By ahoodedfigure 9 Comments
Below I'll embed a classic video of Computer Chronicles, featuring hosts Stewart Cheifet and endearingly enthusiastic Gary Kildall. Chefeit was right there up until early 2000, showing how quickly the industry was changing, even despite the tanking of the video game industry before this show was even broadcast. Even for someone who grew up with this stuff it's always jarring to see the suits, the collars, the sprayed-flat hair, the huge glasses and the wood panelling. But if you think about how the computer was only just finding its way into homes as an affordable, useful tool for entertainment and productivity, it must have been exciting then to think that things could only get more sophisticated from there.
Now that computing and connectivity is much more ubiquitous it's pretty humbling to see how fragile things seemed, and how a few entrepeneurs basically helped create environments which have descendents we're still using today.
The following video is fascinating to me for many reasons:
It shows Chris Crawford, founder of the Game Developer's Conference (he was later kicked out for unspecified reasons) who loved making complex games that tested the storage capacities of computers, including Eastern Front, which I had to load up on our old Atari 8-bit for something like 18 minutes, hoping that there wouldn't be a read error (which would only show up at the END of those 18 minutes... god, that felt like an eternity back then. Now it takes me 18 minutes to blink my eyes). A fun strategic simulation, although I don't think I ever got nearly enough points to consider it a stalemate against Stalin's forces. Unfortunately he only gets to talk a bit about Excalibur, a fantasy medieval kingdom simulation.
The reason he mostly gets to talk and not show anything off is that Steve Kitchen of current publishing giant Activision shows off a nearly full run of his amazingly detailed Atari 2600 flight simulation Space Shuttle. This even used the Atari itself as an extra set of controls, which is pretty neat when you remember that the Atari controller was basically an 8-way joystick with a single button. Dude's so proud of his work he comes off a bit like an advertisement, but whatevs.
Also there is Trip Hawkins, founder of now-giant Electronic Arts, alongside programmer Bill Budge, creator of the Pinball Construction Set. They demo one of my favorite sports games for my old Atari 7800, One on One, and show a bit of Budge's Construction Set.
Before they talk to these developers you get to see a concise, well-crafted montage of carnival games, and then arcade games, sort of explaining the concept of video games' lineage to people who might not understand it. Included in the montage is video clip of what looks like Sinistar, one of my all-time video game terrors, as well as clips of Mr. Do's Castle, Time Pilot, Tempest, Pole Position, and the laserdisc curiosity Space Ace. (Anyone know what that combat jet game they feature was called?)
Note that because this is filmed around the time of the gaming industry crash of 83-84, there's even a question if computer games are a fad. I'm sort of lumping all game platforms into this when I say they had no idea how much of a comeback games would make. I certainly didn't know when I first watched programs like this, although I never gave up on games and barely noticed the crash, and the gaming world continues to surprise me :)
The main show is a bit over 20 minutes, and after that you'll see a news segment from the same producers, featuring news of IBM's project codenamed POPCORN, which would become the 286 PC, a law being pushed through the Diet in Japan which would limit copyright restrictions on imported U.S. software (which may have helped pave the way for Japan to become the software giant it is now), as well as as folksy help segment with Paul Schindler telling us that 90% of users don't have computers able to connect to other computers. Makes me wonder what that percentage is now :)
Whether you want to relive the glory days, laugh at the mid-eighties styles, marvel at how much Activision, Atari, and Electronic Arts have changed, or want to have some insight into these pivotal years in computing history, I hope you enjoy this video. Thanks to the Internet Archive: