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At 25:43, Sean says:
They developed the first god-damn plasma display.
Some folks may find that offensive, whilst some may not.
Please listen responsibly.
We’re back with Sean “Advent of Computing” Haas for this episode of the podcast. If you’re at all interested in the history of computers - both digital and analogue - then I’d really recommend that you check out Sean’s show. In the time between recording this episode
which was recorded on August 16th, 2020
check the show notes for the previous part for proof
and it being released, Sean released episode 48 of his show, and it was all about the history of Pong! - the episode is called Electronic Ping-Pong and is a must-listen for anyone interested in video game history.
Sean was also on the previous episode, which I would recommend that you all listen to
but it does sound like a great game. There are pirates, evil dwarves, dragons, and treasure. What else could you want from a game? Especially since the layout of the cave doesn’t seem to conform to Euclidean geometry.
(in the traditional narrative) so one one the things that makes Colossal Cave Adventure so important in the overarching story of programming and video games in general, is that it’s the first video game where there’s this fantasy world that you’re entering into and enjoying
Oh, and it was written in 1976. Which was shortly after something called ARPANET
which was what the Internet was built off of
that’s right. Internet. In 1976
was created. It was also one of the first computer programs to spread via the ARPANET, making it a federal crime to spread and play. This is because the computers at ARPANET were supposed to be used specifically for the following things:
I’m not sure that Colossal Cave fits into any of those, unfortunately.
Discussing how Colossal Cave initially spread reminded me of the story of Doom’s initial spread throughout college campuses in the US. DOOM used UDP port 666
hue hue hue
for sending and receiving multiplayer data over the network. There are reports from college campus newspapers about people not being able to do any work because the network was saturated with people playing DOOM in stead of studying.
Which is pretty metal, I guess.
Abusing IT Policies
And THAT reminds me of playing Unreal Tournament during one of my lect…
I mean, other people. That’s right. It was other people who where playing UT, I was paying attention to what the lecturer was saying. Absolutely.
dodged a bullet there
And THAT reminded Sean of a story from his middle school days:
We had a Windows file share (at my middle school) with no password on it… and so I figured out that you could put files on it, and all the computers could run it. So we put MAME on it and some arcade game ROMs on it, and whenever we had computer labs I was like, "all right, you can play Pac-Man now guys"
I think we’ve been there.
Then Squidge shares a story from when he was in training to be an IT Support technician:
That lab that we did stuff on and learned on where in rows… And I figured out how to access something that they had networked onto all the PCs for off days, and it was Counter Strike.And I figured out how to access those files, and spread it around.
In stead of doing any work, there was a Counter Strike game going on? Nice.
And I round of the conversation with:
If you don’t want me to touch the button, then don’t have the button. It’s that simple
Back to the Cave and ARPANET
As mentioned above, the ARPANET (and the computers which were connected to it) where covered under contracts which meant that you were only supposed to be using them for:
and if you were found to be in contravention of those contracts, you’d face real ramifications at the federal level
Only if you get caught.
Squidge immediately drops me right in it by mentioning that that I’m a terrible producer
and older brother
because I’d forgotten to send him the links to play any of these titles before recording the show.
But, quick as a flash, my genius producer brain
the one I keep in a jar, by my desk
decided that it would be fun to hear Squidge’s reactions to these games as he played them live
so to speak
so that we could record them for the pod.
What! I… I can’t move
Rogue has a super fuzzy history. Sean does his best, but he’s working from the sources that he has
if you use a Mac, an iPad or an iPhone, then you’re using Unix every day
for… I’ll let Sean describe it:
It was DnD nerds who didn’t have enough friends to play DnD all the time. So one of them was like, "but what if we do it…. in the computer?"
To be fair, that’s some pretty forward thinking.
Procedurally generated everything means that one moment Squidge was fighting emus, then he was fighting Kestrels. And this is because the humour in Rogue was directly influenced by Colossal Cave Adventure. Unfortunately for modern players, it doesn’t use the arrow keys
or even the WASD keys
for movement. It uses HJKL for movement. This is because it was made back when vi and control based text editing were very much the in thing, and these buttons would move the caret
the blinky cursor thingy
left, up, down, or right (respectively). Modern versions of the game have remapped the controls, though.
