Dec 31, 2010

And a very happy 2011!

This humble and newly renovated blog wishes to wish you all a very happy, exceedingly healthy and truly hopeful 2011. So, uhm, happy 2011 everyone! As for Gnome's Lair itself, well, I suggest you expect more than a few new indie game reviews, the belated conclusion pictures of that toy train, many retro articles, more new features and adventure gaming articles, dollops of ZX Spectrum love, and of course quite a few Wikileaks Stories games. Maybe a few slightly less expected offerings too.

See you all next year!

Dec 27, 2010

La Molleindustria presents Leaky World

La Molleindustria, the Italian team of radical artists that has already given us such indie gaming masterpieces as Every day the same dream and Oiligarchy, has also become the fist developer to release a game for the Wikileaks Stories project. Leaky World, said aptly and brilliantly named brand new game, casts gamers as an abstraction in the service of international elites. An abstraction trying to connect them, while simultaneously stopping any (wiki or not) leaks before the peoples of the world -their anger fueled by the leaked truth- revolt, using some truly unique game mechanics in a game that's way more elegant and simple than it sounds.

Molleindustria calls Leaky World a "playable theory", which actually makes sense. The thing really is a playable theory, though one with unique aesthetics and excellent ideas, that also happens to be fun and challenging. Oh, and Leaky World makes for a great semi-random exploration tool of the more interesting published Wikileaks cables, while simultaneously showcasing just what Wikileaks Stories is all about. You can play the Leaky World (for free of course) right here.

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Dec 23, 2010

The retro lovable TI Invaders

I do believe that the first video game I ever played was Berzerk for the Atari 2600, but I frankly can't be absolutely sure about this. What I actually do know though is that TI Invaders for the Texas Instrument TI 99/4A home computer was the first game I could call my own and play at home, provided of course I were a good little gnome. And I absolutely loved it (playing the game, not behaving that is); it did after all look and play so much better than Space Invaders on my cousins' 2600 and was actually better than the eponymous glorious game glimpsed in arcades.

I also remember being rather good at it too, but that was probably the result of spending more hours playing TI Invaders than anyone else in my rather limited social circle. This beautiful cartridge, you see, was constantly replacing boring math and alphabet games, just like nature intended it to:

The game itself, a bold Space Invaders clone, felt totally unique and incredibly high-tech. Little did I know back then that the cheap yet powerful TI 99/4A my father had bought off a colleague was an early 16-bit machine. All I cared for was its one-button joystick, the impressive looking keyboard and its infuriating lack of a pause function, the inclusion of which would make mandatory sleep-breaks a mere temporary stop to my high score beating attempts.

Nowadays, in our era where everything comes with pause buttons and save options and despite the fact that I always keep the old Texas Instruments micro close, I rarely plug the thing in. Connecting it to a modern TV can be quite a problem, you see, but, as I recently re-discovered, a problem worth solving. TI Invaders remains a fantastic game. Possibly the best retro iteration of Space Invaders ever. I mean, really, look at these graphics. How many 1981 game could be this wondrous? 
Then again we all know that graphics aren't everything. TI Invaders might retain a certain retro charm with its blocky aliens and blippy-bloppy sounds, but it's the gameplay that counts and that has aged way more gracefully than you'd expect. 

The game is slightly faster than your average invaders shooting offering, sports a lovely death animation, has a unique scoring system and way more variety than even the arcade it perfectly apes itself. Every three or so levels a new kind of invading alien appears -all of them sporting unique appearances and abilities- two difficulty levels allow you to start off with a less brutal game, an impressive variety of smart little touches enhances the overall experience and then there's the bonus stage that really spices things up. Obviously, constantly improving ones high-score remains as addictive and enjoyable as ever...

You can find out more about TI Invaders here, here and here. To download the game's manual try this link and in order to actually play the thing  I suggest you give the Win994a emulator a try.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Dec 21, 2010

The Dream Machine beautiful Pre-order

The Dream Machine is an episodic, indie, point-and-click adventure that will very soon be released. You can now pre-order it here and get a lovely discount. Oh, and yes, it will span five episodes, the first of which can also be played for free here.

Then again, all this doesn't sound very exciting, does it? No, I know, but if you knew what a magnificent little thing The Dream Machine is you'd be absolutely ecstatic and (metaphorically) running to pre-order it. It's an imaginative, smart, highly polished and jaw-droppingly handcrafted adventure for all PCs (Win, Mac, Linux). Really. It's a rare, proper claymation game that puts the visuals of your latest FPS to shame, and as I have already described in my preview of the thing a brilliant adventure. Read it, get excited, and pre-order. Oh, and the team responsible for it isn't afraid to write this. Expect a Gnome's Lair review sooner or later.

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Dec 20, 2010

Wikileaks Stories: The Website

Wikileaks Stories, the independent gaming initiative started by Gnome's Lair and Jonas Kyratzes, is picking up steam rapidly. Happily, it also got itself a glorious shiny new site; the aptly named Wikileaks Stories. Said site will function as a hub for all gamers and indie developers that are interested in games made for democracy and freedom, already sports a fine hand-picked selection of game making resources and of course all the latest news and Wikileaks Stories games. Oh, yes, there's a facebook Wikileaks Stories page too. Where? Why, right here. So, uhm, go on, make a game! Get creative and -while you are at it- be kind and help us spread the Wikileaks Stories word.

Moving on to related news, let me inform you that Molleindustria will have its game ready in a matter of days, whereas both my and Jonas' games are progressing nicely. Also more than a few -yet unannounced- game devs are working on their ideas, as are at least a couple of people who have never crafted a game before. Exciting, eh? Oh, and you can already play these interesting, Wikileaks related and obviously freeware offerings: Wikileaks: The Game, Uncle Sam vs Wikileaks and  Cablegate: The Game.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Dec 16, 2010

News from the indie adventures front

Old gnomes don't do that well in huge protests, but despite feeling sore all over the place, I was happy to have been part of the couple hundred thousand people that marched in Athens yesterday and am now in a comfy chair sharing the latest and most interesting indie adventure gaming news, while also working on the Wikileaks Stories project.  So, uhm, where to start from eh?

