Realm of Impossibility Action category

Title screen from Realm of Impossibility

The most eye-catching part of Realm of Impossibility is the impossible architecture. Several stages in the game are designed liked optical illusions – the impossible fork and the impossible cube, among others. They’re disorienting and awesome and certainly the highlight, but they’re not the only place where the game plays around with weird architecture. » Read more about Realm of Impossibility

The Multimedia Bird Book Educational category

Title screen from The Multimedia Bird Book

I love birds, but I’m a passive birder. I usually just look for birds that I see while I’m going for walks, and typically I’ll shout “BIRD!” and scare them away. Not conducive to seeing birds. I’ve created that problem for myself. But birds are wonderful, and I love them. They make cheery sounds and have pretty colors, and they share spaces with us, hopping around our backyards and sidewalks and generally brightening up the world.

The Multimedia Bird Book from 1995 by Workman/Swfte – a partnership between non-fiction publisher Workman Publishing and software developer Swift International – is a lovely introduction to the world of birds for young children. I say that not just because I already liked birds, but because it hones in on one of the most magical things about birds, the fact that they’re all around you, and if you keep your eyes and ears open, you can find them everywhere. » Read more about The Multimedia Bird Book

Beyond the Wall of Stars Adventure categoryMultimedia category

Title screen from Beyond the Wall of Stars

Beyond the Wall of Stars sends you on a voyage to the far reaches of space. You’ve joined a scientific mission aboard the CSS Starquest to the distant planet Tara, which may hold the key to saving your dying homeworld. Along the way, there’s difficult choices to make. Do you answer an urgent distress call that sends you off your original course? When the crew’s morale collapses, do you instigate a mutiny against the commander?

You could think of it like being a choose your own adventure book, in a very literal sense. For one thing, it’s written, directed, and produced by one of the authors of the original Choose Your Own Adventure series, R. A. Montgomery. For another thing, the game acts like an actual, physical book. There’s a running page number in the bottom corner and a table of contents, and instead of saving your game, you place a “bookmark.”

It’s an apt comparison that also explains the limitations that the game runs into. With Beyond the Wall of Stars, Montgomery and his team noticeably struggle to make the transition from writing a print game to a digital game. » Read more about Beyond the Wall of Stars

Streaming schedule for the near future Blog categoryStreaming category

Thanks to everyone who joined the stream last week. It was fun to have everyone unpacking Beyond the Wall of Stars together. The article is still in progress; look for that in the next few days.

The Saturday streaming time seems to work well, so for the near future during the stay-at-home period, I’m going to try to stream every Saturday at 3pm EDT! I don’t have plans for a particular game this Saturday, but please stop by at!

As always, I’ll be drinking plenty of tea.

I’ll still be writing in the meantime – this isn’t a replacement for the blog! – but the streams are a great way to have a community gathering space while we’re all still isolated from each other. This is new for me, so I’ll update this post if plans change.

With the world on pause Blog category

For reasons that are hopefully understandable, The Obscuritory hasn’t been active this month. This is the first time I haven’t posted on the blog during a calendar month since 2015, so let’s talk for a little bit.

The coronavirus outbreak has been stressful, and as I’ve had to pour more energy into my job, I’ve been focusing less on anything else that feels like work. For the last few weeks, I’ve been taking a break by helping a friend with a game development project, which has been a new fun set of challenges! I’ve also been getting back into Minecraft after eight years away from the game, because there’s something soothing about chipping away at a giant tunnel, like doing a coloring book. But in general, it’s been difficult to focus, and The Obscuritory has taken a necessary break while I take care of myself and regroup.

I’m eager to get back into it again, but things will probably be a little slower for a while, even slower than usual. I had plans for long-term research projects this year, and I’ll probably need to put those on the backburner for a while too. But I want to help make things less painful, and this blog is a minor thing I can do.

(I swear, there’s this dark historical adventure game I’ve been meaning to play for over a decade, Azrael’s Tear by Intelligent Games, and I finally started on it right before the United States went into emergency mode. It’s tough to get excited about dark, moody games right now, so I’ve put that one aside again for the time being. Look forward to that in another decade, I guess?)

Given that everyone is cooped up at home for a while, I’m going to try streaming unusual old games during this isolation period, just for the sake of having a positive social space. I know I could certainly use that too, and I already have a webcam and microphone for work, so why not? I’ll update on here with more information once I get that going, but please check on Tumblr and Twitch as well if you’re already following there.

Seriously, please be well, and be kind to yourself. We’ll get through this by looking out for each other and treating ourselves well. Nobody is just the sum of their productivity or their work or their output. Rest is good. And bread. Bread is good too.

