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RCA Studio II GOLD MINE! An interview with the Studio 2 Production Manager!

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I do know as far as the MP1000 goes Benj Edwards did ask Ed Smith if he had any of his old papers and suggested that they be donated to the Strong if he did, but last I talked to him he hadn't heard if Ed had anything/donated anything. With the way APF went under I'd be kind of amazed if any documents from that business survived unless folks took them home.

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I know protector enterprizes that was near me in Barrington, IL bought all the old apf stock. No idea if they could of ended up with anything important.

They basically ran apf sales and support for what was left of the life of the imagination machine.

I used to go there to buy blank disks in bulk for my c64 and amiga....I think about 59 cents each. And I remember seeing a pallet of imagination machines for $49.99 each.

We used to laugh at them.....not laughing now that I didn't buy a couple :(

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Today I found yet another Coin Arcade game on the tapes in The Sarnoff Collection at The College of New Jersey

​The game is called 'Katch', looks similar to Chase....

 

post-36525-0-58995300-1531774331.png

post-36525-0-74280900-1531774358.png

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After giving Katch a try, it opens with the same "Cosmac Game Computer" sequence as the Bowling/Tag file from Hagley Library. Given that both files are so similar to the coin arcade format, I'm wondering if this game computer was the development testbed machine that was used for the arcade games? Joyce indicated to me that her father had designed a prototype of what would become the coin arcade in his workshop at home, and part of me wonders if that's what this "game computer" was. Alternatively, maybe it was an early name for the arcade platform?

 

I don't recall seeing any references to the game computer (or any games in development by name) in the Hagley paperwork, though memos indicate that they had at least two games working in December 1974, with others in the planning stages. Unfortunately with both Joe Weisbecker and Phil Balzer having passed away, there's not many people that I'm aware of who worked on the coin arcade project - I'm trying to track down the other names on the memos though, just in case they're still alive and could shed any light on this stuff.

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Also in some sad news, after finally tracking down his last address to a retirement home in California, I learned that Jerry Herzog passed away three months ago at the age of 90. Herzog worked pretty closely with Joe Weisbecker in developing the CMOS 1802 basically as soon as he learned about the initial FRED prototype, circa 1970. He was also seemingly involved in the arcade project based on some memos that turned up at Hagley.

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This might be of interest to anyone who spent time looking for Studio II stuff from PC2K1. . . I've been reading bits and pieces of this (gold mine) thread. Last night it lead me to the Philly Classic 2001 photo archives.

And sure enough I found two photos:


My neighbor is the focus of this picture. By coincidence, it looks like he brought a Studio II set. I'm the next table down from his. You can see the Studio II Flip Book sitting on top of my TV. The TV is showing a Studio II game. Its probably the demo cart, not sure. You can't see my Studio II. This must have been early in the day because my table is quite full.

http://web.archive.o...nD/philly36.jpg


My table is a lot less crowded in this picture. I must have sold or traded away most of what I brought by this point. You can't see the TV screen or the Studio II itself, but you can clearly see the flip book on top of my TV. And I am the headless guy (best way to photograph me btw). I was much skinnier back then. Note to self: Go on diet!

 

http://web.archive.o...lP/DSCF0034.JPG

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In preparation for a youtube video I'm planning on the history of FRED and the Studio II, I spent some time recording video footage of some of the programs rediscovered at TCNJ and Hagley and converted by Marcel. I thought I'd upload a short clip of Joyce's Jackpot game in action:

 

 

 

As a bonus, here's a cool 2-frame animation demo Jef Winsor wrote for the VIP, which Joyce said was praised by her father as an example of the an artist doing spritework (as opposed to engineers with limited artistic skill), due to the illusion of depth:

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I was thinking the same thing, too. It's a good idea. And sure enough, a quick check of recent sales on Ebay had a system box with the earlier version! I feel like an idiot for being oblivious to this other box art all along.

 

So far we know the switch happened between 29324 and before 58181 :)

 

Ebay sale on July 29.

 

So far we know the switch happened between 29324 and before 52464

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I recently successfully made contact with Robert Winder, an RCA computer engineer who started working on turning FRED into the 1802 in the early 70s (and provided some support for RCA's game products, though from what he tells me he doesn't have particularly strong memories of doing much there beyond providing the processors and supporting bits). He's happy to answer some questions, so I've started corresponding with him. Not sure how much he'll be able to provide about those later machines, but I'm definitely excited about the insight into FRED!

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Very cool. I look forward to see further insight in FRED and/or the Studio II. Definitely a book or some kind of documentary needs to be done about RCA and its efforts with the Studio II and the Cosmac VIP.

