Archive for the 'News & Current Events' Category

Vintage Computing and Gaming Turns 15

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoGreetings, fellow retro tech fans. 15 years ago today, I launched Vintage Computing and Gaming. The origins of the site have been well-covered elsewhere, so I’ll spare you the rehash.

While I haven’t updated the site all that much over the past five years (since our big 10th anniversary celebration back in 2015), I still thought it would be nice to mention this anniversary. As you can see, VC&G is still online, and we still gets lot of legacy traffic from our old posts. In particular, I feel that this site’s archive of comments are a priceless historical record of people’s memories of the past. The server still costs money to keep running, and generous folks on Patreon make that possible without advertisements.

And even though I only post on VC&G a few times a year these days, the site is still not dead. Our patron saint Steve Wozniak recently posted on the site, marking a sort of full-circle fulfillment of how much my career has changed since I started the site 15 years ago. Back then, I had no idea I’d still be talking and writing about vintage computers and retrogaming 15 years later, or that it would became a career path. It’s mind-boggling to think of all the historical tech achievements that have taken place in the past 15 years, and now this site itself is vintage.

Benj Edwards in 2006So what’s next for VC&G? I’m not quite sure yet. I plan to keep it up as long as I can, and I’ll post on it when I have something to share that I can’t post anywhere else. For example, I’ve recently been experimenting with setting up the TTL RGB input on one of my old monitors. I might put some of that info on here at some point so it doesn’t get lost. And my wife wants me to try doing some YouTube some day. Not sure when I’ll ever do it (and the topic is so well-covered by others), but if I do, you’ll hear about it on this site.

Other than that, it seems retrogaming and vintage computing are both covered very well all over the Internet now (on YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Discord, and more), unlike back in 2005, so I don’t feel like the world needs VC&G as much as it did then. But this site has served its purpose, and the old posts and scans still continue to serve as a valuable historical resource for people. I don’t know why but I almost felt a tear well up inside this old vintage head of mine.

Anyway, if anyone is still out there and still reading this site, thanks for sticking with VC&G for so long. I’m grateful to have had you along on this 15-year journey. If you have the time, I’d love to hear some of your memories about your favorite VC&G posts of the past in the comments. Happy Birthday, Vintage Computing and Gaming!

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.

Life in the Age of COVID-19

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020


How is everyone doing out there? We’re living through historic times, with most of the world on lockdown due to COVID-19 (AKA novel coronavirus).

My family and I have been staying at home since early March. We stocked up on supplies in February when it seemed things were getting really bad in China, so we’ve been ok regarding food. We’ve also received some supplemental grocery deliveries every few weeks. We typically buy non-perishables and let them sit for a few days before touching them, then wash them off before using. Any perishables get a scrub down immediately then sit quarantined in a bag in the fridge. Checking the mail involves surgical gloves and a multi-day quarantine in a safe spot before opening.

We’re fortunate enough to have a large enough house and a big enough yard that we don’t get cabin fever too badly. The weather has been nice in general, so me and the kids have spent a lot of our free time outside catching toads, gardening, and repeatedly washing the pollen off of everything.

And every night since it came out, I’ve been playing a little bit of Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Switch. It’s a fun diversion.

Since February 10th, I’ve worked for How-To Geek as a Staff Writer. It’s a work from home job, so not much has changed there — I work 8 hours a day Monday-Friday. The kids have mostly left me alone, but it can be stressful. Luckily, my wife has kept them busy. They just recently started doing online schoolwork, and that has been a stressful adventure unto itself. But I think they will soon get into the rhythm of it.

I hope everyone out there stays healthy and safe during these strange times. They’re not permanent; We will get through this, and I hope we will all be wiser and kinder for having lived through the experience.

Discussion Topic: How are you and your family coping during these times? Have you played any games or used any old computers to keep yourself busy?

