Explore multimedia history in Denise Caruso’s Digital Media Blog category

In 1991, Denise Caruso founded Digital Media, a newsletter covering the then-nascent multimedia industry. Caruso’s newsletter is a great read if you want a ground-level view of the early years of multimedia and the CD-ROM format.

Caruso used to provide issues of the newsletter through her website, which currently isn’t online. For easier access, I’m uploading them to the Internet Archive. Browse through the collection so far here. They’re a treasure trove, especially the “I/O” editorials, which feature comments from notable figures like game developer Chris Crawford, Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, and Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe.

The September 1991 issue is particular interesting; it discusses Spaceship Warlock, the Voyager Company, the expected future of the Philips CD-i, and Brøderbund’s strategy for producing inexpensive multimedia content. Paul Saffo compares interface challenges faced by early developers to an “electronic piñata,” an unwieldy but fun metaphor. (I had previously featured this issue in an old post I’ve removed for quality and accuracy reasons.)

When completed, the collection will have all 30 issues Caruso edited. It’ll take a bit, and I’ll update once it’s ready!

This Saturday, we’re cooking with Windows Software categoryStreaming category

Cooking with Windows banner

Icon from Delrina Daily Planner 3.0

Time to try something different…

This Saturday, we’re digging up some CD-ROM cookbooks. And we’re gonna cook with them.

The CD-ROM and multimedia era was a heyday for lifestyle software – programs for managing finances, scheduling your week, or picking out a movie to watch. The internet would soon consume almost all these functions, but a self-contained CD-ROM could bundle together tools, writing, and video and audio clips into a unique interactive package unachievable with previous technology. Hundreds of megabytes of storage space let developers run wild with features and how much they could fit in.

Digital recipe managers, which had existed as far back as 1969, could now hold multiple cookbooks worth of recipes with photos and instructional videos. Major brands like Better Homes and Gardens published their own CD-ROM cookbooks, each with their own approach to helping you plan a meal with a computer.

So, with the help of a few friends, we’ll be preparing food and drinks from recipe programs for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95:

  • Cooking with Dom DeLuise by Allegro New Media
  • MasterCook Cooking Light by Sierra Home
  • Williams-Sonoma Guide to Good Cooking by Broderbund
  • Cocktail Hour by Global Star Software

We’ll demonstrate each of the programs, talk a bit about their history, and do a couple different dishes. To complete the 90s computer dinner party vibe, we’ll play a digital party game. I’ll write-up our thoughts on the software (and our cooking!) afterwards. We’ll see if Dom DeLuise’s jokes about bread help us at all.

The food won’t be too unusual, but these recipes haven’t been made in 20 years. Let’s call it technoculinary archaeology.

This is one of the silliest projects I’ve attempted. It could be amazing or a complete disaster. Maybe both! Join us on Saturday, April 8 at 5pm EDT on the Obscuritory Twitch channel for a delicious adventure!

popol maya Adventure category

Title screen from popol maya

According to its introduction, popol maya is “not just a game” but a belief system. Supposedly, its tenets are based on Maya mythology, though it flagrantly misinterprets everything about that culture save for a vaguely tropical setting. The game stumbles onto its own ideas instead, attempting to solve that universal question of how to find meaning in a disorderly, malevolent world.

The game settles on communication. We need to listen to each other. popol maya wraps its answer under layers of groaning animals and dancing, and somewhere along the line, it forgets to link its spiritual dilemma more closely to the bizarre happenings at hand. The message comes through from the whole of your Maya adventure, but it might have shone stronger if – ironically for the theme – the game spoke to you more. popol maya » Read more

The joy of the unknown Essay category

I’m currently working on a post about Popol Maya, a 1997 Japanese adventure game that has very little written about it. Its anonymity has caused some problems; I’ll usually reference a walkthrough when I’m stuck, but because of the language barrier, the only coverage about the game online fed through Google Translate keeps mentioning a “crab bicycle.” So that hasn’t been entirely helpful.

But it did remind Jeremy Penner (friend of The Obscuritory) about a similar experience he had trying to play White Sun of the Desert, a game adapted from a popular 1970 Soviet film. It’s a very personal story about Penner’s relationship with the game during an uncertain period in his life.

What got me was the end of his post, where he tries to figure out why he got so invested in figuring out this strange game. For Penner, it was about finding comfort in the seemingly bottomless well of questions it raises, the freedom of getting lost in an unexplained, buried corner you’ve never heard of – and recognizing that you could live your whole life without encountering it. Penner discovered White Sun of the Desert from its connections to the Soviet space program, which somehow led him deeper and deeper to this undocumented adventure game. White Sun of the Desert may not be a good game by his account, but good or otherwise, it’s a glimpse into another world. Who made it? Why did they make it? What is it about? And where do those answers lead next?

