Archives

Kye Puzzle category

"About" screen from Kye

Kye looks like a big tub of Duplo blocks – chunky, bright, friendly shapes that couldn’t possibly hurt you. And in Kye, they don’t. Even the game’s monsters, like a sentient, gnashing ball of teeth, seem about as menacing as a sticker. The building block aesthetic lends a little comfort to a game that otherwise loves to overwhelm you. Kye dumps large volumes of obstacles on you at once, leaving you awash in Crayola-colored junk with the hope that you can crawl your way out. Kye » Read more

Microsoft Dinosaurs Educational categorySoftware category

Title screen from Microsoft Dinosaurs

Consider it a happy coincidence that Microsoft released a dinosaur-themed CD-ROM the same year as Jurassic Park. Microsoft Dinosaurs grew out of an investment in reference publishing house Dorling Kindersley to produce content for the Microsoft Home software line.1 Microsoft had the keys to DK’s whole library of writing and images,2 and, well, dinosaurs are cool.

Apart from having a bunch of pictures of stegosauruses, Microsoft Dinosaurs demonstrates how thoughtfully crafted reference material can bring value to information. The program bridges its content with context, showing that in the age of Wikipedia and digital assistants, guided learning experiences still have unique strengths. Microsoft Dinosaurs » Read more

Tunnels of Armageddon Action category

Title screen from Tunnels of Armageddon

A game that’s not complacent with a generic idea deserves credit for pushing itself, but Tunnels of Armageddon shows how that might not actually contribute anything. The game throws in lots of caveats and layers in search of some depth for its decent obstacle-dodging action, but amazingly, none of it really affects the game at all, positively or negatively. Tunnels of Armageddon » Read more

Tlön: A Misty Story Adventure category

Title screen from Tlön: A Misty Story

Jorge Luis Borges’s 1940 short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” invents fictional planet called Tlön that wills itself into existence through cultural force. By showing idealism overtake over reality, Borges’s story suggests the ability of people and art to reshape the world.

Tlön: A Misty Story shares a rumored mythical world with that name, though it bears only the most superficial resemblance to Borges’s story – or its philosophical achievement. That the game ignores the great piece of literature that inspired it is a lost opportunity, and the confusing, sluggish, thin fantasy epic it offers instead can’t muster an interesting perspective or character.

The swampy woodland setting does look gorgeous; maybe the game would work better as a painting. Tlön: A Misty Story » Read more

Securing the open future of “advocateless” game preservation Essay category

Jason Scott presenting at the National Digital Stewardship Residency 2016 Symposium. The presentation screen shows the phrase "Emulation D-Day!"

Jason Scott (right) presenting at the National Digital Stewardship Residency 2016 Symposium

This Thursday, I had the privilege to attend the National Digital Stewardship Residency 2016 Symposium at the National Library of Medicine. The speakers and program residents shared all manner of interesting projects that bridge the gap between digital and physical archiving; for the purposes of this blog, the most critical was the Internet Archive’s Jason Scott’s talk about software preservation. Scott’s work has been pivotal to opening up years of gaming and computer history, and during his appearance at the NDSR Symposium, he spoke frankly about the challenges the Internet Archive faces when their collection comes under scrutiny. His thoughts greatly allayed my concerns about the legality of game archiving, directed the focus of those efforts, and made the case to keep preservation frequent and fearless. Securing the open future of “advocateless” game preservation » Read more

Music Highlight: Lighthouse: The Dark Being Music Highlights category

Music Highlight

A bit less than midway into Lighthouse: The Dark Being, you visit the Temple of the Ancient Machines, a decaying storehouse of past technology. The temple and its lone inhabitant are the soul of the game, the last well of possibility in a failed world. With mystic wonder and sadness, the music of the temple ekes out the last of that draining hope.

The Temple of the Ancient Machines is beautiful and sad; its wind-battered stone walls protect the keys to the planet’s future, yet it clearly has only a short time left before falling into oblivion. The choir in the second half of the music conveys the sweeping desolation and stature of the temple, but the melody finds its heart. You can read the harp part as either expectant and spiritual or fragile and fading. This piece can be all of those at once, reflecting on the mythical remaining connections to the old world but also their gradual ruin.

The constant wind sound effect is frustrating for listening purposes, but thematically, it fits far better than expected. It’s musical erosion, clawing away at the hopefulness of the temple until it’s inaudible.

PSA: Fund a book about the history of Macintosh games Blog categoryMacintosh category

Screenshot from Continuum

The classic Macintosh era was home to one of the most astounding, vibrant, and self-driven gaming scenes in history. The Mac fostered some of the richest, most creatively risky experiments of the early years of gaming; it had a vast, enthusiastically weird library of amateur games, from black-and-white role-playing adventures like Scarab of Ra to the bizarre 3D fighting game Weekend Warrior. It was also a trailblazing platform that deserves credit for the success of the computer mouse, the CD-ROM, hypertext games, and Halo and Destiny studio Bungie.

