Category: Blog

A game preservation primer Blog category

Hi folks! You may have noticed a dip in post frequency in the last two months. I’m hard at work on my panel and exhibit for MAGFest 2017, which have taken most of my spare time. There’s a bunch of games I’m excited to write about, but I want to make this MAGFest showing extra special. I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with everyone!

In the meantime, though, I wanted to share a great recent article by Heather Alexandra about the challenges of game preservation. Preservation and archiving are vital for continued discussion of older games – especially those that don’t receive much attention – and Alexandra does a good job outlining those challenges. Her article includes interviews with leaders in the field, including including the Internet Archive’s Jason Scott and the Video Game History Foundation’s Frank Cifaldi. If you’ve ever wanted to learn a broad overview of the topic, this is a must-read.

The article also briefly touches on curation, an issue on the save wavelength. On top of archiving old, forgotten games, we need to “keep games alive in the public conscience” to give them context, purpose, and currency. Everyone can help with that. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish here, and I hope anyone reading feels the spark to do it too.

The Obscuritory comes to MAGFest 2017 Blog category

MAGFest logo

Tomorrow is the eighth anniversary of The Obscuritory, and I’ve got some great news to share.

I’m excited to announce that I’m joining the MAGES panelist team at MAGFest 2017!

MAGES is the Music and Games Educational Symposium, a panel series dealing with academic topics and cultural issues in gaming. It’s a great mini-event for meeting people who like to engage thoughtfully with games, and I’m honored to be part of it.

MAGFest 2017 takes place January 5-8, 2017. If you haven’t gone before, it’s worth a trip. It’s less a convention than a four-day gaming-themed sleepover. This’ll be my sixth year attending.

The panel breakdown is still being finalized, but I wanted to talk about one thing in particular…

SimEverthing panel logo

As part of MAGES, I’ll be running SimEverything: Lessons in Curious Game Design from Maxis, a panel about the history and philosophy of Maxis.

When we talk about Maxis, we tend to focus on their two marquee games, SimCity and The Sims. With this panel, I want to dig deeper and explore the radical ideas about player creativity and education we can find across their entire body of work – not just SimCity, but less-renowned and harder-to-explain titles like SimHealth, SimGolf, Widget Workshop, and Zaark and the Night Team. It’ll be part history lesson, part analysis. This is the product of a year-long deep dive into Maxis, and I hope it’ll be both entertaining and insightful.

But hearing about it isn’t the same as trying it yourself. I want to get these games off the shelf and into more hands. So, I’ve partnered with the MAGFest Museum to let you play them throughout the weekend. I’m curating a special exhibit about Maxis with titles from my collection, including a playable showcase on vintage computers. After the panel, I’ll be at the Museum to answer questions and walk attendees through the games. If you’ve ever wanted to try any of the Sim games, this is your chance!

This is a surreal opportunity. I’m ecstatic to join MAGES, and especially, I can’t wait to share all the Maxis goodness with attendees in January. Stay tuned for specific dates, times, and other updates!

UPDATE: My Maxis panel will be at 3pm on Saturday, January 7th, followed by the Museum visit at 4pm. I’ll also be on the panel at Building Better Games Literacy at 1:30pm on Saturday. Please reach out and say hello!

A warm welcome to ROMchip and hopes for the future Blog category

If you’re interested in gaming history – hopefully you are if you’re reading this blog! – consider signing up for the mailing list for ROMchip. ROMchip is a freshly announced online scholarly journal of gaming history spearheaded by three super-great historians, including Raiford Guins, author of Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife; and Laine Nooney, who is currently writing about the history and business practices of Sierra On-Line. ROMchip will include history articles as well as interviews and brief discussions of interesting gaming objects in museum and library collections.

Right now, the popularly told history of gaming tends to be a little scattered and often missing crucial information from the developers’ and publishers’ end. A concerted, thorough, academic effort to discuss game history is a great development.

I’m mentioning ROMchip here because it represents a uniquely formal opportunity to flesh out the corners of gaming history often left out of stereotypical gaming canons. More work can always be done to understand the history behind big marquee names, but I hope that the journal will find space to focus on the stories and experiences of garage studios, experimental developers, outsider games, the companies that didn’t make it past one or two titles, and the unexamined bulk that provides the mortar of gaming.

