Games I Don’t Think Anyone Remembers: Shimlar

Doing something a bit different today. Usually for this series I post about old PC games, specifically DOS games, but this time I’m gonna talk about an old MMO, one that was text-only.

Shimlar is an MMO that I discovered back in high school. A neighbor told me about it, and we both started playing. I played it a lot for a couple years, getting a couple high-level characters before moving on with my life at University.

Shimlar is presented as a text-only game. You roll a character, choose a race and class (basic stuff like elves or dwarves and mages or soldiers, etc). Each race has a home area, where you have the same basic locations (healing locations, banks, stores, and so on).

For combat, you choose an enemy name from a drop down list. The list is in ascending order in terms of difficulty; grind against the earlier enemies on the list before tackling those at the bottom or you’ll be wiped out. Occasionally you’ll fight against special versions of enemies, who have different stats and may drop rare items. You’ll level up quickly in your starting zone, and can choose which stats get more of a boost. I typically played elven mages, so I would use spells instead of weapons. Basic stuff.

Once you felt you’d leveled up enough, you could venture outside your starting area. The main overworld was much larger, and was also a PvP area (you were safe from other players as long as you stayed in your starting area).

You could visit other starting areas, but they were all mostly the same.

Each character had an alignment stat. Depending on if you fought other players in the overworld, you could alter your characters alignment, from good to neutral to evil. There were certain late-game areas that were only accessible if you had the corresponding alignment.

There was a constant chat window on the bottom of the screen. This was divided into the main chat and role-play chat. This was in the days before Twitter or even Facebook, back in the “web 1.0” days I guess they might be retroactively called.

Occasionally, enemies would drop gems of different types. These could be fitted to weapons or spells to grant stat boosts. You’d constantly see people offering to buy, trade, or sell these in the main chat.

One unique area in the overworld offered quests. Earlier I mentioned the special types of enemies you’d occasionally run into. These quests would have you track down and defeat specific ones.

The game offered clans you could join. I guess most of what I’ve been typing is run-of-the-mill for MMOs, with the only thing to set Shimlar apart is the text-only approach. You had lists of links to click, directional arrows to click, drop-down menus, nothing visual. It was all played in a browser. This was back before my family had Internet access at home, so I’d play it a lot whenever I went online at the local public library. I’d also play it a lot on library computers at my University my first year there.

In the end, Shimlar didn’t really do much unique. You had traditional level-up systems, characters mastering different weapons/spells, some PvP, quests to complete, an active chat community back in the day. It was a fun way to kill time.

I briefly revisited this game a year ago, surprised to see that it still existed. Of course, my old characters had long since disappeared (they have server wipes at least twice a year, with inactive characters being removed).

I might update this if I remember more about Shimlar, but until then, does anyone else remember this game?


Games I Don’t Think Anyone Remembers: Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure: Forbidden Planet

I’ve not written a new entry in this series in years. It’s time I post something new, so here it is.

Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure was another shareware game I played as a kid. At least, I think it was shareware. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, I remember getting a box of floppy disk from an aunt that had all sorts of games. Maybe it was on a full-size floppy disk, but was probably a 3 1/2″. Or maybe it was a game I got from the dollar store. I clearly remember having a sleeve for this game (a thin, paper case with the box art on the front, info on the reverse. The box art I posted above is not what I remember, and neither is what shows on Wikipedia).

Anyway, it was yet another DOS game. Remember having to type up commands in DOS prompt to start games? “cd\cosmo”, enter, “cosmo”. I still remember that.

This was a sidescrolling platformer, in which you play as a small, green humanoid alien with suction-cups for hands. Those let you climb walls and poles, adding a lot of verticality to otherwise left-to-right horizontal stages. There are lots of collectibles along the way, springs to bounce off of. There are also some hovercraft stages. It’s all alien and space-themed, which kid-me really enjoyed.

Reading through the Wikipedia page, I see Duke Nukem had a cameo (though referred to as Duke Nukum). I don’t remember this, but I do remember an old DOS Duke Nukem game. And I wouldn’t remember this, as it was in the second game, which I never played. Was it ever released? Must’ve been for a reference to be on the Wikipedia page.

There’s also the scrolling. Apparently this scrolls past at 8 pixels instead of one, which definitely adds to its aesthetic. Of everything I remember about this game, it’s that. It kind of glitched across, as I remember, instead of scrolling smoothly. I guess in my mind I chalk that up to it being a DOS game, but who knows.

A main reason I remember this game, besides it being a fun, simple game, is how vivid the worlds were designed. They were all so lush, so alive, so fantastic. It was so neat to visit those realms. In particular, I remember stage five had a system of pipes you could travel around in. Later on, when I played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and saw those pipes in the Turtle Rock stage, I immediately thought of this game.