Well, I guess Dark Visions, the freeware, web-based adventure, should do. You can and should play it here, for it is a horror/mystery offering that feels quite reminiscent of classic Sierra games. The game does feature some really good puzzles and a great atmosphere, and should last you for a few hours.

On the not-so-freeware side of things we have the incredibly promising Prominence. It's a sci-fi first person adventure that will apparently sport multiple endings, top production values, space colonists, alien cultures and some great puzzles. Here's the impressive trailer:

As for The Dream Machine, a game Gnome's Lair has already covered and loved, it's got a shiny new site, whereas retro-styled point-and-clicker Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine has received a huge update that can be grabbed here. Oh, and here is the latest and greatest teaser of Blackwell Deception to round things up.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Dec 8, 2010

WikiLeaks Stories around the web

Let's start with the humble news regarding my (first) contribution to WikiLeaks Stories; you know, the text adventure I've already mentioned in the original WikiLeaks Stories post. Well, it's doing fine really. The document on which the game will be based has been selected, my knowledge of Inform 7 is rapidly deepening and some design ideas are already being tested, meaning the thing will definitely be ready (sooner or later -hopefully sooner).

On the rather more important creative front of proper indie developers, Jonas Kyratzes is happily being productive and imaginative as ever, and more than a few indie devs are trying to come up with an idea. I wouldn't be shocked if a Molleindustria production suddenly got released, mind.

Important note: WikiLeaks Stories is not a compo. There is no deadline. Whenever you decide to actually start and/or publish your game will be fine, as these stories will be equally important in a year or a decade from now. The battle for online free speech and against corporate/state censorship will -surely- also remain more than crucial.

What's more, WikiLeaks Stories is once again proving that the game community is interested in such political matters and that gaming is not something that ignores society/life/universe/fish. I'd thus like to thank the countless Twitterers (sp?) that helped spread the WikiLeaks Stories ...err... story. Oh, and here are some links to WikiLeaks Stories related stuff you will surely appreciate:

Dec 6, 2010

WikiLeaks Stories

The 6th of December is a very important day indeed, especially if you live in Greece. Two years ago a 15 year old boy, Alexis, was brutally murdered by the police. It was a shocking event that led to a month-long revolt throughout Greece, which signaled a new phase of civil disobedience. Today, just like last year, the streets are once again (already) overrun by the angry youth (and many more) and this blog is happy. Then again, a blog can't help you join the students, workers and school-kids of Greece.

It can on the other hand interest you, oh fickle reader, with a new indie gaming initiative: WikiLeaks Stories. A selection of short and sometimes longer games that will turn some of the more interesting WikiLeaks ...err... leaks into playable stories. Maybe even provide you with a hacker game that will let you attempt to battle the powerful censors and their allies; we'll see about that.

Now, where are them games? Well, they are being made. I have already put a variety of other projects on hold and started working on a piece of WikiLeaks Stories interactive fiction (you know, a text adventure) and Jonas Kyratzes will soon come up with something himself. Hopefully a few more indie developers will join the fun, as being indie does not simply mean going for a pixel-art look...

That's all for now; back to Inform 7 for me. As for you luv, do watch this space and do support WikiLeaks.

Dec 3, 2010

Eye^Game^Candy: Alien 8

Ultimate Play the Game, the game developer now known as Rare, was one of the most secretive and brilliant teams of people creating games for the ZX Spectrum. They were also responsible for the 1985 hit Alien 8; a beautiful, isometric arcade adventure that came in a pretty lavish box. Do find out more about it and play it online over at the excellent World of Spectrum.

Dec 1, 2010

The DeathSpank PC Review

Back during the desperate times when Ron Gilbert was failing to find a publisher for his Diablo meets Monkey Island game, the skies were dark, gamers were gloomy and gnomes disappointed. Nowadays DeathSpank has not only been published, but after much delay even ported to the PC, the one platform one would think would have been ideal for the game's launch. Anyway; we might be going through the deepest and most savage recession capitalism has ever known, multinationals might be teeming up with nationalists in preparing the bombs that will help the system flourish once again and the police might just be the only facet of the welfare state that's going stronger, but we gamers can be happy, for DeathSpank is a great little game indeed. And we can even play it with a mouse and keyboard.

In our times of barbarism and boring mainstream games DeathSpank is a wacky splash of colour. It looks surreal and lovely, can at times be really funny, plays well, and -more importantly- actually does what it was supposed to do. It's a shiny Diablo-clone that effortlessly though sporadically manages to do a pretty decent impersonation of Monkey Island, what with its simple puzzles and dialog trees. Interestingly and despite the fact that only a handful of puzzles made it into the game, they are all quite varied and smart.

The hack-and-slash CRPG aspect of the game is on the other hand extremely rich. There are tons of different and outrageously named weapons, bits of armor and objects to collect, dozens of quest and side-quests, a rich selection of silly baddies, two kinds of chicken, a ridiculous amount of  loot, many locations and a rather big world to explore. Combat itself is close to perfect and always satisfying, making great use of the keyboard-mouse combo, but also allowing the traitorous among PC gamers to use a joypad. Disgusting, I know, but that's what kids seem to enjoy these. Unfortunately joysticks have been wholly ignored. Oh, and what I really thought was brilliant in the mechanics were the ways in which all the tedious bits of Diablo-clones have been eradicated: players can teleport around the map, store their weapons in a variety of chests, access a handy quest journal, consult a variety of helpful maps and -above all- use the brilliant grinder to turn loot into gold pieces.