PSA: Fund a book about the history of Macintosh games Blog categoryMacintosh category

Screenshot from Continuum

The classic Macintosh era was home to one of the most astounding, vibrant, and self-driven gaming scenes in history. The Mac fostered some of the richest, most creatively risky experiments of the early years of gaming; it had a vast, enthusiastically weird library of amateur games, from black-and-white role-playing adventures like Scarab of Ra to the bizarre 3D fighting game Weekend Warrior. It was also a trailblazing platform that deserves credit for the success of the computer mouse, the CD-ROM, hypertext games, and Halo and Destiny studio Bungie.

Despite a recent boom of gaming oral histories and retrospectives, no one has attempted to commit Macintosh gaming history to paper. This could finally change with the crowdfunding campaign for The Secret History of Mac Gaming. Game critic and devout Mac fan Richard Moss is writing the book, which would run over 300 pages and include interviews with major names from Macintosh history, including Myst creators Rand and Robyn Miller and developers from Ambrosia Software.

This book really, really needs to happen, and you can help it along the way by contributing to Moss’s campaign. The Secret History of Mac Gaming is being funded through Unbound, a new publishing crowdfunding site that works a bit differently than Kickstarter. If about 700 more people kick in a little money, this book will be a reality, which would be fantastic and crucial for keeping a fuller historical record.

Please consider backing this project to bring light to an ignored corner of gaming history!

UPDATE: Only July 20th, the book passed its funding goal! Thank you so much to everyone who shared and donated. This is a huge victory for documenting and discussing a platform that’s undervalued in the grand scheme of gaming history.

Some rewrites, updates, and other housekeeping Blog category

Screenshot from Ultimate Writing & Creativity Center

The Obscuritory is always a work in progress. Occasionally, I’ll revisit earlier posts and content to improve what I’ve written before as I become better (hopefully!) at criticism. Sometimes these are smaller tweaks, but once in a while, I’ll do major article overhauls.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve significantly reworked a few older posts – ones with a great deal of significance to this blog and to myself – that I feel I didn’t do justice to the first time around. So much interesting thematic and atmospheric work happens in these games that I either didn’t articulate well or completely missed. I attempted to keep the original text where possible, but much of it still received major revision. The major changes have been to..

(Some comments on those articles might not make sense anymore with the changes to the content. So it goes!)

Additionally, I’ve been continually revising the Resources page with new suggestions. I recently reorganized a few of the pages within there into an accessible tabbed format, so hopefully it’s easier to browse on a number of levels.

I’ll be back to new posts shortly; this was an itch I needed to scratch for a bit.

Closing out a great year Blog category

Oh wow, what a year this has been. 2015 was, by a longshot, the most productive year for myself and The Obscuritory. The past twelve months have held enormously good fortune, with opportunities to speak at events, travel, share resources, stream games, and meet others with off-the-radar interests. I never expected this to gain steam the way it has. I am enormously grateful to everyone who has continued to read or follow along, especially to friends who have told me that what I’ve been doing has value. The motivation has kept me busy: 2015 currently accounts for over a third of the total content on this blog!

The positive response really has been startling, and I have no intention of slowing down next year. There’s lots I want to get to in 2016, and I’ll try to hit the ground running. Look forward to more obscure games, analysis, discussion of related topics, and hopefully some more interviews and field trips.

Thanks for your continued readership. I deeply hope that you enjoy looking into these odd, unlit corners of gaming and have come away a little bit more curious and welcoming. We have a lot more to talk about next year.

Reclaiming the multimedia “coffee table” Blog categoryEssay categoryMultimedia category

Screen capture of CNET's CD-ROM Central page "CD-ROMs for Your Coffee Table"

During some Obscuritory-related research, I happened across CD-ROM Central, an old 1990s CNET consumer guide for CD-ROMs. The site is overflowing with discussion about the medium, especially for ignored software and reference titles. Here, a Dom DeLuise interactive digital cookbook has equal footing with a juggernaut like SimCity 2000, and the reviews benefit from how earnestly they treat all the material.

CD-ROM Central also includes a “special collections” section with curated lists of multimedia CD-ROMs by subject. And most fascinatingly, one of those lists is “CD-ROMs for Your Coffee Table,” a roundup of artistic multimedia intended for display and collection, like Taschen books. The author, Molleen Theodore, sees genuine value in interactive multimedia as art objects, and she doesn’t hesitate to recommend photograph collections or experimental media that can “stimulate your eyes, your ears, and your mind.” CNET’s editorial staff treated these CD-ROMs, maybe considered novelties or disposable even at the time, with the sincerity of a book review journal.

