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Matt Barton's picture

Episode 1: Gamer Intelligence, BASIC, International DRM, Webkinz, and Vintage PC Soundcards

Armchair Arcade is proud to present its first official episode of Armchair Arcade Radio! This episode, hosted by Matt Barton, features material from each member of AA's staff: Bill Loguidice, Mark Vergeer, Christina Loguidice, and Chris Kennedy. Enjoy the episode and don't forget to tell all your retro computing and gaming friends! Stay tuned to Armchair Arcade for future episodes.

Episode One 48K version (23 Megabytes)
Episode One 128K version (60 Megabytes)

Bill Loguidice's picture

Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?

Commodore PET 2001-8Based on a lively discussion over at AtariAge, I finally have what appears to be independent confirmation of what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with the BASIC programming language was. For purposes of definition, "first recognizable modern day personal computer" means a pre-assembled (non-kit) computer with a built-in display output (typically to a monitor early on and later to a TV) and full keyboard. The BASIC part means having some type of operating system with BASIC commands, preferably (though not required to be) in ROM. Now, we all know the holy trinity of 1977, the Apple II, Commodore PET and TRS-80, which were released (meaning not just announced, but actually available to buy and, more importantly, use) in that magical year, in that order, and each of which set the standard for all others to follow. Logic would dictate then that the first computer to fit our definition would be the Apple II. However, as the French would say au contraire mon frere. After some total misses were brought up, one computer in particular began to generate some legitimate consideration, the Processor Technology SOL-20 (SOL 20; NOTE: Though apparently far less popular, the reduced feature-set SOL 10 was also available). Unfortunately, there is a criminal lack of historical information related to both the company and the computer, so pinning down a release date for the pre-assembled version was difficult (as was customary for the time, kit versions were available--even the Apple II could be bought as a kit, though the Commodore PET and TRS-80 could not). While I've been able to briefly handle a fully operational SOL-20 in the past, due to its high cost on today's open market (easily north of $400 with often questionable functionality), I've been unable to acquire one, so my first-hand knowledge of the system is decidedly limited.

AtariAge user "desiv", was the first to find this article, which is a report from a gentleman who had a computer store at the time and pretty much pegged a general availability of 1976 for the SOL-20. Not satisfied with this single account (for one thing, there were a few mis-remembrances in there, like saying the SOL-20 was never sold as a kit), I decided to end the debate (if only primarily with myself) once and for all by checking my personal library's materials for another contemporary perspective. Luckily, I found one.

According to my copy of Owning Your Home Computer (The Complete Illustrated Guide) (1980) by Robert L. Perry, on page 49, "About the same time [mid-1975], Robert Marsh, a computer engineer, founded Processor Technology, which marketed the first computer complete with keyboard and video screen--SOL, the first personal computer deserving the name." and "Except for the first version of the Processor Technology personal computer, called SOL, there was no complete home computer at the beginning of 1977." Then he goes on to talk about the usual suspects, Commodore PET, Apple II, TRS-80, Exidy Sorcerer and Ohio Scientific Challenger, as being introduced that year (of course actual availability is a different issue).

He mentions another challenger a bit later, the Polymorphic 8800, which was introduced in 1976, which contained connections for a video monitor and a cassette recorder (as well as BASIC in ROM). Unfortunately, you had to add your own keyboard, which disqualifies it. He then talks a bit more about the SOL 20, "The first computer a hobbyist could simply turn on and use was the Processor Technology SOL 20. It had its own keyboard, an audio cassette interface, a complete video processor that used numbers and letters (in upper and lower case...), both kinds of input/output ports (serial and parallel), and an internal power supply. It had neither switches nor blinking lights on a complicated-looking front panel. It did have an internal operating system fixed in its memory, which allowed a user to simply plug it to a video monitor and use it. [description of an operating system] Yet the SOL, too, was too complicated for the average user. A buyer still had to know computer programming to use it." So, while BASIC was not in ROM (just a "simple" operating system was), it was apparently readily available on paper tape and cassette (see more info, here, here, and here (the latter of which points to BASIC availability no later than circa January 1977, still well before the Apple II's actual release)).

Perry then devotes some time to the second generation of kit computers, like the RCA Cosmac Elf II, and Heathkit H-8. Then, towards the end of page 54, he starts in with the TRS-80, leads into the PET, talks about the Apple I and II, the Ohio Scientific Challenger, the Compucolor 8001, and the Exidy Sorcerer (which he says, correctly, was introduced in the Spring of 1978).

