Jul 31, 2006

The Games Quarterly Magazine

I really have to thank my dear friend Brian (whom I met over at Mr. Forbeck's excellent blog) for introducing me to an excellent and most esteemed of publications: Games Quarterly. A brilliant gaming mag mostly featuring board, miniature, card, family and Role Playing games, which Brian sent me all the way from picturesque (and quite hot) Texas (!).

The issue I got, the first Games Quarterly (but definitely not the last) I ever laid my greedy gnome's hands on, was quite a surprise. As it seems, I was a tad used to company affiliated magazines like the contemporary White Dwarf and Dragon, and had completely forgotten the feel of a truly independent gaming mag. I mean, I read all about games I hadn't even heard of and all about the educating potential of board games, and just couldn't help but remember how a magazine should be. Admittedly, I even liked looking at the ads. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Pure gaming bliss.

Thanks again Brian...

Now, oh cunning reader, why don't you have a look at the official Games Quarterly site? Or, could I perhaps interest you in reading my humble Space Hulk and Zombies!!! reviews? No? Care for a bit of Wraith: The Oblivion then?

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Museum Monday #25

Monday. And I have the traditional headache to prove it. It's a nice throbbing one too. Still, one just shouldn't expect too much from an average summer's Monday. On the other hand, the viral zoo that my PC tended to be, seems to have simply closed it's illustrious gates, prompting me to celebrate wildly and giving me the power (which, apparently, I've now got) to keep on with the Museum Monday series.

This weeks humble suggestion, then, the aptly name World of Spectrum, isn't a virtual museum per se, but more of an immense and impressive Spectrum (Speccy, is what I meant) related archive. And I really do mean immense. The World of Spectrum features (among a staggering variety of other stuff) thousands of games, complete with screenshots, ads, music files and game images, tons of utilities, dozens of FAQs and even an almost complete presentation of the wacky Speccy hardware add-ons released back in the eighties.

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Jul 30, 2006

The Interactive Storytelling Sanitarium

So... apparently David Jaffe's (of God of War fame) misread and misinterprerted blog-post started the whole games and storytelling discourse, that rather swiftly evolved to the flame-war, general name-calling, eye-poking thingy we all love and have come to expect. Then, my dear xii games blog made a point or two. They were far too civilized, albeit perceptive, points. Promptly, I too decided to actually be a chap and join the whole interactive storytelling discussion, following just three gnomes-only, gnome-imposed, civilization-friendly rules:

a) no more posts regarding David Jaffe's post
b) find a case study to ... er ... study
c) stay civilized and fully clothed while blogging.


Interactive Storytelling it is then, or -to put it better- stories in games it is then. Let me begin, by stating the rather obvious: 99.9% percent of every single video game ever released has a story, no matter how simple or insignificant this might be. DOOM has a silly story, The Secret of the Monkey Island has a brilliant story, Arkanoid has an implied story, and even pure puzzle games like Lemmings or Professor Fizzwizzle (download a demo here and find out what the Professor is all about) have interesting stories. You see, the story, especially in our gloriously interactive medium, doesn't have to take center stage. As Tetris successfully exhibited it could even be totally absent. It is though something that gives -at times necessary- context to a player's actions.

Just press the buttons and abuse your joystick...

Imagine for example the simplest form of video game. A modest one-button game. If the player manages to press said button rapidly enough and sustain his/hers/its rhythm for a set amount of time he/she/it wins. Exhilarating? Not really. Still this was (well, almost was) the key gameplay mechanic of Daley Thomson's Olympic Challenge and of a variety of hugely successful arcade games.


The reason why Sonic isn't just a fast sprite, but has a name, friends, an arch-enemy and races around places neither called Level 1 nor 2, but Emerald and Marble Zone.

Which, in a rare twist of fate, leads me to another fairly obvious point: people love stories. That's the reason why they prefer it when their games (or toys) are tied to a narrative of some sorts. That's why they play dress-up (not THAT kind of dress-up... pah, perverts everywhere...), why they read books or go to the movies, why Roleplaying Games were such an unexpected success. Why, even the Holy Grail of abstract game's design, none other than Chess itself, isn't simply about moving pieces around. It's about moving armies and soldiers around. It's one of the many ways adults have to play war.


