adventures between us, and that breaks my heart. But there's a new generation coming up, and I will do my best to continue his legacy of encouragement and gentle guidance with my own kids, who already possess a passion for technical and mechanical things like their grandpa.

Thanks, dad. For everything.

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Revisiting Hotline, the 1990s Internet BBS Platform

April 2nd, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Hotline Revisited

Back in the mid-late 1990s, an Internet-based BBS platform called Hotline sprung up and quickly spread throughout the Macintosh community. It was basically a client/server BBS software suite that allowed for multi-user chat, file transfers, and message boards.

By the early 2000s, though, Hotline had mostly died out. Today, only a handful of servers remain. But guess what? You can still connect to them — on Windows or a Mac. A new article I wrote for Macworld, "Hotline Revisted," tells you how.

Have fun. Remember to be kind to the Hotline veterans when you visit.

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[ Retro GIF of the Week ] X-Men's Colossus BBS Ad

March 8th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Colossus X-Men Retro GIFClick to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ]

In ye olden days, BBS sysops often tagged image files that came within their possession with makeshift ads for their BBSes, as can be seen here on this image of Marvel's Colossus. The BBS in this case is "The Users's Choice BBS," which sysop Martin Scolero ran in Indianapolis, Indiana between 1990 and 1996. (That info is courtesy a historical BBS list created by Jason Scott.)

[ Continue reading [ Retro GIF of the Week ] X-Men's Colossus BBS Ad » ]

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[ Retro GIF of the Week ] Twin Chinese Dragons

February 1st, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Apple I Smithsonian 1992 Retro GIFClick to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ]

This week we're taking a look at another image that made the rounds in the BBS days, DRAGON6.GIF. In it, we see two digitally illustrated Chinese dragons who appear to be springing forth from a magical stone. Iridescent waves crash around them, and smoke curls throughout an ethereal void. The color palette is rich and bold, underscoring the image's Eastern art influence.

At the moment, the artist behind this amazing work of digital art remains unknown. Still, we can narrow down when the image was made and how by taking a look at its resolution, color depth, and file date.

[ Continue reading [ Retro GIF of the Week ] Twin Chinese Dragons » ]

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[ Retro GIF of the Week ] Digitized Autumn Leaves

January 11th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Autumn Leaves MaxiPic Jim Maxey Retro GIF - circa 1988Click to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ]

From 1983 to 1996, James "Jim" Maxey operated a very successful Oregon-based BBS called Event Horizons. Through that board's file section, Maxey made available thousands of GIF images in many categories, from landscapes to pornography, that he had created using a video digitizer board and conversion software called T-EGA.

Bob Talmadge wrote an excellent profile of Jim Maxey's BBS years for his site BBSDays.com. I recommend reading it if you're interested in learning more about Maxey's BBS. Also, Jack Rickard of BoardWatch magazine mentioned Maxey's early 1990s image-related BBS activities in an article he wrote for Wired issue 1.04 in 1993.

The early and pioneering nature of Maxey's color graphics files for IBM PC computers ensured that his digital pictures, which he called "MaxiPics," spread far and wide to other BBSes at the time. This is one such picture, and it depicts a house and yard in autumn. The 640 x 350 EGA format file dates from 1987 and was likely captured from a video source — more on that in a moment.

[ Continue reading [ Retro GIF of the Week ] Digitized Autumn Leaves » ]

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Prodigy 20 Years Ago Today

December 25th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

The Main page of Prodigy on December 25 1992 by Benj EdwardsAn angle-corrected close-up view of Prodigy's front page on Christmas 1992.

Twenty years ago today, I awoke with anticipation and ran downstairs. It was Christmas morning, and I could hardly wait to open my presents.

One of those presents turned out to be a connection kit to Prodigy online service, which I had been begging my father to buy for most of the year. 1992 was the year I jumped head-first into computer telecommunications by calling local BBSes. I became fascinated with modems and wanted to explore their every possible application.

