[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sega Channel

September 2nd, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Sega Genesis Sega Channel advertisement - 1995"Get hooked in."

Since its debut in late 1994, the Sega Channel remains one of the most fascinating footnotes of video game history. Essentially, the system had two components: a hardware cartridge that a customer plugged into his or her Sega Genesis, and a premium subscription cable TV service (usually $14.95 a month) that provided a selection of games the customer could download.

Games, when downloaded, were saved temporarily to DRAM in the cartridge (which lost its contents when the system was powered off), and the customer could download up to 50 games a month. The service also provided news about video game releases in the form of text displayed on the screen. The information transfer was one-way, however, so Sega Channel could not provide truly interactive online content.

When news of the Sega Channel first hit, I called my local cable company as the ad suggests. Unfortunately, we never received Sega Channel service in our area, so I didn't get to try it out myself.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, September 1995, p.39 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever subscribe to Sega Channel? Tell us about your experiences.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Supra 28.8 Kbps Modem

July 29th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Supra Modem Ad - 1996Glowing Modem

In my early BBS days, I started using a 2400 bps external modem hooked to the serial port of a PC clone. A few years later, I switched to an external Intel 14,400 bps modem. Then I believe I got a Creative Labs Modem Blaster kit with an internal 28,800 bps modem on an ISA card. After that I moved up to 33,600 with some generic Winmodem, then 56,000 bps.

In 2000, I signed up for my first cable modem service…and the rest is history.

[ From Internet World, February 1996, p.9 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What speed was your first modem?

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Prodigy 20 Years Ago Today

December 25th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

The Main page of Prodigy on December 25 1992 by Benj EdwardsAn angle-corrected close-up view of Prodigy's front page on Christmas 1992.

Twenty years ago today, I awoke with anticipation and ran downstairs. It was Christmas morning, and I could hardly wait to open my presents.

One of those presents turned out to be a connection kit to Prodigy online service, which I had been begging my father to buy for most of the year. 1992 was the year I jumped head-first into computer telecommunications by calling local BBSes. I became fascinated with modems and wanted to explore their every possible application.

That Christmas morning, my dad was on hand to document my first experiences with Prodigy using the family Sony Camcorder. I have captured various stills from that video, and I am posting them here to share a small slice of the Prodigy experience in 1992.

Unfortunately, my computer at the time, the IBM PS/2 Model 25 (which my dad purchased new circa 1987 and later became a hand-me-down to me), came equipped with a monochrome monitor. So the glory of Prodigy Christmas 1992 in color is sadly now lost to history (well, unless someone else out there can find some color screenshots of Prodigy on Christmas 1992).

[ Continue reading Prodigy 20 Years Ago Today » ]

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Wikipedia is Deleting BBS Game History

December 8th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Wikipedia deleting BBS Door Game Entries

As we speak, certain vigilante Wikipedia users are hard at work erasing whatever scraps of little-known BBS door game history that resides in Wikipedia's databases. The first casualty in this war was the entry for Space Empire Elite, which was deleted early this morning.

(For those of you unfamiliar with BBS door games, here's a brief definition: BBS door games are computer games, usually text-only, that were traditionally played over modems and accessed through dial-up BBSes. They are called "door games" because users pass through a figurative "doorway" from the BBS software into another program (the game program) to play them. One of the most notable examples is TradeWars 2002.)

The problem, it seems, is that the games aren't "notable" enough and lack the sources for a Wikipedia article.

[ Continue reading Wikipedia is Deleting BBS Game History » ]

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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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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Finally…a 1200 Baud Modem

November 19th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Radio Shack TRS-80 DC-2212 Modem 1200 Baud - 1985FINALLY, I mean, COME ON.

You too could be the proud owner of this Radio Shack TRS-80 DC-2212 1200 baud modem for the low, low price of $399.95 (about $859.81 in 2012 dollars).

…If you traveled back in time with the proper currency, that is. But I wouldn't recommend it.

I recently bought a cable modem that is the equivalent of a 150,000,000 baud modem. It cost $70 in 2012 dollars. Not bad for progress.

[ From BYTE, September 1985, rear cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What speed was you first modem?