Interestingly even not-so-good games per se can survive on their story alone. Take Sanitarium (mobygames entry) for example. It was (and arguably still is) an adventure game. To be more precise it was an adventure game plagued with faults. The puzzles were tedious, derivative and some of the most uninspired I had ever laid my poor gnome's eyes upon, the interface was a Diablo inspired mess, a healthy amount of disc swapping was required and a lack of overall polish was obvious. Yet people loved it.

Care to know why? It's a rather simple and not so unexpected answer.

Sanitarium spoke of strange things, created empathy, raised questions, was well paced and highly intriguing in the most mysterious of ways. In short it was grounded on a well-told story. The only reason your average gamer put up with significant doses of lever-fiddling and a healthy amount of fetch-quests, was to actually find out what was happening. It simply dragged you on. Made you care about characters and setting.

Story was after all Sanitarium's key element. And it was a joy to play... Actually I should elaborate a bit, but I won't. Hope my point has been made. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a hang-over to overcome.

(beware, more game design related posts might follow)

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Let Ludology Begin, Text is King, the DOOM(ed) rant, Gory Games

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Jul 29, 2006

Duke Nukem, DOOM 3 and some Ducks

With Duke Nukem Forever apparently taking forever, Howard the Duck almost forgotten and quite a few rather dull DOOM 3 mods littering the modscene, Duck Nukem: Four Feathers is exactly what mankind needed. A 337MB DOOM 3 total conversion mod featuring ducks, 20 new single player levels, a hint of pr0n and a silly attitude. Grab it here.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Free Flash Fun, The Original DOOM, Dim-dumm-doom

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Jul 28, 2006

Tough Shit & other Turds

Being in such a fierce scatological frenzy that I recently adopted three lovable young Turds (namely Tough Shit, Count Crapula and Jack Shit), I couldn't help but notice that the Turds! free online game collection is at last completed. And available for free. Of course.

Turd Heroes: Men in Cack

Immerse yourself in deep shit by diving right here. Beside the brilliant Donkey Kong clone (Donkey Pong, that is) I have already reviewed, you'll find Bogger, Dungbeetle Rally, Poobert and the arcade-style beat 'em up Turd Heroes: Men in Cack.

In the extreme case though, you too, oh turd loving reader, would like to adopt one of the lovely creatures yourself (for example by clicking here), be sure to follow the official shit handling tips. They are definitely wise and range from the obvious "do not flush away this Turd, it's not trained to come back", to the important "do not return this turd to its place of birth, you will loose friends", to the rather surreal "do not place this Turd near toilet paper, as the shock may cause it deep distress".

The Lord of the Rims

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Flash For Fun, Escape the Dragon's Dungeon, 60+ brilliant free games

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Jul 27, 2006

Knightsquire: The Walkthrough

Hah! See what gnomes can do? They can review the brilliant Knightsquire and be thoughtful enough to promptly provide with the necessary (for our adventure-challenged comrades, that is) walkthrough. Perhaps the first to appear on the net. Gasp with excitement, yawn with lust and read on, oh not-so-brave adventurer.

Part 1: The Knight's Place

The game has started and the squire is still asleep. Oh, dear, dear. Grab the lance and poke him with it. Good. Now transfer the sword from the squire to the knight. As the knight use the sword to open the chest and take the dagger. Use the dagger on the window to open it. Now take the blanket from the bed (of sorts) and give it to the squire. Use the sword on the candlebra, have the squire pick up the chandelier and give it to the knight. Use the chandelier on the window. Transfer the blanket and the sword to the squire and have him climb through the window to the roof.

Now, being a squire on top of a castle, use the sword to cut the flagpole, walk to it and use the blanket on the now fallen flagpole. Go to the guard, talk to him, go down the ladder, talk to the other guard, and use the stairs to the room to go up, outside the knight's locked door. Now look at the armor, use it (well touch it actually) and a gauntlet along with the key will fall. Use the key to open the door, thus liberating your master.

Switch to the knight. Go to the throne room and talk to your King in order to learn about your quest. Yes, it's princes saving time. Again. Now go to the library. Use the green book, then the yellow book and finally the blue one in order to open the gates (figured out why? No? Have a look at the colors the guards are wearing... ponder on their cohort numbers... smart kid). Now, exit the castle and go adventuring.

Part 2: The Ogre's Lair

Nasty place. Have the squire enter the cave to pick up the meat and look at both the Ogre and the human remains. Then have him pick up a small rock, enter the tower and take the rope, the bow & the arrows, and to look at the wooden floor. Transfer the small rock to the knight. Switch to knight. Use the sword to cut and take the giant leaf. Now, throw the stone to the nest. A feather will fall. Pick it up. Have the squire enter the tower and use both candles. Now, get the knight in the tower. Having them both in there is a nice opportunity to chat. Have the knight speak to the squire. A trapdoor will open.

Take the bow string from the trapdoor, use it on the bow. Use the rope on the completed bow and give it to the knight. Have the knight shoot the bow at the open window. Smile at the ensuing scene, and give the giant leaf and feather to the squire. Switch to squire. Use the giant leaf on the gap and then put the meat on it to complete a devious anti-Ogre trap. Go to the Ogre and use the feather on him (her/it).

Now, being the squire and all, climb to the window to rescue the princess. Talk to her. Look at the hole (heh). Take the cushions and use them on the hole. Click on the hole. That's all there was to it. You've won.

Related Gnome's Lair articles: Text is King, LucasArts' hidden FTP stash, Spooks review

More Gnome's Lair walkthroughs: Space Quest IV, Thy Dungeonman 3, Apprentice Deluxe, Baldur's Gate

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PC Review: 'Knightsquire'

Right. Damn Firefox. You've just lost me my wonderful review and now I have to retype the whole bloody thing. Great! Probably something meant to happen during a Monday I guess, but I definitely digress. You, dear reader, are not here to read about my browser frustrations, are you? Of course not, you're here because it's summer.

Aaaah, yes, summer-time. Beaches, Tequila with a slice of orange, fruit with a slice of Tequila, overheated PCs and the chronic lack of money. Enter Independent Gaming and its brand new freeware find: Knightsquire (and not Knight's Quest). A brilliant short adventure game that might just help you save enough money to treat yourself to your favorite alcoholic poison.

Knightsquire, lovingly crafted by none other than buloght (?), is apparently a game about a knight and his squire. Make that better a game about a knight, his squire and a door stuck shut. Not very epic in scope, but funny, quirky and touching on the delicate subject of squire-maltreatment (quite the class issue in medieval Europe), Knightsquire is a rather traditional point and click adventure, that's slightly reminiscent of Gobliins 2 (see Gobliins 2 @ mobygames). Following a long adventuring tradition it lets you pick up , examine, interact with and use a variety of inventory objects, sporting mostly inventory driven puzzles. Oh, and it will entertain you for at least a couple of hours, provided of course you aren't the ultimate adventure gaming genius.

Anyway. On to the visual arts front, oh most perceptive and observant of readers, where as you should have already noticed Knightsquire sports brilliant low-res 2d graphics, with a distinct comic-book feel and buckets of color (well 32bits of it actually). Stylish eye-candy I would characterize it, were I not so majorly irritated by Firefox, thus getting all cranky and nasty, thus avoiding any good-hearted exaggerations.

Still, you get the point. It's beautiful. Download the game here and beat it. Just not to hard. It's a precious little gem after all. And it lets you control both the knight and the squire. I swear I even heard of a resident princess!

That's a (nine) out of (ten).

[UPDATE: Here's the walkthrough]

Related Gnome's Lair articles: Thy Dungeonman 3 (+ walkthrough), Donkey Pong, Text is King

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Retro Carnival: The Second Coming

The hats might be a bit on jingly side, the acrobats slightly arthritic and the freak show freaky in a vintage way, but this is the biggest Retro Carnival ever! Featured oddities include: The Amazing Sea Monkeys, The Impossible Impossible Mission, The Hungry AMSTRAD, The Voluptuous SNES, The Heroic HeroQuest, The Kinky French Extra and The Fantastic Dreamcast.

Besides, this is the cyber equivalent of an ancient temple (construction started in the '50s). You just have to dress silly and visit the Retro Carnival 2nd edition!

