Category Archives: computer

Don Mattrick and the Xbox One, 2013

Don Mattrick, 18-year old Entrepreneur

You might recognize the name Don Mattrick. He served as President of Worldwide Studios at Electronic Arts, among other roles at the company, before joining Microsoft as Senior Vice President of the Entertainment and Devices Division in 2007. Eventually promoted to Pesident of the Interactive Entertainment Business, he ran such projects as the Xbox line at the company.  After leaving Microsoft, he assumed the role of CEO at the embattled mobile game company Zynga, creators of the FarmVille phenomena, among others.

But he got his start in the game business by co-founding Distinctive Software in 1982, at the tender age of 17.  Mattrick is standing on the right,  pictured with his partner in the company, Jeff Sember.

From left: Jeff Sember and Don Mattrick

From left: Jeff Sember and Don Mattrick

 

In this image they are showing off their game Evolution, on the Apple II. As a kind of primordial Spore (software superstar Will Wright’s treatise on the subject, released in 2008), the game has players guiding an entity as a one-celled protozoan to tadpole to rodent to beaver to gorilla to, ultimately, Man. Another big hit for Distinctive were the Test Drive games, hit driving game for the C64, Apple II and PC DOS. Racing games would become a speciality of the company. 

During the lead-up and launch of Microsoft’s Xbox One console in 2013, Mattrick became a whipping boy for the gaming community due to the draconian DRM scheme that saddled the console. Initially, trading or selling games was severely restricted on Microsoft’s unit. Particularly in memes created using the photo used as a featured image in this post, Mattrick and the Xbox were savaged. A tremendous outcry from players, as well as some brilliant positioning from Sony, eventually caused Microsoft to remove these restrictions.  

From the Apple II to the Xbox consoles. What a long, strange trip it’s been for Don Mattrick.

1983 ad for Evolution, a computer game by Don Mattrick and Jeff Sember

Ad for Evolution, 1983

 

What's cooking at Sorcerer U. today?

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls (1990) Pt. 5

Another serving of Late to the Party, where that sweet, sweet retro gaming cake NEVER gets stale. Today Anthony joins me in continuing the higher-education hi-jinks of one Ernie Eaglebeak, where we visit the Sorcerer U. cafeteria, and the housemaster’s wife Hillary comes on to us:

A typical dorm room at SU

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls (1990) Pt. 4

The Party continues, long after everyone has stumbled drunkenly home and the confetti has been swept up. Today Tim Mack and I continue the game by attending a fascinating lecture on magical ethics, and take a whirl in the Simulation Chair. 

The Ivy-covered walls of Sorcerer U

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 2

Presenting our second instalment of Late to the Party, game playthroughs where we finally buy into the hype decades after a game’s release. This episode, Tim Mack joins me in continuing Steve Meretzky’s ribald 1990 text/graphic adventure game Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls. Our collegiate hero registers for classes at vaunted Sorcerer U, and gets the lay of the land, so to speak.

Class is in session. Welcome to college, Mr. Eaglebeak!

Other episodes in this series:
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 1 
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 3

Ernie Eaglebeak and friends

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 1

Welcome to Late to the Party, where we hop onto a game’s bandwagon waaay too late. This premiere instalment starts Babarnicals and me off in Steve Meretzky’s 1990 risqué adventure game classic about an abused young man who’s only hope of escaping imprisonment by his evil relative is by attending wizard school. Similarities to a certain other young wannabe wizard are purely coincidental, of course.  

Here is part one of our playthrough of Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls:

 

Other episodes in this series:
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 2
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 3

Activating the computer

Activision Pivots (1983)

The original 3rd-party video game maker for the Atari 2600, Activision apparently saw the writing on the wall in 1983. That was the year they made their move from consoles onto computer platforms, such as porting Kaboom! and River Raid to the Atari 8-bit XL line as seen in this ad. Moving to computer platforms helped the storied company survive the big video game crash of 1983-84, allowing them to become one of the biggest video game companies still around today.

Activision makes their move.

Activision makes their move.

For more information on Activision and the Atari VCS, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Images from the TDE databanks

The Visual Cortex: Activision Pivots

The original third-party video game maker for the Atari 2600 was Activision, formed by four disgruntled Atari game designers looking for more respect and a bigger piece of the financial pie. Former music industry exec Jim Levy, as well as venture capitalist Richard Muchmore, rounded out the company’s management.

Activision saw the writing on the wall for video game consoles in 1983. That was the year they pivoted from consoles onto computer platforms, porting popular hits like Kaboom! and River Raid to the Atari 8-bit XL line, as seen in the ad featured today in the Cortex.

