[ Retro Scan ] DWANGO Online Service

February 16th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

DWANGO Quake Doom Online FPS multiplayer online server Advertisement Scan - 1998Looks real to me

DWANGO, which stood for "Dial-up Wide-Area Network Game Operation," was an online matchmaking service that specialized in FPS games like Doom and Quake. It has a fascinating history that you can read about more in its Wikipedia article.

I believe I signed up for a free trial of DWANGO circa 1994 so I could play Doom with someone when I was bored, but I don't remember ever getting it working for some reason. Instead, I often played co-op Doom (and later Quake) modem-to-modem with friends who called my BBS.

[ From GamePro, May 1998, p.67 ]

Discussion Topic: When was the first time you played a FPS multiplayer online? How did you set it up? (i.e. modem-to-modem, TCP/IP, services like Dwango)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] 1995 Nintendo.com Promo

January 25th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo Nintendo.com Website promo AOL Keyword NOA Nintendo Power Advertisement Scan - 1995Crap. I spilled toxic waste on my keyboard again.

I've always wondered who made these in-house Nintendo promos/ads for Nintendo Power magazine. Most of them were fairly well done over the years. This vivid promo, featuring Nintendo's early website in 1995, is probably one of my favorites. It also mentions AOL (keyword "NOA"), of course, which was still a big online player at the time.

By the way, anyone who can convincingly explain (with in-world fiction, not marketing) the presence of a poison/toxic waste barrel on this kid's desk wins 10 cocoa points. Even Diddy Kong sitting there makes more sense.

[Update: 02/01/2016 - It turns out that the toxic waste barrel is actually a boss character named Dumb Drum from Donkey Kong Country. Special thanks to etranist for pointing that out in the comments. ]

[ From Nintendo Power, August 1995, back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the first video game website you ever looked at online?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AOL Game Disk

January 4th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

GamePro AOL Game Disk Package - 1996click on the image above to see front and back

I've previously featured a scan of an AOL CD, but so far I have not ventured into the world of America Online floppy disk packaging…until now. Here is a gaming-centric AOL giveaway disk package — still unopened — which I believe came with an issue of GamePro magazine I received as part of a subscription in 1996.

I love the AOL screenshot printed on the package here (possibly mocked up for marketing purposes) because it offers a rare glimpse into the mid-1990s AOL interface (with a Windows 3.1 window motif), centered on "The Games Channel." If anybody has a collection of AOL screenshots from the 1990s, I'd love to see them.

[ From AOL disk package, circa 1996, front and back ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever play games on America Online back in the day? Tell us about it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] WorldsAway

December 14th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldAway Graphical Multiuser Online Chat World on CompuServe First Advertisement - 1996"There's More to Life On-Line"

Just a few months ago, the 20th anniversary of the launch of WorldsAway, a pioneering graphical online world, came and went without any major notice (it launched in September 1995). But I remembered the milestone, and I wrote a recent This Old Tech column over on PCWorld.com about my memories of the service, which I stuck with in some form or another until 2001.

WorldsAway was simply magical when it launched. It promised to put you, as a user, into a graphical world that you could share with other online users (the term "Avatar" as an online representation of your physical self came from the creators of this lineage of online worlds). It delivered on that goal with a charming atmosphere — where you could change between whimsical heads with ease — and a vibrant community that I still look back on fondly to this day.

Honestly, I miss being part of that WorldsAway community. My involvement there came at a time when I was fairly lonely and isolated with my hobbies — my high school years — during a time when few "average" people used any online service whatsoever. Don't get me wrong; I did fairly well at school, and I wasn't a freak with no friends — but the real-life friends I did have did not share my love for the online world. Online, of course, I could find others like me, and on WorldsAway, we all celebrated that commonality together in a vibrant, playful world.

Did anybody else use WorldsAway in the 1990s? I'd love to hear from you.

P.S. I was an avid reader and subscriber of CompuServe Magazine in the 1990s, which is where I found and drooled over this ad back in the day.

[ From CompuServe Magazine, March 1996, p.4 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you use any graphical online chat worlds in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

VC&G Interview: Felicia Day — Actress, Author, and Geek Advocate

November 10th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Felicia Day Interview Headshot10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 10

One week ago, I had a chance to talk to Felicia Day, an American actress who has gained considerable renown for embracing her geeky side.

In 2007, Day created a pioneering web TV show called The Guild that focused on a group of disparate characters in a World of Warcraft-like MMO who are nonetheless bound together by their devotion to the game — and to each other as teammates.

