In the last installment of VGA, I blabbed about the strange side of PC gaming in the 90's. Much like the bizarre gyrocopters and wingsuits that came about when people were trying to figure out what could and couldn't fly, some creative and unique (if not successful or good) games were made before people settled on the "right" way to do things.
The article closed with an invitation for you guys to blab about particularly offbeat games from that era. I knew that a lot of you would have some interesting things to say, but it still came as a surprise to check my inbox and see it filled with so many death threats.
After a half-hour spent clicking "Report Spam" while sobbing, I was left with this stuff.
Forum user DoombatINC writes:
"If you're looking for another 90's game, consider Harvester, the point-and-click adventure game that was also a serial killer training program engineered to progressively desensitize the player to killing and eating people. Here's a serviceable playthough, get some popcorn and someone you don't want to love you anymore and give it a watch."
Phil Salvador writes:
"It's not particularly unique because it's an interactive movie, but it has two interesting distinguishing features. Firstly, the plot takes place in a farm town where ritualistic/serial killings occur every harvest moon in accordance with an evil local cult. Secondly, it's disgustingly graphic. Modern games have absolutely nothing on this cutscene."
Liz Beetem writes:
"The best line of the game is "Can't nobody live without a spine, ain't nothing more natural than that", or something of that ilk."
Harvester is the thinking man's Phantasmagoria, assuming the man in question tends to think about how much better Twin Peaks would have been if it had been set in the 50's and crossed with Faces Of Death, and how John Frumpyflannel would make a better protagonist than Mary Sweatpants.
Come to think of it, a co-branded Harvester vs. Phantasmagoria 2D fighter in the vein of Mortal Kombat would have been a good idea. Or, at least, an idea.
Evan Perkins writes:
"In a few words, you're a music video producer who used a dead uncle's fortune to build a media tower and teleport into the 'Distortion Dimension', a dimension formed around MTV style music. The main part of the game is a life simulator, where you record film and music in the dimension, then make videos to earn cash, which you spend on food, fuel, and a way back to Earth (teleporting costs money)."
Matthew Haines writes:
A THOUSAND TIMES TOTAL DISTORTION
It is exactly what you are describing."
When you go to sleep, you are told that "The dreams are racing down the road. The winner will take over your mind!" Naturally, you must use a dream gun to kill the BAD DREAMS (their uppercase, not mine). This is strange for many reasons, the first being that I thought the entire game was a fever dream directed by our very own Jeff K.
Phil Salvador writes:
"It's an adventure game by Osamu Sato, a borderline insane Japanese video artist who received a grant from Sony Imagesoft to make whatever his heart desired. What he ended up making was a game about a man named Rin who loses his soul. He decides to borrow another one and sets sail for his soul's new home at the soul-swallowing island of Tong-Nou. Except Tong-Nou is a giant green floating head that vomits eyeballs, and the insides of his face are made up of endless landscapes covered in half-burnt candles, palaces made of solid gold, and weird abstract creatures that look like an ornamental Jell-O mold ate Mr. Potato Head."
Be sure to check out the playthrough videos that Phil provided to get an idea of what this game looks like in action. Eastern Mind featured a monochromatic bald dude with a piece of machinery erupting from his head long before Valve's logo guy, so by my calculations it should have sold at least as many copies as Half-Life.
Ian D. Hepburn writes:
"It was a forgettable William Gibson short story that became a terrible movie that led to an even worse game. The poor graphics, lame fight mechanics, unresponsive controls, and instantly dated dialog guarantee that today this game would be gathering dust in a $1.99 bargain bin at Best Buy while all the other shovelware flies off of the shelf."
Henry Rollins was in the film version of Johnny Mnemonic, but he was not in this game. Henry Rollins was Mace Griffin, of Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter. That might tell you something.
Stage Beans (probably his/her actual name) writes:
"There's no 'basically...' for this game. It's a bizarre, involved, goofy as fuck story about how some inter-dimensional demon-police-computer is pulling people into the Omikron game (so fucking meta ) and resurrecting them into different citizens that, with the help of a computerized David Bowie, can unleash the power of music to the citizens of the universe or some bullshit. I never beat it."
Brannen Huske writes:
"The controls in the game held me back, but the story was always absurd enough to make me want to finish it."
In a game full of people that don't really look like people, David Bowie plays two characters that look just like David Bowie. Sure, the controls were enough to keep everyone who wrote in from beating the game, but multibowie makes this a classic.
