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Area of Influence

Earlier this year, Matthew Kirschenbaum posted an article to Slate where he listed what he considered to be the 10 most influential software programs of all time, based on his own personal experience. Out of curiosity, I compared his list to the contents of the Cabrinety collection, and found that out of his list of 10, there are currently 4 titles (or versions/adaptations of those titles) represented. Thanks to Stephen M. Cabrinety's foresight, some of these now historical titles are also in pristine condition. These are shown in the images below.

Adventure (Atari 2600 adaptation of the classic text adventure game)

 

VisiCalc

 

WordStar

Note: Fans of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones to television fans) know that he's been using WordStar for decades to write his books.

 

Hypercard (came bundled with student diskette)

Back to Basics

Programmers today fight an uphill battle to keep their skills current, as changing technologies and constant advancements make it nearly impossible for even the most adept computer scientists to stay ahead of the curve. In today’s videogame market, coding and shipping a game as an amateur requires incredible discipline, as self-taught and independent game developers need to attain a level of expertise and make a time commitment that is well beyond the reach and/or willingness of the average person. Just watch Indie Game: The Movie (currently available on Netflix streaming and the official movie site) to see the toll the creative process takes on the individuals behind bestselling indie games Braid, Super Meat Boy, and Fez.

Mind Games

The Cabrinety collection is comprised primarily of games, but also includes a fair chunk of unique software applications that have nothing to do with entertainment. One of the strangest is the subliminal message application, where the user undergoes a computer-assisted form of self-hypnosis in order to achieve a specific goal without doing any actual work – for example, raising a child. The “Mind Over…” series and the “Expando-Vision” series are the best-represented so far, but I look forward to seeing what else is hidden in the depths of the collection. Here’s a look at some of the box covers. I take no responsibility if they subliminally influence you in any way.

The Expando-Vision series

1. Athletic Confidence/Golf

The caption on this cover says, “Fill your subconscious with the positive images you need to improve your game of golf…while you watch your favorite television shows!”  Since normally these boxes depict someone accomplishing the stated goal, I’m not sure why this box shows a guy inside a sand trap while a woman wearing a single white glove looks on in disdain. Maybe he’s developed so much confidence he doesn’t care what she thinks of him?

 

2. Career/Success Motivation

Introducing the Preserving Virtual Worlds Collection

As many readers of this blog certainly know, How They Got Game @ Stanford was involved in both of the Preserving Virtual Worlds projects, along with teams at the University of Illinois, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (U. Maryland), and the Rochester Institute of Technology.  The projects were funded by the U.S. Library of Congress-National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, respectively.
 
I am pleased to announce that the digital collections created over the course of this (roughly five years) of scoping work, research and reporting were preserved - as befits a preservation project!  These collections have been gathered together and are now available through the Stanford Digital Repository, the digital "wing" of the Stanford University Libraries (so to speak).   Note that we are not at this time able to provide open access to all of the materials, due to rights restrictions.  The good news is that you are free to use many of the digital items; if you can see it, you can use it. The collections cover eight cases investigated over the course of the two PVW projects: Spacewar!, Adventure, Star Raiders, Mystery House, SimCity, DOOM, Arteroids, and the Corrupted Blood incident in World of Warcraft.  
 

Add-In Memories

These days gamers have to deal with issues like DRM, lack of support for backwards-compatibility, always-on connection requirements, and next generation consoles like the Xbox One debuting with a name to make catalogers weep. (Seriously, what are we supposed to call the first Xbox now?) Oh, and I suppose there is also a controversy about how it seems like it won’t support used games. But let’s not talk about today’s woes, when we can dig into the past of the Cabrinety collection, a time when manufacturers cared so much about the consumer, that they included toys and treats in the packaging, for free.

In no particular order, here are eight images of titles from the Cabrinety collection that came with a surprise inside.

1. The Lurking Horror: Rubber insect

A rubber insect was loose in the package, ready to horrify unsuspecting gamers with its rubbery creepiness. Instead, it horrified me with its seeping grossness. It leaked its fluids enough to stain the label on the disc.  Lurking horror indeed.

