Dec 26, 2009

Army Break 12: A bit of Zaku & Atari

Hope everyone enjoyed their Xmas holidays, hope everyone enjoys new year's eve too, but I'm afraid I'll have to leave you for one last time. Hopefully for less than three weeks. And when I return I think I'll have some time for my gaming-blogging activities, as well as the peace of mind required to write for the rather excellent Retroaction magazine.

Guess I'll try and review Zaku for it, provided of course I manage to buy myself a lovely review copy. Zaku is a brand new Atari Lynx (!) game you know (a shmup to be precise), and it generally looks like this:

Dec 22, 2009

Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board: A Featherweight Postmortem

Ben Chandler (, also known as Ben 304, is one of the most prolific creators of indie freeware adventure games and a truly amazing artist. What follows is the postmortem for Featherweight, a dark and beautiful game you should all download here. On to Ben 304:

I've been making short point and click adventure games for a while now, and doing so on a regular basis for about 12 months.

During this time, I've learned a whole bunch of things about writing, illustration, animation and game design in general, but if my experiences to date count for anything, I've got a whole bunch left still to learn.

Some time ago I released a short game called Featherweight. The effort I put into the graphics, story and interface went above anything I'd ever tried to put into a game before – and yet... I can't help but feeling that through all of this I lost sight of the main purpose of a game. Feedback showed that despite all of this effort, the game just wasn't that fun.

We'll start with the good stuff, though.

Project Origins:

Like any project, Featherweight started as an idea. I was at work one day when I heard an older man say to another person “I dreamed that we lost another one last night.” Whilst I can guess the specifics of what this meant, I didn't bother asking. What interested me was the way it was said. I instantly started turning this sentence over in my mind, and very soon story ideas were coming forth and presenting themselves to me.

Initially I had a rather complex story, but for the sake of clarity and focus I ended up dividing this story up into two separate stories. At the time this story had begun to shape itself in my mind I was listening to what was a new album for me – local band Karnivool's 'Sound Awake', and the songs conjured up epic and mysterious science fiction worlds in my mind.

With these images in my imagination I actually created a background for a competition which, upon finishing, I realized would be perfect for this story. And thus, Featherweight was born (incidentally, the title 'Featherweight' was taken from an older Karnivool song by the same name).

FeatherweightProject Goal:

I went into the project with some interesting goals. My primary goal was to create a world that was believable – I wanted to immerse the player into the story by both drawing an environment that captured the imagination and also writing a story and characters that the audience could relate to and sympathize with.

I also wanted to try putting in some elements of tension and danger; something I haven't used very much in the past. Finally, I wanted to create some challenging puzzles, but with a simple and intuitive interface to stop the player getting too frustrated.

Putting it all Together – The Positives:

I've spent enough time using the AGS editor that I'm quite comfortable with sitting down and building an adventure game. The scripting is generally quite roadblock free, and even things such as bug finding and fixing are all very user friendly. Although there were some struggles getting everything just how I wanted it, I ended up with an interface that I am very happy with, and feel it's probably the most intuitive standard adventure game style interface I've created to date.

For graphics I went with the Photoshop 'painted' backgrounds I'd relied on for the last few games. I'd spent a lot of time looking at Oddworld graphics a few weeks prior to putting the game together so a lot of the graphical elements such as strongly coloured light sources, dystopian setting and heavy sky gradients were inspired by these games. The characters are still done with a pixel by pixel style, however unlike most of my games I used a fairly dark palette for them. This graphical style seems to have been fairly well received by most players, despite a few comments that the pixel style doesn't mesh perfectly with the softer backgrounds.

For the story, I wanted to present a fairly standard Hollywood style science fiction story with some more mysterious spiritual elements thrown in. Eventually the only real spiritual element I used was the fact that one of the characters talks about her prophetic dreams, however this was enough to satisfy me.

Writing Thadd's (the main character) lines proved quite a challenge for me as I had to try and emphasize the fact that he was in a tense situation. At Sebastian's urging, I rewrote all of his lines about 2/3 of the way through development, and upon showing these to him, he urged me to rewrite them again. I did this, sat down and played through the game, and then went and rewrote them all again from scratch.

As I usually write comedy, it's very rare that I'll spend so long writing character lines (one complete rewrite is unheard of for me, let alone three!). However, to try and get the 'feel' that I wanted for the game, it was very important that I made Thadd a believable character that players could sympathize with and the story actually seems to have been fairly well received. I consider myself a fairly weak writer, so this is quite a satisfying result.

For audio, I usually give Sebastian a fairly broad idea of the concept I am approaching each game with and then give him fairly free reign. Sometimes I'll make suggestions, but most of the time I let him play a scene and let him do what he feels is right. For Featherweight he created a futuristic and otherworldly score that fitted the concept of what I was trying to do with the game, and used items around the kitchen to make the sound effects for the game.

The last element to look at in Featherweight is the puzzles. And here's where the big cracks start to emerge...

Where I Slipped:

No game is ever going to be a perfect game. There are always going to be elements that make one think “I wish I hadn't done that” later on. For Featherweight, it was the actual gameplay itself.

In the past I've read countless comments about my puzzles being too simple. I hit what felt like a good stride with Shifter's Box – Outside In, and then seemed to veer off the mark again. Creating a satisfying puzzle is challenging, and I really wanted to create some for Featherweight.

Sadly, while some of the puzzles seem to work well, a lot of them do not. I worked very closely with the testers when making the game, but somehow some horrible puzzles seem to have slipped through. There's one that relies on item combining that, in hindsight, is just plain silly, and many of them are combination puzzles that are tedious and not always as clear to the player as they should be. In my attempts to challenge the players, I forgot some of my core beliefs about puzzle design and the end result means the game was less satisfying than it could have been.

