Charlotte Thai's blog

Cabrinety Cassette Capture

 This article was originally posted on Special Collections Unbound on September 14, 2015. Special Collections Unbound is a blog showcasing the work done by the Stanford University Libraries, Special Collections Department.

In the ongoing Cabrinety-NIST Project, NIST normally performs all disk imaging, but there is an exception to the rule. When the Stanford fall session begins in late September, a subset of the Cabrinety collection will be used as teaching materials in the Rhetoric of Gaming class. Rather than send the Cabrinety boxes containing these materials to NIST (which is located in Gaithersburg, MD), and risk them not returning in time for the class, I decided to do all disk imaging at Stanford.

One of the more challenging media formats found in the Cabrinety collection are computer cassettes, also known as datasettes. These media carriers can form nightmarish tangles, so audiovisual archivists working with them must maintain constant vigilance to forestall potential chaos.

The Cabrinety “teaching set” consists of 16 boxes containing 666(!) software packages, 60 of which are computer cassettes. The Stanford Media Preservation Lab (SMPL) provided invaluable assistance with capturing data from this obsolete format.

How to Give Cartridge-Based Video Game Data an Extra Life (Part 2)

The following is a guest post by Christopher Fox, a term employee at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). For over six years, Christopher has provided NIST's National Software Reference Library project with data entry services and the application development demands that support those services. He just completed his senior year at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, where he earned a Bachelor's in Computer Science. He started working on the video game software part of the Cabrinety Project when the group hit a dead end trying to collect data from gaming cartridges. Since Chris enjoys gaming and found a way to collect save data from older games for his own purposes, he offered to explore and share methods of extracting data from these obsolete formats.

*Disclaimer: Trade names and company products are mentioned in the text or identified. In no case does such identification imply recommendation or endorsement by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, nor does it imply that the products are necessarily the best available for the purpose.

This is a follow up piece to my previous post on how the National Software Reference Library at NIST is collecting data from several different types of gaming cartridges.

Interactive Media & Games Seminar Series

A few weeks ago I attended one of the lectures being given at Stanford University as part of the Interactive Media & Games Seminar Series. Every Friday at noon, this seminar presents open lectures for students, staff, and faculty who want a window into the sometimes esoteric world where games and academia collide. I was initially going to summarize the lecture I attended (given by HTGG’s own Henry Lowood!), but as all of these lectures are made available online, it is just easier to copy and paste the links….I mean it makes more sense to provide access to the actual lectures.
Also, if you’re a Stanford student, this seminar is listed as one-unit course BIOE196. So next time you get any grief for playing games instead of studying, you can casually point to this course listing as proof that those two activities are sometimes the same thing.




Mass Media

This month I decided to try and make a giant poster that showed all the different format types that are present in the Cabrinety collection. I've gone through 6,000+ titles so far and found 21 unique kinds of software media. Since I keep discovering more it seemed like the poster would never get done. So instead of waiting for it to be complete and perfect, and possibly too big to ever upload to this site, here it is in all its glory:

Media Types in the Cabrinety Collection

I expect the caption text might be too small too read on this version of the poster, so this is what it says:

First Row (L-R): Atari 400 cartridge, Sega Game Gear cartridge, Intellivision cartridge, Commodore 64 cartridge, Vectrex cartridge, Atari 2600 cartridge

Second Row (L-R): ColecoVision cartridge, Atari 7800 cartridge, computer disc (3.5"), Atari 400 cassette, Sega Card

Third Row (L-R): TI-99/4A cartridge, Tandy Color Computer cartridge

Fourth Row (L-R): Atari 5200 cartridge, Sega Genesis cartridge, Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge

Fifth Row (L-R): Computer disc (5.25"), Super Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge, IBM data cartridge

Sixth Row: Sega CD




Past Lives

Many lifetimes ago I worked for a video game enthusiast magazine called Tips & Tricks. It featured several strategy guides every month and also printed thousands of cheat codes. When the magazine was still alive and kicking, there was a short Wikipedia entry describing it and all of the employees. Upon a recent check I saw that this entry had gone the way of the dinosaur. This was a bit of a letdown, but also a wake-up call that for something to be preserved, someone needs to advocate for its inclusion in the historical record.
Enter Roger Burton, the Editor-In-Chief of Game Losers, a website devoted to covering underreported sports and video game stories. A former reader of Tips & Tricks, he was curious about the history of the magazine, and thanks to the aforementioned lack of information on Wikipedia, he decided to track down many of the old writers and interview them, including yours truly.
So if you are interested in reading about my sordid history as a video game journalist way, way, waaaay back in the day, Burton’s “A Comprehensive Oral History of Tips & Tricks – The #1 Video-Game Tips Magazine” has got you covered.

