Thursday, January 31, 2013

1982 TRS-80 Product Catalog

Tandy's TRS-80 computer, lovingly called the "Trash-80" by aficionados, was an early home computer released in 1977, that same magical year that established the idea of computers in the home with the Commodore Pet and a little number called the Apple II.

Nothing quite gets the nostalgic fires burning as a product catalog.  So here we feature a link to a 1982 Radio Shack (owned by Tandy) catalog, profiling all the wonderful programs and games you could get for the system.  Not only is the content great, but the whole thing is presented in such a tactile way that your can almost feel your grubby hands sliding across the slick paper, drooling over the new games rolling in for your machine:

Click to see catalog

I also recommend checking out the whole site, Radio Shack Catalogs.  It is an astounding repository of promotional materials from Radio Shack's history, and you can't think of 70's electronics without harkening back to the Shack.

source: tetujin via Reddit

TRS-80 image used in social media hooks from Easterbilby's flickr stream.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Nolan Said: Who Was First?

There has been a long-standing debate between Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer as to who was the inventor of video games.  Speaking strictly chronologically, one would have to give the title to Baer, who developed a TV video game system at defense contractor Sanders Associates in 1968,  a system which was bought by Magnavox, named the Odyssey, and produced as a commercial home video game system in 1972.  Based on its novelty, the Odyssey sold fairly well but didn't exactly set the market on fire.  That same year, however, Bushnell founded Atari and produced Pong, a similar, coin-operated video ping-pong game who's runaway success firmly established the video game industry.  To muddy the waters further, there is evidence that Bushnell was influenced by Baer's invention when he conceived of Pong.

So for our purposes, we consider Baer to be the inventor of video games, and Bushnell to be the father of the video game industry.  Such semantics and differing definitions of which is what gets muddled as time advances on, and so we are left with sniping of the sort we see in today's What Nolan Said:

The quote is taken from an 2007 interview of Bushnell by the online arm of famed German newspaper Der Spiegel.  The link points to the English version of the interview.  The image is of Bushnell at the Bay Area Maker Faire in 2011, a festival celebrating invention and DIY culture hosted by Make magazine.  It comes from cclark395's flickr feed.

For more information on the early beginnings of the video game industry, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Video of Douglas Adams Demoing HHGTTG Game in 1985

When Douglas Adams paired with text adventure giant Infocom to do a computer game version of his much-beloved satirical SF book Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it seemed an idea too good to have come from the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy.  Infocom was the biggest player in the market, and Adams a computer-literate author who's works matched the sensibilities and episodic nature of the genre.  All the more so when Adams was matched with Infocom "IMP" or Implementor (what the company called its game designers) Steve Meretzky, author of some very Adamsy games for the company such as the Planetfall series.

So it came to pass that Infocom released the HHGTTG game for a myriad of home computer systems in 1984, and it was a huge success, a top-seller that dominated the game sales charts for months and became Infocom's best-selling product.  You can read more of the HHGTTG game's development and Douglas Adams' other major contributions to the video game landscape in a previous entry in this blog, written to celebrate what would have been his 60th birthday if not for his passing in 2001.

As for the video mentioned in the post title, here is Adams demonstrating the electronic version of his novel on the U.K. TV show Micro Live.  He very cheerfully points out how diabolically obtuse and unfair his game is, as well as takes the host through the opening passages of it:

For more information on the history of Infocom and its seminal text adventure Zork, consult your local Dot Eaters article:

source: Anna Black, via The Galamoon retrogaming Daily

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Meme: A Pac of Flowers

If it's Monday, it must be another video game retromeme:

via Facebook page The Secret to Humor is Surprise

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Website Featuring Ultima Remakes

Ultima: The Reconstruction is a website listing known remakes of Ultima, the classic RPG series by Lord British (Richard Garriott).  Some of the projects are abandoned, some are in active development, and some are completed.  One or two are homegrown engines, but most are mods or reskins that require having the computer versions of games such as Dungeon Siege or Oblivion.

All of them, however, are loving testaments to one of the most revered RPG series of all time.

Ultima: The Reconstruction:

For more information on Ultima, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Soundcloud List of Classic Video Game Music Remakes

Musician Jeff McGowan has a large list of video game music he has remade on his SoundCloud stream, and the results are fantastic.  The service is free of charge, so you have nothing to lose to check them out, and your ears have everything to gain by listening to some great interpretations of some wonderful music.