Larry Tesler (1945-2020)

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

Larry TeslerIn Memoriam: Lawrence G. “Larry” Tesler (1945-2020),
inventor of Copy/Paste at Xerox PARC, member of Apple Lisa team,
human-computer interaction expert

Tesler was a giant in the field of human-computer interaction, having pioneered modeless interfaces at Xerox PARC and carried those over to Apple as part of the Lisa team. While at PARC, he and Timothy Mott created a text editor called Gypsy that included the first implementation of the now-common Copy and Paste features for moving blocks of information easily within a document. According to Robert Scoble, Tesler was also on the committee at Apple that decided to re-hire Steve Jobs in the mid-1990s. He will be missed.

Atari 800 Turns 40

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

Atari 800 FastCompany Article by Benj Edwards

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Atari 400 and Atari 800 home computers — Atari released them in the fall of 1979.

(Many sources say November 1979, but I found some newspaper references to retailers having them in stock in October 1979.)

To celebrate the birthday of my favorite computer and game machine, I investigated the story behind its creation for FastCompany. I threw in some personal nostalgia and vintage photos of my older brother using an Atari for good measure.

Forty years ago, Atari released its first personal computers: the Atari 400 and 800. They arrived in the fall of 1979 after a prerelease marketing campaign that had begun the previous January when the company unveiled the machines at what was then called the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Then as now, “Atari” was synonymous with “video game,” and the new machines packed more technological potential than any game console at the time, with custom graphics and sound chips, support for four joysticks or eight paddles, and the ability to play games on cartridge, cassette, or disk. At launch, one of the machines’ first games, Star Raiders, defined cutting-edge home entertainment.

To research the piece, I spoke in depth with former Atari engineer Joe Decuir and former Atari software evangelist Chris Crawford (also a game designer best known for Eastern Front: 1941 and Balance of Power). Crawford is a fascinating guy, and I should probably publish my full interview with him at some point.

I’ve been meaning to write a piece like this about the Atari 800 since 2009 when the console turned 30. (Read more about that on this post about my 30th anniversary teardown.) What can I say — I play the long game.

I hope you enjoy it — and Merry Christmas!

The VC&G Christmas Collection (2019 Edition)

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Vintage Computing and Gaming Christmas Xmas Megapost

It’s that time of year again: the Yuletide. Over the past eight years, I’ve been posting an annual collection of all the Christmas-related tech material I’ve written (both for this site and for others) into one place for easy reading. Below, you’ll find list of off-site Christmas slideshows, other features, and of course, plenty of Retro Scans of the Week.

This year, I updated the PC World/MacWorld/Techhive links to Archive.org WayBack Machine links. The images on all of my old PCWorld features are now sadly broken.

I have a soft spot for Christmas, having been raised with the tradition, so this list is for me as much as it is for everyone else. After going through these things again, it’s amazing to see how much Christmas stuff I’ve posted over the years. I hope you enjoy it.

[ Continue reading The VC&G Christmas Collection (2019 Edition) » ]

[ Retro Scan ] 9.9.99 – Dreamcast Turns 20 in America

Monday, September 9th, 2019

Sega Dreamcast 9.9.99 9/9/99 9_9_99 September 9 1999 American Launch advertisement scan - 1999Gaming used to be very painful

On September 9, 1999, Sega launched the Dreamcast in America. This is one of its pre-launch print ads.

20 years later, I am still not sure exactly how to interpret this advertisement. The tagline in the corner seems the most obvious part. To me, “it’s thinking,” implied that the Dreamcast packed a powerful CPU and could generate complex gaming experiences.

But the screaming, eye-pain stuff? At the time, video game advertisement in the US leaned toward cryptic and edgy. This was drumming up interest for a launch date, so it threw in some mystery, not even naming the console itself.

But if taken literally, the ad makes it look like playing games on this upcoming console could be a painful or negative experience. Somehow marketers calculated that dark and painful imagery attracted American gamers. What this cultural masochism says about American gamers, I am not sure. That’s a deep one to unravel.

I didn’t like the ad much at the time. But I was hyped for the Dreamcast launch, so maybe it worked.

