Five Flaming Hotties (2D edition)

I don’t normally do these kinds of things, but after being tagged by fellow writer and friend of the site The Otaku Judge to take part in this “Five Flaming Hotties” blog post chain I felt motivated to do so. The rules of the game are as follows (quoted verbatim from its creators):

1. You must add the name of the blog who tagged you AND those of the 2 Reel Quirky Cats, Thoughts All Sorts and Realweegiemidget Reviews with links to these sites as given here.. and use the natty picture promoting this post (found later in this post).

2 Reel Quirky Cats

Realweegiemidget Reviews

and Thoughts All Sorts

2. List 5 of your all time greatest hotties from TV or Film. ie crushes / objects of your affection.

3. Say how you were introduced to them, and why you like them (keep it clean)

4. Link to 7 other bloggers.

5. Add lovely pictures of those you selected.

6. Oh…and post the rules..

However, I have to add a couple of tweaks to the game. First, I won’t be tagging anyone, because as any reader of this site knows, it is a dead end as far as blogs go. The only guy I would have thought to tag has tagged me already, and the few other blogs I follow wouldn’t take an interest in this game.

And second, just like TOJ did, I’ll be picking characters from games and anime. Fantasy is better than reality, and anyway, I always honestly thought celebrity crushes were far weirder than fictional character crushes. Make fun of the whole waifu thing all you want, but none of the suicidally depressed forever-alones pining after their non-existent girlfriends will ever be arrested for stalking a flesh and blood human being because of it. Unless one of them goes after a voice actor or a female mangaka or someone like that. Stalking is serious business, people. Don’t do it.

Okay, I’m getting off track. Here’s my list:

5) Aika

Chances are decent you don’t know who the hell this is, because she’s a character from a Dreamcast JRPG released in 2000 that never saw a sequel. Today a copy of either the Dreamcast original or the Gamecube remaster of Skies of Arcadia is almost worth its weight in gold, they’re so hard to find.

If you do come across it, Skies of Arcadia is a great game about three friends who scour the skies in airships as pirates, but as the good kind of pirates who only attack and plunder bad guys. Aika is main character Vyse’s childhood friend, a fierce, tomboyish sky sailor. The game hints at a possible future love triangle where Vyse has to choose between Aika and the demure magical moon princess healer girl Fina, but the choice is obvious to me, even if the game suggests Fina has the upper hand. Well screw you game. Why are you so damn rare and expensive now anyway?

4) Tifa Lockhart

Are all the characters on this list going to be from old JPRGs? No, not all of them. But Tifa has to be included here. The third in the love triangle (this time a way more real and immediate one) with hero Cloud and fated-to-die Aeris was my pick. Hell, Tifa owns a bar. Did Aeris own a bar? No. She sold flowers on a street corner. Tifa is better. Case closed. That’s not even mentioning Tifa’s other assets, which are considerable.*

Now I’m imagining a path in Final Fantasy VII where Cloud gives back control of AVALANCHE to Barrett, marries Tifa, and hangs out in 7th Heaven all day every day. If the upcoming PS4 remake of FF7 doesn’t include this as an alternate ending I’ll be disappointed. (Of course it won’t – just another reason why I’m probably right that it will be lousy.)

3) Holo

Holo (or Horo, depending on how you read her name – “Holo” is official but either one seems legit enough) is a sort of minor harvest goddess who can take the form of a cute girl with wolf ears and tail or of a huge, menacing she-wolf who can tear people apart. As you might imagine, Holo is pretty popular and is probably one of the big reasons the medieval economics/romance adventure series Spice and Wolf has found success. A self-proclaimed genius with a vain streak, Holo can be annoying sometimes, but her charms definitely outweigh her irritating qualities, and she gets serious when the situation demands it. And she’s cute as hell. I don’t mind admitting that I’m kind of shallow.

2) Rin Tohsaka

TOJ included Rin on his list, and I have no reason to disagree with him. It’s probably my masochist streak, but Rin is my favorite out of all the Type-Moon characters. The only child and heiress of a great family of mages, Rin is required to take part in a battle for the Holy Grail against other mages, including the regular-guy-with-hidden-magical-powers player character Shirou. Rin is one of the first characters people think of when they think of the “tsundere” character type, which more or less means she pretends to hate you but secretly likes you. Or something. It’s a popular trope, and Rin is popular too. And why not? She’s a good character with an interesting backstory (see the excellent anime series Fate/Zero for some of that, and see the film Unlimited Blade Works for the rest of Rin’s story, or read the original Fate/Stay Night visual novel if you have 50 hours to spare.)

1) Aigis

Strictly speaking, Aigis from Persona 3 isn’t a woman, or even a human. She’s an android. But she would probably be my first choice for a partner. Before you definitely decide that I’m insane, consider the following:

– Aigis doesn’t have to eat or drink, meaning lower household expenses.

– Aigis passes for a human girl when she’s wearing clothes, so you can trick the judge into issuing your marriage license.

– Aigis is a super-weapon created by a secret military commission, and she comes equipped with fingers that retract into guns and and sets of various gun attachments for her arms. No need to plan for home defense when your wife is an entire army in herself.

