Yes, this post is a day early. A day early for what? Never you mind. I’m posting because I feel like it, and in this time of unexpected changes to websites and lots of video games that get announced that sometimes aren’t actually real, I figured I’d use this as an excuse to write about a solitaire that I otherwise might not cover: Mahjongg solitaire. Specifically, Mahjongg solitaire as interpreted by Mr. Steve Moraff.
To an enthusiast of PC shareware, Steve Moraff is one of those names that is just…well, not famous, but at the same time, not infamous. He’s kind of there. Nowhere as big of a name as the likes of Tim Sweeney or Scott Miller, yet somehow just as prevalent on shareware discs with names like The 1,000 Best MS-DOS Action Games Vol.34. I know basically nothing about Steve Moraff as a person, but there’s a lot that can be inferred from his work.
Moraff’s earlier works are a handful of advanced MS-DOS games like Moraff’s Blast, Moraff’s Entrap, Moraff’s Dungeons of the Unforgiven, and Moraff’s MoreJongg. Ever keen to be at the top of the technology curve, Moraff’s DOS games all supported expensive Super VGA graphics cards of various brands and standards, and suggested – and in some cases outright advertised – co-processor chips from AMD. The games themselves, as sharp as they looked on those expensive graphics cards, really weren’t all that great for aesthetics. This was an era when the best-looking games were all toying with 3D rendering and ultra smooth high-color graphics, and while Moraff certainly dabbled in it, they were by no means works of high art. (Or perhaps they were, and it just requires a very different sense of aesthetics.)
Where Moraff eventually found his niche, though, was with Moraff’s MoreJongg – a title so (apparently) successful that he began making updated versions for Windows, then Windows 95, then a CD-ROM compilation of every variant he’d ever written, entitled The ‘Jongg CD. This continued well into the present day. What I’ve got here, though, is two volumes of Moraff’s Maximum Mahjongg, published around 2003 by Global Star Software as an apparent attempt to market Moraff’s shareware to the sorts of people that buy computer games from the bargain shelves at Wal-Mart and OfficeMax. The first volume is essentially a rebranding of The ‘Jongg CD, containing the Windows 95 versions of MoreJongg, SphereJongg, RingJongg, and “3DJongg” (not actually 3D, just replaces the tiles with prerendered 3D shapes) and a less cumbersome menu system.
I will not bother with explaining the particulars of Mahjongg solitaire here – the meditative game of tile-matching exists in so many places that I’m sure people have written far more exhaustive accounts of it than I have. No, today I’d rather focus (or perhaps hyperfocus) on just one specific aspect of Volume 2 of this collection, which contains only a single Mahjongg program, but roughly 650 MB worth of tile sets, backgrounds, layouts, and MIDI music. (Suffice to say, that is a lot of all of those things.)
Out of the box (or rather, the jewelcase), Maximum Mahjongg actually looks fairly respectable:
Sure, there are little tiny things that don’t quite make sense with it, like the game timer, that Steve Moraff insisted should be displayed using beveled, marbled plaque images instead of just writing it out. But the tile graphics, background, and even the slightly garish Red Dragon mouse pointer don’t look too far removed from the sorts of Mahjongg solitaire games that get published by bigger companies.
Then you start looking around in the options menus and find the hundreds of backgrounds and tilesets. Maximum Mahjongg even offers to let you change the mouse cursor, from a choice of almost one hundred cursors, counting resized variations. The game even includes tilesets designed to mimic the original VGA tiles from Moraff’s MoreJongg from the MS-DOS days, complete with horrible aspect ratio miscalculations. And as far as backgrounds, there’s vacation photos, photos of “MoraffWare Corporate Headquarters” (a photograph of the inside of a motorhome, with a laptop in the middle?), and wallpapers with names like “There’s Water In My Monitor.” In so choosing, you could potentially use the collection of images on the CD to produce a horrible monster of a Mahjongg game.
Let it be known that Steve Moraff does not appear to have the strongest sense of aesthetics. Many of the tilesets and backgrounds on offer in Maximum Mahjongg are just so ridiculous and frankly bizarre that one wonders if he even has an artistic muse, someone to tell him that his ideas need tweaking, improving, or in some cases outright discarded.
And then there’s CarJongg.
This image of what appears to be a late-90s two-door luxury car, with a crude arrow dragged out of its fender using what I can only assume is Photoshop’s Smudge tool, is identified in the game files as “CarJongg – Huge.png” and is the absolute largest thing you can set as your mouse cursor. Forget the strangely rotated Red Dragon symbol and the poorly cropped cherub. CarJongg is, by far, the most confusing thing to be found in Moraff’s Maximum Mahjongg. It is so utterly baffling that I’ve personally adopted it as a running inside joke.