Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Unearthed arcana, milestones, and anniversaries.

RCR at the Living Computer Museum

July 11th, 2016 9:17 AM
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Last summer, en route to KansasFest 2015, I stopped in Minneapolis at the Charles Babbage Institute, one of ten archives with a complete collection of Juiced.GS.

Behind the scenes at the Charles Babbage Institute

This past December, I made my first visit to another such institution, the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California. And this week, again en route to KansasFest, I'll visit the Living Computer Museum in Seattle, Washington, whose 2012 opening was also covered by Juiced.GS.

As it turns out, Michael Mulhern, frequent co-host of the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast, had the same idea. To make the lengthy trip from his native Australia to the United States worthwhile, he's hitting up all the sights on his way to KansasFest 2016. He asked me to tweet an invitation for RCR listeners to join him on his tour of the LCM on a Thursday night, at a time when the museum was offering free admission. At the last minute, I realized we had an opportunity to extend the invitation to even those who couldn't join him: would Michael be interested in live-tweeting his event? I hurriedly set him up with access to the official RCR Twitter account, resulting in many great tweets that solicited responses from fans, enthusiasts, and even the LCM itself.

The entire Twitter exchange is archived in this Storify:

Now I know what to look for when I'm there myself, just a week later. Thanks, Michael!

Documentary crowdfunding frustration

July 4th, 2016 7:18 AM
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The Kickstarter for 8 bit generation succeeded, leading to the imminent release of a documentary about 8-bit computers. It was a long road, as the film was marked as "Missing In Action" back in 2012, well after I'd already paid for the DVD.

The Kickstarter promised an unlikely turnaround time: the campaign closed on September 25, 2015, with DVDs to ship just five months later in February 2016. That hasn't yet happened — but while we wait, the producers have launched a second Kickstarter for a second documentary.

"The story of Atari is two-thirds the story of Nolan Bushnell, founder and visionary," says the project description, "and one-third the first and probably biggest boom and bust of the new economy some 20 years before the new economy even existed."

The story of Atari is also the origin story of Apple: Steve Jobs got his first job there; Steve Wozniak developed their Breakout game; and together, before they founded Apple Computer Inc., the Steves tried selling the Apple II to Atari.

But how did the filmmakers spin the Atari content out from the original documentary without detracting from it? Turns out there was a marketing miscommunication: the first film was only the first part of a series, with each installment focusing on a different computer and company. What I thought was a broader overview of the 8-bit generation, and which I backed based on its interviews with Steve Wozniak, turned out to be subtitled The Commodore Wars.

Admittedly, I should've read the project's description more closely: "We resolved to release a single long run episode by the working title of Growing The 8 Bit Generation, focused on the home computer explosion and Commodore role in the personal computer revolution." But I usually count on a Kickstarter's campaign video to detail a project — and this project had no video.

That's not the only reason I feel conflicted about their second Kickstarter. I understand that, logistically, launching another crowdfunding campaign while the first remains unfulfilled makes perfect sense: the first documentary is already content-locked and is in the final stages of production, freeing the directors to begin work on editing another film. But emotionally and politically, it's a gamble, as Comcept discovered with the Mighty No. 9 and Red Ash campaigns. It feels like the directors are asking us to double down.

For almost half a decade now, I've been expecting a DVD of a documentary about Apple and its contemporaries. Such a thing may exist as future installments in this DVD series are produced — but it's not what I've been promised, it's not what I paid for, and I find myself a skeptical customer to be asking for more money and faith from.

Oregon Trail Hall of Fame

May 16th, 2016 8:47 AM
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The International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play recently inducted the 2016 class of the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Back in January, I encouraged readers to submit nominations to correct the oversight made in 2015 when no native Apple II games were inducted into the inaugural class.

We had better luck in 2016, with Oregon Trail now being recognized as one of the most important video games of all time. Granted, the game may not have debuted on the Apple II, but it's inarguable that it's on the Apple II that Oregon Trail found its place in history.

And how fitting that should be, given that it's a game about history! One of the game's original creators, Don Rawitsch, recently hosted a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). He addressed everything about what was cut from the original version, to the iOS remake, to his views on gamification, to his favorite parody of Oregon Trail (that being Organ Trail).

The conversation also unearthed this 2011 gem: a one-hour presentation by Rawitsch on the history of Oregon Trail.

But what about the history not of Oregon Trail, but the Oregon Trail — the grueling, 2,170-mile route on which so many pioneers died? We may think it was an adventure filled with dysentery and bison, but the truth is that many travellers lost their lives making that trek. "The R-rated Oregon Trail" is, despite its name, not a snuff film, but an unfiltered look at the challenges faced by those settlers for whom the Oregon Trail was not a game:

The AMA, two of the three above videos, and the Hall of Fame induction all happened in this calendar year. Oregon Trail has always been a popular source of nostalgia, but especially lately, it seems our sights are set firmly to the west. Wagons, ho!

