Resources – Discovering
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
IFDB is the most complete index of interactive fiction games on the web, all the way from traditional text-based adventures to recent Twine-based miniature 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 Museum of the Game’s arcade wing (formerly named “Killer List of Videogames”) is the definitively best 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.
The Internet Archive is an absolutely staggeringly large archive of all sorts of information, and its software collections are among its crown jewels. Nearly all of its categories contains countless troves of software for download or use in-browser. Unfortunately, organization is often a total 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.
No one has reverence for Amiga games and culture like Lemon Amiga, a sprawling database of Amiga games, reviews, and resources. Lemon Amiga is a friendly hub and should be the first stop for anyone interested in playing or learning about Amiga games.
Similar to but less thorough than MobyGames, the Universal Videogame List is arguable 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 collection of (non-controlled) keyword tags for each game based on its content and format.
GOG.com is one of the only digital game retailers that specializes in classic computer games. The site has expanded in recent years to many indie games and gaming-related movies, but it still houses one of the largest purchasable collections of classic games. Look for user-submitted “GOGMixes” for curated recommendations.
Abandonia is probably the most popular website for DOS “abandonware” games – that is, games for which copyright is no longer actively enforced. Abandonia has a massive game collection with quality reviews and descriptors for all of its content. The site stays as legal as possible; 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.
Developer Anna Anthropy manages this small, eclectic batch of selected shareware titles and, most significantly, a large archive of classic gaming publications, including 250 issues of fantasy/sci-fi gaming magazine Dragon.
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.
In conjunction with the Internet Archive, Demu houses one of the Internet’s most thorough and well-organized collections of DOS and Windows 3.1 demos, shareware, and freeware. Many are available to play directly in-browser, and the site includes a supplemental YouTube channel of brief gameplay videos.
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.
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.
Rachel Simone Weil’s “hybrid physical/digital museum” FEMICOM collects and discusses older feminine electronic games. The site is a recommended starting place for finding historical games by and for women.
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.
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).
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.
Located in Rochester, NY, ICHEG is a terrific museum for the history of electronic games. You can visit their collections in person (with a $13.50 admission fee), but their entire extensive collection is browseable online. If it was released, they probably have a copy.
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.
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. Most items on the site have detailed descriptions and comments left by visitors about how to run the games. Macintosh Garden’s content is considered abandonware, and much like on Abandonia, the administrators occasionally remove files deemed illegal to redistribute.
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 games and programs often lack individual descriptions.
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.
MyAbandonware is a relatively new abandonware site that lets you browse downloadable games by content to a deeper degree than most other similar sites. Its “theme” keywords are particularly useful for finding games by their subject. The site is also among the few that includes extensive sets of Windows 3.1 and Macintosh games.
Please advise that content on MyAbandonware is not vetted for legal status. Many of the site’s downloads violate copyright law and conflict with games still being sold.
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.
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 completely legal, well-documented, and officially lauded by the city of Ottowa!
[NOTE: Because of a technical hitch on the Internet Archive, this resource is currently unavailable.]
Theodor Lauppert loves classic computer games, especially games for Windows 3.1. His site is a one-stop repository for some of the hardest-to-find titles and shareware from that era; he writes detailed histories for each one and occasionally includes downloadable copies.
TLGG has unfortunately shut down, but the Internet Archive hosts a mirror of the full site (including the games themselves).
Microsoft’s XBLIG program for the Xbox 360, which allowed anyone to release homemade games on the console, resulted in a stream-of-consciousness marketplace of oddities and experiments. Very few XBLIG games are classics; most outright steal from Minecraft or Call of Duty. But users published over 3000 titles with extreme varying quality, and a handful of them might evoke some interest. [NOTE: Xbox Live Indie Games will be taken offline in 2017, but Microsoft plans to work with game conservationists to preserve its content.]
Another good DOS game directory, XTC hold about 2500 games from a wide variety of genres. XTC has great reverence for gaming history and directs you to legal sources when possible. It’s less flashy than other sites (and has no ratings or reviews for browsing purposes) but is a dependable collection.
More comprehensive and loving than similar sites, ACG publishes articles about older adventure games (as well as new titles in a similar vein). 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.
VC&G’s extensive blog covers all manner of classic computer-related topics, and their “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 selects interesting titles that are worth looking into.
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.
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.
FMV Story is a small, highly polished resource about older interactive movie games and live-action games that dives into their production and relatively qualities. The author has a deep fondness for the genre and engages those games sincerely, providing screenshots and videos along with descriptions of their content. Those exploring the genre might want to scroll through the author’s master list of FMV titles.
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.
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 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.
Chris Charla, head of Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program, runs this infrequently updated “fanzine” about bizarre gaming titles past and present. Charla has a good eye for oddities that no one talks about, especially for archaic systems.
This Tumblr page shares 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Warp Door features highlights (usually just a picture) of experimental indie games, often ones with unusual visuals. The blog also has a monthly roundup of all the games they showcase for quick reading.
A blog self-described as being about “the oddities, obscurities and other miscellanea of video games,” YFaSA houses articles about strange, overlooked games of all walks. Updates are sporadic but incredibly varied in content.
Zero Feedback profiles free indie games that have never received public reviews. The blog tries to wring as much insight and value as possible out of these unturned stones. Not every game featured has something great to offer, but author Noyb’s excavation leaves few games untapped.
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.
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.
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 useful as an introduction to odd subjects, like failed controller accessories. Also see the now-defunct blog.
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 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.
The popular Super Best Friends Play commentators occasionally release new entries in the “Mystery Box” series in which they play surprise games, and they’re usually ones that few people have heard of. This isn’t necessarily a great reference resource because the subject of each video is a mystery, but it makes for fun viewing.
Among its many unusual gaming videos, the Vinesauce channel plays bargain bin games, licensed games, and unusual ephemera. Many games sent in by viewers are amateur or outsider games that float around the Internet and have never been formally released, and this channel’s commentary is a great way to learn about some of them.
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.
Historical computer magazines
Older computer magazines tended to cover software and games indiscriminately, featuring a number of now-obscure titles in the process. (This is especially true 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 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.
Through most of the 90s and early 2000s, Wired covered the bleeding edge of games and entertainment. As a result, their back issues are filled with reviews for 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 their interviews, selected highlights, and tidbits on development.
Your local gaming convention
As gaming events become larger and more plentiful, 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 going to the event’s discussion boards and 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.