Indie Game Roundup (April 20, 2024)

A lot of neat stuff has come out in the last two weeks and it’s the funny number day, so here’s another one of these indie game roundup things of things that I enjoyed. If you released a thing and I missed it, feel free to reply in the comments.

Craig Maloney
Craig Maloney passed away on April 2nd after battling cancer for three years. I never met him in person but enjoyed talking with him online and reading his posts on his blog. If you would like to see his writing or the games he made, there’s links to everything on his page.

https://decafbad.net

black and white photo of an arena with text describing what they're seeing

New Domino Club games!
A new batch of Domino Club games has been released. Domino Club is a collective that releases games anonymously. Each batch of Domino Club games features incredibly interesting experimental stuff. They’re the best!

Palestinian Relief Bundle
A charity bundle just came out today with all proceeds going to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. For $8 or more you can get hundreds of games. I’m happy to have my game MindExplorer in there.

New Husky Game Development Games
Husky Game Development is a game dev group at Michigan Tech University since 2004. They’ve uploaded some new games to Itch so go check them out!

Tiny Circumstance
Tiny Circumstance is a really cute and technically impressive Bitsy game.

Broken Roads
If you’re in the mood for some more Fallout after watching the new tv show (I enjoyed it!), consider checking out Broken Roads, a post apocalyptic rpg in the Australian Outback. Reviews for it are currently mixed but maybe you’ll be into it?

Crowdfunding

Here are some crowdfunding campaigns that I found interesting:

  • Devil’s Hideout is a new point-and-click adventure from the developer of games like Twilight Oracle and Blood Nova.
  • Free Stars is a new Star Control game by the original designers in everything but name. The game even includes all the aliens from those original games.

Other People Talking About Indie Games

Indie Tsushin continues doing fantastic work with their developer spotlights.

I liked this post from Lotus that’s critical of the Triple-I Initiative.

Self Promo Zone

Not much from me this time. I continue to play lesser known games on my YouTube and Twitch channels and a previous post discusses a game I’m working on. I also have a list on Itch that I update every day with games I really like

Lost Game: The Games of T.H.E.S.I.S.

While digging around for local software companies in Michigan a while ago, I stumbled across this ad in the first issue of the Atari magazine Analog for an educational software company called T.H.E.S.I.S. in Garden City.

ad for a software company called THESIS, which lists a variety products.

From looking at the ad, it seems like it’s mostly educational software but there’s a couple of games as well lie CON*PUTATION and TONAL ENCOUNTER. For a longer time than I’d like to admit, I thought there was basically nothing about this company and struggled to find anything. I don’t know what changed in those last two years, but it seems like I was just researching it poorly and it turns out that actually, most of their catalog is available for download.

First of all, this clipping from InfoWorld explains what T.H.E.S.I.S. is actually short for.

screenshot showing that THESIS is short for Timely Home Educational System and Informational Software

And then it looks like they were also referenced in this catalog of Atari educational software makers, which you can download here (link opens a pdf).

This was all I knew of for a while and assumed there was just nothing else, until a couple of years later when I decided to take another swing at looking up this company and it turned out I was just doing a poor job the first time. Searching for Tonal Encounter gave me a page on Atari Mania showing that the game is missing but the additional info that it was developed by Linda Schreiber.

It turns out, she has worked on a ton of games. This was a delight for me to find as someone who has an interesting in local game developers. It looks like most of the games that T.H.E.S.I.S. made have also been preserved as well. It’s really nice finding out that a company you figured was lost forever, was actually mostly preserved and you just didn’t do a good job researching them. IN MY DEFENSE I think it was made harder by the company’s name. It does look like a couple of the games by them are still missing but it is significantly less than I had assumed a few days ago. There’s still a few missing like Tonal Encounter, Math Facts, and Hidden Words, but most of them seem to be on that Atari Mania page.

screenshot from Spellbound showing a bunch of little blue guys and the word Necessary.
Screenshot of Spellbound, taken from Atari Mania

Not only did Linda make a ton of games, she also wrote a few books, with most of them focused on programming for Atari computers. She was an instructor for a long time but is mostly retired now, other than still writing and having a course on Udemy for making wine. While it’s not active now, she also had a blog where she wrote about her experiences as the co-founder of T.H.E.S.I.S. and in 2017 ANTIC: The Atari 8-Bit Podcast interviewed her.

Not really sure what the lesson learned from this whole experience was. I need to look harder when researching lost games? But I’m glad it has a happy ending.

Credit goes to Karen and BogusMeatFactory in the Michigan Games History Colletive discord for finding the InfoWorld clipping and educational catalog. It’s a little discord I started where I’ve been dumping Michigan game developer history research before writing about it somewhere more public facing. It’s not the busiest discord but you’re more than welcome to join here if you have an interest in Michigan game dev history.

Voyage of the Mayflower

In an effort to cover more Michigan and game dev history on here, I thought I would mention the game Voyage of the Mayflower. This was a game designed by Ken Ludwig and published by Cadmean Corp. in Ann Arbor in 1984 for the Commodore 64. The game is actually playable in the browser on the Internet Archive.

screenshot showing a boat sailing across the ocean
Screenshot taken from MobyGames

The designer of the game also uploaded the design and marketing notes to the University of Michigan’s library, which anyone can read here. Ken is currently a lecturer at the University of Michigan and in 2021, Austin Yarger interviewed Ken for a WolverineSoft virtual meetup about the game and its history. They even play the game for a little bit.

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.

Indie Game Roundup (Dec. 15, 2023)

Well, it’s Friday so here’s a bunch of recent games and games-related events that I thought were pretty cool. If you recently released something that you want included, always feel free to send me an email or message me on social media (see About page) to let me know it’s out.

