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
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 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.
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!
In the book accompanying Peter Gabriel: Eve, Gabriel outlines his vision for multimedia as a deconstructive medium – or, as he puts it, a toolkit for examining art. “People can then become part of the creative process in this way,” he says, and he believes his art in particular serves as an effective “vehicle for ideas and emotional content” when broken down and explored. He touched on these ideas in Real World Multimedia’s first CD-ROM title, Xplora1: Peter Gabriel’s Secret World, where he espoused interactive media as a place “to provide a lot of material for the audience to participate in – so that eventually they become the artists themselves and can use what we create […] as stuff to explore and learn about from the inside.”
As Real World’s second and final release, Peter Gabriel: Eve stands as the most complete expression of that idea. The game assembles art, sound, print media, and knowledge into a postmodern collage, breaking them into pieces for the player to refashion. Its approach to participatory multimedia fosters a confident exploration of love and relationships, and it would have been stronger if it wasn’t moored to a specific interactive presentation of Gabriel’s music. Gabriel’s songs provide a useful overarching thematic structure, and Eve‘s experiments grow beyond the repeated fallback to the title artist. Peter Gabriel: Eve » Read more
Poor Clyde can’t catch a break. All he wants to do is collect gems, but some malevolent force keeps trapping him behind walls and making the floor disappear.
Your enjoyment of Clyde’s Adventure will vary with how much abuse you will accept. Clyde’s quest for treasure looks simple, plays more simply, and deals in a secret cruelty to the player that, while stimulating, might not be for everyone. Clyde’s Adventure » Read more
Early in Backpacker: The Lost Florence Gold Mine, our hero, the unfortunately named Chuck McBlade, stops at the Payette Inn for a meal. He doesn’t just buy lunch: he talks with the wait staff, reads the entire menu aloud, and grouses about the prices. Then, when his food arrives, we watch McBlade eat the whole thing. The scene moves mesmerizingly slowly, violating so many unspoken rules about too much detail in writing. The moment is jarring, not because it’s bad but because it runs against our expectations.
That leisurely, meandering pace distinguishes Backpacker. The game pays tribute to nature, hiking, and rural life, and its slowness feels like an exhale, a purposeful step back from problems to appreciate the world’s richness. Backpacker: The Lost Florence Gold Mine » Read more
Sometimes, a game is inseparable from where it occurs, at least on a symbolic level. Defcon 5 links its location and gameplay even more tightly, using physical space to unite a tense military defense simulation with the action of a first-person shooter.
Defcon 5‘s shortcomings mostly result from the game’s specific implementation of its ideas. Millennium Interactive’s experiment suffers greatly from pacing issues, but its central concept of housing disparate genre elements in the walls of a single explorable area is strong enough to show promise between those faults. Defcon 5 » Read more
The Obscuritory is always a work in progress. Occasionally, I’ll revisit earlier posts and content to improve what I’ve written before as I become better (hopefully!) at criticism. Sometimes these are smaller tweaks, but once in a while, I’ll do major article overhauls.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve significantly reworked a few older posts – ones with a great deal of significance to this blog and to myself – that I feel I didn’t do justice to the first time around. So much interesting thematic and atmospheric work happens in these games that I either didn’t articulate well or completely missed. I attempted to keep the original text where possible, but much of it still received major revision. The major changes have been to..
- Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong-Nou
- The Journeyman Project
- The Labyrinth of Time
- MissionForce: CyberStorm
- Wrath of the Gods
(Some comments on those articles might not make sense anymore with the changes to the content. So it goes!)
Additionally, I’ve been continually revising the Resources page with new suggestions. I recently reorganized a few of the pages within there into an accessible tabbed format, so hopefully it’s easier to browse on a number of levels.
I’ll be back to new posts shortly; this was an itch I needed to scratch for a bit.
Independent game development has existed arguably for longer than commercial publishing. Many of the first games were experiments by bored programmers and hobbyists. For a stretch around the start of the 21st century, that tinkering faded from view as major developers directed the culture’s focus towards higher-budgeted titles. Yet the lights stayed on, continued in spirit with free games from the Linux-based open-source software community.
Among that period’s more ambitious products is the sweeping, explode-y Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid. The game doesn’t reach its intensity goal, but in going for broke, it lucks into maybe a more interesting concept where guns and gore add texture to its surprisingly open-ended missions. Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid » Read more
In the past two years, the Internet Archive began hosting old games and software made playable in a web browser by emulation. For many people, this was a novelty – mostly a chance to play The Oregon Trail again for a few minutes – but it also represented an enormous shift in how we can access old applications. Hosting games in-browser removes so much of the technical difficulty associated with emulation, and for too long, the ability to run historical software had otherwise remained the domain of people with the luxury of resources, familiarity, computer education to figure it out (usually able-bodied, well-off straight white men, to be blunt).
Today, the Internet Archive took another step by enabling in-browser emulation of Windows 3.1 applications. Their collection covers everything from shareware programs to full CD-ROM titles. It doesn’t work perfectly, and it stumbles over large files, but it’s a start.
This, in the words of Joe Biden, is a big fucking deal.
Windows 3.1 is commercial software by one of the world’s largest companies, which has always posed legal barriers to emulation (especially when hosted via the web). Others have attempted similar in-browser emulation for commercial operating systems, but those sites are in dubious ethical territory that their often anonymous owners probably couldn’t back up if pressed. Emulation as a service exists as a safer alternative, but by design, it requires a fast Internet connection and can only serve so many people at once.
This latest effort is backed by the Internet Archive, a skilled institution that’s no stranger to unknown legal waters. I’m still not completely convinced that their solution constitutes fair use, but to have that argument come from a digital archiving powerhouse makes an enormous difference. Even if Microsoft were to contest the emulated content (which seems unlikely), the Internet Archive knows how to navigate those challenges, certainly more so than sketchy game piracy sites.
Anyone can now play Windows 3.1 games and programs instantly, essentially tearing down the technical and cultural gates between the average person and an entire lost generation of software history. More importantly, those long-standing barriers have been broken by an organization that can stand up for their actions. That is extremely promising for the long term.
Classic gaming and vintage computing circles have tended to celebrate finding and running software as accomplishments in their own right. We’re finally moving past that. Now, at last, we can and must direct our energy towards actually doing something with all these games and programs – enjoying them, discussing them more substantively, finding inspiration from them, using them for historical analysis, and just treating them as something more than hard-to-attain nostalgia objects.