Category: Blog

Wrapping up a very weird year Blog category

As this extraordinarily weird year comes to a close, I wanted to take a second to look back at where things are with The Obscuritory. Despite the messed-up state of the world, this has been a surprisingly big year.

And of course, that’s because of the SimRefinery post. From time to time, I’ve had things get attention on this blog, mostly for good reasons, but nothing prepared me for the incredible response this article received. I’ve been continually humbled by the reception – Longform named it one of their top five tech articles of the year! – which has led to some soul-searching about why I’m doing this blog.

I love writing about game history, and I’m so excited there’s an audience for it. I also realize that I can’t always keep publishing 10,000-word articles that take years of research, and I’ll be honest that in the wake of all the attention, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to keep that up. It’s left me a little unsettled about what people are expecting and where to go next.

The best thing I can do is continue what I’ve always been doing. I feel more confident in my writing than I’ve ever been, and part of the reason is that I’ve started caring more about the big picture. I think the reason the SimRefinery article blew up, apart from the nearly mythological stature that game has taken on over the years, is that it was a good story, and it meant something. It’s about something bigger than just games; it’s about technology and society, local history, and the human story behind it all. Asking myself why something matters has been beneficial every time I sit down to write.

Not everything needs to connect back to some bigger story; I love writing about weird old games for their own sake. But I want to keep broadening my perspective and looking for connections in the world around me. I want to do more like my write-up on Tom Clancy’s ruthless.com that was just as much about the dot-com bubble as it was the game itself. Curiosity, more than anything else, has become a guiding principle for me. Whatever I’m writing about, I love when I end up in a different place than where I started.

I think that’s something that has helped get me through the last nine months. I want to keep sharing that energy. I have a few big projects in mind that I’m eager to start in the new year, and I can’t wait to see where they lead to.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished this year in spite of the circumstances. Thanks to everyone for your kindness.

Talking Maxis and SimRefinery on the Video Game History Hour! Blog category

Video Game History Hour logo and screenshot from SimRefinery

This week, I stopped by the Video Game History Hour to talk about SimRefinery!

The Video Game History Hour is a podcast by the Video Game History Foundation, where the organization’s co-directors Frank Cifaldi and Kelsey Lewin bring on video game historians to talk about their research. I was glad to have the chance to join Frank and Kelsey to chat about my report on Maxis Business Simulations, the division of SimCity developer Maxis that made games for corporations, like SimRefinery.

Two years ago, Frank was responsible for a huge project about the unreleased Nintendo Entertainment System version of SimCity, and he was curious how SimRefinery fits into the story of SimCity. We talked about how it represents an alternate timeline for what Maxis could have become – and we went on some tangents about the weird company that they did become. Did you know that they briefly had a Maxis Sports brand? Really!

Listen to the new episode here. You can catch the Video Game History Hour on all major podcast platforms and follow them on Twitter at @gamehistoryhour.

All-Day Tea Party Spooktacular wrap-up Blog category

Nightbringer from 2K5

Nightbringer from 2K5

Wow! Thanks to your generous donations, the All-Day Tea Party Spooktacular for Trans Rights 2020 raised an incredible $4420.69 for Trans Lifeline! According to a spokesperson for Trans Lifeline who dropped by the chat, that’s enough money to fund their hotline for two days and provide a microgrant for a trans person who needs to update their ID!

The response to the marathon this year was amazing. I set our donation goal lower than last year’s total with the understanding that money is a bit tighter for everyone right now, but y’all were out of control. We sailed passed the original goal in the first few hours of the event, and by the end, we reached 354% of our goal!

This also meant that I had to subject myself to some truly terrible punishments as a reward for the audience. I drank four gross sodas: ranch dressing was the worst by far, but mustard and dirt soda were bad too. Grass soda was surprisingly drinkable. It was just grass-y! The others tasted strongly of concentrated seasoning, but the grass flavor wasn’t too different from a fancy juice.

