I’m afraid I don’t have a standard article for you this week. I occasionally need to skip a Friday to store up an independent writer’s version of vacation time, and the beginning of a five-Friday month like this one is a good time to do that. That said, this does make a good chance to give you some updates on the latest goings-on here at Digital Antiquarian World Headquarters, and to solicit some feedback on a couple of things that have been on my mind of late. So, let me do that today, and I’ll be back with the usual fare next Friday. (Patreon supporters: don’t worry, this meta-article’s a freebie!)
First and foremost, I’m pleased to be able to release the latest volume of the growing ebook collection compiling the articles on this site, this one centering roughly — even more roughly than usual, in fact — on 1991. Volume 13 has been a long time coming because the last year has brought with it a lot of longer, somewhat digressive series on topics like Soviet computing and the battle over Tetris, the metamorphosis of Imagine Software into Psygnosis, the world of pre-World Wide Web commercial online services, and of course my recently concluded close reading of Civilization, along with the usual singletons on individual games and related topics. This ebook is by far the fattest one yet, and I think it contains some of the best work I’ve ever done; these are certainly, at any rate, some of the articles I’ve poured the most effort into. As usual, it exists only thanks to the efforts of Richard Lindner. He’s outdone himself this time, even providing fresh cover art to suit what he described to me as the newly “glamorous, visual” era of the 1990s. If you appreciate being able to read the blog in this way, feel free to send him a thank-you note at the email address listed on the title page of the ebook proper.
Next, I want to take this opportunity to clear up the current situation around Patreon, something I’ve neglected to do for an unconscionably long time. Many of you doubtless remember the chaos of last December, when Patreon suddenly announced changes to their financial model that would make a blog like this one, which relies mostly on small donations, much less tenable. I scrambled to find alternatives to Patreon for those who felt (justifiably) betrayed by the changes, and had just about settled on a service called Memberful when Patreon reversed course and went back to the old model after a couple of weeks of huge public outcry.
Despite sending some mixed messages in the weeks that followed that reversal, I haven’t ever implemented Memberful as an alternative funding model due to various nagging concerns: I’m worried about tech-support issues that must come with a bespoke solution, not happy about being forced to sell monthly rather than per-article subscriptions (meaning I have to feel guilty if due to some emergency I can’t publish four articles in any given month), and concerned about the complication and confusion of offering two separate subscription models — plus PayPal! — as funding solutions (just writing a FAQ to explain it all would take a full day or two!). In addition, a hard look at the numbers reveals that a slightly higher percentage of most pledges would go to third parties when using Memberful than happens with Patreon. It’s for all these reasons that, after much agonized back-and-forthing, I’ve elected to stay the course with Patreon alone as my main funding mechanism, taking them at their word that they’ll never again to do anything like what they did last December.
I do understand that some of you are less inclined to be forgiving, which is of course your right. For my part, even the shenanigans of last December weren’t quite enough to destroy the good will I have toward Patreon for literally changing my life by allowing me to justify devoting so much time and energy to this blog. (They were of course only the medium; I’m even more grateful to you readers!) At any rate, know that except for that one blip Patreon has always treated me very well, and that their processing fees are lower than I would pay using any other subscription service. And yeah, okay… maybe also keep your fingers crossed that I’ve made the right decision in giving them a second chance before I hit the panic button. Fool me once…
So, that’s where we stand with the Patreon situation, which can be summed up as sticking with the status quo for now. But it’s not the only thing I’ve a bit wishy-washy about lately…
As a certain recent ten-article series will testify, I fell hard down the Civilization rabbit hole when I first began to look at that game a year or so ago. I’ve spent quite some time staring at that Advances Chart, trying to decide what might be there for me as a writer. I’m very attracted to the idea of writing some wider-scale macro-history in addition to this ongoing micro-history of the games industry, as I am by the idea of writing said history in terms of achievement and (largely) peaceful progress as opposed to chronicles of wars and battles won and lost. Still, I’ve struggled to figure out what form it all should take.
My first notion was to start a second blog. It would be called — again, no surprise here for readers of my Civilization articles! — The Narrative of Progress, and would be structured around an Advances Chart similar but not identical to the one in the Civilization box. (Intriguing as it is, the latter also has some notable oddities, such as its decision to make “Alphabet” and “Writing” into separate advances; how could you possibly have one without the other?) I even found a web developer who did some work on prototyping an interactive, dynamically growing Advances Chart with links to individual articles. But we couldn’t ever come up with anything that felt more intuitive and usable than a traditional table of contents, so I gave up on that idea. I was also concerned about whether I could possibly handle the research burden of so many disparate topics in science, technology, and sociology — a concern which the Civilization close reading, over the course of which I made a few embarrassing gaffes which you readers were kind enough to point out to me, has proved were justified.
But still I remain attracted to the idea of doing a different kind of history in addition to this gaming history. Lately, I’ve gravitated to the Wonders of the World. In fact, Civilization prompted my wife Dorte and I to take a trip to Cairo just a month ago — a crazy place, let me tell you! — to see the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, and other ancient sites. I think I could do a great job with these topics, as they’re right in my writerly wheelhouse of readable narrative history, and it would be hard to go wrong with stories as fascinating as these. Up until just a couple of weeks ago I had schemed about doing these kinds of stories on this site, but finally had to give it up as well as the wrong approach. I would have to set up a second Patreon anyway, as I couldn’t possibly expect people who signed up to support a “history of interactive entertainment” to support this other stuff as well, and running two Patreons and two parallel tracks out of a single WordPress blog would just be silly.