What though actually helps raise DeathSpank above the soup of mediocrity that are Diablo-clones, for let's face it that's what it really is, is the combination of a unique presentation and a generous helping of humour. DeathSpank features truly beautiful graphics that create a unique, colorful world not entirely dissimilar to a pop-up book, excellent voice-overs and so many and varied jokes you are bound to both constantly chuckle and at times properly laugh. Apparently, it also features a plot, but this being a review on a blog, it really shouldn't be much longer than it already is. Let me just add that beating DeathSpank took me 12 hours.

Verdict: If you either love Ron Gilbert's work or care for humorous RPGs, you really can't go wrong with DeathSpank. It's a great game and it's already available on Steam. If only its Monkey Island elements were more apparent, this would have been a true classic.

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Nov 26, 2010

Being Creative with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum was, and gaily still is, a brilliant little computer and a working class gaming machine with a truly huge game library. But why should you care for such a relic of the 80s and why should you try to contribute one more game to the 20,000 already available for the thing? Well, nostalgic and historic reasons aside, the Spectrum does have a variety of advantages: a) it doesn't need to be upgraded/replaced every few years; the Spectrum *is* and Rilke would love it, b) it imposes a series of limitations that help artistic and programming skill thrive, c) it allows for small and focused games, and d) there's a huge and active community that will happily show its amazing spirit of camaraderie.

What's more for those of us that feel that assembly can be incredibly intimidating and Sinclair's BASIC ridiculously slow, there are more than a few game creation utilities that can help get things started. This post is a selection of four of the best and simpler to use utilities of the sort I'm aware of and have even actually tried. Mind you, searching around will definitely provide you with further options.

Professional Adventure Writer: This is probably the best text adventure creation system available on the Speccy that will let you pen pretty huge pieces of interactive fiction and -provided you are so inclined- add graphics to them. More than a few classic commercial adventures have been created with it and though I'd suggest you grab a used boxed copy of the thing (I do like my manuals printed, you see) you can download a copy of everything you need from the World of Spectrum. The PAW Reservoir might also come in handy.

SEUD (Shoot-em-up Designer): A Jonathan Cauldwell creation and an easy to use (really) program that will allow you to create fast scrolling shoot-em-ups on the Spectrum. Having already created a few tiny shmups and having already reviewed SEUD I can't help but suggest anyone interested should grab a copy from Cronosoft. And here is another review.

Arcade Game Designer: Another powerful utility, though this time one geared for the creation of simple arcade games. You can download it for free and thank the prolific Jonathan Cauldwell for it. Keep in mind though that this does require a bit of programming as -despite being much more powerful- it does feel a lot like BASIC.

Platform Game Designer: Shockingly, this is another Jonathan Cauldwell offering and another game creation utility you can buy from Cronosoft. It apparently is very easy to use and will allow for the creation of a variety of platform games provided they are in the style of Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy. Judging by what the community has come up with this, it is a platforming powerhouse and your one chance at creating Manic Miner II.

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Nov 23, 2010

Games of Empire - A Book Review

Remember books? Remember their smell? The way they made you think and question stuff? Well, you really should dear reader. The times are desperate and knowledge can indeed make you powerful, kind, beautiful and heroic. And since, dear reader, I know how much you like games, let me present you with the key that will help you understand what they are all about: Games of Empire - Global Capitalism and Video Games by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter. It apparently is a book and smells lovely. You can and quite frankly should order it from the University of Minnesota Press, though I'll admit to ordering my copy from Amazon. Anyway, here's the UMP link.

Unlike most gaming books I've read so far Games of Empire is neither a game creation guide, nor a retro gaming essay, though it admittedly does cover most of video gaming's history, yet in a way you've definitely not been accustomed to. Instead of finding some sort of childish glee in the birth of Mario and Space War the authors prefer to look at the nation-bombing military complex that allowed for the first video games to be created, being especially interested in pointing out the obvious antithesis of the joys of playing and being creative to the ultimate horror that is war. Unless of course war is slowly being turned into a plaything or games -like, say, America's Army- are used as recruitment tools, which also happens to be a subject Games of Empire isn't afraid to tackle.

Then again, this is a book that tries to completely lift the fetishistic veil covering the games industry, tackling everything from the militaristic propaganda of Full Spectrum Warrior and the racist/sexist overtones of most mainstream games, to the underpaid people working in the industry or even the wars the production of consumer electronics has fueled. Yes, the wars. The interesting little stories about money laundering via Second Life and the informal economies of gold farming aren't left out either.

History and shocking facts aside and despite the book's fascination with Negri's not particularly impressive imperial theory, Games of Empire does manage to come up with an extraordinary -impressively, quite entertaining too- critique of video games. It shows how a World of Warcraft player is indeed both a consumer and a producer of value, discusses the representations of actual space and spatial relations in games (mostly GTA IV) and even helps us hope that indie and radical games can fight the good fight, while avoiding any kind of conservative moral hysterics. Games of Empire is an eye-opener. And you too dear reader have to read it. 

Here's the back of the book blurb to further intrigue you:

Video games have become an integral part of global media culture, rivaling Hollywood in revenue and influence. No longer confined to a subculture of adolescent males, video games today are played by adults around the world while also serving as major sites of corporate exploitation and military recruitment. In Games of Empire , Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter offer a radical political intrigue of such video games and virtual environments as Second Life, World of Warcraft, and Grand Theft Auto, analyzing them as the exemplary media of Empire, the twenty-first-century hypercapitalist complex theorized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. The authors trace the ascent of virtual gaming, assess its impact on creators and players alike, and delineate the relationships between games and reality, body and avatar, screen and street. rejecting both moral panic and glib enthusiasm, Games of Empire demonstrates how virtual games crystallize the cultural, political, and economic forces of global capital, while also providing a means of resisting them.

Oh, and fuck off banal internet-man. Video games are not just games. 

