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Enigma Puzzle category

Title screen from Enigma

18 seconds into a level in Enigma, I have to pause the game. This is Advancing, the eighth stage in the seventh set of levels, and at first glance, it looks like it’s going to be a hellacious version of the puzzle Rush Hour. A series of long blocks stand between me and the rest of the stage, and I have to slide them around in the right order to get to the end. It soon becomes clear that there’s another layer to this level: I can also push the blocks into the water to make bridges. At the moment it hits me, I pause the game and mutter “Oh my god.”

It’s gonna be another one of those levels. They’re all one of those levels. There’s over 2000 of them.

That’s Enigma, a dastardly over-complex puzzle game so intricate and expansive that you can’t help but marvel at it. » Read more about Enigma

Lineality Action category

Title screen from Lineality

If you’ve been to a gaming event in the past few years, you might have seen Line Wobbler, a game that creator Robin Baumgarten calls “a one-dimensional dungeon crawler.” Instead of using a conventional screen, Line Wobbler is played on a string of LED lights, which can be curved or shaped around wherever it’s set up. It’s a really fun experiment that’s surprisingly clever and nuanced for a literally one-dimensional game.

That’s one way to do a 1D game. The other way, as seen in the 1997 freeware game Lineality, is to make it a joke. » Read more about Lineality

Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse Macintosh categoryMultimedia category

Screenshot from Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse

The mindboggling part of Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse how much there is. It’s presented as a collection of HyperCard programs from the belongings of an artist named Arthur Newkirk. It includes his digital art books, a fortune telling program, a 52-page article from an academic journal analyzing an album he recorded, his personal correspondences, and a program from a sci-fi convention he attended.

None of it is real. There is no Arthur Newkirk. He never recorded an album. And yet here’s 200 pages of his poetry and essays.

Your family supposedly knew Arthur Newkirk as Uncle Buddy. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and in accordance with his wishes, he has bequeathed to you a disc full of his personal items. Wait though. How does he know you? That’s a vague enough name that you could be convinced through the power of suggestion that your family knew someone like him. The letter from the office of Uncle Buddy’s estate carries a bizarre warning: you might not remember Arthur Newkirk because of “‘divergences’ of an unspecified nature.” Divergences?! Like something changed in reality?

Phantom Funhouse has you picking up the documents from someone else’s life, exploring the totally mundane objects that accumulate around you. It has a deeper, darker, surreal motive for exploring that, one that calls the premise of the program into question if you’re inclined to look for it. » Read more about Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse

The Madness of Roland Multimedia category

Title screen from The Madness of Roland

One of the strengths of multimedia was how it can tell a story, or share information, in a way that’s non-linear, even collaborative. It can link ideas together in different orders, enhancing them with sounds, images, and video. Bob Stein, the founder of The Voyager Company, one of the pioneers of multimedia, described it as the future of the book – the next step beyond publishing in print.

In terms of fiction, many existing books were adapted with illustrations, annotations, and commentary. Greg Roach’s The Madness of Roland imagines what a multimedia novel might look like from scratch. It doesn’t just enhance the text with visuals and commentary but uses those as important parts of telling the story and its meaning.

In chapter three, we get to the madness of the title, where the seductive magic of enchantress Angelica backfires and turns the legendary paladin Roland into a rabid, violent maniac. While the rest of The Madness of Roland has been text, the transformation scene is a surreal video sequence, a shifting collage of suggestive religious art, nudity, and horror imagery, creating the impression of Roland’s descent into feral anger. The other part of the chapter is text again, written about the other characters as they grapple with what they presume was Roland’s death. That all wouldn’t be possible in a print book.

Released early in the life of the CD-ROM format, The Madness of Roland crosses the lines between a novel, a play, a radio drama, and video art. Split across multiple perspectives and media, it unfurls a Medieval tale of magic, lust, and legacy, though the way it tells that story is more interesting than the story itself. » Read more about The Madness of Roland

Troggle Trouble Math Educational category

Title screen from Troggle Trouble Math

Besides The Oregon Trail, the best-loved games by the famed educational game company MECC might be the Munchers series. They were essentially the same game with different lessons swapped in. Whether the green googly-eyed Muncher was eating words, numbers, or general knowledge trivia, their shenanigans were a classroom fixture through the 80s and 90s.