On another note, he devotes Chapter 5 to "The Newest Home Computers", which, given sufficient publishing lead time for this 1980 book, would have placed most of these releases between 1978 - 1979, which falls in line with what we already know well (of course, some, like the Mattel Keyboard Component, were only ANNOUNCED at this time and would still be some time away). These systems include: Sinclair ZX80, APF Imagination Machine, Interact Model One, Mattel Intellivision (with Keyboard Component), TI-99/4 (not the 4A), Bally Professional Arcade, and HP-85.

On a final note, in Chapter 6, "The Handiest Home Computers", he discusses the TRS-80, Commodore PET, Apple II/III, Ohio Scientific Challenger series, Compucolor II, Exidy Sorcerer, and the Atari 400/800. Definitely a good book, and definitely an end to the "mystery". Nevertheless, if you want all of the usual qualifiers above and BASIC to reside in ROM, you're still looking at the Apple II, which was released in June 1977.

Any thoughts out there to the contrary?

Bill Loguidice's picture

The Great Debate - Tablets versus eBook Readers and the Fight for our Senses

Over at another forum I frequent, a topic that ostensibly began, Dell Streak Available Next Month, AT&T Not Required, soon morphed into a discussion on the merits of an eReader, like the Kindle, over a tablet, like the iPad, and vice versa. To summarize the lengthy battle (though I recommend you read you yourself using the link), the argument on the eReader side essentially goes like this:

- eInk provides a superior reading experience
- The two top eReader devices offer free 3G
- Target will soon be offering the Kindle in their stores, so Kindle sales will naturally skyrocket
- The iPad is too expensive
- iTunes is too draconian
- Grandma and moms don't want a tablet

The argument on the tablet - and specifically the iPad side - goes something like this:

- The reading experience is just good enough for most people, and just good enough often wins over better
- Color eInk is still a ways away, and for black and white, static devices, eReaders are fairly expensive
- The iPad costs more, but also has many more features and capabilities
- If you're going to carry around a device the size of an eReader, it's not that much of a stretch that you'd carry around something only marginally bigger to get access to many more features
- The iPad has become a sexy, must-have device, thanks to slick advertising and the well regarded Apple brand; eReaders are unlikely to ever been seen as sexy, must-have devices
- In roughly two months, the iPad is closing in on the LIFETIME (since 2007) sales of the Kindle

The way I see it, while I'm a fan of eInk, especially for black and white and limited functionality devices, they tend to cost too much, even though the Kindle and Nook offer lifetime 3G service to purchase more books from just about any location you happen to be at (and a select few other online features to take advantage of the connection), though it's arguable if you really ever have to buy a new book every time you're out and about on the town. If they hit $99 or less, they might be able to gain more momentum outside of the successful niche I expect them to remain in for the foreseeable future, but I still find it unlikely, particularly with the coming onslaught of iPad-like tablet clones, which will continue to steal any new eReader thunder. What they really need though on the eReader side are color eInk displays, which right now are too expensive for mainstream price points. If they had color screens combined with a $150 or lower price point, they might stand a chance to be something a bit more than a niche product, though it's arguable how many truly avid readers there are anyway to support such dedicated products, no matter how refined they become (even recent tests with students at universities have not shown them to be reasonable substitutes for text books--at least in their current forms).

So to summarize, my main point is, is that the iPad's momentum will continue, price be damned, a ton of clone tablets will be released to further place the spotlight on the form and functionality factor, and as a result, sales of dedicated eReaders will remain at roughly the same rate and pace they are now. As a result, the dedicated reader's time in the spotlight has probably come and gone, and it's just a matter of time before the tablet format becomes the de facto companion (when called for) to cell phones, smart or otherwise, since they also give you full access to the same book libraries as the dedicated readers, as well all the other types of media (and games, apps, etc., etc.).

Even though I didn't lay out all the details in this post, I think you get the idea. Naturally I'm 100% correct in my prognostication, but I'm open to the remotest of possibilities that I might be a raving lunatic and don't know what the heck I'm talking about, so I would love to hear what YOU think...

Matt Barton's picture

Matt Chat 51 with John Romero

Here's the latest Matt Chat, this time with rockstar designer John Romero!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Breaking News: Apple Announces iPad

In a surprise to no one, Apple announced the iPad, their long rumored and hoped for tablet-style device. Despite being saddled with what in my opinion is the worst name for a new product since the Wii, it will surely be lapped up by Apple fans. Unlike the Wii, though, I don't think the name will eventually become catchy or memorable, particularly since a single letter separates it from Apple's own iPod. Basically an upsized iPhone and compatible with all existing apps for that platform, the major revelation thus far about the new device is the companion iBooks store, which I imagine would be a subset of iTunes. While iBooks is an important step for the eReader market and digital books in general - shockingly Apple is supporting the industry's ePub standard - it remains to be seen even with a no doubt beautiful 10inch color screen whether it will have any of the gentle-to-the-eye qualities of eInk displays. (Owners of recent gen eBook readers will know what I'm talking about, i.e., eInk is as paper like as we have at this point, and it's a huge distinction for electronic reading from traditional displays.)

