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Databases

MobyGames

MobyGames is gaming’s IMDb equivalent. Though it’s not complete and omits many newer independent games, this site is exhaustive in detail and continues to grow rapidly. Games can be browsed by a wide range of criteria, including platform, genre, developer, and even technical specifications and content ratings. MobyGames tends to have few reviews and is best for finding objective information about games, like screenshots, release dates, and publisher profiles.

Eli’s Software Encyclopedia

Eli’s provides extensive metadata on over 10,000 pieces of classic software for nearly every platform. It is one of the best jumping-off-points for learning about any type of software, including educational material and games. Eli Tomlinson assembled this website almost entirely by himself, and he put together one hell of a repository.

The Internet Archive Software Collection

The Internet Archive is an absolutely staggeringly large archive of all sorts of information, and its software collections are among its most valuable resources. Nearly all of its software categories contains countless troves of software for download or use in-browser. Unfortunately, organization is often a mess, and content tends to overlap. Like a rummage sale, you just have to dive in to find things. Use the search function for specific items.

I recommend the Historical Software Collection, Software Library, Shareware CD Archive, and the CD-ROM Software Library. For playing in-browser, try the MS-DOS Games collection, Windows 3.1 collection, and the Internet Arcade.

Game Classification

This project from Ludoscience attempts to categorize games by a taxonomy explaining its content and basic gameplay elements. Although over 30,000 items are covered in this database, the most useful subsection of Serious Game Classification, which breaks down thousands of educational and informational games by their subject, intended audience, and purpose.

Universal Videogame List

Similar to MobyGames but less complete, the Universal Videogame List is arguably a better site if you want to browse a big list of titles. The site’s Resources page has a number of categories to thumb through, most impressively an extensive, unorganized collection of keyword tags for each game based on its content and format.

Lemon Amiga

No site has a reverence for Amiga games and culture like Lemon Amiga, a sprawling database of Amiga games, reviews, and resources. A partner site to Lemon 64, Lemon Amiga is a friendly hub and should be the first stop for anyone interested in playing or learning about Amiga games.

Hall of Light

Hall of Light is a technically superb Amiga game search engine. Nearly every game released for Amiga is documented here with great specificity. You can search for games with granular detail; if you want to find an isometric racing game based on a television show, you can get that narrow.

Lemon 64

One of the largest and longest-running Commodore 64 fansites, Lemon 64 benefits from over 20 years of user-submitted screenshots and reviews for its large collection of information on Commodore 64 games. In addition to games, Lemon 64 features other C64-related historical items on the Museum page.

If you can’t find it here, the site also links to many other Commodore 64 resources for people interested in the platform.

GameBase64

The GameBase64 Collection is a collaborative project to document as many Commodore 64 games as possible. The database currently has over 25,000 games, which can be searched by extremely specific criteria like the name of the composer or whether the game saves high scores. Not the most user-friendly database, but a good resource for drilling down in technical information on Commodore 64 games.

GameBase64 will frequently link to game downloads on an affiliate site, 8BitFiles, when a game is “assumed to have no commercial value.”

“Games/Entertainment” at Freecode

Originally named Freshmeat, Freecode is ground zero for the open source game movement – and by extension the early 2000s indie scene. The Freecode database is all over the place and difficult to browse apart from genre tags available in the right-hand column, but in its troves, you can find a goldmine of historic content, odd free games, and coding exercises that never became something bigger.

The Interactive Fiction Archive

Run by the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation, the IF Archive is a long-running directory of interaction fiction games, tools, discussion and community history. The archive can be difficult to browse but contains hundreds of historical interactive fiction games, including games in multiple languages.

Interactive Fiction Database

IFDB is a thorough index of interactive fiction games on the web, all the way from early text-based adventures to Twine-based web browser games. Most entries for games include reviews and download links. In addition, IFDB serves as a social hub, hosting IF writing competitions and game-playing clubs.

The International Arcade Museum

The Museum of the Game’s arcade wing (formerly named “Killer List of Videogames”) is the definitive site for finding arcade games, pinball machines, casino games, and other standalone coin-operated “amusements.” Their collection includes a large scanned ephemera library of flyers and manuals that came with these games. IAM also hosts the Videogame & Arcade Preservation Society, which uses an ownership census to determine the rarity of arcade games.