All of which is to say that I’m as undecided as ever about this stuff. I know I’d like to do some wider-frame historical writing at some point, almost certainly hosted at a different site, but I don’t know exactly when that will be or what form it will take. Would you be interested in reading such a thing? I’d be interested to hear your opinions and suggestions, whether in the comments below or via email.
Whatever happens, rest assured that I remain committed to this ongoing history as well; the worst that might result from a second writing project would be a somewhat slower pace here. I’m occasionally asked how far I intend to go with this history, and I’ve never had a perfect answer. A few years ago, I thought 1993’s Doom might be good stopping place, as it marked the beginning of a dramatic shift in the culture of computer games. But the problem with that, I’ve come to realize, is that it did indeed only mark the beginning of a shift, and to stop there would be to leave countless threads dangling. These days, the end of the 1990s strikes me as a potential candidate, but we’ll see. At any rate, I don’t have plans for stopping anytime soon — not as long as you’re still willing to read and support this work. Who knows, maybe we’ll make it all the way to 2018 someday.
In that meantime, a quick rundown of coming attractions for the historical year of 1992. (If you want to be completely surprised every week, skip this list!)
- Jeff Tunnell’s hugely influential physics puzzler The Incredible Machine
- the seminal platformer Another World, among other things a beautiful example of lyrical nonverbal storytelling
- a series on the evolution of Microsoft Windows, encompassing the tangled story of OS/2, the legal battle with Apple over look-and-feel issues, and those Windows time-wasters, like Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Hearts, that became some of the most-played computer games in history
- William Gibson’s experimental poem-that-destroys-itself Agrippa
- Shades of Gray, an underappreciated literary statement in early amateur interactive fiction which came up already in my conversation with Judith Pintar, but deserves an article of its own
- Legend’s two Gateway games
- Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
- Electronic Arts in the post “rock-star” years, Trip Hawkins’s departure, and the formation of 3DO
- The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes, which might just be my all-time favorite Holmes game
- Interplay’s two Star Trek graphic adventures
- the adventures in Sierra’s Discovery line of games for children, which were better than most of their adult adventure games during this period
- Quest for Glory III and IV
- the strange story behind the two Dune games which were released back-to-back in 1992
- Star Control II
- Ultima Underworld and Ultima VII
Along with all that, I’ve had a great suggestion from Casey Muratori — who, incidentally, was also responsible for my last article by first suggesting I take a closer look at Dynamix’s legacy in narrative games — to write something about good puzzles in adventure games. I’ve long been conscious of spending a lot more time describing bad puzzles in detail than I do good ones. The reason for this is simply that I hesitate to spoil the magic of the good puzzles for you, but feel far less reluctance with regard to the bad ones. Still, it does rather throw things out of balance, and perhaps I should do something about that. Following Casey’s suggestion, I’ve been thinking of an article describing ten or so good puzzles from classic games, analyzing how they work in detail and, most importantly, why they work.
That’s something on which I could use your feedback as well. When you think of the games I’ve written about so far on this blog, whether textual or graphical, is there a puzzle that immediately springs to mind as one that you just really, really loved for one reason or another? (For me, just for the record, that puzzle is the T-removing machine from Leather Goddesses of Phobos.) If so, feel free to send it my way along with a sentence or two telling me why, once again either in the comments below or via private email. I can’t promise I can get to all of them, but I’d like to assemble a reasonable selection of puzzles that delight for as many different reasons as possible.
Finally, please do remember that I depend on you for support in order to continue doing this work. If you enjoy and/or find something of value in what I do here, if you’re lucky enough to have disposable income, and if you haven’t yet taken the plunge, please do think about signing up as a Patreon supporter at whatever level strikes you as practical and warranted. I run what seems to be one of the last “clean” sites on the Internet — no advertisements, no SEO, no personal-data-mining, no “sponsored articles,” just the best content I can provide — but that means that I have to depend entirely upon you to keep it going. With your support, we can continue this journey together for years to come.
And with that, I’ll say thanks to all of you for being the best readers in the world and wish you a great weekend. See you next week with a proper article!
June 1, 2018 at 3:54 pm
It certainly has been an interesting year on the blog! You certainly have grown to like the grand narrative rather than the most condensed but well researched versions of the topic over time. I personally think it’s gone a bit overboard, but that’s not to say the writing itself has diminished. I support you in whatever route you wish to go and would certainly check out a splinter blog.
As to the upcoming topics, make sure to ping Alex about Dune because he has a French book that talks talks about the whole situation with Virgin. I’ve also been trying my darndest to do a lot on Ultima Underworld (and the rest of Looking Glass’ repertoire) though I can’t say that I’ve found anything that you might not be able to find aside from a German article with Doug Church I roughly translated. If I manage to talk to Chris Green again I’ll let you know.
June 1, 2018 at 4:01 pm
Do you have an idea of when you’ll hit the Star Trek graphic adventures? I was going to do 25th Anniversary on my blog at some point, maybe I’ll try to synch it up.
June 1, 2018 at 4:04 pm
Oh, and re: Sherlock Holmes, I loved The Case of the Serrated Scalpel. It definitely could use more recognition.
I haven’t got to play the other Sherlock Holmes game (I probably would have bought it back went it came out, but I didn’t even know it existed until last year).
June 1, 2018 at 8:35 pm
That could be fun!
It’s a little hard to say when I’ll get there at this point, mainly because of the Windows series. I don’t know yet how many articles that will run. The Electronic Arts/3DO topic will also likely run to two or three articles. Otherwise, and with the caveat that things can change, I think everything will be a singleton. Hit me up again around the time I publish on Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and I can probably give you a pretty firm date.
