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

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.

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

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