Sega Retro

This vast Sega fan wiki is an incredible source of documentation about nearly every game released for a Sega console, like obscure titles for the Sega Saturn and the educational system Sega Pico. Its most unique resource may be its information about the Mega LD, a hybrid Mega Drive-LaserDisc console with only around a dozen games released for it.

World of Spectrum

This website is the single best resource for information about ZX Spectrum titles, emulators and guides to using the platform. In many cases, downloads for games and programs are available.

CPC-POWER

CPC-POWER is the go-to website for a master list of software for the Amstrad CPC, a British home computer. The site has a list of over 16,000 pieces of software, along with many downloadable copies of those programs. The search system is a detailed though somewhat cryptic way to sort by specific content (like manuals, maps, and “goodies”), and it helpfully breaks the software down in 40 subcategories.

Game repositories

Abandonia

Abandonia is a stalwart site for DOS “abandonware” games. Abandonia has a large game collection with reviews and descriptors for all of its content. Administrators respond quickly to copyright violations and provide links to storefronts for games that are still sold.

Abandonia also includes a members-only section on its forums called The ISO Cellar for sharing full CD-ROM games. Please be advised that this section is in much murkier legal territory and is probably intentionally omitted from the main site.

Abandonware France

This French abandonware website has a large, lovingly curated collection of games considered abandonware, complete with downloads, manuals, and information on how to set up each of the games. Be sure to check out La chamber vaudoue, a section with information about canceled and unreleased games.

DOSGames.com

DOSGames.com’s well-tailored collection of freely available DOS games is more dependable as a download source than as a browseable database, but the site is valuable for its simple genre organization and ratings system. This is a dependable, no-frills source of freeware and shareware.

GOG.com

GOG.com is a digital game retailer that specializes in older computer games, updated to run on modern systems. The site has expanded to new-release independent games as well, but it still houses one of the largest purchasable collections of older games. To find these titles, sort the GOG.com store by “oldest first.”

Macintosh Garden

Macintosh Garden’s collection can be difficult to browse (search results seem to be sorted almost randomly), but it was one of the first sites to collect huge swaths of Macintosh games and software for preservation. Since the site has been around for a while, it has years of detailed descriptions and comments left by visitors about how to run many of the games. Macintosh Garden’s content is considered abandonware, and much like on Abandonia, the administrators occasionally remove files deemed illegal to redistribute.

Macintosh Repository

This newer Macintosh software archive includes thousands of games, applications, and system files. This is especially great for ancillary software not usually collected by game sites, like productivity tools. Their site is easy to browse and breaks down the collection into a long list of subgenres, though the games and programs often lack individual descriptions.

MyAbandonware

MyAbandonware has a massive catalog of “abandonware” games for many computer platforms, and it is among the few that includes extensive sets of Windows 3.1 and Macintosh games. The site’s browsing feature includes “theme” keywords, which are particularly useful for finding games by their subject.

RGB Classic Games

A personal favorite. RGB Classic Games preserves freeware and shareware games for DOS, Windows 3.1, and Windows 9x. Multiple versions of each game are provided when possible, and many games are playable in-browser. RGB’s collection is well-documented and officially lauded by the city of Ottowa!

XTC Abandonware

Another good DOS game directory. XTC hold about 2500 games from a wide variety of genres. It’s less flashy than other sites (and has no ratings or reviews for browsing purposes) but is a dependable collection, and it directs you to legal sources when possible.

Collections

ANNARCHIVE

Game designer Anna Anthropy manages this small, eclectic batch of selected shareware titles and a collection of classic gaming publications, including 250 issues of fantasy/sci-fi gaming magazine Dragon.

Break Into Chat

Break Into Chat collects information and downloads for BBS door games – multiplayer games which connect with bulletin board systems. Given the niche format and the technical challenge of running these games, this site has some of the only info about these games, including interviews with some of their developers.

The CRPG Book Project

Felipe Pepe’s exhaustive 528-page free ebook covers 300 computer role-playing games from 1975 to 2014. It hits on everything from the most popular games to the niche titles only known to genre die-hards. A fantastic reference source.

