Solarian II Arcade categoryMacintosh category

Title screen from Solarian II

In Space Invaders, sometimes a UFO will fly past the top of the screen as a bonus target. Although Solarian II is also set in space, the bonus target is a stork.

Solarian II has a weird sense of humor. The game isn’t particularly wild, but it does get about as odd as it can while still looking and acting like a space shoot-em-up. That limits how seriously you can take the game, for the better, and quietly reminds you to have fun. Solarian II » Read more

Welcome to Macintosh Week Blog categoryMacintosh category

Welcome to Macintosh Week

Today kicks off Macintosh Week on The Obscuritory! May 13th is the anniversary of the release of Apple’s System 7 operating system, which added color to the Macintosh interface. It’s an arbitrary holiday and good enough reason to do a special week.

Through May 19th, the blog will have this novelty Mac theme, lovingly named Clarus after the unofficial Mac mascot Clarus the Dogcow. I’m planning two Macintosh posts on here and will be sharing more Mac-related content on the Obscuritory Tumblr. Follow along on both!

Like the Galapagos Islands, the Macintosh gaming ecosystem evolved independently. The Mac kindled a unique, silly community willing to experiment and play with the platform’s quirks, like its high resolution, early support for color graphics and multimedia, and the first widely available computer mouse. Coincidentally, this week the gaming podcast Retronauts released an episode about the early years of the Macintosh if you want to hear more about early Mac history. (And stay tuned for Richard Moss’s book next year!)

Thanks to a rising focus on Mac games in the past few years, there are more resources than ever for helping you play them. As always, check out the Resources pages for a guide on how to set up Mac emulators and places to discover Mac games. You can also now try early black-and-white Macintosh games and software through the Internet Archive’s collections. For a taste of Mac peculiarity, I recommend trying out The Lawn Zapper, a lawn mower game by Imperial Software.

UPDATE: Whoops… the second article I planned for Macintosh Week ended up having an incorrect premise, so I’m choosing not to publish it. Sorry!

Legacy Of The Golden Hammer Platform category

Title screen from Legacy Of The Golden Hammer

Here’s a confession: over a decade ago, in a former life, I helped run a Mario fangame website. By the time I left around 2008, the community’s tools and skills had grown enough that they could make imitation Mario games that looked and played close to the originals. But the early years were when the real magic happened. The fangames from those days shared more with outsider art than Super Mario World. Their creators had no game design experience, an excess of ambition, and absolutely nothing in their way.

From that clamor emerged Legacy Of The Golden Hammer by Jacob Dean Martin, age 14 (according to the game’s About screen), alias Dr. Wario. What starts out as a shoddy Mario fangame quickly turns into an unchecked stream-of-consciousness power fantasy that spirals so far out of control it inspires wonder. Legacy Of The Golden Hammer » Read more

Cooking with Windows recap Essay categorySoftware category

Cooking with Windows recap

Last week, I hosted Cooking with Windows, a livestream where we made a three-course meal and cocktails from CD-ROM cookbooks. Thanks once again to my friends Jessica and Joe for lending a hand! You can watch the 3-hour stream here.

We went over five different programs spanning the full range of cooking software, from recipe databases to tailored multimedia showcases. What made for a better program? And perhaps most critically, was the food any good? Let’s compare… Cooking with Windows recap » Read more

Explore multimedia history in Denise Caruso’s Digital Media Blog category

In 1991, Denise Caruso founded Digital Media, a newsletter covering the then-nascent multimedia industry. Caruso’s newsletter is a great read if you want a ground-level view of the early years of multimedia and the CD-ROM format.

Caruso used to provide issues of the newsletter through her website, which currently isn’t online. For easier access, I’m uploading them to the Internet Archive. Browse through the collection so far here. They’re a treasure trove, especially the “I/O” editorials, which feature comments from notable figures like game developer Chris Crawford, Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, and Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe.

The September 1991 issue is particular interesting; it discusses Spaceship Warlock, the Voyager Company, the expected future of the Philips CD-i, and Brøderbund’s strategy for producing inexpensive multimedia content. Paul Saffo compares interface challenges faced by early developers to an “electronic piñata,” an unwieldy but fun metaphor. (I had previously featured this issue in an old post I’ve removed for quality and accuracy reasons.)

When completed, the collection will have all 30 issues Caruso edited. It’ll take a bit, and I’ll update once it’s ready!

This Saturday, we’re cooking with Windows Software categoryStreaming category

Cooking with Windows banner

Icon from Delrina Daily Planner 3.0

Time to try something different…

This Saturday, we’re digging up some CD-ROM cookbooks. And we’re gonna cook with them.

The CD-ROM and multimedia era was a heyday for lifestyle software – programs for managing finances, scheduling your week, or picking out a movie to watch. The internet would soon consume almost all these functions, but a self-contained CD-ROM could bundle together tools, writing, and video and audio clips into a unique interactive package unachievable with previous technology. Hundreds of megabytes of storage space let developers run wild with features and how much they could fit in.