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Jul 26, 2006

Baldur's Gate: The Walkthrough Era

Baldur's Gate is a time-sucking, character-murdering, Kobold-featuring bastard. The way of the wise dictates that walkthroughs, maps and other (even more) devious means have to be used in order to beat this vilest of beasts. Preferably to a pulp.

Weapons of choice include:

Shadow Keeper's character editors, save file manipulators and great variety of all around cheating tools.

Ackadia's excellent maps and quirky Baldur's Gate solution.

Baldur's Gate FAQs at IGN and GameFAQs.

Dan Simpson's major walkthrough.

More walkthroughs.

Heeding the word of the wise and the learned; best place to search: Planet BaldursGate.

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Jul 25, 2006

"Οι γνώμοι": gnomes in Greek

(We few, we happy few, we band of brothers)

It's already been three (thr33 in ninja speak) whole years since us, the gnomes, an eclectic mix of gamers, artists and fantasy aficionados, managed to publish the first (and apparently only) issue ever, of the almost legendary magazine called the gnomes. The fact, of course, that the mag was quite a bit in Greek meant it's actual name was "οι γνώμοι", two words crudely pronounced as "i gnomi", which oh-so-happens to sound exactly like the Greek word for opinion.

And opinionated it was. And gaming centered. And sporting an excellent cartoonist and a half-mad painter. Also two lawyers, a porny chemicals expert, a crazy person periodically working in China, a pure Heavy Metal fan, a rural and surveying engineer and yours truly. Also, also, lots of gnomes and an Epicurean reference.

Actual content included reviews of the Lord of the Rings and Engel RPGs, a miniature painting guide, interviews, a sarcastic glance at the Greek version of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition, a Bards' look at the music of Willow, book reviews, a ludology article of sorts, more DnD stuff, Game Mastering stuff and more stuff in general.

Our first issue, unexpectedly dubbed issue 0 can be downloaded here and its cover along with a polemic article versus anti-RPG bigots here. The online only (thus cheaper to produce, thus featuring extra articles) version can be found here. It might be in Greek, but the layout is top. Just like the prose actually...

We actually gave 1000 printed issues away. For free.

Then we went on and built ourselves a website. It was quite a nice one mind you(gnomoi.com), but now it's been snatched by a porn provider, which I happen to find a suitably appropriate upgrade of cyber space. Still the WayBackMachine can be helpful. Have a look here...

That's about it, really... I'm off to cry tears of nostalgia now. You go on, have fun, keep on with your lives. See if you can decipher the Greek alphabet. Enjoy your insensitive selves.

Sniff... Seufz...

[UPDATE]: To download the PDFs of the magazine follow this link. It works and always (well, almost) will.

(there you go Mr. Elderly, now you know all there was to it)

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Spooky RPG music, White Dwarf issue 1, Wraith the Oblivion

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Jul 24, 2006

Virtual GameBoys and a pinch of DOOM

Apparently Mr. David Winchurch is a brilliant man. A man of immense courage and proficient in the ways of programming Java based emulators. A man who provides us all with a chance to play dozens of Gameboy and Gameboy Color games from the comfort of our browser. A man indeed (well, whatever this means)! Thankfully, Nintendo hasn't found out anything about it, so, let's just keep it quiet.

Click here (while you still can and as discreetly as possible) and enjoy dozens of timeless classics like Super Mario Land, Tetris DX, Castlevania 3 or Columns. As usual, for free.

If, on the other hand, DOOM is what makes you tick, try to at least enjoy the thing under WinXP. It's rather simple. Download Doom 95 and see for yourselves.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Java NES and C64 emulators, 80s home computer commercials, a devious Spectrum cheat

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Artsy Gaming Mags: The Return

10 megas, 21 brilliant looking pages, a World of Warcraft feature and a look back at Nintendo's Starfox. Seems like the second issue of the free Art of Gaming PDF webzine is back. Get it here and be a happy punter! It won't cost you a thing (beside your soul that is, but who needs one after all? Ask Faust).

Related @ Gnome's Lair: PDF vintage issues of the Dragon and White Dwarf, video game music, Free Flash Fun

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Museum Monday #24

Monday. A day with a habit of repeating itself on a (rather annoying) weekly basis. Silly thing, but one can only hope its oppressive imperium will come to an end. Preferably to a bloody end. After all, that's what Museum Monday is all about. That and (mostly) game related virtual museums, that is. Of course.

