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Category Archives: Modern Times

And Onward to 1995…

No new article this week, folks. Sorry about that! It’s the usual story of a five-Friday month and a chance for me to catch my breath. I’ll have one for you next week.

In lieu of a proper article, some administrative announcements, plus a taster of what will be coming down the pipe in the months to come:

The especially attentive among you have doubtless noticed that we crossed the border into 1995 with my last piece. That means a new slate of ebooks for 1994, the year just finished. As always, their existence is thanks to Richard Lindner. In fact, he’s been extra busy this time: we’ve also put together an ebook gathering all of the Infocom articles, something a number of you have asked me for from time to time. It begins with Will Crowther and Don Woods’s Adventure, that necessary prelude to the Infocom story, and continues all the way through my relatively recent series on the resurrection of the Z-Machine and Graham Nelson’s creation of the Inform programming language for making new games in the Infocom spirit; that seemed to me an appropriately hopeful note to end on. You’ll find Richard Lindner’s email address inside all of the ebooks. If you enjoy them, please think about dropping him a line to thank him.

In other news, I did one of my rare podcast interviews a few weeks ago, with the nice folks from The Video Game History Foundation. The subject was the game-content controversy of the early 1990s and the three enduring institutions that came out of it: the Interactive Digital Software Association (now known as the Entertainment Software Association), the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, and the E3 trade show. I’m definitely a better writer than I am an on-air personality, but perhaps some of you will enjoy it nevertheless.

The coverage to come in the immediate future will be quite graphic-adventure-heavy, as we’re now getting into the genre’s last big boom. Rest assured that I haven’t given up on other genres; they’re just in a slight lull.

  • My next article will deal with The Dig, LucasArts’s second adventure game of 1995 — and what a tortured tale that one is!
  • Then we’ll move on to a very eventful and profitable era at Sierra, with special coverage reserved for the second Gabriel Knight game.
  • This was the year when the Interactive Fiction Renaissance really took flight, with the very first IF Competition and a downright stunning number of other big, rich games released. If you’re an old-school Infocom fan who hasn’t yet tried these games, you might just find yourself in heaven if you give them a chance, as they’re very much in the Infocom spirit, and written and implemented every bit as well.
  • We’ll continue to follow the story of Legend Entertainment in some detail, looking at both of their 1995 releases.
  • We’ll find time for The Dark Eye and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, a couple of moody, artsy adventure games with some very interesting personalities behind them.
  • We’ll look at some more attempts to bring full-motion-video interactive movies to the masses, with unusual and sometimes risque subject matter: titles like Voyeur and In the First Degree.
  • We’ll dive into the short and rather disappointing history of Boffo Games, a partnership between Steve Meretzky and Mike Dornbrook that brought us Meretzky’s final adventure game.
  • We’ll backtrack a bit to cover the story of New World Computing and the Might and Magic CRPG franchise, which will set the stage for frightfully addictive strategy game Heroes of Might and Magic.
  • We’ll examine McKenzie & Co., a noble if somewhat confused attempt by a new studio called Her Interactive to make an adventure game that “girls will love!”
  • The big non-gaming story waiting in the wings is that of the World Wide Web, which began breaking into the public consciousness in a big way during 1995. I’ll try to do it justice via a multi-part series that will be slotted into all of the above… somewhere.

If you have a favorite game from 1995 that isn’t listed above, don’t panic. I always shuffle things around a bit for the sake of storytelling. I promise, for example, that Blizzard Entertainment will get their due a little later, as will the debut of Microsoft Windows 95, a truly momentous event in the history of both computer gaming and consumer computing as a whole. Of course, I’m always interested in hearing your suggestions of topics you think would be interesting, although I can’t guarantee that I’ll act on all of them. (Those I decline to pursue are generally the ones which I just don’t feel I have the requisite background and/or level of passion to turn into good articles. Believe me, it’s not you, it’s me.) And if you have a line on a valuable historical source — or if you happen to be one yourself — I’m always eager to hear from you.