UPDATE: This is short notice, but I’ll be streaming the 1992 choose-your-own-adventure story Beyond the Wall of Stars today at 5pm Eastern! I should probably make a dedicated post for a streaming schedule, but I’m adding this here for now.

Capitalism Simulation category

Title screen from Capitalism Plus

The tutorial for Capitalism takes an hour and a half to complete.

Capitalism isn’t merely a game about running a business. It’s a game in which you manage a massive corporation down to the smallest details, down to every statistic for measuring brand loyalty and product quality. The micromanagement in this game is so far beyond useful that it feels like it’s just trying to show off how complicated it is.

The game does seem to be faithful to the subject matter, because the endless stream of statistics and relentless pursuit of profit pretty much captures the capitalism experience. » Read more about Capitalism

The dystopian information network of Perihelion: The Prophecy Essay category

The NetStation interface from Perihelion: The Prophecy. The terminal readout lists commands that can be typed in, such as help, talk, ask, analyze, and read.

I don’t usually get to talk about games from a librarian perspective, so please indulge me with this one!

Perihelion: The Prophecy, a role-playing game for the Amiga from 1994, is set in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk wasteland, built atop the ruins of a technologically advanced society that has long since faded from memory in a nuclear war. Although this chaos-riddled civilization continues to research new technology, notably a new field of genetics that bridges the gap between science and religion to engineer cyborgs and artificial life, there still doesn’t appear to be much in the way of meaningful infrastructure that hasn’t just been repurposed from the old world.

One thing they’ve managed to get working is a crude version of the internet called the NetWork. This might be the most plausibly dystopian part of this whole society. » Read more about The dystopian information network of Perihelion: The Prophecy

Koji the Frog Arcade categoryMacintosh category

Title screen from Koji the Frog

What did Koji the Frog do to deserve this? All Koji wants to do is eat bugs, and not only does he have to deal with angry bees and cars and lightning strikes, but there’s a gopher underground who’s trying to blow up Koji with dynamite! The gopher can’t sleep through Koji’s incessant hopping, so I understand being annoyed by that, but dynamite seems like a disproportionate response.

Koji seems reassuringly chill about this. He carries the same blank expression throughout the game. Even when he wins, to express his enthusiasm, he holds up a sign that says “Ribbit!”, like a Looney Tunes character. Maybe he’ll get eaten by a snake. It’s all good. He’s Koji the Frog.

Screenshot from Koji the Frog

Koji’s gonna fall right into that snake’s mouth and enter a world of pain

Besides the unrelenting misfortune that poor Koji has to endure if he wants a meal, the interesting part of Koji the Frog is how Koji moves around. His tongue can stretch out pretty far, but he still has to jump to catch bugs out of the air. Koji’s hop has a wide arc, which can be tricky to line up with the bugs in motion, so you have to lean into his momentum. Plus there’s the gopher, who will blow you up if you stand still for too long (maybe as a homage to the gopher from Caddyshack?). These minor variations – his limited range, his big hops, the homicidal gopher – add a nice twist to this cute, simple game. Otherwise, it gets by on how utterly terrific Koji the Frog himself is.

I expected that developer Marco Carra, operating under the name Slimyfrog Software, would have exclusively made frog-related games, but most of the other titles in the Slimyfrog catalog are desktop utilities, educational tools, or novelty programs (like EarthQuake, a program that shakes the screen around). That means Koji the Frog shoulders the responsibility of being the only frog software produced by Slimyfrog Software. I am happy to confirm that it is certifiably froggy.

A note on versions

The screenshots in this article might look different than the version of Koji the Frog you can find online. Most copies on the internet are version 2.0.1. These screenshots were taken from version 1.0.1, which was included on the demo disc for MacAddict issue #1.

Below the Root Platform category

Title screen from Below the Root

Below the Root is based on a series of children’s fantasy novels by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and without having read the books, I can’t speak to it as a literary adaptation. What I can say is that the game, co-designed by Snyder, is clearly drawing on rich source material, and the Green-Sky Trilogy is a perfect setting for a game with lots of exploration.

In the world of Green-Sky, the people live up in the trees, in harmony with nature. Relevant to the game, the people in Green-Sky wear these cape-like garments called “shubas” that they use to glide through the air, which are very fun to control. As fun as it is to glide through the treetops, though, the thing that makes Below the Root greater than its parts is how pleasant it is, and how it puts kindness, peace, and connectedness at the forefront. » Read more about Below the Root

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