Remembering the Borders bookstore in Novi, Michigan

Photo taken from dohaeng.com

Much like how I wrote about the CompUSA I frequently went to in the 90’s, I figured I should also write about the bookstore I went to for over 15 years, the Borders Books & Music in Novi, Michigan. From 1993 to it closing in 2011, it was the bookstore of choice for me. There was (and still is) a Barnes and Noble that was closer to me but I preferred shopping here due to the larger size and more variety.

Early memories of it involve me spending time in the children’s section of the store while my dad would look at computer books. I was absolutely into Star Wars as a kid and since this was the 90s and there were only three movies, the Star Wars books were how I could see more of the universe. I also occasionally checked out the strategy guides for video games while here, looking up any parts of games I was stuck on so I could go home and make progress. Another random memory were of the in-store music performances that would occasionally happen. One being of a woman doing scat singing in the center of the store with no backing music and my younger brother and I just being baffled by it.

Much like the CompUSA I mentioned earlier, it was located in the Novi Town Center shopping area, only a couple stores down from that. It outlasted that store by a couple years but it felt pretty obvious during that time that it wouldn’t be around forever. Much has been written about all the mistakes Borders made so I won’t go into those, but one of the signs for me was applying for a programming job at their corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor and then that posting eventually being canceled before I got to do an interview.

While it’s very unfortunate that there’s basically no photos of the store available online (I could have sworn there used to be some), there’s a few videos still up that show what the store looked like. This video of a car driving through the parking lot on the last day it was open shows the exterior, and there is a book signing with Dave Mustaine of Megadeth showing what a big chunk of the store looked like inside. There is also a video on the C-SPAN website of an author doing a reading inside the store in 1997, which doesn’t show that much of the store but is still a nice little 90’s time capsule.

There is actually a much better tribute to this specific store than this post, and that is on this blog here. It’s about how they essentially recreated that Borders in a room of their home. If I had known the store was selling off shelves and signs from the store when they were closing, maybe I would have picked a few things up. It’s an incredibly impressive job they’ve done with the room.

If you have any of the Novi, Michigan Borders, or the CompUSA and Egghead Software that were in the same shopping area, I would love to see them.

The Cybertub

When people are nostalgic for the 90’s internet, it seems like they’re often thinking about personal sites that are built around silly purposes. Being fascinated with this era means I get to stumble across these sites such as the Cybertub. This was a site created in the mid 90s just for measuring the temperature of a hot tub in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Cybertub was created by Paul Haas in early 1994 and by the beginning of 1995, appears to have been getting 1000 visitors a day. The earliest coverage I can find of the site is from the Ann Arbor News in January, 1995. The article has an interview with Paul about how the Cybertub is just a fun little personal project that he made to make sure the hot tub’s water doesn’t drop to freezing temperatures, as well as other parts of his site like the temperature monitor for his fridge. The site seemed to have continued growing in popularity where even the New York Times covered the site in late 1995.

The site seems like it went down sometime in 2009, but luckily the Internet Archive saved it. Not only can you view the temperature of a hot tub during the mid 90s, but you can also check the temperature of Paul’s fridge and see the site that let you wave to his cats using a robotic hand.

I’m not sure when the popularity of the site started to decline but the legacy of the Cybertub lives on. At BornHack 2019, a hacker camp in Denmark, a large wood-fired hot tub used an internet connected temperature sensor, and if you look at the comments you can see someone from the camp thanking Paul. “I am proud to call Paul Haas one of early mentors. Thank you Paul.”

Computer Store Photo Dump: Celebs at CompUSA

I’m not actually sure where any of these pictures originally came from on the web and I can’t find them anymore. So for the sake of preserving important computer history, here are photos of famous people at CompUSA. If you would like more, here’s some pictures from Getty Images of Bill Gates signing copies of Windows 95 and a couple of Steve Ballmer. Depending on your definition of famous, here’s some of Richard Garriott and Warren Spector at Egghead Software. So uhhhhh, enjoy!

picture of Emmanual Lewis giving a thumbs up next to an employee
Emmanual Lewis from the show Webster
Andre 3000 standing next to an employee at the store.
Andre 3000 from Outkast
Steven Seagal shaking hands with an employee
Steven Seagal, actor and Russian propoganda tool

Shareware Game Developer Websites

Update: A lot of people replied on social media of other sites they liked so I have added a list of them at the end.

