[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Nintendo Smartwatch

September 15th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Nelsonic Nintendo Game Watches Zelda Watch Super Mario Bros. Watch Service Merchandise catalog advertisement - 1989Why not put LZDN1WBF and LSMN1WBF on your Xmas wishlist?

As you probably know, Apple recently introduced the Apple Watch. That got me thinking about other nerdy watches of yore, and I remembered something I recently found in my mom's attic.

Last month, my mother and I searched through boxes and boxes of my grandmother's old dishes to see what might be of use to me now. The dishes had been sitting in my parents' attic untouched for two decades. Many of them were padded with old newspaper from eastern Tennessee, which is where my grandmother lived until she died in 1992.

Among the usual black-ink-on-yellowing-paper fare, I found a handful of gloriously full-color advertisement circulars. A December 1989 mini-catalog for Service Merchandise caught my attention immediately because it featured a pair of Nelsonic Game Watches licensed by Nintendo. (That segment of the circular is what you see scanned above.)

Each of these two watches, which sold for ($19.97 a piece — or $38.37 today when adjusted for inflation) played a simplified prefab-LCD interpretation of its console namesake. If you remember Tiger's LCD handheld games, you're on the right track. In the Zelda watch game, you were forever trapped in a dungeon, and in Super Mario Bros. you were forever hopping between platforms.

While these watch games were limited at the time, it was amazing to think you could fit a portable, battery-powered "video game" on your wrist and play it wherever you liked. I personally recall seeing more than one of these watches getting confiscated by teachers during my elementary school days.

That desire to carry functional video games with us has never abated. Heck, I bet that within days of the Apple Watch's release next year, someone will hack it to play emulated versions of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda — allowing us to finally have the full NES experience on our wrists. It may be 25 years too late, but it will be amusing to see how things have come full circle.

[ From Service Merchandise Circular (IE499J), Dec 1989, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned a watch that played a game? Tell us about it.

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Macworld Magazine (1984-2014)

September 10th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

In Memoriam: Macworld Magazine, print edition (1984-2014)

Today I found out that Macworld will cease to be a print magazine and that many of my friends and colleagues have been laid off. Macworld.com will continue to exist, albeit with a relative skeleton crew.

It's very sad to see a day like this come (especially when I still look forward to a new issue of Macworld coming in the mail every month — one of the last print publications I read), but all things must come to an end. It is amazing, in retrospect, that Macworld magazine remained a constant, intelligent voice amid the chaos of a rapidly churning computer industry for thirty years.

Thirty years. Think of all the change that has happened in that time — the tech uphevals, the revolutions, the fall and rise of Apple, the Jobs-as-Phoenix, and rapid spread of the Internet — and through it all, Macworld has been there.

So thank you, Macworld, for serving the Mac community so well. And thanks to its staff in particular. I'd especially like to express my gratitude to Roman Loyola, Jason Snell, Dan Moren, Dan Frakes, Dan Miller, and Philip Michaels (among many others) for their wonderful work on the publication, and their genuine humanity, decency, patience, and fairness (sometimes rare qualities in an editor) through the years.

Roman Loyola, in particular, has been my go-to guy to get my — nay, our — particular brand of Apple history work pushed out to the world, and I am immensely grateful to have worked with him.

The talent pool of editorial labor laid off from Macworld today is immense, and other publications would be fools not to snatch them up as quickly as they can.

As for me, I've been contributing to the publication since 2008. As long as Macworld.com is still around, I might still write things for it. (Completely gutting a publication of its beloved veteran staff doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the future, however.) Time will tell. Until then, it's been a great ride.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Aplus 3000 Apple II Clone

August 25th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Aplus 3000 Apple II clone advertisement - 1985Everything looks cheaper in black and white print.

The IBM PC wasn't the only American microcomputer that got cloned in the 1980s. The Apple II also inspired its fair share of software-compatible copycats, such as the Aplus 3000 system seen here.

This appears to be a grey market VTech Laser 3000 computer with the name plate removed — possibly to avoid any trade import bans on Apple II clones that may have existed at the time.

Clones like this were popular in certain underground circles, and for good reason. Take a look at the price list in the ad. The Aplus 3000 retailed for US $499 (about $1,104 today when adjusted for inflation) verses $1745 for a bona fide Apple IIe (about $3,863 today). And on top of that, the Aplus 3000 contained integrated peripheral cards that would cost thousands of extra dollars if purchased separately for use in a real Apple IIe.