For what it’s worth, Judgment Rites is actually a much better game than 25th Anniversary. The graphical-adventure parts are longer, more varied, and better written, designed, and implemented, and the absurdly difficult space battles from the first game are toned down enough to actually become kind of fun. You don’t lose anything at all from not playing the first game, so it’s definitely the one I’d recommend to any prospective player. But 25th Anniversary is of course of more pure historical significance, so it’s up to you. I plan to cover them both in the same article.
June 2, 2018 at 3:43 am
I finished Judgment Rites already back in the day (I may even still have the box somewhere). I have yet to try 25th Anniversary. That is the entire motivation for my choice really.
If you haven’t tried it yet I also recommend A Final Unity, which is the Next Generation game by a totally different group that manages to keep the same spirit.
June 1, 2018 at 4:08 pm
Please continue at least through 1999. I want to hear about the end of Sierra and the end of LucasArts making adventures at least as much as I wanted to hear about the end of Infocom.
I’d also like to see things continue further into the recent Renaissance (brought on largely by Kickstarter). Thimbleweed Park is probably the best adventure game I’ve played in a LONG while. And judging by the quality of the beta, the Cole’s “Hero-U” is also shaping up to be a fine return-to-form to the old QfG days. Even the new King’s Quest was fun. As for RPGs, Torment: Tides of Numenera is a sophisticated Choose-Your-Own-Adventure just like it’s spiritual predecessor. Some other efforts have been… not as successful, although those would be fun to hear about also (perhaps even more-so).
Sometimes, I wish you would do something like a reverse Throwback Thursday (e.g. “Flash-Forward-Friday”) where you give very brief thoughts on games being released right now. I’m not sure I can wait years and years to hear your thoughts on some of the stuff currently being done. I certainly enjoyed your thrashing of LA Noire. Of course, given your job, I don’t know how much time you actually have to spend on playing modern games. :)
P.S. Thanks for including “Another World”. The upcoming roster looks great!
June 1, 2018 at 8:44 pm
Yeah, the problem is that I’m woefully out of touch with modern games. I’m kind of like a time traveler at this point, living in a bubble and experiencing these old games as if they’re new. That has both advantages and disadvantages. It’s good for being able to appreciate them in the context of their times, less good for drawing anything other than broad comparisons with what’s going on today.
June 1, 2018 at 9:55 pm
New games have their own writers…
Though I think that’s her only writing on gaming, so you’re safe for now! :)
June 1, 2018 at 4:14 pm
It looks like Wolfenstein 3D would also definitely belong in that list for 1992…
June 1, 2018 at 8:47 pm
I’m planning to weave that into the narrative around Doom, which will also encompass the whole shareware scene that spawned Id.
June 1, 2018 at 5:00 pm
If you do decide to end it with the 1990s, I would suggest sneaking into 2000 and wrapping up with Deus Ex, a game that really feels like a culmination of the ludic ambitions of the 1990s and a portent of how ludic game design would evolve in subsequent decades.
June 1, 2018 at 5:25 pm
First off, thanks once again for this blog! You could probably discuss the history of, I dunno, paint drying, and it would be interesting. A lot of that is just because I find it pleasurable to read a well-written, -organized, and -researched topic. I’ve found some others (for example, this guy is doing a history of the electromechanical switch and transitors https://technicshistory.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/about-techno-history/) that write in the same way, and would read and support a splinter history blog should you choose to write one.
I also agree with others here that would love for you to continue past the end of the 1990s. Sure, the adventure game hit a big roadblock there, and a lot of things changed about how computer games told a story. But though Doom and Quake were the early examples of something that downplayed the story to pointlessness, the games that came after sought to (slowly) try to put the story back in a new way, separate from the ways of adventure games I think. And so it might be interesting to examine them (though, you’d have to actually play them to do that, and that’s something I haven’t really done myself). But if you keep writing, I’ll keep reading and supporting on Patreon.
June 1, 2018 at 6:26 pm
“… though Doom and Quake were the early examples of something that downplayed the story to pointlessness …”
Actually, even that isn’t really true any more. Some of the absolutely epic maps being created now for Quake have deeply atmospheric narratives, even as gameplay remains focussed on combat. For anyone who’s interested in checking them out, I’d recommend most of the maps included in the Arcane Dimensions pack: I’d particularly recommend (in no particular order) Foggy Bogbottom, Leptis Magna and The Forgotten Sepulcher. They all reward multiple play-throughs.
June 1, 2018 at 5:44 pm
You are doing the single most important ongoing work on computer-game history. Please keep it up as long as you feel able.
As for a great puzzle, the language one in The Edifice comes to mind.
June 1, 2018 at 5:58 pm
Ditto here. I suspect I will be reading and supporting whatever you care to write about!
I like all the ideas you have presented above.
June 1, 2018 at 6:17 pm
For whatever little it may be worth to you this:
“I’ve been thinking of an article describing ten or so good puzzles from classic games, analyzing how they work in detail and, most importantly, why they work.”
Is by far the idea that excites me most.
By my take is that this is your blog and you should write about what you want here. If patrons don’t like the new turn the blog takes, that’s fine — they’re free to cancel or reduce their subscription amounts. But I have a feeling that most of your regular readers will remain interested.
June 1, 2018 at 6:28 pm
Oh, and the exemplary puzzle that leapt to mind was getting the scroll from the translucent maze without destroying the world, in Enchanter.
June 1, 2018 at 6:31 pm
But those are separate things. There have been plenty of non-alphabetic writing systems, and, let’s not forget, the world’s most populous country still uses one.
