Benj's Oddities Series Returns with "PlayStation Oddities"

December 9th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

PlayStation Oddities

Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the Sony PlayStation's release in Japan. To celebrate, my old friend Harry McCracken (who now works at FastCompany) asked me if I wanted to bring my long-running Oddities series out of retirement. In short, I said "heck yes," and the result can be seen over on the FastCompany website.

This latest entry marks a change in format for the series: it is the first that is not a page-by-page slideshow. I made a bajillion slideshows between 2007 and 2012, and while they were fun to make, I am thankful that I have moved on.

So if you're a fan of the PlayStation, click through and check out some weird variations, accessories, and tributes to one of the most successful game consoles of all time.

All Entries in Benj's Oddities Series:

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Doom is 20

December 9th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

id Software Doom for Atari Jaguar Ad Advertisement - 1994One of the best reasons to own a Jaguar circa 1994

Twenty years ago this week, id Software launched one of the most important and influential PC games of all time: Doom. It started as a modest shareware download but grew to change the entire video game industry. To explain how, here's 2009 Benj writing about the title for a PC World slideshow:

Id's archetypical first-person shooter triggered a sea change in the PC game industry, which had formerly been dominated by slow, plodding strategy turn fests, brainy simulations, and stilted PC action titles of yore.

In contrast, Doom was the first of a new generation of fast-paced, smooth action titles that utilized new visual techniques to push PC hardware to its limits. With Doom, PC gamers could experience fluid gameplay, graphics, and sound that easily topped what was found on home game consoles of the day — an uncommon achievement at that point.

Moreover, it introduced exciting new network multiplayer options that are widely imitated to this day, coining the term "deathmatch" in the process.

From its lowly roots as a MS-DOS shareware title, Doom spread like a weed to other platforms, including game consoles, which now count first-person shooters as one of their best-selling genres.

"Doom defined the 3D shooter genre and made multiplayer gaming mainstream," says Tim Sweeney (founder of Epic Games and creator of the Unreal Engine), "And it did them with such incredible polish, artistry, and foresight that it created an industry."

Considering that Doom launched in 1993 via shareware channels, I'm not aware of when or in what publication the first advertisement for Doom appeared. (I believe GT Interactive became distributor for the full, boxed PC version of Doom much later, but I could be mistaken.)

So instead, I found this nifty November 1994 scan for the Atari Jaguar version of Doom. I received this version of the game for Christmas in 1994, and it was an amazing gift.

Pushing the PC Limits, Jaguar Relief

Most people don't remember how much horsepower Doom required in a PC at the time — at least 4 MB of RAM, a mid-range 486 CPU, and a sound card to run passably well. So I had trouble running the game on any PC up to that point.

In 1993, we had one 486 in the household with exactly 4 MB of RAM (to contrast, my personal PC sported a 16 MHz 386 and 2MB RAM), and I had to make a special 5.25″ boot disk that loaded fewer resident DOS drivers, etc. so I could run Doom on that 486 at all. If I recall correctly, I didn't have enough spare RAM to load the SoundBlaster drivers at boot, so the experience was limited. My friend had to run Doom on his mom's 486 the same way. Even then, the game didn't run at full frame rate. Doom pushed the limits.

So coming from that environment, it was an amazing convenience to just plug a Doom cartridge into the Jaguar and play, full-speed, full-screen, with glorious sound and no hiccups. My brother and I played a lot of Doom on that console well into 1996 — until I got a more powerful PC that could run Doom with ease.

Until the PlayStation port of Doom came out (late 1995), the Jaguar port was widely considered the best port of the game (in terms of screen window size, lighting effects, monster interaction, sound, controls, and frame rate) available on consoles. Its biggest drawback was lack of a soundtrack during gameplay. I think that's because John Carmack used the Jag's DSP co-processor to handle graphics routines instead of music, which was unconventional on that platform.