For me, creating a good puzzle means that I can get a player stuck for a few minutes and then have the solution present itself once they notice a certain element – creating the “Eureka!” moment. Here, however, I relied too heavily on hiding this element, and therefore the solutions to puzzles are not as clear as they should be. This means that players get stuck for longer than I intended them to, and leads to people giving up on the game.

I also relied too much on combination puzzles. While most of my games feature these, I usually try to make them occur in a manner that makes them all feel different. Here I have a lot of combination puzzles that all feel quite samey, and that makes a game tedious and uninspiring. I firmly believe that varied gameplay is good gameplay, and slipped up here quite a bit.

The graphics, as well, despite being some of my best work are still full of weak points. Areas that could have been/should have been refined were left, making it clear upon close inspection that the work is still very much that of an amateur. In some cases items were not made clear to the player, meaning that players got stuck merely because they didn't realize there was something they could have clicked on – which is absolutely unacceptable.

Whilst looking nice is important, it shouldn't override the need for functionality. This is a game, not a painting, and if it looks nice but doesn't play nicely, then the scene is a long way from perfect.

Moving Forward:

Featherweight has been, to date, my most popular game; receiving a fair bit of exposure in various communities and more downloads than any of my other own games. With each project I learn many new things, and from this perspective Featherweight was most definitely a success. Although there are elements that disappoint me in hindsight, I'm still proud to say that I made the game.

Like any game developer, my goal is to reach a place where I can consistently create pleasing graphics, inspiring stories and enjoyable gameplay every time I sit down to make a game. I haven't reached this stage yet, and Featherweight has shown me some areas in which I have some major weaknesses. I walked away from the project feeling like I'd made a game worthy of the player's time, and even though it is hard to focus on the strengths rather than the weaknesses looking back, I'm glad that people enjoy it.

In the future, I hope for people to play the game and think “Look how far he has come since making Featherweight”. Until then, I'll be here, drawing, coding and writing to improve my skills as much as I can.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Army Break 11: Almost There

There and back again, as Tolkien would have put it. Anyway. Point is I'm back for another week (almost a week, actually) and I know I'll be back for good sometime before the 19th of January. I also know a unique and particularly interesting article will be appearing on Gnome's Lair very soon.

Dec 14, 2009

Army Break 10: Be Right Back

No, really. I should be back before the 24th, which is -admittedly (and hopefully)- bearable. In the meantime I would suggest playing through the excellent and finally complete Tales of Monkey Island series, having a go at Space Hulk, downloading some stunning free games or feeling 100% silly with Band Hero for the Wii.

Dec 11, 2009

Walker and Silhouette: A unique piece of clickable interactive fiction

It seems that while I was moaning about boring, banal, trivial and marketing-led games, everyone's favourite Pacian proved that action is (admittedly at times) so much more important than trying to theorize; especially than trying to theorized while generally confused. Anyway, I digress. The point is Pacian released -via his (Text) Games for (Space) Crows site- the stunning piece of interactive fiction that is Walker & Silhouette, which -incidentally- you can and probably should grab from this place. It is of course a freeware offering.

What's more, Walker & Silhouette is brilliantly written, extremely engrossing, quite easy on genre newcomers, sports two characters, and can even be played with a mouse. Yes, no typing is required in order to enjoy this somewhat unsettling short story of the interactive variety, that, starting from a successfully grotesque introduction, soon evolves into a surreal detective story and makes some subtle but truly insightful political points.

Download and play it. And don't forget to delve deep into that "S" folder...

[Update]: You can save the squid, mind!

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Dec 8, 2009

Enough with the Gaming Industry!

Loom Lucasfilm LucasartsBefore I start ranting away, I have to come clear -or at least attempt to; the army isn't the place for productive thinking you see, and brains do tend to rot- regarding the subject of selling games. I've got nothing against it. I, instead, fiercely believe that people creating them should be able to live off their craft, provided of course they choose to do so. There is nothing unethical in selling a game one -or a group of people- has created, though admittedly that's not the case when companies enter the equation. That's when the creative minds get exploited. This later view though, demanding a rather theoretical piece mostly on the production and exploitation of surplus value, will be wisely left for another blog post. You might as well ignore it for the time being.

Now, let me move on by reminding everyone that gaming wants to be considered an art form; an art form comparable to painting, cinema, theater, music and literature; above all a sellable art form. Gaming after all, especially mainstream gaming, is an art form that shockingly tries to justify its importance by showing everyone the huge revenue it generates, and by convincing mommies and governments they have nothing to fear from it. And herein lies the problem.

Art, the way I see it, has to be thought provoking and at times dangerous (remember the beat generation?), and definitely doesn't have to be a commodity. Art, you see, simply cannot flourish when directed by market research and consumer needs, as these demands necessarily lead artists to self-censorship and, more often than not, banality. Art can be sold, but almost always at a cost.

Art simply does not need industry. I mean, look at the hundreds of late Picasso paintings and compare them to Guernica. Sad, eh?

Well, things are even sadder when it gets to gaming, where market forces were powerful from the very birth of the medium and where even some indie developers can't help but speak for and about the industry. As if the industry were one homogenous whole. As if The World of Goo and the radical games of Molleindustria have anything to do with Nintendo's WiiFit and such militaristic offerings as Gears of War. As if something is worth creating only to be sold. As if money is all an artist should care for. As if the sole yardstick for judging anything were its profitability.

Profitability is what companies care for and the force responsible for strangling myriads of brilliant ideas and even a few almost completed games. And believe me, it's gonna get worse. Perceived popularity and safe choices will get an even stronger grip on gaming and digital expression in general, just like they already did in cinema, literature and music.

Popularity of course, just like the need to be liked, appreciated and accepted is something most artists also crave (usually, that is). They always did so apparently and, admittedly, I think it's an almost noble cause, provided they remember they only have one obligation: be true to ones self and vision. And in the case of game creation, an artist or a group of artists, has only got to make something he/she/they would actually want to play. Something unique. Something interesting. Something with a modicum of passion. Not something that they could become rich from. And, well, if the money comes, so be it.

