Caper in the Castro, the first LGBT video game, available again after 28 years Adventure categoryBlog categoryMacintosh category

Caper in the Castro, a Macintosh HyperCard game from 1989, was the first known LGBT-themed video game. As the author CM Ralph explained in an interview from 2014, the game follows “a lesbian detective investigating the disappearance of a transgender woman in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco.” It pays tribute to the San Francisco LGBT community while also going for jokes like a villain named Dullagan Straightman.

The game was released as charityware: in exchange for the game, Ralph asked that you donate to an AIDS charity.

You can read more about Caper in the Castro at the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, which includes extensive coverage of the game, discussion with Ralph, and a copy of an article about the game from The Washington Blade from 1989.

Until just a few days ago, this game was thought to be lost. However, thanks to the Museum of Play, digital games curator Andrew Borman, Adrianne Shaw, CM Ralph, and the Internet Archive, a copy of Caper in the Castro has been recovered and is now available to play for free in your browser. In fact, it’s embedded in this post!

LGBT games and players have always existed. Caper in the Castro is an important piece of that history, “a labor of love for the Gay and Lesbian Community,” now freely accessible for everyone. (Also telling about gaming culture is Murder on Main Street, a straightwashed version of the game to be sold to a broader audience.)

Huge thanks to everyone involved in recovering this game!

Learn about game preservation (and play Mac games) at Super MAGFest 2018 Blog category

MAGFest 2018 logo

Hey, I’m coming back to MAGFest!

Super MAGFest 2018 is right around the corner on January 4-7, 2018 in National Harbor, MD. It’s a unique, freewheeling experience and my favorite gaming event.

I’m so excited to share that this year, I’m hosting the panel Preserving Video Games and Gaming History.

We’ve brought together an incredible panel of experts for you, featuring game archivist Rachel Donahue, International Center for the History of Electronic Games curator Shannon Symonds, and Video Game History Foundation director Frank Cifaldi. We’ll go over the basics of game preservation, some of the trickier questions, what’s being done right now, and ways that you can help.

The panel will be at 4pm on Friday, January 5th in MAGES 1 as part of the MAGES educational panel track. (I’m still sort of in disbelief that this is happening! Huge thanks to the panelists.)

Also! I’m curating a selection of Macintosh games for the MAGFest Museum. My goal was to get a range of moods, styles, and genres. Attendees will be able to play a variety of titles including The Journeyman Project, Theresa Duncan’s Smarty, Bungie’s early shooter Pathways into Darkness, the zesty RPG Realmz, and a whole bunch of educational games. (And, at long last making its debut at MAGFest, Catz!). It’ll be lots of fun to bring these games to new audiences.

If you’re going to MAGFest, please come to our panel! And at any point over the weekend, reach out if you want to talk about Mac games or just to say hello.

Liquid War 5 Strategy category

Title screen from Liquid War 5

The minimap in a strategy game shrinks a huge war into the size of a small window. At such a large scale, whether set in ancient Rome or a distant planet, any battle will look like thousands of multicolored dots running around. In a way, it boils the strategy game genre down to its most basic pieces – fighting dots.

Liquid War 5 totally embraces that reduction and runs with it. You control a liquid made up of hundreds of particles, fighting against other liquids. (Maybe it’s more like those web games where you play with a fountain of powder.) It gets the beats of a big battle in the simplest terms, mixed with the weird sensory experience of being a puddle of goop. » Read more about Liquid War 5

The glittery wonder of Flying Colors, now free Blog categorySoftware category

Animated screenshot from Flying Colors

Art software doesn’t come more distinctive than Flying Colors, a 1993 program by Magic Mouse Productions with musical flourishes and a pastel shimmer. (I used Flying Colors to make the wizard picture above, which made the rounds on Tumblr two years ago.)

In a bittersweet piece of news, to commemorate the death of friend Jack MacFarland, Magic Mouse released Flying Colors for free through their website with add-on graphics packs available for purchase. It should run on current versions of Windows.

Flying Colors owes so much of its appeal to its rich graphics library, created by Mark J. Ferrari, the same artist behind the breathtaking artwork in the planner program Seize the Day. Like in Seize the Day, Ferrari’s art in Flying Colors cleverly uses color cycling – creating the illusion of animation by changing the screen’s palette. See the bowl of fire in the wizard picture (???) for an example. Notice how the pixels at the very top of the fire plume turn dark brown rather than disappear.

