Flash games and the importance of disposable media Essay category

Screenshot from Achievement Unlocked

Screenshot from Achievement Unlocked

When Adobe announced plans to discontinue Flash earlier this year, people rightly mourned that we’d soon lose the ability to easily play over two decades of amateur games and animation. Gigantic collections, like nearly the entire library of the game platform Kongregate, will rapidly become obsolete. The mission to preserve Flash content is enormous – not only creating a free, open way for modern browsers to understand Flash (like Mozilla’s abandoned Shumway project) but also finding websites with Flash content that will probably disappear soon. Thousands and thousands of Flash games exist, and like any creative works, keeping them accessible is a worthwhile endeavor.

We have to remember why we’re trying to save all that. The importance isn’t specific developers or publishers or games. It’s about recognizing the value of disposable culture and embracing more perspectives on what history should be told. Or, really, whose history should be told. Flash games and the importance of disposable media » Read more

Lode Runner 2 Puzzle category

Title screen from Lode Runner 2

As computers and consoles increased in power during the 90s, more game franchises moved from 2D to 3D. In many cases, that was simply a change in perspective – avoiding real-time 3D graphics and going with a slightly angled camera view to add a third dimension. Sonic did it. Lemmings did it. And inevitably, Lode Runner did it too.

When Presage Software bought the rights to the puzzle game series Lode Runner, they rebooted it with more attention to theming than the sparse, vaguely subterranean 1983 original game. The pseudo-3D sequel keeps going in that direction, the more intense theming along with the new dimension. Lode Runner 2 » Read more

MindGym Multimedia categoryOther categorySoftware category

Title screen from MindGym

People go to the gym to work on their physical fitness. The MindGym is, naturally, a place for your mental fitness. Rather than lifting or running, your exercises at the MindGym are mental shock – unusual, thought-provoking scenes that question the way you think.

MindGym shares its perspective using surprise. The MindGym location itself is a constantly alarming, disconnected multimedia art space that jars you into wondering what on earth this game could have up its sleeve. And it delivers more surprises, but often in the form of trickery, as delivered by the world’s least hospitable personal trainer. MindGym » Read more

Dig up old custom worlds in the groundbreaking Museum of ZZT Blog category

Screen capture of Three Trials from the Museum of ZZT

Over the last year, Dr. Dos has built up Worlds of ZZT, a social media project to explore the massive, influential volume of custom content for the 1991 game ZZT. The game’s level editor and its community were, for a certain generation, a first easy gateway into game design. ZZT‘s influence reached wide – but quietly. Now 26 years removed from the game’s release (and the follow-ups like Super ZZT and MegaZeux), fan-made levels have been difficult to rediscover.

Dr. Dos’s Museum of ZZT, the culmination of Worlds of ZZT project, is one hell of an answer to that problem! The Museum goes far beyond any other collection of user-created game content. In addition to play each level pack in-browser (thanks to Internet Archive contributions from Obscuritory friend Duncan Cross), Dr. Dos’s tools allow you to dig through the games’ files to look at their individual scenes in detail. No other project in this scope comes close to the care put into here. Dr. Dos also regularly writes “Closer Look” articles about specific ZZT worlds, adding a much-welcome guide to the unique and representative items in a collection that easily could’ve just been a big file dump.

(The site also offers bulk downloads and, importantly, an understanding that users may want to opt out of having their old ZZT levels re-shared or at least publicly associated with their name.)

Amateur games and add-ons like ZZT worlds are among the games most in need of more attention (and preservation energy). The Museum of ZZT is the high watermark for what can be done to break those types of games out and show why they’re special. It goes above and beyond simply being a repository or a list of files. And it’s worth noting that this is entirely a fan-run operation. I can’t wait to see the next generation of enthusiastic fans this could inspire, both for ZZT and for other amateur game communities. What could be next? Browseable StarCraft maps? A way to visit settings from the old BYOND online game engine?

Huge kudos! Start exploring with the Random ZZT World link.

Econ’s Arena Strategy category

Title screen from Econ's Arena

When the gods of the four elements began to battle, Econ, the Elemental Master, summoned them to his arena so they could fight without destroying the world. “Defeat me, or defeat each other,” Econ demanded. “I don’t care which occurs.” That’s a weirdly non-committal command to gods engaged in a battle to the death.

