Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM Software category

Title screen from The Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM

The Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM is an animated travel brochure that doubles as memorabilia. It compiles a bunch of photos and facts from Disney’s Orlando theme park resort into an interactive map format – a way for families to learn about Disney World and, maybe, remember their trip later, like saving a paper map for a scrapbook. The CD-ROM doesn’t have information about planning a visit; it’s more like a sprightly, clickable ad for Disney rides, hotels, golf courses, and water parks. It’s a piece of the sort of celebratory self-mythmaking that Disney loves.

Decades later, we can call the Explorer CD-ROM a time capsule. Disney World today looks quite different from this version of the park from 1996. Yet the Explorer CD-ROM has always been a time capsule: even in 1996, this program became outdated quickly. In hindsight, it still has merit as a snapshot, an image of what Disney aspired for the parks to be at one specific point in time. » Read more about The Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM

Video game history at Super MAGFest 2019 Blog category

Super MAGFest 2019 logo

I’m coming back to Super MAGFest 2019 on January 3-6, 2019 in National Harbor, MD! Super MAGFest is my favorite gaming event, and this time, I’m doing something different.

This year, I’ve helped put together a gaming history panel track, featuring an incredible lineup of video game historians, archivists, and curators. There’s been a need for a place where video game historians can talk with fans about their research – a middle ground where researchers and fans can interact. We’re making it happen at Super MAGFest.

I am incredibly proud of our panel selection. All panels will be part of the MAGES educational panel section in the MAGES 1 panel room:

Thursday, January 3:

  • Carly A. Kocurek (Illinois Institute of Technology) will walk through the history of video games by using ten gaming-related objects – and talk about the importance of preservation. 5:30pm
  • Kelsey Lewin will explore the legacy of Gunpei Yokoi, the famed developer behind the Game & Watch, Game Boy, and WonderSwan. 7:00pm

Friday, January 4:

  • Anne Ladyem McDivitt (The University of Alabama) will speak about women in video game culture in the early arcade era and the influence of Pac-Man on women in game development. 1:00pm
  • Kevin Bunch and Florencia Pierri (Sarnoff Collection at The College of New Jersey) will reveal the recently rediscovered history of RCA’s video game consoles and computers in the 70s, including a close-up look at lost games and prototype hardware, some of which have never been seen outside of museums. 2:30pm
  • Michael Hughes (Trinity University) will share his research on the history of video game fanzines and their role in video game culture. 4:00pm
  • Rachel Simone Weil (FEMICOM Museum) will share her insights on the history of video game hacking and homebrew games for old platforms. 5:30pm
  • Kelsey Lewin, Frank Cifaldi, Rachel Simone Weil, and I will hold a late-night panel about true weird stories from video game history. (I’ll be talking about Secret Writer’s Society!) Midnight

Saturday, January 5:

  • Retronauts (Jeremy Parish, Bob Mackey, and Chris Sims) will record a live episode of their podcast about the history of sound design from Nintendo’s R&D1 division. 1:00pm
  • Andrew Borman and Beth Lathrop (The Strong Museum of Play) will talk about the Museum of Play’s efforts to preserve video game history and their amazing collections of video game materials. 2:30pm
  • Campbell Parker/StrangetownFunk will give a look into the history of the Sims community and “the diverse ways that players interact with both their games and their fellows.” 4:00pm
  • Frank Cifaldi (Video Game History Foundation) will dive into the strange afterlife of the Nintendo Entertainment System and why the system keeps living on in unexpected places. 7:00pm

    (Frank will host another panel at Super MAGFest about his research on the recent SNK 40th Anniversary Collection in the Panels 4 room on Thursday at 4:00pm.)

A full schedule for Super MAGFest 2019 will be available in the coming weeks.

I am overjoyed by what these folks are presenting. We’re putting on a unique, insightful, subject-diverse panel track, and I can’t wait for everyone to join us. Less than one month is short notice, but I hope that folks on the east coast will be able to make a trip down, maybe even just a day trip!

I wanted to find the right gaming history event, so I helped make it. I hope you’re as excited as we are!

Visit the Super MAGFest 2019 website for more about what’s happening this year.

Visiting the old home of a multimedia studio Essay category

A building at nighttime. It is located along an overgrown canal. The side of the building is lit with purple columns of light. In the distance, a white smokestack is visible.

The building on the C&O Canal that in Georgetown used to house Magnet Interactive

Last night, I was in Georgetown in Washington, DC with friends to look at the public art that had been put up for the holidays. We passed this building on the C&O Canal, which you can see overgrown in the picture. This building was the former home to Magnet Interactive, a multimedia CD-ROM developer from the 90s that created titles like Icebreaker, Theresa Duncan’s Chop Suey, and the award-winning Beyond the Wall: Stories Behind the Vietnam Wall. Magnet was at the end of the building, near the smokestack, at 3255 Grace Street NW in what was once a historic Georgetown power house.

Back in 1996, The Washington Post ran a profile about Magnet Interactive; it touches on the precarious financial situation they and the entire CD-ROM industry found themselves in:

It is so volatile, currently in the midst of a wave of mergers and closings, that even some well-established companies with hit consumer products are in trouble — and six-year-old Magnet is still in the red and still waiting for its first hit. The most basic questions about the future of This Business — Will anyone still use CD-ROMs in five years? Can anyone figure out how to make money on the Web? How big is the audience for this stuff, anyway? — are in doubt.

So perhaps it is not so strange that at the same time Magnet’s executives are talking about taking the company public and creating a lot of rich 30-year-olds with its stock-option plan (“Everyone’s going to make out like a bandit,” co-founder Greg Johnson gleefully predicts), executives at other Washington multimedia companies suspect that Magnet may soon explode and fade like a supernova. Everyone in the industry says a shakeout is coming.

Visiting the former location of Magnet put the company’s mindset in context. Georgetown is a ritzy area of DC, mostly inaccessible by public transit and blanketed in upscale furniture stores and fancy restaurants in old buildings. Despite not turning a profit in six years, the company was renting offices on the canal. Even in 1996, it must have been expensive as hell. The Post‘s profile says the company “[spent] freely” on everything from their location and payroll to art for decorating the studio. They flaunted their expensive development workstations (“Most game companies can’t buy that. We can. Too bad.”). They spent on their image, on the status of being the hip renegade media company that the Post described. They must have been convinced that the big break was around the corner, that CD-ROMs were the next big cultural thing, and that they were the ones who would benefit from this new medium, even while the internet was on the horizon.

Of course, that didn’t happen. As Bob Stein recounted, CD-ROM multimedia was a stepping stone to the web and other formats. It’s unclear if Magnet struggled to adapt or simply spent themselves into oblivion. But it reminds me of the recent story about the digital publisher Mic effectively going out of business after they couldn’t find a sustainable business model for video content while shelling out for a full floor in one of the most expensive buildings on Earth.

Seeing Magnet’s old home brought all that into focus – the audacity of the multimedia era, wrapped up in one expensive office building.