Despite a recent boom of gaming oral histories and retrospectives, no one has attempted to commit Macintosh gaming history to paper. This could finally change with the crowdfunding campaign for The Secret History of Mac Gaming. Game critic and devout Mac fan Richard Moss is writing the book, which would run over 300 pages and include interviews with major names from Macintosh history, including Myst creators Rand and Robyn Miller and developers from Ambrosia Software.

This book really, really needs to happen, and you can help it along the way by contributing to Moss’s campaign. The Secret History of Mac Gaming is being funded through Unbound, a new publishing crowdfunding site that works a bit differently than Kickstarter. If about 700 more people kick in a little money, this book will be a reality, which would be fantastic and crucial for keeping a fuller historical record.

Please consider backing this project to bring light to an ignored corner of gaming history!

UPDATE: Only July 20th, the book passed its funding goal! Thank you so much to everyone who shared and donated. This is a huge victory for documenting and discussing a platform that’s undervalued in the grand scheme of gaming history.

The Geometric Golfer Educational categoryMacintosh categorySports category

Title screen from The Geometric Golfer

Educational games don’t need to teach for their players to learn. Often, edutainment finds success by introducing ideas and concepts in less direct ways, like engrossing you in a historical setting or raising situations related to the topic. Even by those open expectations, The Geometric Golfer seems tangential to an educational mission. The game uses the format of golf to familiarize players with geometrical transformations, though it approaches those concepts with a looseness that perhaps applies better to discovering facts than math problem-solving. Still, geometry is fun to play around with like this, and the freedom to experiment with shapes and motions brings some degree of comfort to a potentially intimidating subject. The Geometric Golfer » Read more

Prince Interactive stream today at 2pm EDT Adventure categoryBlog categoryMultimedia category

Screenshot from Prince Interactive

Very quick short notice PSA: in tribute to the sudden death of Prince, I’ll be streaming Prince’s only game, Prince Interactive, at 2pm Eastern today on The Obscuritory Twitch channel.

Prince Interactive (or 0+> Interactive, or just Interactive) is an extraordinarily surreal multimedia adventure game that acts mostly as a shrine to the artist and his music. Knowing what other great musicians have accomplished in games, it’s a shame that Prince’s sole venture into an interactive medium was an elaborate fan museum. But he was early in delivering his material to fans through digital platforms in many ways by producing this, and it deserves points for being… well, for being very Prince.

A fuller article about Prince Interactive may come later down the pipeline, but I wanted to share this game as soon as possible given the sad circumstances.

UPDATE: Thanks to folks for joining the stream; it was extremely entertaining and a surprisingly good primer on Prince. And like Prince himself, it was very confusing and sexy. Unfortunately, the copious use of Prince’s music means that large portions of the stream are silenced and can probably never be uploaded to YouTube safely, but you can watch the video on Twitch (with a great chat replay!). The video includes a discussion about games by musicians and a quick peek at Laurie Anderson’s Puppet Motel.

(I neglected to mention during the discussion the CD-ROMs by David Bowie and Brian Eno; look up Jump: The David Bowie Interactive CD-ROM and Headcandy if you are interested in diving deeper into that area.)

Three Point Basketball Deluxe Sports category

Title screen from Three Point Basketball Deluxe

Three Point Basketball Deluxe unintentionally depicts what it would be like to enter the NBA Three-Point Contest with absolutely no preparation or athletic ability. Loosely following the rules of the all-star basketball event, you attempt to make three-point shots from different angles around the basket. If you score more than your opponent, you move onto the next round of the tournament bracket. Difficulty settings change the size of the basket, as well as moving the basket’s location to keep you alert.

The game tries for controls that gracefully capture the muscle reflexes of the real sport, like the “three-click swing” mechanic in almost all golf video games. Its result – an unwieldy system of holding the mouse button, releasing it, then clicking again – never handles intuitively. Shooting a basketball shouldn’t be an alien experience, and yet it is here, with your shots veering off in wild directions. At higher skill levels where you can score consistently, the idea of throwing a ball still feels unnatural and uncomfortable.

Screenshot from Three Point Basketball Deluxe

He shoots, he whiffs wide left by a mile

Thank goodness at least for Rick Vitality. Three Point Basketball Deluxe lightly riffs on the NBA, mostly through fake brand names and easy-target player parodies. Its greatest triumph is Vitality, a Dick Vitale-aping color commentator whose over-the-top, bewildered opinions on the tournament barely resemble human speech. Nothing he says is funny or that distinct from what an actual NBA pre-game show might offer up, but he delivers his lines so bizarrely, punctuated with random interjections of “baby!” while his arms flail around, that he almost single-handedly carries the game. Three-point city, baby!

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