California Extreme 2014

California Extreme: The 18th Annual Arcade & Pinball Show was held from July 12-13, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, CA. This is a show where collectors who own classic arcade cabinets and pinball machines bring out their wares for the public to play firsthand, giving a new generation of gamers the opportunity to experience very old titles like Space War or Computer Space. It’s an excellent value with all of the machines set to free play, and the cost of entry only $30-40 a day for one adult. The Saturday show ran from 11am until 2am the next morning, so any gamer with the stamina could play for 15 hours (more if s/he paid for early entry.)


The last time I attended California Extreme was about a decade ago, and what I remember most vividly about that experience (aside from the fact that someone had to sleep on the hotel room radiator) was that I played a lot of Slick Shot, and that it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I was expecting. There was space to roam around, and a lot of the machines I wanted to play were open.

Cabrinety-NIST Project Challenges - SCA AGM 2014 Presentation

I gave a short talk recently at the Society of California Archivists Annual General Meeting, during the panel session, "What the Hell Is It, and What Do I Do With It?: Cataloging Challenging Collections." My talk focused on the challenges associated with working with the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection, specifically in relationship to the Cabrinety-NIST grant. The slides from the presentation are available on slideshare.

Copy That

Here at Stanford, the Cabrinety-NIST project is nearing the end of its two-year term.  In addition to migrating data from original media and creating photographic documentation, a major aspect of the final phase will be to find and reach out to copyright holders who own the rights for software in the Cabrinety collection. Although we have made contact with some of the major publishers, there are still a significant number of titles for which we have not been able to identify rights holders. Discovery of rights holders is a difficult and time-consuming process.  For many of the items in the Cabrinety collection it has been nearly impossible to determine whom to contact. As a result, we are publishing this open letter here on the HTGG blog.

Game Developer's Conference 2014: Days of Future Past


This year’s Game Developer’s Conference was the most attended in the history of the conference, with more than 24,000 people descending on the San Francisco Moscone Center from March 17-21, 2014. There was something for everyone. If you wanted a hands-on experience, the MADE (Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment), the Videogame History Museum, Wild Rumpus, and the Indie MEGABOOTH showcase all offered playable games in their exhibit spaces. Feeling nostalgic about classic game titles? There were game postmortems for Zork and Robotron: 2084, plus a first-ever studio postmortem for Lucasfilm Games. Two of my favorite sessions from last year were repeated—the GDC Microtalks and the GDC Rants, where ten speakers are given about five minutes to talk/rant about a topic of their choice. If you wanted something a bit more in-depth, advocacy sessions and roundtables addressed complex issues ranging from gender equality to government funding to game preservation. The IGF Awards and the GDC Choice Awards honored game developers both old and new, and best of all, the GDC Choice Awards were hosted by a woman for the first time—Abbie Heppe, who is the community manager at Respawn Entertainment, and who I coincidentally worked alongside many years ago when we were both editors at Tips & Tricks Magazine.

Who in the World is Stephen M. Cabrinety?

I've been working with the Cabrinety collection for a year now. However, the collection has been part of Stanford for more than a decade. I am far from the first person to handle it and I won't be the last. For my last blog post of this year, I wanted to spend some time talking about the man behind the collection.

Stephen Michael Cabrinety was born in Sayre, Pennsylvania on August 4, 1966. He started collecting microcomputing software, hardware, and related materials while still in high school, and continued making acquisitions for the rest of his short life.  In 1982 Stephen dropped out of Stanford University and founded Superior Software, Inc. where he served as its Director of Development. Superior Software, Inc. released three educational software titles for the Apple II computer in 1982. The titles are listed below along with their locations within the collection:

1. Legendary Conflict (Series 1, Box 254)

2. Quest for the Scarlet Letter (Series 1, Box 93 and Box 254)

3. The Breckenridge Caper of 1798 (Series 1, Box 254)

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