As both an iPhone 3G owner and an enthusiast of and user of graphics tablets (a Gateway Tablet PC is my primary personal laptop these days), I'll be curious if there is any stylus support, as that would make this device much more useful for sketching and note taking than standard finger input. If it's missing that feature AND it has a high price tag, I fail to see the niche such a device could ultimately fill, particularly with netbooks being fully functional mini computers with keyboards and similar 10 hour battery life.

Further news, updates and discussions will take place in the comments to this blog post. Let us know what YOU think!

Bill Loguidice's picture

iPhone/iPod Touch: "teh internets - Attack of the Memes" and "Sword of Fargoal"

I'll be doing a review of both teh internets - Attack of the Memes and classic CRPG remake, Sword of Fargoal, for the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch soon, and the rest of the Armchair Arcade team will be doing special feature(s) TBA in conjunction with Sword of Fargoal creator and legendary programmer Jeff McCord, but for now I just wanted to give a heads-up that teh internets - Attack of the Memes is in Apple's "Hot New Games" section of iTunes and Sword of Fargoal was quickly approved after author submittal and is now available. If you can't wait for the reviews/features, now is a great time to snatch these games up.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Casual Photos: Fairchild/Zircon Channel F/VES Cartridges (1976+) and Typing Tutor III (1984, Macintosh)

Today's casual photos, again taken with the Panasonic digital camera, are Kriya Systems, Inc.'s Typing Tutor III (1984) from Simon & Schuster for the Apple Macintosh, and three cartridges for the first ever programmable videogame system (i.e., utilizing interchangeable cartridges), the 1976 Fairchild Video Entertainment System (VES), later known as the Fairchild Channel F after the release of the Atari Video Computer System (VCS) in 1977. In fact, after the name change, Fairchild would come to pull out of the market entirely and Zircon would assume rights to the platform, which limped its way into the bargain bins of the early 1980s.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Casual Photos: Macintosh RPG's from 1989 - "TaskMaker" and "Citadel"

Today's casual photos (bit higher quality than usual, with my Panasonic digital camera), shown below, are two rare Apple Macintosh RPG's from 1989, Xor's TaskMaker (original version) and Postcraft's Citadel: Adventure of the CRYSTAL KEEP. The classic Macintosh platform is not known for its RPGs, and stand outs on the platform have been few and far between. Some of the others I own are rare and generally highly sought after, including Legends of the Lost Realm, a multi-character role playing game from Avalon Hill (1988; I don't have the sequel, which uses the same box, just with a small sticker on it to distinguish it), and the classic, Quarterstaff: The Tomb of Setmoth (1988, Infocom), which was originally released by Simulated Environment Systems in 1987 as simply Quarterstaff before Infocom's acquisition, and is considered one of the few authentic pen and paper-style RPGs in videogame form. Photos below:

Bill Loguidice's picture

Casual Photos: Eric Knopp's ORBITRON (1981) from Sirius Software for the Apple II

Today's casual photos (shown below), this time taken with my Canon camera, is of Eric Knopp's Orbitron, published by Sirius software for the Apple II in 1981. The game was written in Assembly Language (versus the less professional BASIC) and required a 48K Apple II or II+, which was somewhat hefty for the time. The game's graphics were drawn using Sirius's E-Z Draw, first published in 1980. As you can see, this came in packaging not only common to Sirius at the time, but also the industry at large, in this case a small cardboard folder in shrinkwrap (the other common variety being a small cardboard folder or insert in a plastic zipper bag). The instructions, which aren't shown, are actually on the interior of the folder. I didn't want to remove what is most likely the original shrinkwrap, even though it's damaged. I'll likely transfer this to a plastic zipper bag for even more protection (and hey, that's still fairly authentic).

Anyway, as for Orbitron itself, you can play it yourself in your browser, here. It's a noisy, challenging and fairly fun game of essentially shooting through a series of rotating shields. Use the 1 and 2 keys to rotate your ship and the spacebar to fire. Enjoy!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Casual Photos: Flight Simulator II (CoCo3) and Aliens: The Computer Game (Apple II)

Today's casual iPhone photos are of the boxes for SubLOGIC's Flight Simulator II, by Bruce Artwick and Matt Toschlog for the Tandy/Radio Shack Color Computer 3, and Activision's Aliens: The Computer Game by Steve Cartwright, among others, for the Apple II. We of course had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Cartwright along with David Crane for the upcoming feature film documentary, Woot!: The Videogame Revolution. The photos:

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