Daniel’s Legacy Computer Collections

Daniel Rose owns a massive collection of pre-2001 computer software for older operating systems and has shared extensive screenshots and documentation for anyone researching those programs. Visit his Screen Shot Gallery for glimpses of hundreds of design, education, and productivity applications made for outdated hardware.

dungeoncrawlers.org

This database focuses on a very specific subgenre: first-person dungeon-based RPGs. These sorts of games were incredibly popular (and disposable) decades ago, and dungeoncrawlers.org organizes them all in terrific detail. User ratings and a Top 100 list help reveal unknown favorites.

FEMICOM Museum

Rachel Simone Weil’s “hybrid physical/digital museum” FEMICOM collects and discusses feminine electronic games. The site is a recommended starting place for finding historical games by and for women.

FMV World

Interactive movie-style games, old and new, are cataloged here with almost clinical accuracy. Records for each game include release information, platform, and cast and crew.

La Grenier du Mac

This extremely charming French website hosts a collection of French versions of Macintosh games; this is likely the biggest collection of its kind. The site also includes games in English, as well as Mac applications and extensions.

GSLIS Multimedia Product Review

In 1996, the University of Texas at Austin’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science compiled reviews for over 100 educational multimedia CD-ROM titles, many of which are still underdocumented. GSLIS’s reviews focus on the ease of use, educational viability, and expected audience for each title (and sometimes, to the point of distraction, taking strong issue with violent or un-educational content).

Home of the Underdogs

HotU was one of the first ever websites dedicated to collecting and sharing classic computer games. The site has repeatedly opened and closed under new ownership; this is the latest and most stable iteration. HotU no longer offers downloads, but its detailed reviews and individualized recommendations are still great resources.

The JAVE

Older versions of the website Just Adventure included a “virtual encyclopedia” of adventure games covered by the site. Just Adventure reviewed nearly every game in the genre, and their insights into the history of adventure games are worth reading for anyone interested in the earlier years of the genre.

LGBTQ Video Game Archive

This database by Adrienne Shaw categorizes games with LGBTQ themes and characters. Although most of the historical games on these lists are relatively well-known, the site includes less-famous games with LGBTQ content as well, such as Caper in the Castro and Great Greed.

Museum of Computer Adventure Game History

Howard Feldman has been collecting computer role-playing and adventure games since 1995, and his curated collection is unparalleled. Browse any virtual “wing” of his museum, and you’ll find something fascinating. MOCAGH only includes games released earlier than 1992 and specializes in variant editions and manual scans of its games.

Museum of ZZT

This incredible project by Dr. Dos collects nearly every custom level pack created for ZZT, a 1991 game that was essentially used as a game-making program. Using the site, you can explore maps of the levels in your browser, as well as play them with an emulator. Dr. Dos and other contributors also write “Closer Look” articles that highlight specific ZZT worlds. It opens the doors on the whole history of ZZT, its community, and the games they made with it.

100KB Old DOS Games

This site is a handpicked assortment of 166 DOS games that are around 100kb in size. That limits the scope of the collection to smaller titles that use older graphics modes, typically role-playing games or arcade-style games. It’s an interesting cross-section of DOS games, and it also has a subpage for Czech and Slovak games!

Play It Again

This now-discontinued academic project brought together information about gaming history from Australian and New Zealand, including the games, their developers, and the memories of the people who played them. A great slice of video game history from a part of that world that doesn’t receive as much attention.

Adventure game reviews at Quandary

The long-running website Quandary was one of the top resources on the web for reviewing adventure games through the CD-ROM era to the mid-2000s. They reviewed a total of 451 games, big and small, including many minor, unusual titles. The reviews are still available via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

ReligiousGames.org

A database of over 1500 religious video games dating back to 1982, sortable by religious group and platform. Organized by Vincent Gonzales, Ph.D., this is the definitive collection of religious games.

SuperKids

During the educational game boom in the 90s, SuperKids was a notable source for educational games reviews, as well as an index of educational games organized by subject. Although the site is inactive, it remains an excellent database of educational titles, a category of games that can be underdocumented.