Just don't let the industry get it. Let the creative minds enjoy it and be freed to further provide us with quality games. Not that I wouldn't enjoy the struggling artist concept, mind. Passion and intense experiences can bring forth masterpieces all the money in the world wouldn't be able to buy. A Rimbaud of gaming would be truly amazing.

So, uhm, why don't you go read the Scratchware Manifesto?

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Dec 3, 2009

Army Break 9: A few promises

Having returned home and planning to stay here for the next 10 or so days, I feel pretty confident I'll manage a proper Gnome's Lair post or two. Also hope to start work on the blog itself, as it will soon (well, soon-ish; March the latest) spring back into action.All improved and nicer to look at.

Oct 30, 2009

Army Break 8: Great news I have.

Unfortunately said news have nothing to do with my army duty -news on that front aren't cause for celebration really- but should be of interest to the quality gaming public that tends to visit the halls of the now half empty Lair. It's all about news of the gaming, indie gaming and retro gaming kind then. Hope you don't mind about the fact that they really aren't the newest news around...

Anyway. Let's start with a biggie. Unity the versatile, powerful, and not ridiculously difficult to use game development tool has just gone freeware. Grab it here, study the excellent tutorials, think a bit, use your imagination and go create something.

For those that would like to enjoy their quality interactive fiction on the go, classic Spectrum developer Zenobi managed to cram its whole catalogue in one tiny DS cart. Follow the link scroll down and see for yourselves.

Further DS focused Speccy love comes from indie group Headsoft who have created the fabulous Manic Miner in the Lost Levels for the DS. The game sports 50 obscure and classic levels and has to be seen to be believed. Oh, and it's free. Grab it.

Staying on the retro-esque side of things, thought I'd remind everyone that the excellent third issue of Retroaction magazine has also been released. It costs nothing, looks brilliant and covers such diverse topics as Blade Runner, the Atari STe and retro fanzines.

Adventurers will be glad to know Machinarium has gotten itself released, whereas Tales of Monkey Island episode 4 will be with us in a matter of hours. Yes. It's the point-and-click brigade advancing once again.

The indie brigade on the other hand is organizing -with the help of TIG Source- the Assemblee competition. It's the first two-part compo I've ever seen!

Oh, and I got myself a Playfire profile too.

Oct 26, 2009

Army Break 7: Enough is enough.

Just a lovely Grim Fandango video for you luvs. We'll soon be talking about armies, games and, err, stuff though.

Oct 11, 2009

Army Break 6: Ahh, yes, the army. And PC Zone.

It occurred to me that, well, I haven't really mentioned anything regarding my time spent in the army, which frankly is kinda weird. I am after all boring everyone to death about the subject. Seems to be the only thing on my mind lately, exactly as people had foretold. Then again this is -supposedly- a gaming blog, and surely you lovable lot wouldn't care for crude jokes that don't make sense outside a military camp, nor would it be normal for you to be interested in my ridiculously long list of petty and not so petty complaints.

So, let me just say that the whole experience has so far been far more tiring than expected, feels outrageously pointless and really isn't that much fun. On the other hand, a rare moment of army induced boredom, coupled with a bit of free time, led me to paying for a ridiculously overpriced issue of PC Zone UK. And then to promptly and quite obviously reading it. PC Zone, you see, had always been my fav PC gaming magazine ever since I laid hands (ages ago) on its jaw-dropping issue 4. And yes, even though I am no longer a regular reader, I was quite aware of the fact that the mag had changed hands and that things aren't up to old times standards.

Still, I was expecting a good, rich and well-written issue. Despite the ridiculously cheap and thin paper the mag was printed on and the impressively uninspired cover. Sadly, I was quite disappointed.

The mag felt painfully small, heavily focused on mainstream gaming and lacked the variety of articles, humorous bits, features, reviews and previews that made it what I used to enjoy. Granted, most parts were actually well written and the humour -where present- was generally good, but I just couldn't help but feel annoyed at some really silly and sub-par reviews that judged games solely on genre. Or the fact that half of the issue covered, in what can only be described as excited fanboy tones, dull FPS offerings. Or that the retro section was incredibly poor. Or that PC Zone completely failed to offer something other than what can readily be accessed in your average gaming site. Or that the DVD was filled with demos. Or that the number of reviews was shockingly low.

Oh well, at least there's still Retro Gamer to provide me with analog reading fun...

Sep 24, 2009

Army Break 5: Spanking Death

Don't quite know why but it felt oddly appropriate.

UPDATE: Just got myself a twitter thingy! Hoorah! Now, time to return to them desolate border island and torment myself.

Aug 15, 2009

Army Break 4: Off to the borders

Well, as I only have another couple of hours in Athens, thought I'd let you know that a) I'll be off very soon to serve on a certain island and b) that I really need some sleep. Should be back after a few months or -provided I get really lucky- some weeks.

Cheers and take care everyone!

Jul 31, 2009

Army Break 3: Games for men

Surely most wont be surprised, but the people (involuntarily) serving the Greek army are indeed men. Men coming from all classes, of all educational levels and generally between their late teens and early thirties. Men, one would say, that are what video game demographers would describe as the gaming's hardcore audience. So, this being a gaming blog and me having understood that people not in the army don't find army jokes and funny situations particularly amusing, let me talk about what these men play. Oh, and please don't expect any sort of sociological insight and/or analysis. The army does after all rot ones brain. Severely.

Anyway, in their vast majority soldiers tend to enjoy Pro Evolution Soccer on either the PS2 or the PS3. Shockingly even sheepherders (a certain sheepherder actually) that can't read or write also play and love it, as do most officers. Football Manager on the PC sits firmly in the second place, closely followed by the collective forces of console-based fighting and driving games. World of Warcraft and Street Fighter are also among the more popular titles, unlike all things Wii. Nintnendo's ultra-popular family oriented beast is, it seems, considered an obscure kids console that can't even play porn DVDs.

