The Glorious, Colorful World of Radio Shack Toy and Game Box Art

February 6th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Old Radio Shack LogoAfter 94 years in business, it is likely that Radio Shack will soon be no more. And sadly, it has taken the impending death of Radio Shack for me to realize how absolutely ingrained its products have been in my life.

As the son of an electronics engineer living in the US, our home growing up held at least five Radio Shack products per room (or those of its related brands: Tandy, Realistic, Optimus, Archer, or Micronta).

I am not joking or exaggerating. I could probably go through my parents' house today and fill a whole room with that stuff: speakers, tapes, radios, hi-fi receivers, turntables, headphones, microphones, clocks, intercoms, outlet timers, telephones, cables, wires, adapters and more.

It's almost absurd, I tell you. My first IBM compatible PC was a Tandy 1800HD laptop. My first cassette recorder, microphone, telephone, cordless telephone all came from Radio Shack. My first kiss…well, a Radio Shack robot, of course.

And who can forget the batteries. The batteries!

Radio Shack LCD Football GameAbove and beyond all that were the games, the toys, the amusements. The Armatrons and Cosmic Fire Away 1000s. Pocket Blackjack, electronic chess, Pocket Repeat, RC cars, tiny kid DJ stations, microphone FM transmitters, electronic coin banks, joysticks, talking alarm clocks (Dare I add the Tandy 1000 series and the TRS-80 Color Computer). The list is endless, I tell you.

In honor of the foundering electronics retailer, I pulled together a slightly massive collection of Radio Shack toy and game box art from the late 1960s up to the early 2000s. For good measure, I threw in a handful of non-toy product boxes as well (such as one for a Zack Morris-sized cell phone and a pocket TV set).

As you look through them below, I have but one question to ask:

How many of these have you owned or played?

[ Continue reading The Glorious, Colorful World of Radio Shack Toy and Game Box Art » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Turbo Touch 360

January 26th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Triax Turbo Touch 360 controller SNES Super NES Genesis EA Sports advertisement - 1993Man, that basketball player is pissed.

The Super NES / Genesis era coincided with a second golden age of third-party video game controllers and peripherals (the first golden age being the Atari 2600 era). If you browse through the Retro Scan archives, I'm sure you'll see quite a few.

One of the stand-out gimmicks of this era arrived courtesy of Triax Technologies: the Turbo Touch 360. Representing a series of controllers for various platforms (SNES, Genesis, and NES with IBM planned, but I'm uncertain if it launched), the Turbo Touch line relied on a touch-sensitive pad in lieu of a traditional D-pad.

Using the touch pad, you didn't have to physically push down on the D-pad to register movements; instead, you lightly slid your finger over the cross-shaped touch pad, sort of like a laptop touch pad. Ideally, this should result in quicker movements, but it could also result in more errors.

There was another supposed benefit to the touch pad technology as well. This 1993 Chicago Tribune article positions the Turbo Touch as a cure for game-induced thumb blisters (at the suggestion of Triax's marketing staff, as the article suggests).

I've heard a lot about people getting thumb blisters over the years while playing video games, but I've never actually seen it happen. That's because I've only heard about it through game peripheral advertisements. Such blisters are plausible, of course, but you'd have to push down on the D-pad very hard and rub it around over a long period of time. Maybe my thumb skin is just tough or something, but it's never been a problem for me.

(Full disclosure: I did get a blister in the middle palm of my hand by rapidly rotating a Suncom Slik Stick over and over for about an hour while playing Decathlon for the Atari 2600 in the early 1990s)

I'm not saying that no one ever got a thumb blister from playing a video game, of course (do a Google search) — just that it wasn't the epidemic that companies like Triax have led us to believe.

Call me skeptical, but I wouldn't be surprised if the the video game thumb blister meme originated as a marketing angle in an era that aimed to be loud, raw, and edgy (think "Play it Loud", Sega scream, etc.). What could be edgier than actually getting physically injured while playing video games? That's intense!

I actually own a Turbo Touch 360 pad for the Genesis that I never got around to trying for some reason (I bought it at a thrift store when my Genesis was packed away). Right now I have no idea where it is. Perhaps I should dig it out and put the promise of touch-fueled gameplay to the test.

[ From EGM or GamePro, circa 1993]

(I scanned this back in 2006, at a time before I wrote down the publication source and page number of every scan. I'm sure it came from a 1993 issue of EGM or GamePro. When I run across the ad again, I'll update this post accordingly.)

