Moraff’s Entrap Puzzle category

Screenshot from Moraff's Entrap

Steve Moraff was a singular game designer. Early in his career, before he exclusively worked on mahjong software, Moraff had independence from publishers, traditions, and standards to create his own games in his own voice. He produced more than a dozen games in a bunch of genres; although a few of those were team efforts, everything from his company MoraffWare bears his name as well as his unusual, technical style. You get the idea that despite MoraffWare being a business, he made games just for himself.

Moraff’s Entrap is unmistakably a Steve Moraff joint – punishing, graphically dense, and strangely tuned, with a dash of huckstering self-indulgence. Moraff’s Entrap » Read more

Transarctica Simulation category

Title screen from Transarctica

We can’t talk about Transarctica without mentioning Snowpiercer. According to unsourced internet descriptions, the game was inspired by the French novel series La Compagnie des glaces, though it immediately calls to mind the images Bong Joon-ho’s apocalyptic 2013 action film and the French graphic novel it was based on.

They all start from the same place. An experiment to combat climate change leaves the earth in an ice age. Centuries later, with cities collapsing, the world’s last surviving infrastructure is its railroads.

In Transarctica, it’s a network of railways, managed under the profitable tyranny of the Viking Union. No one remembers the sun, and the Union likes it that way. From old books, your character learns about the failed climate engineering experiment – and another project that could reverse the damage. All you want now is to see the sun. The Viking Union wants you dead.

The mission is bleak. Long stretches of nothing are punctuated with violent loss. You rarely know what direction to head in and could feasibly go in circles for hours. And still the journey has a sense of fierce dignity, of perseverance and hope despite the evidence – though that’s undercut by a bad moral compromise you’re supposed to accept. Transarctica » Read more

Gridz Macintosh categoryStrategy category

Title screen from Gridz

NetSpace. ToolBots. Home domains. Gridz speaks the stupid made-up language of cyberspace. With its tactile, rubbery interface and bubbly synth music, it looks and sounds like the weirdo Y2K-era future that never came to pass.

Gridz is also a strategy game, of course, and a clever one. Real-time strategy games have an element of territory control underlying them. Gridz makes that aspect explicit. The physical control of NetSpace has a mechanical role in the game, and Gridz supports the idea with the unfamiliarity of its juiced-up cyber setting. Gridz » Read more

Puppet Motel Multimedia category

Title screen from Puppet Motel

In her spoken word performance “White Lilly,” Laurie Anderson remembers a feeling that can’t be easily distilled: “Days go by, endlessly, endlessly pulling you into the future.” Not good or bad, simply a recognition of time going forward, clumsily.

Laurie Anderson’s only game, Puppet Motel, is like that quote – an observation, not necessarily a judgment, of the world moving and dragging us with it.

She recites that quote in Puppet Motel as part of a longer scene. The next time we see the artist, she’s facing us, sitting down in a starkly lit room to tell the story of Plato’s cave, the allegory of people who, “just like us,” can only see shadows of real things. Those two moments don’t share an immediately clear relationship. They are fragments of a larger, blurry picture, pieced together from excerpts of Anderson’s work and original multimedia art, a convoluted reflection on our changing relationship with art, technology, time, memory, and each other. Puppet Motel » Read more

Caper in the Castro, the first LGBT video game, available again after 28 years Adventure categoryBlog categoryMacintosh category

Caper in the Castro, a Macintosh HyperCard game from 1989, was the first known LGBT-themed video game. As the author CM Ralph explained in an interview from 2014, the game follows “a lesbian detective investigating the disappearance of a transgender woman in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco.” It pays tribute to the San Francisco LGBT community while also going for jokes like a villain named Dullagan Straightman.

The game was released as charityware: in exchange for the game, Ralph asked that you donate to an AIDS charity.

You can read more about Caper in the Castro at the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, which includes extensive coverage of the game, discussion with Ralph, and a copy of an article about the game from The Washington Blade from 1989.

