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Back to basics Blog category

You might’ve noticed the lack of activity in the past half-year. I do this in my spare time, and there hasn’t been as much of that lately.

But the real issue is the videos. Putting up videos for each game takes an exceptional amount of time. It’s hard enough to get a good video that captures a game in 10 minutes or so, but when it involves editing or recording something outside of DOS, that can be an arduous task. It’s terrifically satisfying to see the nostalgic reactions from YouTube, but I enjoy writing about classic games much more than I do putting the videos up.

I’ve been sitting on several articles because they were missing videos, and I don’t want to keep putting that off anymore. The blog comes first now. I’ll still put up videos when I can, especially for Music Highlights (which I really enjoy doing!).

Like a terrible undergrad student, I will now cram and turn in all my essays by the end of the year. Expect a deluge of content shortly!

QuickTime turns 20 years old Blog categoryEssay category

December 2nd marks the anniversary of QuickTime, originally released by Apple in 1991. It might not’ve been the first video codec, but it was one of the most popular and widely distributed. Back when such add-ons were popular (and before it became bloatware), QuickTime powered every adventure game and multimedia presentation under the sun. And to an extent, that’s why a lot of them don’t work on modern computers anymore. As a telling example, the first program to use and to include QuickTime was the 1991 CD-ROM From Alice to Ocean, an interactive photojournal from writer Robyn Davidson’s travels across Australia.

In an age of open content standards, QuickTime lingers, an anachronism in the same pool as RealPlayer. But let’s take a moment to appreciate all the great things QuickTime enabled 20 years ago. If you ever played a CD-ROM game or application with video, good money says that it used QuickTime.

Thanks to The Register for the info!

Dinosaur Predators Educational categoryStrategy category

Title screen from Dinosaur Predators

If you were a child who didn’t like dinosaurs, please raise your hand. Then, stop lying. Every kid who ever existed loved dinosaurs.

The folks at Alive Software probably had a keen sense of this when they made Dinosaur Predators, the second installment in their educational strategy game series. A turn-based strategy game driven by encyclopedic data is a tough sell. But the same game with dinosaurs? Sign me up! Dinosaur Predators » Read more

Happy 18th, Myst! Blog categoryEssay category

Box art from Myst

Congratulations, Myst, go buy some lottery tickets!

Given that it has become something of a punchline for boring and uneventful games, it can be difficult to acknowledge the impact Myst had on gaming. Myst wasn’t the first CD-ROM game, nor the first point-and-click adventure game (even from that year – Return to Zork and The Journeyman Project beat it to the punch). It was the most accomplished, though, and the most technically stable given all the music and video flying around, and it hit at exactly the right moment.

Rolling Stone declared Myst to be “a breakthrough” and “as close to virtual reality as we’ve come.” The Village Voice went as far as calling it “one of those works that irrevocably changes the parameters of an artform, multimedia’s equivalent of Don Quixote or Sgt. Pepper’s.”

Myst got people thinking in terms of places instead of stages. There’s a popular refrain that Myst led the adventure game genre astray, kicking off a deluge of abstract, unengaging puzzle box games that removed characters from a format dependent on interaction and dialogue. But Myst also proved the merits of open-ended, environmental storytelling interlocked. It was okay to make an experience, even if people considered it more of a slide show than a game.

Best of all, you could play it in your home computer. Myst sold millions and drove interest in the CD-ROM format to a degree no other game had accomplished.

Myst gently but unquestionable curved the direction of future video games. It may not be a perfect adventure game, but from the perspective of this blog, it may be the most important.

SimTower: The Vertical Empire Simulation category

Title screen from SimTower: The Vertical Empire

Few franchises have the instant pedigree of the Sim series. Outside of SimCity, most of the Sim games never reached any kind of widespread success, but if you bought one, you knew what you were getting just based on the title. By their peak in the mid-90s, Sim games had become a genre unto themselves thanks to Maxis’s master craftsmanship. Each game was among the most engaging simulations a given subject had to offer.

So it comes as a surprise that on a number of occasions, Maxis recruited outside talent to make Sim games. And even more shockingly, one of these projects, SimTower: The Vertical Empire, is intimate enough to stand equal to – if not a head above – all the others. SimTower: The Vertical Empire » Read more

Music Highlight: Traffic Department 2192 Music Highlights category

Music Highlight

While I wrap up this semester and get ready for a relaxing summer, here’s another great sample of forgotten game music.

Traffic Department 2192 has an epic, bombastic score despite working with an incredibly limited selection of Sound Blaster instruments. Two particular pieces, INTRO and INTRO2 (so cleverly named), deserve special recognition for sounding like grand orchestral scores within their technical constraints. The two pieces play one after another during the game’s opening sequence and do a good job contrasting the triumphant beginning with the decidedly dark, somber shift in tone.

The soundtrack for Traffic Department was composed by three people: Robert A. Allen, John Pallett-Plowright (who only wrote one song), and Owen Pallett (also known as Michael Pallett-Plowright). Allen and Owen Pallett composed INTRO and INTRO2 respectively. Remarkably, Pallett was just 13 years old when he composed INTRO2! Little things that put your own life in perspective, and it makes the game’s music that much more engaging.

EDIT: Since this posting, Owen Pallett was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the soundtrack for Her. That’s some serious talent!

Remembering Norio Ohga Blog category

Just a quick and sad note: Norio Ohga, the Sony Computer Entertainment founder who’s generally credited with inventing the CD, died earlier this week. His design for the compact disc was hugely influential and paved the way for DVDs, Blu-Rays, and CD-ROMs. The CD was a crucial piece of technology for gaming’s coming-of-age, and it’s always unfortunate and a little distressing to see crucial figures from gaming history passing on. It’s a testament not only to how old this technology is, but also to how far we have come in just three decades or so.

Gravity Balls Action categoryMacintosh category

Title screen from Gravity Balls

Oftentimes, the simplest games are the most fun. When a formula doesn’t have much nuance or complexity, it can engage the player without being prohibitively hard to learn.

Enter Gravity Balls. There’s nothing brilliant about the design; in fact, the idea is simple enough that anyone could code it. But it’s so goddamn infuriating, and I can’t stop playing it. Gravity Balls » Read more

Zephyr Action categoryRacing categoryShooter category

Title screen from Zephyr

If there’s one concept that games have perfected, it’s the futuristic blood sport. Sure, movies like The Running Man came first, but Smash TV, MadWorld, and their ilk turned those fantasy game shows interactive and pretty much left no room for improvement. Just don’t tell that to Zephyr.

Designed by the team behind the Might and Magic series, Zephyr nails the hubbub of a gleefully televised cavalcade of murder. Nearly every second features a fictional sponsor, a cheesy commentator, and 90s electronic rock music. The ultraviolent vision is top-to-bottom perfect – including the bits where the rookies needlessly, endlessly die. Zephyr » Read more

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