I also remember how the game ended, with Cosmo falling down a long pit, only to be eaten by some large creature. That was the cliffhanger leading to the second game, which I never played or even knew existed. That ending always freaked me out, as a kid. Maybe that’s another reason I remember this game so well.

All said, it was a fun little game. I never hear anyone mention it. Maybe I’ve seen it mentioned once in relation to a GamesDoneQuick marathon or some other speedrun thing.

Anyone else remember Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure?

The Petscop Mystery

On 12 March of this year, a new YouTube channel began, called “Petscop“. The channel was devoted to a Let’s Play of a single and previously unknown game. (For the unfamiliar, a “Let’s Play” is a series, usually on YouTube, that combines player-recorded gameplay footage and audio commentary/reactions. I’ve done quite a few myself, and even uploaded most of an LP of Ultima: Exodus for the NES)

The premise was simple: our Let’s Player had found a copy of an unreleased, unfinished PlayStation 1 game called “Petscop”, apparently made and never finished in 1997. The game had you searching through a number of stages (or “houses”) to rescue 48 total pets that were left in the “Gift Plane” after said area had closed indefinitely and the staff had left. The game encouraged the player to find these pets, each one unique and valuable, and surely they’ll find one they can love. It was a puzzle game of a sort: solve puzzles to get to and “capture” each pet. The first pet captured was one in a cage, another was a simple music puzzle.

Then the Let’s Player (called Paul simply based on what he names his game file) mentions a note that was with his copy of the game. The note was in two parts, written by two different people. The first was seemingly written by a child, to judge by the words and phrasing: “I WALKED DOWNSTAIRS AND WHEN I GOT TO THE BOTTOM INSTEAD OF PROCEEDING, I TURNED THE RIGHT AND BECAME A SHADOW MONSTER MAN.” The second half of the note contained a date and instructions to go to a certain room, pause the game, and enter a sequence of button presses before resuming gameplay. Paul did that and the game subtly changed. At that moment, the only noticeable change was that the music stopped playing.

This is where everything in the game changes, where it goes from being a friendly puzzle-solving capture-the-creature game to something else, something more.

There have been attempts at this idea in the past, of a creepy video game. All notable examples I know of are based on existing video games, which is useful if you want the audience to go into this sort of story with a certain set of knowledge and expectations. For example, there was the famous BEN Drowned creepypasta, a story of a haunted copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for the N64. This story combined text story posted to the /x/ section of 4chan and short gameplay videos posted to YouTube. Those gameplay footages were what sold this story and cemented it in Internet lore: we actually saw what the author, “Jadusable”, was discussing. We saw the game glitching out, we saw that Elegy of Emptiness statue follow Link around, we saw the corrupted text. But this was all based on an existing property, and we knew the rules of the game, we knew the limitations of what could be expected. The only time these limitations were approached were when footage from another Zelda game (Ocarina of Time) were briefly spliced in, which only hurt a viewer’s immersion in the story (that visual data does not exist on Majora’s Mask, there’s no way that could possibly show up).

Petscop is something different, something new, something unexpected, and something that is still, seven videos in, a complete mystery.

Petscop is not an existing game. Prior to this, no one had heard of Petscop. The videos set this up as some existing and unfinished video game from 20 years ago, but it is highly doubtful that the game actually exists outside the world of this Let’s Play; that is, this game is purely fictional and the gameplay we see was made solely for this video series (and is probably being created as these new videos are made). A lot of people have been wanting the series creator to release the ROM or ISO of Petscop, but for reasons I’ll mention later, I do not think such a ROM or ISO exists, nor will one ever be released to the public. No, our view of Petscop, our understanding of Petscop, will be limited to what “Paul” decides to show us of the game.

Once the code is entered, the “hidden” portion of the game is found. Exiting that first stage (called “Even Care”) does not return Paul to the overworld of the Gift Plane, but rather to a vast, grassy, and flat plain we eventually learn is called the Newmaker Plane, an area resting under an eternal night. At first, the Newmaker Plane looks to be empty, until Paul finds a staircase that leads down. Through there, Paul finds a game world far larger than the incomplete “Even Care” stage from the “actual” game, a game world that includes a child’s grave, a windmill, a kiosk that allows him to communicate with something (or maybe several somethings), and a long list of mysteries. There are clues to what the “hidden” game is about, and this is where the viewer must start questioning their own limited interaction with the series.

You see, the game starts throwing out names, such as Michael Hammond and Candace Newmaker. Simple searches reveal that Candace Newmaker was a victim in a very real case of a dangerous therapy method with no basis in science. The methods of this therapy are referenced in this Petscop game. The “hidden” game is referencing child abuse and death, and this is where the purpose of this is brought into question. Who is actually doing this and why? What’s the ultimate point of this Let’s Play? Is it simply to show us this supposed lost PS1 game and the odd content it hides?

