Fooblitzky Board category

Title screen from Fooblitzky

Deduction board games permanently live in the shadow of Clue, a masterclass of patient strategy. Knowledge matters more than action in Clue. You can’t organize any sort of power play, and you could feasibly win by watching other players and taking notes. The steady drip of new information allows anyone paying close attention or with sharp logical skills to stay on top.

Almost every game of deduction owes some debt to Clue, and Fooblitzky proudly wears that influence. Created by the complex logic puzzle lovers at legendary interactive fiction company Infocom, Fooblitzky is a shaggier beast than Clue, often crazy, cluttered, and confused where similar games are lean. With so many components to handle in a digital board game, Fooblitzky lives and dies off-board in players’ notepads. » Read more about Fooblitzky

Spaceship Warlock Adventure category

Title screen from Spaceship Warlock

You are stranded on the planet Stambul. To escape, you have to order tickets for a space flight over a public videophone. You’re meant to dial the operator and ask for the spaceport, but you can also prank-call the emergency line or find the number for the local bar. Then you can visit the bar, order your choice of alcoholic drink, and get thrown out onto the street. Open as those options seem, they’re only facsimiles of freedom: unless you incite the police to kill you, you’re inevitably going to the spaceport. So why not have a little fun and insult your cab driver along the way?

You can’t write the history of the adventure game or the interactive movie without mentioning the operatic sci-fi thriller Spaceship Warlock. As one of the first ever games on CD-ROM, it had the privilege to define what a modern cinematic game would look and play like. Without a roadmap of genre conventions, the game crafts a bizarre template that is somehow roller-coaster-esque in its linearity while still open-ended. Spaceship Warlock barely, barely pulls it off. Not everything gels – especially not the combat scenes – but what works stands out as a high-wire act of guided interactivity. » Read more about Spaceship Warlock

Music Highlight: ClockWerx Music Highlights category

Music Highlight

Even without its prominent endorsement from Tetris‘s Alexey Pajitnov on the box, ClockWerx would still be worth checking out. Its rotating, clock-inspired mechanics put a clever twist on player movement. As many with many games of its kind, ClockWerx groups its various challenges into a few different thematic sets, each with its own graphics and some new background music.

Most of these songs are peppy lounge tunes, all of which are quite catchy. The piece for the sixth set of levels, arbitrarily titled “Song H,” stands out for its slower groove.

Composer Peter Drescher captured ClockWerx‘s tone perfectly with this song. The game moves quickly but encourages a methodical approach given all the obstacles and pitfalls. Like “Song H,” it’s eager but laid-back, upbeat but careful. Most of the other music from ClockWerx marches faster and feels giddier, but this one hits the right balance for the game’s cautious pacing. Many other puzzle games share the same speed, so in a way, “Song H” is the platonic ideal for puzzle-solving music.

And like all the music in ClockWerx, “Song H” has a hook like nobody’s business. Have fun getting this one out of your head.

The Groove Thing Macintosh categorySoftware category

Title screen from The Groove Thing

When visiting the mall as a kid, I’d usually stop by Spencer’s, a novelty store that specialized in crass and raunchy joke gifts. Among their usual fart-related T-shirts, the store always kept the back aisle dimly lit and well-stocked with plasma balls, blacklights, lava lamps, strobes, and other trippy decor. In retrospect, it was clearly intended for stoners, but I was too innocent to get that. It just felt cool. And I liked the glowy things.

Like a naive kid’s version of the back of Spencer’s, The Groove Thing is an in-your-face light show for its own sake. This kaleidoscopic art-and-music software would probably pair well with any sort of substance enhancement but is too earnest for that. It’s here to put you in a trance with the only tools in its bag, colors and patterns. » Read more about The Groove Thing

Obitus RPG category

Title screen from Obitus

No game would benefit more from a built-in map than Obitus. Disorientation is Obitus‘s baseline, and your sense of place rarely improves from there.

This exploration-driven RPG has some neat parts, like simple combat and some very pretty, muted visuals. An oppressive sense of directionlessness overwhelms almost anything else the game tries, though, and that’s hard to look past. » Read more about Obitus

Farewell, Maxis: a look back and some Sim obscurities Essay categorySimulation category

Screenshot from SimAnt

Last week we got the very sad news that legendary developer Maxis closed its doors after 28 years. The Maxis name and its related brands will live on for years under new stewardship, but the end of the original Maxis studio is a great symbolic loss. The company is rightfully most loved for SimCity and The Sims, two games that pushed the medium in exciting, unexplored directions. Those titles twice redefined the simulation genre and exposed gaming to millions who might not consider themselves the right audience. If Maxis’s contributions stopped there, they would still sit among the titans in gaming history.