As for handhelds the PSP is by far the more popular. The iPhone comes a distant second and I've yet to see a Nintendo DS.

Oh, and on an unexpected note, adventure games are actually popular among us grunts. Especially Monkey Island and Gabriel Knight it seems, though Grim Fandango has more than a few admirers itself.

Cheers for now. Gotta sleep some more. Last night's 14 hours were apparently not enough...

Jul 3, 2009

Army Break 2: The Indie Rox (and military blues)

I really don't feel like discussing the army or anything related to it. I'll just mention the general lack of sleep it seems to impose on people and the fact that I never thought I could lose that much weight that fast. Oh, and it's dreadfully stupid, paranoid, tiring and boring. Right. Now I'll move on to something more game related. A list of interesting things that seem to have happened while I was guarding obsolete stuff nobody would ever want to steal anyway:

Jun 8, 2009

Army Break 1: Monkeys, Housekeeping and Parades

Seems the first part of my basic training has come to an end, and, well, I must admit that, despite the silliness, pointlessness and downright ridiculousness of the whole thing, the army provided me with a ton of opportunities for a good laugh. Simply watching all those screaming people trying to make confusion more confusing can be bloody hilarious, you see. Anyway. My legs are still sore and the back isn't at its best, but at least I acquired all the combat abilities required for a decent surrender: saluting, parading, toilet cleaning, quick-shaving, bed making and cooking large quantities of horrid food. Oh well, at least I still got a few more days before I return to the bloody camp for another two weeks or so...

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special EditionOn the happy side of things and ignoring the disheartening results of yesterday's euro-elections, it seems I've returned to a gaming world where Monkey Island has returned from it's undeserved grave and is ready to bring classic quality adventures to the progressive masses. In an unexpected move Lucasarts (which apparently got itself a new president) is releasing the jaw-dropping The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition for Xbox 360 and Windows. It's a faithful remake of the original SCUMM game with high-res hand-painted graphics, an orchestral soundtrack, full voice over, a hint system, new interface and the chance to instantly switch from the Special Edition to the classic one. Oh, and it seems that a few nice little easter eggs and touches have also been added.

What's more, everyone's favourite heroes of the episodic variety, Telltale Games, have started accepting pre-orders for their spanking new Tales of Monkey Island series, that will span 5 hopefully glorious episodes. Impressively, the team behind the games series consists of Monkey Island veterans and even Ron Gilbert himself has offered his advice and ideas. As for the pre-order offer itself, it's more than generous. Have a look. I already did and happily spent my 34$, mind.

Early previews of both games can be found here, here and here.

May 16, 2009

You're in the army now...

Well, actually, not you, but me, and, well, I haven't technically joined anyone or anything yet, but surely you get the idea... As many of you dear friends and readers already know, I'll have to serve my compulsory army duty for the better part of this year. This quite obviously means that Gnome's Lair wont be updated that much -not at all for the first couple of months I'm afraid- and that I'll have to make sure I provide you with these links before I leave: DeathSpank, Resonance, Get Lamp, SYNSO 2: Squid Harder and Into the Mind of Sky Spiders.

That's it from me. Gotta leave now and have a nice weekend before getting dressed in green and shaving my beard. Oh dear, oh dear...

May 15, 2009

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars: The Director's Cut: The Wii Review

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars The Director's Cut WiiAs far as legendary creators of point-and-click adventure games go, Revolution, despite having only released a handful of titles, is second only to Lucasarts, though, as most Sierra fans will happily admit, quantity has absolutely nothing to do with quality. As for most hardened adventurers, they will definitely remember Beneath A Steel Sky, Revolution's magnum opus, a game that is up there with Monkey Island 2, Gabriel Knight 3 and Grim Fandango, and a game that you simply have to play and then play again just to make sure you fully enjoyed its delights (especially now that it's free). Many more though, the rather more mainstream audience apparently, will probably remember Revolution for the original Broken Sword instead; it was always the more popular game and has even gone on and spawned three quality sequels.

Interestingly Broken Sword, or to give it its full name Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (a.k.a. The Circle of Blood in the US), was, despite its popularity and the fact that it also appeared on the PlayStation, a truly great point-and-click adventure game. Possibly even the last truly successful genre offering ever, and one of the first games to have a Templars theme. Some would even call it a classic and they definitely wouldn't be wrong.The player stepped into the shoes of George Stobbart (a semi-likeable American tourist in Paris), who, with the help of Nico Collard (a very likeable French journalist), had to travel around the world solving puzzles, discovering the true history of said monastic order and uncovering conspiracies. Now, as most of you dear readers are either already familiar with the plot or don't care to have it spoilt for you, well, I wont say anything else about it. I'll just admit it's way above than the average game offering in terms of quality, sports some well defined characters, interesting themes, varied locales, a decent story arc and some rather successful touches of humour. Actually I'd rather watch someone play through Broken Sword than watch the Da Vinci Code ever again. Besides, Broken Sword still looks absolutely fantastic.

What's more, the game I should be talking about -what this review is all about- is none other than the brand new Director's Cut of Broken Sword for the Nintendo Wii; the only console that can properly handle adventures. And, yes, it does handle Broken Sword brilliantly, despite the Wii Remote being no mouse. After all, the slight lack of precision is offset by the sheer joy of playing an adventure on a big screen and from the comfort of your sofa.