After launching The Guild, Day went on to co-star in Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, an award-winning musical miniseries crafted especially for the web. She has also acted in shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and Eureka.

Just this year, Day released a memoir called You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), that I read from cover-to-cover in a few days and enjoyed immensely. In it, she talked about growing up in the American South, her gaming habits, embracing her geeky nature, and creating The Guild.

With that book in mind, I thought it would be fun to ask her some questions about her early computing and gaming habits. Along the way, we touch on the philosophy of genius and celebrity, and whether it's safe to do an interview while you're driving a car.

I hope you enjoy it.

This interview took place on November 4, 2015 over the telephone.

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Felicia Day — Actress, Author, and Geek Advocate » ]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

VC&G Anthology Interview: F. Randall Farmer, Co-Creator of Lucasfilm's Habitat (2008)

November 4th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

F. Randall Farmer HeadshotIn September 2008, I began working on an in-depth history of the early online virtual world called Lucasfilm's Habitat for 1UP.com. After delays in hearing back from Chip Morningstar (one of the game's co-creators) and an unexpected death in my wife's family, the article got the kibosh. It's probably for the best, because I barely knew what I was doing back then.

Along the way, I did manage to interview Habitat's other main creator, F. Randall ("Randy") Farmer via email. Farmer didn't answer half of my most probing development questions (he kept pointing to an earlier piece over on Gamasutra), but what he did answer is pretty interesting.

VC&G Anthology BadgeSome of this information be recounted elsewhere by now — I think more articles have been written about Habitat since 2008 — but I'm publishing my complete interview here in the hopes that it may help someone else with research about Habitat in the future.


[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: F. Randall Farmer, Co-Creator of Lucasfilm's Habitat (2008) » ]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead

July 14th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Prodigy Online Service Logo

Since last year, I have been working with Jim Carpenter, a freelance programmer by trade, on hunting down old Prodigy data so that we may preserve it, display it again, and perhaps even one day use it to recreate Prodigy itself.

We're calling it the Prodigy Restoration Project.

By now you may have seen my latest piece for The Atlantic entitled Where Online Services Go When They Die: Rebuilding Prodigy, One Page at a Time. That article describes the genesis of the project while also diving into the technical back story of the Prodigy service.

The reason we have any hope of doing something like this is because Carpenter discovered that Prodigy screen data can still be found in the STAGE.DAT and CACHE.DAT files located in used Prodigy client directories.

Those two files were used as cache files to speed up load times when using the service. When connecting to Prodigy, the client would download page data into the files. Whenever the client last connected to Prodigy, that data got frozen in time. If a vintage Prodigy client install still exists, we can get at the "frozen" data today.

Here are some screens that Carpenter pulled from a STAGE.DAT I had in my personal archives (these are from a STAGE.DAT file dated October 6, 1996):

Prodigy Login Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Rebel Space Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Encyclopedia Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Golf Tour Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT

Prodigy Greeting Cards Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Email Template Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Phone Directory Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT Prodigy Problem Error Screenshot from Benj Edwards STAGE.DAT

We can extract these screens using a series of Python programs written by Carpenter. They read through a previously used STAGE.DAT file, generate a list of pointers to the pages or object data contained within, then direct the Prodigy Reception System client to display them one at a time so we can take screenshots.

Jim's code is not ready for release yet, but he hopes to polish it up enough to put up on GitHub soon. It has a long way to go before becoming a turnkey solution to extracting and displaying the data found in STAGE.DAT files. We're working on it.

With that in mind, I've written the rest of this post in the form of a Frequently Asked Questions.

[ Continue reading Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead » ]

Tags: , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The New Prodigy

July 14th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

The New Prodigy Provocative Lady Advertisement - 1996You can't see her other hand, but it's holding a gun!

It's a Prodigy-y week around here thanks to my recent article on The Atlantic. So I poked around my scans directory for something Prodigy related, and ka-pow!

I have yet to see an ad for the pre-ISP Prodigy in any of the magazines in my sizable archive (but then again, most of my computer magazines date from before and after Prodigy's heyday, with a gap in the middle), but I did find this "New Prodigy" ad from an old issue of Internet World, which I proudly subscribed to for a few years in the mid-1990s.

Ads like this one represented a new marketing push at time when the company sought to find a new corporate parent and shifted its focus to being an ISP (its legacy NAPLPS-flavored content was soon re-branded "Prodigy Classic").