Until just a few days ago, this game was thought to be lost. However, thanks to the Museum of Play, digital games curator Andrew Borman, Adrianne Shaw, CM Ralph, and the Internet Archive, a copy of Caper in the Castro has been recovered and is now available to play for free in your browser. In fact, it’s embedded in this post!

LGBT games and players have always existed. Caper in the Castro is an important piece of that history, “a labor of love for the Gay and Lesbian Community,” now freely accessible for everyone. (Also telling about gaming culture is Murder on Main Street, a straightwashed version of the game to be sold to a broader audience.)

Huge thanks to everyone involved in recovering this game!

Learn about game preservation (and play Mac games) at Super MAGFest 2018 Blog category

MAGFest 2018 logo

Hey, I’m coming back to MAGFest!

Super MAGFest 2018 is right around the corner on January 4-7, 2018 in National Harbor, MD. It’s a unique, freewheeling experience and my favorite gaming event.

I’m so excited to share that this year, I’m hosting the panel Preserving Video Games and Gaming History.

We’ve brought together an incredible panel of experts for you, featuring game archivist Rachel Donahue, International Center for the History of Electronic Games curator Shannon Symonds, and Video Game History Foundation director Frank Cifaldi. We’ll go over the basics of game preservation, some of the trickier questions, what’s being done right now, and ways that you can help.

The panel will be at 4pm on Friday, January 5th in MAGES 1 as part of the MAGES educational panel track. (I’m still sort of in disbelief that this is happening! Huge thanks to the panelists.)

Also! I’m curating a selection of Macintosh games for the MAGFest Museum. My goal was to get a range of moods, styles, and genres. Attendees will be able to play a variety of titles including The Journeyman Project, Theresa Duncan’s Smarty, Bungie’s early shooter Pathways into Darkness, the zesty RPG Realmz, and a whole bunch of educational games. (And, at long last making its debut at MAGFest, Catz!). It’ll be lots of fun to bring these games to new audiences.

If you’re going to MAGFest, please come to our panel! And at any point over the weekend, reach out if you want to talk about Mac games or just to say hello.

Liquid War 5 Strategy category

Title screen from Liquid War 5

The minimap in a strategy game shrinks a huge war into the size of a small window. At such a large scale, whether set in ancient Rome or a distant planet, any battle will look like thousands of multicolored dots running around. In a way, it boils the strategy game genre down to its most basic pieces – fighting dots.

Liquid War 5 totally embraces that reduction and runs with it. You control a liquid made up of hundreds of particles, fighting against other liquids. (Maybe it’s more like those online games where you play with a fountain of powder.) It gets the beats of a big battle in the simplest terms, mixed with the weird sensory experience of being a puddle of goop. Liquid War 5 » Read more

The glittery wonder of Flying Colors, now free Blog categorySoftware category

Animated screenshot from Flying Colors

Art software doesn’t come more distinctive than Flying Colors, a 1993 program by Magic Mouse Productions with musical flourishes and a pastel shimmer. (I used Flying Colors to make the wizard picture above, which made the rounds on Tumblr two years ago.)

In a bittersweet piece of news, to commemorate the death of friend Jack MacFarland, Magic Mouse released Flying Colors for free through their website with add-on graphics packs available for purchase. It should run on current versions of Windows.

Flying Colors owes so much of its appeal to its rich graphics library, created by Mark J. Ferrari, the same artist behind the breathtaking artwork in the planner program Seize the Day. Like in Seize the Day, Ferrari’s art in Flying Colors cleverly uses color cycling – creating the illusion of animation by changing the screen’s palette. See the bowl of fire in the wizard picture (???) for an example. Notice how the pixels at the very top of the fire plume turn dark brown rather than disappear.

Although Ferrari is no longer a game artist, he spoke about his career in games on a recent episode of The Life & Times of Video Games, a new podcast by friend of The Obscuritory Richard Moss. Give a listen, grab a copy of Flying Colors, make some wizard art for yourself, and pay a little tribute to Jack MacFarland.

h/t to Andrew from Play Different for the news.

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