…wait, they put alphabet as a prerequisite for writing rather than vice versa? OK, yeah, that’s messed up. (Not that putting writing as a prerequisite for alphabet would really be correct either, but it would at least make more sense.)
June 1, 2018 at 8:58 pm
Yeah, I have an inkling of where they were trying to go here, but I think it wound up getting garbled in translation.
June 1, 2018 at 9:04 pm
I picked up on that too. At its simplest, if we can remember the sounds of thousands of words, we can remember a picture for each of those words. Which is an approach I’m sure we used before we looked for less cumbersome methods of writing. If that’s correct, then the alphabet came after writing was invented, not before.
And writing’s still being improved on… ;-)
June 2, 2018 at 6:56 pm
I think I managed to pick up on “wait, the alphabet followed writing in history” myself the second time I read through this piece, but as I considered this debate I was willing to suppose someone not as familiar with history would think of “learning their ABCs” before “learning to write.” It could be chalked up to another “convenient simplification for the sake of the game.”
Otherwise, I did get to thinking “1993? Well, hopefully that could include Myst, Curses, and the introduction of Inform, leading further into ‘hobbyist text adventures…'” Should the story here continue towards the turn of the millennium, though, I’d be grateful to see that.
June 4, 2018 at 6:55 am
If you do plan to reach some point where you declare this blog “complete”, then I do think that Curses/Inform would be the most poetic point to do that — a return to roots.
But, honestly, if my own blogging has taught me anything (well over 1,500 posts across two two blogs) it’s that I write best when I am interested in writing about my subject, and every attempt to set up and adhere to a schedule — especially one based on what others want to read — ends in my losing interesting. So I honestly think you should write about whatever you want to write about. The enthusiasm always comes through, and brings the writing alive.
June 1, 2018 at 6:59 pm
I’d be interested in your other history series, but I also really want to see you continue this amazing series through at least 2000!
June 1, 2018 at 9:19 pm
Regarding a hypothetical end point:
The history of my own gaming experience seems to be nearly the reverse of that of many others who have commented here. While I dabbled with some of Sierra’s later efforts when I was very young, for all intents and purposes I didn’t get into gaming in earnest until a few years later, when I was grabbed by titles like the original 1998 Half-Life and the original Deus Ex in 2000. I had precisely zero experience with text adventures.
For all of that, though, this blog hooked me from the first. I was (and still am) fascinated by this massive history of a medium whose end products seem more tied to technological development than those of any other. That constant tension between artistic ambition and what was actually possible with the computers of the time has kept me coming back for more again and again. I’ve even found myself playing some text adventures, long after I thought my genres of choice had solidified for good.
So despite primarily coming from a later gaming culture, this work had broadened my appreciation of and perspective on my favorite pastime immensely. I sincerely hope you choose to continue it until the present day.
And while I completely sympathize with your desire to avoid writing an interminable series of articles on every Call of Duty or ephemeral online gaming phenomenon that has come down the line (a truly horrifying thought), I for one would truly miss your accounts of the rise of 3D gaming, MMOs, and digital distribution in the way we’ve gotten such rich coverage of adventures, RPGs, and plastic bag distribution. There’s relevant cultural ground to be trod here, too. Why did gaming as a whole fail to “grow up”, so to speak? Did the makers of early 3D games face the same challenges as the early adventure authors of portraying the world they wanted within the technical constraints that they faced? All interesting questions, and I seriously think that the more modern era of gaming is just as in need of a rigorous, historical examination as the pre-2000s era.
It would make your history truly a history of ALL gaming, and who knows, it might broaden the perspective of someone who’s never played a 3D game in their life :).
June 1, 2018 at 9:44 pm
With regards to Patreon, perhaps a good approach would be to try and guess where the patrons (as apposed to the creators) will go if Patreon screws up again. It’s reasonable to assume it’ll be to a site that most resembles Patreon (before they screwed up). And if a likely candidate appears or already exists, add them as a support option before there’s another issue with Patreon. Sites that take direct payments don’t just offer the one credit-card after all. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not about benefiting the credit-card companies.
As a patron, I like the payment-per-article option, but perhaps even more so, the one payment transaction per month for all those I’m supporting here. A separate transaction for each of them only benefits those handling the transactions to the detriment of Patreon (in this case) and the creators.
I’d be interested in a different history site you might set up, despite not being able to keep up with my reading here! The snacks keep getting in the way of the proper meals. But at least history doesn’t go stale, and the meal can always be eaten at a later date – in theory…
Just keep writing gaming history until you no longer feel like doing it. Gaming’s here to stay, after all.
June 2, 2018 at 1:25 am
I of course will read, and typo hunt, any articles you publish. The wonders of the world sounds fascinating, even better than your suggestion of examination of ancient Advances Charts.
I enjoy most of your articles; the tech ones get a bit dull to me sometimes, largely because it wasn’t relevant to my gaming world as a child/teen. But I can certainly see why they interest others.
Also, some of the multi week (or months, lol) articles dragged slightly for me, but I’m an impatient ADD kid of the80s, so take that with an Atari 2600 grain of salt
June 2, 2018 at 3:04 am
I’m excited to learn more about Another World, although I believe it was originally released in 1991, which I guess makes it “roughly centred” on 1992 ;)
As you may already know, there is some making-of bonus content included with the 20th anniversary edition of the game (available on Steam).
Keep up the great work; it is always a pleasure to read your blog.
June 2, 2018 at 6:56 am
Yeah, but it was released in the United States in 1992, and the version everyone knows today is the one that was cleaned up by Interplay’s QA department. Close enough for government work.
