Monday, October 24, 2011

Luna City R.I.P.

Back in the mid-to-late 1990s I followed with great interest the rise of arcade game emulators - software applications that could fool "ROM dumps" - chunks of data copied from old videogame circuit boards - into running on personal computers. The biggest and baddest was MAME, a massive project with dozens of collaborators, but there was a specialized one I remember well that was made by just one guy: "Vector Dreams". There's little to link to out there now about it, but what was remarkable about Vector Dreams was how accurate it was at emulating the vector games (vector arcade games used monitors that drew straight lines between points - if you have ever seen the bright lines of Asteroids or Tempest, that's a vector game). The reason it did this so effectively was because the coder who wrote the emulator owned a beloved collection of vector arcade games.

He is Peter Hirschberg, and you will not find a man more dedicated to the atmosphere of the early 80s arcade. His Vector Dreams, he once said, would emulate the smell of heated particle board if it could. He's done a lot of fun things with programming and such, but probably what he's best known for is his home arcade, Luna City. You can browse his site to learn more, and see some fun videos on youtube.

But sadly, it seems as if the arcade is no more - only just recently I went looking at the site and learned that Peter and his wife divorced last year, and the collection was one of the casualties. One of the top google links for a search on "Luna City arcade" is this link at the discussion boards of the Killer List of Videogames, in which many fans of old arcade games - much as I did - realized they will never get to see Luna City. The discussion thread became heated at times and some strange emotions bled through. One person typed Luna City as "Lunacity," which seemed like a conflation of tenacity and lunacy - strangely appropriate. Along with the usual mutterings of online communities, what struck me looking through the conversation was how many people were inspired by what Peter put together. It truly was the whole package - when the collection outgrew his basement, he built a two-story building next to his house to hold the arcade - complete with vintage posters, change machines, a pay phone, and super-cool glowing space themed carpeting (which he also had at his workplace.). It was likely one of the largest such private collections in the country, probably the world. And now most of it is gone. But we will always have the images and video of how awesome it was. And I hear Peter is doing well, happy and at peace with himself - and that surely is more important than any place or possessions. I wish him well.

Would you like to know more?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Modem Memories

Benj Edwards of Vintage Computing and Gaming has written a good piece on modems for PC World. Today's cable modems are a largely overlooked piece of equipment, just another appliance that helps get things done every day; but in the 80s and 90s it was a huge kick to upgrade your modem. If you were using online systems then you surely remember the boost in speed from 300 baud to 1200, and even larger leaps in later years. My first was a Smartmodem 1200, by Hayes, a device that improved the speed of the revolutionary original Smartmodem. The Smartmodem 300 obviated the need for connecting to the phone line via an acoustic coupler and made a quantum leap for the industry by introducing the Hayes command set: a series of codes that could be embedded in the data stream itself - that is, you could send commands to your modem (or a remote modem) just by typing them in using your communication program on your computer.

Here's a review of the Smartmodem 1200 from a 1983 issue of Infoworld. The original Smartmodem came out in July 1981, a month before the IBM PC. The Smartmodem 1200 followed the next year. Pictured: the 9600 model, from 1988.