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Nov 22, 2010

The Infinite Ocean

When the first version of the Infinite Ocean was released back in 2003 I was apparently going through a particularly rare (for gnomes at least) anti-games period and stupidly missed it, meaning that when Jonas Kyratzes announced that a new updated version of the game was in the works, I simply didn't know what to expect. Apparently, I was lucky, as getting to experience The Infinite Ocean for the very first time is quite, well, an experience.

One, you see, could superficially describe The Infinite Ocean as a freeware, indie, vaguely cyberpunk, point-and-click adventure, and one would be right, except for the fact that the only game that comes close to capturing the feeling you'd get by playing The Infinite Ocean would be Infocom's A Mind Forever Voyaging. Then again, that was a text adventure and The Infinite Ocean, despite featuring a lot of excellently written text, plays more like a version of Myst that actually sports an interesting plot and puzzles that make sense. So how does it play exactly (I pretend to hear you ask)? Well, guess you'll have to find out yourselves. After all everything feels quite intuitive and not particularly taxing, but try it out yourselves you must.

Such a brilliantly written story isn't common in our day and age. Then again, a sci-fi game that avoids being technophobic is even rarer, let alone one that manages to not only to tackle major political and philosophical issues, but to actually discuss them with the gamer. This, dear friends, is a most Brechtian experience and an intelligent game that will dialectically challenge your beliefs without attempting to impose its ideas on you. The Infinite Ocean really does make one think. And -quite shockingly- even hope. Play it now. This is art and it's exhilarating.

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Nov 19, 2010

Testing and updating...

Expect a variety of random and unexpected changes thought today's trip. As soon as Gnome's Lair settles on a design, I'll let you luvs know.

[UPDATE]: Well, most of the changes have been implemented and I'm quite happy with how the blog looks and the fact that those currently reading, playing etc bits make it more personal. There are a few ideas that haven't been realized just yet, but I'm pretty sure you'll see them before the end of next week, along with a minor few corrections and an overall lick of paint. So, uhm, any other suggestions? Like the way the thing looks?


Nov 15, 2010

The Lairs They Are a-Changin'

Hello dear reader! How are you then? Hope the lady (or the mister, excuse me, but I do keep forgetting your gender and/or sexual preferences) is doing fine. As you might have noticed things have been pretty slow here at your favourite Gnome's Lair. As you also might have noticed all the ads are gone too, in what can only be described as a first step in revamping this particular (mostly) gaming blog.

Now, don't get me wrong. I really don't have anything against people making a little extra for their online contributions, but I just don't feel that roughly two euros a day are worth cluttering the design of the Lair and possibly distracting from the content. Removing them ads is after all just the first part of the blog redesign I've been postponing for quite some time now, but which will piece-by-piece soon be more apparent. After all I am a bit too busy right now and I've decided that crisis or not, advertising isn't the way to solve problems.

Anyway. Free time can be quite a problem too. Academic work -though either severely underpaid or even unpaid- can't take the backseat and I'm currently swamped with stuff that simply needs to be done, while a new blog (in Greek), a perpetually under development new site, a few game ideas and a ton of other things have more than reduced my time available for Gnome's Lair. And let's not forget the international political situation which I really feel I have absolutely no right to ignore.

So, does this mean Gnome's Lair will be ignored instead? Definitely not. It will simply have to change a bit in order to be more satisfying to me (and hopefully you). And I'm not only talking about the design... Hopefully you'll very soon start seeing what I have in mind, though I will of course remain open to suggestions. Actually, I'd really love suggestions. And ideas.

Oh, and look at the lovely picture at the top of the post. Fantastic, eh?

Nov 1, 2010

Cloud 9 (freeware) Racing

Cloud 9, might not be fully operational just yet, but -just like any Death Star you'd care to mention- it already looks lovely and plays in a most impressive manner. Cloud 9, you see, feels quite a bit like a 3D, cell-shaded, steampunk version of F-Zero, with some interesting new mechanics and a roller-coaster feel thrown in. You can try it for free here and get yourselves update via the thing's facebook page.

Oct 26, 2010

The Snakes of Avalon

Let's start with the easy bits. Snakes of Avalon is a freeware adventure game that comes with a traditional point-and-click interface and is the creation of Igor Hardy and Alex van der Wijst, who apparently employed the musical talents of Thomas Regin and the acting of Drew Wellman. It also is quite an excellent offering that happens to take place in a single room. Well, sort of, as this is where Snakes of Avalon stops being your average AGS game.

It is, you see, set in a bar named Avalon starring a hopelessly drunk, obviously unshaven, very confused and quite alcoholic character in what can only be described as a trippy (near) murder mystery. Actually, make that a deeply surreal (near) murder mystery, sporting a variety of all powerful hallucinations, ugly babies, beer, sinister wives, tons of toilet humour, a perpetually occupied toilet, dirty glasses, at least one time-machine, living posters, love, murder, obscure movie references, a Lucasarts logo and a majestic, yet sadly stuffed, talking moose. As you might imagine such an intoxicated design makes sure the game feels much bigger than your average one-room offering. Or is it actually bigger than that? Better play it and find out.

Space and even time in Snakes of Avalon is a most relative thing after all, and the protagonist's warped perception of everything makes sure the game is actually much longer and quite a bit more challenging than its excellent and confined location would imply. As for the puzzles themselves, well, they are at times taxing, enjoyable and -impressively- make sense in the demented game world.

Oh, and the thing does look delightfully odd too, with its deeply cartoon-like art, smart animation, brilliant cut-scenes and lovely background art, though admittedly the music is what will really blow you away. Provided you enjoy your Jazz, that is. And if you prefer listening to it from a dear old scratched record than say one of those mp3 thingies, you'll be in musical heaven.

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Oct 22, 2010

Desktop Dungeons Ate My Hamster

Desktop Dungeons

Okay, I haven't got a hamster and it would have probably microwaved the poor thing anyway, but what really matters is that  QCF Design's Desktop Dungeons is a sinister time sink. I mean, really. Tsk, tsk, too. Hadn't I decided to finally give the thing a try, I would have finished my review of the absolutely deranged and most brilliant Snakes of Avalon, started working on presenting you the equally excellent Games of Empire book and even done some work on a variety of other gaming/blog related projects. But no. I just sat there and explored dungeons for hours non-stop. Even failed to finish my rather important post-doctoral research proposal.

So, let's talk a bit about Desktop Dungeons then, shall we? Well, at first glance it looks like a simplified rogue-like that can be won or lost in less than ten minutes. It sports some simple yet effective sounds, oldschool graphics (complete with a variety of different tilesets), and some extremely elegant game mechanics. Click to move, click on an enemy to attack, click on a spell to cast it or a potion to consume. The unique bit comes from the fact that enemies neither move nor attack the player on their own free will, and unexplored space is the most important resource available. Exploring it regenerates your health and mana, and impressively turns Desktop Dungeons into some sort of RPG-ish puzzle game with rogue elements and absolutely no random bits.

An incredibly addictive puzzle game as you should have noticed and one you really have to try for yourselves. Or not, provided you care for your job/school/spouse/friends. Then again, this is perfect for the latest unemployed victims of modern corporate capitalism; it's absolutely free and will last you forever. All those unlockable -vastly differentiated- classes, monsters, magic items and game modes will take ages to master.

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Oct 20, 2010

Dave Barton on MMOs, Games & Zombies

Dave Barton, one of the creative people beside the recent MMO version of the Zork universe and the latest World of the Living Dead zombie MMORPG, has gone very indie indeed, and has been kind enough to discuss games, zombies and browser-based gaming with a gnome.

1.Well, David, how about introducing yourself to those troubled souls that seem to enjoy Gnome's Lair?

I'm one of two developers on a game called World of the Living Dead. I do the game design, graphics, writing and web design, or anything else that needs to be done. We decided to keep this a very small project in terms of people, although the scope of the game itself is extensive. I was the chief game designer on the Jolt/Activision game Legends of Zork, and also worked on the ill-fated NationStates 2. As a regular reader of Gnome's Lair, I'm rather troubled to hear that I'm a troubled soul...

2.And you've been working on games for how long?

I got a Fighting Fantasy gamebook (The Forest of Doom) when I was nine. I loved it and I really wanted to create my own. I wrote three full gamebooks before I was thirteen, just for the pleasure of creating my own little worlds. The first was typed up on an old Olivetti typewriter from the fifties, although I later saved up enough money to buy an electric typewriter. Working out the structure of those books would have been a lot easier on a computer. I really got into the creation of imaginary worlds came when I discovered roleplaying. I went through everything I could find: D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Rolemaster, Spacemaster, Cyberpunk 2020. There weren't too many role-players where I lived, so I mostly spent my time fleshing out detailed campaigns and maps. Like many games, they didn't survive the introduction of actual players. They were usually more interested in just killing the townsfolk or otherwise trashing the place, and usually had little interest in the extra immersion I tried to provide, in the form of carefully-aged messages or maps.

Roleplaying gave way to gaming once I got a Spectrum and then an Amiga. I started playing at the tail end of text-based games, when it started to become all about the graphics, so I never really thought I could make my own. The intervening years were spent as a consumer of games. Fast forward to a few years ago and I jumped at the chance to work on games for Jolt, first on UI and art direction then as a game designer. The skills I had learned working in print and online media seemed to come together and allow me to revive my passion for creating virtual worlds.

3.Care to reminiscence on that online Zork game you worked on?

It was a privilege to work on an actual licensed Zork game. I had a lot of fun immersing myself in the world and piecing together what could be used for a game based on the series. I was the game designer, but I also took on the role of art director and worked on the UI. The brief was very specific, so it was always going to be a certain type of online game. I know that disappointed a lot of people, but I was very careful to stay true to at least the mythology that had accrued over the various incarnations of Zork, and I tried to make use of elements like the Double Fanucci cards to keep even the game mechanics relevant to Zork. I hope that the excellent artwork created and sourced by Jim Zubkavich - who was a pleasure to work with, always enthusiastic and able to bring my descriptions to life exactly as I had imagined them - helped to make LoZ a pleasurable diversion for some Zork fans. I decided to leave Jolt very soon after the release of LoZ, so the game has developed differently from how I would have hoped.

4.So, what are your current projects?

World of the Living Dead is what we're focusing on, although we also started a micro-patronage site called Karmafan a few years ago, as we had a lot of artist friends who wanted to get support from their fans but didn't know how. The whole voluntary payments thing really took off a little later but by then I was working for Jolt and so Karmafan didn't get the attention it needed to develop. Artists still sign up from MySpace, but times are hard so there isn't much support from fans. I'm also working on a WotLD comic, but my artistic skills have atrophied over the years, so that will probably take quite some time to appear. We both have day jobs, of course.

5.Could you describe the World of the Living Dead?

I like to describe it as a survival strategy zombie sandbox MMO. Players control groups of survivors using a heavily-modified Google Maps interface. The concept is that the players are members of the fictitious National Emergency Control & Relief Agency (NECRA) who have been sealed into secure locations. They have been tasked with remotely assisting survivors via an emergency system set up when the authorities realised that centralised control and evacuation methods were futile. The government and NECRA seem to have disappeared, but these operatives have their mission, which is to ensure the survival of their own "cell" at all costs. Simulations showed that large groups would always lead to infection, so competitive survival was seen by NECRA officials as the only hope for humanity. The game is primarily about scavenging for supplies and avoiding contact with other groups of survivors or, alternatively, about finding other groups and stealing their supplies. Characters are managed by placing them in squads. The live position of any plays in the area around your squad is updated real-time - so the game is effectively a browser-based RTS, but with no Flash required.