You can check out Jeff's stream here:

thanks to 7upbottle, via Reddit

Friday, January 25, 2013

Conan Mocks Atari Bankruptcy

Sure, the recent bankruptcy of what was left of pioneering video game company Atari was sad, but who says we can't kick 'em while they're down?  So thinks Conan O'Brien, with this jab from his TBS show.  The bit would be even more cutting, if it wasn't on TBS.  Zing!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nintendo Offering Classic Games in the Wii U eShop for $0.30.

This July, the NES, or the Famicom as it was known in Japan, will turn 30.  To commemorate this event, Nintendo is offering a game a month at the apropos price of 30 cents, up to and including July.

Here is the list:

Jan - Balloon Fight (NES)
Feb - F-Zero (SNES)
Mar - Punch-Out! Featuring Mr. Dream (NES)
Apr - Kirby's Adventure (NES)
May - Super Metroid (SNES)
Jun - Yoshi (NES)
Jul - Donkey Kong (NES)

They are the full versions of each game.  Pick up one of these classics each month on the Wii U eShop and get yourself psyched for the summer celebrations!

via and post it gamer

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Nolan Said: Needs vs. Wants.

Nolan Bushnell founded Atari, and when he left the company he tried his hand at a myriad of start-up attempts.  He had a particular obsession with robotics, from developing the animatronic animals in his Pizza Time Theatre restaurant chain, to household robot company Androbot, to the Axlon company responsible for the oddball scheme he is shilling here in the picture used for today's What Nolan Said:

The picture is of Bushnell presenting a "Petster" to a crowd at the New York Toy Fair in 1985.  You can see the Catster version rolling around at the bottom of the image; they also released a dog, hamster and even spider edition of the toys.  The idea was to sell robotic animals to people who want to have a pet, but don't care for the shedding or the pooping or the bringing of dead mice to the door as an offering to the master.  At the time, Bushnell was barking up the wrong tree, and the prohibitively priced Petster line went nowhere.  Petster did, however, help sow the seeds for spatially aware household robotics such as the Roomba and other robotic vacuum cleaners.

In the picture, even Nolan seems perplexed he's standing there trying to sell the idea that people would have this particular want.  I'll leave you with a TV spot showing the Petster in action:

For more information on Bushnell and the foundation of Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

source:  Computer Entertainment magazine, "Bulletin Board, Bushnell's Pet Project", pg. 8 June 1985

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Ad Game: Pre-Internet

Our ad today serves up an ad for a service that gave many people their first taste of electronic mass communication: CompuServe.  Back in the "good" old days, you had a couple of options if you wanted to go online: a local dial-up BBS, or a nationwide equivalent like CompuServe, one of the larger players in the forming market.  Here is the ad, from a 1985 issue of Compute's Gazette:

The "videotex" mentioned in the copy was an early system to deliver interactive text to users.  It's funny to me how the base uses of the Internet were all understood and ready to be delivered to a potential user base: news, banking, online shopping, email, games... all the concepts of what we do on the Internet today.  Of course, CompuServe has to couch things in a way people of the 80's would understand, so they compare their chat service to a "multi-channel CB simulator".  10-4 good buddy!  I'm also impressed by the image of a Zardoz-type video warrior armed with not only a hand blaster, but a light-sabre as well.  Guy's ready for a fight!

The CompuServe service still lingers on today as a web portal, in a collaboration between it and another prehistoric Internet fossil: Netscape.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Atari Files for Bankruptcy Protection

Founded by Nolan Bushnell and the maker of PONG, the arcade video game that established the industry in 1972, the Atari brand has bounced around more than the ball from its first title.

The latest iteration of the company was established in 2001, when Infrogrames Entertainment from France picked up the remains of Atari from the Hasbro bankruptcy proceedings, with the parent company eventually changing its name to Atari S.A. in 2009, the initials after the company name standing for "Societe Anonym", the French equivalent of Ltd..

The new entity had some success with titles such as Rollercoaster Tycoon, some disasters with games like the remake of Alone In the Dark, and accrued a massive amount of debt in a seemingly endless series of acquisitions.  In recent days, the U.S. division of Atari found its stride by abandoning the retail sector and concentrating on the hugely profitable, digitally distributed casual and mobile game markets. Therein lies the crux of this latest filing:  detaching itself from the drowning-in-debt French holding company, and striking out on its own with renewed investment capital in order to exploit the new freemium gaming economy.

Expect Atari to bounce back.  For more information on the beginnings of the company that started it all, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Monday Meme: New Games, Old Format

If it's Monday, it must be another video game retromeme:

via Cheezeburger

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Quote Mining: Dangerous Driving

Can you guess the controversial game this quote describes?


