The Time Warp of Dr. Brain Educational categoryPuzzle category

Box art for The Time Warp of Dr. Brain

The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain pulled off what most educational games dare to dream: it engaged players by making the game’s format as compelling as its subject. Lost Mind took place in the brain and targeted all its functions. When it wanted players to think logically, it slowed down. But if the game needed to teach on-the-fly problem solving skills, it would throw out faster challenges. Such was the thematic balance that made the game a success.

Its sequel, The Time Warp of Dr. Brain, tries a similar form-as-function approach while adding an extra layer of historical context. The game has an intriguing time travel premise, in that you play as one of Dr. Brain’s many incarnations since the beginning of single-celled life.

To its credit, the game does an impressive job matching various brain exercises and activities to the different eras of life that it represents. Unfortunately, most of those periods are prehistoric, which means you’ll spend the bulk of Time Warp fighting for survival or drowning. That’s just not as compelling. » Read more about The Time Warp of Dr. Brain

Barrack Arcade categoryMacintosh category

Title screen from Barrack

Barrack seems a good of a point as any to introduce the unusual work of Ambrosia Software, a software and game company that hit its heyday developing for Macintosh in the 90s. Ambrosia specialized in weird, idiosyncratic arcade-style action games, usually remakes of classics like Centipede. Their games are an acquired taste but an important addition to the strange pantheon of 80s and 90s Mac games.

So we come to Barrack, Ambrosia’s 1996 clone of JezzBall. The premise is identical if you’re familiar with the original. You have to subdivide a field of bouncing balls into increasingly smaller sections while hitting as few of them as possible. The original JezzBall had a fatal flaw, in that the clutter of balls in the later stages made progress close-to-impossible. Barrack overcomes that problem with a neat selection of gimmicks and power-ups. This time, Ambrosia’s trademark overproduction pays off and brashly improves upon the original.  » Read more about Barrack

In which I meet Rand Miller: The Obscuritory goes to The Art of Video Games Blog categoryEssay category

Pac-Man and Hideo Kojima

This weekend, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art opened an exhibit on The Art of Video Games. I hugely recommend it; though physically small, it’s enormous in scope and successfully curates the entire four-decade history of video games into a manageable, hour-long primer that sums up the artistic limits and triumphs of the game medium.

Most interestingly, the opening ceremonies included a series of panel discussions with notable video game dignitaries such as Hideo Kojima and Ken Levine. I had the honor and privilege to attend the first panel, a discussion of the halcyon days of computer and video games featuring some of the key figures in the development of early terminal games and the Intellivision, as well as Rand Miller, the creator of Myst. Apart from the novelty of hearing from such distinguished professionals, the panel offered a few tantalizing insights. Namely that all the early days of game development were indeed chaotic, improvised, and eked out under the technical limitations of the day. » Read more about In which I meet Rand Miller: The Obscuritory goes to The Art of Video Games

Help out the artist from The Labyrinth of Time! Blog category

Art by Bradley W. Schenck

The Labyrinth of Time is a beautiful, forgotten game. Luckily, the artist is still going at it, and he has a new book coming out! But he needs some money before he can start publishing it.

That’s where you come in. If you have some spare change, please send a little money to Bradley W. Schenck’s Kickstarter project! He has 30 days to raise $7,800. Any amount you can kick in will help the effort – and as with all Kickstarter projects, the money won’t transfer until he’s raised it all.

As I’ve harped about, Schenck’s art has greatly personally affected me. It’d mean a lot if whoever’s reading could send over a few bucks.

Seize the Day Software category

Title screen from Seize the Day

Planner programs are one of the many relics of 90s computing. Nowadays we can happily default to Google Docs, Outlook, iCal, or whatever we have on our phones, but before we synced up with the cloud, the competition was fierce. If computers could do nothing else right, they would still store contacts and remind you about that appointment with CompuServe. Each planner had to outdo the others with a richer feature set or a more exciting interface.

Enter Seize the Day. Forget the “daybook” part of this program. The biggest and best feature is its rotating gallery plug-in. Seriously, it’s beautiful. » Read more about Seize the Day

Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong-Nou Adventure category

Title screen from Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong-Nou

Playing Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong-Nou for the first time is a life-affirming moment. In a world where games from big publishers need to be marketable, along comes one so nearly incomprehensible that I mistook it for a fevered dream for nearly a decade afterward.

Eastern Mind is, unquestionably, the strangest game ever made. This is mainlined interactive surrealism. It’s also a deeply spiritual game. The game ruminates on the purpose of the soul while jumping erratically from moment to moment. It defies explanation.

…but let’s try. » Read more about Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong-Nou

Big Rig Simulation category

Title screen from Big Rig

Not many simulation games from the 80s earn their genre’s moniker like Big Rig. The creator, Bill Pogue, must have had a thing for freight trucking when he set out to recreate an accurate cross-country cargo trip. For goodness’s sake, this is a text-based driving sim that keeps track of the weight of your fuel. To the game’s detriment, all that engaging detail reminds you how monotonous the subject matter is. » Read more about Big Rig

Star Wars Pit Droids! Puzzle category

Title screen from Star Wars Pit Droids!

Hear me out on this one.

Star Wars Pit Droids! is a kids game based on the comic relief characters from the podracing segments of The Phantom Menace. If this game was produced by serial arsonists, it could not have any less going for it. You’d be excused for passing it over.

Against expectations, the designers at Lucas Learning put together a decent Lemmings-style game. » Read more about Star Wars Pit Droids!

Roller Coaster Factory Simulation category

Cover art for Roller Coaster Factory

At age 12, I had this deep obsession with wanting to get a roller coaster video game. The object of my affection was Ultimate Ride because of a glowing write-up in some computer magazine that made it look incredible and extensive for its time. There was no theme park administration involved, just building roller coasters, which was perfect for me. The demo took a full day to download on my dial-up connection, but in spite of my enthusiasm, my old desktop computer didn’t meet the system requirements.

Flash-forward a few months to a trip to Office Max with my family. While rifling through the bargain racks, I found a copy of ValuSoft’s Roller Coaster Factory, which looked pretty awesome from the jewel case. It would have to do.

It did not do, not at all. Roller Coaster Factory is awful. It seems to be, somehow, bored by the idea of roller coasters. It screws up the fun qualities of playing a coaster game in the first place, and along the way, it loses something deeper.

(This one is a little personal, don’t mind me.)

» Read more about Roller Coaster Factory

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