The reason for the wacky keybindings is because this game was not designed for a teletype, it was made for - what they called it when it was new - a glass teletype. Which is just a CRT terminal
A standard CRT monitor, then.
And of course Rogue was another pack in game, but this time for BSD. Wikipedia has it as:
It was later included in the official Berkeley Software Distribution 4.2 operating system (4.2BSD).
Because it could technically be difficult to find the games that Sean lists as being adapted from Rogue, here’s the ones he mentions:
It’s also where we get the genre “Roguelike” from. How cool is that?
Plato is less a game, and more of… well, an entire system. Before you read on about Plato
and hopefully you’ll pause the episode when reading this bit
I want to drop the knowledge on you that Plato’s initial release - as in the very first version - was released in 1960. Keep that in mind whilst you listen to Sean’s description of it, and Squidge’s reaction to it
you can un-pause the podcast now
In 1970, the biggest one that came out was Plato IV, which could service something like a thousand different terminals.
"terminal" is what computers on a desk used to be called, btw
Also by the time that Plato IV came around, they found designs for an early rendition of a plasma display that didn’t work.
That’s right, we nearly had plasma screens in the 70s. I’ll say that again:
we nearly had plasma screens in the 70s
How cool is that!? Can you imagine what could have happened in the screen technology sphere if they’ve have gotten it working back then? We might not be looking at 100+ Hz displays these days, more like 400Hz ,or even truly 3D projection perhaps. Who knows?
The reasoning behind why they tried to get plasma displays going makes sense, too. A CRT monitor
and indeed TFT and LCD monitors
all require a frame buffer - this is a block of memory which stores the “state” of the screen. But plasma screens don’t need this, because once a pixel it turned on, it stays on until it is turned off.
And not only that. They were touch screens
touch enabled plasma screens were invented in the 70s
Then Sean drops the bomb that Plato IV had multiplayer, networked, games. The precursor to MMOs. In the 70s.
is ANYTHING new anymore?
And the first one was a space game called Empire, which was written in 1973 and supported 32 players concurrently. It was based on the Star Trek universe and the player could chose from:
And it’s all done using plasma displays, in the early 1970s, on a network.
When there are no limits, you invent the limits.
And then you find out that the majority of the users and programmers of Plato systems were high school students. That’s 16-18 year old people who had written the majority of the applications that Plato had.
Maze War & Futurewar
Then we come to Maze War. We’d mentioned DOOM earlier in the episode, and DOOM is considered to be one of the first 3D FPS titles. But Maze War has it beaten by 20 years.
seriously, Maze War came out in 1973 and was a 3D, networked, multiplayer FPS
Sure it used vector graphics, and sure it probably isn’t as immediately portable as DOOM. But it was the first, and almost no one
And of course it had a sequel called Futurewar. Which was written by a pair of 17 year olds, by the way. And it has everything that you would find in a random level of DOOM - except that it was written in 1977, a full 16 years before DOOM was released.
Shortly after Sean drops that bomb on uis, Squidge mentions a game that he can’t remember the name of:
I can’t remember the name of it, but the only thing that I’ve seen that’s similar is a maze where you’re running away from a T-Rex.
It was like a really modern Internet experience, except built in the middle of the 1970s with really archaic technology.
It was at this point that I mentioned Douglas Englebart’s Mother of All Demos. Which was a demonstration that Douglas Engelbart gave on December 9th, 1968 where he showed off everything we take for granted in a modern Internet experience. He showed of:
A Mouse (these didn’t exist at the time)
Windows (everything was command line drive back then)
Hypertext (what the web is built on)
Version control (what software developers use these days to help them make software)
VoIP (like Skype, Hangouts, Zoom, etc.)
Collaborative document editing (like Google docs)
If you ever have 1 hour and 40 minutes to spare, I’d recommend watching it whilst keeping in your mind that this was a time when computers had less power than the average pocket calculator. Here’s an embed of the video:
And of course the first thing that Squidge compared it to was the infamous “Windows 95 plug-and-play USB printer demo”.
The Sword of Damocles
Talk to anyone about VR adn AR
and they’re likely going to jump straight to the Oculus devices, or perhaps PS VR, or