Executive Suite isn’t a conventional business simulation. You don’t track money or statistics or care about helping the company. Instead, you roleplay a newcomer hustling for the top seat at your company. You’re in this for yourself. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure story not far from the movie Wall Street and its stressful lifestyle. And although Executive Suite mocks the business world, it appreciates that your problems, no matter how small, don’t always have a clean solution. Executive Suite » Read more
Welcome to the new year! After a break to focus on panels and behind-the-scenes work, I’m ready to hit the ground running. I’ll share more about the panels once videos are available, but for now, I want to talk about what The Obscuritory will be up to in 2017.
Last month, the excellent Melissa Ford wrote about why you should “post in your own space.” Ford offered up a New Year’s resolution: publish anything on your blog at least once a week. That’s a bit of a stretch for what I post here (and I’m already a few weeks behind!), but I’m at least going to try to write more often. There are so, so many games I want to share, so much overlooked history to learn, and constant developments in game preservation worth talking about. I have a lot of thoughts rattling around on those subjects that I’d love to nail down.
And as always, I’ll continue posting daily screenshots and other tidbits to the Obscuritory Tumblr. I might stream a bit more frequently, and I’ll try to share those events as they come up.
The response to The Obscuritory over the past year has been amazing. More than ever, I’m committed to this project and using it to make the world more interesting and thoughtful. Thank you for reading, and I’m looking forward to what we discover next.
Hell Cab isn’t short; it’s brief. The infernal Hell Cab whips through a Roman coliseum, the trenches of World War I, and a prehistoric jungle in only a few minutes before returning you to the present day. You’ll probably spend most of the game’s running time checking out the Empire State Building before the world’s worst cab ride begins.
The tone-setting and breakneck linearity of Hell Cab share less with the adventure genre than with a high-end theme park ride. As with many early multimedia CD-ROM titles, Hell Cab is above all else a spectacle, an outlandish idea staged as loudly as possible. It also demonstrates what a roller coaster of a game loses when it reaches a little too far. Hell Cab » Read more
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.
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…
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!
My love for Halloween started with suburban trick-or-treating. It wasn’t just the candy or costumes. For one night, the town transformed into a weirder, spookier place. We would walk further up the street than we’d ever normally venture – and in darkness, when strangers lit their houses in eerie colors and papered their walls with skeletons.
Our clean-cut neighborhood turned shadowy and scary for a single evening. The next morning, Christmas decorations may as well have gone up.
Halloween Night II bottles the giddiness of that fleeting Halloween makeover. The game is a sweet tribute to a night when, maybe, there could be ghosts outside your window. Halloween Night II » Read more
There’s no point skirting around the very, very silly premise of Knight Moves. It’s a puzzle game where your character moves in an L-shape like a chess knight. In each stage, your knight character (an actual knight) collects coins or swords to open the exit to the next room of a castle. This concept has no business being stretched out to dozens of levels, but you have to love the game for sticking with it despite that.
The chess movement doesn’t present much challenge, surprisingly. Although you can’t always move your knight directly to a space with a coin, you’ll eventually land there after futzing around it in circle for a while. Though the game adds minor variations, like tiles that turn into hazards if you land on them too often, the differences are usually washed out by all the futzing.
More intriguingly, your knight never stops and always needs to move to a new space. You can jump to your next spot immediately, or the knight will slowly, automatically leap to another tile. This sets up some enjoyably awkward situations with the spooky creatures that roam the board. You have to adapt to enemy movement patterns while staying in motion, which complicates the little dance you do around the coins you’re trying to collect. Landing anywhere precisely can be a bit of a crapshoot.
So, maybe it mixes equal parts quick thinking and dumb luck. And maybe the whole thing barely makes sense to begin with. Oh well! If Knight Moves isn’t a well-thought-out game, by god, at least it tried something.
In three weeks, on Saturday, November 5th, you are invited to the first annual Obscuritory 24-Hour Charity Game Marathon Tea Party!
So… what is this, exactly?
November 5th is Extra Life, a gaming marathon fundraising event in support of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. I’ll be streaming for 24 hours straight in support of the Children’s National Medical Center, the only exclusively pediatric hospital in the Washington, DC area.
In keeping with the mission of The Obscuritory, I’ll be playing multimedia software, shareware CDs, edutainment titles, weird old experiments, and who knows what else while soliciting donations from the wonderful folks at home. My fundraising goal this year is $150, and if we can reach that… I’m going to play an extremely terrible DOS game I made when I was 10 years old. It will be worth it.
And, as the name suggests, I’m going to be drinking a lot of tea to get myself through this. I’m big on black teas (and sometimes herbal, depends), so I’ll be sharing my favorite blends over the course of the day. You’re welcome to drink tea too!
Stay tuned for more info. I’m going to try to block out the 24-hour schedule so people can tune in for specific games. If anyone has any suggestions about what you’d like see streamed, please drop a line!
UPDATE: Here’s a full, tentative schedule of what will be on the stream this weekend. Things kickoff at 9am EDT as my stomach confronts its arch-nemesis, Ballistics. Hope to see you there!
UPDATE 2: I called the stream early because it took a much harder toll on me than I expected, but in 14 1/2 hours, we raised $200 for the Children’s National Medical Center and drank nine cups of tea. This was an excellent event, and I’m overwhelmed by the support. Thank you so much for watching and donating, and I hope everyone had a great time!
Dominus grants you a bird’s-eye view of a swirling battle that spans across a countryside. It also lets you peek into individual houses.
Despite that wildly varying scope, Dominus keeps its pieces simple. The game mines most of its strategy just from shuffling armies around its map. The big hangup isn’t the degree of complexity but the lack of time for everything else. There are so many ways to play Dominus, and with the clock always ticking, an effective playstyle expects you to ditch the more fun, peculiar options. Dominus » Read more
I haven’t posted in a bit, for a combination of personal life stuff and other projects (more on that to come soon, hopefully!), but I wanted to share a wild story from educational software history that seems all but forgotten about.
In 1998, Panasonic Interactive Media released Secret Writer’s Society, a game designed to help kids with writing. I haven’t been able to play Secret Writer’s Society (it’s hard to find, for reasons that’ll be obvious), so it’s unclear whether the program was well-made or effective. It seems to focus on writing structure, planning, and drafting rather than the creative side of the process – maybe necessary but rote lessons.
One of the game’s major features was a text-to-speech tool that read back what you wrote. It had one big problem: if you wrote three or more sentences and double-clicked the button – which an impatient kid could easily do – the program would read out a string of obscenities, according to one parent “[going] way beyond George Carlin’s seven banned words.”
Initially, Panasonic blamed this on a bug related to the program’s language filter. But eventually, the “feature” was revealed as an act of corporate sabotage by an anonymous programmer who wanted to raise awareness about the stifling effect of relying on educational software for parenting. “Choosing to have a child constitutes a commitment to give that child the very best that you can,” the programmer said in a press release. “Letting a third-rate piece of software take over for you is wrong because it violates that contract. […] What I did isn’t a crime. The crime is letting profits get in the way of education.”
Culture jamming activist group RTMark paid the programmer a $1000 reward for his anti-corporate actions. (For context, RTMark was previously responsible for swapping the voice boxes in G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls and putting scantily-clad men with glowing nipples in Maxis’s SimCopter.)
The programmer’s statements are probably over-the-top, especially since educational programs often serve as supplements to teaching and parenting rather than substitutes. But the criticism is still valid. We do need to think about what happens, good or bad, when we automate those responsibilities.
Panasonic is probably glad nobody remembers all this, but Secret Writer’s Society made for a bizarre example in a debate about education quality that continues today.