The Queer Games Festival
The Queer Games Festival just announced its shortlist for the year, meaning you can check out a great collection of games right here.

screenshot from Heal Slime of a bunch of slime blobs grouped together
A screenshot from Heal Slime

Vextro Slime Wave
A Vextro game jam just ended. I think it’s a games collective, maybe? Anyway, here’s a bunch of games about slime on Itch.

DEAD END Holiday Demo
I really like holiday themed versions of video games and AERIFORM just released a Christmas version of their top-down Metal Gear-inspired stealth game DEAD END.

screenshot from pareidolia of the angel dressup screen
Screenshot from pareidolia in █▄██▄▄

pareidolia in █▄██▄▄
Created for Yuri Game Jam 2023, it’s a game where you design and dressup an angel and walk around a city. Really cool art style and it sounds like it will continue to get updates too.

Holiday Bundles
A couple of indie game bundles have recently launched. For the price of a AAA game you could get almost two hundred instead through the Christmas Indie Game Bundle and the Holiday Indie Super Bundle.

New Games from Michigan Tech University Students
Husky Game Development, the game making club at Michigan Tech University, released their games for the semester. You can play games like Iridos, Monstrous, and more on their Itch page.

black cars driving down a road
Bahnsen Knights

Bahnsen Knights
LCB Game Studio just launched their latest visual novel on Steam. All of their games have an incredibly cool art style and something creepy going on, this one being about a religious cult. So consider checking that out if that’s your thing.

Videotome ADV: Modded
Videotome:ADV is a really nice engine for interactive fiction and it looks like it just got its first commercial game on Steam as well as the developer of that game releasing a modded version of the engine.

Polygon’s Favorite TTRPGs of 2023
Polygon just put out their list of the best ttrpgs they played this year and there’s some really nice stuff. If you’re looking to try something that isn’t D&D or just want to find out what you possibly missed, check the list out. It features a nice variety of tabletop rpgs.

Indie Game Roundup (Dec. 8, 2023)

Finally, the awards that people have been looking forward, the most interesting indie games releases and news this week, at least to me.

Wigglypaint
This delightful tool made in Decker, a Hypercard-inspired designer, lets you create drawings that remind me of the squigglevision in shows like Home Movies and Dr. Katz. I absolutely cannot draw but it’s so much for anyway that I don’t care.

my attempt at drawing Jim Walls, the designer of the Police Quest series

Indiepocalypse 47
A new Indiepocalypse is out, which means I am required by law to post about it. This issue is another great collection of games and I recommend the one commissioned for the issue, Touhou Lonely Lovely Bonfire by Lily Valeen, the designer of BOSSGAME.

Rosewater
Technically it came out last week but I forgot to post about it. A new trailer for Rosewater is out. It’s a western point-and-click adventure game coming out next year that I’ve been waiting for since last year and I think it looks great

Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story
Digital Eclipse announced that the next game in their retrospective series will be focused on Jeff Minter and his games. I was a massive fan of their Karateka one and I love Jeff Minter games so this will probably end up being my 2024 game of the year. I absolutely cannot wait.

The University of Michigan/Eastern Michigan University Student Game Showcase
This is a bit more local but every semester the students in the game development programs at both schools do a showcase of their games. Yesterday was their latest and there’s another great batch of games to play so go check them out.

Retro Gaming Roundup

Every week I’m going to start doing a dump of links and other retro gaming related things that I thought were interesting this last week.

screenshot from Heroes of Might and Magic 2, showing a boat traveling across water.
Screenshot from the fheroes2 project

The folks at Time Extension did an interview with the people behind the fheroes2 project. Fheroes2 is an open source multiplatform project that reproduces the original game but makes improvements like support for high-resolutions, improved AI, numerous fixes and UI improvements. It just got a big update two days ago too. Fgeroes2 requires the original files, which are available on GOG.

Half-Life received a massive update for its 25th anniversary.

Mattias Gustavsson made a massive post on their Itch.io blog about Drakborgen, a board game from 1985. The post is filled with lots of pictures of the game and now I really want to try it.

The DOS game Father World now has an English translation.

I posted about it earlier but Myst Online got big update for its 20th anniversary and it seems like the biggest part, an addition to the main area, was added this last Saturday and the game had an in-game celebration for it. I’m happy the game is still around and think it’s worth checking out. If you’d like to try it out, it’s available for free.

Finally, this update is more for people that live in the state of Michigan but it looks like Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum got a little bit of an extension before it may possibly get knocked down. I’m hoping that the amount of pressure that everyone is putting on the city will result in some sort of protection for the arcade or at least buy them enough time to move somewhere else, since the planned demolition would be to just make additional parking lot space for a grocery store. Unfortunately it looks like Pinball Pete’s in Ann Arbor is facing demolition and people are trying to figure out ways to keep that place alive too. It’s a rough time for arcades in my area.

College Radio

I was listening to the University of Michigan’s radio station doing their weekly local music show last night and if you have a local college or public radio station, consider checking them out and supporting them if you don’t already. I discover so much more through the curation at radio stations I like than through algorithms.

Some of the stations I like are listed below and can be listened to online:
WCBN, University of Michigan’s radio station as mentioned above. There’s a lot of great local music that’s highlighted and a nice variety of other stuff too.

WPRB-FM in Princeton, especially their yearly Christmas marathon hosted by one DJ over 25 hours. I’ve discovered a lot great music local to New Jersey as well.

KEXP in Seattle has a lot of great live performances and I like their morning show.

WFMU in New Jersey is where some of my favorite shows like The Best Show got their start.

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.”