June 2, 2018 at 3:37 am
I’m someone who likes reading about video games more than actually playing them, who favors a nitty-gritty chronological approach to media, so obviously I want you to just keep going forever and ever because you’re one of the only sources I know of that does that, and you’re a phenomenal writer and storyteller. But all good things must come to a close, and the prospect of the blog leaving behind the era where small-time hobbyists could strike it big is a bit much… the wild pioneer spirit is just part of the DNA of this blog and the types of stories it tells. (And what happens to the focus on PC games when everything’s all messy and cross-platform?)
If you don’t want to call it in 1993, especially since in light of the above Doom is still the product of just 7 nerds in a basement, you could consider 1998? Obviously there’s Half-Life as a paradigm-changing Doom equivalent, with its 40-odd nerds in a basement before overhead instead, and as a Myst equivalent, Grim Fandango, which is a fitting swan song for the traditional point-and-click instead of a radical rupture that ends up being a historical anomaly decades ahead of its time. What they both share in common, and what I believe is a bit of a theme in other games of the era, is a renewed energy in what’s been an undercurrent on this blog’s story for a long time: those old aspirations towards creating cinematic-style narratives, now executed markedly more confidently. Of course, what outdoes both is Photopia, a radical rupture in IF, which would bring you pretty close to a poetic closed loop.
As for a general history blog, I’d be game, I love to learn. Perhaps you should look towards James Burke’s Connections for inspiration, if you’re thinking of less a nitty gritty chronological approach and more of an associative one based on concepts and technologies spanning world history. (Gosh that’s ambitious, more power to you!)
June 2, 2018 at 5:49 am
As to a new platform for publishing, don’t forget to do a search for ‘blockchain publishing’… :) But it really is a thing. Here’s a news platform going live real soon now: https://joincivil.com/ In theory, blockchains won’t die as easily as websites do.
June 2, 2018 at 12:12 pm
There’s one thing you could fix with the eBooks, and that’s volumes 1-9 need their internal titles changed to use “01”-“09” (two digits) as on my Kindle they’re sorting in the wrong order (1,10,11,12,2,3…) and I can’t do anything to fix this; the sorting is not based on filename but on the internal name.
June 4, 2018 at 8:18 am
I can see where this would be annoying. But fixing it would require recreating the whole set, and… well, I put it off all weekend, and still find I can’t quite get myself to ask Richard to tackle a big job like that when he’s already done so much. Sorry!
June 2, 2018 at 12:51 pm
You might like this 1986 feature on Infocom that the BBC Archive dug up: https://www.facebook.com/BBCArchive/videos/576128689426832
I hope you might consider writing something about The Elder Scrolls: Arena at some stage.
June 2, 2018 at 1:40 pm
There are a lot of adventure/RPG games from 1992 that are neither included in the above list nor covered in earlier articles (as far as I can tell). Here are some that I would like to see mentioned at some point:
Curse of Enchantia
The Legend of Kyrandia
Lure of the Temptress
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
Ringworld: Revenge of the Patriarch
IIRC all of these were followed by either direct sequels, or non-sequels made by the same team using the same engine, so they would fit the format of many related games in a single post.
June 2, 2018 at 2:25 pm
While I appreciate that everyone has their oddball favorites, I try to avoid the cataloging approach to game history — which you can find plenty of elsewhere — in favor of something a little more narrative-driven and holistic. Some of your list will get coverage of one sort or another in passing, but none really stand out for a) being exceptionally good for their time, b) doing something exceptionally interesting in terms of theme or design, or c) being of exceptional historical importance for some other reason.
June 2, 2018 at 7:09 pm
With those three criteria, can we assume that only adventure- or narrative-driven games will the driving force of your research? (I fear for the action games that will forever be buried despite deserving coverage, such as the ahead-of-its-time programming that made Indianapolis 500 possible, or the practice of playing digitized audio through the internal speaker that led to Access’ Realsound, a frivolous patent, and the threats of litigation that followed).
June 2, 2018 at 8:12 pm
Oh, sorry. By “narrative-driven” I just meant “writing a readable big-picture narrative of games culture,” as opposed to getting lost in the weeds trying to document every single release. Plenty of sites — not least MobyGames! — do a good job of cataloging already.
As far as the types of games I’ll cover, I imagine that will stay pretty much as it has been: keeping tabs on events in the industry as a whole, but paying special attention to certain types of games I find especially compelling. By now, I think most folks have a pretty good idea what those generally are.
June 3, 2018 at 1:41 pm
OK, that’s fair. However, a part of the “big-picture narrative of games culture” is the fact that several completely new players entered the graphical adventure game market at the early 1990s. It takes some effort to extract from Mobygames a list of all companies who published their first adventure game in the first half of the 90s, and merely having the list doesn’t even begin to address the question of why all of them decided to go into competition with the likes of Sierra and Lucasfilm at roughly the same time. I think answering that belongs to someone writing a history of the subject.
June 3, 2018 at 2:08 pm
Absolutely. That’s a story that needs to be told, and will be. One could say we’re already in the middle of it, with the mentions of interactive movies and an imagined union of Silicon Valley and Hollywood that are coming up over and over. Everyone thought the future of computer games lay in one direction… then along came Doom, and the real future went in a different direction entirely. How could any historian resist wanting to tell that story? ;)
June 3, 2018 at 7:20 am
Well, Bob Bates has written a book simply titled Game Design. Chapter 6 is on puzzle design. You could read that for some ideas. If you’re looking for specific examples of good puzzles from the days of yore, you could cover the puzzle involving the wine, the pepper dust, and the arch-villain in Plundered Hearts. I also like the puzzle involving the troll and the eggs in Adventure. There’s also the babble fish puzzle from The HHGTTG.