Although Ferrari is no longer a game artist, he spoke about his career in games on a recent episode of The Life & Times of Video Games, a new podcast by friend of The Obscuritory Richard Moss. Give a listen, grab a copy of Flying Colors, make some wizard art for yourself, and pay a little tribute to Jack MacFarland.

h/t to Andrew from Play Different for the news.

Flash games and the importance of disposable media Essay category

Screenshot from Achievement Unlocked

Screenshot from Achievement Unlocked

When Adobe announced plans to discontinue Flash earlier this year, people rightly mourned that we’d soon lose the ability to easily play over two decades of amateur games and animation. Gigantic collections, like nearly the entire library of the game platform Kongregate, will rapidly become obsolete. The mission to preserve Flash content is enormous – not only creating a free, open way for modern browsers to understand Flash (like Mozilla’s abandoned Shumway project) but also finding websites with Flash content that will probably disappear soon. Thousands and thousands of Flash games exist, and like any creative works, keeping them accessible is a worthwhile endeavor.

We have to remember why we’re trying to save all that. The importance isn’t specific developers or publishers or games. It’s about recognizing the value of disposable culture and embracing more perspectives on what history should be told. Or, really, whose history should be told. » Read more about Flash games and the importance of disposable media

Lode Runner 2 Puzzle category

Title screen from Lode Runner 2

As computers and consoles increased in power during the 90s, more game franchises moved from 2D to 3D. In many cases, that was simply a change in perspective – avoiding real-time 3D graphics and going with a slightly angled camera view to add a third dimension. Sonic did it. Lemmings did it. And inevitably, Lode Runner did it too.

When Presage Software bought the rights to the puzzle game series Lode Runner, they rebooted it with more attention to theming than the sparse, vaguely subterranean 1983 original game. The pseudo-3D sequel keeps going in that direction, the more intense theming along with the new dimension. » Read more about Lode Runner 2

MindGym Multimedia categoryOther categorySoftware category

Title screen from MindGym

People go to the gym to work on their physical fitness. The MindGym is, naturally, a place for your mental fitness. Rather than lifting or running, your exercises at the MindGym are mental shock – unusual, thought-provoking scenes that question the way you think.

MindGym shares its perspective using surprise. The MindGym location itself is a constantly alarming, disconnected multimedia art space that jars you into wondering what on earth this game could have up its sleeve. And it delivers more surprises, but often in the form of trickery, as delivered by the world’s least hospitable personal trainer. » Read more about MindGym

Dig up old custom worlds in the groundbreaking Museum of ZZT Blog category

Screen capture of Three Trials from the Museum of ZZT

Over the last year, Dr. Dos has built up Worlds of ZZT, a social media project to explore the massive, influential volume of custom content for the 1991 game ZZT. The game’s level editor and its community were, for a certain generation, a first easy gateway into game design. ZZT‘s influence reached wide – but quietly. Now 26 years removed from the game’s release (and the follow-ups like Super ZZT and MegaZeux), fan-made levels have been difficult to rediscover.

Dr. Dos’s Museum of ZZT, the culmination of Worlds of ZZT project, is one hell of an answer to that problem! The Museum goes far beyond any other collection of user-created game content. In addition to play each level pack in-browser (thanks to Internet Archive contributions from Obscuritory friend Duncan Cross), Dr. Dos’s tools allow you to dig through the games’ files to look at their individual scenes in detail. No other project in this scope comes close to the care put into here. Dr. Dos also regularly writes “Closer Look” articles about specific ZZT worlds, adding a much-welcome guide to the unique and representative items in a collection that easily could’ve just been a big file dump.

(The site also offers bulk downloads and, importantly, an understanding that users may want to opt out of having their old ZZT levels re-shared or at least publicly associated with their name.)

Amateur games and add-ons like ZZT worlds are among the games most in need of more attention (and preservation energy). The Museum of ZZT is the high watermark for what can be done to break those types of games out and show why they’re special. It goes above and beyond simply being a repository or a list of files. And it’s worth noting that this is entirely a fan-run operation. I can’t wait to see the next generation of enthusiastic fans this could inspire, both for ZZT and for other amateur game communities. What could be next? Browseable StarCraft maps? A way to visit settings from the old BYOND online game engine?

Huge kudos! Start exploring with the Random ZZT World link.

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