Crystal Caves Platform category

Title screen from Crystal Caves

Game genres tend to be hard to separate, with the blurry lines between categories often not worth arguing. Is Mass Effect an RPG or a shooter? Does it matter? Genre terms probably find the most use as ways to discuss structure since, generally, we recognize what we’re getting into when we’re told that we’re going to play an adventure game or a fighting game. Even then, the chances of taking elements from multiple columns are high enough to render the exercise pointless.

Case in point: Crystal Caves, one of Apogee Software’s last games before they found massive success with Duke NukemCrystal Caves is the sort of extra-difficult platformer that begs you to repeat stages dozens of times before you complete them, god forbid with the highest possible score. It has a unique pace that encourages forethought over action. It shares more DNA with Chip’s Challenge than Mario. » Read more about Crystal Caves

1000 Miglia Racing category

Title screen from 1000 Miglia

The Mille Miglia was an epic automotive endurance contest that started in the late 1920s. Back before safety issues were a big deal in the racing world, the Mille Miglia sent the most foolhardy drivers on thousand-mile open road race through the Italian countryside. It popped up around the same time as similar events like the Le Mans 24-hour race, but it was canceled when officials realized that the Mille Miglia was incredibly, incredibly dangerous.

Discontinued or not, the Mille Miglia has apparently ascended to the stuff of legends – at least enough to warrant a lavish game adaptation. 1000 Miglia treats the event with an intimate reverence, celebrating the Miglia’s first decade with an eye for historical accuracy. It is, in a sense, a documentary. Despite its good intentions and semi-educational purposes, 1000 Miglia just doesn’t have the technical strength to condense such a big race to a playable scale.  » Read more about 1000 Miglia

The Obscuritory is now at Obscuritory.com Blog category

It’s been a long and winding road for The Obscuritory. I’ve mentioned that I had to reboot the blog several times before I found a format that worked for me, but if there was one constant through that, it’s that the blog has been hosted on Holenet.info.

As a result of some recent reconfiguration over there, The Obscuritory has left the roost and found new lodging at Obscuritory.com. This is an enormous step forward and a commitment to myself and the blog. I feel like I’ve just purchased a piece of property for the first time.

Looking forward to where the next leg of this weird journey leads.

Music Highlight: Noctropolis Music Highlights category

Music Highlight

Noctropolis is a big, beautiful mess of a game. The creators at Flashpoint Productions made a massive epic set in an original comic book world, and it totally sucks. It’s a tremendous mismatch of talent and ambition, and I love it.

The soundtrack is one of the only parts of Noctropolis that keeps pace with its grand vision. The composer, Ron Saltmarsh, intended the music to play on a Roland MT-32 synthesizer rather than the standard, chintzy DOS MIDI output. Few computers at the time supported that hardware, and even fewer do today. Either way, the title track, “Darksheer Theme,” will knock your boots off.

I am always surprised when an orchestral MIDI piece – especially one from 18 years ago – packs a wallop like this one does. “Darksheer Theme” captures the massive scope, bravado, and heroism that Noctropolis was trying so hard to accomplish. This piece plays over a slow-moving panorama of the city of Noctropolis, and it is positively spine-chilling. Could you imagine if the entire game had been as good, as tense, or as epic as the theme? Hats off to Ron Saltmarsh for delivering the goods.

A very happy Obscuriversary! Blog category

NASA Mars Exploration Rover rendering
I used this image in my first test post because I needed something that was 640×480 to test the site width. Thanks NASA!

According to the “Hello World” post that WordPress made, I started The Obscuritory four years ago today!

I started this blog on a lark because of my increasing interest in CD-ROM games at the time, and I honestly just expected it’d fizzle out after I lost interest. And it did, at least twice. I rebooted this blog several times before I finally figured out a style that worked for me and that people enjoyed reading, and it was worth putting in the effort.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge how sporadic the updates are, but having The Obscuritory as outlet for me to talk about old, forgotten games has been exciting and liberating. I really did not think I would follow through on it, but here we are. Thanks for reading if you have!

Maze Mission Adventure Game Strategy category

Title screen from Maze Mission Adventure Game

William Soleau has had a steady output of shareware puzzle games since 1991. Quality of some of the games aside (see Ladder Man), this is an accomplishment in tenacity. If nothing else, Soleau Software is prolific.

Maze Mission Adventure Game may be one of his earliest; the game predates the Soleau Software brand. It’s clearly the work of an amateur craftsman. It’s riddled with typos and sits comfortably about five years behind the technology curve. But it’s pretty good. The game never progresses or goes anywhere, but it captures the fun of exploring and getting lost.  » Read more about Maze Mission Adventure Game

Robot City Adventure category

Title screen from Robot City

Even people who have never read an Asimov story know of his famed Three Laws of Robotics, so ubiquitous that it would be redundant to list them. Asimov’s robots took on life and popularity beyond his novels and short stories, which eventually led the author to commission a series of books based on his famous motifs. The Robot City series acted almost like a perfunctory exercise in testing the Laws of Robotics in extreme circumstances, but it at least did so in the dressings of a murder mystery.

The game adaptation of Robot City is inherently more interesting. The game mines a surprising level of narrative intrigue out of the Three Laws, chiefly because you can interact with the robots rather than just reading about their reactions. In the process, Robot City nearly perfects the art of the dialogue puzzle. So let’s never speak of the devastatingly slow exploration sequences tucked in-between the puzzles.

…I suppose that now we have to, huh? » Read more about Robot City

Saddam’s Revenge Macintosh categoryPuzzle category

Introduction screen from Saddam's Revenge

Time for a quick one. I’m not a programmer, but Minesweeper strikes me as a fairly solid introductory project. There aren’t a ton of Minesweeper clones out there, but among them is Saddam’s Revenge, a Macintosh version by David Zwiefelhofer. Zwiefelhofer made Saddam’s Revenge while learning how to program, and given that it was created at the end of the Gulf War, the Saddam theme is appropriate (though he says there wasn’t any political motivation behind it). It is nearly indistinguishable from other versions of Minesweeper save for a denser field and a few shiny graphical effects, such your mouse getting blown up by bombs.

Screenshot from Saddam's Revenge Saddam’s Revenge is fun as a historical artifact. As with many Mac games developed at the cusp of the transition to color monitors, it’s available in both black-and-white and color with minor differences in the art style. If you ever wanted a game that successfully captures the 1992 Macintosh experience, this would be it: a half-color, garage-made shareware game about Saddam.

(As an odd footnote: the “About” screen for Saddam’s Revenge mentions that the shareware price of the game includes a reduced membership fee for something called The Gamer Project. Zwiefelhofer doesn’t remember what that was, and I cannot find any information about it from any source. It is lost for all time!)

Laser Light Puzzle category

Title screen from Laser Light

There are no shortage of puzzle games in the style of The Incredible Machine or Pipe Dream, games in which you have to construct a path in the allotted time with a limited selection of pieces. Laser Light puts an odd spin on that format by using lasers rather than water or object physics. Such a tweak changes the game dramatically, and the results are unique even when the base mechanics feel familiar.

Creativity be damned, the game is a victim of its fascination with mouse controls and pixel-to-pixel accuracy. By ditching the tile format that makes games like Pipe Dream simple to play, Laser Light adds a new layer of complexity that dramatically ‌– even unfairly ‌– raises the difficulty. » Read more about Laser Light

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

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