An audience existed for serious multimedia, and the criticism respected that. That’s remarkable and inspiring!

The concept of an “electronic coffee-table book” – and the dedication of CD-ROM Central in general – represents an aspirational view of interactive media that we have too quickly forgotten. For a brief time at the advent of the CD-ROM’s popularity, multimedia software offered a new outlet for artists and creators of nearly every persuasion. Any curious person with a computer had reason to invest in this new format, where expressive multimedia storytelling co-existed with action games and interior design tools, often blurring formal genre lines in the process.

The Internet makes the idea of collecting discrete multimedia works seem silly, and CD-ROMs understandably fell out of favor despite their design accomplishments. Yet where an actual coffee-table book or reference material might endure for generations, almost everything featured in CD-ROM Central has been shrugged off as a passing trend, discarded, and rendered unusable. Their artistry was culturally left for dead within twenty years.

As advances in emulation technology allow us to revisit older multimedia, we have an opportunity to renew thoughtful discussion of the sorts of titles that might have shown up on Theodore’s digital coffee table. The CD-ROM medium may be obsolete, but it carries a substantial creative legacy, one aching for rediscovery and new relevance.

(The top image was captured from oldweb.today, a new site via Rhizome that allows you to browse archived websites using the original browsers and operating systems for which they were intended. This is a great tool with some exciting implications for how everyday users access preserved digital content: form arguably matters as much as content!)

DC people: come meet industry vets and talk game design Blog category

I’ve cooled down post frequency a little bit as I enter my final semester of graduate school, but I’m excited about participating in an upcoming event!

I’ll be a guest at “Everything You Wanted to Know About Game Dev,” an International Game Developer Association-sponsored meet-and-greet event with industry veterans about game design and development. I’m honored to participate alongside people like Chris Klimas, the creator of Twine, and Grant K. Roberts, lead designer of Never Alone. Although I don’t develop games, I hope my knowledge and criticism of historic game design will be useful for attendees looking to bounce around ideas or learn about what has been attempted in medium’s margins.

Plus, it’ll be a fantastic event with a ton of talent to mingle with.

The event takes place on Saturday, September 26th at 6pm at American University in Washington, DC (my alma mater!). This will be a friendly mixer event, and we’ll likely head for drinks afterwards. If you’re interested in game design from a professional, hobbyist, or just plain-old curious perspective, come on by.

The Obscuritory on Twitch! Blog categoryStreaming category

Time for a moderate-to-big announcement: I’m dipping my toes into game streaming!

I love taking The Obscuritory into the wild and meeting people with an interest in the weirder corners of gaming. Streaming is another great way to share unknown games with an enthusiastic audience, so I’ve decided to explore it a bit. I have no intention of becoming a dedicated or regular streamer, but broadcasting obscure games and talking with viewers is a new opportunity that I’m extremely excited to try.

My goal is to put on a show that’s entertaining and informational, mixing history and design discussion with game-playing. Don’t expect memes and over-the-top reactions; I want my channel to be a more thoughtful and open place where everyone can learn, share, and build positive culture with obscurities. Again, I might not even stream much after my first trial run – especially if it turns out to be too much work – but when I do, I want to use the platform for good.

My first stream will be on Monday, September 7th at 7pm EDT on twitch.tv/obscuritory. To celebrate the occasion, I’ll be playing a grab bag assortment of games I haven’t previously covered on this blog. (Not telling which ones…) It’ll run for two or three hours, so please drop by! This’ll be a fun event that I hope you’ll come watch.

(Any future streams will likely be announced via Tumblr.)

UPDATE: Thanks to folks for coming by for the stream! I was a little incoherent during lots of it and said spoke out of turn a bit, so I won’t share the archived video link, but everyone seemed to have fun regardless. I may do other sporadic streams in the future.

Unearthing Subterraneans Blog categoryShooter category

Title screen from Subterraneans

Last month, as part of a big batch of CD-ROMs I ordered from the terrific Wayne Bibbens, I came across a prototype of Subterraneans, an unfinished first-person shooter by direct-to-video shlock horror group Full Moon Features that seems at least loosely based on one of the studio’s unproduced movies. The Subterraneans disc – dated February 6, 1996 and labeled as a demo – also includes Origins of the Puppet Master, an unpublished digital comic based on Full Moon’s most successful franchise.

This looks like the first time the game has ever surfaced, so let’s talk about it! » Read more about Unearthing Subterraneans

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