Now, and to be absolutely honest, I have to admit I would probably have loved this Director's Cut if it was nothing more than a quick and dirty Wii port with new controls thrown in. I really would, but this, well, this was just unexpected. The game has really been expanded, updated, enriched and given the true -and 100% successful- director's cut treatment. Possibly for the first time in gaming history.
Not only have all the original artists (and that would of course include legendary Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame), actors, and team returned to update this classic, but the work they've done is truly stellar. There are brand new gameplay segments where you get to play as Nico, new recorded music, new bits of dialog, new cut-scenes, brand new graphics, more puzzles, an amazing hint system, a helpful and well written diary you can access at all times and even a new anti-colonial (!) subplot. Of course the old bits have also been upgraded to look and sound the part -though a slight gap of quality, especially between new and old audio, is at times noticeable- and some gameplay glitches have also been fixed. Yes, even that notoriously frustrating goat puzzle has been simplified. And picking up that irritating little wire in Ireland wont irritate anyone any more.

On the downside of things the clickable hotspots have been reduced and the disc doesn't offer anything else besides the game as one -well, I at least- would expect form anything labeled a director's cut. I mean, really, how difficult would it be to include some trailers, bits of concept art, some sort of making of and a slightly richer manual?Then again, I really shouldn't be complaining. I mean, look at the screenshot above. The improved interface and Dave Gibbons' close-ups of characters , as well as the excellent and innovative new puzzles (especially the two deciphering ones) are more than enough extras and brilliant additions to an already excellent adventure.

Verdict: Buy it. Even if you don't have Nintendo's latest console, buy a Wii and then buy it. Then love it sweetly, passionately and deeply for Broken Sword deserves it.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

May 12, 2009

Forty (+), Fearsome, Fabulous and Free (Games, that is)

Haven't made one of those lists for quite some time, but, well, I guess it's never too late to let you know about some of the best freeware games that recently made themselves available. Neither of course is it too late to make another horrid attempt at a collage supposedly showcasing some of the freebies that made the list. What list? That list:

QuakeLive: It's Quake III playable in your browser with -or indeed against- thousands of lightning fast veterans. Please don't shoot anyone called Gnomey.

Gravity Bone: A rather more novel use of that ageing Q3 engine. Brilliant, beautiful and innovative.

Spelunky: One of the greatest games ever. Ever! Also what Rick Dangerous should have been.

Legends Of Zork: Casual MMO with frying pans and a zorkian touch.

Elite The New Kind: Elite's space traveling experience brought kicking and screaming to the 21st century.

Naked War: The brilliant two-player strategy game the Pickford Brothers developed finally got itself a free play mode.

Opera Omnia: It's interesting and quirky. Please explain it to me. Not a game per se, but rather a way to enjoy some classic Sierra adventures online and in a lovably silly multiplayer environment. Larry and Space Quest should be the first ones to try.

Left 4k Dead: Just like Valve's zombie shooter only vastly different and in a mere 4kb.

Balance of Power: Showcasing the amazing power of Chris Crawford's Stotytron.

Annie Android: Automated Affection: AGS cartoon adventure anyone? It's got a hot mailbot in it, you know.

Blue Lacuna: The evolution of interactive fiction.

Dead Like Ants: Literary fun with insects.

Ultimate Stunts: Impressive stunts, glorious graphics and realistic physics, all packed inside a fantastic driving game.

Treasure Island Dizzy: The egg with the face makes the jump to the PC freeware scene in an official re-release. Thank you Codemasters.

Nanozoa: Smart name for a beautiful shmup.

Barkley, Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden: A surreal, vast, funny and quite frankly excellent CRPG of sorts.

Mental Repairs, Inc: In the Mind of John Malkovich in point-and-click format.

UFO Alien Invasion: Deeply tactical and inspired by the classic X-COM / UFO series.

Ferrari Virtual Race: As close as you can get to driving a Ferrari, provided you only choose to use your PC and not spend any money.

Doom: Fall of Mars: Diablo meets Doom; hilarity ensues. By If Software.

Beats of Rage: Always thought that Streets of Rage can't get any better, didn't you? Well, think again.

Teen Agent: Obscure 1994 adventure released as freeware by Quite interesting too.

The Marathon Trilogy: Top quality FPS offerings from the era before HALO and after the Mac was invented. Playable on everything with a keyboard.

Thrust Extreme: With its lovely entourage of arcadey and neon lighted retro remakes. Obvious highlight said reimagining of Thrust.

Squid Yes! Not So Octopus!: Arena shooting squids FTW!

The Suffering: Formerly commercial, distinctly shocking and always fun. Also developed by the aptly named Surreal Software.

Gods Deluxe: A remake of the brutal Bitmap Bros fighting platformer.

GeneRally: Another remake, though this time of the racing persuasion.

Enviro-Bear 2000: The outrageous winner of the TIG Source Cockpit competition and the only game to ever let you play as a bear.

Dad 'n Me: Flash arcade fun by the creators of Alien Hominid.

Nanobots: Unique point-and-click adventure sporting lovable robots and innovative mechanics.

Frets on Fire: The indie version of Guitar Hero (or indeed Rock Band) that sports a ton of available content.

Masq: An interactive story for grown-ups.

The Spring Project: The best free RTS money can get! Actually compares rather favorably to most current commercial releases...

PeG: Excellent digital wargames for every historical taste.

Immortal Cities: The one and only (I guess) online Egyptian city builder

The 3D Realms Oldies: Kroz, Dark Ages, Beyond the Titanic, Monuments of Mars and more.

And the Mastertronic ones: Though mainly remakes of classic (a.k.a. ancient) arcades.

Mirror's Edge 2D: A promotional game that's fun. I'm shocked.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

May 11, 2009

Retroaction Issue Two Released

After any teaser it is customary for the real thing to come, and the time for this particular real thing has apparently... err... come. All you now have to do to grab your very own, very freeware, very retro and very PDF version of Retroaction #2 is follow this link and click your way to 84 pages of retro gaming goodness. And yes, it is indeed a fantastic new issue of everyone's favourite retro gaming magazine, sporting new writers, shiny design, top quality content and even a few pieces by yours truly. Here's what you can expect:

Building Classics
We take a look at one of the most successful game engines ever, including the many games developed for it.