– Best girl in Persona 3.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Hell, if you don’t want to marry a mega-weapon android girl after reading the above, I have to wonder what’s wrong with you. Sure, you’d never be able to have a kid with her, but you could adopt. There are plenty of abandoned children and orphans out there who need good families, even ones where Mom is a robot.

* If you thought this was a reference to boobs, that really says more about you than it does about me.

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Retrospective: Encarta 97

Apparently I really have run out of old games to talk about, because this is the second in a row of my world-renowned, award-winning retrospective series dealing with a program that isn’t a game.  Much like After Dark, Encarta is a relic of the 1990s, a period when I was a young strapping lad mystified by all the new features that computers were offering and by the novelty of the internet.  Upon buying our second family computer in the mid-90s after moving across an ocean and leaving the old one behind (might have been sold or put in storage; I never was sure what its fate was) we received a bundled disc labeled Encarta 97, an electronic encyclopedia published by Microsoft.

I’m running this copy on Windows XP, but try to imagine Windows 95 instead.  Also, there are unused icons on my desktop.

If you’re under 20 years of age, you likely have no idea what an Encarta is.  The best description I can come up with today, twenty years into the age of the internet, is that it is an extremely gimped version of Wikipedia with some amusing tools and features added.  Microsoft began producing the Encarta series in 1993, a few years before the average family had a dial-up subscription and several years before the internet was more than a mess of bad corporate websites and pornography hosted on Angelfire pages.  The idea behind Encarta, at least as I understand it, was that it would provide said average family with all the information contained in a massive, heavy, extremely expensive set of Encyclopedia Britannica or World Book volumes without being expensive or weighty.  I’m not sure whether Microsoft ever succeeded in that goal, but in 1996 when Encarta 97 was released it sure seemed to have a hell of a lot of articles.

Yes, at the time 31,000 articles seemed crazy. By way of contrast, Wikipedia as of this writing has 50,000 articles written in Luxembourgish, a language spoken primarily in a tiny west European state wedged between Belgium and Germany.

If the Encarta experience had merely been reading unadorned blocks of text about the letter A and El Aaiun, it might not have been so memorable.  However, the single Encarta 97 CD-ROM contained a lot more than text.  Many of its articles also contained relevant images, and a few even featured really terrible-quality video.  This was one of the things that set it apart from physical encyclopedia sets, which contained no videos and only very small illustrations, sometimes just in black and white.

I learned more than I ever wanted to about Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The encyclopedia itself was the centerpiece of Encarta, but the program also offered several other features that could be used to waste some time that your parents thought you were spending at your studies.  Most of these were contained in the “Interactivities” section.

One of my favorites was the Personal Nutrition feature, which calculated your daily intake of calories, proteins, cholesterol, and other nutrition-related stuff based on your diet.

Apparently a diet of fried wontons, chocolate cake, and White Russians isn’t good for you. Thanks for the information, Encarta.

Another feature I enjoyed was Orbit.  At this stage in my life I still had some notion of becoming an astronaut, and I took an interest in anything related to space or space travel.  Orbit gave the student a basic education in the essentials of orbital paths and gravity and acceleration, and all that physics stuff that is extremely complicated if you get down to the math.  In Orbit, you didn’t have to deal with any of that: just set a path for a moon to circle its planet and watch as it attains a stable orbit, flies into space, or collides into the planet.

hypnotic

One of the more standard features in Encarta 97 was the Atlas, an interactive globe that you could click on to zoom in and find information on the world’s countries and major cities and towns.

Atlas is interesting to me because it’s a sort of Google Earth before Google Earth – infinitely less detailed, showing only the vague outlines of the Earth and its various states.  Still, this was several years before the first Google Earth release, and several more years before Google Earth really got good and you could explore New York and Berlin and Tokyo in 3D, down to their multitudes of alleyways and hole-in-the-wall bars.

If there’s one single thing that most people around my age remember about Encarta, though, it is Mind Maze.

Yes, my name in Mind Maze is Max Action, because it perfectly describes me.

I say that Encarta was not a game, but like the screensaver program After Dark, it was a non-game program that contained a game within it.  Mind Maze was a trivia game set in a cursed castle in which the inhabitants were trapped.  You, the player, had to travel from room to room answering “riddles” in the form of questions about various subjects contained in the electronic pages of Encarta.  The player could choose from four difficulty levels and a variety of topics or a mix of all topics to test his knowledge.  The game was won when the player accumulated 20,000 points, which could take a while depending upon the difficulty of the questions, more difficult questions being worth more points.

The creators of Mind Maze didn’t just throw the game into Encarta as a trifle to go along with the rest of its features – there was some care put into its art, and each room contained a character who usually had something amusing to say to the player.  It was usually a complaint about their shitty king and the curse that they were suffering through.

I don’t think time-and-a-half was a thing in medieval days.

All in all, Mind Maze was a really nice addition to Encarta.  It’s not anything amazing, really, but it was a real novelty at the time and was, to me, the most memorable part of Encarta.

