[ 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 of the Week ] Artecon Lynx Storage

March 16th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Artecon Lynx Hard Drive Storage advertisement Internet World February 1996"Web storage needs getting a little out of hand?"

[ From Internet World, February 1996, p.41 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Total up all your personal computer storage you have in use, right now, in gigabytes (local site only, not cloud). How much data storage do you currently use at home?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Low-End Virtual Reality

January 7th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

PCVR Magazine Cover Jan-Feb 1994Every new idea is an old idea with more transistors.

A few years ago, a relative gave me a couple issues of PCVR Magazine, a low-circulation 1990s periodical dedicated to virtual reality. Here's the cover of the Jan/Feb 1994 issue, which features an illustration of the magazine's build-it-yourself head tracker project.

In the early 1990s, the "virtual reality" concept hit a peak in the popular media that coincided with dozens of companies pursuing motion-tracking head-mounted displays — both with honest attempts and blatant gimmicks.

If I had to guess why VR exploded in the popular tech consciousness at that particular time, I would trace it it to the emergence of small, relatively low-cost color LCDs — the kind that made portable consoles like the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear possible. Compared to bulky, power-hungry CRT displays, the (relatively) thin, low-power LCDs could be worn on the head with mobility and without too much discomfort. That prompted a minor Cambrian explosion of VR headset hardware.

But the display technology just wasn't there yet. Affordable LCDs were very low resolution (think 320×200 or less), and higher-resolution LCDs cost thousands of dollars a piece.

In addition, the hardware and software required to generate convincing virtual reality experiences were neither affordable nor generally available. So genuinely immersive VR found itself stuck in corporate and university research labs; meanwhile, the public got trickle-down fad headsets like the Stuntmaster.

Today, we find ourselves in the middle of a VR renaissance thanks to Oculus Rift. But this time, we may actually be at the edge of mainstream virtual reality headsets because the technology has come quite a long way since 1994. I look forward to meeting your 3D virtual avatar in cyberspace soon.

[ From PCVR Magazine, Jan/Feb 1994, cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a virtual reality headset of any kind? Tell us about it.

See Also: Retro Scan of the Week Special Edition: "At Last! Reality For the Masses!" (VC&G, 2007)
See Also: The History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming (PC World, 2011)

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Anatomy of a Young Collector's Room

March 22nd, 2006 by Benj Edwards

Late last year I found this classic (for me, anyway) picture lurking in my files and scanned it. It's a Polaroid photograph of one corner of my then "computer room" taken by myself somewhere around late 1994 or early 1995 (yes, my family was lucky enough to have the space for another room dedicated mainly to my BBS computer, but filled with my other junk as well). I was 13 or 14 at the time. As you can see on the picture, I've labeled certain items in the room with numbers. Each number is associated with an item that I talk about below. With that out of the way, click on the image to open up the bigger version and let's start the tour!

1. DEC VT-125 Terminal - A true classic in the terminal world, pulled from a dumpster. The neighbor of my father's company serviced minicomputers and was always throwing neat stuff out. I got about 3-4 of these, took a few apart, eventually throwing them away for space concerns. But I think I still have one or two left.

2. Micromint Z8 Board - Part of the Micromint Z8 Basic Computer/Controller set. Inherited from my father's old workplace. The Micromint Z8 system was a BASIC language-programmable microcontroller, essentially for early "embedded computer" applications. I have a bunch of cool expansion boards too, including one that lets you save/load your program to cassette tape, and another that lets you burn EPROMs of your BASIC programs! Cool stuff — I should play with it again.

3. NES Games - Back in 1994, my NES game collection could actually fit in one cubic foot of space. Crazy. A NES Game Genie code book can be seen here, awkwardly sticking out of the top of the plastic basket. Eventually my collection would spill out of the pictured basket and beyond…

4. Commodore CBM 2001-32 - This was had at a hamfest for $10, including the separate companion disk unit. It's tucked away in the far back corner of the room, so I guess I didn't use it very much.

5. Zoom 2400 BPS Modem - My first modem, given to my family by a friend. The top cover is off because I was playing around with hooking the speaker audio output to headphones — both for kicks, and for late-night modem sessions without waking the parents (I did this before I figured out the Hayes AT command to turn off the internal speaker) . This very modem is responsible for introducing me to the world of BBSes sometime in 1991. Of course, this being 1994-95, my main workhorse at the time is an Intel external 14400 modem across the room (not pictured).