Theodor Lauppert’s Game Gallery

Theodor Lauppert’s site is a selection of games that Lauppert found interesting, some well-known but primarily hard-to-find computer shareware titles through the early 2000s. He occasionally wrote histories for them and included downloadable copies.

TLGG has unfortunately been long shut down, but the Internet Archive hosts a mirror of the site (including the games themselves).

Blogs

Adventure Classic Gaming

A comprehensive fan publication, ACG publishes articles about older adventure games with an emphasis on the 90s and 2000s (as well as more recent, similar games). Besides the great breadth of its reviews, the site also interviews adventure game developers and discusses the genre’s themes, tropes, and role in culture.

Archive on the Internet

Every day, this Twitter feed selects an unusual deep cut piece of media from the collections of the Internet Archive. Usually, it highlights commercially unsuccessful computer games or small free titles; the feed also includes films, books, and comics. Following them on Twitter is a daily highlight.

“Computer Games” on Vintage Computing & Gaming

The VC&G blog covers all manner of classic computer-related topics, and the “Computer Games” category in particular deals with forgotten games for older systems. Most posts consist of scanned box art or magazine ads, but the author, historian Benj Edwards, selects interesting titles that are worth looking into.

The CRPG Addict

Chester Bolingbroke is attempting to play every computer role-playing game chronologically, starting in 1975. His observations about the games can be specific to his tastes in that sub-genre, and the blog is exceedingly thorough as he works his way through every year.

The Digital Antiquarian

Jimmy Maher is a gaming historian who pokes through often-forgotten corners of game and software history from the 1980s, particularly interactive fiction. His posts are thorough and well-researched, diving into the history behind games, their developers, and the surrounding culture. Much of his writing has been republished as free ebooks.

FFC Archives at Tap-Repeatedly

General gaming site Tap-Repeatedly was once known as Four Fat Chicks and specialized in reviews for extremely esoteric adventure games. Though most of the FFC content is gone, the reviews remain accessible and worth reading for learning about 90s CD-ROM adventure games. Many FFC members continue to post on the Tap-Repeatedly boards about these sorts of games.

Games That Weren’t

Games That Weren’t documents unreleased or unfinished games for computers, with a focus on the Amiga and Commodore 64. Where possible, the blog includes screenshots, concept art, videos, anecdotes, and prototype versions of the games.

Gazette Galore!

For one year, Kirk Israel blogged about playing through 318 type-in games (games published in magazines as code you could enter at home) from Compute!’s Gazette. Most of these games likely haven’t been discussed anywhere else before. Gazette Galore also provides downloads for every game so you don’t have to type them in yourself. Check out the 4- and 5-star reviews for the highlights, as well as the retrospective on Israel’s personal favorites.

Hardcore Gaming 101

Hardcore Gaming 101 is one of the most popular blogs for lesser-known and strange games. In addition to their main articles in which they extensively discuss the history and quality of each game, the HG101 produces podcasts, interviews, and even print books about specific genres and publishers. Their adventure book is exceptionally good for those interested in the genre.

“Have You Played?” on Rock Paper Shotgun

Computer gaming blog Rock Paper Shotgun has a long-running column called “Have You Played?”, which features one computer game recommendation every day. Any computer game is eligible, so there’s a lot of old deep cut selections mixed into this running list of over 1000 games.

There’s no way to sort it except chronologically, so you may want to look through it by jumping to a random page.

The Museum of Old PC Gaming Ads

This Tumblr page shared ads from 90s PC game magazines, usually touching on stranger, less-popular games, unreleased titles, and other gaming products. Any random slice from here is an entertaining sample of the marketplace during those years.

Old Video Game Advertisements

This collection of magazine scans maintained by Quintin Zachary Hewlett features games and software advertised in vintage computer magazines; every item is extensively tagged by company, product, platform, and year. See also the Let’s Play section of Hewlett’s blog progressive imposition, which plays and analyzes the same types of games.

RPG Maker Historia

RPG Maker Historia is a project to recover old RPG Maker games, document them, and review them. The site is nexus for RPG Maker history resources, like links to other RPG Maker communities and a glossary of RPG Maker terminology. Community-made RPG Maker games from the mid-2000s are endangered digital media, and RPG Maker Historia is doing important work by exploring that history.

One of the major resources linked from RPG Maker Historia is a list of hard-to-find RPG Maker games managed by the rpgmaker.net user LordBlueRogue. Although very useful, the files are hosted on a potentially unreliable external host.

Saturday Crapshoot

For roughly four years, PC Gamer‘s Richard Cobbett wrote a weekly column about bizarre and forgotten computer games. His articles are some of the most appreciative of the unusual ends of the gaming landscape. They’re a great place to hear about specific obscurities as well as a starting point for learning about the less-covered slices of game history.

The new PC Gamer website doesn’t have any way to browse by category, so this link goes to a list of articles from an old version of Richard Cobbett’s website. The links are mostly broken, so you may need to search for the individual games on the PC Gamer website.

“Games” category on sparcie

sparcie is a blog about old tech that also focuses on old games. The blog’s “Games” category covers a bunch of lesser-known titles, especially for DOS.

Super Adventures in Gaming

Ray Hardgrit and company are on a mission to play as many games as possible, including old and overlooked titles. Their blog is a highly skimmable overview of the first hour or so of each game, including lots of GIFs.

VGJunk

The author of VGJunk writes about games of all shapes, from well-known classics to (more applicably for this guide) really obscure titles. Most of the odder games covered are arcade games rather than computer games. Each article is quite long and contains dozens of screenshots of the game for demonstration purposes. Best of all, the author is very responsive to comments and feedback. Patch them a line if you have questions about any of their featured games!

Videos

Ancient DOS Games

Kris Asick hosts this absolutely terrific and accessible video series about, well, ancient DOS games. The videos focus more on game design and technical aspects, and they include useful information about how to find and run each of the games discussed. Worth watching no matter if you’re familiar with DOS or a total newcomer to the platform.

Classics of Game

The videos on Classics of Game are bizarre non-sequiturs from unknown games, with a particular focus on PlayStation games and homemade PlayStation games created with the Net Yaroze development tools. It’s hilarious and a great way to be exposed to games you’d probably never encounter otherwise. Keep in mind that the videos purposely do not disclose what the games are, so you either have to wade into the comments (not good!) or an external source to figure out what they are.

Computer Chronicles

This long-running public television show lasted from 1983 to 2002, covering two decades of computer history. Among their many episodes about computers and technology, their programs also covered games and software, like a special about educational software from 1986. The Internet Archive provides downloads of these videos; they can also be watched on YouTube.

Gamer Mouse

Tanara Kuranov, aka Gamer Mouse, does in-depth video reviews of Macintosh games on YouTube. Although he usually reviews shareware games, he also records playthroughs of select longer titles. See the Gamer Mouse Reviews playlist for his Macintosh game reviews specifically.

Hall of First-Person Games

Long videos of old first-person computer games with no commentary. This channel has a wide scope – any first-person game – and is continually uploading new videos of both popular and less-known games.

Interactive Entertainment Magazine

IE Magazine published CD-ROM based reviews, previews, and commentary for many classic computer games over the course of the 90s. Enterprising YouTuber fmvgamer2010 has recorded videos of almost all of that content, making them accessible for new generations looking for an of-the-moment, slightly tongue-in-cheek view of the computer game scene.

Lazy Game Reviews

Among other gaming-related topics, the author of Lazy Game Reviews devotes much of his coverage to his large collection of computer games, their publishers, and related topics. The channel is a great place to get started learning about to odd subjects from computer game history, like failed controller accessories. Also see the now-defunct blog.

Play Different

This YouTube channel plays through classic Macintosh games with playful commentary. The creator focuses on popular Macintosh games as well as obscurities and odd pieces of Macintosh history. Recommended for deep cuts from the platform.

PushingUpRoses

PushingUpRoses shares videos about classic adventure games, particularly less-discussed games, licensed games, unusual CD-ROM titles, and other DOS miscellany. Her reviews also sometimes provide cultural context for the games being featured.

Ragey0

Since 2016, this YouTube channel has covered fangames and other small weird independent games. Ragey0 records full-length playthroughs of these games and includes optional commentary about the games and their histories, giving them much-needed context.

The Rarest Gamer

The Rarest Gamer shares videos, with no commentary, of unusual, unknown games from the 90s and early 2000s. There’s a particular focus on tiny homemade games and ephemeral games. One of the best YouTube channels for learning about unusual small games or seeing a video for them in action.

“Shovelware Diggers” on Pixelmusement

Every week, Kris Asick (also the host of Ancient DOS Games) plays a few shareware games from a CD-ROM collection called 2000 Hit Games by SoftKey. Asick has been working through the collection since 2016, and his videos how clips of many shareware games with otherwise limited coverage.

Swizzley

Swizzley is an excellent curator of small software. Their YouTube channel features short videos taken from software compilation CDs for DOS and Windows 3.1, like demos and shareware.

Swizzley continues to upload shareware games and demos through their account on the Internet Archive. Many of the games featured on this YouTube channel are playable in-browser.

Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) Documentation

In 2017, Microsoft discontinued XBLIG, a service that allowed anyone to release homemade games on Xbox 360. The program resulted in a stream-of-consciousness marketplace of over 3000 oddities and experiments that vary significantly in quality. Although most or all of these can no longer be played, this YouTube channel includes short videos documenting every title that was available for the service.

Vinesauce (Twitch) (YouTube)

Among other gaming videos, Vinesauce plays a large number of low-budget and unusual, ephemeral games. Many of these are amateur, outsider, or non-commercial games that have only been informally distributed, including game mods and hacks. The commentary on Vinesauce tends to be aggressive and make fun of the games, unfortunately, but the channel is a useful way to discover deep-cut titles that receive minimal coverage elsewhere.

World of Longplays

Walkthrough videos without commentary are a chance to learn about games nearly first-hand. World of Longplays is the definitive source for these. Look under the Videos tab for a list of all the devices that are covered, including the Commodore/Amiga line, FM-TOWNS, NEC systems, and other assorted computer platforms.

YesterYear’s MacDude

YesterYear’s MacDude posts video reviews of classic Macintosh games, focusing primarily on shareware titles.

Other

Computer magazines

Older computer magazines tended to cover a broad selection of software and games, featuring a number of now-obscure titles in the process. (This is especially true for the games in the advertisements!) For scanned copies of dozens of magazines in this scope – including ones that did not primarily focus on games – see the Internet Archive’s Game and Gamer Magazines collection and Computer Magazine Archives, OldGameMags’s Computers collection, and Retromags (requires registration). Also consider the archives of Computer Gaming World and SynTax, a long-running magazine about adventure, role playing, and strategy games.

The Strong Museum of Play

The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY is home to the world’s greatest collection of electronic games and game-related materials. Although you’ll have to make an appointment if you want to access their collections in person, you can browse their entire catalog online.

The Strong’s page on Google Arts & Culture has a directory of the games, toys, and other physical objects in their collection. If you want to see more about their archival materials, such as development documents, see their archive catalog and finding aids. The library at The Strong also holds a collection of game-related magazines, which are a useful resource for finding articles and advertisements about video games and computers. Discover what they have by browsing their library catalog.

If you can visit in person, you might also be inspired by the exhibits on the museum floor!

Wired articles

Through most of the 90s and early 2000s, Wired covered the bleeding edge of games and digital entertainment, looking for the future of media. As a result, their back issues are filled with reviews and stories about unusual games that have long since left recognition. It might take a little more work to dig through these, but it’s worth it for the magazine’s interviews, selected highlights, and tidbits on development.

News databases

Your local library may subscribe to news databases like Factiva or LexisNexis. These databases can provide access to press releases and trade publications, which can be useful for learning more about the games and software that publishers were marketing. This can be especially helpful for non-game software that was adjacent to other industries or lifestyle areas, like educational games and home productivity programs.

Your local gaming convention

As gaming events become more popular, there’s increasingly room in them for attendees to discuss and share obscure favorites. Look for panels and events about unknown, obscure, and forgotten games. And if there are none, consider organizing a meet-up! Fans of oddities are everywhere, and they’re eager to share if given an opportunity.

Your friends and family

Really! Many people don’t talk about their favorite strange games, and a lot of the time, it’s because nobody asked. You can be the first. See if there’s any they enjoy.

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