Archive for September, 2007

New Fairchild Channel F Prototypes Discovered

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Fairchild Channel F[ In Jonathan Signor’s first contribution to VC&G, he describes an incredible find that any collector of vintage games can appreciate. ]

For those of us who strive to remember or rediscover vintage computers and video games, it is rewarding to see how far we have come in such a short amount of time. However, this hobby has one disadvantage: you generally can’t walk into a used game store and find an obscure, twenty year-old title. You must go out of your way (and usually pay a hefty price) to find something interesting.

Fairchild Channel F Games in CaseI keep track of the Computer, Electronics, and Toys “For Sale” listings of my local Craigslist through RSS feeds of each section. A few weeks ago I saw someone was selling a Fairchild Channel F, with 25 games and game carry case. I emailed the seller and we set up a place and time to meet. He advised me that the Channel F wasn’t working at the time, but I still wanted to buy the system and add it to my collection. Since I didn’t know much about the Channel F at the time, I didn’t really pay too much attention to what games were included.

[ Continue reading New Fairchild Channel F Prototypes Discovered » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] 100 Megabytes: $45,700

Monday, September 24th, 2007
Morrow Designs Hard Disk Advertisement

This isn’t the first time VC&G has featured an expensive vintage hard disk, and it should be no surprise to any computer user that computer storage media prices have been decreasing in price exponentially since they were invented. But it’s still fun to marvel at the former cost of what we take for granted today.

Take this ad for a 10 megabyte Morrow Designs Winchester disk drive: the lowest capacity unit sold for $3,695 (US), which is equivalent to $8,451.63 in 2007 dollars. The ad says you could bundle together four of their 26 megabyte hard drives for a total of 104 megabytes. The cost? $19,980, which translates to a stunning $45,700.57 in 2007 dollars. To put that into perspective, $45,700 could buy you roughly 120 terabytes of consumer-level hard drive storage today — 1,153,846 times more space than in 1981.

Nowadays you can sneeze and blow 104 megabytes off into space without realizing it. In 1981, 104 megabytes could crush you to death.

[ From BYTE, January 1981 ]

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.

“Smiley” Emoticon Turns 25

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Smiley Emoticon Turns 25According to the Associated Press, the smiley emoticon, i.e. :-), turns twenty-five years old tomorrow. Scott E. Fahlman created and introduced the symbol on a Carnegie Mellon BBS in a message dated 11:44 AM on September 19, 1982. The online world has been littered with the smiley and its prolific progeny ever since.

Although I have friends that swear off emoticons, I am definitely guilty of ample smiley usage over the last fourteen years. I typically use the concatenated, sans-nose version, :), which is quicker to type. The smiley is an important, albeit understated, tool for easing tensions during heated discussions, or for simply conveying a bit of happiness through a text-based digital medium. Interestingly enough, Fahlman first proposed the smiley as a way to denote jokes in a discussion about online humor. You can read Fahlman’s original message on Carnegie Mellon’s Smiley website.

The Smiley Family

In tribute to the birth of the smiley, I present to you now a thoroughly incomplete list of smileys plucked from the wilds of the Internet. Check out “The Canonical Smiley List” if you’d like to see more.

The Basic Smileys
    :-)     The standard smiley
    :-(     Sad smiley
    ;-)     Winking smiley
    :-P     Sticking tongue out
    8-)     Cool smiley wearing shades
    :-o     Shocked smiley
    :-D     Big grin
Some Caricatures
    =):-)    Uncle Sam
    :-)B     Dolly Parton
    :-.)     Madonna
    :/7)     Cyrano de Bergerac
       )     Cheshire Cat
     o-)     Cyclops
    =:o]     Bill Clinton
    B-|      Batman
    =*0      Felix the Cat
Specialized Smileys
    /:-)     With a beret
    d:-)     With a baseball hat
    {:-)     Hair parted down the middle
    }:-)     With toupee in an updraft
    (-)      Needs a haircut
    `:-)     One eyebrow raised
    %-\      Hungover
    %*@:-(   So hungover my head hurts...
    X-(      Just died

Feel free to share your own favorite smileys with us. Keep in mind, though, that this blog software intercepts certain smileys and turns them into little yellow graphical faces.

Watch The Computer Chronicles Online

Monday, September 17th, 2007

The Computer ChroniclesFrom 1983 – 2002, Stewart Cheifet hosted The Computer Chronicles, a public television show devoted to important topics in the field of personal computing. Now viewers can download or stream 560 episodes of the series on their computers from the Internet Archive, with episodes devoted to everything from the Original Macintosh (1984) to the Y2K bug (2000).

I’ve watched a few episodes myself, and they provide a unique contemporary view into the world of vintage computing when it was still the cutting edge. Many of the episodes are co-hosted by the late Gary Kildall, so you rabid Killdall fans out there will quickly get your fill. Go check it out; I highly recommend it.

[ Retro Scan Special Edition ] Keith Courage in Alpha Zones Mini Comic

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Keith Courage in Alpha Zones Mini Comic - Page 1In 1989, the TurboGrafx-16 made its American debut with a lackluster pack-in title, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. Included within the Keith Courage game was an approximately 4.5″ x 4.5″, eight page mini comic book setting the story for the game.