But the absolute worst, as viewers will know, was the One Chip Challenge. The One Chip Challenge is a seasonal promo product by the tortilla chip brand Paqui which consists of a single apocalyptically hot tortilla chip that comes individually sealed in a coffin-shaped box. Urged on by an unbelievable $500 donation from Pete and Kate, I ate the chip and suffered for nearly an hour on camera for everybody before finally feeling comfortable enough to end the stream. The remainder of my evening is best left undescribed.

Things went off the rails after the One Chip Challenge (nothing on the schedule from 11pm onwards happened as planned), but this was such a fun stream! Big thanks for Misty De Meo for stopping by to play Moon, and thank you to everyone who tuned in to watch. Your donations will make a tangible difference for trans lives.

If you want to watch any part of the stream, you can catch the video here.

This was a lot of work to prepare, so I’ll be taking it easy for a bit. I have a few more articles and projects in mind as we head into the end of the year, so stay tuned for more later! But one thing you should never expect more of is ranch soda. Never again.


The barrage of sodas this year left me so full of foul-tasting liquid that I didn’t drink as much tea this time around – I didn’t even get to my Halloween teas! – but the hot beverages from the stream this year were:

A short break Blog category

Hi folks! After seven weeks in a row publishing new articles on Tuesdays, I’m taking another short break to work on some bigger projects and get ready for the charity stream on Halloween. Sticking to a regular schedule has definitely helped me out; I think this is the most consistent I’ve been writing since I started the blog! So far, so good.

I hope the schedule has been helpful for you as a reader too. Again, I can’t guarantee I’ll post every week, especially when I decide to take time work on bigger stuff, but I’ll keep scheduling stuff for Tuesdays in the future.

See you soon!

You are invited to the All-Day Tea Party Spooktacular for Trans Rights 2020! Blog categoryStreaming category

All-Day Tea Party Spooktacular for Trans Rights 2020 banner

Tea and skull icons by Pixture

It’s that time of year again… with a twist!

This Halloween, I’m hosting the All-Day Tea Party Spooktacular for Trans Rights 2020, a livestream marathon to raise money for Trans Lifeline!

Trans Lifeline is a non-profit organization that provides microgrants and support services for trans people in North America. I’m excited to raise money for them as part of their Trans Heart October charity drive.

Last year we blew past our ambitious stretch goal of $1000, so this year, I’m setting the goal at $1250! It’s a bit lower than the total we raised last time, but with finances tighter during the pandemic, I want to make sure it’s a goal we can reach. And if we hit the goal, we can keep going!

Normally, I do my annual charity marathon livestream in November around my birthday. Unfortunately, my birthday is the week after the US presidential election, and I just do not want to deal with the aftermath of that. So instead, I’m bumping it forward to Halloween! Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I’m gonna go all out making this stream spooky as hell.

Content hasn’t been decided yet, but as with every year, in the spirit of this blog, we’ll be playing weird old games and software. We’ll definitely play some old horror games. Plus, look forward to more donation incentives, which may involve strange novelty sodas. And as always, I’ll be drinking plenty of tea and taking breaks! Even though this is a marathon stream, I want to be sure we’re taking care of ourselves. Bring your own tea! Maybe something fall-y. I should probably get pumpkin spice tea, right?

The stream starts on October 31 at 10am EDT and will go as long as I’m feeling up for it. Streaming more often has helped me build up my endurance, so maybe we’ll get closer to that fabled 24-hour stream this time? Who knows!

See you on Halloween at twitch.tv/obscuritory… if you dare! » Read more about You are invited to the All-Day Tea Party Spooktacular for Trans Rights 2020!

Introducing Obscuri-Tuesdays! Blog category

A modified screenshot from Delrina Daily Planner 3.0, a planner program for Windows 3.1. The planner page says "Obscuri-Tuesdays. New posts on Tuesday! For now! Begins on 8/25/20"

Modified screenshot from Delrina Daily Planner 3.0

Welcome back, and welcome to the start of something different for The Obscuritory!

