[ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012)

November 8th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

The First CD-Player - Sony CDP-101

When I write articles about the history of technology — which, I'll admit, is fairly often — a few readers will sometimes say, "The author is obviously too young to remember X or Y," or "He forgot to include X." Sure, I don't know everything. But most of the time, if there is ever an omission of something notable in one of my articles, a) I know about it, and b) it was done for a good reason.

(That reason, by the way, is usually brevity — editors almost always trim things out to make the article shorter. The second most common reason is that the omitted info, while generally understood to be true, is actually false.)

VC&G Anthology BadgeWhen the occasion warrants it, and if time allows, I do the most exhaustive research I can manage on a topic. While browsing through my old writing files recently, I came across a fairly vivid illustration of this: a very detailed timeline of CD technology that I created while writing an feature about the 30th anniversary of the CD Player for TechHive back in 2012.

During that process, I set out to understand the history of the CD Player and the Compact Disc medium as much as possible so I could explain it with confidence. One of the best ways to do that — to cover 30+ years of history and get it all straight — is to make a timeline. So that's what I did.

The published article on TechHive includes key selections from this timeline at the bottom, but not everything. With the hope that my more detailed CD timeline might some day help future researchers, I am publishing it below, complete with sources when available.

This kind of thing makes me wonder how many other man-hours of journalistic research lay just out of reach because there is no proper context in which to share it. In this case, I'm lucky to have the VC&G Anthology series.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012) » ]

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VC&G Interview: Benj Edwards, Creator of Vintage Computing and Gaming

November 2nd, 2015 by Harry McCracken

Benj Edwards with a Commodore 64[ Earlier this year, I asked readers what they wanted to see on VC&G's tenth anniversary. Most people said "behind the scenes coverage," but I wasn't sure how to approach that. So I asked my longtime editing partner Harry McCracken to interview me in the hopes that I might accidentally say something interesting about the history of the site. Happy Anniversary, VC&G readers. — Benj ]

I first met Benj Edwards back in 2007, when I worked at PC World magazine and he submitted an article — "The 10 Worst PC Keyboards of All Time" — over the transom. (Actually, we didn't meet in person until later, and his submission arrived in my inbox like any other email, but you get the idea.) Even then, I was already a fan of his Vintage Computing and Gaming website, which was then a couple of years old.

We ended up publishing Benj's keyboard slideshow at PCWorld.com, where it became a monster hit with readers. Since then, Benj and I have continued our writer-editor relationship: first at Technologizer, and today at Fast Company, where I'm an editor and he's a frequent contributor, writing deeply-reported pieces about fascinating topics which everyone else has forgotten about. He's also contributed to The Atlantic, Macworld, PCMag, Wired, and other publications.

Benj has never stopped blogging at Vintage Computing and Gaming, which celebrates its tenth anniversary today. To commemorate the occasion, he asked me to interview him about the site, his other writings, and his pursuit of collectible tech products and the stories behind them. I learned a lot from his answers — and so will you.

–Harry McCracken


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Vintage Computing and Gaming Turns Ten: Announcing 10 Days of Vintage

November 2nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoTen years ago today, I posted my first entry on Vintage Computing and Gaming. It was a long, rambling piece about my personal history with computers and video games.

Ten years later, I'm still rambling. It's been fun.

Little did I know when I started this blog how long I would be doing this, and what it would lead to. These past ten years, I have been fortunate enough to meet or interview many of my childhood heroes. I have been able to contribute, in a positive way, to the world's understanding of computer history. And I have scanned enough material to wrap around the…

Writing this postWait a minute. I'm getting a feeling of déjà vu — like I've been in this exact position before. Same blog software and everything. Same familiar white form box starting at me with unflinching eyes, yellow JavaScript-enabled editing tags lined along the edges like they want to jump in and join the party.

Oh, that's why. I just checked, and I have previously celebrated the anniversary of this site four times. Every time, I pretty much say the same thing over and over again: "Thanks, this is amazing." Here's the proof:

The History of Celebrating VC&G Anniversaries

There may be more secret VC&G anniversary celebrations hidden away within these ten years of posts for all I know. Either way, that's a lot of celebrating. To put an end to this, I propose a five year moratorium on VC&G anniversary celebrations.