So what was the fate of Encarta?  The shrewd reader might have already guessed that the program has been long dead, killed by the internet and specifically by the user-edited monster that is Wikipedia.  By the early 2000s, there was simply no longer much of a need for an electronic encyclopedia that you paid for when Wikipedia was around.  Microsoft did take steps to introduce a few online features into this and future editions of Encarta, and in 2000 all of the program’s content became free to access online.  But by 2009, Microsoft apparently felt it was time to let Encarta go, and the program was completely discontinued.

Despite its obsolescence (perhaps because of it?) Encarta still has a little nostalgic appeal to me and to a lot of other people who were also bored kids in the 90s on their family computers.  It’s a bit like Blockbuster Video – massive in its day, but made useless by the modern internet.  Unfortunately, you can’t visit a Blockbuster anymore unless you happen to live near the several locations that are somehow left operating (mostly in Alaska – because of poor internet connectivity up there?) but you can check out Encarta thanks to the good people at the CD-ROM Software Library at archive.org.

SimCity 2000, Part XIV: Priscilla

In his new residence, the mayor of Hell lay in his double-king-sized bed dreaming.  Dreaming of a woman, a beautiful red-haired woman wearing only a red cloak, the red all the more vibrant against the black void that surrounded them both.  The mayor, seated and frozen in place, could only watch as the woman slowly approached him and leaned over to speak into his ear.

“I am Priscilla,” she whispered.  “I will give you everything you’ve dreamed of and more.  And then I will take everything from you.”

The mayor tried to speak, to ask her what she meant.  But before he could make a sound, she was gone, and the mayor had awoken.

Priscilla.  What was that about?  The mayor wondered.  Did that woman resemble one of his several ex-wives?  They had certainly taken quite a bit from him during divorce proceedings.  But it was still dark outside, and the mayor was still tired, and it was only a dream, after all.  A few minutes later, he fell asleep again.

His city, however, never truly slept.

Exactly 200 years after the founding of Hell, the city has officially achieved “sprawling mess” status.  It is overcrowded and nearly impossible to traverse without sitting in traffic for a few hours.  Pollution is still a problem, and educational and health care services are still severely lacking.  The nuclear plant is still running in the center of town, despite several near-meltdowns that would have devastated the entire city and the county and the several counties surrounding it.  Despite all this, the city is now home to almost 100,000 souls and is bringing in a steady stream of tax revenue every year.

The mayor, by contrast, has significantly upgraded his own situation.  Leaving behind his old mansion, he had the Braun Llama Dome built in the middle of a man-made lake with independent wind and solar power sources and made it into his new residence.  From his perch, the mayor could look over the city that he ruled.  Eventually, the mayor decided to officially change the original name of the Dome, which he hated, to THE TOWER OF POWER.  Written in all caps, no matter what.

The city government began publishing visitor statistics to the TOWER in 2090 when it was built, but they’re all lies.  Nobody is allowed to visit the TOWER except for the mayor and his friends/cronies/lackeys.

The mayor’s approval rating, however, is not a lie.  He has finally achieved a rating of ZERO percent, somehow.  One would think that at least his inner circle would approve of him, but they number far fewer than one percent of the city’s population, after all, so this poll is obviously rounding down.  The rest of the city doesn’t have much reason to love the mayor, conditions being what they are.  Ever since mayoral elections were outlawed, however, the citizens have had no real recourse.

Still, it’s not enough for the mayor.  He wants to see the population of the city increase even more to bring in more revenue.  But unless the city is allowed to spill into the upper-class southwestern district, this isn’t happening – the rest of the city’s grant is pretty much occupied.  The mayor is not willing to do this for obvious reasons.

So what can we do for the mayor?  Is it possible to help him?  The city of Hell seems to have hit a plateau. Perhaps it’s time to break out the cheats – to unlock the godlike Debug menu.

This mysterious drop-down menu only appears after you click and hold the city toolbar while typing P-R-I-S-C-I-L-L-A (but not in caps.)  I’m not sure about the origin of this cheat code.  Maybe Priscilla was the wife or daughter or sister of one of the developers at Maxis.  Or maybe the Maxis guys were big fans of the Australian drag queen road trip film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  Whatever the case, this cheat code is by far the most powerful in the game and is really the one that you need to know about if you want to cheese the game and make it completely trivial.

The first option that jumps out at us is “More Money”.  Selecting that seemingly does nothing until the next month rolls around…

… when half a million dollars suddenly appear in the city’s coffers out of nowhere.  This cheat makes new outlandish building and infrastructural projects possible without worrying about tax revenue or maintenance costs.

The next best option in the Debug menu is “Add All Gifts”.  This allows the player to build the gift structures like the Mayor’s Mansion and City Hall without reaching the required population milestones and to rebuild gift structures if he’s already built them once.

In order to increase the glory of the mayor, let’s select this option and build another statue in his likeness on the mountains above the old city.

Saddam Hussein would be proud.  You can build as many statues as you like with this cheat, though you have to re-select it each time you place one.

How to dramatically increase our city’s population, though?  There’s only one answer: build arcologies.  I briefly brought up arcologies way back in Part VIII – massive cities within cities that house tens of thousands of residents.  At that time, though, Hell was not even close to the population requirement to unlock the arcology option.  Our population still isn’t that close, in fact.  It’s currently hovering around 95,000, well below the population requirement of 120,000 to allow the building of arcologies.  But with the Debug menu, we don’t have to give a damn about population requirements.

