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Mary Clark

Second Half of the Semester Update

I made a lot of progress in the last two weeks, so I’m just going to touch on everything I’ve done very briefly instead of just focusing on one item.

Task Rundown

This week and last week, I:

  • Uncovered a few old laptops and brought the best functioning laptop back to school.
  • Collected 90s game cartridges, software, and other items from my house.
  • Obtained some 90s computer games from a friend.
  • Ordered Myst and Sam & Max Hit the Road.
  • Read Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons, written in 2001.
  • Read through the 1990s publications of Computer Gaming World.

Exhibit Items

The laptop I brought back was a Compaq Armada 7370DMT from 1997, running Windows ME. It currently has some small games installed on it from the Microsoft Entertainment Pack, including Chip’s Challenge, SkiFree, Rodent’s Revenge, and Pipe Dream (Pipe Mania). Windows ME is probably farther from 90s than I would’ve liked; on the other hand, it’s a pretty forgettable OS from its time, and often nicknamed the “Mistake Edition”, so visitors might find it interesting to poke around with. There are also more important things to spend time on now that we’re in the second half of the semester, like actually making this thing connect to our local network, for example.

Including the laptop, I brought back a lot of 90s technology from my house, including Nintendo 64 cartridges (that we didn’t already have), SNES cartridges (just took them all), some VHS copies of films with their sleeves, some software and games from the late 90s and early 2000s (just in case), our N64 controllers, and a 1998 Pokédex! I really loved digging around in the basement for old stuff I used as a kid, so I’m hoping I’ll get to do more of that someday.

My awesome friend and dungeon master James has contributed several computer games that he and his brother played back in the 90s (thanks, James). My favorites so far are The Neverhood and Roller Coaster Tycoon Deluxe. He also gave me the point-and-click game Space Quest 6, the last in the comedy-cyberpunk Space Quest series by Sierra On-Line. I’d never heard of it until now, but it came out in March 1995, so it’s as old as I am. Neat.

Since I had decided they were important and rare enough to be bought, I ordered Myst and Sam & Max Hit the Road for the exhibit, both on CDs. I also considered buying DOOM, before remembering that it’s basically shareware now and buying it on floppy disks costs an ungodly amount of money.

Reading

My assigned reading for this week was Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons, in which Anne-Marie Schleiner analyses the original Tomb Raider and its fanbase through a feminist lens. I picked it because it was from 2001 and read it through more of a historical lens than a feminist one, so I didn’t get much out of it, but it was a good entrance into women in tech in the 90s, and games for women. I don’t really have much to say about it besides that.

I skimmed through the 1990s publications of CGW and found a lot of ads and articles on interesting games and software, most of which I had never heard of. Aesthetically, the magazines themselves looked much different than the ones I had viewed from the later 90s and had more of an 80s look. The ads were also much less in-your-face; there were fewer horror and hand-to-hand combat or shooter games advertised, and the content/images were much less chaotic. I would guess in advance that I’m going to see this change with the rise of 3D graphics and virtual reality. I also noticed that some CGW issues contained their “Top 100 Games”, as rated by their readers. A plethora of war games, action/arcade games, simulation, and strategy games were featured in the top 10, along with one roleplaying game and no adventure games. These rankings and the magazine’s ads indicated that most popular 1990 games featuring “modern violence”, i.e. 19th or 20th century combat, were military combat games in which players fought using war machines (see F-19 Stealth Fighter, Harpoon, and Their Finest Hour).

I enjoyed seeing the evolution of opinions on Loom, which was heavily advertised in several early issues and had a preview in the 70th issue (April 1990), but both the game and the preview were met with criticism seen in the 72nd issue (June 1990) after the game’s release in May 1990. In the “Letters from Paradise” column, one reader remarked that the preview was misleading and CGW’s writers should have “said point-blank that the game was deterministic and linear, not just ‘easy’”, but others praised the accuracy of the review and made no comment on the game itself. A review from the July/August 1990 issue in the Scorpion’s View—a column written by “Scorpia”, an “experienced and respected adventure game expert”—echoed these complaints about the linear gameplay and “watered down” plot elements; they explained that the game had good intentions with these mechanics and was still well constructed, but was just “too lightweight” for its genre. Finally, in the September 1990 issue, Loom won CGW’s Special Artistic Achievement Award.

Next week, I’m hoping to install some of the games that I’ve brought once we get the CD drive issues on the PC worked out, or I might try installing something on the Mac. I’m also going to download more early 90s games that are available as shareware on archive.org. I’ll also begin reading Brenda Laurel: Pioneering Games for Girls.