To really play the epic Amiga game Unreal, you have to approach it like you were playing it back in 1990. » Read more about Unreal
It’s that time of year again… with a twist!
This Halloween, I’m hosting the All-Day Tea Party Spooktacular for Trans Rights 2020, a livestream marathon to raise money for Trans Lifeline!
Trans Lifeline is a non-profit organization that provides microgrants and support services for trans people in North America. I’m excited to raise money for them as part of their Trans Heart October charity drive.
Last year we blew past our ambitious stretch goal of $1000, so this year, I’m setting the goal at $1250! It’s a bit lower than the total we raised last time, but with finances tighter during the pandemic, I want to make sure it’s a goal we can reach. And if we hit the goal, we can keep going!
Normally, I do my annual charity marathon livestream in November around my birthday. Unfortunately, my birthday is the week after the US presidential election, and I just do not want to deal with the aftermath of that. So instead, I’m bumping it forward to Halloween! Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I’m gonna go all out making this stream spooky as hell.
Content hasn’t been decided yet, but as with every year, in the spirit of this blog, we’ll be playing weird old games and software. We’ll definitely play some old horror games. Plus, look forward to more donation incentives, which may involve strange novelty sodas. And as always, I’ll be drinking plenty of tea and taking breaks! Even though this is a marathon stream, I want to be sure we’re taking care of ourselves. Bring your own tea! Maybe something fall-y. I should probably get pumpkin spice tea, right?
The stream starts on October 31 at 10am EDT and will go as long as I’m feeling up for it. Streaming more often has helped me build up my endurance, so maybe we’ll get closer to that fabled 24-hour stream this time? Who knows!
See you on Halloween at twitch.tv/obscuritory… if you dare! » Read more about You are invited to the All-Day Tea Party Spooktacular for Trans Rights 2020!
Rock is dead. Not the music, because the music continues to live on. It’s taken on other forms like punk and indie rock, or even been absorbed into the big umbrella of pop music. But as a cultural movement, rock is history. As music journalists have noted, the idea of “rock” is aging and has fallen out of relevance. It’s no longer the cultural institution that it was 50 years ago in the era of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, or even 30 years ago, when bands like Guns N’ Roses were a polarizing force in pop culture.
And it’s difficult to imagine anything about rock that’s more dated than the idea of the rockstar. Fame has never stopped being attractive, especially in show business, but the specific image of the rockstar – the hedonistic bad boy in a leather jacket who turns heads on- and off-stage with their self-destructive antics – feels hopelessly out-of-date. On the one hand, the aesthetic of looking like David Lee Roth is uncool now, which is nothing he could’ve helped because coolness always becomes uncool with time.
But what’s really shown its age is that there’s a kernel of ugly selfishness in the rockstar fantasy that’s become more pronounced over the years. It’s cute and a little glamorous when it’s just Mick Jagger getting high and thumbing his nose at authority, but as the genre wore on into the late 90s into the pissed-off era of nu metal and its ilk, the self-righteous anger behind the rockstar persona became more palpable. Maybe it’s a cheap shot to invoke the specter of Woodstock ’99, a music festival that was infamously marred by violence and destruction, but it represents a low point for rock. Twenty years later, when the biggest stars in music are using their fame as a platform to draw attention to injustice, the image of a famous rich white dude singing about getting mad and breaking shit like he’s still owed something, well, it sucks – the greatest condemnation one can make of rock.
Virtuoso predates that era by a little bit, but it imagines rock ‘n’ roll going down a similar road, and it has an absurdly bleak vision for the future of rock. The hero of Virtuoso is the ultimate badass world-famous rock god, and he hates it. » Read more about Virtuoso, the dead end of the rockstar fantasy
Breakout is such an obvious idea that it’s weird to think somebody had to invent. The ball-and-paddle game formula is super simple, and countless games have copied it, notably a huge number of older free and shareware games, often by new developers starting out with something less complicated.
It’s difficult to talk about Breakout clones on their own, because they’re all copying from the same well-trodden template. And for the sake of this blog, I didn’t want to write half a dozen short posts about games that are so similar.
So instead, let’s talk about a bunch of them all together! For this article, I wanted to cover a variety of games inspired by Breakout that I’ve been meaning to play and talk about what makes them interesting. These games try to jazz up the ball-and-paddle game genre, either by adding new features or changing something about the genre itself. Maybe we’ll learn something by looking at several different Breakout clones at the same time! » Read more about Breakout roundup
For better or worse, 5 A Day Adventures was originally given away to elementary schools and libraries for free.1 The program was meant to encourage kids to eat healthy food, but it’s also, unavoidably, an interactive ad for the Dole Food Company.
