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Bill Loguidice's picture

Quick Thoughts on One Nice Way to Convert SCART (PAL/SECAM) in the US (and G7401/Odyssey3 comments)

As any hardcore videogame and computer collector knows, there are many intriguing classic systems out there worthy of your time that never made it to your home territory. One of the biggest challenges when importing vintage systems from foreign countries is having the necessary hardware on hand to convert either or both of the power (voltage) and video (television standard) connections.

With vintage Japanese systems in the US, it's fairly trivial to use those systems here. Generally speaking, the video signal is the same - though you may have to tune in a weird channel if you're stuck using an RF connection - and power requirements are similar, generally 100-110v to our 110-120v. While you can usually get away with just plugging a Japanese system direct into a US outlet, a simple power converter is still recommended in some situations. With vintage European systems, it's not nearly as straightforward, since they use a completely different television standard and power requirements usually run 220-240v, so you need to do double conversions. On top of that, plugs for both video and power are often unusual shapes and may require yet another adapter.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Second Ever Magnavox Odyssey Homebrew in Development

Odball in actionOdball in actionThe second ever homebrew for 1972's Magnavox Odyssey console, a system we talked about here in one of our bonus chapters from Vintage Games, is now in development from the gentleman who did - appropriately enough - the platform's first ever homebrew, Odball (original AtariAge development forum topic here). This new game is thus far called, "Project Mentis", with preliminary discussion here. It sounds like a clever board game design, able to be played with or without the Magnavox Odyssey, and by either one or two players, which is why he dubbed it the "World's first single player Odyssey game". Though that's steeped in hyperbole, this is undeniably another cool project for a very unusual, but historically significant platform. While you're still in an Odyssey kind of mood, don't forget to check out the popular Chronogaming series we ran to learn more about the original games for the platform from the early 1970's.

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Home Computer Designations of the Late 1970s: A Feature Article

So, do you think today's computing landscape of desktops, laptops, notebooks, smart phones, tablet computers, and netbooks - among other designations - is confusing? Imagine a computing landscape with no particular point of reference outside of mainframes and terminals. That's exactly what it was like in the world of personal computing from the mid-1970's to the start of the 1980's. The terms "laptop" and "notebook" were still several years away, with "portable" computers describing those systems you carried about like an overstuffed suitcase and ran off of AC power (like the Osborne 1 [1981], Compaq Portable [1983], or the Commodore SX-64 [1984]), a form factor many of us more accurately refer to today as "transportable" computers.

In any case, continuing along the same line of thinking started with my blog post, "Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?", or my related segment on Armchair Arcade Radio - Episode 1 (and with which I will pursue a somewhat similar theme in Episode 2), I thought I would describe how the 1979 book by noted writer Steve Ditlea, Simple Guide to Home Computers, classified the personal computing landscape of that time.

First off, in Part I, Home Computer Fundamentals, under Chapter 1, The Home Computer Revolution, it calls the Altair 8800, the "world's first home computer". In Part II, Choosing a Home Computer, and specifically Chapter 7, it starts off with "Programmable Video Games" (which is the name of the chapter). The systems he designates as programmable video games (and in the last part of the chapter refers to them as "starter units") are the "Odyssey2 Computer Video Game System", the "Bally Professional Arcade", "Cybervision 2001", and the "VideoBrain". Ditlea calls the Odyssey2 a "price breakthrough", though it's arguable to me if the North American version of the Odyssey2 ever really qualified as a computer in the traditional sense. It does in fact offer a very nice Computer Programming cartridge - which is mentioned in the book - but never any ability to save your output. If it qualifies under that scenario, then the BASIC Programming cartridge for the Atari 2600 would also make that console a computer, albeit even more primitive than what was offered on the Odyssey2. At least in the case of the Atari 2600, though, Spectravideo did eventually come through in 1983 with the CompuMate add-on, which not only added a keyboard and a reasonable BASIC, but the ability to save your data to tape.

Wipeout (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Wipeout Overlay: Looks more intestinal than intense...Wipeout Overlay: Looks more intestinal than intense...Wipeout was the first home videogame racing simulation. I know there was nothing in the arcades in 1972 with a racing theme, and I've never read anything about mainframe versions of a racing game, either. That being said, just as we saw with Invasion and Baseball, Wipeout is more boardgame than videogame.

Addressing the videogame portion first. The overlay is a stylized racetrack, reminiscent of the twisted cargo fleet's course in Submarine. The players take turns acting as the Driver and serving as the Timer. Prior to a racing phase, the Timer uses the left controller to position their light behind the clock on the left side of the overlay. The Driver uses the right controller to control the light that represents their race car. The Driver's goal is to maneuver their light around the race track. The Timer's job is to hit the reset button (on the Driver's controller!) to "serve" the BallSpot so that it comes in from the right side of the screen, crosses the screen and hits the light behind the left side clock to deflect back across the screen and off the right side again. The Timer player does this throughout the Driver's journey around the track. The Driver starts with 30 laps in their count. Every time the Timer player hits the reset button, one lap is subtracted from the lap count. If the Driver leaves the track, they lose two laps. If the Driver's light is actually hit by the Timer's BallSpot, they lose a big fat five laps! The idea is to get around the track before the lap count evaporates entirely.

Baseball (Odyssey, 1972)

Baseball (Odyssey, 1972): I can almost smell the hotdogs...Baseball (Odyssey, 1972): I can almost smell the hotdogs...

Does Baseball count as America’s favorite pastime anymore? I’ve never been into the sport personally, but I feel like it was much more popular 30 years ago than it is now. That’s just my dim perception of something from which I am too far removed to make a valid observation.