The Retr0brite Project
Are your old computers and consoles looking “not-so-mellow yellow”? Then read our Retr0brite feature where we explain how to deal with this problem.

Want to re-live old retrogaming nostalgia or discover old publications that you didn’t read first time around? Then join us as we bring details of some of the most popular magazines of olde.

Twilight of the Spectrum
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum didn’t really disappear in the early 1990s. As we explain, in this first part of a huge Spectrum retrospective, Europe enjoyed many years of rubber-keyed gaming...

MAME: Emulator Profile
Often referred to as the best arcade emulator and most recognisable names in the emulation world. We tell you why, while examining the history, the software, and some of the better known games.

Computer Warrior, Part 2
Memoirs of the Computer Warrior comic strip, from the 1980s Eagle comic, where gamers discover how to play computer games within the computer's realm.


Ken Silverman
We talked to Ken Silverman, the creator of the Build engine, about the development of said engine and the games that have appeared on it.

Simon Ullyatt
We managed to corner indie publisher Simon Ullyatt, and chat with him about Cronosoft, new games on old machines, bedroom coding and obscure 8-bit micros.

The retro magazine scanner king gives us a moment to speak about his scans, the DVDs, his current projects, and future plans.


The latest happenings in the world of retrogaming.

Retro Respect: Hexen
We've all missed a classic during our time (I know I have). This is where we pay respects to the forgotten classics, the misunderstood, and the underdogs.

GamesMaster Lookback, episode 2
Lookback at an episode of the classic GamesMaster television show. The challenges, the games, the celebrities, the journalist commentators, and Dominik.

Raiders of the Lost Arcades: X-Men: Children of the Atom
Unfortunately, the arcade is becoming extinct as a gaming platform, so we take a trek back through time to relive some of the arcades' greatest and underrated games.

Retro Respect: Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday
SSI's Tactical RPG gets the Retro Respect treatment.

Killer App: Killer Instinct Gold
These are the games that are so outstanding that you would buy the system just to play that game. The essential games that every retro gamer should play.

How to Cause a Complete Controversy: Night Trap
Forget the GTAs and Manhunts of the new generation of consoles; games were causing controversy from as far back as the 8-bit days. Here we look at the controversy that surrounded these games.

Retro Respect: Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa
We pay respect to one of the Famicom's best Disk System game.

The Weird and Wonderful World of Retrogaming: Traffic
There have been some truly strange games, demos, and cover disks released in the heyday of retrogaming. This is where we dig up some of these weird and daft creations.


Rock Boshers (windows)
BeTiled! (Amstrad CPC)
Legion of the Damned (C64)
Phantomas Tales #1: Marsport (Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum)
K.O. Cruiser (Atari 2600)
W*H*B (ZX Spectrum)
Star Sabre 128K (Amstrad CPC)
Captain S (windows)
Deathchase (Dragon 32, Tandy CoCo)
Frogger (ZX Spectrum)
Nanako Descends to Hell (Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum)
I Need Speed (ZX Spectrum, MSX)
Giddy 3 (Windows)
Danger Tower (MSX)
Sort'em (Amstrad CPC)
Banger Management (ZX Spectrum)
Deep Dungeon (MSX)
Horace Goes Skiing (Windows)
Eternal Light (Amstrad CPC)
Supaplex (ZX Spectrum)
SEUD (ZX Spectrum)
Oh, and please be nice and let the Retroaction forum (and its inhabitants) know what you thought of this very issue.Better yet stay a bit longer and discuss your retro obsessions.

May 9, 2009

Introversion's fine games-in-a-box

MultiwiniaIt was roughly a week ago when everyone's favourite indie gaming blog TIG Source reported that British indie developers Introversion weren't in the best of shapes, and thus a mere week since I ordered the complete and utterly brilliant Introversion Anthology. In a box! And no, it was neither a matter of guilt for having never purchased any of their games, nor a matter of bad feelings regarding a certain not particularly legitimate version of Uplink I briefly enjoyed 8 years ago. It's just that I felt that such talent had to be supported and that the games on offer -Uplink, Darwinia, Multiwinia and Defcon- are some of the best and most original to ever grace a PC.

As for the point of this post, well, there isn't one really. Just thought I'd let you know I'm still spending what little money I make (mostly) on quality games and suggest you try a few of the Introversion demos on offer yourselves. Oh, and admit that I really enjoy it when my downloadable toys are also available in a proper old fashioned box.

May 8, 2009

Retroaction 2: The First & Final Teaser

Expect Retroaction issue #2 crashing onto them retro loving Internets very soon, while impressively spanning dozens of pages filled with all things retro gaming. It will also -as was promised and prophesied- come in the lovely form of free, brilliantly designed PDF magazine.

May 6, 2009

Space War Commander Review

Space War CommanderYou'd be excused if -by looking at the above screenshot, that is- you were expecting some sort of retro review, and you would also, quite happily, be very wrong. That, you see, is the beauty of indie games: developers and artists that simply create the stuff they like, without trying to appeal to everyone and without having to suffer armies of useless managers telling them what is supposed to be popular (as if any creative person ever really cared about such trivial matters). That is also why Space War Commander is such a unique game with such unique 16-bit retro style graphics.

Come to think about it, the only thing not unique about Space War Commander (hence SWC) is its name. It's definitely apt mind, though as far from imaginative as computer game names get. You actually get to assume the role of a commander in what can only be described as a space war. Then again, gamers never really cared for names, did they? It's the way a game plays that matters or, well, should matter, and SWC plays a great game indeed.

SWC could best be described as an RTS version of a board game with intuitive controls, simple rules, simple sounds and Amiga-like graphics. And don't expect something at the frantic pace of Command and Conquer or Dune 2. This is a much slower -you can even pause the game completely to issue orders- and way deeper affair, that does away with base building and focuses on resource gathering and -mainly- tactical movement. All you seemingly have to do is buy some ships, group them into fleets if you so wish, left click to select and right-click to move them around, make sure you have a steady influx of resources by conquering planets or even trading (nothing more complicated than another movement selection), and make sure you beat each level before your base explodes. Should a ship or a fleet contact the enemy it will automatically attack it and give you the tactically handy option of disengaging parts of your fleet for repairs, and, well, that's all there is to it really.