Here are our four options.  Each arco type becomes available in a different year – the Launch Arco can only be built around 2150, under normal circumstances.  But we can build it now if we feel like it.

But we don’t.  The Launch Arco and Forest Arco both look nice, sort of like pleasant places to live, and as usual that’s really not what we’re going for.  How about the other two options?

We’re not overly concerned with pollution, so the Plymouth Arco sounds great!  Its sturdiness may come in handy as well if another earthquake occurs.  Hopefully that claim about surviving earthquakes in Neo-Mexico and Neo-Taiwan isn’t just hot air.

The Darco, by contrast, just sounds strange.  An invasion of mutant men from the air ducts into the city could be amusing, as long as they don’t break into the mayoral mansion.

After some downtown demolition, these two monstrosities rise above the city skyline.  The Plymouth Arco looks like a giant upturned garbage can, and the Darco looks like something that came from the mind of H. R. Giger.  Together, they hold a maximum capacity of 100,000 residents, so let’s hope people are willing to move in.

In the meantime, let’s cover the rest of the exciting options in the Debug menu.  “Show Version Info” shows you the game’s version info, as you would expect.  “Add All Inventions” lets you build structures and services before they are invented.  And the rest of the options lets the player cause special disasters that can’t be accessed from the normal Disasters menu.  This list contains the dreaded Melt Down and other natural and man-made disasters that would undoubtedly wreak havoc on our city if they were to occur.  In fact, one of them, Toxic Spill, has already occurred several times in Hell – but it’s the least serious of the bunch.

Despite vigorous marketing campaigns, the Plymouth Arco only contains 17 residents out of a possible 55,000 one year after its construction.  Perhaps this is because this arco is a big piece of shit that has received a grade of D from the official arcology grading board.  Maybe it has mold problems.

The Darco is faring a little better, but the outcome is still disappointing.  Even so, there’s no point tearing these arcos down – they cost a lot of money to build, and they add some nice character to the downtown district.  I’m not sure why their descriptions claim that they were built in 1900.  Maybe my cheating confused the game.

A few years later, Hell’s revenue falls dramatically.  Just what could have caused that?  Let’s talk to the ordinance advisor.

As usual, she’s no help – she just nags us about the drunken brawls and organized crime activity that has developed as a result of Hell’s booming gambling sector.  Lady, if our citizens can’t go to casinos to throw back cheap drinks and lose all their wages at slot machines and blackjack, how are they supposed to spend their down time?  With their families?  Nonsense.

Now comes the real shock – the city assemblymen have been passing new ordinances without the mayor’s consent.  Ordinances that cost money.  This is something that can happen in SimCity 2000.  Often, the computer will go ahead and apply beneficial ordinances without your knowledge.

Fortunately, the mayor has veto power.  And he vetoes every ordinance that takes money out of the budget, leaving only those that bring money in.

Much better.  The mayor needs that money for other purposes.

Following the unexpected influx of cash into the city’s coffers, the mayor decided to have a few new mansions and palaces built, independently powered and accessible by a series of man-made canals.  You know, nothing fancy.  The man is a dedicated public servant; he deserves at least this much in compensation.

SimCity 2000, Part XIII: The Tower of Power

Despite its many, many problems, Hell continues to grow in population.  The city’s money problems are now a distant memory, and most of the land within the city limits has been developed.  But there’s still room to expand the city’s tax base.  Demand for growth in all three sectors is strong.  It’s only a matter of time before Hell begins to rival major cities in SimNation.  This unfortunately means that the mayor may have to sponsor a few more expensive ordinances that help improve life in the city – but then again, life doesn’t have to be improved too much to attract new residents.

However, the universe will not allow Hell to succeed so easily.  A series of plagues rains down from the heavens.  The first is a drop in Hell’s industrial demand.  The city’s manufacturing sector collapses and businesses move out of the city, leaving the old industrial core of Hell an abandoned wasteland.

Natural disasters follow this collapse.  Just a year or two later, a massive tornado tears through the center of the city.  Remember those tornadoes back in the 20th century that blew around in the desert and maybe knocked over a factory and a warehouse on the outskirts of town?  Now that Hell is fully developed, there’s no escaping its devastation.

The twister heads north, ripping apart houses, roads and a section of the highway before moving on to annoy Sinistrel.

Naturally, the tornado cut a part of the city off from the electrical grid, so everything needs to be reconnected.  Road and highway connections also have to be reestablished.  The mayor is just happy that the tornado didn’t take out the stadium, because that thing was expensive to build.

Hell is forced to recover from a devastating tornado and its industrial sector is still depressed.  However, the party isn’t over yet.  For some reason – perhaps the loss of jobs in the industrial sector – the city’s demand for residential and commercial growth also falter.  Despite the city’s already low tax rates to encourage growth, the population falls by 5,000 in a few years.

As if that weren’t enough, another earthquake strikes one year later, destroying the city’s remaining coal plant and setting off fires throughout the city.  The nuclear plant is thankfully not damaged, but the destruction isn’t trivial.  Thanks to Hell’s robust firefighting service, the fires are quickly put out with minimal damage resulting.