Like Odyssey's Football, Odyssey’s Baseball is asking you to sort of pretend that you are playing a simulation of the game of baseball. This game is actually cooler than Odyssey's attempt at a football sim in that Baseball introduces Player Stats! -- persistent and alterable statistics for each player on your team. Ooooo! It's the first example of persistent player stats in a home videogame. However, technically, the overall design could be better said to push Baseball closer to being the first sports board game with persistent player stats to employ a videogame element.

Okay, so right, um “off the bat”, that sounds pretty cool, doesn't it? I mean, that’s what some sports geeks are into, inn'it? Statistics? Well, meet me at the corner of Nitty and Gritty and let’s get into some of the details...

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Lord of the Dungeon - Unreleased Battery Backed Wizardry Type Game for the ColecoVision from 1984

"Lord of the Dungeon" was released in limited quantities as a homebrew back in 2000 from the 1984 unreleased original prototype for the ColecoVision from Probe 2000, which would have been the first ever battery backed cartridge. These are rare, rare images since so few people have it and it's unsupported by any emulator. You can see it would have been a phenomenal Wizardry-like RPG for a console well before anything like it on the NES!

Percepts (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

1972 Percepts Überlay: Not the most attractive of the lot, but hey, it was FREE!1972 Percepts Überlay: Not the most attractive of the lot, but hey, it was FREE!

Percepts is the free Odyssey game you get for registering your Odyssey. You know the drill: you fill out a little slip of paper and mail it in to Magnavox; they get your personal information for nefarious marketing purposes and you get a free game. Not a bad deal!

Quick FYI. For some reason I've heard (or I've imagined I've heard) this game misnamed as "Precepts". For those of you who care to know: it's Percepts, as in perception. This isn't an outright tip, but let's just say it's a lot easier to find one of these on eBay if you're allowing for the probability that many non-gamer-sellers misspell the title as Precepts.

This game falls into the "seek and go to" category of Odyssey games in that a player must determine where to go on the screen and get there before their opponent does. Percepts comes with two decks (Purple and Green) of 15 cards each, an Überlay (both sizes) and a set of instructions. There are two Percepts games described in the instructions, but you can have fun coming up with your own variations if the mood hits you.

Simon Says (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Simon Says: Their ubiquitous gaze haunts me to this day . . .Simon Says: Their ubiquitous gaze haunts me to this day . . .I was unable to cajole my son into playing this game with me, but since there is a kitty cat on the Überlay I was able to lure my three year old daughter into playing it. She enjoyed it so much, that she requested to play it again on three separate occasions since.

Simon Says is best played with three people. Two people each handling a controller and a third person who plays the role of Simon. Simon draws one of the provided off-screen accessory cards, reads it and says aloud: "Simon Says: fine the (body part indicated on card)". The players have to move their PlayerSpots from their starting square to the corresponding body-part on one of the colorful Überlay children or one of their strangely legless pets. The person who gets their PlayerSpot to the correct spot first, gets to keep the card. The person with the most cards wins the game.

If the person playing Simon chooses to make it so, then the role of Simon can be played as a crafty trickster, sometimes omitting the words "Simon Says" from the command phrase. The rule being, of course, that if Simon doesn’t say “Simon says” than nobody is supposed to move their PlayerSpot at all or suffer terrible consequences, such as the loss of a card. Being the playful, tormenting father that I am, I tried it that way but quickly discovered that I should probably wait until she turns four before trying to “fake out” my daughter. It just pissed her off in a very, “Why must you cause me such pain, Daddy?” kind of way. I changed the rule to Simon having to say “please” for a command to be followed. This was more easily understood by my daughter because it’s something my wife and I are drilling into her in real life. She enjoyed chirping back at me "You didn't say 'please'!" whenever I tried to trick her.

States (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

The States Overlay: Alternative solution to the immigration issue; move Alaska and Hawaii into Mexico!The States Overlay: Alternative solution to the immigration issue; move Alaska and Hawaii into Mexico!This title is purely and quite overtly an edutainment title making its debut long before the term was ever coined. Analogic may have concealed its arithmetic stylings in a sci-fi envelope, but nobody would mistake States as being anything but an enthusiastic attempt to capture the hearts and wallets of America's education-minded parents.

The overlay is a map of the good 'ol United States of America, which wouldn't be complete if they didn't have the Alaska/Hawaii combo scaled-to-fit and hovering over a vanished Mexico. The off-screen props consist of 50 cards, an answer brochure entitled “Affairs of States” and a “study map”. The 50 cards each highlight a specific state with three questions about the state. The answer brochure is exactly what it sounds like, and is handier than dragging out an encyclopedia. The "study map" is a paper version of the overlay, and reminds me of the type of placemat they give kids to color while waiting for their order at a Denny's(tm) or an IHoP(tm).

Roulette (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Overlay for Roulette: I'll admit that the overlay looks nice.Overlay for Roulette: I'll admit that the overlay looks nice.Just to clarify, this is the Odyssey's version of the casino favorite, Roulette, and it's not the relatively fun, Russian variety of Roulette, where you risk embedding bullets deep inside your head.

Like a few of the Odyssey's games, Roulette is supported by the use of "off-screen" technology: betting chips, a betting board and a huge wad of fake cash. Roulette also uses one of the nicest looking overlays for the system. It's clearly a roulette wheel and they don't dumb it down by doing anything so pedestrian as turning the numbers right-side up just to make it easier to read. The player is given the illusion that they could be looking at a genuine, roulette wheel, albeit, a non-spinning, vertical, silent roulette wheel . . .

The smart kid in the audience asks, "If the wheel doesn't spin, how is a random number generated?"

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