Category: Blog

Video game history at Super MAGFest 2019 Blog category

Super MAGFest 2019 logo

I’m coming back to Super MAGFest 2019 on January 3-6, 2019 in National Harbor, MD! Super MAGFest is my favorite gaming event, and this time, I’m doing something different.

This year, I’ve helped put together a gaming history panel track, featuring an incredible lineup of video game historians, archivists, and curators. There’s been a need for a place where video game historians can talk with fans about their research – a middle ground where researchers and fans can interact. We’re making it happen at Super MAGFest.

I am incredibly proud of our panel selection. All panels will be part of the MAGES educational panel section in the MAGES 1 panel room:

Thursday, January 3:

  • Carly A. Kocurek (Illinois Institute of Technology) will walk through the history of video games by using ten gaming-related objects – and talk about the importance of preservation. 5:30pm
  • Kelsey Lewin will explore the legacy of Gunpei Yokoi, the famed developer behind the Game & Watch, Game Boy, and WonderSwan. 7:00pm

Friday, January 4:

  • Anne Ladyem McDivitt (The University of Alabama) will speak about women in video game culture in the early arcade era and the influence of Pac-Man on women in game development. 1:00pm
  • Kevin Bunch and Florencia Pierri (Sarnoff Collection at The College of New Jersey) will reveal the recently rediscovered history of RCA’s video game consoles and computers in the 70s, including a close-up look at lost games and prototype hardware, some of which have never been seen outside of museums. 2:30pm
  • Michael Hughes (Trinity University) will share his research on the history of video game fanzines and their role in video game culture. 4:00pm
  • Rachel Simone Weil (FEMICOM Museum) will share her insights on the history of video game hacking and homebrew games for old platforms. 5:30pm
  • Kelsey Lewin, Frank Cifaldi, Rachel Simone Weil, and I will hold a late-night panel about true weird stories from video game history. (I’ll be talking about Secret Writer’s Society!) Midnight

Saturday, January 5:

  • Retronauts (Jeremy Parish, Bob Mackey, and Chris Sims) will record a live episode of their podcast about the history of sound design from Nintendo’s R&D1 division. 1:00pm
  • Andrew Borman and Beth Lathrop (The Strong Museum of Play) will talk about the Museum of Play’s efforts to preserve video game history and their amazing collections of video game materials. 2:30pm
  • Campbell Parker/StrangetownFunk will give a look into the history of the Sims community and “the diverse ways that players interact with both their games and their fellows.” 4:00pm
  • Frank Cifaldi (Video Game History Foundation) will dive into the strange afterlife of the Nintendo Entertainment System and why the system keeps living on in unexpected places. 7:00pm

    (Frank will host another panel at Super MAGFest about his research on the recent SNK 40th Anniversary Collection in the Panels 4 room on Thursday at 4:00pm.)

A full schedule for Super MAGFest 2019 will be available in the coming weeks.

I am overjoyed by what these folks are presenting. We’re putting on a unique, insightful, subject-diverse panel track, and I can’t wait for everyone to join us. Less than one month is short notice, but I hope that folks on the east coast will be able to make a trip down, maybe even just a day trip!

I wanted to find the right gaming history event, so I helped make it. I hope you’re as excited as we are!

Visit the Super MAGFest 2019 website for more about what’s happening this year.

Ten years of The Obscuritory Blog categoryEssay category

Ten years of The Obscuritory

Some time in early summer 2008, I registered a Blogger account called What the Game? It was my personal goal for a while to start a game review website, and although my writing was unnecessarily mean and not great, I had the confidence to put words out there. For the past year or so, I had been rediscovering some of the old CD-ROM games I played as a kid, like Spaceship Warlock, and learned about many others I’d never heard of before. I wanted a place to share them.

The blog only got two posts before I abandoned it and went off to college. I told myself to put the game stuff behind me. But I couldn’t ignore the itch.

Ten years ago today, my friend Chris set me up with space on his website to install WordPress, and I started The Obscuritory.

The site evolved over the years. It began as an attempt to extensively document old games “in excruciating detail,” as I put it, with screenshots and videos. I found an old backup of this earliest version of the site, and like the old Blogger account, the writing was sometimes derisive and meandering. But I needed those first years to figure out my voice and decide what I really wanted to say.

I burned out on it quickly, but it motivated me to keep exploring. For a while, I focused on uploading playthrough videos to YouTube. Then, during a difficult time in my life in the summer of 2010, I rebooted the blog, starting with the Windows 3.1 theme and a post about Robomaze II.

I don’t know where I expected this to end up, but this is far beyond what I thought it would become. I’ve now been running The Obscuritory for over a third of my life. The blog has continued to grow and change alongside me. It’s seen me through career and lifestyle changes and personal episodes. It’s pushed me to improve my writing and to think more critically, curiously, and empathetically. It’s been an outlet for me to explore the weird side roads of gaming and software history and learn about digital preservation. It’s intersected with my professional life in surprising ways. It’s somehow brought me into the conversation talking about games alongside folks I respect and admire.

A lot has changed in a decade. The prevalence of YouTube and streaming have completely changed how people share games, and with the increased centralization of internet communication and social media, the idea of wanting to start a game website in 2008 might seem a little outdated. I think more than ever, it’s important for us to cultivate our own spaces. The world keeps demanding us to be part of large, noisy, destructive platforms that amplify the loudest voices, to chase engagement metrics. We can still be ourselves in a digital space on our own terms, in control of our own words and communities.

From the beginning, I told myself to do this because it was fun. I wanted to do it for me, and sometimes that wasn’t enough. There have been times when I’ve thought I should stop. (See 2013, the year of my depression diagnosis, when I made a grand total of four posts all year.) I’ve kept going because of how much it means to me to stay curious.

I want to keep looking in places that have been neglected or rejected. I want to share the unexpected things that excite me. I want to keep making gaming a more surprising place, where we can celebrate a deep, diverse, and broad cultural history. I hope The Obscuritory has encouraged you to do the same.


So what comes next? Honestly, I don’t know, and that’s really exciting to me. This blog still has the same bedrock as ever. I’ll keep writing about strange old software and sharing stories about them. I’ll keep rambling about preservation, history, and criticism. From there, the sky’s the limit.

For now, though, we’ve got some celebrating to do!

On the first day I started The Obscuritory, I posted a list of games that I wanted to cover. Some of them I did eventually post about. Several of them I still have to. (A couple of them weren’t even really obscure, or at least they aren’t now, and I just wanted an excuse to write about them.) This week, I’m gonna finally get around to posting one I’ve delayed talking about for ten years – plus one other that’s just really weird and seems right for the occasion.

This week on Tumblr, I’ll be resharing some of my favorite articles and stories from the last ten years, plus some fun art celebrating the games featured here.


There are a few particular people I want to thank who have encouraged me:

  • Chris, Rick, and Justin, three friends who have supported The Obscuritory since the beginning.
  • Anna, who one night over drinks and pinball told me she thought my perspective had value.
  • Molly, the first honest-to-god fan I met in person (and now a good friend).

I am grateful to have an audience that’s thoughtful and excited about all these weird topics. Thank you for your support and for coming along on this ride. Keep curious. Who knows where we go from here?

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 known 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.

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