The fires are out, but we’ve got the same problem as we had after the first earthquake – what to replace that coal plant with?

Now we have all nine power options available.  The fusion plant at the bottom right is the most powerful and cost-effective, but it’s also the most expensive and therefore the most difficult to replace if it’s destroyed in an accident.*  That’s no good.  And we don’t really need that much energy anyway.  Let’s just rebuild that coal plant.

Yeah, of course the fuckin’ citizens don’t like it.  But they’ll have to go home eventually.  As long as you’re persistent, you can place that filthy, polluting coal plant wherever you want.  In fact, the edge of the map is a good place for a coal plant because a lot of that pollution it’s generating is going to sort of just blow off of the map, in this case into the neighboring town of Sinistrel.  And they can’t do anything about it.

One year later, industrial demand is back up because the mayor ordered more rail connections to Hell’s neighbors built.  But residential and commercial demand are still anemic.  And the pigeons still aren’t perching on the mayor’s statue downtown.

Several years pass and Hell continues to stagnate.  The mayor finally decides to do something about the recession so tax revenue can keep increasing.  What to do, though?

In SimCity 2000, the player has the ability not only to modify the overall property tax rate but also the individual rates on residential, commercial, and industrial property.  Basically, if you want to drive up demand in one area, lower the tax rate on property in that area.  Since the mayor wants to bring more residents to Hell, he lowers the residential tax rate to 3%, and to make up for the lower revenue he cranks up the industrial rate to 6%.  Will this have the desired effect?  We’ll have to wait a year or two to find out.

In the meantime, the Courier reminds us that the nuclear plant is almost dead and is going to explode.  Don’t worry about this.  The nuclear plant in SimCity falls apart after 50 years just like every other plant does – without causing any other damage, meaning it’s not going to melt down.  The only real concern here, again, is what we should replace it with.

Two years later, the plant implodes.  The mayor immediately demands the building of a new nuclear plant to replace the old one.  His advisors remind him that a plane nearly crashed into the plant not too long ago and that a meltdown could have resulted from that, and that an earthquake a mere 11 years ago almost destroyed the plant, also with potentially catastrophic consequences.  But the mayor brushes off their concerns.  Hell, the nuclear plant didn’t melt down, so what’s the problem?

Plonk.  That nuclear plant is rebuilt.  Not even a protest this time, either.  Maybe the people of Hell have gotten used to the constant threat of a horrible death by radiation.**

I also missed a piece of road destroyed in the earthquake that needed repairing.  This is why the zones-only view is nice – it catches things that can easily be missed because they’re obscured by the city’s buildings.

Despite the problems faced by Hell these rough two decades, the mayor’s plan worked – demand in all sectors is back up.  The recession has been weathered, the city is back up and running, and after setbacks and disasters it has finally reached the 90,000 citizen mark.  And with this milestone came a new reward: the bizarrely named Braun Llama Dome.  The city’s grant of funds to build this prefabricated giant tower was given to the mayor in the hopes that he would find a suitable place in the city itself and build it there, for all the citizens to admire, and also to take the elevator up to the revolving restaurant at the top.  But the mayor had very different plans.

Instead of placing the Llama Dome in the city, the mayor instead ordered an artificial peninsula created near his mansion and the Dome built upon it, so that he could relocate his residence to the revolving restaurant, now converted into a massive swanky apartment.  Clean energy in this part of town is a must, so the Dome is powered by four wind turbines.  These windmills produce 4 MHz of power each and of course produce no pollution.  As a result, just like the Mayor’s former abode, the Dome is fully self-sufficient and can sustain a small population (the mayor and his closest advisors and staff) for a long period of time without the need for restocking supplies.  The old mansion is left standing to act as the mayor’s second home.

A new age has dawned in Hell, though as usual, it remains to be seen whether this new age is going to alleviate the overcrowding and crime and health problems that the city faces.  Let’s be honest; it probably won’t.

* In real life, a fusion plant would be really nice to have, but that technology doesn’t exist yet on the scale necessary to generate power in a cost-effective way.  The Sun has been generating power through nuclear fusion for billions of years, but we’re not quite at that level yet.  SimCity 2000 makes a rough prediction for the first fusion plant in 2050, and scientists and engineers are already trying to construct efficient fusion reactors at this very moment, so hopefully this technology will become a reality soon.

** I live in the general vicinity of two nuclear fission reactors according to US Department of Energy.  Thankfully, we’ve only ever had one major accident involving a nuclear plant in my country, and it didn’t result in any deaths as far as we know.  Let’s hope that record is maintained.

Retrospective: After Dark

When I set up a Windows 98 virtual machine for the purposes of starting my godawful SimCity 2000 series, I also picked up a few different .iso files to run on it.  One of those wasn’t a game, but rather a collection of screensavers bearing the title After Dark 4.0 Deluxe, released in 1996 by long-defunct developer Berkeley Systems.

After Dark 4.0, which also contained a collection of screensavers from older versions.