Keith Courage was originally based on a Japanese cartoon called Spirit Hero Wataru, but, in line with conventional thinking of the day, NEC felt that the crazy Japanese story needed to be dumbed down for American audiences. Let’s take a look.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan Special Edition ] Keith Courage in Alpha Zones Mini Comic » ]

Name That Stuff: Benj’s Computer Room in 1996

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Benj Edwards' Computer Room Floor in 1996Yep. Some things never change.

Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of my heretofore mostly forgotten digital archives comes this rare look into my collecting past. I shot this with a video camera and a Snappy Video Snapshot, which was an early still-frame video capture device that attached to a PC’s parallel port. Behold the floor of my computer room circa November 1996, as it lay covered with a diverse mixture of vintage computer and video game equipment.

Pop quiz! Study the picture. How many items and accessories can you name by manufaturer or model? Bonus points to anyone who manages to name the early XT clone on the left.

VC&G Comment Issue Fixed

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Vintage Computing and Gaming LogoI wondered why you guys were so quiet lately. Turns out there was a problem with the comment system on this blog that made the comment submission process appear to hang (it actually worked if you waited long enough, but it was a long time). The issue seems to be fixed now, so comment away. I love to hear from VC&G’s readers; it’s the main reason I do this blog. So thanks for sticking with me. I hope to hear much more from you guys in the future.

P.S. If something like this happens again, please email me ASAP.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Eight Ways to Play Q*Bert

Monday, September 10th, 2007
Parker Brothers Q*Bert Advertisement

And you thought EA Games held the record for simultaneous multi-platform game publication. Ha! Back in my day, you had yer Atari 5200, yer TI-99/4a, yer Atari 400/800/600XL, yer Intellivision, yer Commodore Vic-20, yer Atari 2600, yer Commodore 64, and yer Colecovision. And we liked it.

[ From Personal Computing, December 1983 ]

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.

VC&G Review: Classic Game Room DVD

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Classic Game Room DVD CoverEver heard of an Internet TV show called The Game Room? If not, then don’t fret. The show, hosted by Mark Bussler and David Crosson, streamed from an obscure website called for just under a year, between November 1999 and October 2000. Even as an active member of the classic gaming community on the Internet since 1995, I had never heard of the show until Inecom’s facetiously-subtitled Classic Game Room: The Rise and Fall of the Internet’s Greatest Video Game Review Show popped up recently. This flawed comedy compilation definitely entertains, but it’s clearly destined for the back shelf of a niche audience.

[ Continue reading VC&G Review: Classic Game Room DVD » ]

Great Moments in Shareware: ZZT

Monday, September 3rd, 2007


Read any popular game publication these days, and you’ll probably come across ample mention of Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, the 3D powerhouse behind blockbuster first-person shooters like Bioshock and Gears of War. Believe it or not, one of today’s hottest game engines traces its roots back to a 2D text-based game programmed by a University of Maryland college student during the golden age of shareware.

Tim Sweeney founded Potomac Computer Systems in 1991 with the release of ZZT, a graphical ASCII character-based game that ran on a simple object-oriented platform programmed by Sweeney. With an in-game editor, Sweeney created multiple ZZT episodes that he sold to finance the new company. Luckily, Sweeney didn’t limit the in-game editor to himself; it featured prominently on the title screen of the free shareware edition. Much to Sweeney’s surprise, the editor itself soon became the most popular part of ZZT, allowing players to create their own games in the ZZT engine. Potomac changed its name to Epic MegaGames, and a shareware giant was born.

ZZT Title Screen ZZT Game Screen ZZT Board Editor ZZT-OOP Code

A large community of rabid ZZT fans still thrives thanks to the Internet, where enthusiasts trade nostalgia, user-made games, and the latest attempts to squeeze every last drop out of the ZZT engine through emergent programming techniques. For example, clever world builders have managed to reproduce just about every major 2D game genre — even genres the engine wasn’t designed for — in ZZT‘s editor, albeit in primitive forms. For modern ZZT fans, the game’s fun lies not only in playing the community’s user-created games, but in the challenge of creating new and unexpected things with a simple set of tools and components.

The original shareware package of ZZT only included one game: Town of ZZT, a whimsical adventure created by Sweeney that calls upon a player’s action and puzzle-solving skills. But in the late 1990s, Epic released all of Sweeney’s classic ZZT episodes as freeware, so you’ll find those worlds in the file below as well, including Dungeons of ZZT.

Have fun. Feel free to share your fond ZZT memories (or latest ZZT exploits) with the rest of us.

(Update – 05/25/2009: If you love ZZT, check out this interview I conducted with its creator, Tim Sweeney.)

ZZT 3.2
Release Date: 1991
Author: Tim Sweeney (Epic MegaGames)
Platform: MS-DOS
Runs Best On: Any 286 PC or faster with MS-DOS
Includes full Town, City, Caves, and Dungeons of ZZT episodes. ZZT runs pretty well on modern computers under Windows. You might also want to try running the game under DOSBox. Uses the PC speaker for sound.
– Download ZZT 3.2 – (175KB)