9.9.99

1999 was a big year for me. In June, I graduated high school and started my first full-time job. A month later, I moved out of my parents’ house. I had money to burn, my own bank account, my own credit card. So I did what came naturally to an 18 year-old at the time: I bought a Sega Dreamcast. It was one of the highlights of my adult life — a symbol of independence.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan ] 9.9.99 – Dreamcast Turns 20 in America » ]

I’ve Been Building Joysticks

Monday, November 26th, 2018

Benj's Joysticks in Mid-September 2018

Since August 1st of this year, I’ve been building and selling custom joysticks through Twitter. This small venture has been an unexpected success.

People love them, and that makes me very happy. I’ve sold about 140 so far, and I’ve built and shipped about 100 all around the world.

The past few months have been a wild ride, and I’d like to tell you some about it.

The Highest Quality Parts

Benj Edwards BX Foundry JoysticksThe basic concept behind every joystick I’ve made so far is simple: bring the best quality arcade parts to home consoles and computers.

I’ve been using Japanese arcade joysticks and buttons from Sanwa Denshi, a firm that makes some of the best arcade assemblies in the world.

The results have been incredible. Games I thought previously unplayable are suddenly rendered fun, like lifting some kind of fog.

Mushy, worn out control pads have come between me and gaming for too long, and I had no idea. When you push a button or move the lever on one of my sticks, something happens. Every time. There is no blaming the controller for gaming failures.

That extra level of accuracy brings new life to older games. Especially on platforms that didn’t have great controllers to begin with. Figuring this out has made me want to share these joysticks with everybody. But let’s take a step back and see how this all got started.

[ Continue reading I’ve Been Building Joysticks » ]

Ted Dabney (1937-2018)

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Ted DabneyIn Memoriam: Samuel Frederick Dabney, Jr. (1937-2018),
co-founder of Syzygy and Atari

Samuel Frederick (“Ted”) Dabney, Jr., who co-founded Atari with Nolan Bushnell in 1972, died of esophageal cancer just three days ago. He was 81 years old.

I was not close with Ted, but I did interview him at length for articles about Computer Space and Pong back in 2011 and 2012. During our conversations, he was candid, detailed, kind, and very helpful. During my conversations with him, a lot of the details of early Atari history you can now read online were coming out of him for the first time, so he was a vital source of fresh information on that subject.

Ted did critical work as a partner of Nolan Bushnell in the early 1970s. He served as a creative sounding board for Nolan’s ambitious ideas and also as a key implementer of some of them.

Ted met Nolan around 1969 while working at Ampex, where they were office mates. They shared big dreams and secret sessions of the board game go while in the office, and in off-hours, they hung out and scouted locations for a new restaurant idea Bushnell had that involved talking barrels.

With Nolan at Syzygy Engineering, Dabney created the video control circuitry used in Computer Space, built the prototype cabinet for that game, designed its sound circuit, and more. On Pong, Dabney built the prototype cabinet and gave feedback to game designer Allan Alcorn. He also provided ideas for Atari’s third game, Space Race, before he left Atari in 1973.

There is some confusion about the reason Dabney left Atari. Dabney told me that Nolan forced him out. Bushnell commonly cites poor work performance as the reason Dabney left. Absent some documentary evidence, the real answer will always be one of those fuzzy historical points left to interpretation. What we do know for sure is that the two founders were no longer getting along.

(By the way, I have recently read some reports about Dabney that say he left Atari because he was angry that Nolan patented his motion control circuitry without including him on the patent. This is plainly false. Dabney did not even know that Nolan’s motion control patent existed until I informed him about it in a 2011 interview.)

A lot of the key info I gleaned from Dabney can be found in my 2011 piece on Computer Space, which is a primary source for some of the secondhand knowledge you’ll read about Dabney and Atari’s early days on the web. Some day I need to publish my full interview with Dabney on Pong, because it is very insightful.

It’s also worth noting that Dabney remained friends with Nolan throughout the 1970s despite the Atari business acrimony. They were never truly close like they were circa 1969-1972, but they still kept in touch, shared a hot tub or two, and Dabney created a trivia game for Nolan’s Pizza Time chain in the early 1980s.

I will miss talking to Ted. He was laid-back, easy going, and straightforward. He had so much skill and experience from his days before Atari, and I need to write about that some time. I had hoped to interview him again at some point, but life delayed those plans. May he rest in peace.