Huge Gallery of Prodigy MadMaze Screenshots Now on Flickr

April 7th, 2017 by Benj Edwards

MadMaze Screenshot

Just a few minutes ago, I released the first group of images from the Prodigy Preservation Project on Flickr. They're screenshots from MadMaze, a vintage online game that ran on Prodigy Classic between 1989 and 1999.

Specifically, they're all the graphics from the Place of Power instances in the game. I believe most, if not all, of the artwork was done by Al Sirois, a Prodigy staff artist. Al Sirois did some of the artwork, but Sirois says that most of it was created by other artists (see comments below). They originated as NAPLPS vector graphics (scalable to any size) and were captured into a raster format for display on the web.

MadMaze Screenshot

Of course, you can play a re-creation of MadMaze yourself on this very server right here. And you can read more about that re-creation (and report bugs you may encounter) here.

If you'd like to support the Prodigy Preservation Project and all of my history work, please consider submitting a pledge on Patreon. Any money I get from Patreon helps a ton toward giving me the extra time to work on history projects like the PPP.

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[ Retro Scan ] WorldsAway Mousepad

March 9th, 2017 by Benj Edwards

CompuServe Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldsAway mousepad scan - 1995Echoes of Ancient Technicolor Greece

Back in 1995, CompuServe and Fujitsu launched a graphical online chat world called WorldsAway. I used it from the very start (at least within a month of the launch, I think), and quickly became enveloped in the beautifully illustrated world and the sense of community it fostered.

I've written in-depth about WorldsAway before — both on VC&G in a previous Retro Scan (for its first print ad) and in a "This Old Tech" column on PCWorld back in 2015.

Not long after the WA launch in 1995, Fujitsu held a contest on CompuServe that was simple to enter — you had to send an email or answer a short survey (forgot what it was exactly). Lucky for me, I won the contest, and I received a really cool package of WorldsAway-branded swag. I'll try to remember everything: a sweatshirt, a pen, a clear acrylic coffee mug, a keychain flashlight, and the mousepad you see here.

The coolest thing about this mousepad is that it shows an illustrated overhead map of the Dreamscape/Kymer/whatever it was called as Fujitsu staff originally designed it. It stayed within its Greco-Roman-inspired theme. When WorldAway launched, only a handful of these locales were accessible — I think it wasn't until 2000 or so that all of them were actually completed and opened to WA users (although I don't really remember the Theatre opening up, but I quit in 2001).

Speaking of mousepads, while they were essential in the days of rolling-ball mice (some nice mouse history I wrote here), they are technically optional with today's optical mice. But I still use one on my desk to provide a uniform surface for my Microsoft optical mouse.

[ From Fujitsu Cultural Technologies WorldsAway Mousepad, 1995 ]

Discussion Topic: Let's talk about mousepads. When was the last time you used one?

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Classic Prodigy Game Recreation MadMaze-II Updated to Support Chrome and Firefox

January 18th, 2017 by Benj Edwards

MadMaze-II Title ImageSince 2013, I've been hosting a web-based recreation of the classic Prodigy online service game called "MadMaze" on the VC&G webserver.

(You can read the backstory about that here.)

The only problem with this "modern" version of the game, called MadMaze-II by its late author, Russell Brown, is that it only worked in Internet Explorer. This re-creation was developed in 2001 at a time when Internet Explorer was the browser of choice for many.

Well, thanks to the help of a web developer named Brandt Horrocks, the game now works in Chrome and Firefox. In Chrome, it seems to work nearly perfectly, although it does not support the sound effects Brown originally implemented in the game (yet). In Firefox, the game is playable, but the introduction renders slightly differently.

The game is still at its original VC&G address, http://www.vintagecomputing.com/madmaze/, so give it a shot and see what you think. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments here, and I will show them to Brandt, who may be able to do more bug fixes in the future.


See Also:

Bringing Prodigy Back From The Dead: The Prodigy Restoration Project (2014)
MadMaze-II Now Hosted on Vintagecomputing.com (2013)
Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web (2006)

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[ 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)

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[ 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?

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[ 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.

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[ 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.

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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 » ]

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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.

10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 3

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

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The Prodigy Preservation Project

July 14th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Prodigy Online Service Logo

[ Major Update: 4/12/2017 - Keep an eye on my Flickr account where I will be posting galleries of Prodigy screenshots and other artwork. ]

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 Preservation 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 The Prodigy Preservation Project » ]

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