This morning I went looking for a shareware game I remembered playing 20 years ago and discovered that not only was the game now free, the same website I downloaded the game from two decades ago was still up. This led to me thinking about other old shareware game developer sites I knew of, and discovering some others that were new to me as well.

Spheres of Chaos

screenshot of the game showing a triangle shaped ship in the middle and a blend of mostly reddish colors all over the screen

This was the game that kicked off my whole dig into old shareware developer sites this morning. Spheres of Chaos is an arcade game like Asteroids, where you fly around shooting at various objects and they break into smaller bits, while dodging other space ships trying to shoot at you. The game was originally released in 1992 for the Acorn Archimedes and then re-released in 1998 for the PC, where it has received a few updates since then. The visuals remind me a lot of Llamasoft’s games, with a psychedelic aesthetic with bright colors coming from every movement and explosion. I originally discovered this game almost 20 years ago, on the Idle Thumbs website before it launched a podcast. The review does a much better job explaining why you should play it than I could. At the time, I did not have a credit card or the money to pay for the small amount the developer was charging. Fast forward to this morning when I suddenly remembered playing this game and dug around the site to find the name of the game. I was pleasantly surprised to see the website was still up, looking the exact same as it did when I first downloaded the demo, and the game was now available for free. Best of all, the game still holds up! It was a blast flying around, blowing everything up, and the screen filling up with various colors. Highly recommended if you’re a Llamasoft fan.

Redwood Games

screenshot from Pickle Wars showing a platforming game with a person in the middle and a door and ladder next to them

This led me to discovering some shareware game developers that still have websites going, even if they aren’t actively developing new games. Redwood Games was created about 1990 by Karen Crowther and the studio is most famous for the games Math Rescue and Word Rescue, which were published by Apogee Software. Both games are still available on Steam today. The site also features downloads of other games they worked on like Talking ABC’s and the shareware version of Pickle Wars.

Gray Design Associates

a collage of screenshots from Hugo 1 showing rooms of a haunted house
Screenshot taken from the Gray Design Associates website

Gray Design Associates is the name of the developer owned by David Gray, most famously known for The Hugo Trilogy of adventure games, which started with the 1990 game Hugo’s House of Horrors. While GOG does sell the Windows version of the games running in ScummVM, David’s website sells both versions of the trilogy in the bundle if you want to own the DOS versions as well. It’s also the only place where you can legally buy Nitemare 3-D, the FPS spinoff of the Hugo games released in 1995. Since then, David has been focused on creating jigsaw puzzle games and still makes them to this day.

SophSoft

SophSoft is a developer that started in 1982 and is still going today! As someone that is interested in the history of Michigan game development, it’s cool seeing someone that has been making games for so long in Lansing, Michigan. Their portfolio also shows games they helped with, such as Legacy of the Ancients and The Legend of Blacksilver by another local game developer, Quest Software.

Adept Software

screenshot from jetpack showing someone with a jetpack flying around stone platforms that have gold coins

Adept Software is a software developer that is most famous for the shareware game Jetpack. The developer started in 1996 and is still working on things today. The Classic Games section of their site is a delight, resembling a 90’s website, and features their classic games for free.

Game Crafters

Game Crafters was a studio that developed one game, The Adventures of Maddog Williams in the Dungeons of Duridian in 1992. That hasn’t stopped the studio from having a website with updates as recently as 2012. The site has downloads of the game for various platforms and you can also read news posts about an attempt to make a sequel in the early 00’s.

MVP Software

MVP Software was a publisher in Grand Rapids, Michigan that started in 1985 and kept going all the way to 2014. While the site itself isn’t anything exciting to look at, I think it’s great that it’s still up and offering free downloads of all the games they’re legally allowed to offer such as Pickle Wars, the game I mentioned earlier by Redwood Games.

If you enjoyed reading about these studios and visiting their sites, I highly recommend the book Shareware Heroes. The book goes into detail about the shareware scene, including some of the developers mentioned here. If there’s an older site belonging to a game developer that you’re a fan of, or you’re a game developer with a site that’s been around for a long time, feel free to leave it in the comments!

Sites Recommended by Others!

I didn’t expect people on social media to have so many other shareware game dev sites that they like so I have made a list of them here!