Ad for computer games by Activision, a video game company 1983

Activision makes their move to computers.


Moving to computers helped the storied company survive the big video game crash of 1983-84, allowing them to become one of the biggest video game companies operating today.

For more information on the history of Activision and the Atari 2600, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Images from the TDE databanks

The Visual Cortex: An Ad for Aztec

The Apple II was a solid gaming platform in 1982, but Paul Stevenson’s graphically astounding and highly interactive action-adventure games for the computer really pushed the envelope of what was possible. Having slashed his way through the pirate genre with Swashbuckler earlier in the year, he moved onto his magnum opus. We feature a magazine ad for it today in the Cortex: Aztec.

Ad for Aztec, a computer video game by Paul Stevenson and Datamost, 1982

Indiana Jones eat your heart out

Nothing like it, indeed.

A fight for supremacy around the sun of Spacewar!

Spacewar!: A Spin Around the Sun

Created by a group of hackers at MIT in 1962, the pull of Spacewar! on nascent computer gamers was as strong as the gravity well of the blazing sun in the game.

I’d like to say that Steve Russell “led” the group that developed the game, but he didn’t earn the nickname “Slug” for his programming alacrity. The rest of the team, consisting of Wayne Witanen, J. Martin Graetz, Alan Kotok, Peter Samson and Dan Edwards had to prod Russell every inch of the way, constantly throwing in pieces of the programming puzzle to skirt around the roadblocks Russell would profess were preventing him from continuing.

When they were finished, they had 9K worth of rolled-up paper-tape program that would create the foundation of the entire video game industry. Over a field of stars, two spaceships face off in a duel with limited missile supplies and fuel.  Besides each other, players would also have to avoid the bending gravity of a central star, eager to pull them down to their destruction. The game was such a hit around MIT that playing it was banned during school hours, and copies of the program were included by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) with each installation of the computer system Spacewar! was created on: the PDP-1.

Image of A PDP-1 minicomputer, the same model used in the creation of Spacewar!

The PDP-1 computer by DEC

Spacewar! influenced later games made by entrepreneurs intent on creating the video game industry, including Computer Space in 1971, the first mass-produced arcade video game, made by future Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. It also inspired Larry Rosenthal, creator of the first vector game Space Wars in 1977, as well as Ed Logg, creator of 1979′s phenomenally successful Asteroids. Spacewar! blazed forth from the minds of those early computer hackers at MIT, lighting the way for others to follow.

For more information on the history of Spacewar!, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Jeff Bridges and Steven Lisberger on the set of Tron, a video game themed movie by Disney 1982

Greetings, Programs! A Look at Tron

Tron is a movie that either turns people on or off, like the digital gates inside computer chips. Written by Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird and directed by Lisberger, it made an attempt to take viewers on a journey into the inner world of computer circuitry.  It was released in the summer of 1982, and among various visual marvels was the first feature film to extensively use computer generated imagery (CGI).

Still of lightcycles in battle from Tron, a video game themed movie from Disney 1982

Light Cycles race in the grid in Tron

 

It tells the story of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a computer hacker who sits in a room over his video game arcade, trying to hack into the main computer at Encom, his former employer. He hopes to pull out of their system information that proves that some popular games of his were stolen by co-worker Ed Dillinger (David Warner), who then passed them off as his own and was subsequently kicked up the corporate ladder. With the help of friends and current Encom employees Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan), Flynn infiltrates the company and attempts to pull the data. During the process, the Master Control Program zaps Flynn with a laser and flings him into the computer world, where he must fight for his life on the gaming grid and interact with the computer program equivalents of his friends.

Still of Yori and Tron from Tron, a video game themed film by Disney 1982

Yori and Tron in a clutch

 

Having Disney somewhat over a barrel at the time due to their waning animation department, as well as the poor performances of their live-action fare, Lisberger and the producers had carte-blanche to call in heavy hitters to help design the film; no less than three cutting-edge computer animation houses were used to produce the 15 minutes of fully-rendered CGI in Tron. Syd Mead and Jean “Moebius” Giraud were also drafted to help create the world of Tron and its computer denizens. The film might have an impenetrable story, but at least it looks marvelous.

Looks only get you so far, though. Tron ultimately disappointed at the box office, but you can’t completely fault the film; Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial juggernaut sucked all of the oxygen out of theatres that summer of 1982, asphyxiating such other noble genre efforts as Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Tron has definitely generated a cult status for itself over the intervening years, however, and at the very least served as a proving ground for the burgeoning field of feature film computer animation.

To pull more information on the history of Tron out of the Encom servers, slip past the MCP and access the Dot Eaters article here.

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Still of the MPC from Tron, a video game themed film by Disney 1982