That’s what lights me up about obscurities too. When you dig into something unknown, it can be the tip of a gigantic, interdisciplinary iceberg, a gateway to spheres of knowledge and culture that you wouldn’t cross paths with any other way. Engaging with an unturned stone can send us down avenues we never expected. It broadens our understanding of how much there is in this world, how we can always still learn more about it, and what we’ll discover with a curious, open mind.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road: The Video Game Arcade category

Introduction screen from Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road: The Video Game

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road: The Video Game looks and moves like an office program. Mind you, it’s meant to be like Frogger, but the toolbars scream Microsoft Word. The title menu calls the game “Chicken Windows Application.”

Screenshots from Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road: The Video Game

A sample of Chicken Windows Application

For Windows 3.1 games, these interface quirks, like the reliance on a bulky help file, are part of the appeal. Nothing about them makes WDtCCtR an improvement on Frogger, though. The game’s stuttering, halting movement significantly reduces how easily your chicken can dodge cars… or spaceships or dirt bikes or airplanes or whatever, depending on the stage.

I love this Chicken Windows Application anyway. It knows how ridiculous it is. You play as a chicken named Joe the Chicken. The developer, the wonderfully named StupidSoft, wrote a nonsensical backstory about a secret police force and a mad scientist that the game immediately ignores. Every time you beat a level, you get a silly excuse for why the chicken crossed the road. On two occasions, Joe apparently wanted to “see the new 1995 cars” and “do a report on sharks.”

StupidSoft clearly had a lot of fun making this. Instead of a registration fee, they wanted fans to send them postcards. You can’t fault their good spirits. Joe the Chicken is just glad to be here.


The credits screen gives special thanks to Mark S. for level ideas. His full name is Mark Stinocher.  According to the readme, “We weren’t able to figure out how to spell his name at the time. Sorry, Mark.”

Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis Macintosh categoryRPG category

Title screen from Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis

There’s nothing new to the idea that, in a world overrun with grotesqueries, humans may be the real monsters. Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis, a role-playing game for the Macintosh, brings a level of specificity and empathy to that concept. Rather than swing into allegory, Odyssey roots its big ideas and moral choices in the lives of individuals.

The game has room to try different permutations of this theme – new people, new troubles, and new ways to end them. Though the confusing attempts to extend that variety to the game’s combat come close to ruining the experience, Odyssey‘s playground of extreme human behavior and its believable writing pair terrifically together. Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis » Read more

Enchanted Scepters stream with Keith Kaisershot: 2/25, 3PM EST Adventure categoryMacintosh categoryStreaming category

Screenshot from Enchanted Scepters

This Saturday at 3PM EST, I’ll be streaming the Macintosh RPG Enchanted Scepters with Keith Kaisershot (Other Ocean Interactive, The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime, and all-around Mac enthusiast).

Enchanted Scepters was among the first games for the Macintosh, created shortly after the computer’s release in 1984. It combined text-based adventure and role-playing mechanics with one of the earliest uses of a mouse in a game. The ability to interact with an object by clicking on it has become a universal feature that feels strange to single out as an achievement, but Enchanted Scepters tried the idea (imperfectly) before almost anyone. Developer Silicon Beach Software later adapted the interface into World Builder, a popular game creation tool.

On top of its historical value, it’s also a sprawling, continually surprising game that I’m looking forward to sharing. Keith has a far deeper knowledge of Enchanted Scepters than I do, so I’ll probably need some coaching to get through it.

See everyone on Saturday on the Obscuritory Twitch channel!

UPDATE: Thanks for watching, and thanks to Keith for joining! A replay is available here. I really like this game’s stream-of-consciousness. Please don’t mistake my comparison of it during the stream to amateur game design as a negative; I appreciate that it channels the same liberating sense of blowing up the usual rules of world-building.

Alpha Waves Platform category

Title screen from Alpha Waves

Alpha Waves (Continuum in America) was one of the earlier computer games to allow players to look and move in three dimensions. Like other virtual reality analogues that run short on processing power, it’s abstract – simple, flat, and polygonal with no feints to the real world. The game takes place in a 16×16 grid of boxy, solid-color rooms, grouped into regions with metaphysical New Age-y names like Stimulate or Awaken. Your vehicle, called a “mobile,” has six different appearance options, and they all look like fancy triangles.

Appropriately, the player has abstract goals. You need to get somewhere. Anywhere. Alpha Waves » Read more

Executive Suite Simulation category

Title screen from Executive Suite

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

An outlook on 2017 Blog category

Screenshot from The Labyrinth of Time

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.

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