6. Apple II+ - My dad bought this for me around 1990-91 (from a hamfest, big surprise) so I could learn BASIC on it. And I did, having loads of fun with it over the years. At the time of this picture I had the luxury of a color composite video monitor (#11). Up until then, I was stuck with a monochrome green-screen. But somehow it almost didn't feel like an Apple II any more once it was in color.

7. Odyssey2 Games - Yes, this black blob is actually fifteen Odyssey2 games in interlockable cartridge racks, purchased for $10 along with an Odyssey2 console at a hamfest in the early 90s.

8. Nintendo Entertainment System - Back then, I took everything I owned apart, and the former "family NES" was not spared this treatment. Thinking myself clever, I switched the one and two player ports around, along with the "power" and "reset" buttons. How delightfully obnoxious. This unit, 11 years later, went on to become the NES DVD Player hack I did recently.

9. EPROM Eraser - It's the gray rectangular box on top of the Apple II+ (#6). Never really used it very much. It was inherited along with the Micromint Z8 controller board stuff (#2) and was used to erase EPROMs programmed by the unit. It works by shining UV light through a tiny quartz window on the EPROM.

10. Apple II Disks - Stacked here are two boxes of Apple II disks. The lower one is mine, the upper one was given to me by a friend (with all his Apple II disks in it!). In fact, it was the same friend who gave my family the 2400 BPS modem (#5). It's nice to have good friends.

11. Composite Video Monitor - What a grand day it was when I acquired my first color composite video monitor at a local hamfest! In this picture, the monitor is performing triple duty between the Apple II+ (#6), NES (#8), and Atari Jaguar (#14). I simply switched the AV connectors at the back depending on which one I wanted to use.

12. Atari Lynx - I bought this under-utilized portable wonder in used condition from a guy who regularly called my BBS ("Raven," if you must know) in 1993 or 94. The transaction was done entirely by mail and we never met in person (imagine that!).

13. Mystery Sticker - I'm not sure what this is. It looks like a random peel-off trading card-sized sticker just stuck on the wall at an odd angle. Weird. This picture have been taken after my dad made me take down the 100-odd posters and other crap I had tacked and taped all over the walls, believing they were a fire hazard.

14. Atari Jaguar - I was a total Atari nut in the very early 90′s, believing strongly that Atari was the greatest company ever. "What's this Nintendo business?" I said. "Atari was first!" I heard rumors of their Panther, then Jaguar, consoles and waited anxiously for their release. My birthday in 1994 was one of the happiest days of my life: I received an Atari Jaguar System and Super Metroid for the SNES. Here, Doom can be seen in the cartridge slot, a version of the seminal 3D FPS rivaled on consoles only by the PlayStation version.

15. Apple III - The prize of my collection at the time. When I first heard about the Apple III years before, it was like some magical, mythical beast. Would I ever catch sight of one, much less possess it? Naturally, I was extremely excited when my father and I came across this one later at a hamfest (again, big surprise). $10-20 later, I had my first Apple III, complete with dust cover (pictured on the unit). I only had the Apple II emulation disk for it, though, and to this day have never run any native Apple III software. Shortly after my Apple III was obtained (turned out they were not as rare as I thought), the Apple Lisa quickly became the next mythical beast to be had — a beast I'm still chasing in the wild to this day.

16. Plug 'N' Play Mosaic Book - This book is how I got my first copy of Mosaic, the first graphical web browser (it came on a floppy disk in the back). Shortly after, I began to develop my first home page, and boy did it suck. It's funny reading lists of "cool" web sites from back then because, well…there were only about ten web sites back then. Ergo, all of them were cool (and listed in this book).

17. Handheld Video Games Magazine - I just found this particular issue (Spring 1991) again recently while working on my "Game Ads A-Go-Go" column for GameSetWatch. Good issue. I apparently didn't value it very much at the time because it's sitting on the floor right next to the spot where our cats would leave all the dead birds they'd caught that week. Yum.

Well that's the tour, hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for accompanying me on a nice walk down memory lane.

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