But I digress. What a great game. I still play Doom regularly via modern source ports on the PC — most recently on my new 1080p big screen TV set. Add on Xbox 360 controller support via ZDoom, and you've got Doom heaven. It's a game that never seems to get old for me, even 20 years on. That's the mark of a true classic in my book.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1994, p.109]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How did you feel when you first played Doom? What are your memories of the occasion?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Jaguar on Clearance (Atari Jaguar Turns 20)

November 11th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Atari Jaguar and Jaguar CD on Sale in TigerDirect Catalog - 1997Atari Jaguar on Sale in 1997: "Includes RISC Processors!"

The Atari Jaguar launched at retail 20 years ago this Friday — November 15, 1993.

In April 1994, I received a Jaguar for my birthday, and it was one of the most exciting days of my life. That Christmas, my parents gave me Doom for the Jaguar, and I had a blast. After that, not many truly great games came out for the Jaguar (I'd say Tempest 2000 is the system-exclusive standout).

Partly because of that lack of great software, the Jaguar sunk fast — especially in the face of strong competition from Sony, Sega, and Nintendo (throw in some 3DO and Neo-Geo in there as well). The mid-1990s was a hard time to be a video game console.

By 1997, the Jaguar was toast. If I recall correctly, TigerDirect bought up a huge inventory of unsold Jaguar and Jaguar CD systems and sold them through their catalog.

This scan is a page from a 1997 TigerDirect catalog advertising the Jaguar for a mere $59.99 and the CD add-on for $89.99. Lucky for me, this is how I bought my Jaguar CD system, along with the advertised ultra-cheap game packs. CD exclusives Myst and Cybermorph 2 were worth the purchase alone.

So happy birthday, Jag. Sorry I can't write more about you now. But I've written a lot about you on VC&G in the past. To read more, check out the links at the bottom of this post.

[ From TigerSoftware Winter PC Sale Book 1997, Vol VII Issue 2, p.2 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite Atari Jaguar game?


See Also: Rayman and Frustration (RSOTW, 2013)
See Also: Atari Jaguar Debut Photo (RGOTW, 2013)
See Also: War + Mech = "Kinda Cool" (RSOTW, 2007)
See Also: Anatomy of a Young Collector's Room (2006)
See Also: The First Atari Jaguar Press Release (2005)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Final Fantasy Tactics is 15

January 28th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Final Fantasy Tactics Playstation PS1 PSX Magazine advertisement GamePro May 1998"How to Start the Mother of All Wars"

Fifteen years ago today, Square released Final Fantasy Tactics in North America for the Sony PlayStation. (It's kinda crazy, because I was going to use this scan today anyway, just by chance.)

I remember being excited when this game came out. I'm sure I read a glowing review of it in EGM and recommended it to my brother, who promptly bought it and played it on and off for the next two years. I still have Final Fantasy Tactics' music stuck in my head just from hearing him play the game so much.

The game is a strategic masterpiece, and though I have not played it to completion myself, I appreciate its depth, its music, and I absolutely love its sprite-based graphics and spell effects. The sprite-based nature of FFT alone was something to cheer at a time when most new PSX games were plagued with choppy, low-res polygonal 3D graphics.

[ From GamePro, May 1998, p.70-71 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your words, what's so great about Final Fantasy Tactics?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Apple Lisa and Apple IIe

January 21st, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Apple Lisa and Apple IIe on the cover of Popular Computing - March 1983APPLE'S BOLD NEW COMPUTERS IN ALL-CAPS

Thirty years ago last Saturday (January 19th, 1983), Apple announced two new computers: the Apple Lisa and the Apple IIe.

Ultimately, the Apple Lisa met an early end, leaving behind technology that shaped the entire industry. The Apple IIe remained a reliable breadwinner during uncertain times in the early life of the Macintosh and remained the flagship member of Apple's popular 8-bit computer line until it ended in 1993.

Here's the cover of the March 1983 issue of Popular Computing which featured Apple's two new machines. It has always been one of my favorite vintage computer magazine covers.

By the way, I recently wrote an article about this anniversary for Macworld in case you're interested.

[ From Popular Computing, March 1983, cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used an Apple Lisa? What did you think about it?

