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When a re-release gets unreleased Essay category

Registration reminder screen from Barrack

The registration reminder screen from Barrack. There’s no way to register it anymore though

One of the post tags on this blog is “still sold,” which I use to indicate games that are still commercially available in some form. Usually, the games were re-released on a digital platform like GOG.com, or they’ve been ported to mobile. Occasionally, they’re still sold through the original developer’s website. It’s worth supporting developers and publishers who go through the effort to make old games available and working on modern platforms, even in cases where the rights might have been snatched up by some larger publisher.

From time to time, I’ve gone back to older posts to add the “still sold” tag them, like Lighthouse: The Dark Being, which was officially re-released a few years ago. But there’s also an alarming movement in the other direction – games that go back out of release. » Read more about When a re-release gets unreleased

Boom Arcade categoryMacintosh category

Title screen from Boom

What do you get when you combine Bomberman and Doom? Chances are, it looks like Boom, a game that certainly does not infringe on intellectual property.

This was a shareware game that was sold for $15, not a free fangame. And despite whatever risk it opened up for the developer Factor Software, Boom doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s basically Bomberman with Doom characters. It even calls the games out by name. You play as a space marine in a green suit of armor who fights aliens – not demons – that look like human soldiers. One of the enemies named Thick Lizzy is almost identical to the fireball-throwing imps from Doom, except that it’s named Thick Lizzy. Technically speaking, these weren’t actually characters from Doom, which must have given the developers just enough of a cover to call it a parody if they needed to. The likelihood is that since the game was for the Macintosh and it was distributed through shareware CDs and the late-90s internet, nobody’s lawyers knew or cared about Boom, and under the cover of obscurity, Factor Software got to see what it would be like to map one franchise over the other. » Read more about Boom

The Legend of Lotus Spring Adventure category

Title screen from The Legend of Lotus Spring

The Legend of Lotus Spring has more in common with a poem than an adventure game. The big moments are intimate and quiet – feeding a fish, playing a musical instrument, finishing a piece of needlework. There are no puzzles or challenges to overcome. The main action of the game is to remember.

In Lotus Spring, you walk through a palatial garden, dreaming about a lost love. The idea was something intentionally outside the expectations of gaming in the early 2000s. It was originally a project by a group of 3D artists to recreate the old imperial gardens of China, and through happenstance, it became the only title produced by a short-lived company dedicated to making games for women. They created an elegant game that takes you on a short, emotional journey through memory and acceptance. » Read more about The Legend of Lotus Spring

SoulTrap Platform category

Menu screen from SoulTrap

In several ways, SoulTrap is a nightmare.

For Malcolm, it’s a literal nightmare. He’s become trapped inside his own mind by his deepest fears, and apparently, he’s scared of everything. He’s afraid of death. He’s afraid of clowns. He’s afraid of fast-paced life in the big city. He’s afraid of robot sharks… which I guess is fair, I’ll give him that one.

And so he must conquer them and escape. His fears have manifested as a dreamworld, so surreal that it borders on abstract. » Read more about SoulTrap

Rhapsody! A King Kong Battle Strategy category

Title screen from Rhapsody! A King Kong Battle

It’s not clear what spurred the existence of multiple tactical games in the early 90s about gorillas duking it out in the big city. The best known is Gorillas, a game that came bundled with the QBasic programming tool for the MS-DOS operating system, where two gorillas lob exploding bananas at each other from opposite ends of a city.

Then there’s the inexplicably but poetically named Rhapsody! A King Kong Battle. Who knows what that title means – maybe it’s trying to invoke the sweeping Americana of Rhapsody in Blue to go with the city? – but despite the musical name, it might be one of the most robotic games with a gorilla.

Screenshot from Rhapsody! A King Kong Battle

A mild sense of vertigo hanging over this poorly planned city

In a way, they’re fairly similar. Both games are about trial and error. In Gorillas, you take turns typing the angle and strength of your throw, like a game with artillery cannons, adjusting your aim until someone gets blown up by a fatal banana. In Rhapsody, instead of flinging anything, the gorillas are running around a city. You give the gorillas instructions about how many pixels to move – north 300, east 150, south 100 – and if they stop or hit a building, they go back to their starting place. The goal is to see who can reach the other one first. Like in Gorillas, the tension keeps rising as the apes get closer to their targets. It isn’t shown, but presumably, it ends with one gorilla beating the shit out of the gorilla.

The kicker is that the gorillas take their directions in the form of a single long string of characters – N300E150S100. This is not gorilla-like at all. It’s more like programming a robot. Or transmitting encrypted orders to a submarine running silent through Soviet waters. You can imagine an old mainframe spitting out ticker tape with gorilla code.