SWCGetting to grips with SWC is thus incredibly easy. Mastering it is wholly different matter, as the aforementioned depth comes into play. Think of SWC's gameplay as chess with a bit of chance thrown in and you won't be far off. Each ship has its own unique strengths and weakness and each map its unique tactical necessities, sometimes even making the whole experience feel like an elaborate puzzle game. An excellent, tough and addictive puzzle game to be precise, that would definitely benefit from some multiplayer options.

After all, the only thing SWC really lacks is the chance to pit yourself against another human player in some lovely multiplayer carnage. That and a bit more variety , though all in all it admittedly is a great indie strategy game that will appeal to most PC gamers of the thinking while gaming persuasion. Oh, and it can easily be played in 15 minute chunks too!

Verdict: Simple, deep, addictive, smart and -dare I say- sexy as an Amiga game. You really have to at least try it. Really.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

May 4, 2009

Squid Harderer (coming soonerish)

Squid Yes, Not So Octopus 2 from oddbob on Vimeo.

First there was War Twat (and its kid-friendly version War Bus) and it was the best arena shooter ever. Then the Bob that is Odd created Squid Yes! Not So Octopus! and this was the best arena shooter ever. Now the time has almost come for what will surely be hailed as the best arena shooter ever: SY!NSO! 2: Squid Harder! Oh, and to learn when it will actually be released better watch this space. Also watch the video above. It's really nice.

Apr 30, 2009

The Adventure 2600 Reboot

Atari Adventure 2600 RebootWhen I first encountered Adventure on the Atari 2600, I was nothing more than a ridiculously young kid, and was thus too confused by its less than straightforward gameplay to actually bother. It was only years later -on the very same 2600- that I actually gave the game a fair chance to impress me, and, to point, it did. Adventure was far more complex and ambitious than the vast majority of simple arcade games that were available for the console and also a decent attempt at transforming the original text-based Adventure (a.k.a. Colossal Cave, Advent etc) into a simpler, joystick controlled, graphical and less processor hungry form. It even sported the first ever video game easter egg. Adventure was indeed a classic.

Then again, not all classics or ground-breaking games age that well. Load Adventure on any emulator for reasons other than nostalgia or historical curiosity, and you'll probably fail to see what the fuss was all about. It'll most probably feel clunky, archaic and quite confusing. Load Colossal Cave, on the other hand, and you'll still be blown away; but that's beside the point.

The point, you see, is nothing else than the shiny Adventure 2600 Reboot, for it is a brand new, excellent and obviously freeware retro remake of the Atari's Adventure. It sports excellent 16-bit styled graphics, proper sound effects, music, more options, new areas, tons of polish and -importantly- a brand new interface that makes the original gameplay shine. Download it, play it, enjoy it and then go on and read this GameSetInterview on Adventure Reboot.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Apr 28, 2009

Simon the Sorcerer 5 and some Gnome's Lair news

Simon the Sorcerer 5Finally! After two not particularly exciting games, Simon nailed that elusive 3D look. Probably has to do with the combination of gorgeous hand-painted background graphics with smartly cell-shaded characters methinks. Now, if the humour and puzzles are as good as the they were in the first two 16-bit Simon the Sorcerer installments, we can all be sure that Simon the Sorcerer 5: Who'd Even Want Contact?! will be an excellent PC adventure indeed. Mind you, the German demo seems fine, and you can download it from Simon's highly informative official site.

For another (or a first) go at the original games on the other hand, you could do much worse than having a look at Oh, and better avoid Simon 3D as it does have more than its fair share of flaws.

Anyway. On to the Gnome's Lair related bit of the post. Thing is, you see, I'll soon (mid-May) be joining the army for something less than year, meaning that new posts will be sporadic at best. BUT, till then, I hope to actually revitalize the blog and provide you with quite a few decent quality posts, that will among other things include two game reviews, an interview, a retro focused guest post and a lot of free games. And that while working on the upcoming issue of Retroaction, updating Retro Treasures, doing stuff for that little project of mine and adding the finishing touches to a PhD.

That's all for now. Really.

Apr 19, 2009

A nice little post with some nice little mags in it

Not that you would have noticed otherwise (I'm quite aware my posting isn't as frequent as it should be; sorry about that), but, well, guess I'd let you know I wont be around for the next 6-7 days. Taking a short vacation, you see. In Crete of all places!

Now, to keep you occupied while you're anxiously waiting, I thought I'd point you towards the latest Retromags offerings: Next Generation #20 and PSM #2. Both issues are freely available for download, scanned and preserved to perfection and sport an amazing variety of quality retro reading. Personal favourites include reviews of X-Wing (Mac), Duke Nukem 3D (PC) and Oddworld (PS), mind. And yes, I did notice the extensive coverage of Mario 64 and N64.

Oh, and if you want to find out what I've already loved to bits and will soon be reviewing for this very lair do follow mystery link 1 and mystery link 2.

Apr 13, 2009

Decker's Delight Links (13.Apr.09)

Deckers and shadowrunners rejoice! Here -finally- are the links you've been asking for. The links to some of the smartest and most original (though not particularly fresh) things the gaming side of the Internet has to offer. Click away.
System Shock 2 ShodanLet's start by me reminding everyone that Gabriel Knight 3 remains one of the best and most memorable games I've ever played. Ever! So, uhm, here's an excellent Making Of... The GK Trilogy, an incredibly enlightening Gabriel Knight 3 postmortem and a shocking visit to Rennes-le-Chateau.