For a long time, I’ve wanted to figure out a more stable writing schedule. One of the things I’ve always struggled with is working at a consistent pace. It’s been especially difficult this year, with new exciting sources of stress popping up every week. Part of the issue is that I tend to publish things as soon as I finish them, which leaves me on a constant treadmill to keep writing. At the same time, I recognize that as blog readers are waning in popularity and more people are going first to social media or YouTube, following a blog in 2020 is more difficult than it’s ever been, and it would help readers if I had a more reliable schedule.

So for the last couple weeks, I’ve been drafting a bunch of posts in advance instead! I have about a month’s worth of articles ready to go, which gives me a much longer runway to keep writing, or, if I need it, to take a break for a while. It also means I can set up a regular schedule, rather than just publishing posts as they’re completed.

From now on, new articles will be going up on Tuesday mornings! I’m calling this Obscuri-Tuesdays. (It was suggested that I do Thursdays instead so I could call it Obscursdays, but I like sharing them earlier in the week.) I hope that posting new articles at a regular time will make this blog a bit easier to follow!

This won’t be every week, but it will be on Tuesdays. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to keep up the pace of writing one article per week. Sometimes they take longer to write and research, or I’ll get sidetracked by other things in life. But I hope that taking a quick reset like this will help out in the long run. I’m proud to be able to do this blog on my own terms, and I’m excited about making it more consistent in a way that’ll be better for both me and you!

(On a side note, the fall is usually a slower period for this blog because I’m busy working on special events. Given that just about everything in the world has been canceled, I don’t think that’ll be an issue this year. Silver linings?)

The Obscuritory will continue tomorrow with an article about Mind Walker, a bizarre Amiga game by Bill Williams (Knights of the Crystallion) that takes place in the human brain. See you then – and see you on Tuesdays from here on out!

Learn about multimedia adventure games at virtual Mysterium 2020! Blog category

Stambul City from Spaceship Warlock

Stambul City from Spaceship Warlock

It’s been a quiet month over here. I’ve been a little burned out recently – life is really hard right now! – so I’ve been taking a break again. I’ve also decided to try something new by writing articles in advance, rather than publishing everything as it’s finished, to give myself a longer runway of regularly scheduled posts. Hopefully this will help me write more consistently while this country’s health crisis keeps unfolding. Things should pick up again in a few weeks.

. . .

In the meantime, there’s a fun event next happening next week! I’m talking at this year’s virtual Mysterium, the annual Myst fan convention. Mysterium is one of my favorite events, and I’m excited to be presenting this year.

Like every event, Mysterium has been forced to move online, but that’s given them a chance to put together an incredible event program featuring a reunion with most of the major players in the Myst franchise, including Presto Studios’ Michel Kripalani and Phil Saunders, developers for Myst III: Exile and The Journeyman Project!

As part of Mysterium 2020, I’m giving a talk about multimedia CD-ROM games from the Myst era called “Ages Before Myst”! It’ll be a crash course for the Myst community on the games, software, and technology that led up to Myst, featuring games I’ve discussed on this blog including Hell Cab, Spaceship Warlock, Enchanted Scepters, and more. Myst was a milestone game, but it didn’t come out of nowhere, and it’ll be fun to share some of this historical context with the community.

My talk will be Saturday, August 8 at 6:30pm EDT on YouTube. For a full list of the events Mysterium has in store this year, check the official schedule. See you then!

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 twitch.tv/obscuritory!

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. https://www.twitch.tv/obscuritory

Game history panels at Super MAGFest 2020 Blog category

Super MAGFest 2020 logo

I’ve been posting a lot of updates and announcements this month because I’ve been busy on special projects… and here’s a big one!

I’m excited to announce that the video game history panel track is coming back to Super MAGFest 2020! Super MAGFest will be held January 2-5, 2020 in National Harbor, MD.

The game history panels were a big success at MAGFest this year, and we’re bringing together another incredible lineup of historians, archivists, and curators to talk about their work. Come learn about the untold corners of gaming history! » Read more about Game history panels at Super MAGFest 2020

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