But Maxis’s secret weapon (and the reason I’m mentioning them here) was their steady output of stranger, lesser-known stuff. Outside of their most notable franchises, Maxis released roughly a dozen other Sim games and served as publisher for many independent titles. They somehow made compelling experiences out of ant lifecycles, farm management, and hotel development, and they tackled simulations of such ambitious scope that they had to be named SimLife and SimEarth. The studio also invested in similarly spirited one-off oddities like Widget Workshop, an experiment-driven edutainment sandbox program. Maxis’s milieu (so to speak) proved that games could go anywhere and be anything – for everyone. Their signature blend of approachable design and endless depth ensured that anyone could have unexpected fun. Almost no one else has mastered that balance.

Of course, Maxis excelled at the little things, like sensible interface design and clear, friendly graphics. At the same time, they tackled huge, insane ideas. Consider their experiment with SimCopter, a flight simulator that meshed with content from SimCity 2000, maybe the first game of its kind to meld content from multiple titles. Sometimes this ambition didn’t quite work, as arguably happened with Spore. But they shot high and weird, and they deserve ultimate respect for that.

To celebrate Maxis and their more obscure output, I want to look at the craziest Maxis games that you can’t play, whether because of cancellation, discontinuation, or rarity. Maxis was prolific, and their footnotes are as fascinating as their successes.  » Read more about Farewell, Maxis: a look back and some Sim obscurities

QuarterPole Simulation categorySports category

Title screen from QuarterPole

Let’s talk about horse racing. Not the actual cruel and outdated sport. I mean the popularly imagined horse race – the version romanticized in media like Guys and Dolls and Luck as a platonic ideal of sporting culture. Stripped to its essentials, horse racing is a slow-motion roulette wheel, a massive gamble in which second-to-second changes in race order lead to ultimate thrills and the chance for riches and glory. The “horse race” has evolved to a metaphor that captures that immediacy, the love of the chase and jockeying to the exclusion of all else.

The developers of QuarterPole clearly love both kinds of horse race. Their intensive knowledge of racing culture is evident, but despite the game’s often impenetrable density, it never loses sight of the base pleasures of the race and the bet. By offering multiple ways to play on both sides of the track, QuarterPole ensures you’re never far from the satiating drama of watching fortunes turn at the last second. » Read more about QuarterPole

Crazy Drake Platform category

Title screen from Crazy Drake

The platform game boom in the 90s begat an odd brand of artistically driven mascot games. Earthworm JimPlokZool, Cool Spot, and their ilk owed much of their success to their terrific cartoon styles. There’s an argument that their visual accomplishments could sometimes come at the expense of the rest of their quality. That conversation deserves a greater breadth of games to scrutinize, and one additional name on that the list should be Crazy Drake.

Not much distinguishes Crazy Drake from those other games, and it bears a suspiciously close resemblance to Earthworm Jim in particular. The similarity works in its benefit here. Like the rest of its breed, Crazy Drake is a pretty good action-platformer with the cartoony, elastic panache. Another game in that vein doesn’t exactly break new ground, but it’s certainly a pleasant surprise.  » Read more about Crazy Drake

3 in Three Macintosh categoryPuzzle category

Title screen from 3 in Three

3 in Three has some terrific world-building.

It feels weird to talk about a puzzle game in terms of its narrative achievements, but that’s why 3 in Three excels. From a gameplay standpoint, it’s roughly the digital equivalent of a big paperback Pennysaver puzzle book. There’s a grab-bag assortment of puzzles – some fiendishly enjoyable and some dully frustrating. But developer Cliff Johnson made the game special by wrapping the entire thing in a quirky story about computers, data, and language. It provides a fun context for puzzle-solving and props up some of the game’s inherent limitations.  » Read more about 3 in Three

The Obscuritory at MAGFest! Blog category

MAGFest logo

I am impossibly excited to announce that I will be a panelist at the upcoming MAGFest 13 gaming festival!

MAGFest is the largest gaming event in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, with attendance for 2015 expected to reach 15,000. I’ve attended MAGfest since 2012, and I’m unbelievably stoked to bring my obscure game-ery to the show this year.

Specifics like timing are still in progress, but I will be tentatively hosting a panel titled “Obscure Gaming Gems (and Why They Matter).” I’ll be talking about some great obscure games, but more importantly, I want to address why obscurities are important to the gaming discourse. I touched on it a little bit in an earlier essay: when we celebrate obscure games, we’re engaging gaming with an open mind and a curious spirit. It’s good for positivity and inclusiveness, and it makes the gaming landscape more exciting and critically engaging. There’s a lot to explore here, including the forgotten history of the Mac gaming scene, the works of Theresa Duncan, and – of course – Eastern Mind and its unlikely fan community.

I’ll be sure to post updates once we get closer to MAGFest 13 (January 23-26), but for now, I just wanted to share this exciting news. This is sort of a personal culmination of everything I’ve been working towards with this blog. I’m looking forward to spreading the good word about obscurities – and maybe even seeing a few friendly faces!

(If you plan on attending, please drop me a line so we can say hello!)

UPDATE: The official MAGFest schedule is out and has the panel slotted for 6pm on Saturday, January 24th, in the MAGES 2 room. It’s happening!

1 22 23 24 25 26 30