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Epic Atari History Book Released

November 29th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Atari History Book

Just a few days ago, renowned video game historians Marty Goldberg (formerly of ClassicGaming.com) and Curt Vendel (Atari collector extraordinaire) published their epic Atari history book, Atari Inc.: Business is Fun.

And by epic, I mean 800-pages epic. Its launch coincides with the 40th anniversary of the legendary video game company, which happens to be this year. (In fact, the 40th anniversary of Pong's public debut happens to be today.)

I haven't gotten my hands on a copy of this massive work yet, but I thought I'd let you guys know about it because it promises to be an interesting read.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Cave BBS Turns 20

November 26th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

The Cave BBS first log file - RedWolf PC Plus Minihost - 1992A vintage printout of my first BBS log.

Twenty years ago yesterday, I set up a BBS for the first time. The Cave BBS. Admittedly, it was nothing more than a bare-bones system run through Procomm Plus' Minihost module Minihost, but it was a start. Within a few weeks (with a brief detour running VBBS for a few days), I had a full-fledged WWIV BBS setup running on a Tandy 1800 HD laptop with a 2400 BPS modem.

[Brief aside — I can't find a copy of that ProComm Plus MiniHost for MS-DOS software anywhere — does anyone have it? I have the terminal emulator part, but not the MiniHost.] [ Update 11/27/2012 - Thanks to Jim Carpenter (see comments) for helping me find it! ]

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Cave BBS Turns 20 » ]

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VC&G Interview: Nick Newhard on Monolith's Blood

October 30th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Monolith Blood Screenshot

Back in 2007, I intended to write an article about the 10th anniversary of Monolith's Blood, one of my personal favorite computer games. Accordingly, I contacted Nick Newhard, the designer and lead programmer of Blood, and arranged for an interview.

For whatever reason, my interview with Newhard didn't take place until April 2008 via email. (That's probably why I shelved the project.) Since it's almost Halloween — and it's the 15th anniversary of Blood this year — I thought I'd share this little gem from my archives. It should be a treat for any Blood fans that might be out there.

I'm presenting this interview a little more sparsely laid-out than I usually do just for the sake of expediency. Some day I will write more about Blood, but until then, I hope this nugget of history will tide you over.

Get Blood

By the way, you can buy Blood on GOG.com these days for $5.99 (price at present). It runs great in DOSBox on a fast machine — make sure you crank up the in-game display resolution for greatest effect. The game is amazing in 1440×900 VESA mode on a widescreen monitor.

I heartily endorse the thorough and frequent playing of Blood, as it is one of the greatest PC games of all time — in my opinion, at least.

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Nick Newhard on Monolith's Blood » ]

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The CD Player Turns 30

October 1st, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Sony CDP-101, The First Commercial CD Player

Thirty years ago today, Sony released the first commercially available Compact Disc player, the CDP-101. It launched alongside 50 CDs in Japan, marking the commercial birth of the widely popular digital audio medium.

Over at TechHive (a new site run by the folks behind PC World), I've written an in-depth piece that details the history and impact of the CD as a medium for both audio and computer data. I hope you enjoy it.

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My Week with the Commodore 64 (30th Anniversary)

August 2nd, 2012 by Benj Edwards

My Week with the Commodore 64

Thirty years ago, Commodore Business Machines released the Commodore 64, an 8-bit home computer that served up early computer experiences for millions of users around the world. By some estimates, the little brown wonder sold as many as 17 million units during its 12 year lifespan, which means there are a lot of C64 fans out there.

In honor of both the machine and its fans, I recently locked myself in a room with the vintage machine for a week to put it through its paces and see if I could use it as a work machine. In the process, I tested it as a word processor, game console, and even used it to send a few tweets. I did it all with vintage hardware and software, so you'll find no Ethernet adapters or SD card drives here.

If, while reading, you feel anything is missing, that's because the piece got quite a chopping — I did so much in my week with the C64 that the full report on my activities was way too long for publication. For example, sections on GEOS, my pirated disk collection, and more were dropped. Perhaps those will show up somewhere else in the future.

Still, the result should be quite a fun read for any vintage computing fan. I hope you enjoy it.

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