As I've mentioned before, peripheral integration was a great way to undercut official products. It happened quite a bit in the IBM PC universe.

[ From Compute! - November 1985, p.85]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you could buy an unauthorized clone of an iPad or iPhone that ran iOS and had better specs for less price, would you do it?


See Also: Orange+Two Apple II Clone (RSOTW, 2010)
See Also: Apple II Box for C64 (RSOTW, 2013
See Also: How I Got My First Computer, and How I Got My First Computer Back

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Apple Gets Biblical

July 28th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Apple Adam Genesis Forbidden Fruit Apple II Advertisement - 1979Where's Eve? Oh wait.

This ad is actually for an Apple II-themed creative writing contest, but you'd never know it. That's because the gobs of tiny, hard-to-read text are completely overshadowed by the nude man in a jungle holding an Apple II over his crotch.

And that man happens to be Adam from Genesis.

Oh boy.

So there you have it, folks. The Apple II was responsible for the fall of man. You know — that time Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, casting all of humanity into sin. Here's a tasty quote from Wikipedia:

For many Christian denominations the doctrine of the fall is closely related to that of original sin. They believe that the fall brought sin into the world, corrupting the entire natural world, including human nature, causing all humans to be born into original sin, a state from which they cannot attain eternal life without the grace of God.

You probably won't see me discussing theology on this blog ever again, but I find this ad quite funny because, despite its tongue-in-cheek cuteness, the biblical interpretations stemming from it are myriad and potentially wildly unexpected, making this a complete failure of marketing. But that failure was likely overlooked. This was 1979 — early in the life of Apple — and it was also before the Great Masses of the Offended had a strong enough voice (i.e. The Internet) with which to share and froth over everything that displeased them.

[ From BYTE - November 1979, p.33]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How do you think people would react if Apple published an ad like this today?

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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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[ Newsbits ] April 17, 2014

April 17th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

VC&G Newsbits Newspaper Logo

VC&G Newsbits Logo

Vintage computing and retrogaming news small enough to eat.

Recent News

  • The New Age: Leaving Behind Everything, Or Nothing At All
    A piece about digital legacies from NPR

    "Perhaps in your attic or basement there is a box of papers — letters, photographs, cards, maybe even journals — inherited from a grandparent or other relative who's passed on. But what if that box isn't a box at all? What if it's an ancient laptop? And if we are starting to leave behind an increasingly digital inheritance, will it die as soon as the hard drive does?

  • Nintendo Embraces NES History in its Twitter Marketing
    I like this trend

    "Its time for #SpringCleaning! Did you find any forgotten gems while organizing your Nintendo gaming collection?

  • This 1981 Computer Magazine Cover Explains Why Were So Bad at Tech Predictions
    This piece from Harry McCracken at TIME gives a hat tip to the greatest magazine illustrator of all time

    "If you were passionate about personal computers between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, the odds were high that you were a reader of Byte magazine. And if you read Byte, you were surely a fan of Robert Tinney, the artist whose cover paintings were one of the magazine’s signature features for years.

  • Solid Snake Pixel Art Graffiti
    Whoever did this is free to vandalize my office wall

    "Solid snake graff piece. I like the dude in the box. Nice touch…

  • Make Your Very Own "Game Boy Macro"
    Got a broken DS lying around? Chop off the top and you'll have a new system.

    "i personally first saw it on kotaku made by Maarten, from the Bureau voor Gamers. so i decided i would make a couple of my own because i had some brokens DS's laying around. decided to go with Macro, since its like a GB micro but huge.

  • Five Unemulated Computer Experiences
    Jason Scott makes a point about emulation nitpickers

    "While I and many others work to turn the experience of emulation into one as smooth and ubiquitous as possible, inevitably the corners and back alleys of discussions about this process present people claiming that there are unemulated aspects and therefore the entire project is doomed. I thought I would stoke that sad little fire by giving you five examples of entirely unemulated but perfectly valid vintage computer experiences.

Cool Links

  • The Lost Ancestors of ASCII Art
    Awesome piece I missed from January — by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic

    "The history of ASCII art goes deeper, and much of it is told only in Geocities blog postings, abandoned websites, Google Books, and scattered PDFs across the web This post traces a fascinating and mostly lost strand of that history: The way thousands and thousands of people made typewriter art, from amateurs to avant gardists.

