Friday, August 16, 2013

Can 30 year old ad copy make you cry?

Although I haven't yet discovered any new Electronic Arts ads, like the one that I blogged about earlier, check out what I did find, in the September 1983 Scientific American...

Click for big ideas
Yup, the original.  Bagged in the wild, two months prior to the appearance of the Bill Budge follow-up ad that I posted earlier.  Its full text is archived HERE by Chris Hecker, who was kind enough to link to my previous post.

Is it a coincidence that my nostalgia for this heady era of "retro-computing" shares similar space in my brain with a love of fantasy role-playing games of the same era?  My own (still-unfinished) contribution in that arena is called Homebrew '82, after all.  What the two things share is a fierce Do-It-Yourself ethic that may still exist in some places, but has been largely supplanted by many more people that are happy with just buying stuff and using it OTS (off the shelf) or playing it RAW (rules as written).

Yes, yes, I know.  "In my day..."

But there are other, possibly more timeless, connections.  The EA manifesto above says that what they're after is "Something along the lines of a universal language of ideas and emotions."  But how is that any different from this...?
I suddenly realized that in the language, or at any rate in the spirit of the Glass Bead Game, everything actually was all-meaningful, that every symbol and combination of symbols led not hither and yon, not to single examples, experiments, and proofs, but into the center, the mystery and innermost heart of the world, into primal knowledge. Every transition from major to minor in a sonata, every transformation of a myth or a religious cult, every classical or artistic formulation was, I realized in that flashing moment, if seen with a truly meditative mind, nothing but a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang, holiness is forever being created.
That's Hermann Hesse, from The Glass Bead Game.

That's what I still think is possible to create, now, a mere 30 years after Bill Budge put on that silly leather glove and began to remake the world.  Computers may help make it easier to accomplish, but they're just tools.

Let's get building!  :-)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Unearthing another classic EA print ad

I spent a rare weekend away from all email and internet, and I'm back with a unique relic from an era that I've been thinking a lot about lately.  In my review of Austin Grossman's novel "You," I linked to an old print advertisement for Electronic Arts titled "Can a Computer Make You Cry?"  Grossman also talked about the impact this ad had on his characters, and it seems to have been rather pivotal in the computer game industry.

However, I had no idea there were other EA advertisements other than that one!  While paging through the November 1983 issue of Scientific American, I came upon this:

Click for bigger version

I searched for pieces of its text online, and could not find it anywhere.  Is it possible this intriguing follow-up ad is not archived anywhere on the net?  No worries, though, because the remainder of this post contains the full text, transcribed hopefully with no errors by yours truly.

First, disclaimers:

(1) I didn't want to put my old magazine through the hazards of a scanner, so the above cell-phone pic is as good as it gets for now.  I could attempt to snap higher resolution pics, but now that you know it's the Nov. '83 issue of SciAm, and that it's on pages 24B and 24C of said issue, you may be able to find it elsewhere.

(2) I presume the text below remains copyrighted by Electronic Arts, but I hope my transcription can be viewed as "fair use" since it is of clear historical interest, and it seems to exist nowhere else on the net (as of August 2013 anyway).

(3) There are some unintentionally chuckle-worthy moments in this text.  Maybe there's a bit too much of a halo erected around Budge, too.  Still, it's a fascinating slice of life from those heady early days.  Please comment away about the content.

(4) There may be other ads in this series, too.  If I find any more, as I go through my moldy stack of magazines, I could post them.  Is there interest in that?

- - - - - - -

[Header text:]

Bill Budge wants to write a program so human that turning it off would be an act of murder.

Are you sure you want to call this guy an artist?

[Main body text:]

In a bedroom in a frame house in Berkeley, California, a guy who looks like he might have stepped out of a TV family series is playing with some ideas that could change your life. They are ideas that are amusing, even charming. And they are ideas that are, quite frankly, a little scary.

His name is Bill Budge and he talks about things like how programming for a microcomputer is like writing a poem using a 600-word vocabulary. He talks about how the elements are so limited and how you have to make them mean so much. And he talks about how, if you do it right, you can make those elements suggest something more than aliens -- something that begins to make you believe it has a life of its own, something he calls "a software friend."