What’s the big deal about a bunch of screensavers, you might be saying to your screen.  The big deal is that screensavers were very much “the shit” back in the mythical period of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when flat-screen computer monitors were unheard of.  At that time, everyone used CRT monitors, great bulky heavy things that made a satisfying smashing sound when you dropped broken ones out of a twelve-story window into an empty alleyway.*  The primary trouble with the CRT, aside from its weight and size, was the fact that images left on the screen for a long enough period of time would become “burnt in”, leaving faint shadows of themselves behind even when the screen was turned off.

In order to prevent this, the first screensaver was developed and released in 1983.  This screensaver and its immediate successors simply made a screen go black after several minutes of no activity, preventing the image of the desktop from being burnt into it.  By 1989, however, Mac and later PC users could avail themselves of After Dark, a program that contained a whole collection of creative, colorful, and sometimes bizarre screensavers. They were often customizable and occasionally even interactive – a few contained pretty fun mini-games. After Dark quickly became a massive hit – sort of the pre-internet version of going viral, in which more and more screens seemed to be running After Dark screensavers.  The 4.0 release was the final one, however; by the late 90s screen burn-in wasn’t really so much of a problem, and people apparently decided they were happy enough with the default Mac and Windows screensavers.  Berkeley Systems was sold soon thereafter and eventually folded.

Since screen burn-in certainly isn’t a problem for me today, on my flat screen running VirtualBox, I downloaded the After Dark 4.0 .iso file for entirely nostalgic purposes.  And since this is my god damn game review website, I can write a quasi-review of something that isn’t a game if I feel like it, and I do.  The following are my favorite After Dark screensaver modules, loosely ordered:

Bad Dog!

This module features a spotted black and white dog that jumps onto your desktop and starts digging holes, tearing components of your computer out, and making a complete mess of things.  I enjoyed watching this dog utterly destroy my family computer at home, mainly because the destruction was purely cosmetic and temporary.  I can imagine a few old folks panicking at this screensaver, though, if they didn’t know quite how it worked.  A nice prank to play on Grandpa, maybe.

For some reason, Bad Dog! turns my desktop red and blue on VirtualBox.  I don’t know why.  The screensaver isn’t supposed to do this.

Puzzle

Puzzle also wrecks your desktop, this time by turning it into a sliding-block game that never ends.  This is yet another good potential “let’s prank Grandpa” screensaver, though he’s probably caught on by this point.  I always wondered about whether the puzzle might somehow return the desktop to its original state at some point.  The odds of that happening are probably incredibly small.

Confetti Factory

A factory full of steel bars and conveyor belts collects falling confetti that builds up into multi-colored mountains.  Every once in a while, the factory staff goes on break, and ducks cross the screen while quacking.  Like many of the After Dark screensavers, it doesn’t make sense, but it is relaxing to watch for some reason.

Rodger Dodger

Rodger Dodger isn’t so much a screensaver as it is a game.  You are the purple-green morphing soccer ball, and your object is to get through all 20 levels by collecting the green squiggles and getting to the goal while avoiding the spiky hazards that move either in one direction or randomly around the game board. It wasn’t anything special really, but it was surprisingly fun for a mini-game that came bundled with a screensaver collection, and I’m sure many thousands upon thousands of bored, dead-inside office workers wasted some company time with it.  Just make sure to point your screen away from your boss and facing a wall so he can’t catch you goldbricking.

Rat Race

Rat Race is not a simulation of the soul-draining, suicidal-depression-inducing competition for material goods and meaningless honors that our society demands of us all, but rather of a literal race where rats are the contestants.  It’s fun to bet with your friends on which rat will win, and then to scream at the screen when it turns out you picked the dipshit rat who doesn’t understand that he’s supposed to run in one direction around the track instead of running in circles and grooming himself.  Damn it, Doug, what are you doing?  I bet five dollars on you.

Flying Toasters

Yeah, of course Flying Toasters.  Flying Toasters is maybe 99% of what people remember about After Dark and the company that developed it.  A flying toaster is on the box of the physical copy of After Dark 4.0 that I don’t own and was more or less the mascot of its developer.  The image of the flying toaster was featured in the 90s drama Beverly Hills 90210, and a band that somehow still exists and is touring named themselves The Flying Toasters.  The flying toasters even inspired a lawsuit against Berkeley Systems by members of the 60s-70s band Jefferson Airplane, who complained that the image of a silver toaster with wings was too similar to the winged toaster on the cover of its 1973 live album Thirty Seconds Over Winterland to not be a violation of its copyright. (They lost.)**

There were at least three or four versions of the Flying Toasters screensaver, each one more complex than the last.  The first was pretty simple – just a bunch of toasters with wings flying through a black sky alongside some flying pieces of toast.  By 4.0, the newest Flying Toasters screensaver included baby toasters, speeding toasters being chased by police toasters (complete with red sirens), toasters juggling pieces of toast between each of their compartments, toasters performing loop-de-loops and barrel rolls, and even bagels.  I prefer the simpler versions, myself.

Starry Night

My favorite screensaver ever.  Starry Night was on the very first After Dark release in 1989, and it was one of the most commonly used together with Flying Toasters.  Yellow pixels blink into existence eventually forming a city skyline against the night sky, full of multicolored stars, with an occasional falling meteor.  You can adjust the height and number of buildings on screen, which generate randomly.  Very simple, but very nice and relaxing to watch, especially on a dark night.