Will Greenwald writes:
"Imagine Myst after you just chugged a bottle of Dimetapp and have Terry Gilliam's Brazil playing in the background. Boom, you have Obsidian by Rocket Science."
This is perfect. I've looked at dozens of screenshots of the game and still have no clue what's going on. See that flyer with the fish? If someone put forth the effort to make something like that in a modern game, it would be plastered on every corkboard and littered floor you came across for the next six to twelve hours. In Obsidian it is used once, presumably in a puzzle that involves a ball of light and an ancient machine with lots of exposed gears.
Yotam Wilson writes:
"the first thing I do is call my adventure games buddy to come and witness the awesome graphics that can only run on my 16MB ram powerhouse, we fire that shit up and... a 10 minute long opening movie in which the nobody speaks and a lot of shit happens to a very young boy that may be the protagonist of the story, but very possibly is actually a real live soul trapped inside the game through a satanic ritual"
As this feature progresses, it's becoming all too clear that souls were being trapped at an alarming rate in the 90's. While the biggest gaming threats in the 2000's have been terrorism, zombies, DLC and the mandatory registering of an account for every publisher/developer/multiplayer service in existence before you can play a game you just fucking bought, those could all be combined and wouldn't come close to the havoc unleashed by soul theft in the previous decade.
a m (definitely his/her actual name) writes:
"I don't even know if I'd really call it a game. I mean, I guess it was interactive, but just barely."
In The Psychotron, the president wants you to recover a missing scientific device. The device's capabilities aren't clear, but I imagine they involve keeping jets and barns perfectly intact after high-speed collisions with each other.
Jeremy Lindemann writes:
"It had a quasi-industrial soundtrack that sounded strangely like Chemlab, really choppy FMV, and some PG-13 innuendo. You played as an ex-con living on borrowed time and posing as a cyberplumber [yeah...]."
Club Dead has one thing going for it - it brings to mind a time when random bits of decayed overlay graphics were totally awesome, whether they were on TV or product boxes. They meant something, dude, just like guys making angry faces or yelling (preferably while wearing goggles) REAL CLOSE to the camera.
By the way, the blurb on the box, the thing that's intended to entice people to buy the game? "The secret spa for cyberjunkies may also be your last resort."
John Wallace writes:
"Created by Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel, The Neverhood is basically third-person claymation Myst. It features beautiful art, brilliantly weird music and puzzles difficult enough to make you want to strangle a small child. It also features memorable animated sequences such as the one with a large, snarling monster that is called a 'weasel' solely because it chases the protagonist around what, according to the background music, can only be a mulberry bush."
This is completely unfair, but I always avoided this game because it reminded me of Clay Fighter. They're completely different genres and are leagues apart in terms of creativity, but... Clay Fighter. That sort of thing always bothers me, even if it shouldn't. I suppose that's why I could never get around to using that bar of gold I found in the backyard, the one that's rectangular like the Clay Fighters box.
Maxim Ternosky writes:
"You play a first-person detective in the 1940s sent to investigate a missing person, but (naturally) the case turns out to be much bigger, involving murders, a diamond robbery, etc.
The voice acting (voice acting!) and music were surprisingly good, and the story and dialogue were pretty well written ("my hands were tied. I blocked the punch with my face."). However, the game suffered from obtuse-puzzle adventure game syndrome, and considering there were about a bazillion ways to die/get stuck/get caught/run out of time, the sort of creative thinking needed to solve those kind of puzzles was too risky, and the game was pretty much unplayable without either a walkthrough or unlimited patience. ."
See that screenshot? Those cards are SO unrealistic. I would have had a royal flush.
Seth Paul writes:
"You play a pill-popping, hard-boozing grandmother whose family is kidnapped by mutant rabbits and are probably going to be subjected to medical experiments (I swear to God, I am not making this up). You get missed because you live in the attic of the house, and thus it's up to you to find and rescue the family (though considering they are all unlikeable, it makes no sense why you'd want to) and get your house returned from the limbo it has been sent to."
Naiomi Clewett writes:
"I remember at one point, your character comes across a cow that was, if memory serves, taking a shower. For no discernible reason I can recall, the cow let out a high pitched, Michael Jackson-esque squeal, tweaked its udders, and sprayed a stream of milk into the air. "
And that last quote, ladies and gentlemen, sums up PC gaming in the 90's. Thanks again to everyone that wrote in. I'm sure I forgot to include some games and quote some people because my soul was being captured by cyberspace as I put this article together, but I appreciate every letter that comes in.
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I was able to pull some strings and secure an advance copy of this year’s PAX panel schedule. Enjoy!
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