Econ’s Arena allows you to win both ways. But like Econ, the game is noncommittal about it too. Neither option gives a solid reason to play the strategy game through to the end – although its alluringly busy, colorful appearance certainly provides a reason to start. Econ’s Arena » Read more

Millennium Auction Other category

Title screen from Millennium Auction

Eric Roffman had a Ph.D in theoretical physics, and he wanted to make games. After working on an interactive LaserDisc poker title, Roffman looked for a way to combine his interests in science, games, computer graphics, and film. So in 1990, he started Personal Media Interactive, a company that would develop “projects that looked at the future, or combined gaming with interesting ideas, including a number of games designed to be both intelligent and entertainment.”1

They would make “intellitainment,” as they awkwardly dubbed it, multimedia games for adults.

Intellitainment began and ended with their only title, Millennium Auction. As the title suggests, it’s an auction game, a genre Millennium Auction basically made up. Auctions have an unpredictable, suspenseful rhythm, so Roffman planned a game around them as a way to experiment with a variable, randomized narrative in a speculative setting.1

The game certainly delivers way more intrigue than I expected from a virtual auction with nothing at stake. Chance plays a major part in that, though, and it raises questions about the role of randomness as a narrative tool. Millennium Auction » Read more

More thoughts on emulation and the access barrier Essay category

A string of events this month reminded me of the continued importance of making historical games available for anyone to play. I hammer on this point a lot, but the challenges and possibilities have been especially clear lately.

Last month, a university history professor researching the French Caribbean contacted me to learn more about Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness. I helped them set up an Amiga emulator; until then, they hadn’t been able to play the game themselves and didn’t know they could.

For most people, playing old games and software presents a unique challenge.

Some films and books come in a peculiar format. A novel like S. comes with dozens of pieces and inserts, and it can’t exist only as a PDF. David Lynch’s short film Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) was meant to be projected onto sculptures. At the risk of oversimplifying, these are, for the most part, exceptions. Most every electronic device today can stream a movie, and nobody needs specialized or expensive equipment for that.

Software, meanwhile, is entirely dependent on format. A game designed for the Nintendo 64 will only run on a Nintendo 64. A computer game might rely on a specific graphics card that hasn’t been manufactured in decades. To play an older game, you need to have the old system or know how to use an emulator.

Earlier this week, Nintendo announced the Super NES Classic, a limited-run console that emulates Super Nintendo games. It costs $80, plugs right into most TVs, and works out of the box. Although we don’t know how closely it mimics an actual Super Nintendo, it’s a boon for people who might not have much experience with games and want to play notable titles from Nintendo’s back catalog without researching emulation software or wading into the costly game collecting market where a copy of EarthBound costs hundreds of dollars. But those people probably won’t be able to buy it in a year. Nintendo super-fans and nostalgists will devour this thing and cause it to sell out instantly; they’ve also been the first ones to decry it as inauthentic compared to owning the original hardware.

Asking people to use original hardware is impractical. Beyond availability issues and the price barrier, outside of a library, archive, or museum, we can’t expect someone to make room for a Windows 95 desktop computer or to figure out how to plug an out-of-date video cable into their home A/V system if they want to play a game that came out over ten years ago.

And as it stands now, the emulation route often isn’t more convenient. Assuming you know to seek out emulation software at all, setting it up can demand hours of experimentation, sifting through message forum posts, and browsing sketchy emulation websites. DOSBox, the de facto standard for DOS computer emulation, still uses arcane text-based settings, leaving third-party programs like D-Fend Reloaded to work around its major usability issues. I’ve spent days of my life configuring a PlayStation emulator, and it still isn’t perfect. How does a curious person without time, money, or technical skills address those problems? More thoughts on emulation and the access barrier » Read more

Music Brush Software category

Title screen from Music Brush

Painting can be a meditative experience, like in the shareware art program Music Brush. Child-friendly art software was hardly rare in the 90s, and Music Brush stands apart by focusing on the process – painting, motion, the rhythm of your brush – instead of the end result. Music Brush is all about how music interacts with that performance side of art, either in the form of an animation you can watch or as a way to collect your thoughts. Music Brush » Read more

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

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