I recently successfully made contact with Robert Winder, an RCA computer engineer who started working on turning FRED into the 1802 in the early 70s (and provided some support for RCA's game products, though from what he tells me he doesn't have particularly strong memories of doing much there beyond providing the processors and supporting bits). He's happy to answer some questions, so I've started corresponding with him. Not sure how much he'll be able to provide about those later machines, but I'm definitely excited about the insight into FRED!

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Very cool. I look forward to see further insight in FRED and/or the Studio II. Definitely a book or some kind of documentary needs to be done about RCA and its efforts with the Studio II and the Cosmac VIP.

I'm actually hoping to do both! Book long-term, short youtube documentary in the next few weeks :)

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I'm actually hoping to do both! Book long-term, short youtube documentary in the next few weeks :)

 

Although it wont be a particular in-depth video. I still have a half-finished video I'm making on the Academy Apollo 80 system, mostly just giving an overview and some vain hope someone else may find it who can fill in missing gaps of info. Do you want/need any photos of the Academy Apollo 80 for your video?

Edited by TLD1985
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Yeah, I could do with Apollo photos if you've got any to share!

 

Winder says his involvement with the video game related projects - the arcade machine, the Studio II line - largely involved his team developing RAM that was compatible with the 1802 processor (and the 1801 before it). He thinks there may have been another chip project to support the 1802 but doesn't recall what that was. Unfortunately he threw out his papers when he sold his house last.

 

Regarding FRED, this will be based on my talks with Winder and Joyce Weisbecker. Joyce Weisbecker tells me that her father built FRED initially as a TTL processor in mid-1970, and then he and Jerry Herzog started collaborating on turning it into a CMOS project (as RCA already had equipment to create CMOS chips, Herzog felt that would be the best way to pitch it officially to the company when they would be amenable to it). Joe Weisbecker was interested in computers since the 1950s, but since he was uninterested in moving to New England when RCA was moving their computer division there (prior to it being shut down), he thought that developing a computer that could be used at home would be a viable way to both stay in New Jersey and possibly fill a new market niche. Sure enough, Herzog was right - RCA's higher ups were interested in a CMOS computer processor and gave them official backing to pursue this project they'd already been working on in their spare time; this occurred in what looks like early 1971 based on the hiring paperwork and internal reports. Winder's team had been working on RCA's other computer projects, and when that got shut down he was able to get them moved over to supporting Joe Weisbecker's FRED project once RCA officially greenlit it.

 

According to Winder, the internal hardware was standardized fairly early on to make it easier to design software for it (and compress into ICs). At the same time, multiple iterations of FRED were developed; both Joyce and Winder say this was to shop it around to as many of RCA's divisions as possible to make it a more viable project and make it harder to shut down. So for Random House, a unit that could be sold to classrooms was built and pitched; RCA produced records, so a record player attachment was designed for loading programs. Keypad attachments were designed to make programming and software operation easier. It was at this time that game software was being designed, from roughly 1971 through 1974 a couple dozen games and programs were designed, along with the first few FRED-centric programming languages (including an assembler and associated software implemented by Winder's group). Successful showcases at the Princeton annual fair led to the FRED project moving to the Solid State Division from the Labs, Winder says.

 

The 1801 FRED unit was designed to be a straight-forward conversion of the FRED TTL processor as CMOS chips, with some tweaks to make the assembly language more "elegant," Winder says. The 1802 was done under Alex Young, Winder's manager, and Winder doesn't recall there being any issues with its creation.

 

During this entire period of FRED units and CMOS development, Joyce says Joe Weisbecker continued building his own unofficial prototypes at home, which he would periodically use as jumping-off points and pitches as opportunities arose, allowing them to end up as official development projects; this was the case for the VIP, the Studio II, the arcade design and various FRED iterations. It was at that point that the internal RCA engineers were allowed to mess with them and design software (and come up with more market-ready hardware designs, in the case of the ones that were sold). He also published his Elf design in a variety of magazines as a way to prove that he was the guy behind it (so that RCA or someone else couldn't take the credit), and also to get interest out in the world in what the 1802 could do.

 

More to come as I learn more, but hopefully these conversations I've had with Joyce and Bob help clarify things a bit!

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Minor update for some of us searchers: I've been able to finally rule out the possibility that the "Diagnostic Cartridge" is anything other than the Tester I, as I made contact a bit back with Andrew Krieg. He maintained the online collection checklists around '97 when it and the Demonstration were added to all of the lists. He indicated that he never actually saw one, but that the existence of it was related to him by a former RCA repairman who knew of the Studio II. He did happen to see a Demonstration in person somewhere around the Northern Midwest/Great Lakes area at a collector meetup around that time. So if nothing else that makes another possible surviving Demonstration, assuming that he didn't see the same one from the YouTube collector. I had a good and enjoyable talk with him over the phone, though he no longer has any involvement in collecting. It is rewarding and interesting to sometimes track down how certain rarities got placed on all of the original checklists in the first place back in the day!