Unfortunately, screensavers are no longer much of a thing – who needs After Dark to waste time with at work when you have the internet?  Especially now that we have smartphones that the boss can’t prevent us from using.  Still, these were a small part of my childhood growing up in the 90s, and I felt like giving them a proper tribute.  If you’re interested in playing with these old screensavers, you can find a copy of the .iso file here.  You can also buy a physical copy online if you feel like paying someone for their old disc.  You’ll probably need to set up a virtual machine, though – I don’t think there’s any way in hell any modern operating system will run it.

* This is purely hypothetical and not something that we did on a drunken dare one night when I was in college.

** Jefferson Airplane v. Berkeley Systems, Inc., 886 F. Supp. 713 (N.D. Cal. 1994).  The court found that Jefferson Airplane could not properly bring a lawsuit against Berkeley Systems on the basis of copyright infringement because they hadn’t registered the image of the flying toaster on the cover of their album with the U.S. Copyright Office.  In general, copyright can be established without registration, but a suit for infringement can’t be sustained without it.  See 17 U.S.C. § 411(a).

SimCity 2000, Part XII: Build That Wall

About 150 years after its founding, Hell is just about bursting at the seams.  The city has some land left to build upon in the corners and edges of its limits, but that land is hilly and difficult to effectively develop.  The traffic has gotten so bad in the city as a result that the mayor finally approved the construction of a limited-service subway system connected to the main rail line.

Subways are pretty goddamn expensive to build in SimCity 2000, so the hope is that citizens will ride it to alleviate traffic problems.  Nobody’s riding the new subway system yet, but it may take them some time to get used to the concept of underground travel by train.  Considering the fact that the mayor is using secondhand East German tram cars that move at 15 miles per hour in order to cut costs, the citizens of Hell may be right to avoid the subway for now.

Still, something has to be done to allow for more growth.  The mayor and his friends need a larger tax base to make more money to build unnecessary projects and to hold elaborate parties featuring ice statues that urinate fountains of expensive vodka.* The real problem at this point isn’t traffic, but space.  Most of the good land has been used.  Most of the southern part of the city’s grant is still empty, but the mayor and the city’s elite don’t want the common rabble anywhere near their retreat in the southwest.  What to do?

After a few brainstorming sessions in his Scarface-esque mansion, the mayor decides on a new plan for growth that cedes the southeastern corner of the city’s grant, currently empty, for further development.

This is a nice, promising patch of land, but for one problem: the big fucking hole in the middle of it.  Holes in cities aren’t very convenient as far as building goes – placing zones and roads through them is possible, but it’s so awkward that they basically have to be built around.  However, there is a solution to this problem: the terrain-editing tools.  We’ve already used the lower terrain tool to make room for a stadium in our city.  Now let’s use the level terrain tool to get rid of this annoying hole.

Drag straight over the damn thing, and it’s gone.  Now the site of Hell’s newest neighborhood is ready for development.

Before building, however, a barrier has to be built, both to define the boundaries of this new development and to keep it out of view and away from the upper-class southwestern district.  We can’t have the grubby hoi polloi stinking up the nice part of town, can we?  In fact, this was one of the conditions the mayor placed upon the development of this area.  So what’s the best way to create this boundary?

The raise terrain tool!  We can’t build an actual barrier with wood or bricks or anything, but we can build an earthen wall with this tool.

The wall is up.  Now Hell can safely expand into this new territory.  Though the mayor thinks the wall might have to get a bit higher eventually.  Trees have been planted on top of these new hills for some reason, perhaps for aesthetic purposes.

A few years later, building really begins.  And hey, this doesn’t look too bad, really.  This new part of Hell might be halfway bearable to live in.

In fact, as a result of some changing policies from the mayor’s mansion, life has gotten measurably better in Hell.  The advisors aren’t complaining quite as much as they used to.  And with the new development in the southeast, the population of Hell has risen to almost 75,000.

Comparable to the national average!!!  Yeah!

In case you were wondering, the mayor has not approved any more ordinances.  All the money-making ones (top left corner) are naturally in effect, but only the probably ineffective pollution controls and the neighborhood watch/citizen-arming neighborhood watch programs are running otherwise.  A lot of these other programs are beneficial for a city’s population and would probably be advisable to pass, but the mayor doesn’t take advice well. Not advisable advice, anyway.

The only free ordinance on the list, in fact, is the “Nuclear Free Zone” provision.  It doesn’t cost a thing to pass and boosts residential demand, but restricts the building of nuclear plants.  But since the mayor already built a nuclear power plant in the city, checking this box probably wouldn’t do much of anything.

And right around this time, the paper reports on the discovery of what will turn out to be the last and best source of power in the game.  Nuclear fusion power, unlike nuclear fission, is safe and can’t result in a meltdown.  While it’s expensive at $40,000, it’s also the most cost-efficient source of energy in SimCity 2000.  We won’t be using it, though.  Not for a while anyway.  The mayor just had that nuclear plant built – he wants to get some use out of it.  Near-plane-related accidents aside.