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Retro Scan of the Week: Baton TelePlay Modem for NES and Genesis

February 19th, 2007 by Benj Edwards
Baton Teleplay Modem Advertisement
When I first saw this ad in EGM around 1992-93, I wanted one of these modems so bad. I was hugely into BBSes and computer telecommunications at the time, and the thought of using one on a console to play games with friends was awesome. My best friend called my BBS, and my imagination went wild thinking about all the fun we could have with a pair of these modems. That is, assuming the games were good.

Eventually, I convinced my mom to call Baton (being a about 11 or 12 years old then) to see if she could order one, but by that time either the phone number was already disconnected, or she didn't get an answer. Or maybe she did talk to somebody — my memory's fuzzy on that point. I was hugely disappointed. Crushed. The Teleplay modems never showed up in stores and I never heard anything about them again.

I did get excited when Xband modems came out some years later (for the SNES and Genesis), but I found the experience with their service somewhat lacking. I wanted a direct player-to-player connection with no game broker or middle man.

For more on the story behind the Baton Teleplay modem, check out Frank Cifaldi's investigative piece at Lost Levels Online. I'm really glad he took the time to research the company so that their story isn't completely lost to history.

Unfortunately, I forgot to document the issue number this ad appeared in when I scanned it some time ago.

If you use this image on your site, please support "Retro Scan of the Week" by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

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Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web

August 4th, 2006 by Benj Edwards

Prodigy Login ScreenWhen I was but a wee lad, I begged my father to sign me up for Prodigy. I loved BBSes and wanted to try Prodigy so badly. On Christmas 1992, I finally got my wish: an orange cardboard box emblazoned with a blue star appeared under the Christmas tree. One hour (and one father's credit card charge) later, I was online. Overall, I was mostly underwhelmed with the service and my subscription didn't last long, but there was one thing I really liked about it: the games.

Madmaze Title ScreenMany of you probably know of Prodigy, a pre-"popular Internet" era commercial dial-up online service that utilized copious amounts of NAPLPS graphics in its client interface. And one of the best applications of this rarely used, bandwidth- friendly graphics protocol was Eric Goldberg and Greg Costikyan's very popular Prodigy adventure game, MadMaze.

[ Continue reading Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web » ]

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Anatomy of a Young Collector's Room

March 22nd, 2006 by Benj Edwards

Late last year I found this classic (for me, anyway) picture lurking in my files and scanned it. It's a Polaroid photograph of one corner of my then "computer room" taken by myself somewhere around late 1994 or early 1995 (yes, my family was lucky enough to have the space for another room dedicated mainly to my BBS computer, but filled with my other junk as well). I was 13 or 14 at the time. As you can see on the picture, I've labeled certain items in the room with numbers. Each number is associated with an item that I talk about below. With that out of the way, click on the image to open up the bigger version and let's start the tour!

1. DEC VT-125 Terminal - A true classic in the terminal world, pulled from a dumpster. The neighbor of my father's company serviced minicomputers and was always throwing neat stuff out. I got about 3-4 of these, took a few apart, eventually throwing them away for space concerns. But I think I still have one or two left.

2. Micromint Z8 Board - Part of the Micromint Z8 Basic Computer/Controller set. Inherited from my father's old workplace. The Micromint Z8 system was a BASIC language-programmable microcontroller, essentially for early "embedded computer" applications. I have a bunch of cool expansion boards too, including one that lets you save/load your program to cassette tape, and another that lets you burn EPROMs of your BASIC programs! Cool stuff — I should play with it again.

3. NES Games - Back in 1994, my NES game collection could actually fit in one cubic foot of space. Crazy. A NES Game Genie code book can be seen here, awkwardly sticking out of the top of the plastic basket. Eventually my collection would spill out of the pictured basket and beyond…

4. Commodore CBM 2001-32 - This was had at a hamfest for $10, including the separate companion disk unit. It's tucked away in the far back corner of the room, so I guess I didn't use it very much.

5. Zoom 2400 BPS Modem - My first modem, given to my family by a friend. The top cover is off because I was playing around with hooking the speaker audio output to headphones — both for kicks, and for late-night modem sessions without waking the parents (I did this before I figured out the Hayes AT command to turn off the internal speaker) . This very modem is responsible for introducing me to the world of BBSes sometime in 1991. Of course, this being 1994-95, my main workhorse at the time is an Intel external 14400 modem across the room (not pictured).

6. Apple II+ - My dad bought this for me around 1990-91 (from a hamfest, big surprise) so I could learn BASIC on it. And I did, having loads of fun with it over the years. At the time of this picture I had the luxury of a color composite video monitor (#11). Up until then, I was stuck with a monochrome green-screen. But somehow it almost didn't feel like an Apple II any more once it was in color.

7. Odyssey2 Games - Yes, this black blob is actually fifteen Odyssey2 games in interlockable cartridge racks, purchased for $10 along with an Odyssey2 console at a hamfest in the early 90s.

8. Nintendo Entertainment System - Back then, I took everything I owned apart, and the former "family NES" was not spared this treatment. Thinking myself clever, I switched the one and two player ports around, along with the "power" and "reset" buttons. How delightfully obnoxious. This unit, 11 years later, went on to become the NES DVD Player hack I did recently.

9. EPROM Eraser - It's the gray rectangular box on top of the Apple II+ (#6). Never really used it very much. It was inherited along with the Micromint Z8 controller board stuff (#2) and was used to erase EPROMs programmed by the unit. It works by shining UV light through a tiny quartz window on the EPROM.

10. Apple II Disks - Stacked here are two boxes of Apple II disks. The lower one is mine, the upper one was given to me by a friend (with all his Apple II disks in it!). In fact, it was the same friend who gave my family the 2400 BPS modem (#5). It's nice to have good friends.

11. Composite Video Monitor - What a grand day it was when I acquired my first color composite video monitor at a local hamfest! In this picture, the monitor is performing triple duty between the Apple II+ (#6), NES (#8), and Atari Jaguar (#14). I simply switched the AV connectors at the back depending on which one I wanted to use.

12. Atari Lynx - I bought this under-utilized portable wonder in used condition from a guy who regularly called my BBS ("Raven," if you must know) in 1993 or 94. The transaction was done entirely by mail and we never met in person (imagine that!).

13. Mystery Sticker - I'm not sure what this is. It looks like a random peel-off trading card-sized sticker just stuck on the wall at an odd angle. Weird. This picture have been taken after my dad made me take down the 100-odd posters and other crap I had tacked and taped all over the walls, believing they were a fire hazard.

14. Atari Jaguar - I was a total Atari nut in the very early 90′s, believing strongly that Atari was the greatest company ever. "What's this Nintendo business?" I said. "Atari was first!" I heard rumors of their Panther, then Jaguar, consoles and waited anxiously for their release. My birthday in 1994 was one of the happiest days of my life: I received an Atari Jaguar System and Super Metroid for the SNES. Here, Doom can be seen in the cartridge slot, a version of the seminal 3D FPS rivaled on consoles only by the PlayStation version.

15. Apple III - The prize of my collection at the time. When I first heard about the Apple III years before, it was like some magical, mythical beast. Would I ever catch sight of one, much less possess it? Naturally, I was extremely excited when my father and I came across this one later at a hamfest (again, big surprise). $10-20 later, I had my first Apple III, complete with dust cover (pictured on the unit). I only had the Apple II emulation disk for it, though, and to this day have never run any native Apple III software. Shortly after my Apple III was obtained (turned out they were not as rare as I thought), the Apple Lisa quickly became the next mythical beast to be had — a beast I'm still chasing in the wild to this day.

16. Plug 'N' Play Mosaic Book - This book is how I got my first copy of Mosaic, the first graphical web browser (it came on a floppy disk in the back). Shortly after, I began to develop my first home page, and boy did it suck. It's funny reading lists of "cool" web sites from back then because, well…there were only about ten web sites back then. Ergo, all of them were cool (and listed in this book).

17. Handheld Video Games Magazine - I just found this particular issue (Spring 1991) again recently while working on my "Game Ads A-Go-Go" column for GameSetWatch. Good issue. I apparently didn't value it very much at the time because it's sitting on the floor right next to the spot where our cats would leave all the dead birds they'd caught that week. Yum.

Well that's the tour, hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for accompanying me on a nice walk down memory lane.

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