Is It Archive Safe?: Sort of – the insect and the media are now inside inert bags so they don’t damage each other or the other items in the game package.

Game Developer’s Conference 2013: What’s Past is Prologue

 

This year’s Game Developers Conference featured a rage poetry reading (courtesy of Anna Anthropy), two (!) video game museum exhibits, revelations from the developers of the classic games Myst and X-Com: UFO Defense on the trials and tribulations they faced while forging their creations using arcane tools such as HyperCard, and a session called “Caring About Chrono Trigger” which showcased how the work involved in the preservation of video games is now a common interest and responsibility spread across multiple industries.

Since this was my first time attending GDC, I didn’t have a specific agenda and was free to wander the halls and attend diverse sessions at whim. Here are some photos from the show floor and short recaps of the sessions I attended. I apologize in advance for the terrible quality of some of these photos, which I took with the iPhone model circa obsolete.

Video Game Museum Exhibits

1) The Museum of Art & Digital Entertainment
http://www.themade.org/

 

Preserving Video Game History, One Byte at a Time

After a long hiatus, some personnel changes, and the launch of an ambitious cross-country collaboration between the Stanford University Libraries and the National Institute of Standards and Technoglogy, the spotlight on the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection in the History of Microcomputing, 1975-1995 returns!

I first read about the Cabrinety collection on the HTGG blog, back when Eric Kaltman was generating content on a more regular basis. I was still in library school at UCLA, embarking on a second career (in my previous life I wrote strategy guides and columns for Tips & Tricks Magazine), and daydreaming about places to work that might need someone with my odd mix of experience, interests, and credentials. I feel very fortunate that I now have the opportunity to work directly with an archival collection that sparked my interest so many years ago. They’re letting take me take the shrinkwrap off titles that haven’t seen the light of day in 30 years? It’s like opening a present – many presents –every single day.

For more information on the collaborative project, check the sites below:

Stanford Libraries preserves historical software collection with Federal Agency

Two-year project will image one of the largest pristine historical collections of microcomputing software in the world for historical and cultural research.
 
Read the full article here.

GameCity 2012 and game preservation

I will be on the program of this year's GameCity festival in Nottingham, England.  I will have a couple of chances to talk about PVW/PVW2 and will be having conversations with James Newman, Iain Simons and some other people at NTU (Nottingham Trent University, where the UK National Videogame Archive is located) about projects.
The two public events for me are:

Monday, 9am.  GameCity Breakfast talk. "You're All Going to Die." This is a panel with James, me, and Stella Wisdom of the British Library.  I expect that one theme will be the link between web archiving and game preservation.

Monday, 2.30pm. "Before It's Too Late: The National Videogame Archive Four Years On."  This is a "keynote" with James giving the main talk about the NVA, and I will respond.   Yes, the title has a familiar ring, and I'm sure that's intentional.

Tips for Nottingham and the Midlands are welcome.
 

New Oral History released by Computer History Museum: Al Alcorn

The Computer History Museum has just released the oral history I conducted with Al Alcorn back in 2008. The transcript can be found here.  The two interviews (both about two hours long) were also videotaped, and I am sure CHM will be releasing clips from the interview for various purposes.
 
Here is a short excerpt to whet your appetite.  

"Lowood: You made a quick comment in there. Do you think Steve Jobs was influenced by Bushnell?
 
Alcorn:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Again, my personal belief-- remember, Steve was an adopted child, right.  And I don't think the relationship with his parents was that good, and and he was, what, 18, 19 years old?  To all of a sudden see this weird relationship between Nolan and myself, how the dynamics worked and how, you know, we already were known to be a pretty innovative company.  He came to us because it was clearly a fun place to work.  And then to see that process and the very nature of what happened with the Breakout story, you know, that Nolan would get him to go do this thing.  You heard the Breakout story. You know.   
 
Lowood:  Yes.   
 
Alcorn:  And not even tell me about it, you know, to get things done.  I mean, look at how things happened with the Macintosh and things at Apple later on, the same kind of thread, just flat out not taking no for an answer.  I think that Steve was affected by that [relationship with Bushnell.]  Yeah."
 

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