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The good news keeps coming - I've been able to get in touch with Paul Russo, who worked on FRED and the 1802 at RCA, and he's open to being interviewed! My hope is that he might have a bit more insight into the arcade machine and the unreleased game systems - his name comes up in some meeting notes about the Studio IV, at least - though I'm not holding my breath too hard. I don't think he was on Weisbecker's team directly, just worked with them.

 

Also fun: TCNJ got their Studio II up and running (I think it might actually be Weisbecker's unit, though I believe they also had another one on hand that it could be), and plans on having it set up for their exhibits. They seem pretty interested in snagging a multicart for the thing, too.

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That is awesome! Definitely looking forward to hearing/seeing an interview with him soon.

The good news keeps coming - I've been able to get in touch with Paul Russo, who worked on FRED and the 1802 at RCA, and he's open to being interviewed! My hope is that he might have a bit more insight into the arcade machine and the unreleased game systems - his name comes up in some meeting notes about the Studio IV, at least - though I'm not holding my breath too hard. I don't think he was on Weisbecker's team directly, just worked with them.

 

Also fun: TCNJ got their Studio II up and running (I think it might actually be Weisbecker's unit, though I believe they also had another one on hand that it could be), and plans on having it set up for their exhibits. They seem pretty interested in snagging a multicart for the thing, too.

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Got an unexpected call from Jef Winsor, RCA chip designer and software guy. He had some illuminating comments about the VIP and the work he did, including the revelation that contrary to what Andy Modla thought, he wasn't the author on Space Wars! He did a few nifty sounding things for VIP, and some little animation demos (including the dragon one), and he helped design the VIP sound chip.

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For those of you who don't follow the "Euro demo scene", Frog/ROi published a short intro for the Studio II on August 24. He believes it might be the first such entry on this system, and I have no reason to disagree.

 

 

More info and download source + binary here: http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=77744

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Did RCA S2 games come sealed with shrink wrap when brand new?

 

I ask this question for multiple reasons...

I have now seen a razor mark down the middle of the box on at least 6 different S2 games. Each game had the razor cut mark in the exact same spot. Games were purchased from different states and different sellers across the country. So I am guessing that they came that way brand new. Either cut by RCA warehouse workers or dealers. If they did originally have a shrink wrap on them, I'd think the razor cuts would have helped to remove it.

But I have also seen S2 bottom game boxes with skinny tape, thick tape, and no tape. So, if some games have no tape on the boxes, then how did they stay together without shrink wrap?

Has anyone else seen the razor cuts on the box facings, right down the middle, towards the top, about an inch or so long?

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Did RCA S2 games come sealed with shrink wrap when brand new?

 

I ask this question for multiple reasons...

I have now seen a razor mark down the middle of the box on at least 6 different S2 games. Each game had the razor cut mark in the exact same spot. Games were purchased from different states and different sellers across the country. So I am guessing that they came that way brand new. Either cut by RCA warehouse workers or dealers. If they did originally have a shrink wrap on them, I'd think the razor cuts would have helped to remove it.

But I have also seen S2 bottom game boxes with skinny tape, thick tape, and no tape. So, if some games have no tape on the boxes, then how did they stay together without shrink wrap?

Has anyone else seen the razor cuts on the box facings, right down the middle, towards the top, about an inch or so long?

Correction: the razor marks are on bottom sometimes also.

 

Some pics to show what I am talking about.

 

post-50008-0-45167100-1535652027_thumb.jpgpost-50008-0-43159800-1535652012_thumb.jpg

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I have seen sealed ones on shrink.

I believe the initial releases originally came sealed. The early box types I have seen sealed and i have also seen open ones without the tape.

The 2nd style boxes I have only seen taped and never sealed in shrink or without the tape pieces left on them.

Can anyone confirm different?

 

I assume all the slit ones you have seen did not have the tape and are the original style boxes?

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I have seen sealed ones on shrink.

I believe the initial releases originally came sealed. The early box types I have seen sealed and i have also seen open ones without the tape.

The 2nd style boxes I have only seen taped and never sealed in shrink or without the tape pieces left on them.

Can anyone confirm different?

 

I assume all the slit ones you have seen did not have the tape and are the original style boxes?

So the boxes without tape are the early style boxes and were shrink wrapped? The 2nd style boxes had thick or thin tape and were never shrink wrapped?

 

I believe this to be correct because I only have three razor slit boxes that I haven't sold off; A Gunfighter(skinny tape), A Space War(skinny tape), and A black label Blackjack(thick tape).

Edited by gamerMac

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Could those razor cuts to the boxes have come when a larger carton or box of games was opened (presumably at the retail level)?

 

The carton would, presumably, be secured with packing tape for transport. If someone was careless in cutting it open, it would be possible to damage the merchandise inside, particularly the item(s) directly beneath the packing tape.

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