Museum Monday #24 in particular is about a virtual and quite real/physical museum hybrid, the aptly named PC Museum, found both here and in Germany. Its exhibits are admittedly impressive, ranging from CRAY supercomputers and IBM transistors from the 50s, to standard 80s home computers and a variety of portable oddities.

Intel's 8008

Oh, and if your German happens to be adequate (ausreichend), I would also suggest having a look at The Dot Eaters. It's another fine 8bit games webmuseum.

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Jul 22, 2006

Music for (still operational) retro ears

The Elderly started it all by posting a link to the Galbadia Hotel (a video game music and anime soundtrack list), thus waking ancient cravings for free video game music from their eternal slumber.

Thankfully more musical resources were swiftly found. Musical resources that give every poor gnome the chance to revel in Mario, Sonic, Zelda or even Monkey Island tunes.

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Jul 21, 2006

RPGs and the Porny Porn's Porn

Inspirational Posters, usually found in places like this, can be really ... er ... inspirational, in stark contrast to a gnome's eloquence. Apparently (that's typical failing to write a proper introduction), this post is all about a collection of brilliant RPG related posters (there's a Warhammer one too) shedding light on the variety of things the RPG.net forum goons find interesting. Well, it's porn mostly, and a bit gaming I guess.

Presented here is a hand-picked selection of the best.

Need more? Click on!

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Dragon mag issue 1, a funny RPG video, another one, Knights of the Dinner Table : The Cartoon

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Jul 20, 2006

Dungeon Hacks are Dangerous ...

.. even more so when acted out,not on a safe-little PC screen, but in real life. We gnomes, being the rational beings we are, usually opt for the middle solution. We don't rot playing Diablo, we avoid facing any actual danger whatsoever. No! We go play miniature based dungeon hacking wargames instead. No mutated mice, no creepy Jellies, no chance of breaking a nail, just miniatures, lots of dice and of course free rules. Oh, and let me stress this last bit.. Free rules, as (for example) found here, at the Dungeons Dark and Dangerous site. Visit it, it's a nice cozy and safe wargaming haven. No Kobolds are to be found ;).

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Matt Forbeck's Blood Bowl, Oblivion's essentials, a cute dice rolling inspired video

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Let Ludology Begin!

"New and better hardware will improve our games, but it will not guarantee our artistic success any more than the development of orchestras guaranteed the appearance of Beethoven".

So sayeth Chris Crawford The Splendid more than 20 years ago, back in 1982, in his highly regarded text The Art of Computer Game Design, before going on to design quite a few rather seminal games (mobygames, Wikipedia). Then the Escapist interviewed him.

Now, you too, oh creatively inclined reader, can have a try at video game design. Better start off with a bit of theory though. Have a look at Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design. Download the free PDF (or just read the html version) here. It's a brilliant read and it will do you good. Really.

Make you stronger it will...

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Homo Ludens affairs, fun with a BFG, the Dragon's Dungeon

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Jul 18, 2006

AMSTRAD: that sweetly flavor of yore...

Alan Michael Sugar wasn't quite the genius when it came down to naming companies. He was (and might just as well still be) quite enamored with his admittedly quirky family name too. Thus, AMSTRAD -Alan Michael Sugar Trading- was the name he picked for his first company. Or to use my sharp like the sharp thing precision, the name he picked for his legendary high-tech company.

AMSTRAD was born many-many years ago, back in faerie-tale 1968. At a time when the world was aflame and Paris was trying to show humanity the way, dear Mr. Sugar was entering the Hi-Fi corporate arena. To each his own I guess, but that's quite irrelevant.

Apparently, Mr. Sugar's Hi-Fi business wasn't enough for him. The not-just-yet (co)owner of Tottenham Hotspur, a man of apparently astonishing insight, decided during the early '80s to enter the rather lucrative home computer market, by launching nothing less than my beloved CPC series. The same series that eventually led to Mr. Sugar being awarded Sir status; quite appropriate for someone, who as a 21 year old during 1968 tried to become a major capitalist.

Paris '68: the art of the era.