Oh, and while you are rummaging through the hardy developer's workshop (which you should), you do have to pay extra attention at the 7 best martial art scenes in adventure games.

Keeping on with classic adventure gaming links let me point you to a comprehensive piece on early Sierra games and Mojo's detailed -nay, exhaustive- look at The Dig. Then, be wise and study an article about adventure game puzzles to put things into perspective.

Play this thing gives sound advice and speaks words of wisdom in Mothers, don't let your children grow up to be game developers. By the way, remember the Scratchware Manifesto?

And to keep the indie flag flying and -of course- our spirits high here is WiiHD's quite amazing Wii Homebrew Guide, that allows everyone to have some cost effective fun. What a concept. Oh, dear.

Speaking of concepts, well, here are some rather interesting examples of video game box art courtesy of PC World. As is customary in these things, you should epect more than a few Maria Whittaker, Psygnosis and Amiga references.

Meanwhile in the dark halls of GameSetWatch: Intergalactic spies bring us the secrets behind the development of N64 hit Star Wars: Shadows Of the Empire.

Matty on Games, on the other hand, has done some stellar work exploring some not particularly well known Henhouse Harry games. Like Chuckie Apple for example. Or even Chuckie Egg 2.

On the unreleased games front, let me tell you that (as discovered by the Joy of Sticks) the Jaguar XJ220 Atari ST version is no longer one. I mean it just got finished and released as freeware by its original programmer. Read on...

Finally, Ironic Sans, presents a truly novel idea, that apparently looked -and to be frank still looks- great on paper. It's the Blogosphere Adventure Game concept, it is.

Super fast Quick Links

Apr 9, 2009

Retromags unleashing three wild GameFan issues

GameFan was a US magazine that I, well, had never heard of really. Apparently the thing was first released in 1992 and managed to survive all the way to 2000, despite (?) having an obvious thing for all things console and an admittedly interesting ultra-colourful layout. Now, as the super retro mag scanning team that runs the excellent Retromags has scanned the three first issues of GameFan and as I have already happily browsed through dozens of virtual GameFan pages, I can't help but suggest you too have a look. It might not be the console equivalent of the 90s PC Zone, but GameFan makes for an interesting, nostalgic and fun read.

Download issue 1 here, issue 2 here and issue 3 here. They are obviously free to get and you should probably also get a copy of the equally freeware CDisplay to help you read through them and enjoy game reviews covering everything from the Neo Geo, to the Sega CD, the Genesis, the SNES, the Turbografx-16 and even the Atari Lynx. Oh, and vintage Nintendo fans should definitely follow this link too.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Apr 6, 2009

Molstrums Vintage Apple Mansion

Legacy realms of TerrorI still have fond and occasionally terrifying memories of the first non-parser driven adventure I ever played: Uninvited. It was brilliant, innovative and horrific and was followed by Déjà Vu -which I somehow ignored-and then the excellent Shadowgate that once again attempted to scare me to death. But, sadly, I was 12 by the time I tried that last one and could already bare over 3 horror movies a day, thus failing to feel that dear uneasiness. Then I think I missed most of ICOM's other adventures and only came close to experiencing something similar when Microprose released the great but flawed The Legacy: Realms of Terror.

And then, well, glorious TIG Source came along and showed me the way to another haunted mansion. Molstrums Mansion. It's an ACE Team creation that feels, smells and plays like a proper early point-and-click adventure (it must be one then, right?), runs in your browser, sports a decidedly ICOM-esque interface, comes with glorious black and white graphics and successfully atmospheric sounds, takes place in a spooky mansion, has a solid plot with a few humorous bits in it and is a true joy to play through. Yes, despite being on the rather easy side of things and lacking a save feature.

Molstrums MansionOh, and Molstrums Mansion plays on what can only be described as a web-based simulation of a vintage b&w Mac, utilizing what can only be described as a faux copy protection scheme that subtly plugs the team's visually stunning (and forthcoming) commercial ZenoClash project.

PS. Yes, I know I should have also mentioned Elvira I & II, Waxworks and those excellent Radical Poesis Games like Fedora Spade and Missing, which is something I apparently just did. All fine then. Go play Molstrums Mansion.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Apr 1, 2009

Legends of Zork LIVE!

Legends of ZorkThis blog will remain April Fool's Day joke free forever. Or, well, for as long as it stays around, meaning you simply won't have to doubt the good news I bring you, consequently meaning that you should be clicking your collective way to the virtual world of Legends of Zork. It just opened its gates, you see, and after trying it for over 20 minutes I must say I'm happily surprised with the quality of the thing. One might even call it brilliant.

Mar 24, 2009

Pacian presents Dead Like Ants

Dead Like Ants Pacian i-fHaving already enjoyed a significant part of Dead Like Ants I can assure you dear readers that it is indeed an excellent game -or should I say read- that absolutely everyone has to experience. But, I'm apparently jumping ahead of myself. Let me first explain that Dead Like Ants, a little downloadable something just released for the EnvComp competition, is a freeware piece of interactive fiction (a.k.a. a text adventure) created by Pacian of Gun Mute and Poizoned Mind fame for your PC, Mac or Linux machine. Now you know and, well, you should really download it and find out more about it here. Immediately.

As I don't want to spoil anything major here, let me just tell you that -as is usually the case with Pacian's offerings- Dead Like Ants sports a truly unique and beautiful fairy tale-esque setting, a pretty innovative way of handling puzzles (and in-game death), a selection of well written characters, an amazing world to explore and an excellent story. As for the difficulty of the puzzles, well, guess I'll let you figure it out yourselves. Not that you'll encounter anything particularly frustrating, mind. Oh, and here's the author's description of things:

Dead Like Ants is a low-fi, fairy tale-ish game for an Interactive Fiction (i.e. text game) environment competition. Explore your surroundings, meet strange new people, try to stand-out from your thousands of identical sisters... And perhaps at the end of it all, you'll grow some wings.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: