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Category Archives: This Site

One is Enough For SimCity

It’s been a mixed week here in the man cave. On the one hand, last week’s article on SimCity blew up pretty big in social media, attracting lots of positive comments in the process; believe me, a writer can never tire of adjectives like “wonderful,” “fantastic,” and “hugely interesting.” But on the other, I made one of the more embarrassing errors in this blog’s history with the video clip I embedded into the same article; I attributed the speaker in that video to be Will Wright instead of his racing partner Rick Doherty. Then, just to compound the error, I decided to get all cute about it: “Wright shows off some of the RX-7’s gadgetry using the same rapid-fire, jargon-laden diction that journalists and tech-conference attendees would later come to know if not always love.” Ouch. Teach me not to try to be too clever.

But most of all this week, I’ve been struggling with my planned second article about SimCity. Actually, I’ve been struggling with my coverage of the game in general on and off for months now. My original plan was to do a deep dive, to try to draw a lot of connections to the history of urban planning and the lives of cities in general. I never could quite figure out how to do that in an interesting way, however, especially as I spent more time with the simulation itself and had to face how limited it ultimately is. My big plans got pared down to a couple of articles, one more factual and historical, one more critical and philosophical.

And then this week I couldn’t seem to get even the second of those articles to come together. My work kept devolving into a nitpicky poking of holes in the simulation, which isn’t really fair given the constraints under which it was produced. Or it became an extended critique of Will Wright for failing to make the sorts of games I personally most enjoy playing, which is still less fair, especially given that his work on SimCity cracked open the door for so many later games I do unabashedly love.

At some point in all of this, I realized something: that the first article stood alone just fine. It says everything I want and need to say about SimCity‘s history and its importance to gaming. Should there be any doubt, the latter will inevitably be continually reemphasized in future articles, as I write about some of the countless games that bear the stamp of Will Wright’s original innovation — not least many of the games designed by my personal hero Sid Meier. So, I’ve decided largely to leave well enough alone. I’ve tinkered a bit with the first — now only — article to highlight a few points, but rereading it is probably only for the extremely dedicated among you.

I feel very good about the decision, but all of this wheel-spinning does mean that I can’t give you a new article this week, for which my apologies. As the writers among you can doubtless attest, sometimes you don’t really know what you already have until you try to add to it. What can I say? It’s a process.

Next week we’ll be continuing with our previously planned programming, returning to the British scene for a few more articles after our brief sojourn back to the United States for SimCity. I’ve got some very interesting material in the oven — and material which I thankfully know exactly what to do with. So, catch you then.

In the meantime, thanks a million as always for reading and supporting this work!

 

1988 Ebook Now Available

The tenth and latest of the ebooks compiling my articles for this site is now freely available from the ebook download page, thanks as always to the beneficence of Richard Lindner. Please note that the division of the ebooks into historical years is necessarily only very rough, with many articles and themes crisscrossing backward and forward through time. So, if your favorite game from 1988 hasn’t yet appeared, don’t entirely despair.

That said… enjoy!

If you recently discovered this site, perhaps via one of the recent articles that blew up a bit in places like Hacker News and Twitter, and you’ve since become a regular reader, I’d firstly like to welcome you to this little journey I and some of my most longtime readers have been on for over five years now. (But don’t worry about having missed out on too much; we’re just getting started.) Secondly — you knew it couldn’t be that easy, right? — please do think about clicking one of the buttons over to the right to add your support via Patreon or PayPal. I can’t continue to do this work — and hopefully find ways to do it even better — without people just like you.

A recent survey that Patreon did with my backers revealed that you’d most like to know more about what’s coming up in the near future on the blog. I have indeed not done a great job with that, partly because I know there are some of you who like to be completely surprised by each new article. So, if you’re in that group, please take this as a spoiler warning and don’t read the next paragraph.

Our next big theme will be the advent of the so-called “god game” and the two designers who are still regarded today as perhaps the genre’s most dedicated practitioners. Interspersed between the two will be a long-delayed history of British computing after everything went sideways for Acorn and Sinclair in the mid-1980s. Then we’ll be following Infocom to the bitter end, finishing their story at last — but I’m personally more excited about digging into the pre-IF Renaissance American amateur scene that was springing up on the online services at the same time that Infocom was dying. The AGT era of text adventuring is little studied and little understood today, and I’m hugely looking forward to trying to correct that; there’s gold in them there hills. After that, we’ll be chronicling the history of the Macintosh after Steve Jobs left Apple. In the late 1980s, the Mac brought us a whole series of hugely important innovations, including HyperCard, Storyspace, and the first consumer-grade CD-ROMs, all of which we’ll be covering. But never fear, we’ll give equal time to the IBM clones as well — with the PS/2, OS/2, VGA graphics, and the first sound cards, there’s plenty to talk about there. We’ll stop in again at Sierra, always a bellwether for the PC-gaming industry as a whole; while there, I’ll get to write about a Sierra adventure game I actually like. (Doesn’t happen often enough, I know.) Throw in another visit with Cinemaware, who began doing some fascinating experiments of their own with CD-ROM during this period, and that about sums about the next few months. It should be a fun ride.

Thanks so much to all of you who help me to do this important work, whether through public comments, private help with my writing and research, or financial support. You all are, to use the single most overused word in the English language appropriately for once, awesome.

 

Patreon Security Breach

As some of have probably already heard, there was a recent security breach on the Patreon website. Apparently a mirror of the site that was intended for testing and development purposes was left exposed on the Internet at large and hacked. Data dumps of the whole thing are already out there on the usual torrent sites. Patreon claims — and I have no reason to doubt them — that no credit-card numbers or other financial information was exposed. Password hashes were stolen, but were encoded in such a way that it would take a staggering amount of computing power to crack any of them. Your email address and possibly your home address, if you provided it to the site, were stored in the clear as I understand it, and thus likely have been compromised.

I’m very, very sorry about this, as I’m sure is Patreon as well. They’re doing a great service that’s made a big difference for my life and for this blog, but they’ve been growing fast and obviously some things just got away from them. As for the people who do this sort of thing… I just don’t get it. Why not create something instead of tearing things down all the time?

At this point the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, so there’s not much to be done other than to change your password on Patreon, as well as anywhere else you might have been using the same password. If the damage is limited largely to lists of names and email addresses, it’s not so bad as these things go I suppose. If I hear more, and certainly if I have any reason to suspect it’s worse than that, I’ll let you know.

 

Patreon

Patreon

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s now been about three-and-a-half years since I started this blog. Over that time it’s come a long way. After beginning with no real direction, I found my forte within the first six months or so, and the blog evolved into the grand history you all know and (hopefully) love. Along the way I like to believe I’ve become a better writer, and I know I’ve become a much better and more thorough researcher, with many more sources at my disposal. I must admit that some of those early articles are a bit painful for me to read now (I really need to do something about that someday). But best of all, I’ve found you folks, a core group of loyal readers who seem to grow by just a little bit every month. It hasn’t been a meteoric rise, but it has been a steady one and a fun one. You’re the best readers anywhere, you know, almost unfailingly polite and witty and perceptive and helpful, and I appreciate each and every one of you enormously. Every writer wants, more than anything else, to know some people out there are reading. Thanks for that!

So, having buttered you up, let’s move on to the real subject of today’s post. After some months of dithering over the question, I’ve decided it’s time to take the next step in my blogging career. As you can probably imagine based on the length and depth of the articles I post, the writing and research for the blog  absorbs many hours of my time per week. If I can start to bring in a little bit more, and on a more consistent basis, I’ll be able to devote more time to my work here, which will translate directly into more and better articles for you to enjoy. Imagine if you will a sliding scale of hours devoted to computer-gaming history that terminates in my being able to make it my full-time job. I’m afraid I’m a long way from there, may indeed never reach it, but every little bit of income the blog does manage to generate shifts that scale just slightly in a positive direction, resulting in more articles published, more games and other topics covered, and more depth to that coverage.

I’ve therefore decided to add Patreon to the existing PayPal donation system. As many of you probably already know, Patreon is a way for readers like you to support the work of creators like me through something like the old patronage model that used to fund art and literature back in the day. It has the advantage for me that it represents a steady income stream I can count on on a per-article basis, whereas one-off donations tend to move through cycles of feast and famine that are impossible to plan for. You need only go to my fresh new Patreon page to sign up. If you do so, you’ll be automatically billed for each substantial article that I write for the blog (i.e., articles like this one are not included). You can decide how much that amount will be. I’m certainly not asking you to break the bank here; a dollar or two (or the equivalent in your local currency) is fine, although if any of you love the blog and are flush with cash I certainly wouldn’t balk at more. On the other hand, some of you may want to pay a bit less, maybe just a dollar or two per month. I unfortunately can’t offer monthly and per-article payments simultaneously, but there is a way around it: just set a per-article level of $1 and also set a monthly limit of $1, $2, or whatever you like. This will have the same effect, with the added advantage that you don’t pay anything if I stop blogging for a month for some reason.

Patreon supporters will gain access to a special members area of my Patreon page, where we can interact a bit more informally and where you can have a bit more of a say on certain things that happen around here. I’ll give sneak previews from time to time of upcoming articles, ask for your input on games and topics worthy of coverage, and if there’s interest host occasional meet-ups via Google Hangouts or the like.

The PayPal donation button to the right will not be going away, so if you do still prefer to make a single lump-sum donation by all means feel free. And whether you can contribute financially or not, I could also use your help in one other way. As just about everyone must realize by now, I’m terrible at self-promotion, and worse at social media. So, anything you could do to help me get the word out to potential supporters would be hugely appreciated.

And that’s that, except to say, as Bartles and Jaymes did back in the year of which I’m writing these days, “Thank you for your support.” Next up in the on-deck circle: a certain spacefaring epic.

 

Underway in the USA

As you may have noticed, things have been quiet around here for a short time now. To respond to a few queries I’ve received (it’s so nice to know you care): yes, the blog will continue. However, it will be a few more weeks before that happens I’m afraid. My wife and I are taking my German in-laws on a road trip around the Southwest of the United States. (I’m writing this from our first stop after our starting point of Dallas, New Orleans.) We’ll be back home in Norway on the first of May, but it wil likely be a week or ten days after that before I can get caught up on other work and back to the blog. But bear with me please, because then we’ll be getting to Ultima III and the birth of Origin Systems, the continuing adventures of the text adventure in Britain, and at least one topic that may surprise you.

For now I’ll be wandering around my home country translating a lot of German and marveling at how unbelieavably cheap everything is here. Catch you in a few weeks!

(Update: Thanks for all your good wishes. We had a great trip. I’m back home in Oslo again now. Give me a week or so to get things settled, and then we should be rolling again around here.)