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever gotten a blister from playing video games? Tell us how it happened.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Secrets of Obitus

January 12th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Psygnosis BPS Obitus SNES Super NES RPG EGM advertisement - 1994Dare ye gaze into the sacred gems of immortality?

Here we have an ad for the Super NES port of Obitus (1994), a Psygnosis RPG for the Amiga, Atari ST, and MS-DOS originally released in 1991.

I'd like to say I've played this one, but I can't for the life of me remember if I actually liked it. I know I tried it, especially after first scanning this ad some years ago. Is anyone out there a fan of either the PC or SNES versions of Obitus? It sure looks cool.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly - November 1994, p.39]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what's the best PC to video game console RPG port of the 1980s or 90s?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The NES Zapper Diagram

January 5th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo NES Zapper diagram from Super Mario Bros. Duck Hunt Instruction Manual - circa 1988Plug it in, plug it in. (click for full image)

I love retro line art diagrams; this one has to be one of the best.

These two pages from the US Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt instruction manual (you can see both pages if you click on the image above — the small two dots in the middle are holes for a staple) illustrate the proper way to plug the Zapper light gun into your "Nintendo Entertainment System Control Deck."

Much fun can be had from doing that, of course — although I spent many hours in my youth cursing the laughing dog. My dad was first in our family to try to shoot him as he giggled at our Duck Hunting failure. Sadly, you can't.

NES Action Set Release Date

By the way, I've seen some sources say that the NES Action set, which first debuted the combo SMB/Duck Hunt cartridge, saw its first US release in November 1988. That is definitely not true, because my brother first got an Action Set for his birthday in June 1988.

Seeking to clarify this, I just did a newspaper archive search and found mention of the "Just Arrived" NES Action set in the April 14, 1988 edition of the Ukiah Daily Journal (from Ukiah, CA, of all places). That means the Action Set was available as early as April 1988.

So take dates you see on the Internet with a grain of salt unless they are coupled with a strong source (or better yet, collection of sources) behind them.

[ From Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt manual, 1988, p.23-24]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what's the best Zapper game for the NES?


See Also:
Disk Box Modern Art (RSOTW, 2014)
Simple IBM Instructions (RSOTW, 2013)
USB Instructions (RSOTW, 2013)
Game Boy is Twenty (RSOTW, 2009)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Meaty Evil Legend

October 27th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Meaty Evil Seika Legend SNES Super NES video game advertisement - circa 1994MEAT IS NEAT

I thought I had some Halloween-themed scans saved up for this year, but it looks like I don't. My magazines are in cold storage at the moment (buried somewhere under the Arctic tundra), so I can't get to them to scan a new one.

Time to fall back on some old scans. This looks pretty scary, right? I wouldn't like to run into that zombie warrior in person.

Thinking back, I recall that I scanned this particular ad for Seika's Legend in 2006 while working on my Game Ads A-Go-Go column (Simon Carless thought of that name, by the way) for the now defunct GameSetWatch. Back then, I didn't keep track of which issue each scan came from, so I'll have to come back later and update the post when I run across the ad in a magazine again.

As for the game this page advertises, I know very little about it. I just now played Legend in a Super NES emulator to refresh my memory. It is a fantasy-themed arcade beat-em-up similar to Golden Axe. It controls like sludge (your guy moves with the speed and agility of a slug) but has two-player co-op (always a winning feature) and is fairly fun if you have the patience to stick with it.

Me? I don't like walking at 0.3 miles per hour in a game, so I only played it for two minutes.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, 1994 (details I need to look up again)]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite beat-em-up game?

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The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome

September 23rd, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Computer Dad SyndromeDuring the 1980s, a debilitating disease broke out among white middle-class nuclear families across the United States. Fathers everywhere were seen awkwardly encouraging their children during regular activities — often while playing video games or using personal computers.

Thirty years later, doctors have finally identified this malady as Computer Dad Syndrome (or "CDS" for short), which manifests itself in spontaneous episodes of uncomfortably becoming someone's dad for the duration of a photography shoot.

Diagnosis of this condition is contingent upon the appearance of three or more of the following symptoms.

Clutching of the upper arm

Clutching of the upper arm

[ Continue reading The Warning Signs of Computer Dad Syndrome » ]

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[ 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 forever hopped 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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