Dreams can be surreal, but the real fun lies in the twisted, fluid logic that guides them there. By the time you realize a dream has become totally alien from any real-life experience, you’ve already unblinkingly chased it down a path of nonsense actions. Maybe we buy into that subconscious malarkey because, silly as it is, it makes sense on some emotional level. Discount it rationally once you’ve woken up, sure, but we’ll believe anything in the moment that feels right.
That’s the appeal of Curse of Enchantia, a breathless fantasy that never really questions its heading. There’s no clear destination for much of the game, and rather than leave it rudderless, this frees Enchantia to build its own weird anti-story momentum. To its detriment, the game still clings to a traditional adventure game structure, but it uses those rigid mechanics for something far more slippery. Curse of Enchantia » Read more
Anyone seeking a lesson in the perils of over-design can start with the almost-fine prison break puzzler BailOutBob. Militaristic prison lockdown stereotypes set up a dangerous environment ready for some applied critical thinking; BailOutBob spoils the opportunity by indulging too deeply in its potential. BailOutBob » Read more
Obitus is a disorienting game. Its Tolkein-y fantasy setting of Middlemere has a certain stateliness that’s both enhanced and muddled by its labyrinthine stages. The game would play far better with a map or a compass, but there’s mystery in drudging too deep into the woods. The opening title scene of Obitus finds that exciting spot, where the discomfort of getting lost in the unknown is still electrifying. Music Highlight: Obitus » Read more
How do you teach creativity? Educational software too often gives children a blank canvas for art without inspiring them to use it – not just painting or making music but doing it with purpose and an idea. Constraint and direction aren’t flashy, but they’re undervalued.
Imagynasium is a masterclass in meaningful creativity. It shows how to find art in circumstance, like a deep interest or a scarcity of supplies. Rather than throw players into a bottomless toolbox, it teaches the value of drawing from your environment. Any program can let you paint a picture; Imagynasium helps you figure out why you would want to. Imagynasium » Read more
I’ve cooled down post frequency a little bit as I enter my final semester of graduate school, but I’m excited about participating in an upcoming event!
I’ll be a guest at “Everything You Wanted to Know About Game Dev,” an Independent Game Developer Association-sponsored meet-and-greet event with industry veterans about game design and development. I’m honored to participate alongside people like Chris Klimas, the creator of Twine, and Grant K. Roberts, lead designer of Never Alone. Although I don’t develop games, I hope my knowledge and criticism of historic game design will be useful for attendees looking to bounce around ideas or learn about what has been attempted in medium’s margins.
Plus, it’ll be a fantastic event with a ton of talent to mingle with.
The event takes place on Saturday, September 26th at 6pm at American University in Washington, DC (my alma mater!). This will be a friendly mixer event, and we’ll likely head for drinks afterwards. If you’re interested in game design from a professional, hobbyist, or just plain-old curious perspective, come on by.
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.)
UPDATE: Thanks to folks for coming by for the stream! I was a little incoherent during lots of it and said spoke out of turn a bit, so I won’t share the archived video link, but everyone seemed to have fun regardless. I may do other sporadic streams in the future.
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
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 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 holds together through these changing styles thanks to its consistent shoot-em-up fundamentals that work even once the splash is gone. Traffic Department 2192 » Read more
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.