6.But why Zombies?

I've been fascinated by the genre for a long time. Not because of the gore and horror, but the constant pressure on survivors to gather supplies and find safety. It's about the apocalypse, really, so zombies are really only one aspect of it. I recently rewatched a UK series created by the often brilliant Terry Nation in the 1970s called Survivors which I remembered enjoying in the '80s when I saw it (it was also remade recently). A virus killed over 90% of the population of the world, and the remnants of humanity are left to try and rebuild society. I find that premise fascinating, especially when rival groups form based on such basic needs as seed for planting, or a safe water supply. When zombies are involved, there's also the tension which comes from how easy it is to be turned into the enemy, to be infected and lose control or to be killed and then "come back". I think that fear taps into something deep inside us, a sense of how random death can sometimes be. Most of the good zombie/infected films get that fear exactly right. Other influences were Threads, a particularly harrowing UK docudrama about how a nuclear holocaust eventually leads to the collapse of society, or any number of the apocalyptic stories which seemed to be everywhere at the end of the last millenium.

In the zombie genre, the magnificent comic The Walking Dead deals with exactly these difficulties. The zombies just happen to be there in the background and only leading to deaths when the characters are tired or distracted, whereas it's the other survivors that you really have to worry about. I'm really looking forward to the TV version of this, which starts at the end of the month in the US. And of course there's World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide, both of which I had great pleasure in rereading repeatedly throughout the design process.

7.What would you say are its most innovative and/or unique mechanics?

I wanted the zombies to be a faceless horde, so decided that they would be represented by z-density, rather than as individual enemies. Z-density is basically a shorthand used by NECRA to determine how dense the zeds are on the ground, based on satellite tracking of their movement. We take real city blocks and work out how many actual zombies are in the block (there are over 9 million zombies moving around the LA County area we're using for beta testing - they react to player activity, including the use of firearms, over time). Based on the size of the block, we calculate the z-density as a percentage. The players have to imagine this, as z-d is represented by colours, but we might introduce more graphics once we're happy that all the mechanics are working correctly. Combat is effectively automated, with survivors using firearms or weapons if they have the skills to wield them. Every route completed can result in them putting down some zeds, or in injury and even death for the characters.

The need to consume enough food and liquids each day is something I wanted to have, although I know that it's a risky prospect for games. Characters need a certain amount of calories and volume of liquids or they will start to accumulate thirst and hunger. Once these reach maximum, the character will die the following day. It takes about four days for dehydration to result in death, and 28 days for hunger to prove fatal. Even if players find supplies, they can't just feed and water their characters back to full strength. If you neglect them for a few days, it will take a few days for them to recover, as they can only eat and drink so much each day. We decided to make consumption automatic, to avoid forcing players to feel that they had to continually tend to the characters, but it can be tough to keep a large group supplied with enough liquids. Locations do not replenish once they've been exhausted, so that means that players have to stockpile when they can, or work out a way to barter for their needs.

8.How long have you been developing it?

I first started working on the idea back in 2007, but we started working on it properly in mid-2009.

9.When will it reach the MMO masses?

I sometimes feel that we're on Valve Time, so I'll just say that we hope to be out of beta by the end of this year or the beginning of 2011. We are determined to go into open beta over the course of the next two months.

10.Any plans for the future?

Any other concepts for games have had to be consigned to my notebook while we've been developing WotLD. I hope to start working on at least one of those once WotLD is running smoothly, although we don't really plan on stopping development on the game. The list of features we have planned for WotLD is extensive, and we hope to be able to grow and develop the game so that it becomes a huge multiplayer simulation of the zombocalypse. Vehicles will be making an appearance in the relatively near future, as will a deluge of content once we go into open beta, including hundreds of items and weapons. The graphics side of the game has been limited to what I can create myself, so I'm also hoping to be able to focus more energy on that as the balancing and tweaking settle down. The period of rebuilding civilization after an apocalypse provides plenty of scope for developing the game in some interesting ways.

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Oct 18, 2010

The Blackwell Convergence Review

It has come to my deeply shocked attention that despite the recent Gnome's Lair reviews of both Blackwell Legacy and Blackwell Unbound, there are still gamers, adventure gamers even, that have yet to try a Blackwell game. How very odd. I mean, it's not everyday a fully indie, retro-styled, well written and impeccably produced adventure gets made, is it? Of course not. And The Blackwell Convergence is the latest in the Blackwell series, which, as you should have already guessed or known, is an indie, retro-styled, well written and impeccably produced series of adventure games, with Convergence being the third installment.

Convergence, just like the Blackwell games before it and -hopefully- the Blackwell games that will follow, is all about getting the restless dead (in their ghostly form) to actually rest. In New York. Interestingly, New York is as much a character as any of the protagonist duo: Rosa the psychic and Joey the 30s ghost.

Now, point-and-clickers that have already enjoyed the previous games in the series, will definitely have to also play this installment, as it feels bigger and more lush than ever, while sporting the best graphics in the series yet and a truly fascinating plot. As for the characters animated portraits, well, they make a welcome return, as does the excellent voice-acting and writing. Oh, and it's got horror bits in it too.

Newcomers to the series -the genre, even- on the other hand will appreciate the built-in tutorial and the fact that no previous Blackwell experience is required to fully enjoy the delights of Convergence. Besides, its puzzles are very simple and generally enjoyable, and the game is relatively short, clocking in at roughly 5 hours.

Verdict: Oh, come on. You must have guessed that. Blackwell Convergence really is a great adventure game.

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Oct 15, 2010

The World of the Living Dead

The World of Living Dead isn't a particularly subtle title for a MMO that features zombies, but it definitely is, well, both appropriate and evocative of George Romero's classic movies. The innovation of the game is to be found elsewhere. The World of the Living Dead, you see, will be a freeware, browser-based MMO (MMORPG actually) that will have gamers truly struggle for survival in real-life locations, in what can only be described as a particularly gritty and realistic hunt for food, shelter, and water (or any other liquid). And no ,you wont be playing as a zombie. They are a mindless, rotting, shambling, mass, they are.

You will instead be a NECRA (National Emergency Control and relief Agency) operative trying to help him- or herself and a group of survivors make it through another day. Now, as the game is still in closed beta (you could apply to help it test itself though) and constantly evolving, I wont be going into detail, but I will let you know that I thought it was brilliantly atmospheric, tense and way more strategic than I had initially imagined. Definitely a MMORPG to look out for. then Oh, and those NECRA tips should help you get the thing's mood:

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Oct 12, 2010

The People's Glorious Text Adventure

As already mentioned, the 2010 Interactive Fiction Competition is underway and over 20 mostly brilliant games have been made available. The People's Glorious Text Adventure by Taylor Vaughan is -happily, I might add- one of them and can either be downloaded here or simply played online with the help of your unmodified open-source browser. It also is the only game I've ever played to equip my in game persona with a "What Would Trotsky do?" bracelet. Fancy, that.

The People's Glorious Text Adventure, as the title not so subtly implies, is a) a rather old fashioned text adventure, b) glorious, c) funny and d) a political satire that isn't afraid to be, well, actually political in a most well-mannered yet obviously progressive and almost radical way. It also happens to be a rare game that hilariously combines the wit of Grouch and the wisdom of Karl Marx to create a pretty big game, that impressively failed to infuriate me; believe me, as much as I care for political video games, finding fault with them comes far too naturally to me. So, well done c. Taylor for an excellent satire and true text adventure for the people!

Oh, and in Soviet Russia text adventures YOU!

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Oct 11, 2010

Blackwell Unbound Review

Blackwell Unbound is the second game in the Blackwell series by Wadjet Eye Games and thus a sequel of sorts to the excellent Blackwell Legacy indie point-and-click adventure game. Then again it also happens to be an enlightening prequel to the Blackwell Legacy, taking place in a brilliantly stylized version of New York during the early 70s. This time around you wont be helping the shy Rosangela and her ghostly guide Joey solve supernatural problems, but will instead be guiding her rather outspoken and definitely more confident aunt, Lauren Blackwell, and her ghostly guide Joey solve two, obviously ghost-related, cases.

The game is thus slightly longer that Legacy and feels even more so, as the inclusion of a couple new mechanics, make for a far more taxing experience. Not that the game is difficult, mind but the ability to switch between Joey and Lauren, a few newly integrated simple inventory puzzles and looking up names and places in a directory do help mix things up. After all, making sure that a deceased jazz musician, a half-crazed ghost and an incredibly sad villain find their respective ways, shouldn't be that easy.

Great gameplay aside, Blackwell Unbound also sports the signature excellent writing quality of the series, amazing music, spot-on voice acting, interesting characters and some truly beautiful pixel-art graphics, for that authentic classic adventure feel. The only thing sadly missing are those character portraits the Blackwell games seem to do very well. A shame really, but the developer commentary and a few more extras will definitely make this up for you.

Oh, and New York and its multitude of people and cultures do get another love letter in the form of this brilliantly written and quite touching interactive story, that never fails to be funny when the situation allows.

Verdict: An excellent game and a truly rare chance to adventure in a ghost-infested version of New York in the 70s. Get the Blackwell Unbound here.

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Oct 4, 2010

Rogue of the Multiverse

The 2010 Interactive Competition has already began and you can now download over 20 brand new and mostly excellent text adventures from the compo site in order to enjoy and actually judge them. As for me, the only entry I can talk about (for now at least) is the Rogue of the Multiverse by my favourite interactive fiction author and freeware game designer Pacian.

Rogue of the Multiverse, a rather innovative text adventure created in TADS 3, is a brilliantly written and rather easy on the player sci-fi offering, that feels impressively detailed, sports interesting characters, a fantastic plot, multiple endings, some procedurally generated segments, a variety of alien races, more humour than anyone would expect, a satisfying amount of truly subtle political references and an array of interesting futuristic gadgets. It is, and I'm avoiding all plot spoilers here, a truly great game that will appeal to your literary instincts, while making sure your inner geek doesn't feel left out.

You can download Rogue of the Multiverse here, complete with its walkthrough (don't use it, no, really) and an assortment of digital feelies. In order to run the game (it's that tiny .t3 file) you could do worse than use a copy of the excellent and quite freeware Gargoyle.

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Sep 29, 2010

Eye^Game^Candy: 3D Deathchase

3D Deathchase 3D Deathchase or simply Deathchase was released for the humble 16k ZX Spectrum back in 1983 and remains a rather excellent and incredibly addictive game to this very day. Unfortunately and despite its impressively fast 3D graphics it never featured an Ewok.

Sep 23, 2010

The Dave Gilbert / Wadjet Eye Interview

Dave Gilbert, a master of all things AGS, is the man behind indie adventure game publisher/developer Wadjet Eye Games and the designer responsible for such point-and-click gems as The Blackwell Legacy and The Shivah. What follows is -quite apparently- an interview with him.

1. Most know you as a designer, programmer and even publisher of indie adventure games, so, beside that, what are your gaming and non-gaming interests?

Gaming? Hm! I’m a big RPG nut. I’ve recently replayed Arcanum and I’ve just started the latest Final Fantasy, which should probably keep me busy for awhile. I have yet to finish any installment in that series, so let’s see if this is the exception.

As for non-gaming, I’m pretty low key. I love to travel, read, and wander aimlessly around NYC looking for places to go.

2. And how exactly did you first decide that playing via a keyboard and some chips was a good idea?

It’s all my mother’s fault. I was 11 years old and she bought me a copy of Infocom’s Wishbringer. After that, my fate was forevermore sealed.