By the way, the "original" Prodigy had a wholesome, family-safe, squeaky clean image, with an army of moderators eager to censor any bulletin board postings or even emails (yes, they read, or at least filtered, everyone's emails) that contained a hint of sexuality, so I find it humorously ironic that the company ultimately resorted to a sexually-charged ad like this one.

[ From Internet World - February 1996, insert between p.32-33]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you meet a romantic partner online prior to the year 2000? (Including those that didn't involve physical relationships.) Tell us about it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] My CompuServe Password

June 17th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Benj's CompuServe Password - 1993I still love my dad's handwriting.

Here it is, folks: My CompuServe Information Service password that I used from 1993 until the late 1990s: "Needy-Sacred".

Feel free to log in as me the next time you get a chance. (I kid.)

"Needy-Sacred" is an almost magical combination of words for me — probably because it bounced around my mind so often in the 1990s. It has a tension to it; a phrase at odds with itself.

I didn't make it up, though. CompuServe assigned random combinations of two words (with a dash in the middle) as user passwords, and this is the hand I was dealt.

Well, "we were dealt" would be more accurate. This is the original note paper my dad used on February 21st, 1993 to write down the password to our new CompuServe account, which he set up for use with his business.

Heavily into BBSes at the time, I became the primary user of the account (surprise surprise). Soon his company often asked me — even as a young teenager — to relay international emails to and from Germany for them since I knew how to use it. Ah, those were the days.

The Encounters Forum was my favorite place to hang out. That, and the Atari Forum. GO ATARI.

[ From Personal note from Benj Edwards' collection dated 2/21/1993]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Tell us your best CompuServe stories.

Tags: , , , , , ,

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Gather 'Round the Videotex

November 25th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal TV set-top box online modem - 1983A time when TVs were made of wood and children were not yet rabid.

In honor of Thanksgiving, a holiday which tends to emphasize family, I've dug up this AT&T Sceptre Videotext Terminal box art that I captured years ago. Look at those gloriously generic 1980s folks gathered around the TV set.

(I say "captured" for this image and not "scanned" because the image is actually a photo of the side of the box — the box itself is far too large to fit on a scanner. It's roughly 14″ tall by 18″ wide by 11″ deep, if memory serves.)

Videotex: Smart TV in 1983

It's funny: I've purposely avoided talking about Videotex on this blog for eight years because I was saving up material for a story about Teletext and Videotex. I have bought maybe a dozen vintage books on the two subjects since 2006 and mined news archives for information. But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go to Disneyland. Maybe I will get around to finishing that piece some day. Probably not.

So here's the skinny. "Videotex" is the name for a graphical computer communications standard that was designed to display mixed visual and text information on regular TV sets. The idea was that a customer would buy a terminal (such as the one seen here), subscribe to a CompuServe/Prodigy/AOL-like online service, and use the terminal to connect to the service and view the information on their home TV set. Kinda like WebTV before the Web. Heck, kinda like smart TVs before the smart.

Graphically, Videotex used the NAPLPS protocol (similar to Prodigy, which grew out of these commercial Videotex experiments) to quickly transmit graphics to the user's terminal. NAPLPS saves bandwidth because instead of storing/sending data on every pixel (like a bitmap image), the protocol describes graphics in terms of mathematical geometrical shapes (i.e. "draw a triangle at this location and fill it with orange," like vector graphics).

By the mid-1980s, Videotex services fizzled in the marketplace. Their failure was likely due to low utility (not very useful), plus high cost of subscription (likely from high overhead on the service's part in both hosting and creating content), and from competition from much more versatile and easier-to-interface-with personal computers.

AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal

And so that brings us to this side box art for a circa-1983 AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal. I bought this vintage gadget unopened, new-in-box on eBay for literally $1 plus shipping back in 2000.

The terminal works, but it has nothing meaningful to connect to — after all, the related Videotext service shut down almost 30 years ago. The last time I hooked it up, I believe I tricked its internal 300 baud modem to talk to my PC using a phone line simulator and perhaps even displayed a Linux console on the TV set. But that was many years ago. I also remember that the Sceptre has a horrible rubber IR keyboard that barely works.

One could conceivably create a Videotext simulator, hosted on a modern PC, that would pump NAPLPS graphics into to this vintage beast to bring it back to life. Maybe someone already has. If so, I'd like to know about it.

By the way, AT&T has a really neat vintage Sceptre promotional video on its website. It's worth a watch.

[ From AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal product box, circa 1983 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did your family ever subscribe to a non-ISP online service? Tell us about it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,