Welcome to The Obscuritory, a blog about gaming and software’s lesser-known, odder titles.
Something odd happened in the background of gaming in the 80s and 90s. The realization of affordable home computers and accessible programming made it easy for large companies, small teams, and individuals alike to make and publish games. Bold new technologies like the CD-ROM drive, multimedia tools, and early Internet distribution via Usenet meant that anyone could make big, quick, creative or otherwise unusual projects for a lower cost.
The results of this boom were varied, to say the least. Thousands of new games were distributed via shareware, popped up on the shelves of software outlets and bookstores, and accumulated in discount bins. Garage games, interactive movies, elaborate simulations, clones of more popular titles, confusing and complicated genre hybrids, and other misfit games were everywhere. Their volume and variety was staggering, even as they remained largely overlooked by the industry at-large.
As the years dragged on and financial realities set in, the industry cooled down. All the weirdos with multimedia and strange ideas begat Half-Life and Diablo, and gaming lost much of its outsider spunk until the independent scene exploded years later.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with Half-Life and Diablo, but they’re certainly a little less wild.)
That earlier period marked an awkward turning point for the medium. The newfound independence of cheap game development sparked a period of experimentation, fostering some unusual creative expression in equal portions of success and failure. But bigger names and developments overshadowed that at every turn. Notable brands like Nintendo and Sega dominated the marketplace in the late 80s and early 90s. More widely accessible Internet connections cheapened the value of CD-ROM storage. Rapid advances in technology made many titles obsolete or unplayable within years of their release. Most of these games are now forgotten or abandoned. They shouldn’t be.
These games deserve to another chance to thrive. They can still surprise, excite, entertain, and inspire as strongly as anything else. They make gaming a more curious, diverse, and interesting place. Someone has to talk about them, and it might as well be me.
This blog is a living account of my experiments and experiences with gaming’s forgotten period. Most posts will detail my impressions of these games, their genres, and the era. I’ll recommend a few favorites, and maybe we’ll learn something along the way.
Many, many games came out in the 80s and 90s. I’ll only be talking about a small portion of these. Specifically, I want to uncover games that are:
- Relatively unknown. Plenty of people have heard of Myst. Not many know about Gord@k.
- For computers. Most every game on this blog is for Windows, DOS, Mac, Amiga, or so forth. These are platforms where the margin-doodling happened. Game consoles also tend to have ardent followings of completionists and nostalgists, and I don’t want to retread that ground. That said, some systems from the 90s like the PlayStation and Atari Jaguar cater to the same scope as the rest of this blog and might be featured occasionally.
- Unique or different. Derivative titles have merit, but original games deserve special attention.
- Weird. If it defies conventional norms and rules, all the better.
- Awesome. Lost and forgotten gems absolutely need to be highlighted.
Programs typically considered separate from (or tangential to) gaming are up for discussion too; educational software, multimedia art, and reference CD-ROMs are products informed by the same era and are equally valid forms of interactive media. And for better or worse, they present a different, forgotten perspective on the direction of that format.
Unlike other past-focused gaming projects, I’m not out for blood or to ridicule these games, nor do I want to gush uncritical nostalgia. Every game deserves a closer look, which means approaching them sincerely and often accepting a degree of contextual datedness. Everything can still be a worthwhile part of the cultural conversation.
When possible, I want to look at these games’ developers. Their stories can be equally interesting and offer some insight into the history of game production. Many have drifted into other professions, while some have become major industry figures. Look for the “developer commentary” post tag for articles where I got input from the designers themselves!
I’ll also occasionally write essays about these games and the period. Subject matter, length, and so forth will vary dramatically.
If you like what you see here, tune into the Obscuritory Tumblr where I post visually striking images from the sort of games discussed in this blog and ramble about their obscure games and preservation. I also sporadically update the Obscuritory YouTube channel with videos and playthroughs of obscure games, but it’s infrequent.
My name is Phil Salvador; I usually go by Shadsy online. I’m a librarian in the Washington, DC area. I am a huge fan of games and have a strong interest in gaming’s role in culture.
This blog is my weird little hobby / obsession. I love playing and sharing strange unknown games, and I love connecting with people who enjoy them. Please drop me a line if you enjoy the stuff featured here!
And a guiding quote…
One of the greatest powers of bygone video games and software lies in their ability to inspire the next generation of dreamers. So, keeping old games in a drawer is not enough; they must be dusted off, booted up, played, enjoyed, discussed, and, importantly, remembered.
—Rachel Simone Weil, in Theresa Duncan’s Girl-Centric CD-ROMs Are Reissued for a New Generation