(Hat tips to Javier A. Rivera and Tony Diaz)

40 years in 40 seconds

March 28th, 2016 9:16 AM
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Apple is the most profitable company in the world, based on its market cap of $672 billion. (That's more than half a trillion, folks.) The iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Macs all started in the apocryphal garage, where Steve Wozniak invented and Steve Jobs designed the Apple II.

Given all the success that's sprung from those early innovations, we diehard enthusiasts sometimes feel that modern-day Apple Inc. doesn't give its roots the recognition it deserves, as evidenced by the Apple II being erased from press releases. But our favorite computer finally did get a nod in this commercial celebrating Apple's 40th birthday on April 1, 2016:

On Facebook, commenters were underwhelmed, with "Not enough Apple II" being a recurring theme. It's true that Apple's classic machines constitute only a few of the video's opening seconds, but I'm not sure we could expect more than that: even more than the computers themselves, programs and peripherals for the Apple II lack the modern recognition of more recent innovations, such as iWork, AirPort, or Mighty Mouse.

Sometimes it's nice just to be mentioned.

(Hat tip to Shona Ghosh)

Europe's first Apple II

February 15th, 2016 8:03 AM
Filed under History, Steve Jobs;
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Despite the impressive portfolios of such groups as Brutal Deluxe, the FTA, and French Touch, the Apple II was not as big in Europe and especially the United Kingdom as it was in the United States. Domestic machines, such as the BBC Micro or ZX Spectrum, had more inroads into the European personal computer market.

But were it not for Stephen Brewer, the Apple II's overseas footprint might've been even smaller, or completely nonexistent. John Kennedy at the Silicon Republic reports:

After learning about the first Macintosh computers, Brewer and his brother Michael sold everything they had, raised £400,000 and flew to a computer trade show in New York to meet Steve Jobs. After convincing Jobs to give them the first distributorship for Apple Computer in the UK, the Brewer brothers built up a thriving computer business called Microsense that, at its zenith, had a turnover of more than £20m before Apple acquired the company, and Brewer joined the board of Apple during its pivotal early growth years.

That story is told in this interview:

But it wasn't strictly a business relationship. Brewer has this surprising recollection of Steve Jobs:

"He was a good guy. I remember, I think it was June, 1979, I arrived in Cupertino, and he said, 'Stephen, I hope you haven't got have any plans for tonight, because we're having a barbecue for your birthday.' He was that sort of guy, and I feel that successful people are often like that: they care about the individual."

From this interview and anecdote, both Brewer and Jobs come across as transatlantic counterparts: kind, thoughtful individuals with a passion to bring personal computing to the masses. That description, being the opposite impression of the ruthless businessman needed to succeed in Silicon Valley, doesn't fit with what we know of Steve Jobs. Perhaps he had his moments of grace.

Regardless, this partnership helped spread the Apple II's influence across the globe, making for what remains to this day a global community — one that still enjoys its barbecues.

KFest Kookout

Kirk Mitchell at KansasFest 2005

Video Game Hall of Fame 2016

January 11th, 2016 3:21 PM
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The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, is an ardent supporter and ally of video game preservation. Their International Center for the History of Electronic Games has collaborated with countless developers to archive personal notes, hardware, and other artifacts of gaming history.

Some games deserve special recognition, and to that end, the ICHEG has instituted a World Video Game Hall of Fame. In June 2015, they inducted six games from a list of fifteen candidates "that have enjoyed popularity over a sustained period and have exerted influence on the video game industry or on popular culture and society in general". But in a gross oversight, none of those six games had their origins on the Apple II.

We retrocomputing enthusiasts now have the opportunity to correct that error. Nominations for the next annual round of inductees to The Strong’s World Video Game Hall of Fame close February 29, 2016. It's as simple as filling out a form, though two questions will require some thought: "What are your reasons for nominating this game?" and "Tell us a story or experience you had with this game."

So, Apple II fans: what games will you nominate? Lode Runner? Choplifter? King's Quest? All these games and more resonated with us thirty years ago and continue to inspire games and game development today. Getting just one such landmark from the Apple II recognized should be a no-brainer.

But ultimately, all we can do is make these titles available for consideration: "Final selections will be made on the advice of journalists, scholars, and other individuals familiar with the history of video games and their role in society."

Let's get the Apple II's place in gaming history the recognition it deserves!