And now for my obligatory annual fund-raising pitch: if you like what I do here and haven’t yet signed up to become a Patreon supporter, please think about doing so (assuming of course that your personal finances allow it). Your support will help ensure that this project can keep going for a long time to come. The same naturally goes for The Analog Antiquarian, this site’s alternate-week counterpart. (We’re nearing the end of the Alexandria story there, and will soon be making a brief sojourn in Rhodes before tackling the long arc of China’s history.)

Thanks so much for reading and helping out in all the different ways you do. See you next week!

 

Ebooks and more as we move into 1994…

So, folks, we’re finally through with 1993! Thanks as always to the good offices of Richard Lindner, an ebook compiling the last run of articles is now available to commemorate the occasion. If you enjoy it, please consider sending Richard a thank you at the email address found on the ebook’s first page.

I’ve already opened the curtain on 1994 with my most recent article, on the adventure game Under a Killing Moon, and I anticipate future articles on the graphic adventures Beneath a Steel Sky (odd naming concordance there, eh?), Superhero League of Hoboken, and Death Gate. Still, adventures in general were in a bit of a lull this year while everyone retooled to jump onto the CD-ROM, SVGA, and full-motion-video bandwagons. Luckily, several other genres definitely were not. This was arguably the biggest year of the 1990s for strategy games, with the likes of Theme Park, Transport Tycoon, Master of Magic, Panzer General, Colonization, and X-Com, all of which will get articles. Ditto space simulations, with Microsoft Space Simulator, TIE Fighter, and Wing Commander III. Origin Systems, the purveyor of the last mentioned blockbuster, also published the disastrous Ultima VIII and the sublime System Shock. In the realm of the slightly more esoteric, there’s Lode Runner: The Legend Returns from Sierra/Dynamix, which will provide me with a sneaky way to shoehorn in coverage of the original Lode Runner, one of the Apple II’s iconic titles that I sadly neglected back in the day. (For that matter, coverage of Microsoft Space Simulator should give me a chance to do the same for the similarly neglected Flight Simulator.)

In addition to all of this gaming coverage, I do want to start to take the second part of this site’s subtitle — the “digital culture” part — even more seriously than before. It seems only appropriate: between 1973 and 1993, the microchip revolutionized the way much of the business world conducted itself and changed the way some segments of the general population entertained themselves; between 1994 and 2014, the microchip combined with the Internet reshaped the everyday lives of all of us. I’d like for those changes as well to become a part of this site’s focus.

The big, obvious story lurking out there, of how the Internet and the World Wide Web came to be, is one that I think I’m going to reserve for 1995, when the Web really began to take off as a mainstream phenomenon. But I do want to work in two other non-gaming articles or series of them this year. One will be on the Voyager Company, an ambitious and visionary initiative to publish curated multimedia content on CD-ROM, with results that hold up better than you might expect today. (I bought a 1999-vintage iMac in order to explore the Voyager catalog last December, and it’s cost me a shocking number of hours since.) The shape of the other series is a bit more nebulous in my mind at the moment, but it will involve the music world’s response to the microcomputer revolution, perhaps beginning with early-1980s albums like Kraftwerk’s Computerworld and Prince’s 1999 that were suffused with the new technology in terms of both sound and lyrics, and definitely culminating in the interactive CD-ROMs released in the early- to mid-1990s by such artists as Prince, Peter Gabriel, the Residents, Todd Rundgren, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, and Billy Idol.

Another article or short series of them which I’d like to write kind of sits in the middle of this site’s two briefs: I’d like to examine the controversy over videogame content which flared up around the games Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, and led to the hasty imposition of the first industry-wide content-rating system in 1994. Also somewhere in that mix will be an examination of early “naughty” CD-ROMs, including both the markets for outright pornography and for relatively more respectable fare like Voyeur.

I’m more grateful than ever to those of you who support this work financially, what with these current tough times of ours. If you’re a regular reader who hasn’t yet taken the plunge, please do consider making a Patreon pledge if your finances allow. In return, I promise to keep delivering an interesting, informative, and entertaining article (almost) every other week — every week if you happen to enjoy The Analog Antiquarian as well! — for as long as I possibly can. It does seem that some of us at least may be in and out of lock downs for quite a while to come. It’s good to have things to read there, right?

