VC&G Anthology Interview: Trip Hawkins on 30 Years of Electronic Arts (2012)

November 9th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Trip Hawkins Interview on

[ This interview I conducted was originally published on in June 2012 to roughly coincide with Electronic Arts' 30th Anniversary. Since then, the interview has disappeared from the web. A few people have asked me to make it available again, and since I retained the rights to the interview, I am free to publish it on VC&G for everyone to enjoy. ]

Originally Published on in June 2012:

VC&G Anthology BadgeElectronic Arts is 30 years old, and there is no denying that the behemoth game publisher casts a long shadow of influence over the entire industry. The company, founded in May 1982, pioneered a business model that treated game designers like rock stars and software publishers like record labels. It pushed the use of big names and big licenses in sports (think Madden, NFL) and soon grew to gobble up many renowned development studios to become a massive entertainment conglomerate.

These days, that conglomerate catches lots of flack from gamers on various issues including employee treatment, content milking, premature server termination, and more. Whether or not those criticisms have any merit, there is no denying that Electronic Arts was once revered as a top corporate impresario for identifying and cultivating the world's best game design talent (although one would have to admit that time was very long ago).

The man behind the early, creatively-rich image of EA is Trip Hawkins, an Apple veteran who founded the company with a simple dream: to bring his sports simulations to life. Hawkins, now 58, left EA in 1991 to start The 3DO Company, which folded in 2003. He then launched mobile game developer Digital Chocolate that same year. Just recently, Hawkins announced he was stepping down as CEO of Digital Chocolate to face an as-yet unrevealed future.

In late May of this year [2012 — Ed.], on the occasion of EA's 30th anniversary, I spoke with Hawkins over the telephone and via email about the creation of Electronic Arts, the design of its early games, and at some length about the negative criticism the company tends to attract today. Along the way, we touched on the personal source of his creative spirit and about heady days as a close friend of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

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[ 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.

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Benj's 'This Old Tech' Column Debuts on

November 6th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

This Old Tech Column on Toshiba T1000

Today, PCWorld published the inaugural entry of my new column, This Old Tech. In the column, I will be writing about vintage gadgets, games, and computers — pretty much the same stuff I talk about on Vintage Computing and Gaming. So far, the plan is to publish a new piece every Friday.

For the first column, I talk about the first MS-DOS computer I ever learned to use, the Toshiba T1000 laptop. I still have the same machine from all those years ago, so aside from just waxing nostalgic, I also attempt to get it working again.

So spread the word — I am looking forward to exploring my personal tech history in this new column. I hope you enjoy it.

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[ VC&G Anthology ] Developers Cite The Greatest PC Games of All Time (2009)

November 5th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

10 Greatest PC Games of All Time

In early 2009, I undertook my most ambitious slideshow up to that point: The Ten Greatest PC Games of All Time for

After playing dozens of games, reading opinions on forums and blogs across the Internet, and consulting every previously published list of greatest PC games I could find, I made a rough list of about 50 games. Then I stuck them in a spreadsheet and rated them based on various criteria.

During the process, I also surveyed several well-known PC game developers (and Dan Bricklin) for their nominations of Greatest PC Games. I did the best I could, and of course, the result reflected one man's opinion. Here's what I came up with:

#10: TradeWars 2002
#9: Myst
#8: The Sims
#7: StarCraft
#6: Rogue: The Adventure Game
#5: M.U.L.E.
#4: SimCity
#3: Sid Meier's Civilization
#2: Doom
#1: World of Warcraft

It pissed everybody off, of course.

(Well, just about everybody. Fellow journalist Jenn Frank and her mom liked it. But that was about it.)

VC&G Anthology BadgeEditors who had not been consulted were livid that I was apparently speaking on behalf of PC World with such an important-sounding list (not my intention), and people all around the U.S. were upset that I didn't include Half-Life or X-Com: UFO Defense.

Meanwhile, readers in the UK cried for blood and shouted, "Where is Tomb Raider??!!" I just scratched my head on that one — apparently it's a national classic over there.

It didn't help that my editor had changed the title to "The 10 Best PC Games Ever." After about two dozen angry comments, I got my editor to change it back to "greatest" — the difference being that I was going after influential and culturally important games — not necessarily the "best" games to play today. (I also regretted not making a title slide for that slideshow for the first time, so it always says "best" on there.)

The piece got syndicated on MSN and everywhere else, so the title change didn't propagate there. Hate seethed at me from all corners of the globe. I honestly don't enjoy making people upset, but man, it was fun to watch people go apeshit over a slideshow.

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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, 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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Introducing VC&G Anthology

October 23rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Image Desc

It is no secret that Vintage Computing and Gaming is in its 10th year of publication (the site's 10th anniversary is November 2nd of this year).

Ten years is like a century on the Internet. Throughout these long 100 metaphorical years, I've done a lot of side work for features both on VC&G and in my offsite freelance features that have never been published before.

That is going to change. Today I'm announcing a new series on this blog called VC&G Anthology. It's just a fancy way of saying "old stuff from my archives."

To fuel the Anthology, I've dug up old interviews, outtakes, notes, and other writings from my history that have previously never appeared on VC&G or anywhere else.

Additionally, some of the upcoming Anthology material will come from my work on other publications that is no longer accessible. This will be one way to remedy the Web's propensity to forget things when host sites go belly up or get URL-confused or database-addled in their old age.

So stay tuned — this should be fun.

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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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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Vector Graphic Vector 1

July 27th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Vector Graphic Inc. Vector 1 computer system advertisement - 1977NOW AVAILABLE IN RUST

The Vector 1 (1977) was the first complete computer system sold by Vector Graphic, Inc., a California-based firm founded by Lore Harp (now McGovern), Carole Ely, and Bob Harp in August 1976.

The Vector 1 included an Intel 8080A or Zilog Z80 CPU, and it utilized the S-100 bus introduced by the Altair 8800. In an unusual nod to aesthetics, the Vector 1 shipped in two case color options: green or "rust," which was Vector's name for orange. It retailed for for $849 fully assembled (about $3,288 today when adjusted for inflation) or $619 as a kit.

It just so happens that I wrote an article about the history of Vector Graphic for FastCompany recently. You may enjoy it.

[ From Byte Magazine, February 1977, p.61]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned an S-100 based computer? Tell us about it.

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The Invention of the Video Game Cartridge

January 22nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

The Untold Story of the Invention of the Game Cartridge

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 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.

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