3D Realms
– The legacy version of their site. (Suggested by Richard Moss)
Bluemoon Interactive – Developer of classic DOS games like Skyroads. The history section of the site has links to download full versions of their games. (Suggested by Pulsar)
Cap’n Magneto – Shareware game for the Mac. (Richard Moss)
Carr Software – Developer of shareware games, all available in a bundle. (Hard Drive Noises)
Crazy Bytes – Recommended by LunarLoony
Everett Kaser Software – Developer of Sherlock and other games. A great post by Ian Michael here about why he is a fan of the developer.
Goodsol – Developer of a Solitaire application that is updated every year (Richard Moss)
Hamumu Games – Developer of shareware games that has recently rereleased them on Steam. (Andy Hat)
JunkGames – Recommended by LunarLoony
KPixGames – Developer of PathPix and other shareware games (ROTOPE)
Lena Games – Developer of Solitaire shareware and other games (LunarLoony)
Louise Hope – A World Builder dev that includes games you can play in your browser. (Mike Piontek)
Ray Dunakin – World Builder dev, including a modern Mac remake of one game (Mike Piontek)
Sean O’Connor
– Suggested by Greg. “Sean O’Connor made a rather addicting Empire clone called “Mother of All Battles” for Windows 3.0 that is still getting some updates and being sold today!”
Semicolon – Modern ports of his old software, including Mac games (Richard Moss)
Spiderweb Software – Actively making rpgs since the 90’s (Andy Hat)
Stick Software – Developer of various applications and games for the Mac (Richard Moss)
Storm Impact – Developer of MacSki and other Mac games. The downloads come in an emulator friendly format. (Mike Piontek)
Wendell Hicken – Creator of Scorched Earth (kilowatt)
Winograd – Developer of Mac and Windows games (Richard Moss)
Zugg Software – Creator of MUD clients (Richard Moss)

Computer Store Photo Dump: Computer City in Hawaii

Sometimes between the time when I posted this to my computer store social media account a few years ago and now, most of the archives for this newspaper went down so I thought I would repost the Wayback Machine link for the Star Bulletin reporting in 1998 that the Computer City stores in its Waikele and Kakaako locations closed pending a $275 million acquisition by CompUSA. I just realized now that this lines up with when my local Computer City in Northville, Michigan had closed after only being open for two years. From browsing Wikipedia, it sounds like CompUSA had no interest in keeping the Computer City brand and either closed the stores (mine was fairly close to a CompUSA) or converted them to CompUSA stores.

a man and woman pushing boxes on a cart out of a Computer City store
From the Star-Bulletin: “Dr. Doug Johnson of Kaimuki is assisted by Computer City
associate Nancy Tapia, while he carts off the very last computer
system sold at Computer City’s Victoria Ward store. The store
is now closed, making way for Pier 1 Imports.

I also came across this article about a Computer City opening.

Sales associates John Powell, left, talks with Edmund Chu and his brother, Richard Chu, about Apple computers in the new Computer City store on Auahi Street, across from Ward Centre in Kakaako.
Photo by Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin

Myst Parodies

When Myst came out, it was a gigantic hit that made its way into pop culture. There were books, a board game, and even some discussions with Disney to do something in one of their parks. So it’s not surprising that a game as popular and challenging as Myst also had a few parodies.

Pyst

screenshot of Pyst showing the starting area of Myst covered in litter
Screenshot taken from MobyGames

The most well known of these Myst parodies is the game Pyst, released in 1996. The game was written by Peter Bergman, a member of the Firesign Theatre, and the first game developed by Parroty Interactive. The Firesign Theatre was a surreal comedy troupe that was around from 1966 to 2012. The concept for Pyst isn’t too bad. You explore Myst island after millions of others have already visited it and see how trashed it has become. The problem is that it’s just not a very good parody. The jokes all fall flat and even a short cameo by John Goodman, who was friends with the comedy troupe, couldn’t save it. It’s not very long either. You navigate the rooms in a slideshow-like format by clicking the left and right arrows to navigate to other cards, clicking on various elements in each card to find jokes, until you reach the end. That’s all there is to it. There’s no puzzles or any real sense of navigation, so the game takes about 30 minutes to play through. If you have an interest in the game, you can watch a playthrough on YouTube and probably get the same out of it as I did and with less work.

The game is not available for sale anywhere so I feel ok with linking to The Collection Chamber if you really want to download a version of it that’s already setup to work on modern PCs. Personally, I got more enjoyment from watching the bizarre Making of Pyst video and listening to the theme for the game featuring John Goodman on vocals.