Thank you for being the best readers in the world! Here’s to many more years and many more ebooks! See you tomorrow with a proper article…

 

Summer Daze


I want to bring a new project by this blog’s friends Corey and Lori Ann Cole to your attention today. Summer Daze at Hero-U builds upon their earlier Hero-U: From Rogue to Redemption, which was a fine revival in spirit of their much-loved Quest for Glory games of yore. This sequel — or actually prequel — goes in a somewhat different direction, with something of a visual-novel aesthetic and markedly fewer CRPG trappings. The Coles are fine game designers as well as fine people, so I’m sure they’ll pull it off with the same aplomb that made the first Hero-U such a pleasure to play.

The economics of game-making being what they are, however, they could use your support to bring the project to fruition. As of this writing, they’re about $30,000 short of their $100,000 goal on Kickstarter, with six days left to go. Please head on over to the Kickstarter site and give the project a look, and think about pitching in if you like what you see. If I know the Coles at all, I know that they’ll undoubtedly give you your money’s worth in the finished product.

 

The Pyramids of Giza (A Wonders of the World Book)

While I normally try not to mix the digital and analog sides of my writing too much, I do just have to announce that an e-book version of my just-completed series on the Pyramids of Giza over at The Analog Antiquarian is now available at Amazon. It’s had much more copy-editing and polishing applied compared to what first went up on the web, and I’m tremendously proud of the end result. By all means, check it out if you’re at all interested in the subject matter. Although the immediate feedback I received as I was first writing the chapters online made the book that much better, the finished product is definitely a more natural fit to this medium than a blog-style presentation.

If you do buy a copy, or you got a free copy as an Analog Antiquarian patron, or if you have just been following the ongoing series on the web, I’d hugely appreciate it if you could write a quick (and honest) review at either the American Amazon site or your local version of same (the book should be available worldwide). Reviews are the currency at Amazon which can make or break a book like this one.

Thanks so much!

 

Out with 1992, In with 1993

First, the bad news: I’m afraid I won’t have a new article for you this Friday. My wife Dorte and I are going to take a long weekend in beautiful Bornholm, and I’ve been using this shortened work week to do some preparations for my next few months of writing. Both this site and The Analog Antiquarian will be pushed back one week because of this.

By way of compensation, though, I do have a new ebook for you, covering 1992 in this blog’s chronology. As usual, its existence is down to the good offices of Richard Lindner. You’ll find his email address on the title page of the ebook, so if you enjoy it, by all means send him an email to thank him.

A new ebook means, of course, that we’ve made it through another year. In fact, we’ve already started on 1993 with the Return to Zork coverage.

This one isn’t just any old year: a strong argument could be made that 1993 was the pivotal year in the entire history of computer gaming, the dividing line between its antiquity and modernity. For this was the year when CD-ROM finally went mainstream, virtually eliminating any and all technical restrictions on the size of games. The transformation this wrought on the graphics and sound of games, on their budgets, on their potential consumer appeal, and, indeed, on their very nature is almost impossible to overstate. We’ll have to wait until the rise of ubiquitous digital distribution well into the 2000s before we again see any single technology remotely as disruptive.

But as if the CD-ROM revolution wasn’t enough to make 1993 a special year, there was also the 3D graphics revolution, as exemplified by Doom, the game many would doubtless consider the game of the 1990s, at least in terms of pure populist appeal.

In addition to these two seismic events, the year is positively bursting with other themes, technologies, and franchises that remain inescapable today. An exciting time indeed.

So, here’s a broad outline of the specific topics I anticipate covering as we make our way through this year for the ages. (Needless to say, if you want to be totally surprised by each new article, skip this section!)

