The Obscuritory’s coming to Twitch! Icon for Blog category

Time for a moderate-to-big announcement: I’m dipping my toes into game streaming!

I love taking The Obscuritory into the wild and meeting people with an interest in the weirder corners of gaming. Streaming is another great way to share unknown games with an enthusiastic audience, so I’ve decided to explore it a bit. I have no intention of becoming a dedicated or regular streamer, but broadcasting obscure games and talking with viewers is a new opportunity that I’m extremely excited to try.

My goal is to put on a show that’s entertaining and informational, mixing history and design discussion with game-playing. Don’t expect memes and over-the-top reactions; I want my channel to be a more thoughtful and open place where everyone can learn, share, and build positive culture with obscurities. Again, I might not even stream much after my first trial run – especially if it turns out to be too much work – but when I do, I want to use the platform for good.

My first stream will be on Monday, September 7th at 7pm EDT on twitch.tv/obscuritory. To celebrate the occasion, I’ll be playing a grab bag assortment of games I haven’t previously covered on this blog. (Not telling which ones…) It’ll run for two or three hours, so please drop by! This’ll be a fun event that I hope you’ll come watch.

(Any future streams will likely be announced via Tumblr.)

Unearthing Subterraneans Icon for Blog categoryIcon for Multimedia categoryIcon for Shooter category

Title screen from Subterraneans

Last month, as part of a big batch of CD-ROMs I ordered from the terrific Wayne Bibbens, I came across a prototype of Subterraneans, an unfinished first-person shooter by direct-to-video shlock horror group Full Moon Features that seems at least loosely based on one of the studio’s unproduced movies. The Subterraneans disc – dated February 6, 1996 and labeled as a demo – also includes Origins of the Puppet Master, an unpublished digital comic based on Full Moon’s most successful franchise.

This looks like the first time the game has ever surfaced, so let’s talk about it! Unearthing Subterraneans » Read more

Majestic Icon for Other category

Screencapture of the Majestic and EA Games logos from a publicity video by Mercury Multimedia

Since the first online RPGs and MUDs, games have existed as services as much as physical products. Persistent updates and tightly integrated social elements can open new frontiers for interactivity, but they also signpost an inevitable end when those games will go offline and become effectively unplayable. Gaming at-large tends to view those endpoints as extremely undesirable, and from a preservation perspective, game closure is a massive loss. But like live theater or performance art, some games are designed as experiences, transient participatory events that, no matter how long they run, are never meant to last generations.

The most fascinating ephemeral game is Majestic, an experimental, X-Files-inspired alternate reality game about the chaos of the information age that ran for less than a year before its publisher pulled the plug. Majestic still stands as one of the most ambitious interactive entertainment projects ever undertaken. Intended as a personalized ongoing event for adult audiences that didn’t enjoy gaming’s typical epic-sized power fantasies, the game might have heralded a new direction for the entire medium had it succeeded. Instead, it imploded almost immediately. Majestic cratered despite launching at a time primed for an evolution in cross-media entertainment, and although no one has attempted anything in its scope again for good reason, many ideas it tackled have become almost fundamental in digital media.

We can’t play Majestic now, so from a slew of articles and anecdotes, I’ve tried to assemble its history and offer a glimpse of what it was, why it failed, and what it could have been. Majestic » Read more

Traffic Department 2192 Icon for Action category

Title screen from Traffic Department 2192

Traffic Department 2192 is a game of halves. For its first part, it game delivers a fun and occasionally clever action showcase made abrasive by immaturity. Then, the game settles into a pattern, losing the constant resourcefulness that made it so interesting. At sixty missions, the game runs probably twice as long as necessary, and its unevenness is probably attributable to the realities of episodic shareware development. It sticks together through these changing styles with consistent shoot-em-up fundamentals that work well enough, even once the splash is gone. Traffic Department 2192 » Read more

At Mysterium 2015 Icon for Blog category

Hey New Englanders! I will be in Boston this weekend from Thursday, August 6th to Sunday, August 9th for Mysterium, the annual Myst convention. Yep, it’s still happening! This is my first year going, and I’m looking forward to meeting some adventure game fanatics and talking about some of the out-of-the-way favorites I love so much.

I doubt that anyone reading will be attending, but on the off-chance that you are or are in the Boston area and interested in saying hello, please drop me a line! At the least, consider this a public warning that I’ll be talking to strangers about The Journeyman Project and Welcome to the Future.

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 noticeably wants 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

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