The 8-bit era

Anyway, politics aside, in The Year Of Our Lord 1984, Sir Alan the Shrewd, even though sorely lacking help from either Sir Galahad the Chaste or Sir Robin The Not-So Brave, decided to follow Sir Clive's example, and unleash an 8bit Z80A based computer. It was the AMSTRAD CPC 464, an all-in-one concept, that crammed a tape drive in a sleek multi-colored keyboard, which in true '80s fashion also housed the 4MHz processor, 64kb of RAM, 48k of ROM, graphics and music chips, but not the power supply. This one was reserved for AMSTRAD's monitor (in colored and green flavor) and was another fine innovation, that actually forced you to buy one.

The CPC 464

The 464 was promptly followed by the 664, that sported a nice 3-inch disk drive, which was swiftly surpassed from the brilliant CPC 6128. Surprisingly the 6128 featured 128k of RAM and a disk drive. Shortly before releasing the 8bit powerhouse that was the 6128 plus, complete with game-cartridge slot and an updated graphics chip (featuring a 4096 color palette) in 1990, AMSTRAD also bought the rights to produce Sinclair computers. It then went on to create such miracles as the Spectrum +2 and +3, that generally managed to fail spectacularly. Just like its 6128plus based console, the GX4000. This one was so appalling, it was actually being given by CVG as a gift to the "crap letter of the month", and sold so poorly, it's quite a collector's item today, in our era of collectible stuff.

The AMSTRAD CPC 6128 plus

CPC games galore

The CPC featured an impressively powerful and user friendly BASIC. Aaah, yes, and quite an array of brilliant games, that as part of their loading procedure required you to type "cat" (an equivalent of the old DOS "dir" command). Top games included Head over Heels, Prince of Persia, Turrican, Pirates!, The Lurking Horror, Barbarian, B.A.T. and the early '90s and visually impressive Zap't'Balls and Xyphoes Fantasy. Run them all (and of course more) through the impressive WinAPE emulator.

Xyphoe's Fantasy

Oh, and can't quite understand how something as this came close to slipping my mind (I guess I've been a bad naughty gnome...), AMSTRAD also created a mascot. Roland, the AMSTRAD owned Amsoft character, who went on to star in quite a few horrid games like Roland Goes Square Bashing, Roland on the Run and Roland Ahoy, and in a couple of gems like Sorcery+ or Roland in Space. All in all more than 50 Roland games were released (complete list here).


PC oddities, other curiosities and today's AMSTRAD

Unfortunately, following a universal trend governing the fate of good things, the 8 bit era (a good thing) came to an end. Not unexpectedly mind you, but in a rather shocking way for quite a lot of 8bit computer manufacturers. Then the home computer market died altogether, managing to even eradicate giants like Commodore. AMSTRAD prevailed.

Despite its amazingly weird offerings, the company is still alive, still in the (almost) hi-tech business, and quite profitable too. But you care not dear reader, do you? Corporate matters are none of your enlightened interest. You simply want to find out about AMSTRAD's weirdest contraptions. The simple (XT) PCs it produced, namely PC1512, PC1640 or even PC2386, don't fascinate you either. The MegaPC though, will. It was, you see, a vastly overpriced (386SX) PC - SEGA MegaDrive hybrid. Obviously it sort of ... er ... flopped. Despite giving people the possibility of playing Sonic on a proper VGA monitor. And despite it's fine looks.

Sonic and Spreadsheet fun!

The PCW series, on the other hand, did extremely well and only ended their production in the late '90s (the final offering being the PCW16 released in 1996). If you indeed have to know, the PCWs were dedicated word-processing PCs, nicely bundled with a cheap dot-matrix printer. Find out more here and get the emulator there. There were a few PCW games released too, mind you...

The rest of AMSTRAD's unique, quite obscure and slightly paranoid products included the PenPad PDA, the portable PPCs and some satellite phones. Nowadays, they seem more interested in coming up with em@il-phones, a variety of sound-systems and decent digital satellite receivers. Not that exciting really...

Well, that's all. The rest you've got to find out for yourselves, I'm afraid.

But... Oh no! Look! More web-resources!

Related at Gnome's Lair : OXO; the first video game ever, Mario's complete gameography, the USSR home computer, Buy a Dreamcast

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