Typing out directions in this syntax is simple enough, but it’s an outstandingly arcane way to play a computer game. It could just as well be a game for a computer terminal from the 70s. Rhapsody runs on Windows 3.1, a more robust operating system than MS-DOS with built-in support for mouse input and window interfaces, but it’s even less intuitive than Gorillas is.

Games for Windows 3.1 can feel like they’re learning to take advantage of the capabilities of the platform. Rhapsody! A King Kong Battle looks like it’s using the features of Windows 3.1, too, while actually doing nearly the opposite, stubbornly running on gorilla code.

TaskMaker Macintosh categoryRPG category

Title screen from TaskMaker

There’s a trick TaskMaker loves to pull where one tile in a wall looks slightly different than the others. It’s called a “passwall,” and if you spot one, you can walk through it into a hidden passage or shortcut. TaskMaker doesn’t treat them like secrets. They’re part of the tutorial, and sometimes they’re the only way to advance through the game.

Secrets like this are the language of David Cook’s eccentric role-playing game TaskMaker. » Read more about TaskMaker

Robomaze III Action category

Title screen from Robomaze III

When we last joined our robot hero at the end of Robomaze II, he had liberated the Tower, where the totalitarian government was building an army of killer robots. Now he turns his attention to the Dome, another massive structure, home to the evil dictator himself. With one final mission to infiltrate the Dome, he can defeat them for good.

But the Dome is very different from the Tower. Robomaze II was set in a skyscraper with robots. The Dome is an overgrown mystical forest with witches, monsters, and soothsaying hermits. The robot’s armor powers don’t work out here, and for a contrived reason to start the game without a weapon, he accidentally left his gun back in the Tower. With no modern defenses, he’s gotta fight his way to the evil dictator with a sword.

That is quite a change. It’s almost the opposite of the last game – from a super-powered hero in a narrow building to a defenseless scavenger in the open wilderness. It becomes clear this was probably an excuse by the developer Wetware to make a game like The Legend of Zelda, a sprawling fantasy adventure with treasures and secret dungeons. (Only four years after the original Zelda game was released in the United States, at a time before this was a cliché, Robomaze III copied the opening scene where an old man in a cave gives you a sword.)

Yet despite the drastic flip in the style, Robomaze III still ends up repeating many of the problems that afflicted Robomaze II. » Read more about Robomaze III

Imagination Express Educational categorySoftware category

Title screen from Imagination Express

Where can your imagination take you? You could travel to ancient Egypt or the bottom of the ocean. Or just to your backyard.

Edmark’s Imagination Express is storytelling software, a program to help children develop their language skills by writing stories and bringing them to life with pictures. Compared with other story-writing software like MECC’s Storybook Weaver, which lets kids mix and match characters, backgrounds, and sound effects in wacky combinations, Imagination Express puts more emphasis on the setting.

The program was divided up into six different themed “destinations,” each sold separately. But rather than going to faraway imaginary lands, as you might expect from the title, these destinations are based the real world, either from history of the present day, like a South American rainforest or a Medieval castle. That’s because Imagination Express has a double educational mission – to use creative writing as a way to teach children about different parts of the world.

Of course, you can have a great time avoiding learning anything too. » Read more about Imagination Express

Seize the Day lives on as the Living Worlds app Blog category

Screenshot from Living Worlds for Android

May 2nd, 5:34pm in the Living Worlds app

Back in 2012, I posted about Seize the Day, a planner program for Windows 3.1 and Macintosh. The highlight of Seize the Day is the “Living Worlds” art gallery – a collection of beautiful animated pixel art landscapes that change over the course of the day. They’re stunning and contemplative. You can stare off into the distance and imagine an entire world as the sun rises and sets.

The only way to view Living Worlds has been either to visit an excellent online version by one of the original developers or to run the original planner program in an emulator. But Seize the Day was a program you’d visit every day as part of your personal digital space, and neither of those methods has the same effect. Now Living Worlds has officially returned in an appropriately personal format – a phone app.

With the support of the artist, Mark J. Ferrari, Seize the Day developers Ian Gilman and Joseph Huckaby have adapted Living Worlds for Android and iOS. It’s a faithful reproduction of the original art, complete with a few more nifty features, like swiping to travel through time. I can’t speak to the iOS version, but on Android, you can set Living Worlds as a live wallpaper, so you get a peek into the worlds whenever you open your phone. As a phone background, it’s finally back in the right format to check throughout the day!

You can follow the development of the app on Ian Gilman’s Medium page. He seems to be regularly adding features to it, including a series of fictional journals written by Ferrari about his landscapes. Seize the Day was fairly literary and wordy for planner software, so that’s a fitting direction to take it in.

This is a terrific reimagining of Seize the Day. It’s great to see it living on in a new form where it belongs!

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