Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness Icon for Strategy category

Title screen of Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness

The world continues to grapple with the aftermath of the Western slave trade. As the recent challenges to removing the Confederate Flag from public spaces demonstrate, certain pockets still don’t know how to discuss or even acknowledge Western civilization’s deep history of racial division. We intermittently sort through this dark period of history through art both reflective and aggrieved. Despite the wealth of literature and visual media tackling the legacy of institutionalized racism – particularly in America but also elsewhere touched by slavery – games have deferred from addressing race more than any medium; the gaming world’s well-publicized dismissiveness towards diversity concerns makes it generally inhospitable to socially charged, historically conscious work.

In these circumstances, the existence of Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness – a slave rebellion strategy game from 1988 by Afro-Caribbean developer Muriel Tramis – is a miracle. It challenges culture and history on multiple levels, as a cathartic release over centuries of ingrained prejudice; as a retelling of the slavery narrative; and as a classic game that dismantles homogeneous understandings of gaming history simply by existing. Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness » Read more

Gunman Chronicles Icon for Shooter category

Title screen of Gunman Chronicles

From the moment Gunman Chronicles begins with a slow monorail sequence, the game tells you that “Yes, this is like Half-Life.”

But then the train passes by a hallway suspended in anti-gravity. “No, this is not Half-Life at all.”

Developed as a standalone mod for Valve’s seminal first-person shooter, Gunman Chronicles visibly yearns to break its mold. Its style rests firmly between the claustrophobic linearity of its host game and the more expansive set-pieces that would define future genre pacesetters like Halo. No doubt Gunman Chronicles is a fun ride; it has tightly scripted sci-fi action chops and a sense of danger. It’s also an awkward game, the puberty-struck middle child of a genre caught growing up midway.  Gunman Chronicles » Read more

Revisiting Liryl in Lighthouse: The Dark Being Icon for Essay category

Screenshot from Lighthouse: The Dark Being

As a little break, I recently replayed Sierra’s Lighthouse: The Dark Being. I wrote about this game five years ago and generally enjoyed it, considering how much it lifts almost directly from Myst. Returning to Lighthouse helped me appreciate its tweaks to that template. Between the wall-to-wall machine puzzles, the game finds space to imbue the world with purpose and let players to run off the rails and find their way back. (I’ve updated the original article a bit to reflect my growing fondness.)

More than anything else, though, we need to talk about Liryl.

The character Liryl, the young “sacred ward” of the Temple of the Ancient Machines, stood out in previous playthroughs, but not until this most recent pass did she seem so fascinating, pivotal, show-stopping, and likely divisive. She is the game’s emotional backbone, a devastating central figure who moves the narrative deeper than its stated search-and-rescue mission. She’s also a caricatured object who actively disempowers with her pitifulness.

Lighthouse is a good game; Liryl makes it worth more serious consideration. Revisiting Liryl in Lighthouse: The Dark Being » Read more

Mission: Mainframe Icon for RPG category

Title screen of Mission: MainframeIf the pen is mightier than the sword, why not use it in armed conflict? The 1983 role-playing game Mission: Mainframe certainly tried to.

Mission: Mainframe substitutes BICs for battleaxes, bringing the venerated dungeon crawler structure out of the catacombs and into an office park. Beneath the enjoyably atypical setting, this is a standard if slipshod RPG, and its surface-level changes to the genre formula are its most jarring. Those accustomed to swords and sorcery will pick it up quickly, but they might have trouble adapting to its confusing new lexicon. Mission: Mainframe » Read more

Welcome to The Obscuritory 3.0! Icon for Blog category

You might notice that things look a little different around here. Say hi to the newly redesigned Obscuritory!

This is the third theme the blog has used since 2008. I’ve been tinkering on this for a while now, and I’m especially happy with the results. Everything looks roughly similar – mostly because I love the Windows 3.1 setup motif – but the blog is now cleaner, easier to navigate, mobile-friendly, and compliant with HTML 5 standards. In comparison, the previous layout was heavily modified from a broken template that briefly had adware and couldn’t run Javascript. Whoops!

