Monday, November 24, 2008

Bill Budge and his Pinball Construction Set

I've never played with it myself, but Pinball Construction Set, by Bill Budge. was big with my Apple-owning friends back in 1983. The concept was revolutionary - a software package that not only allowed you to play pinball on your computer screen (something Budge pioneered with Raster Blaster in 1981) but actually let you create your own virtual pinball tables and share them with others - even those who didn't own the construction set! An entire genre of construction sets followed, and Budge became one of the computer industry's early "rock stars." This application precedes - if not necessarily inspires - games like SimCity, first developed in 1985 on the Commodore 64 and finally released in 1989 for all platforms of the day.

PCS used the joystick and keyboard to allow the user to drag and drop playfield elements and even tweak graphics items pixel by pixel. It was inspired by the ultra-influencial work of the Xerox PARC, according to Budge in various interviews. He also revealed that he's a "terrible pinball player" - but is still proud of PCS, because he feels it's a solid piece of programming. Certainly he took the Apple II far beyond what anyone at the time ever believed it could do.

A brief chronology of home computer pinball simulations:

Raster Blaster, Bill Budge, 1981 (based on the pinball table Firepower) The first pinball simulation for computers.
Midnight Magic, David Snider, 1982 (based on Black Knight)
Night Mission, subLOGIC, 1982

PCS in the GameSpy Hall of Fame (many screenshots)
Episode of The Computer Chronicles featuring Budge (13 minutes in)
More info at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The First Paint Program

The program known as "Paint," in Windows 1.0 and Windows 6 (aka Vista).

"Photoshopping" became a household verb some time ago. But much simpler software did much simpler things on a smaller and more primitive scale. What was the very first program to offer a graphical user interface for a would be artist to create graphics? It wasn't Microsoft Paint, which has been on almost every version of Windows since the beginning. It wasn't MacPaint, which was heavily vaunted in a 1983 magazine advertisement showing how it could be used to create illustrations of sneakers. According to the information I've found, it was SuperPaint, conceived by Richard Shoup in late 1972 at the Xerox PARC, the same facility that brought us windowed operating systems, mouse driven interfaces, and other technologies we take for background today. And Superpaint, like Photoshop, could start with a digitized image (gleaned in this case from video input) and work from there.

Photon Paint (on the Amiga, 1987) and GEM Paint circa 1988 (GEM was a Mac-like operating system for IBM PCs.)
Paint programs may seem like a foregone conclusion (I programmed a simple one myself in BASIC in 1983) but some pretty impressive artwork can be created with them. The process is sometimes referred to as "pixeling". Pictured are some screen shots of various examples of the programs. A future entry will illustrate the artworks themselves.

The famous "Geisha woodcut" MacPaint drawing, and the Overlord* himself in 1984 with MacPaint front and center (according to folklore, he isn't wearing any pants!)

*That's Steve Jobs, to you non-Mac owners.

Monday, November 10, 2008

November 10, 1983 - Windows is late for the first time

Thanks go out to Wired for this story about a premature prediction of 90% market saturation, and a walk down memory lane with an eye-opening visual retrospective of Windowses Thru the Years.

See which ones you remember, and how you feel as you remember them! (Windows ME, anyone?)

There's also good news for those who like Windows XP and dread switching to Vista: XP will be supported (though not sold) through at least 2014 - an unprecedented 13 year span since its inception in 2001. This perhaps makes it the most successful version ever, surpassing even Windows 95.