Archive for June, 2010

Inside the Amiga 1000 (25th Anniversary)

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Inside the Amiga 1000 on PC World

Commodore first shipped the legendary Amiga 1000 in July of 1985 — twenty-five years ago. In honor of the Amiga’s birthday, I did what comes natural to Benjs of all sorts: I took one apart. And I did it for PC World, making this the tenth entry in my “workbench series” of tech autopsies.

Giving the Amiga 1000 its place in the limelight is only fair because I took apart its arch-nemesis, the Atari 1040STf, back in March (the ST series also turned 25 this year).

I hope you enjoy it. When you’re done, I encourage you — no, urge you — to share your fondest Amiga memories in the comments below.

Here are my previous workbench teardowns, if you’re interested: Atari 1040STf, Atari 800, Commodore 64, Nintendo Game Boy, Nintendo Famicom, Apple IIc, IBM Model M Keyboard, TRS-80 Model 100, and Macintosh Portable.

Mr. Wizard Explains the Atari 1200XL (Somewhat Badly)

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

You remember Mr. Wizard’s World, right? It was a light science show for kids that aired on Nickelodeon in the 1980s. On one episode, Mr. Wizard took a peek inside the Atari 1200XL with his usual juvenile accompaniment. Here’s a clip.

The real fun begins as Mr. Wizard tries to explain the function of a row of eight chips on the motherboard around 1:40 into the segment. He quickly lapses into apparent nonsense:

You see these eight all here? This is an eight bit computer. You’ve heard of that? OK. Each one of these sends a, uh, byte off to the screen and, uh, each little dot has to have a signal from each one of those.

I probably don’t have to tell you this, but that’s not how the Atari 1200XL works. This is Internet, though, so I’ll explain it. Those eight chips are RAM chips, and their exact quantity in any computer is mostly independent of the CPU’s word size (i.e. 8-bit, 16-bit).

The fact the Atari’s CPU is 8-bit and that it contains eight RAM chips is a coincidence that apparently confused Mr. Wizard. The 1200XL had 64KB of RAM, so those are likely 8KB chips (8KB x 8 chips = 64KB). To make up the same amount of RAM, Atari could have used (for example) four 16KB chips or sixteen 4KB chips.

The rest of his explanation for those eight chips doesn’t make any sense either. But hey, it’s Mr. Wizard! Other than that, he does a pretty good job showcasing the 1200XL in a kid-show context. The joystick-sans-stick demonstration is classic Mr. Wizard fare — he’d always change things around and make you think about an issue in an unexpected way. That was his genius.

I loved Mr. Wizard’s World dearly as a kid. In fact, I learned many basic physics principles from that show. We could really use someone like him again.

P.S. If you like Mr. Wizard as much as I do, watch him on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1982.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Paul Revere’s Midnight Modem

Monday, June 28th, 2010

U.S. Robotics Password Modem Ad - 1984Apparently Paul Revere owned a secret power plant in 1775.

[ From Personal Computing, May 1984, p.194 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How fast was your first modem? What year did you get it?

[ Fuzzy Memory ] Interactive Comic Book

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Fuzzy MemoryEvery once and a while, I receive emails from people looking for a certain game, electronic toy, or computer from their distant past. I then pass it on to intrepid VC&G readers to crack the case.

The Clues

Jim writes:

Let me start by saying how wonderful your site is. Sure does bring back a lot of memories, thanks.

The game I’m looking for was played on my C64 (maybe the 128, but pretty sure it was the 64). The time period was the late 1980’s. I remember the game being called an “interactive comic book”. You played the game by being one of the 3 (I think this is the number) main characters in the book. Depending on what you did, the other characters would react to your actions. You could also “switch” to any of the other characters and play the game from their positions.

Kind of a vague description, but that’s about all I can remember about the game. I really hope that someone remembers what it is that I’m talking about.

– Jim

The Search Begins

It’s up to you to find the object of Jim’s fuzzy memory. Post any thoughts or suggestions in the comments section below. Jim will be monitoring the comments, so if you need to clarify something with him, ask away. Good luck!

Have a memory of a computer, video game, computer software, or electronic toy you need help identifying? Send me an email describing your memories in detail. Hopefully, the collective genius of the VC&G readership can help solve your mystery.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Tiger

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Tiger Manual Cover - 1997The original touch-screen game system.

Pop quiz: which video game console first featured a touch screen? (Hint: It’s not the Nintendo DS.) How about this one: Which handheld console first supported Internet connectivity?

Believe it or not, Tiger Electronics — a toy company famed for its cheap electronic games — came in first on both counts with the in 1997. (Sega Saturn was the first home console to support Internet in 1996).