3. From enjoying to creating; how and when did you decide to start coming up with your very own digital bits of interactive entertainment?

It all started during a time in my life when I was looking for some distractions. The year was 2001 and it was September and I live in New York, so you can imagine what I needed distracting from. I searched the web for freeware adventure games and I ended up discovering the Reality on the Norm project. The idea behind it was basically a shared universe. All the assets – characters, backgrounds, even the world itself – were shared by the community, and anyone could come along and make a game in that world and add to its story. The idea appealed to me. After playing a couple of them I decided to make one, so I took a week or two and made a little game called “The Repossesser.” People seemed to like it, so I kept making more.

4. What about Wadjet Eye Games? A bold step.

Maybe! At the time I was between jobs, having just come home after spending a year abroad teaching English in Asia. My apartment was being rented out so I was staying with my parents. They were both retired, and it was a bit embarrassing to be hanging around their apartment all day when I didn’t have a job either, so I took my laptop to a nearby cafĂ©. For a month, I tinkered around with making a game for 7-8 hours a day and I told myself I was working. Completely self-defeating, but The Shivah was the end result. I had so much fun making it that I realized I didn’t want to do anything else. I had about nine months worth of savings in my bank account, so I figured it was “now or never” and just dived right in. So it wasn’t a “bold step” so much as putting off getting a real job. You could say that I’m kind of still doing that.

5. And you've already been around for almost 5 years. Quite a feat that. How did you manage?

If I do anything on purpose it’s that I make a point of keeping my games a bit on the short and manageable side. It’s a lot easier to recover from a commercial failure if the time and money you put into it is minimal. There’s always that temptation to throw more and more money and time at a project to make it super awesome, but there’s always the fear that the game will bomb and you’ll lose it all. I’ve learned to treat every dollar I put into a game as a potential loss, and I’ve become very careful. While it does occasionally force me to cut some corners, it does force me to be very creative in how I do things. If I screw up, I can bounce back much faster.

6. What are your ambitions for Wadjet Eye? To create an absolute classic? Turn into the next EA?

Future plans, eh? Yeesh. I don’t even know if I’ll have matching socks tomorrow! Well, my wife and I have eventual plans to take a break from adventure games and work on a cRPG in the vein of Fallout. Unlike with adventure games, there is no middleware available for that kind of thing so we are making the engine ourselves. Or rather, my wife is, since she’s an actual programmer. It will take a long time to make, so in the meantime I am content working on point and clicks like Blackwell. Honestly, our only ambition is to keep things the way they are. I love that we can live this way. As long as we can still make games and enough people are still willing to buy them, I will have no complaints.

7. So, what does the (more or less) immediate future hold?

Right now I’m working on the fourth game in the Blackwell series, called “Blackwell Deception.” It’s fully designed and I’m in the midst of getting art and writing the dialog.

8. If it isn't too much to ask of you, could you suggest a couple titles (and describe them a bit) that would help our readers understand what's unique about your point-and-clickers?

I suppose if you have to start somewhere, you can’t go wrong with the Blackwell series. They games star a medium named Rosa Blackwell and her sardonic spirit guide Joey Malone, who are tasked to seek out lost and confused spirits and help them move on. Usually this is done by looking into the spirit’s past and using that knowledge to help them confront their death. So the games are one part mystery, one part detective story, and one part character study. They are also designed, written and programmed completely from within various cafes in the east village of Manhattan. So by supporting Blackwell you are also supporting the New York coffee industry.

9. You really seem to enjoy life in NYC. Care to tell us how you incorporate it in your -decidedly urban- games?

You look at a magnificent skyscraper, and it’s hard to imagine that it was something made by people. And a whole city of those things? It’s kind of overwhelming. As cities grow over the centuries (or millennia, in some cases) they develop a personality and history of their own. But New York is kind of special. It’s so prevalent in media – you see New York in movies, television and books all the time – that it’s touched everyone in the world in some way or another. You could live all your life in some isolated little town, but step into New York and it’s like you’ve been there before. I like being in the center of all of that. It’s a kind of energy that inspires me, and that’s obviously reflected in the games I make.

10. Ever thought of being creative in the cafes of other major cities? Berlin and Paris do sound different enough I'd say.

Not a bad idea! Although I don’t think I meet the minimum requirement of intellectual pretentiousness. Plus I look stupid in a beret.

11. Care to briefly describe the (usual/average) way to a Wadjet Eye game release?

It varies! Typically I get a notebook and scribble down ideas until something forms. Then I take those notes and compile a working design document so anyone else involved will know what to work on. For myself, I often try to make a schedule, with a day-to-day list of tasks that I intend to complete by a certain time. But then Things Happen and there are delays or I get inspired to work on something other than what I am scheduled to do that day, and it becomes a free for all. There is really no rhyme or reason to the way I work, but I’ve still managed to get six games out the door in four years so I figure I must be doing something right.

12. After publishing Puzzle Bots, do you think you might care to try something similar again? Oh, and how was working with Erin as an experience?

Puzzle Bots was an interesting experience! I had never worked on a game quite like it before, and we really stretched the limits of what AGS could do. At the time I had lofty goals of becoming a publisher for other indie adventure titles, but I soon discovered that publishing someone else’s game requires just as much time and attention as publishing your own. Over the course of making Puzzle Bots, I was also involved in several other projects (Emerald City Confidential, Blackwell Convergence, and another game for PlayFirst) which forced us to delay Puzzle Bots much longer than any of us would have liked. It turns out that I’m not one of nature’s best multi-taskers! Would I do it again? Yes. Sort of. I’m in the midst of publishing another game designed by somebody else, but rather than funding and developing it from scratch, the game has come to me 95% complete and I’m helping to push it the rest of the way. You’ll hear more about that in a month or so. It’s a project I’m really excited about.

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