That Christmas morning, my dad was on hand to document my first experiences with Prodigy using the family Sony Camcorder. I have captured various stills from that video, and I am posting them here to share a small slice of the Prodigy experience in 1992.

Unfortunately, my computer at the time, the IBM PS/2 Model 25 (which my dad purchased new circa 1987 and later became a hand-me-down to me), came equipped with a monochrome monitor. So the glory of Prodigy Christmas 1992 in color is sadly now lost to history (well, unless someone else out there can find some color screenshots of Prodigy on Christmas 1992).

[ Continue reading Prodigy 20 Years Ago Today » ]

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[ Retro GIF of the Week ] Christmas Fireplace

December 17th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Christmas Fireplace Stockings Christmas Tree Presents Retro GIFClick to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ] [ 3X Zoom ]

Among the few GIF files I saved in the early 1990s (outside of those uploaded to by BBS), this warm, inviting Christmas scene remains one of my favorites.

In the image, we see a living room with a roaring fireplace bedecked with four Christmas stockings, a richly ornamented Christmas tree presiding over a large pile of presents, and a holly wreath over the mantle. Two candles flickering above the fireplace add an extra detail that completes the picture of a perfect holiday scene.

As the years have passed, I have forgotten where I acquired this GIF file, labeled XMASTR.GIF. I revisit this image every now and then, and I always wonder about its origins. Now is as good a time as any to look into them.

[ Continue reading [ Retro GIF of the Week ] Christmas Fireplace » ]

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[ Retro GIF of the Week ] The Feminine Eye

December 10th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Eye Retro GIF - circa late 1980sClick to see other views of this image: [ Original Size ] [ 2X Zoom ] [ 3X Zoom ]

This eye is more than meets the eye. You probably can't see it at this size, but click on the "3X Zoom" link above and you might notice a face and what might be a shoulder (or a six-fingered hand) reflected in the pupil of the eyeball. Neat detail.

Unlike many GIFs that circulated back in the day, this one is signed — twice, in fact. In the upper left, we see a small box containing stylized letters spelling "The Mage." In the lower right, we see "A.H."

I've seen other GIFs with the same resolution and color depth signed "A.H.", so I assume that is the artist. "The Mage" might have been the name of a BBS that happened to tag the image, or perhaps is was simply an alias of A.H.

When combined with its 320 x 200 dimensions, its odd 5-bit / 32-color color depth reveals that this image was created on an Amiga. That means it is likely that it did not originate as a GIF file, and that it could be older than the 1992 file date. But until I find an older source of the image, I won't know for sure.

Retro GIF of the Week Fact Box
Source File Name: EYE2.GIF
Source File Date: August 6, 1992
Source File Format: GIF - 87a (non-interlaced)
Dimensions: 320 x 200 pixels
Color Depth: 5-bit (32 color) (Amiga OCS)
Origin Platform: Amiga
Derived From: Unknown
Creation Date: Unknown
Artist: Avril Harrison (Updated 12/11/2012)
If you know more about the origin of this image, please leave a comment.

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Wikipedia is Deleting BBS Game History

December 8th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Wikipedia deleting BBS Door Game Entries

As we speak, certain vigilante Wikipedia users are hard at work erasing whatever scraps of little-known BBS door game history that resides in Wikipedia's databases. The first casualty in this war was the entry for Space Empire Elite, which was deleted early this morning.

(For those of you unfamiliar with BBS door games, here's a brief definition: BBS door games are computer games, usually text-only, that were traditionally played over modems and accessed through dial-up BBSes. They are called "door games" because users pass through a figurative "doorway" from the BBS software into another program (the game program) to play them. One of the most notable examples is TradeWars 2002.)

The problem, it seems, is that the games aren't "notable" enough and lack the sources for a Wikipedia article.

[ Continue reading Wikipedia is Deleting BBS Game History » ]

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