Digital recipe managers, which had existed as far back as 1969, could now hold multiple cookbooks worth of recipes with photos and instructional videos. Major brands like Better Homes and Gardens published their own CD-ROM cookbooks, each with their own approach to helping you plan a meal with a computer.

So, with the help of a few friends, we’ll be preparing food and drinks from recipe programs for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95:

  • Cooking with Dom DeLuise by Allegro New Media
  • MasterCook Cooking Light by Sierra Home
  • Williams-Sonoma Guide to Good Cooking by Broderbund
  • Cocktail Hour by Global Star Software

We’ll demonstrate each of the programs, talk a bit about their history, and do a couple different dishes. To complete the 90s computer dinner party vibe, we’ll play a digital party game. I’ll write-up our thoughts on the software (and our cooking!) afterwards. We’ll see if Dom DeLuise’s jokes about bread help us at all.

The food won’t be too unusual, but these recipes haven’t been made in 20 years. Let’s call it technoculinary archaeology.

This is one of the silliest projects I’ve attempted. It could be amazing or a complete disaster. Maybe both! Join us on Saturday, April 8 at 5pm EDT on the Obscuritory Twitch channel for a delicious adventure!

popol maya Adventure category

Title screen from popol maya

According to its introduction, popol maya is “not just a game” but a belief system. Supposedly, its tenets are based on Maya mythology, though it flagrantly misinterprets everything about that culture save for a vaguely tropical setting. The game stumbles onto its own ideas instead, attempting to solve that universal question of how to find meaning in a disorderly, malevolent world.

The game settles on communication. We need to listen to each other. popol maya wraps its answer under layers of groaning animals and dancing, and somewhere along the line, it forgets to link its spiritual dilemma more closely to the bizarre happenings at hand. The message comes through from the whole of your Maya adventure, but it might have shone stronger if – ironically for the theme – the game spoke to you more. popol maya » Read more

The joy of the unknown Essay category

I’m currently working on a post about Popol Maya, a 1997 Japanese adventure game that has very little written about it. Its anonymity has caused some problems; I’ll usually reference a walkthrough when I’m stuck, but because of the language barrier, the only coverage about the game online fed through Google Translate keeps mentioning a “crab bicycle.” So that hasn’t been entirely helpful.

But it did remind Jeremy Penner (friend of The Obscuritory) about a similar experience he had trying to play White Sun of the Desert, a game adapted from a popular 1970 Soviet film. It’s a very personal story about Penner’s relationship with the game during an uncertain period in his life.

What got me was the end of his post, where he tries to figure out why he got so invested in figuring out this strange game. For Penner, it was about finding comfort in the seemingly bottomless well of questions it raises, the freedom of getting lost in an unexplained, buried corner you’ve never heard of – and recognizing that you could live your whole life without encountering it. Penner discovered White Sun of the Desert from its connections to the Soviet space program, which somehow led him deeper and deeper to this undocumented adventure game. White Sun of the Desert may not be a good game by his account, but good or otherwise, it’s a glimpse into another world. Who made it? Why did they make it? What is it about? And where do those answers lead next?

That’s what lights me up about obscurities too. When you dig into something unknown, it can be the tip of a gigantic, interdisciplinary iceberg, a gateway to spheres of knowledge and culture that you wouldn’t cross paths with any other way. Engaging with an unturned stone can send us down avenues we never expected. It broadens our understanding of how much there is in this world, how we can always still learn more about it, and what we’ll discover with a curious, open mind.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road: The Video Game Arcade category

Introduction screen from Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road: The Video Game

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road: The Video Game looks and moves like an office program. Mind you, it’s meant to be like Frogger, but the toolbars scream Microsoft Word. The title menu calls the game “Chicken Windows Application.”

Screenshots from Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road: The Video Game

A sample of Chicken Windows Application

For Windows 3.1 games, these interface quirks, like the reliance on a bulky help file, are part of the appeal. Nothing about them makes WDtCCtR an improvement on Frogger, though. The game’s stuttering, halting movement significantly reduces how easily your chicken can dodge cars… or spaceships or dirt bikes or airplanes or whatever, depending on the stage.

I love this Chicken Windows Application anyway. It knows how ridiculous it is. You play as a chicken named Joe the Chicken. The developer, the wonderfully named StupidSoft, wrote a nonsensical backstory about a secret police force and a mad scientist that the game immediately ignores. Every time you beat a level, you get a silly excuse for why the chicken crossed the road. On two occasions, Joe apparently wanted to “see the new 1995 cars” and “do a report on sharks.”

StupidSoft clearly had a lot of fun making this. Instead of a registration fee, they wanted fans to send them postcards. You can’t fault their good spirits. Joe the Chicken is just glad to be here.

Trivia!

The credits screen gives special thanks to Mark S. for level ideas. His full name is Mark Stinocher.  According to the readme, “We weren’t able to figure out how to spell his name at the time. Sorry, Mark.”

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