Negative reviews of the game didn’t stop it from being a commercial hit. The game remained on the cd-rom best seller list for a long time due to its low cost and availability. I remember seeing the game at the checkout counter at CompUSA when it came out. The success allowed Parroty Interactive to develop a few more games:
Star Warped (1997), a parody of Star Wars.
The X-Fools (1997), a parody of The X-Files
Microshaft Winblows 98 (1998), a parody of Microsoft Windows 98

There were also plans to develop Driven, a parody of Riven: The Sequel to Myst. This would have had more of a car theme but was never completed due to the studio closing after being acquired by The Learning Company. A demo of the game exists on later Parroty Interactive and you can watch a playthrough here. Despite my criticisms of the game, I do think the Firesign Theatre is worth listening to if they sound interesting to you.

Mylk

About screen for the Myst parody MYLK. It has a photo of the authors face and says "(It does a body good. Pass it on!) Myst is conceitware by Bart Gold. If you think it's cool, send a postcard to (address here) and tell him how cool you thought it was. PC conversion by Wayne Twitchell!. Special thanks to Ivan Cockrum and Rob Friedman for helping MYLK PC become reality. Mylk was created entirely in Macromedia director"  then it has copyright info and then says "And remember - it's not a parody, it's an 'homage'"
About screen for Mylk

Pyst wasn’t the first Myst parody. Mylk was a freeware game released in 1994 with a dairy theme. You find the trapped Farmer Ben and Frances the Chicken, who have little videos just like the two brothers in Myst, telling you to bring them bring pink and yellow pages that you find by exploring cheese-themed areas. It’s a fun little parody with some cute cartoon graphics and like the About screen states in the screenshot above, it was made as a tribute to the game instead of being angry at it like some of the other Myst parodies out there. If you want to check it out, it’s playable in the browser on the Internet Archive. The creator of the game would go on to write a lot of Shrek-related cartoons.

Missed

screenshot from the page saying "The Mysterious World of Missed" using the Myst font and showing a screenshot from the original game

Missed is a browser game created by Jason Bloomberg and published in 1996. You navigate the island using buttons at the bottom of the screen with a text description telling you what each button will do, with jokes about how Myst is too hard and other frustrations people had with it at the time. Fortunately the game has been preserved in the Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine has also preserved the page detailing the making of the game and a walkthrough that you can read here.

MYSTy

screenshot of MYSTy, featuring an island with sand and docks

MYSTy is a parody released for the Macintosh in 1995 by Twin Software. You enter a Powerbook and explore an island similar to Myst. The game is playable on the Internet Archive.

Modern Parodies

screenshot from lyft showing chairs and tables in an office
Screenshot from Lyft

People are still making Myst parodies and tributes today. In 2016 there was a Myst jam on Itch.io where there were dozens of entries, most by fans of the game. There was also the attempt to make Myst more exciting by making it a FPS. It has been interesting seeing the things people take from Myst and having a more positive view of it, when it doesn’t feel like it’s everywhere and have had more time to understand the design of the game.

Mast

After publishing this post, I was made aware of Mast, a porn parody of Myst, thanks(?) to Phil Salvador and Frank Cifaldi from the Video Game History Foundation. As far as I know, this ad from an adult cd-rom magazine is all we know about it. Hopefully we’ll see it uploaded to the Internet Archive one day so we find out what this game is actually like.

an ad for mast saying it's an adult cd-rom game and who stars in it
Scan of a magazine ad by Frank Cifaldi

Nacah

Thanks to Lori on Mastodon, I am also now aware of Nacah. Nacah is a Bible-themed Myst clone by Virtue Games where you explore a group of islands that you are stranded on and solving puzzles based on the Bible. It’s not a parody of Myst but is strongly inspired by the game and is marketed as a “Biblical alternate to Myst” so it deserves a mention.

cover of Nacah with a view from inside of a cave looking out at an island and a sticker saying it's a biblical alternative to Myst

There are far more Myst parodies and tributes than I could have imagined and I suspect there’s plenty more out there. If there’s a Myst parody that you don’t see here, please let me know in the comments.

Computer Store Photo Dump: State Street Computer

Here is a series of ads for a place called State Street Computer in Ann Arbor, Michigan showing the initial excitement for the Amiga, ads selling the computer, and then the final ad for the store showing their liquidation sale. I don’t have dates for all the ads because I saved these images a while ago and didn’t take notes then, but I can guess that it’s roughly from the mid 80’s to the very late 80’s or very early 90’s. These images came from looking through local newspapers and also from the Ann Arbor District Library website.