On the narrative front, maybe you could touch upon how the Japanese approached storytelling in video games. I’ve suggested Snatcher to you, but, additionally, the way the Japanese approach was molded by the technology and the language itself is interesting.
The computers they used had to have a high resolution to make the characters legible, but this came at a cost. They had to cut corners on other aspects, so the computers were consequently slow. This led to the rise of visual novels because the computers could do detailed pictures at a slow rate. Writing a parser in Japanese is a lot harder due to Japanses grammar. That’s why visual novels have a menu of actions to choose from.
Hideo Kojima actually got started developing Metal Gear for MSX-combatible PCs, and even that game has a narrative of sorts. He wanted to make it an action but settled on making it a stealth game due to the computers not being fast enough to run an action game.
I could tell you more about Japanese PCs and such and show you some resources if you’re interested. Here’s a Japanese port of Mystery House BTW:
If you were to make a general history blog, I’d be interested in reading that too. Feel free to include the observations I made in the comments section for the final part of your Civilization series. Perhaps you could explain history with game theory, thermodynamics, and fractals. You could also show how history repeats itself. I do some further observations on that if you’re interested.
June 3, 2018 at 8:00 am
Those are great puzzle suggestions. Thanks!
I did put Snatcher on my list of possibles for 1994 — the year of the Sega CD version, which people tell me is the definitive one. If I cover it, though, it will be as a one-off curiosity, a quick peek at “what *else* was going on with narrative games.” I’m hesitant to try to say too much about Japanese games because the culture is such a closed book to me. I don’t know the language, have never been to Japan, and have never played a Japanese console game since a few encounters with Super Mario and the like on a Nintendo at a few parties back in my teens and twenties. I’m afraid I’d go blundering in like a big old American bull in a china shop and completely muck it all up. That strand of gaming history is best left to someone who knows that gaming culture intimately, preferably knows Japanese, and has a real passion for it. As noted, none of these descriptions apply to me.
I think I’m done with “theories of history” articles. Those are really hard to write in an interesting way. Reading between the lines of some comments I received on the Civilization series, I can tell I strayed perilously close to violating my number-one commandant as a writer at times there: “Don’t Be Boring.” I learned a lot doing that series, and I don’t regret it, but I’m also kind of glad it’s over. I’m more interested in telling stories at this point — how the Pyramids were made, Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world, the making of the atomic bomb, how we got to the Moon, etc. — which I think is more in-line with my real strengths as a writer.
Which isn’t to say that I’m not interested in hearing more about your own ideas of history, if you ever care to share them… ;)
June 3, 2018 at 12:48 pm
If you know how the pyramids were made, you may be the smartest person on the Earth. Regardless of what some people claim, no one knows how the pyramids were made. Egyptologist have some ideas but none that engineers seem happy with. Engineers have some ideas but Egyptologists haven’t found evidence to support those ideas. Adding the extra mysteries of why there is no description of how they was made, why they was made the way they were and what happened to make it impossible to make more pyramids after the first three, I look forward to your article!
June 3, 2018 at 1:26 pm
I don’t want to go too much into these topics now, as I do hope to write about them sometime, but, while there still are lots of questions about lots of things relating to ancient Egypt, most of your questions have been fairly well-answered, at least in the broad strokes. The Complete Pyramids by Mark Lehner is probably the best accessible single-volume account of the current state of pyramid studies.
Quick answers to your last three questions:
1. There’s no description of how they were made because there are almost no written texts of any sort from that far back in Egyptian history.
2. They were a natural evolution of burial mounds erected by many primitive cultures, and the shape was probably chosen as a representation of the rays of the sun, always a fixation of Egyptian religion.
3. Egypt went into a period of increasing instability after the three Great Pyramids were built, and the “money” (Egypt actually had a barter economy at this time) just wasn’t in the treasury to continue to build on that scale. Later Pharaohs had to settle for smaller pyramids. Eventually the instability would lead to the end of the Old Kingdom. When the Middle Kingdom arose, its aesthetic culture was somewhat different, in many ways more sophisticated.
June 3, 2018 at 3:11 pm
Yes. The puzzle of translating a completely foreign language, in Ultima VI.
June 3, 2018 at 3:12 pm
Which, I shall add, I solved entirely on my own.
June 3, 2018 at 7:32 pm
And I did it the hard way. I learned early on never to use the black moonstone.
June 3, 2018 at 6:56 pm
One game from 1992 that comes to my mind is Alone in the Dark, the beginning of the survival horror genre. One could combine this with an overview of French game development.
What do you think?
June 3, 2018 at 7:04 pm
That’s actually a 1993 release, at least in the United States. And yeah, it’s a must. ;)
June 3, 2018 at 7:34 pm
I trust that you’ll remember to mention that a part of the reason for including games in Windows, starting with Reversi in Windows 1.0.1, was to help train people in using the mouse.
(Apple tended to include games in their training software too, but not as standalone games, or even games that anyone would want to play for very long. I don’t think anyone ever liked the Mac Puzzle much.)
Of course that was only why it was included—
Wes Cherry wrote Solitaire for Windows 3.0 and said that he did it because he was bored at not having anything better to do at the time. And Curt Johnson who wrote Minesweeper for OS/2 (which was ported to Windows by Robert Donner), did it as something of a practice program.
June 4, 2018 at 10:13 am
I will chime in to say that I am one who does not appreciate peppering the story of interactive narrative with long treatises on history, politics, and religion.