Saturday, January 19, 2013

GDC Marble Madness Postmortem Talk With Mark Cerny

Available at the GDC Vault is a wonderfully informative video of a talk game creator Mark Cerny gave in 2011 about his greatest work, Atari Games' Marble Madness.  This was a game I fell in love with in the arcades in 1984, with its M.C. Escher-esque graphics and dangerous-feeling physics.  Cerney gives a frank and entertaining talk about the immense technical challenges and innovations required to produce the game in the dying days of the arcade.

You can view the video at the GDC Vault here:

Marble Madness arcade marquee via

Friday, January 18, 2013

What Nolan Said: Dissing GTA

Nolan Bushnell helped to form the video game industry by creating Atari and PONG.  These days he's like the curmudgeonly neighbour who sits on his porch shaking his fist at people passing by and making pronouncements like in today's "What Nolan Said":

The quote is taken from yesterday's Bloomberg's "Inkblot" session with Bushnell, a kind of word-association interview they occasionally conduct. It's not too surprising that he would disparage Rockstar's notorious flagship title, as he has always shown a distaste for violence and sex in video games.  In a mini-interview conducted by Newsweek in 2003, Bushnell noted a rule under his tenure at Atari, that while a programmer could destroy tanks and cars in a game, never a human figure directly.  Perhaps this is his Mormonism peeking through.

During the Bloomberg interview, Bushnell's one-word response to an image of stacks of GTA IV cases was "Dystopian".

The Verge Offers a Lament to the Lost Arcade

The Verge has published a wonderfully written and presented paean to the video arcade on their website, titled "For Amusement Only: the life and death of the American arcade".

For me, thoughts of the dark, stuffy and endlessly bloopy and bleepy arcades of my youth are akin to an older generation thinking about drive-in restaurants with roller-skating waitresses, or sock hops.  It was a vibrant social scene that has all but gone extinct, although modern movements like Barcades are perhaps heralding a comeback for the idea of a place to gather and belly up to arcade game cabinets.

The Verge offers a thorough and thoroughly engaging history of the video arcade, one that should not be missed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Gravity of Not Pacman

Not Pacman, by Maurice Ltd., is an interesting take on the venerable dot eater formula.  It resembles the classic game, appropriates the sounds, but here the play is the thing.  Here, you don't play by moving Pac around directly, but spin the maze in which he and his dreaded ghost antagonists reside.  Gravity does the rest, and the characters roll around while you try to keep our yellow hero from tumbling into an enemy.

There are a few control options, including using joysticks or even a steering wheel if you have one, but I find I like the mouse option the best, spinning the maze clockwise and counter-clockwise by moving the mouse right or left.

What the game is really crying out for, of course, is a tablet version that uses accelerometer sensors to let you tilt the device to roll Pac-Man around.  Unfortunately, we only have Windows, OSX and Linux versions so far.  Also, you can only finish the maze once and then the game records your points and time taken to finish, then resets itself, so the goal currently is to finish in the fastest time.  But hey, it's free!  You can download the different versions of Not Pacman here at

Here's our video of gameplay using a mouse in the OSX version:

As always, for more information on the history of Pac-Man, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Wellspring of Violent Video Game Controversy

With all the summits and task forces currently considering stronger new gun control legislation in the U.S. and the possible reasons for the rash of mass shootings plaguing the country, how about a look back at where the controversy of video game violence began?

It dates back to 1976 and the release of Exidy's Death Race, an arcade video game loosely inspired by Roger Corman's ultra-violent B-movie Death Race 2000.  In Exidy's game, one or two players drove a vehicle around a playfield chasing running stick figures.  When a figure was hit, it would let out an electronic shriek and turn into a cross, creating a permanent obstacle for drivers to avoid.

Considered quaint by today's standards, Death Race caused a national debate on the cultural ramifications of the burgeoning video game market, was labelled "sick" and "depraved" by various groups, and of course enjoyed a healthy run in the arcades.

For more information on Death Race and its fallout, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

The Visual Cortex: Joust An Ad

Today the Visual Cortex hatches an ad for the Atari 2600 and 5200 versions of Williams' arcade hit Joust: 

Click to enlarge

Running in periodicals in 1984, it's short on actual screenshots of the game, and heavy on artist renditions of the action. I also find it humourous how it tries to sex-up the "beasts of the air" you fly in the game, the ostriches from the original arcade game.   The ad copy starts off with an unusual, confusing take on the classic opening words of the Star Wars movies:

Well, which is it?  Long ago, or a distant future?  Anyway, I don't think I want to purchase a game that spits eggs out of my TV screen, from whence evil, sharp-taloned dragons attack me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Imperial Stooges Slam U.S. Death Star Decision

It all started with a petition submitted to the U.S. government via the "We the People" website, designed to give voice to citizens about pressing matters to the people.  Any petition that receives at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days of being submitted will get an official response from the White House.