There’s a few other ads that I found as well. I’m guessing the freedom of the press one is aimed at college students looking to start their own zines or newspapers since this was right next to the University of Michigan.

Unfortunately I cannot find any images of the actual store. I looked up the location of the store on Google Maps and it would have been a high traffic spot near the University of Michigan.

Google Street Screenshot from 2011 showing the Nickels Arcade area of downtown Ann Arbor

If you have any photos of the store, I would love to see them posted somewhere.

Sources:
1. https://aadl.org/node/245897
2. https://aadl.org/node/245702
3. https://aadl.org/taxonomy/term/76102
4. https://aadl.org/node/245850

Hyperland by Douglas Adams

Just finished watching Hyperland, a documentary about hypertext and other related computer technologies in 1990. It was created by Douglas Adams and stars Tom Baker (Doctor Who) as a software agent that shows Douglas the future of tv, Interactive Multimedia. I thought it was a fascinating time capsule of what Douglas thought the internet was going to be like in the future, even before people were using web browsers. The documentary talks to a variety of people like Ted Nelson and Robert Winter, but the highlight for me was Amanda Goodenough presenting Inigo Gets Out, an application for kids made with Hypercard. There’s even a fun little reference to Douglas Adams writing interactive fiction in the 80’s.

screenshot from Hyperland showing a hand choosing between icons that are hovering over someone's face while they talk

Hyperland gets some stuff wrong as anything like this is always going to but he was right about a surprising amount. Even less desirable elements like your fridge being connected to the internet are predicted here. If you have an interest in Douglas Adams or computer history I think it’s worth checking out. There’s a lot of interesting interviews about hypertext history, Tom Baker is a lot of fun to watch, and it’s only 50 minutes. You can watch it for free on the Internet Archive.

Egghead Software

A weird but fun thing I like to do is post photos of old computer stores on Cohost and Mastodon, which means that I have found a ton of random things over the last couple of years. I’m going to start posting more organized collections here in case something happens to either place, since that account is now the only source of some photos after the sources have gone down (see my CompUSA post here).

One I’ve always loved finding more photos and documents of has been Egghead Software. If you’re feeling nostalgic for computers in the early 90’s, or specifically the Egghead Software store chain, check out their quarterly reports that have been archived here. For some reason it’s a chain that doesn’t have a ton of photos like other computer stores do, so it was fun finding these. I also thought it was interesting reading the reports in the later years and watching the slow decline they were going through.

My other favorite source of photos of Egghead Software is obviously this set of photos taken of Warren Spector and Richard Garriott to promote games by Origin.

photo of Richard Garriott in a store holding a copy of Ultima: Martian Dreams

I’ve also found a lot of random photos of now closed computer stores by checking out Facebook groups that former employees post in. I’ve only gone in public groups but there’s been a lot of interesting things that employees kept from the store like these items. Unfortunately the groups seem to randomly disappear, probably from Facebook constantly making changes, so there’s always a feeling I have to grab the photos before they’re gone forever.

The Making of Karateka

I was a massive fan of the Atari 50 collection by Digital Eclipse so I was thrilled when they announced The Making of Karateka. I think people have been asking for decades for a Criterion Collection style rerelease of old games, where interviews and documents are packaged with the game. It follows the same format of the Atari 50 collection, where you are presented with multiple timelines, each documenting a different era, and scroll through the timelines to see various documents, interviews with people involved, and games to play. I wasn’t sure how much you could do for just one game but it’s the perfect rerelease to me, no complaints. It’s stunning how much was preserved by Jordan. I knew he had journals during the making of his games because I had read the one he released for Prince of Persia, but the collection also features playable prototypes for games that were never released and letters sent back and forth between him and Broderbund. The remakes created by Digital Eclipse for the games in the collection are a lot of fun too.

I’m hoping the collection is a big hit and we’ll see more of these. I don’t know how many are possible because it’s hard to imagine anyone preserving everything as well as Jordan Mechner has, but I’m sure Digital Eclipse has a few in the works if they announced this is the beginning of a Gold Master Series that “presents iconic games in an innovative “interactive documentary” format, putting the shared history of games and their creators into one comprehensive package.” I think my dream version of one of these that I think would actually be possible, meaning a game not owned by a giant company like Lucasarts or Sierra, would be something like Llamasoft. Seeing prototypes and interviews for anything they put out would be fantastic.