Charlotte Thai's blog

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)

How to Give Cartridge-Based Video Game Data an Extra Life

The following is a guest post by Christopher Fox, a student employee at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). For over four 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 is currently completing his senior year at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, where he is earning 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.

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

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:

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