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?
After 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 go through my parents' house today and fill a moving van 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. 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!
Above 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?
Three and a half years ago, I started writing a history of the Fairchild Channel F, the world's first commercial game console to use software cartridges. As part of the research, I first interviewed two Fairchild veterans to follow up on my 2009 interview of Jerry Lawson.
As I kept digging, the rabbit hole of history went deeper and deeper, and the story turned out too complex and nuanced to properly research for whatever venue I was planning at the time. Budgets were tight, and the economics didn't work out, so I had to shelve it.
Just last year, I picked up where I left off and did the rest of the legwork, summoning primary source documents from around the world (special thanks to ICHEG) and interviewing over 15 people who worked for Alpex, National Semiconductor, Fairchild, Atari, and RCA to piece together the most accurate portrait of the birth of the game cartridge that I could possibly manage.
The result was finally published last night — in a somewhat abridged format — on FastCompany.com with my friend and longtime collaborator Harry McCracken editing the piece.
What I have created sheds light on a heretofore completely unknown segment of video game history (especially regarding Alpex), and it is my hope that I have done so in a way that does justice to the achievement of those involved some forty years ago.
I am grateful to everyone who helped with my research — especially Ron Smith, the mechanical designer of the Channel F, who provided me with countless documents and a patient ear for all of my questions, and Wallace Kirschner and Lawrence Haskel, who decided to talk to the press for the first time ever for my piece.
There is more to the story than could fit in the article, but don't despair — it will probably end up as part of a book.
I hope you enjoy the piece.
Thanksgiving is almost upon us again, so it's time to gather around your home PC for a game of…Quizagon?
Yes, Quizagon. A game I've never played, nor will I for the foreseeable future. It looks like a hexagon-themed family trivia game, which is not my bag, man. But what a great photo.
Instead, I'm going to host a The Seven Cities of Gold marathon on an Atari 800XL with my brother. We plan on exploring a completely new continent while interacting vigorously with the natives. Meanwhile, my brothers- and sisters-in-law will be playing Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on my dedicated gaming PC that is hooked to the flat-screen living room TV. It's a great kart game to play on Steam with four Xbox 360 controllers that's easy to set up and jump into. Fun times shall be had by all.
By the way, I first used this amusing scan in a 2009 Thanksgiving-related slideshow I did for Technologizer (hoping I'm not repeating it on VC&G). If you're in the mood, here's some other Thanksgiving-related material from the VC&G archives.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have any family video gaming planned for this Thanksgiving? If so, what are you going to play?
Discussion Topic of the Week: If you had to guess, how many floppy disks do you own?
When it comes to vintage 1980s puzzles, few can beat the sheer cultural nostalgia value of this 200-piece Milton-Bradley Donkey Kong puzzle, which comes straight from my childhood. This is a scan of the front of the box.
It's not often that I find a true surprise lurking in our old family toys, but I had completely forgotten about this puzzle until I ran across it in the back corner of my mom's attic a few months ago. Memories of poring over the lush, vibrant artwork on the box rushed back to me as I pulled it from where it had lay, dusty and neglected, for 25 years.
Look at the the highlights, the curves, the gradients. The richness.
Luckily for me, all the pieces were still in the box, so I have now re-assembled the puzzle and framed it. It will never be lost again.
The artwork for this puzzle no doubt echoes the side cabinet art of the Donkey Kong arcade machine, but with added detail and an airbrushed vividness. I think it would make an awesome poster — does anyone know who the artist was?
By the way — even though I find it insanely difficult at times, the original Donkey Kong is one of my favorite arcade games. It was also one of the first video games I ever played, courtesy of a port to the Atari 800.
P.S. Pauline is way hotter than Princess Peach.
Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, which is better: Donkey Kong Jr. or Donkey Kong 3?
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.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned a watch that played a game? Tell us about it.
I don't normally take scans out of context, but I made an exception for this amazing illustration. It comes from the instruction manual for Joust for the Atari 2600. I isolated the image years ago for possible use in one of my Halloween costume ideas posts, and I've been staring at it in my scans folder ever since.
Joust is one of my favorite arcade titles, and I'm particularly fond of the Atari 7800 home version.
I'd like to find out who created this glorious piece of video game art. I'll do some digging in a bit, but if you know already, please leave a comment and I'll update this post. (The illustrator may be referenced in the manual itself, but it's packed where I can't get to it.)
By the way, I think this illustration would look awesome on a t-shirt. Anybody want to make one?
Discussion Topic of the Week: Which is better: Joust or Balloon Fight?
Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever bought a desk specifically to hold a computer?
The only problem? Everyone thought he was a computer.
Here is an excerpt of one of his conversations with a judge:
Judge: Hi, I'm Cathy.
Entity: CATHY! THE NAME OF A WOMANS.
Judge: Yes, I'm a woman.
Entity: WHAT IS A WOMANS, REALLY? BUT A MANS WITH THE UNSTOPPABLE THIRST FOR KRELBS.
Judge: Right. What is your name?
Entity: WHAT IS YOUR NAMES?
Judge: I'm Cathy, remember?
Entity: THAT IS NOT A REAL NAMES.
Judge: Yes, it is. At least where I come from. What is your name?
Entity: ULAF HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE NAMES ULAF IN UKRAINE, BUT FRIENDS CALL ULAF "ULAF" FOR SHORTS IN SVADLOST.
Judge: Nice name. Are you from either area?
Entity: THE AREA OF A TRIANGLES BECOMES THE HYPOTENUSE…ULAF FORGET.
Judge: Uh huh. How could you forget something so important?
Entity: NO, ULAF NOT IMPORTENT. ULAF HAVE AT LEAST 3.5 CHILDRENS (ONE HALF SIZED).
Judge: That's a very personal issue. What's your specialty?
Entity: ULAF FORGET TO ASK WHERE EITHER OF YOUR MINDS ARE FROM.
Judge: The universe and you?
Entity: ULAF, ALSO, BECOMES FROM THE STUFF OF STARS, AS THE MIND OF CARLOS SAGAN ONCE TOLD.
Judge: Do you have any hobbies?
Entity: NO TIMES TO TALK NOW, RUSSIANS KARUMPING ON THE DOOR OF ULAF. REMEMBER, THIS IS ULAF SAYING, "BE THE MASTER." *END TRANSMISSION*
Judge: I'm still here.