I realize that a promotional CD-ROM about fruit is sort of a ridiculous thing to write about. It almost doesn’t matter whether 5 A Day Adventures is any good at teaching kids about fruits and veggies, because the interesting part has less to do with the food pyramid and everything to do with the bigger colliding forces at work in the worlds of education, software, and public relations that produced this thing. » Read more about 5 A Day Adventures
After the runaway success of Tetris, the game’s designer Alexey Pajtinov made a few sequels.
First, there was Welltris, a three-dimensional variation of Tetris.
And then… there was Faces, a game where you make faces.
Technically, it’s called Faces …tris III, with the “tris” unconfidently tacked on the end as a reminder that this is actually supposed to be a sequel to Tetris. In reality, the two games have very little in common. » Read more about Faces …tris III
There’s no dialogue in L-ZONE, or any words for that matter. To the extent that this game has a narrative, it’s incredibly vague, like an impression of a story without any specific people or places. A city on another planet. An underground lab. Colossal machines and living robots. A nefarious plan. A chance to escape. » Read more about L-ZONE
In Mind Walker, you go inside the human mind. The whole game is one big mishmash of symbolism about the subconscious, where a concept like “bad thoughts” will take on a physical form and attack you.
The game was designed by Bill Williams, who liked to create ambitious, complicated worlds that operate according to their own rules. Mind Walker is one of those ambitious worlds – the brain of a scientist, wracked by nihilism and paranoia. In a last-ditch attempt to save himself, the scientist enters his own psyche, trying to repair his sanity from the inside. While certainly interesting, the metaphor is so convoluted that the game loses track of it. » Read more about Mind Walker
Welcome back, and welcome to the start of something different for The Obscuritory!
For a long time, I’ve wanted to figure out a more stable writing schedule. One of the things I’ve always struggled with is working at a consistent pace. It’s been especially difficult this year, with new exciting sources of stress popping up every week. Part of the issue is that I tend to publish things as soon as I finish them, which leaves me on a constant treadmill to keep writing. At the same time, I recognize that as blog readers are waning in popularity and more people are going first to social media or YouTube, following a blog in 2020 is more difficult than it’s ever been, and it would help readers if I had a more reliable schedule.
So for the last couple weeks, I’ve been drafting a bunch of posts in advance instead! I have about a month’s worth of articles ready to go, which gives me a much longer runway to keep writing, or, if I need it, to take a break for a while. It also means I can set up a regular schedule, rather than just publishing posts as they’re completed.
From now on, new articles will be going up on Tuesday mornings! I’m calling this Obscuri-Tuesdays. (It was suggested that I do Thursdays instead so I could call it Obscursdays, but I like sharing them earlier in the week.) I hope that posting new articles at a regular time will make this blog a bit easier to follow!
This won’t be every week, but it will be on Tuesdays. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to keep up the pace of writing one article per week. Sometimes they take longer to write and research, or I’ll get sidetracked by other things in life. But I hope that taking a quick reset like this will help out in the long run. I’m proud to be able to do this blog on my own terms, and I’m excited about making it more consistent in a way that’ll be better for both me and you!
(On a side note, the fall is usually a slower period for this blog because I’m busy working on special events. Given that just about everything in the world has been canceled, I don’t think that’ll be an issue this year. Silver linings?)
The Obscuritory will continue tomorrow with an article about Mind Walker, a bizarre Amiga game by Bill Williams (Knights of the Crystallion) that takes place in the human brain. See you then – and see you on Tuesdays from here on out!
It’s been a quiet month over here. I’ve been a little burned out recently – life is really hard right now! – so I’ve been taking a break again. I’ve also decided to try something new by writing articles in advance, rather than publishing everything as it’s finished, to give myself a longer runway of regularly scheduled posts. Hopefully this will help me write more consistently while this country’s health crisis keeps unfolding. Things should pick up again in a few weeks.
. . .
In the meantime, there’s a fun event next happening next week! I’m talking at this year’s virtual Mysterium, the annual Myst fan convention. Mysterium is one of my favorite events, and I’m excited to be presenting this year.
Like every event, Mysterium has been forced to move online, but that’s given them a chance to put together an incredible event program featuring a reunion with most of the major players in the Myst franchise, including Presto Studios’ Michel Kripalani and Phil Saunders, developers for Myst III: Exile and The Journeyman Project!
As part of Mysterium 2020, I’m giving a talk about multimedia CD-ROM games from the Myst era called “Ages Before Myst”! It’ll be a crash course for the Myst community on the games, software, and technology that led up to Myst, featuring games I’ve discussed on this blog including Hell Cab, Spaceship Warlock, Enchanted Scepters, and more. Myst was a milestone game, but it didn’t come out of nowhere, and it’ll be fun to share some of this historical context with the community.