Archive for the 'Internet History' Category

Reverse Engineering Prodigy, Part 1

Friday, January 15th, 2021

Prodigy Online Service Logo

[ Please welcome Phillip Heller, VC&G’s newest contributor, who is a member of the Prodigy Preservation Project. Phillip will post more updates on his progress here in the future. –Benj ]

Beginning in the mid 1980s, there were a number of online “walled gardens”. Among them were CompuServe, Genie, Delphi, Quantum Link (later PC-Link, AOL, etc), and Prodigy. The latter two were interesting in that they relied on specific client software to access the service.

Quantum Link was certainly novel for the fact that it furnished a graphical online experience for the Commodore 64, and Prodigy was novel for its use of the NAPLPS graphics standard, client-side P-Code virtual-machine, and hierarchical caching. In the early 2000s, some folks nostalgic for Q-Link set out to reverse engineer it, which was a success with Q-Link Reloaded launching sometime in 2005.

It’d be interesting to do a similar thing with Prodigy: To reverse engineer the client and rebuild a mock server with enough functionality to enable those interested to relive another one of the experiences of the early commercial online world. This is the first in a many part series about doing just that.

[ Continue reading Reverse Engineering Prodigy, Part 1 » ]

More How-To Geek History Articles from Benj

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Three "Ancient Files" disks

As I mentioned back in April, I joined up with How-To Geek in February, and I’ve been regularly writing tech history-related features in addition to my usual how-to pieces.

Since that first post, I’ve written many more pieces that may be of interest to VC&G readers. Here’s a list:

Some of my favorites include the Turbo Button piece, in which I discovered the first PC to ever use a turbo button, the Noisy Modem piece, in which I identified the man who invented the onboard modem speaker, and my look at Gopher, wherein I talked to the lead creator of the Gopher protocol. My ode to Windows 2000 is fun too. But heck, they’re all fun reads.

Hope you enjoy reading them! Keep an eye on my How-To Geek author page for more in the future.

Benj Writes History at How-To Geek

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Back in February, I landed a full-time job at How-To Geek as a Staff Writer. It’s been a great gig, and I am enjoying helping people with tricky (and sometimes very simple) tech problems.

I’ve written a lot about iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows 10, and the Nintendo Switch so far, but HTG also lets me do a history feature about once a week. That way I can keep flexing my tech nostalgia muscles. Here are the history pieces I’ve done so far:

Expect much more where that came from, so keep an eye on my How-To Geek page, and you’ll see new ones pop up from time to time.

I hope everybody out there is doing well.  This blog isn’t dead yet — I still plan to post some more Retro Scans some day.

[ Retro Scan ] Benj’s 1992 Christmas List

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Scan of Benj Edwards 1992 Christmas Xmas List 1992Seems like I wanted a computer

My father passed away in 2013, and since then, I have been slowly going through his possessions, including his papers, to take stock of what’s there and put things in order.

Last year, in the back of a tall metal file cabinet, I found a manila folder labelled “Christmas Lists.” Amazingly, it contained many of my handwritten childhood Christmas lists, addressed to both Santa and my parents. It was very touching to find. I had no idea my father had saved them.

Among these papers, I found this gem from 1992 (I pinpointed the date easily because I remember which year I wanted to get a Prodigy client set). I was 11 years old. That was also the first year I started my BBS.

Unlike my richly illustrated Christmas list from 1989, this one is all text. Among items like ‘G.I. Joe guy,’ a giant Hulk figure, and a snare drum, we find gems such as ‘Nintendo Game Genie,’ the aforementioned ‘Prodogy’ (sic), and “#1 gift! A COMPUTER!!!”

(I’m pretty sure the $15 was a joke.)

At the time, I was using a dreadfully slow monochrome IBM PS/2 Model 25 (with an 8086 CPU) to run my new BBS (that my dad had bought new around 1987), so I’m pretty sure that was the main reason I wanted a computer.

I didn’t get a new computer that Christmas. I think my dad bought me my first non-hand-me-down PC around 1994. But I did get a Prodigy connection kit, and you can read more about that in this classic post. And of course, best of all, I was surrounded by my loving, supportive family in a stable home. It was a great Christmas.

I was a lucky kid, and I am very grateful that my family encouraged me to explore what I loved. I plan to do that for my kids as well.

I hope all of you out there have a very Merry Christmas.

[ From Benj’s Christmas List (Vol. 2, Chapter I), 1992 ]

Discussion Topic: Have you ever received a computer for Christmas? Tell us about the first one.

Huge Gallery of Prodigy MadMaze Screenshots Now on Flickr

Friday, April 7th, 2017

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.

[ Retro Scan ] WorldsAway Mousepad

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

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?

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

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

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, https://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)

The Lost Civilization of Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems

Monday, November 7th, 2016

The Cave BBS Logoff ANSI by Nukemaster

Last Friday, The Atlantic published an article I wrote in which I explore modern-day dial-up BBSes.

Some of you may remember that I’ve visited this topic before — on this very blog — way back in 2006. In my recent virtual travels, I found it very interesting to see how things in the dial-up BBS space had changed over ten years, and I allude to that in my Atlantic article.

I’ve mentioned this many times before, but for those of you who are unfamiliar, I ran a dial-up BBS called “The Cave BBS” between 1992 and 1998. Since 2005, I have also run a telnet version of The Cave.

To read more about my BBS adventures, check out the “BBS History” category on VC&G.

[ Retro Scan ] My First Website Setup Email

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Benj's first website setup email scan - 1995“Don’t give your password out.” Oops!

21 years ago today, I received this email from Mike Leber of Hurricane Electric, a company that rented out web hosting space, among other services (in fact, they’re still in business).

Since it was a setup email describing how to utilize my first-ever website space, it was important enough for me to print out on my nifty Canon BubbleJet printer. That’s what you see scanned here. I probably have the original email too in electronic form sitting around somewhere.

You’ll also notice that I wrote down a convoluted URL (in which I wrote a strange “(e)” after the “.com” — perhaps I was confused), which turns out to have one pointed to a ghost hunting website. I was big into that stuff back then (I was 14 at the time, if that explains anything). The Purdue email address scrawled in pencil probably has something to do with that as well.

Reading through this old email is fun today. System resources were relatively scarce back then, so the rules about what you could do with your minuscule web space were pretty strict. I particularly enjoy the “MUDS will not be tolerated” line. And the thing about calculating the mass of an electron.

Late last year, I wrote a big article about the process of creating this website (which I called “The Schmeli Caborgan”) for FastCompany. I also wrote about my first ISP, Nando.Net, in a Retro Scan post earlier this year.

[ From Benj Edwards personal email printout, August 16, 1995 ]

Discussion Topic: When did you set up your first website?

[ Retro Scan ] DWANGO Online Service

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

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)