  • PabloDraw: A Modern ANSI Art Editor
    We don't need no steenkin' TheDraw. (link via @blakespot)

    "PabloDraw is an Ansi/Ascii text and RIPscrip vector graphic art editor/viewer with multi-user capabilities.

  • An Early English-Language Image Diplay from a Computer, 1957
    Dynamic text display on a CRT in 1957? Not bad.

    "The screen of the picture tube shown will present as many as 10,000 characters per second. Each character is formed by an array of bright spots, a selection from a rectangular array of a total of 35 spots, five wide and seven deep. For a capital letter T, for example, the selection is five spots across the top and six more spots down through the middle…

  • Pinterest Gallery of Ugly Computers
    One of Blake Patterson's amazing Pinterest boards

Submit News

If you want me to include something on a future Newsbits column, send me an email with "[Newsbits]" in the subject line.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Canon Personal Computer

March 24th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Canon Personal Computer IBM PC compatible clone Advertisement 1985May the Clone Wars begin.

Here's another obscure IBM PC clone from the depths of time, the Canon Personal Computer.

As I mentioned in a recent RSOTW, it was pretty easy — even within a few years of the IBM PC's release — to undercut IBM price-wise by integrating ports and peripherals directly into the motherboard of a competing computer.

Note that the Canon PC used an Intel 8086 CPU, which packed the full 16-bit data bus (verses the 8-bit bus on the IBM PC's 8088).

[ From TIME (Small Business USA Insert), May 6 1985, p.2]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Canon is best known for its imaging products, but it made computers too. Can you think of any other companies best known for something else that made a PC?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Nintendo World Championships 1990

March 11th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo Power Nintendo World Championships 1990 Advertisement 1990"Children everywhere will be crushed and digitized by the trophy of power."

There's a certain ultra-rare golden NES cartridge out there that originated at Nintendo World Championships 1990. Here's an advertisement for the event itself on the back of a vintage Nintendo Power magazine from 1990.

Kinda makes you want to go back in time and attend, doesn't it? Call 1-900-HOT-4NWC to find out more!

[ From Nintendo Power, May-June 1990, rear cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Video game competitions: interesting or boring? Debate.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Visual 1050 PC

March 3rd, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Visual 1050 Personal Computer System Advertisement 1983"The complete professional solution at an unbeatable price."

I've never owned a Visual 1050 Personal Computer System (seen here), but I have an old Visual brand terminal that uses the same (or a very similar) keyboard. That's the first thing that comes to mind when I see this, because it's a distinctively wide, flat keyboard.

The 1050 sported a Z80 CPU and ran the CP/M operating system, the grandfather of MS-DOS. Curiously, even though CP/M was a popular platform for business computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I only have a a handful of pure CP/M-based machines in my collection. (My favorite such machine is probably the Kaypro II.)

In regard to the chart in the advertisement above, it's interesting to note that it was pretty easy to undercut IBM, price-wise, not long after the IBM PC came out. Fast advances in IC design allowed computer makers to inexpensively cram more functions (think serial, parallel, game ports, disk controller, graphics card, etc.) directly onto motherboards instead of offloading them onto separate plug-in cards. While the 1050 was not an IBM PC clone, true PC clone makers took advantage of this effect to hollow out the inside of IBM's hold on the PC market from the bottom up.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.40-41]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have a favorite machine that runs CP/M?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] ClayFighter Launch Ad

December 2nd, 2013 by Benj Edwards

ClayFighter SNES Christmas 1993 Launch Ad Advertisement- 1993"Hey, watch the hair, man."

My, oh my. What a blast I had with ClayFighter for the Super NES when it launched around this time 20 years ago — in December 1993.

I rented the game several times from Blockbuster and delighted my brother by forcing its Elvis-like character to jump repeatedly, eliciting a humorous"Uh-huh" sound every time. The graphics were great and the spirit of humor was plentiful in this claymation-based title.

The advertisement itself is a parody of an iconic coming-soon ad for Mortal Kombat on home consoles from 1993. Interestingly, I've never featured that Mortal Kombat ad in a RSOTW — that may have to be remedied soon.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, 1993]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best fighting game for the Super NES?

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