With its stadium and its filthy subway system and its bumper-to-bumper crowded highway, Hell has become a legitimate big city (at least by SimCity standards.)  However, it can reach even great heights.  Will growth in Hell continue without anything bad happening?  Sure!  I can’t see why not.

* You might think I made this up, but it was done at least once in real life.  In 2003, the former CEO of the defunct corporation Tyco went on trial after an Enron-style scandal involving the company broke.  One of the accusations against said CEO was that he spent the company’s funds on insanely expensive and non-company-related events like his wife’s 40th birthday party, which took place on Sardinia and “featured an ice sculpture of Michelangelo’s David spewing vodka from his penis.”  More amusingly, to me anyway, the party also included “a birthday cake in the shape of a woman’s breasts with sparklers mounted on top.”  If your wife is cool with having a titty-themed birthday cake at her party, you know you married the right woman.

SimCity 2000, Part XI: Bread and circuses

We left the SimCity of Hell several months ago, but it is not forgotten.  Heaven will not allow the crimes of its mayor to go unpunished.  Or something.  Anyway, please enjoy Part XI of this formerly dormant quasi-LP series.

One way you can tell that life has returned to normal after a disaster is that people start to complain about relatively minor things again.  Going by that metric, Hell has definitely recovered from its earthquake quickly.  Shortly after the quake that killed thousands and the quick rebuilding, the citizens begin griping about not having enough fun things to do.

Although they’re demanding a marina, really any of the entertainment options will do to sate their desires.  The more expensive and bigger options naturally make the people happier and let them distract themselves from the fact that they’re apparently sitting on top of a fault line and right next to a nuclear power plant.  Since that’s the case currently, the mayor decides to build the biggest and best entertainment venue possible: a stadium.

Stadiums take up a 4×4 tile space, though, so it can be hard to find a place for them without bulldozing entire city blocks.  Instead of doing that, let’s create more space by moving some earth around.

The terrain-editing options cost money to use (think of it like hiring a crew to haul earth around) but they’re not really too expensive considering their value in creating more space to build on.  In this case, let’s lower some terrain at the top of a still-undeveloped hill.  This will make for a great spot for the stadium.

Lowering this terrain ended up causing the destruction of a few buildings and a road, but that’s a small price to pay.  That’s how the mayor feels, anyway.  And since the city has the power of eminent domain, it can pretty much do whatever it wants as far as demolishing existing buildings goes.  (In real life eminent domain is a lot more complicated and requires the government to fairly compensate the owners of the land being taken if it turns out that the government has the power to use the land in the first place, but in Hell, eminent domain is an absolute privilege.  Just like sovereign immunity!)

Anyway, let’s just build the damn stadium already.

Before you can build, though, you’ll have to pick the sport played at the stadium and the name of the home team.  As far as I can tell, these options are purely cosmetic, so pick your favorite sport, as long as your favorite sport is baseball, soccer, football, rugby, or cricket (though if cricket is your favorite sport you’d probably be just as happy watching grass grow.)  Since I’m a god damn American, though, we’re going with football.  And since there’s already a soccer option in place, we know that this is American football.*

I didn’t name this team the Llamas, by the way – that was the game’s suggestion.  At Maxis in the 90s they had an obsession with llamas and related animals like alpacas for some reason.  We may as well go with it.

Hell yeah.  Doesn’t that look majestic?  The mayor is pretty pleased with the whole arrangement and looks forward to the increased business that the stadium will bring from out of town.  (He doesn’t care about the increased traffic, or the increased crime around the stadium, or even about the cost of building it – it’s the taxpayers’ money, after all, and the mayor doesn’t live in the city anyway.)

The mayor, now high on the feeling of building massive prestige projects, orders the building of a university hospital downtown.  Not for the purpose of helping his citizens – though it will help raise life expectancy in Hell – but just to brag to other mayors that his city has a university with its own hospital.

The Llamas really suck, by the way.  Maybe it’s just because it’s their first year.  Hopefully they start to gel better next season.

Two years pass, and the Llamas don’t get any better.  Here’s some better news, though – the average intelligence of Hell’s citizens has risen!  A whole lot, in fact, from 76 to 87.  87 still isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was thanks to the building of the university and a few libraries.  People are living longer lives as well, though pollution is still a serious problem.

Maybe things are looking up for Hell!

Or not.

Another plane falls out of the sky in 2050, and it decides to fall in almost the worst possible place – right next to the nuclear power plant.  Every fire truck in the city is lined up in defense of the plant before the plane even hits the ground.

Thankfully, the crash only takes out a few pieces of road and rail (along with every person on board, presumably.)  The fire is easily put out.  But if the plane had crashed a few tiles to the southwest, it could have caused an enormous disaster.  Nobody is sure whether the plant can withstand a fire without causing a meltdown, but it would be better to not have to find out.

Despite the danger posed by the nuclear plant and the fact that it was nearly involved in an accident that could have caused a catastrophic meltdown, people keep moving to Hell, which now contains over 67,000 souls.  Maybe it’s the low property tax.

* Coincidentally, both the pro and college football seasons just started here in the States.  I hope my alma mater doesn’t choke like they have the previous few years.