Pictured above is the Quitter’s Room, which people have taken as a reference to the Newmaker murder. As is documented, her “therapists” taunted her by calling her a quitter. This room was a brief oddity in Petscop 2, but is revisited in Petscop 7 and greater significance is placed upon it. The game plays an unknown melody, presumably played by the mirror character on the left. The game starts communicating with Paul directly in this room via a note on the wall.

The game starts taking on a life of its own. In an early video, Paul notes to himself that this is not an incomplete game, the whole game is actually this hidden content, and the Gift Plane element was just a cover. This part of the game feels finished, like a whole lot of work went into it.

But is this a real game? Any possibility of this game being real can be discounted quickly, mainly as it references a murder that happened three years after the game was supposedly made. There is one fan theory going around, however, that claims the Gift Plane section was made in 1997, game development ceased, the game was shelved, and revisited by someone in 2000 following that horrible event, that the Newmaker Plane section was made in reaction to that.

The latest video, “Petscop 7”, concludes with Paul visiting the rooms of Mike and Care. In an earlier video, Paul discovered a building (one that Petscop 7 reveals is a “Child Library”) that lets him visit numerous different rooms, each accessed by inputting a set of facial features (eyes, eyebrows, nose). The first of these two rooms doesn’t seem too unusual. Each of these rooms contains a different carpet, and different items on a table. The carpet pattern and items on the table presumably represent a specific child. It is the second of these rooms, a variant on Care’s room (the facial design he input combined Care’s face with Mike’s eyebrows (lore from an earlier video told us that Care doesn’t have eyebrows)) that brings the video to a halt. From the moment Paul enters, there is a censor block (added, we are told, after the gameplay was recorded, so not by the game itself) over something on the table. There are no outright clues to what information is being withheld from the audience. What is on the table? What are we not being shown? Paul is fixated on this unknown object, and spends a lot of time focused on the table, staring at it. Our only spoken clue is Paul’s guess that it might be something the game puts in any room. Whatever this object is, it clearly unsettles our narrator, as he remains silent the rest of the video, and barely moves the character; his attention is held by whatever that is on the table.

It’s the presence of this censor box that leads me to believe that we, the audience, will never be given a copy of the game to play ourselves. If there is graphic content (by graphic I do not mean obscene or violent, I simply mean visual) that must be withheld from the audience, then simply giving the audience the game would reveal that content anyway.

Petscop 7 ends with text telling the viewer that further information will be withheld from future videos. Besides acting as a way of telling the audience to expect more censorship, this also acts as a preview of what to come. We now know to expect “a big present with a sticker on it”, “something on a wall, in a black house”, and something “written on a chalk board”. We know Paul is going to continue exploring the Newmaker Plane and discover these locations and items.

We know more is to come of this series.

So what is Petscop, exactly? It’s still too early to tell. The creator of this series is keeping silent. Websites like Kotaku have reached out to the creator (how they did or what channels of communication they tried are unknown. How do you even find the creator of something like this who does not want to be found?) with no response. It’s good for this series that this person is remaining silent, as it keeps the mystery alive. Right now, there is still an element of doubt as to whether this game actually exists (it very likely does not).

What Petscop is is a very modern form of storytelling. This is a story told exclusively through recorded footage of a video game combined with that player’s reactions and thoughts to what is happening. We aren’t given any outside sources of information, the videos are it. We learn as Paul learns, we experience as Paul experiences. We even notice things that Paul doesn’t notice (there is an ever-growing list of things in the videos that we as an audience see but Paul never reacts to). There is a story hidden here, mysteries hidden, just waiting to be unraveled. There have been attempts on this format in the past (including an infamous story based on a supposed Godzilla game for NES), but Petscop is being really creative with the format and drawing the audience in. We’re still early in the story with no idea where it is ultimately headed, and the journey is exciting so far.

For all of its darker elements, though, what drives this series is all of its mystery. What is Petscop? What is the point of this series? Where will it go? Is it a real game? Will we ever get to play it? Who are these characters? Is it actually Paul uploading these videos? What are the pets? Who are the children? Who is Marvin and should Paul lead him back to his house?

We’ll see what, if anything, Petscop 8 and future videos explain.

In addition, I have recorded a Radio Free Caemlyn episode discussing Petscop.

MST3K Returns! (A Non-Spoilery Review of 11.01)

Today, the 9th of April, 2017, saw the advance online screening of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 11.01 for the Kickstarter backers. I was sure to be awake at 3am local time so I could start watching it the moment the stream launched.

I backed the MST3K Kickstarter at a sufficient level to allow me digital downloads of the entire season once available. Recent updates from Joel have revealed that I can start streaming the new season on Tuesday.

Anyway, my thoughts on 11.01, while giving away as little as possible (because this episode works best when you don’t have anything given away).

