Category: Blog

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!

Temporary leave Blog category

Hi everyone. In light of recent events, I’m taking a mental health break. I understand and appreciate the interest this topic received this week, but I went about it the wrong way and I regret possibly causing additional damage. I’m sorry, and I’m stepping away for a bit.

I want to repeat what I said in an earlier post: Although I’m glad more historical games will be available, this isn’t a sustainable way to preserve games. Leaks play a role in getting things out, but they’re not a healthy foundation for a gaming culture that values preservation. There’s often a tense relationship between private collectors who value rare games and folks who want to release things online. We’re all in this together, and to preserve our shared cultural history, we need to build trust.

Private collectors have saved historical objects that otherwise might’ve been lost, and rather than demonizing people who are reluctant to make their collections available, we have to collaborate with them on the importance of preservation. Folks like Joseph Redon are doing incredible work bridging the cultural differences between Japanese collectors and game preservationists. By the same token, we also need to show patience and understanding when things aren’t immediately available. Sometimes there are good reasons; many prototype or development materials have only been preserved because they were provided to a person or museum that restricted their access. Trust is difficult to built, and it takes time.

UPDATE 6/8: I recognize the interest that the recent game leak has generated. I’ve chosen to no longer be involved in this situation. On further reflection, I think it’s the ethically right thing for the long term of game preservation not to release anything else from this collection now. I hope we can use the events of this week to start a necessary conversation about the relationship between collection and preservation. Preservation is a long-term goal that we have to cooperate on.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to take time off from all this for my well-being. Looking forward to coming back later.

Preservation panel recap and Awesome Con 2018 Blog category

A few panel-related updates! Our game preservation panel from Super MAGFest 2018 is up on YouTube now:

Two things I wish I’d done differently. One is letting all questions wait until the end of the panel. This was my first time moderating a group discussion; lesson learned!

The other thing is, when talking about community-focused archiving and the importance of preserving smaller games, I forgot to mention how important sensitivity is. A lot of smaller games are very personal, or their creator might not be proud of them (think of dumb things you made as a teenager). Having them preserved outside the creator’s control, with their name attached, could be insensitive, disrespectful, or harmful. That’s one of the reasons why to collaborate with communities.

The panel went really well. The organizers let the Q&A run 10 minutes over the original panel time, and then we spilled over into another room to continue talking with attendees. It was an amazing experience, and we were glad to get so many people thinking about game preservation (plus the surprise appearance from the Internet Archive’s Jason Scott). Once again, I’m very grateful to the other panelists for participating! Thanks to all who attended.

Additionally, I’ll be running another panel very soon! Next week on Saturday, March 31st at 3pm, I’ll be at Awesome Con 2018 in Washington, DC hosting Gaming in the Grey Zone: Fangames, Hacks, and Mods. I’ll be speaking about the dubious DIY world of fangames and fan-made game modifications and how they interact with gaming culture. If you’ve ever wanted to hear about a Biblical Sonic the Hedgehog fangame at a comic convention, this is your chance!

Caper in the Castro, the first LGBTQ video game, available again after 28 years Adventure categoryBlog categoryMacintosh category

Caper in the Castro, a Macintosh HyperCard game from 1989, was the first known LGBTQ-themed video game. As the author CM Ralph explained in an interview from 2014, the game follows “a lesbian detective investigating the disappearance of a transgender woman in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco.” It pays tribute to the San Francisco LGBTQ community while also going for jokes like a villain named Dullagan Straightman.

The game was released as charityware: in exchange for the game, Ralph asked that you donate to an AIDS charity.

You can read more about Caper in the Castro at the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, which includes extensive coverage of the game, discussion with Ralph, and a copy of an article about the game from The Washington Blade from 1989.

Until just a few days ago, this game was thought to be lost. However, thanks to the Museum of Play, digital games curator Andrew Borman, Adrianne Shaw, CM Ralph, and the Internet Archive, a copy of Caper in the Castro has been recovered and is now available to play for free in your browser. In fact, it’s embedded in this post!

LGBTQ games and players have always existed. Caper in the Castro is an important piece of that history, “a labor of love for the Gay and Lesbian Community,” now freely accessible for everyone. (Also telling about gaming culture is Murder on Main Street, a straightwashed version of the game to be sold to a broader audience.)

Huge thanks to everyone involved in recovering this game!

Learn about game preservation (and play Mac games) at Super MAGFest 2018 Blog category

MAGFest 2018 logo

Hey, I’m coming back to MAGFest!

Super MAGFest 2018 is right around the corner on January 4-7, 2018 in National Harbor, MD. It’s a unique, freewheeling experience and my favorite gaming event.

I’m so excited to share that this year, I’m hosting the panel Preserving Video Games and Gaming History.

We’ve brought together an incredible panel of experts for you, featuring game archivist Rachel Donahue, International Center for the History of Electronic Games curator Shannon Symonds, and Video Game History Foundation director Frank Cifaldi. We’ll go over the basics of game preservation, some of the trickier questions, what’s being done right now, and ways that you can help.

The panel will be at 4pm on Friday, January 5th in MAGES 1 as part of the MAGES educational panel track. (I’m still sort of in disbelief that this is happening! Huge thanks to the panelists.)

Also! I’m curating a selection of Macintosh games for the MAGFest Museum. My goal was to get a range of moods, styles, and genres. Attendees will be able to play a variety of titles including The Journeyman Project, Theresa Duncan’s Smarty, Bungie’s early shooter Pathways into Darkness, the zesty RPG Realmz, and a whole bunch of educational games. (And, at long last making its debut at MAGFest, Catz!). It’ll be lots of fun to bring these games to new audiences.

If you’re going to MAGFest, please come to our panel! And at any point over the weekend, reach out if you want to talk about Mac games or just to say hello.

