Steve Bristow (1949-2015)

February 24th, 2015 by Marty Goldberg

Steve Bristow in Memoirum[The following news comes to us via video game historian Mary Goldberg, who has allowed VC&G to republish his Facebook announcement here so more people can see it. –Benj]

It is with a sad heart that we announce the passing of Atari legend and friend Stephen D. ("Steve") Bristow, who died this past Sunday, February 22, 2015 at the age of 65 following a short illness.

Bristow was one of the originals, helping Nolan Bushnell out during the development of the world's first commercial arcade game, Computer Space, while an intern at Ampex.

He then moved to Nutting Associates, the publisher of Computer Space, as an intern. At Nutting, he soon took over for Nolan Bushnell when Bushnell and business partner Ted Dabney left to form Atari.

In the early 1970s, Bristow joined up once again with Bushnell at Atari for a short while before being tapped to form secret Atari subsidiary Kee Games with Joe and Patricia Keenan. There, he lead the creation of several groundbreaking arcade games such as the full-color multiplayer Indy 800 and the seminal game Tank.

Bristow occupied many positions at Atari throughout the 1970s an 80s. Upon the merger between Kee Games and Atari, he oversaw Atari's Coin Engineering as well as later projects like the Electronic Board Game Division. He later became Plant Manager of Pinball Production at Atari before moving to VP Engineering, Consumer and Home Computer Division, then VP Engineering of Atari's Consumer Game Division in the early 1980s.

From there, Bristow moved to VP Advanced Technology, then VP Engineering, AtariTel Division (which produced telephone products). Then finally, he joined Atari's Engineering Computer Division as VP and became an Atari Fellow before leaving Atari all together in February 1984.

Bristow continued with an impressive electrical engineering career afterword, but it's his time and accomplishments at Atari (and all the fun he brought us) that are the reason we're all here. He will be sorely missed.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Axiom Printer Card

February 23rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

AXIOM EX-801 EX-820 printer card TRS-80, Commodore PET, Apple II advertisement - BYTE November 1979* Feathered hair not included

Ah, the good ole days when you had to pay $535 (that's $1,744 in today's dollars) for the privilege of merely being able to hook a printer to your home computer. What can I say — it was a useful feature.

My first computer, an Apple II+, came equipped with a Grappler+ printer card (from the previous owner), although I can't recall ever using it. Instead, I printed school reports by that time from whichever family MS-DOS machines we had at the time, each of which included a built-in parallel port for printer use.

What a great day it was when I switched from a noisy dot matrix printer to the that awesome Canon Bubblejet we had. Silent printing! And the day we got our first full-color photo capable HP inkjet printer around 1996. It was pretty low resolution, but still amazing.

Today, I don't print much. I have a color laser copier in service to reproduce scanned documents (in lieu of a copy machine) in case I need a hard copy of something — usually a form or contract — to mail.

[ From BYTE Magazine - November 1979, p.162 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you regularly print anything from your computer these days? What do you print?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Mega Man 8

February 16th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Capcom Mega Man 8 Sega Saturn advertisement - GamePro February 1997You are getting sleeeeepy

Mega Man 8 remains notable in my mind for its resistance to polygonal 3D graphics at a time when the media perceived that as a requirement for sales success (in the PlayStation-dominated console era). I remember renting it and being impressed by its fluidity and gameplay, although it was too difficult and frustrating for me to play for more than ten minutes in a sitting.

But then again, all the side-scrolling Mega Man games have been that way for me. I'm still partial to Mega Man 2, 3, and X, though.

[ From GamePro - February 1997, p.115 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite entry in the main-line Mega Man (1-10) series?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] TRS-80 Model 4

February 9th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 4 advertisement - BYTE October 1984Philodendron not included.

[ From BYTE - October 1984, rear cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you use a TRS-80 or Tandy computer of any kind back in the day? Tell us about it.

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The Glorious, Colorful World of Radio Shack Toy and Game Box Art

February 6th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Old Radio Shack LogoAfter 94 years in business, it is likely that Radio Shack will soon be no more. And sadly, it has taken the impending death of Radio Shack for me to realize how absolutely ingrained its products have been in my life.

As the son of an electronics engineer living in the US, our home growing up held at least five Radio Shack products per room (or those of its related brands: Tandy, Realistic, Optimus, Archer, or Micronta).

I am not joking or exaggerating. I could probably go through my parents' house today and fill a whole room with that stuff: speakers, tapes, radios, hi-fi receivers, turntables, headphones, microphones, clocks, intercoms, outlet timers, telephones, cables, wires, adapters and more.

It's almost absurd, I tell you. My first IBM compatible PC was a Tandy 1800HD laptop. My first cassette recorder, microphone, telephone, cordless telephone all came from Radio Shack. My first kiss…well, a Radio Shack robot, of course.

And who can forget the batteries. The batteries!

Radio Shack LCD Football GameAbove and beyond all that were the games, the toys, the amusements. The Armatrons and Cosmic Fire Away 1000s. Pocket Blackjack, electronic chess, Pocket Repeat, RC cars, tiny kid DJ stations, microphone FM transmitters, electronic coin banks, joysticks, talking alarm clocks (Dare I add the Tandy 1000 series and the TRS-80 Color Computer). The list is endless, I tell you.

In honor of the foundering electronics retailer, I pulled together a slightly massive collection of Radio Shack toy and game box art from the late 1960s up to the early 2000s. For good measure, I threw in a handful of non-toy product boxes as well (such as one for a Zack Morris-sized cell phone and a pocket TV set).

As you look through them below, I have but one question to ask:

How many of these have you owned or played?

[ Continue reading The Glorious, Colorful World of Radio Shack Toy and Game Box Art » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Kodak Photo CD

February 2nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Digtial Photo scan Kodak Photo CD advertisement Picture CD - kids next generation on a TV set - Scientific American February 1993Because the best place to look at photos has always been your TV set

In September 1990, Kodak announced a brand new system for storing and viewing photographs: Photo CD. At a time when Compact Discs represented the vanguard of consumer electronics technology, Kodak capitalized on the excitement by blending digitized photos with a custom CD format.

Kodak designed that format for viewing through special a Kodak CD Player device (think DVD player for still photos) that hooked to a standard TV set. Using such a player, one could view the digitized photos via a virtual slideshow.

It would not be until August 1992 until Kodak finally launched the system, releasing its first Photo CD player and beginning production of Photo CD discs for customers.

With a base image resolution of 512 x 768, Photo CD was far from an archival medium. It tried to offer convenience, but instead ended up adding needless cost and encumbrance to the photo viewing process. In an era before most people were equipped to view, edit, or print digital photos from a PC, the fact that the photos came in an electronic format did not add anything notable to the experience. Predictably, adoption of the Photo CD system never gained much steam. (Wikipedia's article on Photo CD has some pretty good additional analysis of why Photo CD never took off.)

I personally remember encountering a Kodak Photo CD player in either a photography store or a Radio Shack as a kid. I thought it was amazing — your own photos on a TV set! But my dad, an experienced photographer, never bought into the system.

P.S. For more CD history, check out my Compact Disc 30th Anniversary article that I wrote back in 2012.

[ From Scientific American - February 1993, p.17 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever use the Kodak Photo CD service or own a Photo CD player?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Turbo Touch 360

January 26th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Triax Turbo Touch 360 controller SNES Super NES Genesis EA Sports advertisement - 1993Man, that basketball player is pissed.

The Super NES / Genesis era coincided with a second golden age of third-party video game controllers and peripherals (the first golden age being the Atari 2600 era). If you browse through the Retro Scan archives, I'm sure you'll see quite a few.

One of the stand-out gimmicks of this era arrived courtesy of Triax Technologies: the Turbo Touch 360. Representing a series of controllers for various platforms (SNES, Genesis, and NES with IBM planned, but I'm uncertain if it launched), the Turbo Touch line relied on a touch-sensitive pad in lieu of a traditional D-pad.

Using the touch pad, you didn't have to physically push down on the D-pad to register movements; instead, you lightly slid your finger over the cross-shaped touch pad, sort of like a laptop touch pad. Ideally, this should result in quicker movements, but it could also result in more errors.

There was another supposed benefit to the touch pad technology as well. This 1993 Chicago Tribune article positions the Turbo Touch as a cure for game-induced thumb blisters (at the suggestion of Triax's marketing staff, as the article suggests).

I've heard a lot about people getting thumb blisters over the years while playing video games, but I've never actually seen it happen. That's because I've only heard about it through game peripheral advertisements. Such blisters are plausible, of course, but you'd have to push down on the D-pad very hard and rub it around over a long period of time. Maybe my thumb skin is just tough or something, but it's never been a problem for me.