I did read your long history on the atomic bomb (replete with your own personal views on the politics of Nuclear War), and I did read the entire Civilization series; but in both cases, I felt I was just plodding through for the sake of following along, always looking forward to the end and a change of pace. I. Ant really say I enjoyed them much, even if they were interested within their context and very thoughtful. It’s just not what I am here for.
You are obviously very smart and well read, and you obviously have a lot to say on a variety of topics, but I do not think this particular blog should be that vehicle. Your point about dividing your attention or your audience seems to be a recognition of that; so I hope you do not lose sight of the forest by the trees.
I much prefer thorough historical narratives of games in their proper context, which you seem to have a knack for. (While we’re at it, I would also appreciate it if you kept your mind strictly on the historical context of some aspects of the narrative. I know you do most of the time, but it seems that sometimes — at least in the latter years — you can’t help injecting some of your own current personal views on topics such as sexuality, cultural sensitivity, and liberal politics. It just seems out of place and perhaps a bit preachy.)
All that said, please know that I have read the entire blog (it took me several months to catch up to the present since I started late) and I can honestly say I have enjoyed most of it (with some very few exceptions as suggested above). It’s been a great ride, and I look forward every week to your next article. I am, after all, a big fan of your blog.
I really wish you to continue on that path, and if you ever feel as if you’ve reached “the end” of the narrative; then may I suggest going back and elaborate on certain times which may not have gotten as thorough a treatment as they deserved — like you did with the fascinating British gaming history digression. :)
June 4, 2018 at 12:19 pm
The penultimate sentence on my second paragraph above should start: “I can’t really say I enjoyed them much…”
June 4, 2018 at 5:22 pm
You deserve the occasional break, Jimmy. Lots of great work on this blog.
June 5, 2018 at 12:27 pm
Thank you for this “meta-article”, Jimmy!
About your idea of writing about the Wonders of the World or other wider-scale macro-history… Well, I don’t want to discourage you: you should probably do what you like the most. However, I can’t help but think that there’s a potential problem. I suppose that your blog is successful because of the quality of its articles, of course, but also because you’ve found your own niche: there just aren’t that many (as far as I know!) books or blogs about the history of computer games which are in-depth, seriously researched, and with an emphasis on adventure games. For topics like how the pyramids were built, you’ll have considerably more competition: many, MANY books (and other texts) have been written on that subject, often by specialists. It’ll be much more difficult to find things to say that weren’t already said many times!
June 5, 2018 at 12:49 pm
Yes, that’s a very good point I’ve considered as well. Much of this blog is original research from primary sources which would otherwise quite possibly not make it into the historical record at all, while wider-frame history articles would be a retelling of established history. I think there’s value in that as well if it’s done in an accessible, relatable way — present-day bookshelves aren’t really teeming with good non-academic narrative histories of things other than wars — but one could certainly argue that my work with computer games is more “important” at some level, even if the subject itself is of obviously less importance than the rise and fall of civilizations.
Anyway, we’ll see. No plans are imminent. It may just be my blogger’s version of the seven-year itch. At this point, I think I’ve just about decided to give myself another six months doing this blog. Then I’ll see if the itch is still there to write something else as well.
June 6, 2018 at 10:02 am
I agree that there is value in a retelling of history, but I guess it depends on your actual goal. If you are looking for a creative outlet in which to express your thoughts on various historical topics, then by all means, have at it and live well.
If, in the other hand, your goal includes building up a readership community, like in this blog, in order to make it self-sustainable (to an extent) and spark debate on diverse viewpoints on the topics; then perhaps what Eriorg mentioned should raise a bit more alarm.
You see, hidden within the context of his comment about “finding your niche,” is the implication that the uniqueness of that niche made it very attractive to a a potential audience presumably hungry for precisely that sort of in-depth telling of interactive fiction history. By consequence, you may find that the audience clamoring (or just plain “casually” amenable to) a re-telling of well discussed historical events may not be that large.
Of course, you should do what you love and what gives you satisfaction, so it shouldn’t really matter.
Should you decide to move on to other topics, I shall wish you well, and I will forever be grateful to you for the wonderful ride on which you have taken us throughout all these years. :)
June 6, 2018 at 10:37 am
Yes, that’s a strong point. A potential counterpoint is that the number of people who might potentially be interested in something like the story of the Pyramids is vastly greater than the number who are ever going to be interested in long discourses on old computer games, no matter how well-written. Thus the percentage of interested readers captured can be much smaller at the same time that the absolute number is much larger. A more generalized blog also lends itself to almost a Kickstarter book-publishing model: people who really appreciate and enjoy the work could read the blog and support it via Patreon, and also serve as “beta readers” for an eventual book (which patrons would, of course, get for free). The potential market for a book on most the subjects I cover here, on the other hand, is small enough to make such a project of questionable worth as anything other than vanity publishing, and the structure of this blog doesn’t really lend itself to carving out self-contained, complete stories anyway.
So, yeah, not saying you’re wrong, just that there are practical advantages and disadvantages to both in addition to the usual creative struggle between deathless art and filthy lucre. For now, though, status quo. I’m excited about the article I’m writing right now, and that’s the main thing.
June 7, 2018 at 10:02 am
That’s an interesting point. The counter-counter-argument is that the audience for this blog grew originally from the interactive-fiction community, to which you already had a connection and some sort of authority as an author and contributor, and its natural affinity to the subject matter. From then it just expanded as the blog advanced in depth and breadth to capture others looking for related content online (I know I originally found it by searching for history on LucasArts games, and was captivated by the extent of its context).
With a more general blog, that initial audience seed and natural affinity to the subject, may not exist at the start, making it harder to get yourself heard.