The glittery wonder of Flying Colors, now free Blog categorySoftware category

Animated screenshot from Flying Colors

Art software doesn’t come more distinctive than Flying Colors, a 1993 program by Magic Mouse Productions with musical flourishes and a pastel shimmer. (I used Flying Colors to make the wizard picture above, which made the rounds on Tumblr two years ago.)

In a bittersweet piece of news, to commemorate the death of friend Jack MacFarland, Magic Mouse released Flying Colors for free through their website with add-on graphics packs available for purchase. It should run on current versions of Windows.

Flying Colors owes so much of its appeal to its rich graphics library, created by Mark J. Ferrari, the same artist behind the breathtaking artwork in the planner program Seize the Day. Like in Seize the Day, Ferrari’s art in Flying Colors cleverly uses color cycling – creating the illusion of animation by changing the screen’s palette. See the bowl of fire in the wizard picture (???) for an example. Notice how the pixels at the very top of the fire plume turn dark brown rather than disappear.

Although Ferrari is no longer a game artist, he spoke about his career in games on a recent episode of The Life & Times of Video Games, a new podcast by friend of The Obscuritory Richard Moss. Give a listen, grab a copy of Flying Colors, make some wizard art for yourself, and pay a little tribute to Jack MacFarland.

h/t to Andrew from Play Different for the news.

Dig up old custom worlds in the groundbreaking Museum of ZZT Blog category

Screen capture of Three Trials from the Museum of ZZT

Over the last year, Dr. Dos has built up Worlds of ZZT, a social media project to explore the massive, influential volume of custom content for the 1991 game ZZT. The game’s level editor and its community were, for a certain generation, a first easy gateway into game design. ZZT‘s influence reached wide – but quietly. Now 26 years removed from the game’s release (and the follow-ups like Super ZZT and MegaZeux), fan-made levels have been difficult to rediscover.

Dr. Dos’s Museum of ZZT, the culmination of Worlds of ZZT project, is one hell of an answer to that problem! The Museum goes far beyond any other collection of user-created game content. In addition to play each level pack in-browser (thanks to Internet Archive contributions from Obscuritory friend Duncan Cross), Dr. Dos’s tools allow you to dig through the games’ files to look at their individual scenes in detail. No other project in this scope comes close to the care put into here. Dr. Dos also regularly writes “Closer Look” articles about specific ZZT worlds, adding a much-welcome guide to the unique and representative items in a collection that easily could’ve just been a big file dump.

(The site also offers bulk downloads and, importantly, an understanding that users may want to opt out of having their old ZZT levels re-shared or at least publicly associated with their name.)

Amateur games and add-ons like ZZT worlds are among the games most in need of more attention (and preservation energy). The Museum of ZZT is the high watermark for what can be done to break those types of games out and show why they’re special. It goes above and beyond simply being a repository or a list of files. And it’s worth noting that this is entirely a fan-run operation. I can’t wait to see the next generation of enthusiastic fans this could inspire, both for ZZT and for other amateur game communities. What could be next? Browseable StarCraft maps? A way to visit settings from the old BYOND online game engine?

Huge kudos! Start exploring with the Random ZZT World link.

Welcome to Macintosh Week Blog categoryMacintosh category

Welcome to Macintosh Week

Today kicks off Macintosh Week on The Obscuritory! May 13th is the anniversary of the release of Apple’s System 7 operating system, which added color to the Macintosh interface. It’s an arbitrary holiday and good enough reason to do a special week.

Through May 19th, the blog will have this novelty Mac theme, lovingly named Clarus after the unofficial Mac mascot Clarus the Dogcow. I’m planning two Macintosh posts on here and will be sharing more Mac-related content on the Obscuritory Tumblr. Follow along on both!

Like the Galapagos Islands, the Macintosh gaming ecosystem evolved independently. The Mac kindled a unique, silly community willing to experiment and play with the platform’s quirks, like its high resolution, early support for color graphics and multimedia, and the first widely available computer mouse. Coincidentally, this week the gaming podcast Retronauts released an episode about the early years of the Macintosh if you want to hear more about early Mac history. (And stay tuned for Richard Moss’s book next year!)

Thanks to a rising focus on Mac games in the past few years, there are more resources than ever for helping you play them. As always, check out the Resources pages for a guide on how to set up Mac emulators and places to discover Mac games. You can also now try early black-and-white Macintosh games and software through the Internet Archive’s collections. For a taste of Mac peculiarity, I recommend trying out The Lawn Zapper, a lawn mower game by Imperial Software.

UPDATE: Whoops… the second article I planned for Macintosh Week ended up having an incorrect premise, so I’m choosing not to publish it. Sorry!

An outlook on 2017 Blog category

Screenshot from The Labyrinth of Time

Welcome to the new year! After a break to focus on panels and behind-the-scenes work, I’m ready to hit the ground running. I’ll share more about the panels once videos are available, but for now, I want to talk about what The Obscuritory will be up to in 2017.

Last month, the excellent Melissa Ford wrote about why you should “post in your own space.” Ford offered up a New Year’s resolution: publish anything on your blog at least once a week. That’s a bit of a stretch for what I post here (and I’m already a few weeks behind!), but I’m at least going to try to write more often. There are so, so many games I want to share, so much overlooked history to learn, and constant developments in game preservation worth talking about. I have a lot of thoughts rattling around on those subjects that I’d love to nail down.

And as always, I’ll continue posting daily screenshots and other tidbits to the Obscuritory Tumblr. I might stream a bit more frequently, and I’ll try to share those events as they come up.

The response to The Obscuritory over the past year has been amazing. More than ever, I’m committed to this project and using it to make the world more interesting and thoughtful. Thank you for reading, and I’m looking forward to what we discover next.

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