The Munchers games feature a few characters, just the minimum to give the games personality and a setting. The troggles, a clan of nasty circular monsters, mostly made out of mouths, keep trying to eat the Muncher. In-between the rounds of educational matching games, you get to watch the Muncher foil the troggles’ Wile E. Coyote-style antics in parks and backyards. Super Munchers off-handedly mentions the evil Doctor Frankentroggle pulling the strings from his castle. The details mostly serve a functional purpose, but they’re enough to suggest that there’s more to the world of Munchers, and it looks like a Minnesota suburb.

MECC explored more of the unlikely Munchers universe in a spinoff game, Troggle Trouble Math. It takes the series in a very different direction, ditching the game board in favor of teaching math on a quest. » Read more about Troggle Trouble Math

The Frogs Of War Action category

Title screen from The Frogs Of War

The existence of The Frogs Of War is a testament to how games can be the right format for the wildest inspirations.

The Frogs Of War was based on a dream that developer Linus Sphinx kept having. He imagined he was a lizard man enslaved on an asteroid. He was forced to dig pathways with a mining robot, a frog-legged vehicle that emits slime. A revolution broke out on the asteroid mine, and the managers pitted their subjects against each other in a battle to the death over a promotion. Sphinx remembered this because he “took notes on a microcassette recorder,” which he kept under his pillow so he could write code during his sleep.

He turned that dream into a game, and it’s every bit as perplexing as it suggests. » Read more about The Frogs Of War

All games are a mess Essay category

Screenshot from Gooch Grundy's X-Decathlon

Screenshot from Gooch Grundy’s X-Decathlon, a wonderfully awful game

Tomorrow, I’m posting about The Frogs Of War, a game that even by the standards of this blog is really weird. It got me thinking about the gamut that this blog covers, from heady fantasy allegories to fangame nonsense made by teenagers. All these games are part of the same landscape, all different points in a spectrum of experiences and creativity. And in their own ways, they’re all a mess. » Read more about All games are a mess

Deadlock: Planetary Conquest Strategy category

Title screen from Deadlock: Planetary Conquest

Despite what the title suggests, Deadlock: Planetary Conquest doesn’t actually involve conquering a whole planet. It’s about conquering a region, a slice of the planet made up of different territories. It allows you to get close enough to look at the individual workers on the planet, yet it keeps you far enough away so you can see the regional dynamics that drive the planet’s aggression. » Read more about Deadlock: Planetary Conquest

H.E.D.Z.: Head Extreme Destruction Zone Action categoryPlatform category

Loading screen from H.E.D.Z.: Head Extreme Destruction Zone

How many different playable characters should reasonably fit into a game? 10? 20? As high as 50?

H.E.D.Z. from Hasbro Interactive has a preposterous 225 playable characters. That’s 74 more than the original number of Pokémon in Pokémon Red and Blue, released in the United States just one month earlier, and 117 more characters than the famously huge cast of the role-playing game series Suikoden.

…and that’s about all it has for ideas. But what an extraordinarily strange group of characters it puts together. » Read more about H.E.D.Z.: Head Extreme Destruction Zone

A few post updates Blog category

Page Viewers icon from Creative Writer

Page Viewers icon from Creative Writer

Time for a few updates! July has been an exciting month, and while I was working on all the posts, I’ve also been going back and revising a few older articles that I wasn’t totally happy with. It’s weird to have nine years of your writing (!!!) existing all in the same place, and it’s fun to see how my writing’s grown over the years.

I made two major additions to previous posts that I want to highlight here:

  • One of the big lingering questions from the infamous Secret Writer’s Society back in March was whether the game was really a target of sabotage. I reached out to RTMark co-founder Igor Vamos, and he confirmed that the story about sabotage was a hoax intended to give the bug more publicity. Seems like it worked! It’s great to have that story finally settled.
  • A former Electronic Arts employee close to the development of Majestic, EA’s experimental alternate reality game, reached out with more information about why the game closed. It was a practical decision too. EA was ramping up production of their Lord of the Rings games and reassigned the producer of Majestic to a new title, which basically guaranteed that was the end. Thanks to the former employee for sharing this information!

I’m not quite sure where we’ll be going next, which is exciting! It’ll probably be weird. Thanks for continuing to read!

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