In the months leading up to this, I wondered if they would explain the hiatus in any way within the narrative. I also wondered if they would explain how our new main character, Jonah Heston, ends up on the Satellite of Love and as the subject of these experiments. Joel Robinson was already there at the start of the show (in both versions of the narrative (Joel Hodgson as a lone survivor on the Satellite of Love and Joel Robinson as a guy not-too-different from you or me who is shot up into space because his bosses didn’t like him) and Mike Nelson just ended up there after Joel’s last episode (his arrival on the SoL implied but never explicitly shown on-screen other than what was used in the title sequence). Turns out this episode’s intro handles all of this quite deftly, combining an “origin story” with the title sequence, setting the stage for this new season nicely. (The only nitpick I could possibly have is that the Satellite of Love is back and the bots are on board. How did that happen? Did Kinga build a new SoL? Did she kidnap the bots away from Mike (and steal Gypsy back from wherever she was)? I should really just relax)

With backstory out of the way, we’re tossed right into the first experiment. It’s a bit jarring to see an HD print of a movie used but, hey, technology marches on and it fits with modern-day broadcast resolutions (a thing I neither care about or keep up with (4k 8k or whatever doesn’t really mean anything to me)).

Riffs were fast and frequent, but sometimes they flew by so fast that I wasn’t able to catch everything. This is kind of par for the course, especially with the Mike-era of the show. This episode introduces some really neat visual effects for the silhouettes, especially for Servo. Even Gypsy visits the theater a couple of times. Riffs involved references both old and new fans of the show will get. This, the real meat of the show, felt true to form and convinced me that MST3K is really and truly back.

Host segments are back, although they all feel a bit rushed. There’s a single gag and the segment is over, ended all-too-quickly by movie sign. There was a really great song in this episode which had a great segue into movie sign, though. It’s just…after rewatching a lot of Mike-era episodes, the host segments in this first episode felt like an afterthought (which isn’t to say they weren’t entertaining, they were).

The door sequence has been nicely updated, with tons of visual easter eggs to sift through. There’s even a replacement Crow head hidden in the last section before the theater.

Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt join the cast as the new Mads. There’s not much to say about the characters at this point as they were only barely in the episode (they were in the title sequence and the segment just before end credits, but that was about it). I like the idea of the characters, but it’ll take some more episodes to get a better feel for them.

Something I’ve seen a lot of people complain about is the blatant use of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” as a name within the lexicon of the show itself. The name is referenced several times by main characters, and the moon logo is even seen within the world of the show itself. Is this a problem? I don’t think it is. Going back to the Joel era, you’ve got numerous mentions by Dr. Clayton Forrester to his “Mystery Science Theater” or “Mystery Science Theater 3000” project. KTMA episodes have Joel “Hodgson” referencing the theater as “Mystery Science Theater”. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, but I think Dr. Forrester again mentions MST3K by name as his project in the movie’s intro. Usage of the name died off in the Mike-era, though, and I don’t think Pearl Forrester ever used that name. So, is having Kinga referencing MST3K by name a problem? It really is not, and helps to tie the show back to its earliest seasons.

The show will air on Netflix, and being there the show will not have advert breaks. The original show was built around advert breaks, with host segments leading to those. In a recent interview, Joel Hodgson said he was including those segues again not just to hold true to the show’s history but also because he found that relic of TV show evolution to be fascinating. These new episodes retain those cutaways to advert breaks and do so in a really neat way. There are references to the original show in these interstitials as well.

The sets hold true to the show’s original spirit of kitbashing, or taking stuff from various models and kits and throwing them together. To me, though, the SoL bridge feels a bit empty. They’ve a lot of screen-space, but there’s little going on in the background when compared to Joel- or Mike-era SoL sets. Maybe this is a minor complaint, because it all looks good on screen, it just doesn’t have a lot of personality.

Overall, the show looks great and has the sense of humor and fun of the original, which is what I wanted. Jonah fits right in as test subject, and is already establishing a different connection to the bots than Joel or Mike had. Joel was their creator. Mike was their big brother. Jonah is trying to fit in and the bots are already resigned to this guy going away and being replaced.

I enjoyed the first episode. Bring on the remaining 13 episodes and many seasons more!

Phone Losers of America Videos I Sponsored

This post is just a way for me to list all the videos from the Phone Losers of America YouTube channel that I have “sponsored” or “produced” via its Patreon.

🌵Pizza Delivery Problems

🌵Rich People Recycling Problems

🌵Getting Info From a License Plate

🌵Hotel Guest Prank Call – Yet Even More Excessive Water Use

🌵Home Security Prank Call – Peace of Mind

🌵FedEx Prank Call – Marijuana Smell

🌵Bank Customers – Identity Thief

Will post more as I find them on that channel.