Of course, the idea of "pressing matters" differs among people, and so a petition to secure funding and begin construction of a Death Star, the moon-sized orbiting battle station first revealed in 1977's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, passed the response threshold with 34,435 signatures.  Hence, the Chief of the Science and Space Branch of the White House Office of Management and Budget Paul Shawcross issued an official statement of how such an appropriation of funds would be fiscally irresponsible ($850,000,000,000,000,000), not to mention immoral and the results easily destructible by a one-man starship.

Now in response to the response, the official Star Wars Blog has presented a PR release by the Galactic Empire, slamming Earth as primitive and cowardly.  I, for one, think we need to get cracking on updating the International Space Station.  Perhaps Lord Vader could think of some ways of motivating us to get back on a Death Star schedule.

Have You Referenced Atari In a Rap Song Today?

In recent days, popular Rap artists have discovered the ease of rhyming the word "Atari".  To wit:

Yeah I'm sorry, I can't afford a Ferrari
But that don't mean I can't get you there.
I guess he's an XBox and I'm more Atari
But the way you play your game ain't fair.
                                 Cee Lo Green - "Forget You"
She wanna go and party, she wanna go and party
Nigga, don't approach her with that Atari
Nigga, that ain't good game, homie, sorry.
                                 Kendrick Lamar - "Poetic Justice"

In a nice bit of synergy from the Atari company, they are taking advantage of this pop-culture phenomena to sell a line of headphones in the U.K..  Of course, the bad news is that every reference to the company name is in a negative light, playing on the obsolescence of Atari consoles.  But still, any pop-culture reference is a good reference, right?

Atari headphones page at HMV:

"I'm more Atari" T-shirt referenced in the social media hooks for this post available from Cee-Lo's website:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Witness an Ad for the Atari Jaguar Version of Doom

This is a holy-rolling TV spot from 1993 for id Software's seminal FPS game Doom, which I'm sure Atari had pinned as a system-selling port for their 64-bit Jaguar console.  I don't think you'd get away with selling a video game with such imagery these days.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Video Games as Penguin Book Covers

This tickles me. It's a gallery that presents some popular video games and re-imagines them as book covers in the style of Penguin classics.   They have the wonderfully abstract yet impactful feeling of the 60's.  Here's a taste, see if you can guess the classic third-person shooter it represents:

Imgur gallery of covers:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Can This Wizard Save Pinball?

From its modern incarnation with the advent of the flipper after WWII, pinball enjoyed a long run as the go-to electronic amusement pastime.  It lasted until the 70's, when the shimmering graphics and bloop and bleep siren call of video games lured players away from mechanical playgrounds to ephemeral worlds comprised of phosphors on a screen.

Pinball limped along, the market steadily shrinking until a few old warhorse manufacturers remained, companies like Williams, who attempted to resurrect  the genre with a daring video/pinball hybrid system in 1999 called Pinball 2000.  As detailed in the excellent documentary TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball (Two-Disc Set) , this gambled failed, Williams moved to the more lucrative slot machine market, and so pinball has languished as a niche collector's market.

But now former arcade operator and online pinball machine retailer "Jersey" Jack Guarieri has hopes to propel the silver ball back into public consciousness with a new machine of his own design, based on a slightly dated property... The Wizard of Oz.  Guarieri's sense of timing might be spot on though, riding the buzz of the upcoming Disney prequel to Wizard, Oz: The Great and Powerful.  Only time will tell if Guarieri is truly the wizard who can save pinball.

Slate has the story here:

via Digg

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Insert Coin. a Dazzling Animation Done Entirely With Coins

Talk about putting in your two cents!  Out of Sweden comes Insert Coin, a 4:27 minute short stop-motion video of coins being moved around to create retro-game images.  It is done by the A/V performance team Rymdreglage aka Ninja Moped, comprised of Daniel Larsson and Tomas Redigh.

The short is startlingly good, with a nifty chiptunes soundtrack.  Their YouTube channel has over a couple hundred other uploaded videos to enjoy as well.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Visual Cortex: Intellivision Attacks!

Today the Visual Cortex is sporting an Intellivision magazine ad, featuring the system's well-heeled attack dog, author George Plimpton.