  • In addition to all of the multimedia flash that marked 1993, it was also the year when the groundwork for an Interactive Fiction Renaissance was laid, thanks to a game called Curses! which re-purposed Infocom’s legendary Z-Machine for its own ends. We’ll look at where the technology to make that seminal title came from as well as the game itself.
  • In the view of many fans, 1993 was the year that LucasArts peaked as a maker of graphic adventures, with perhaps the two most beloved games they ever made that don’t have “Monkey Island” in their names. Both will get their due here.
  • 1993 was the year that Sierra went into an economic tailspin, thanks to budgets and multimedia ambitions that were increasing even faster than sales. We’ll follow them as they start down this beginning of the road to acquisition and eventual oblivion — and we’ll also look at some of Sierra’s individual adventure games from the year, especially the much-loved first Gabriel Knight title.
  • 1993 was the year that Legend Entertainment finally had to face market realities and drop the parser from their adventure games, marking the definitive end of the text adventure as a commercial proposition. (Lucky that aforementioned amateur Renaissance was waiting in the wings, eh?) We’ll look at this end of Legend’s first era and beginning of their second, during which they became a maker of point-and-click adventures.
  • 1993 was the year that Alone in the Dark invented the survival-horror genre. We’ll look at where that game came from and how it holds up today.
  • 1993 was the last big year in CRPGs for quite some time, as a glut of samey titles tried gamers’ patience past the breaking point. We’ll look at Sierra’s Betrayal at Krondor, one of the less samey titles, and also at how the end of the CRPG gravy train affected Origin Systems and SSI, two of the leading practitioners of the genre.
  • 1993 was the year that the wheels came off for Commodore even in Europe, thanks to new Amiga models that arrived as too little, too late. We’ll look at the sad end of a company and a platform that once held so much promise.
  • 1993 was the year of the sequel to Lemmings! Enough said.
  • 1993 was the year of a little game from Interplay that I’ve always wished I could like more, Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space. We’ll use the occasion of its release to examine the checkered history of space-program management simulations in general, a sub-genre that seems like it ought to have worked beautifully but somehow never quite did.
  • 1993 was the year of Master of Orion, perhaps not the first grand 4X space opera in absolute terms but the one to which every subsequent game of the type would always be compared. Enough said.
  • 1993 was the year when shareware peaked. We’ll look at this rich culture of amateurs and semi-professionals making games of many stripes and asking people to pay for them after they got them.
  • 1993 was the year that The 7th Guest, the poster child for form over substance in gaming, popularized SVGA graphics, pushing the industry onward at last after six years stuck on the VGA standard. Along with The 7th Guest itself and the meteoric rise and fall of its maker Trilobyte, we’ll find out how a computer industry that had always looked to IBM to set its standards finally learned to drive its own technological evolution in a world where IBM had become all but irrelevant.
  • 1993 was the year of Myst, the best-selling adventure game in history. Was it a brilliant artistic creation, or did it ruin adventure games for the rest of the decade? Or are both things true? We shall investigate.
  • And 1993 was, as mentioned, the year of Doom, the yang to Myst‘s yin, the only shareware product ever to make its sellers multi-millionaires. We’ll try to address the many and varied aspects of what some would consider to be the most iconic computer game of all time. We’ll start with its incredible technology, end with the way its defiantly low-concept, ultra-violent personality coarsened the culture of gaming, and cover a heck of a lot of ground in between.

As some of that last bullet point would imply, not everything that happened in 1993 was unadulteratedly positive, but it was all important. And certainly the year produced more than its share of classic games that still stand up wonderfully today. I’m looking forward to digging into it.

So, let me close by thanking all of you who support this ongoing project in one way or another. Without you, it just wouldn’t be possible. If you’ve been reading for a while and you haven’t yet become a supporter, please do think about contributing through Patreon or PayPal (you’ll find the links in the right-hand sidebar). It really does make all the difference in the world to my ability to continue this work. And if you’re interested in history more generally, do check out The Analog Antiquarian as well. I’m very proud of the writing I’m doing there.

See you all in a week and half, when we’ll buckle down and get started on the to-do list above. Until then, thanks again for being the best readers in the world!