A software friend. It sinks in slowly.

To create a personality in the computer, you have to come to some decisions about what the personality is in the first place. We often think of it in nearly the same way we think of "habit" or "character traits" -- a way of describing continuity in our behavior from one moment to the next.  (F. Scott Fitzgerald called it "a series of consistent gestures.")

According to Budge, however, the essence of a software friend is quite the opposite. "Creating the illusion of personality," he says, "means creating an intelligence that's always changing. It reacts differently to different situations."

The idea is probably ten years away from actuality. But when it comes to working such a mojo on our home computers, well, Budge stands about as good a chance as anyone of pulling it off.

After all, look at PINBALL CONSTRUCTION SET. Everyone always knew Budge was good, but when he cranked out PINBALL, well, the switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree.

It was a program that changed the way people thought about personal computers. Instead of reacting to the machine, you were suddenly inside it, trafficking information this way and that, making things. It was like programming, but with familiar items -- you'd grab this bumper, move those flippers, change the colors, then shoot a ball through it all and wonder. Maybe for the first time in a popular program, you could feel the power of the computer.

Steve Wozniak called it "the best program ever written for an 8-bit machine." And suddenly, what-Budge-would-do-next was something you heard people talking about. To Budge himself, however, things weren't quite that simple.

"Sometimes I worry," he says. "I worry about the ability of software to absorb you, focus on you, steal you away from your family and friends. Because in its short-term excitement, it seems to be more interesting. Of course, it's not."

He leans on his hand. "Not yet."

[Upper-right inset text:]

Bill Budge's classic PINBALL CONSTRUCTION SET is just one of more than a dozen remarkable publications by a company called Electronic Arts. We're an association of software artists, united by a common goal: we want to realize the potential of the home computer. To do this, we're creating software worthy not only of the capabilities of these machines, but also of the minds that use them. If you'd like to know more about our company and its products, call ... or write us at ... [old contact info omitted]

- - - - - - -

Friday, August 2, 2013

A trip to Old Number Six

I spent a rare day off today making a pilgrimage to a favorite used bookstore...

With more than 100,000 musty treasures available for browsing, how can you go wrong?  I picked up a book of poetry to better acquaint myself with one of my April A-Z post subjects, and I also found a long-sought occult tome for under $10 that I've only seen for over $50 on the webernets.

I also happened to see a rare (?) role-playing game book that was recently on a list posted by Catacomb Librarian, here, as one of several that deserve more attention in the blogging world.  (Don't worry about it being lost to history, though... the good Librarian has already started to dig into its quirky details, here.)  Unfortunately, the proprietors must have known its worth, too... $45 was too steep for me, for something I'd most likely never play.

Anyway, it was a fine day.

Also, a few other random bits that don't quite deserve their own posts...

(1) As a follow-up to my previous review, I eventually realized that Austin Grossman's characters Simon and Darren were probably not based on Jay and Silent Bob (duh), but more likely on two, you know, actual pioneers of the home computer age...

I'm pedantic and geeky, but I never claimed to be quick on the uptake!  :-)

I'd have used pictures of the real guys, but these actors give off vibes that are much more reminiscent of my conception of Simon and Darren.  (In Grossman's book, for example, Darren was a lot slicker and smarmier, and Simon was a lot more psychologically damaged, than the real Jobs and Woz probably were back in the day!)  This movie comes out in a few weeks... if any of you see it, I'd be curious to hear your opinions in the comments.

(2) A couple of days ago, I spent far more time than I'd care to admit scrolling through a web page called Awesome People Hanging Out Together.  Come on, they found this picture:

That's Count Dooku on the left, Grand Moff Tarkin on the right, and in the middle... the Candyman!  cha ch'kan... cha cha ch'kan...   Not a Star Wars or Rat Pack fan?  Okay, how about:

Look closely... "Daydream believer, and a homecoming..."  "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"

(3) Blah blah blah third thing.  I just realized that this one probably could and should be expanded to a full post.  I'll hold off on it for now, in order to learn a bit more about this topic before proceeding.