I was a early adopter, having bought one close to its release. The wonder of its primitive touch screen alone seemed to make up for its deficiencies at the time, so I was pleased at first. The unit shipped with a built-in version of Klondike Solitaire and a Lights Out game cartridge, both of which showed off the system’s touch capabilities well. But my infatuation with the turned out to be brief.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Tiger » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AT&T VideoPhone 2500

Monday, June 14th, 2010

AT&T VideoPhone 2500 Page in 1992 Sears Wishbook - 1992“Discover a new way to ‘Reach out and touch someone!'”

AT&T launched the VideoPhone 2500 in 1992 with high hopes that it would finally bring video calling to the masses. Ultimately, it fared no better than AT&T’s previous attempts at commercial video phones, all of which exited the market quickly after their introduction.

For $1599.99 ($2,486.19 in 2010 dollars), you received a single phone unit that could send audio and color video (at up to ten frames per second) simultaneously over a regular phone line. It worked its magic through a 19.2 kbps data stream, which is minuscule by today’s standards, but was state of the art in 1992. Unfortunately, the video functionality of the VideoPhone 2500 was useless without another $1599.99 phone to interact with — perhaps the fatal flaw in AT&T’s plan.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of video telephone technology, check out my latest Technologizer slideshow, 132 Years of Videophones.

[ From Sears Great American Wishbook, 1992, p.714A ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you owned an easy-to-use videophone device — and everyone else had one — how often do you think you’d use its video functionality?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Nintendo Scratch-Off Cards

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Double Dragon Nintendo Game Packs Scatch-Off Game Card Front - 1989He soon landed with an embarrassing splash.

This Double Dragon scratch-off game card came from a pack of Topps “Nintendo Game Pack” cards that I bought, likely in a drugstore, circa 1989. Of all the cards in the pack, this one remains unscratched for whatever reason. Perhaps I wanted to preserve the mystery and potential of a single unscratched scratch-off card. After all, the cards become worthless and ugly after you impart jaggy scratch lines all over those silver little pads.

Double Dragon Nintendo Game Packs Scatch-Off Game Card Back - 1989

The reason Nintendo and the scratch-off concept share the same milieu is that each card presents the owner with a game of sorts. Once you scratch a pad, you reveal a graphical symbol that determines your fate depending on the directions printed on the back of the card. In this case, you need “1 arrow and 2 kicks or 3 elbows or 4 punches” to win. I’m not sure how many variations of the symbols Topps printed under those silver pads, but I hope there was more than one. Otherwise, if you had multiple copies of the same card, the “game” might have unfolded in exactly the same way if you scratched the same pads.

Nintendo Game Packs cards featured Super Mario Bros., Punch-Out!!, and The Legend of Zelda as well, although those were too irresistible for me to not scratch off, so none survive in tact in my collection.

A number of websites examine these cards in more detail. This one has scans of all the cards in the series. Another one features photos of the stickers that came with each pack of cards — I remember plastering those all over my walls as a kid. I may have a couple of the uglier stickers left un-peeled somewhere. If I ever find them, I’ll probably just burn them as an offering to Hgnagg, the God of Nostalgia.

[ From Topps Nintendo Game Packs Trading Cards, circa 1989 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you collect trading cards as a kid? What kind(s)?

[ Fuzzy Memory ] Thy Character is Too Powerful

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Fuzzy MemoryEvery once and a while, I receive emails from people looking for a certain game, electronic toy, or computer from their distant past. I then pass it on to intrepid VC&G readers to crack the case.

Our latest Fuzzy Memory seems similar to our last one in some respects (a top-down D&D like game with RPG elements), but hails from an earlier time. Can you help Aaron figure out what it is?

[ Continue reading [ Fuzzy Memory ] Thy Character is Too Powerful » ]

The Evolution of Video Game Media

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

The Evolution of Video Game Media on

A few days ago, PC World published my latest slideshow, The Evolution of Video Game Media. Many people probably missed it due to Memorial Day weekend, but I’m here to remind you that it exists. It’s the third in my “Evolution” series of slideshows after “Evolution of the Cell Phone” and “The Evolution of Removable Storage.”

For this slideshow, I scanned every type of video game storage media I have — about 66 different cartridges, optical discs, and magnetic disks in all. I visually presented all of these formats to scale with each other between slides so you can get a sense of the size of each. While I included media from a majority of the video game systems ever released, I didn’t include every single one.

A large portion of the text was cut in edits for this slideshow (it’s hard to squeeze a lot of info into a small caption space), so I plan to publish the full text along with the images at a higher quality on VC&G at some point in the future. I hope you enjoy it.