There are other little tweaks throughout too, like the improved menu which links to articles tagged as “recommended.”

The theme isn’t 100% finished yet (a few of the header images are broken, and assorted bits and bobs need tweaking), but I wanted to get this version out anyway. It looks really pretty, and I’m glad to give the look a refresh!

(For the record, the theme is named Orbital Library, after an area from one of my favorite games…)

Music Highlight: Electronic Arts 3D Atlas Icon for Music Highlights category

Music Highlight

The one-two punch of multimedia-capable computers and the CD-ROM medium allowed for content of unprecedented size and richness. Reference work publishers benefited from this in particular: when you can fit an encyclopedia on a single disc with room to spare, enhancing that content with interactive media is the next logical step. This led to the pre-Internet, decade-long reference CD-ROM boom, responsible in collective memory mostly for Microsoft Encarta 95‘s MindMaze game.

At their best, these enhancements brought out the greater educational mission of reference CD-ROMs. More than collections of facts, they were about applying information in service of ideas. Look to Electronic Arts 3D Atlas to see how that could work – and how music anchored the experience. Music Highlight: Electronic Arts 3D Atlas » Read more

“Who allowed you to do this?” Joe Sparks talks Spaceship Warlock, CD-ROMs, $8000 computers, and the growth of interactive media Icon for Essay category

From Spaceship Warlock

Though now largely written out of gaming histories, Spaceship Warlock was a harbinger of the future of interactive multimedia. Released for Macintosh in 1991, it was among the first ever CD-ROM games, likely the earliest to use the multimedia authoring platform Macromedia Director that would become common throughout the era. Its combination of interactivity with high-quality visuals and digital audio were unprecedented at the time. Warlock made waves on release for its interactive and open-ended world, though the game’s buzz was eclipsed by the enormous success of Myst shortly after.

No one had ever attempted a game on the scale of Spaceship Warlock, either from a technological standpoint or in the overall scope of its interactive world. I wanted to figure out what it was like developing a pioneering CD-ROM for which no model really existed.

Spaceship Warlock co-creator Joe Sparks was kind enough to sit down with me via videochat for an hour to talk about the development of Warlock, working on games at the dawn of the CD-ROM era, the technical constraints faced, and visions of the future of interactive mediums. Sparks now works on animations for Google’s sales department, but he is still extremely energized about memories and lessons from this older, experimental era of game development. He shared a lot of great anecdotes and insights about how he and co-creator Mike Saenz embarked on a game project that, based on what he described, probably should have been impossible. “Who allowed you to do this?” Joe Sparks talks Spaceship Warlock, CD-ROMs, $8000 computers, and the growth of interactive media » Read more

Crime City Icon for Adventure category

Crime City

Taking a break from his criminal investigation, Steven White visits his girlfriend.

“What’s on your mind?” she asks.

“Do you want to go out for a drink tomorrow night?”

“Ok. I will meet you in the pub tomorrow night at 7 o’clock and don’t be late.”

Steven ends his investigation early the next day to meet her at the bar. 7PM comes and goes; she never shows up. She’s still waiting at home, totally oblivious to the date. This isn’t part of the mystery. The game just forgot.

The dissonance of that moment represents the great dilemma of Crime City, a murder procedural unstuck in time. Time’s urgency and irreversibility are central to the game’s narrative and structure, but it fails to understand the significance of those notions in the places where they matter. Deaf to its thematic strengths and mediocre as a result, it disappoints more deeply than a less potent game might. Crime City » Read more

Lemmings Paintball Icon for Action categoryIcon for Strategy category

Lemmings Paintball

Yes, the title is ridiculous. Please get your laughter out of the way in advance.

Despite a premise seemingly at odds with its property, Lemmings Paintball shares the series’s strategic charm. If you can overcome the initial shock of commanding Lemmings to shoot each other, you’ll find action inspired by the thoughtful franticness of their other games. The Lemmings keep their lovable herd mentality, even while armed to the teeth, but the iffy game mechanics draw too much negative attention to the thematic disconnect. These fellas are supposed to build bridges, literally and metaphorically! Lemmings Paintball » Read more

1 2 3 9