(Full disclosure: I did get a blister in the middle palm of my hand by rapidly rotating a Suncom Slik Stick over and over for about an hour while playing Decathlon for the Atari 2600 in the early 1990s)

I'm not saying that no one ever got a thumb blister from playing a video game, of course (do a Google search) — just that it wasn't the epidemic that companies like Triax have led us to believe.

Call me skeptical, but I wouldn't be surprised if the the video game thumb blister meme originated as a marketing angle in an era that aimed to be loud, raw, and edgy (think "Play it Loud", Sega scream, etc.). What could be edgier than actually getting physically injured while playing video games? That's intense!

I actually own a Turbo Touch 360 pad for the Genesis that I never got around to trying for some reason (I bought it at a thrift store when my Genesis was packed away). Right now I have no idea where it is. Perhaps I should dig it out and put the promise of touch-fueled gameplay to the test.

[ From EGM or GamePro, circa 1993]

(I scanned this back in 2006, at a time before I wrote down the publication source and page number of every scan. I'm sure it came from a 1993 issue of EGM or GamePro. When I run across the ad again, I'll update this post accordingly.)

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever gotten a blister from playing video games? Tell us how it happened.

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The Invention of the Video Game Cartridge

January 22nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

The Untold Story of the Invention of the Game Cartridge

Three and a half years ago, I started writing a history of the Fairchild Channel F, the world's first commercial game console to use software cartridges. As part of the research, I first interviewed two Fairchild veterans to follow up on my 2009 interview of Jerry Lawson.

As I kept digging, the rabbit hole of history went deeper and deeper, and the story turned out too complex and nuanced to properly research for whatever venue I was planning at the time. Budgets were tight, and the economics didn't work out, so I had to shelve it.

Just last year, I picked up where I left off and did the rest of the legwork, summoning primary source documents from around the world (special thanks to ICHEG) and interviewing over 15 people who worked for Alpex, National Semiconductor, Fairchild, Atari, and RCA to piece together the most accurate portrait of the birth of the game cartridge that I could possibly manage.

The result was finally published last night — in a somewhat abridged format — on FastCompany.com with my friend and longtime collaborator Harry McCracken editing the piece.

What I have created sheds light on a heretofore completely unknown segment of video game history (especially regarding Alpex), and it is my hope that I have done so in a way that does justice to the achievement of those involved some forty years ago.

I am grateful to everyone who helped with my research — especially Ron Smith, the mechanical designer of the Channel F, who provided me with countless documents and a patient ear for all of my questions, and Wallace Kirschner and Lawrence Haskel, who decided to talk to the press for the first time ever for my piece.

There is more to the story than could fit in the article, but don't despair — it will probably end up as part of a book.

I hope you enjoy the piece.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] HP's First Handheld Computer

January 19th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Hewlett-Packard HP-75C calculator pocket computer handheld computer advertisement - Interface Age May 1983It's a lot like an HP-11C, but freakin' huge

Plenty of companies experimented with pocket and handheld computers in the early 1980s. Among them we must count HP, which introduced its HP-75C in 1982.

I peronally own an HP-75D (the successor model of this machine) that allows use of a bar code wand. I bought it on eBay around 2000, messed around with it a few times, and I think it's been sitting in a box or a closet since. I couldn't get into it, for some reason, like I could my TRS-80 Pocket Computer. Perhaps it's time to revisit the 75D and try again — if it still works.

Still, I have a soft spot for the HP-75 series because it features similar industrial design as my beloved HP-11C calculator, which I've been using since middle school. RPN for the win!

[ From Interface Age - May 1983, p.143]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Are you a fan of HP calculators? Which model is your favorite?


See Also: BASIC in your Pocket (RSOTW, 2009)
See Also: Asimov's Pocket Computer (RSOTW, 2011)
See Also: Sharp Pocket Computer (RSOTW, 2013)
See Also: Quasar Pocket Computer RSOTW, 2014)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Secrets of Obitus

January 12th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Psygnosis BPS Obitus SNES Super NES RPG EGM advertisement - 1994Dare ye gaze into the sacred gems of immortality?

Here we have an ad for the Super NES port of Obitus (1994), a Psygnosis RPG for the Amiga, Atari ST, and MS-DOS originally released in 1991.

I'd like to say I've played this one, but I can't for the life of me remember if I actually liked it. I know I tried it, especially after first scanning this ad some years ago. Is anyone out there a fan of either the PC or SNES versions of Obitus? It sure looks cool.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly - November 1994, p.39]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what's the best PC to video game console RPG port of the 1980s or 90s?

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