Plimpton featured prominently in a series of attack ads by Mattel that highlighted their system's advanced graphics capability, especially when compared with the anemic visuals of their chief rival, Atari's VCS/2600 unit.  You might be excused for thinking, "Why Plimpton?".   Well, Plimpton came to national prominence as a kind of high-brow intellectual for the Budweiser set, a sportswriter who would poke fun at his high-falutin' ways by attempting to play sports at the pro level and then write about his haplessness.  So he was a pretty good fit for the Intellivision, which specialized in sports games like NFL Football and MLB Baseball that blew away the Atari versions in terms of both graphical quality and realistic gameplay.  Here is the ad:

Plimpton lets Atari have it.
These hard hitting attack ads irked Atari president Ray Kassar so much that he complained about the "unfairness" of the comparisons to the TV networks airing them and threatened legal action.  Eventually Atari would come out with their own version of the highly intellectual pitchman; a child dressed up in a suit and glasses who would  point out the versions of popular arcade games that were absent on the Intellivision.  Of course, Mattel then struck back with Plimpton schooling their own version of the pint-sized pitchman.

As a couple of bonuses, here is John Hodgman's spoof on the Plimpton ad, used to shill his own book The Areas of My Expertise in 2006,  as well as a link to Newground's hilarious (and fun to play) fake web-based ColecoVision game George Plimpton's Video Falconry, created in 2011.

Hodgman plays ball.

Click to play.

For more information on the Intellivision and the Great Mattel/Atari Video Game Wars, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Celebrity Video Game Ads

Phil Hartman hot under the collar
over Activision's Ice Hockey has a compilation page featuring a plethora of links to video game ads featuring celebrity spokespersons.  Everything from Carol Channel shilling Atari to William Shatner hawking the VIC-20 computer.  There's quite a few "before they were famous" moments, with Christian Bale dancing to Pac-Man cereal, and Jack Black espousing the daring tales of Pitfall Harry.

You can check them out here:


Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday Meme: Pac-Man Vs. Mario

If it's Monday, it must be another video game retromeme:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Quote Mining: One Giant Leap

Can you guess the epic 1983 platform game this quote is describing?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy Birthday Atari 7800!

 With the 27th anniversary of the proper launch of the Atari 7800 this month, here is a little retrospective on the console.

While the Atari 7800 might be historically viewed as a misfire on Atari's part, we can at least appreciate the console for what it is. The console was intended to get a headstart on the NES as Nintendo had already approached Atari and asked them if they wanted to handle distribution rights in North America for the console for them. While in retrospect this was a boneheaded move times were different and Atari was a self sufficient company who wanted to remain that way.

After some legal tussling the proper launch of the console was delayed until 1986 and in a somewhat questionable strategic move the 7800 launched with games that were developed 2 years before and as such seemed dated.

The POKEY poking around.
What about the console itself? It's an interesting beast being capable of playing 2600 software in addition to 7800 games. The hardware was similar to Atari's earlier systems in that it rendered in between scanlines. The audio hardware was also identical to the 2600 in the console itself but developers could include a POKEY sound chip in the cartridge to enhance the soundtrack of a game. The POKEY was a flexible chip that could be used for a few different things but was mostly used for music generation in the Atari 8-bit family.

What about the games? Unfortunately due to limited developer support the 7800 library pales in comparison to the Master System and NES. That isn't to say the console doesn't have its fair share of great games though! The console featured a brilliant conversion of Commando which used the POKEY chip to enhance the sound. This game really stands out as one of the best on the console. 

Screenshot of Commando.
Another great game that used the POKEY was Ballblazer which was a fast paced 3D tank shooter with a great soundtrack.

This doesn't look like much here but it's actually quite amazing.

Other beloved games in the Atari 7800 library include the brilliant Ninja Golf which incorporates ninja combat into a traditional game of golf, Midnight Mutants, Desert Falcon and even Xevious!

Ninja Golf being both brilliant and incoherent.
The Atari 7800 really is a great little console. It's sleek, has a well designed controller and for collectors the library of games is definitely one that is within the realm of completing. The games themselves are fun to play as well with Atari staples like Joust and Centipede rounding out some great third party efforts. In honour of this somewhat forgotten gem from gaming past I highly recommend you pick one up on eBay as the 7800 really deserves another play for its birthday. 

Any Atariphiles out there want to weigh in on the 7800? It'd be great to hear memories from when you were younger or just some nice thoughts about the console!  For more information on the Atari 7800, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.