Of course, all things considered, your writing style is very attractive and you obviously do not mind doing the research work in order to gain or maintain credibility; and you do have an initial audience that has shown interest in these topics already, so you are not really starting from square-one.
There are advantages and disadvantages on both sides, like you said, but it’s your blog and your life, so whatever you choose to do will always be the right decision. :)
June 7, 2018 at 10:11 am
Off-topic: There is this nagging issue that annoys me when I write a post on my iPad. Whenever I select a word and try to move or expand the selection, the selection-field expands automatically to grab he ENTIRE text. Even if I try to tap very slightly the selection anchor points, poof! It selects the entire thing. It drives me crazy!
It also makes it hard to move the insertion point cursor. There are also a few other things, like the pop-up “copy-paste” menu on selections sometimes disappears or changes dynamically, making me invoke the wrong action — it’s like it actively wants to do its own thing and get in my way of controlling the editing.
Is that something that can be disabled on the blog side? Perhaps some “smart editing” capabilities for mobile browsers?
June 7, 2018 at 1:49 pm
June 8, 2018 at 9:46 am
Sorry if my message was a but terse, I got frustrated there for a second during editing.
It is very strange, indeed. I thought it was an iPad thing, but I don’t ever experience it anywhere else except on this form.
Anyway, if you don’t find anything, don’t worry too much about it. :)
June 7, 2018 at 6:10 pm
My own opinion on the sidetracks into history of other things — I think the atom-bomb one worked quite well because it was a fairly specific/definite topic. I don’t think the civilization one worked very well; too broad, too fuzzy.
June 8, 2018 at 6:40 am
Well, I’d like to chime in and say I agree with DZ-Jay on the merits (both positive and negative) of your writing style and such. Regarding your ten-part series on history as it pertains to the game Civilization, I think I liked it more than most of your other readers, but if I were to find one fault with it, it’s that you could have done more to condense into, say, six parts. After the seventh or eighth part, I was starting to wonder when you’d finally wrap it all up.
That said, if you are going to make a history blog focused on stories, you could still do it in the context of some theory-based framework that would only become apparent to readers over time. For instance, you have mentioned how civilization arose from people blindly ambling along. Each story you tell could show how people blindly ambled along to create something significant such as the pyramids being the result of how one thing led to another. Over time, perceptive readers would notice how civilization itself resulted from the same process on a grander scale. (As an aside, I’d even argue persons’ views on things are typically picked up from blindly ambling along in their own lives.)
You could do that instead of, say, comparing human civilization to evolution — something which is another theory of mine. Both species and societies seem to achieve a state of equilibrium, at which point things stay much the same until acted upon by an outside force. This is, of course, because the similarity in DNA across generations leads to a species or human society repeating itself until it’s forced to change.
This used to result from a change in our circumstances (whether due to something completely external like an invading force or something gradual reaching a tipping point such as the forces that brought an end to feudalism) forcing some kind of innovation or invention, which then leads to more change. Nowadays, change happens rapidly because technology is constantly disrupting our society. But our DNA still hasn’t changed that much, so we still get echoes of the past, which is referred to history repeating itself but sometimes with wrinkles.
This all makes me inclined to believe in historical determinism because just as it seems to be rare for some major chance event to change species (such as the asteroids that killed the dinosaurs), it seems rare for chance events or “chance” people to dramatically alter the course of history.
June 10, 2018 at 3:24 am
At the risk of swamping you with suggestions for games to cover, there is Spaceship Warlock, which may or may not be on your agenda (it came out in 1991). I haven’t played it, but I gather that it was a major influence on the first-person CD adventure games that came flooding out circa 1993, despite being… not actually that good. But some of the things it did were novel at the time, or so say people who know more about adventure-game history than I do. Phil Salvador, at a website called the Obscuritory, has a pretty good article about it.
June 14, 2018 at 6:45 am
First, I want to thank you for all the work you have done so far. Apart from the amazing research, I am astonished by the quality of your writing as such. Your paragraphs have a great flow which makes them a joy to read even though you often discuss games that I don’t know first-hand, so in some sense these stories should not interest me at all – but still they do.
I am also a history buff, so hypothetically I should encourage you to hit the field of history as well… but I won’t. On the contrary, understanding your enthusiasm for another, brand new topic, I wish to kind of warn you against following this path. As someone has noticed above, through writing about narrative computer games you have found a niche. And I guess you must have realized that you are at the very top of this niche’s food chain, so to speak; there is arguably no one better than you in writing about that issue. No small feat!
However, if you start writing about history of other things, you will have to contend with a batallion of professional non-fiction writers, historians, professors and popularizers. This is a battle that you are doomed to lose. Forgive me for being frank, but writing about stuff, especially on the internet in the age of social media, is all about competing for potential readers’ time and attention. It helps a lot if you have a niche that you rule supreme. But if you start writing about history more generally, I will rather grab Peter Watson’s „Ideas” or Harari’s „Sapiens”. I’m sorry, „but it’s like that, and that’s the way it is”.
Still, I wish to end this comment with a constructive suggestion: Why, after finishing your history of narrative games at some point, you don’t delve into the history of strategic computer games? True, there are a lot of overlaps with the narrative domain (e.g. „Civilization”) and far from all strategies are set in the real world. Still, you would have a lot of occasions to explore historical matters. Just take a look at KOEI’s portfolio. :)
May 6, 2021 at 6:13 am
I know this is article is not “real” so it’s not a big deal but I found a typo:
> send it my way along with a sentence or two telling my why
telling me why
May 7, 2021 at 7:06 am