…Starting next year, of course. For now, I've got something special planned.

[ Continue reading Vintage Computing and Gaming Turns Ten: Announcing 10 Days of Vintage » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] VINTAGECOMPUTING.COM

November 2nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Benj Edwards Vintagecomputing.com Vintage Computing and Gaming domain name registration Network Solutions June 2000"I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT AN INVOICE"

Although Vintage Computing and Gaming turns 10 years old today, I actually registered the "vintagecomputing.com" domain name back on June 8, 2000. This is what Network Solutions sent to me in the mail. I was only 19 years old — now I'm 34. Time flies.

It wasn't the first domain I'd ever registered, but it was an early one. I wanted to use vintagecomputing.com for an online computer museum that would show off my vintage computer and video game collection. I never got around to creating that.

Another project got in the way of all of those plans, and I ended up working on music at Request-A-Song.com instead until October 2005.

I finally put my vintagecomputing.com domain to good use — over five years later — when I decided to make a blog on that fateful day in November 2005.

[ From Networks Solutions Domain Registration Letter, June 13 2000]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first domain name you ever registered?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Gray Zapper

October 19th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo NES Zapper Light Gun Scan - Zapper ca.1985Released because Americans like guns

The Nintendo Entertainment System turned 30 years old in the US yesterday — well, according to Nintendo, anyway. That date is still a little fuzzy, in my opinion. Still, it's close enough.

When the NES turned 25 (exactly five years ago today — creepy!), I wrote a few features about this classic system like NES Oddities for Technologizer and a NES workbench teardown for PCWorld.

This year, I have done nothing to celebrate except scan this NES Zapper. It's a beaut.

Just a few days ago, the designer of the NES hardware revealed that the NES shipped with the Zapper because "Americans in general are interested in gun." Indeed they are!

In 1989, Nintendo changed the dark grey parts of the Zapper to "blaze orange" to meet new US Federal regulations about toy guns. That regulation involved required orange plugs or paint at the tips of the barrels of realistic or imitation toy guns.

The regulation passed because people were robbing banks with toy guns, and the orange plug was supposed to let cops know the difference between a deadly weapon and a hunk of plastic. (Turns out the plug requirement doesn't work as planned. But it did ruin the toy gun industry.)

The Zapper isn't exactly a realistic toy gun, but acting with its usual overabundance of caution, Nintendo went way beyond a barrel plug. Either way, I am proud to say that, to this date, no one has ever been shot and killed by a NES Zapper.

P.S. In January, I scanned a line drawing of the Zapper from the NES manual. You may enjoy that as well.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, January 1991, p.50-51]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you think someone could rob a bank with a NES Zapper? What about in the 1980s?

See Also:
NES Zapper Diagram (Retro Scan, 2015)
Model No. NES-001 (Retro Scan, 2010)
NES Oddities
Inside the Nintendo Entertainment System

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Virtual Boy Turns 20

August 21st, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Virtual Boy on a Swing

Nintendo released the Virtual Boy 20 years ago today in North America (on August 21, 1995). I wrote an article about the creation of the Virtual Boy for FastCompany, which was just published today.

I hope you enjoy it.

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Ideas for VC&G 10th Anniversary?

April 15th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoI just looked at the calendar and realized that Vintage Computing and Gaming is turning 10 this year. I started this blog in November 2005.

I'm not quite ready to break out the party hats yet, but I'm wondering if you guys had any ideas of what I could (or should) do to celebrate this milestone.

I've considered possibly compiling some of the site material into a book of some kind, but I'm not sure how well any of the VC&G content will translate to book format. Of course, 99% of the posts on this site over the past 7-8 years have been Retro Scans, so maybe there isn't much to celebrate. There are a lot of stories buried in there, however — maybe I could pull them out into some kind of collection (although I am loathe to be responsible for yet another crappy eBook or print-on-demand tech memoir).

So…any ideas? Contests? Retrospectives? Or just sit back and do business as usual? (Not a bad option.) I'm all ears!

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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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