May 31, 2007

Free, wacky and ready to print board games

The aptly named Cheapass Games, legendary creators of Kill Dr. Lucky and grand slashers of prices, are offering over a dozen free board games for you (and me) to print and enjoy. Where? Over at their double-secret website of course. Games offered include the OOP Huzzah!, Brain Baseball (playable with a standard deck of cards), Bogart, Renfield and the utterly brilliant Roll Out the (Gun) Barrels wargame.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Classic video game Monopoly, It's Alive! interview, free Dwarfstar board games

May 30, 2007

PC Review: 'Urban Legend'

The year is 2127 and Russia has been a colony of the US for over a century. The people are starving, Neuromancer influenced megacorporations are running amok, genetically modified food is introducing the masses to cancer, non genetically modified animals have been extinct for ages, the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer and this time around there is no Lenin. There's only John Doe -strangely, one of the more interestingly named heroes in history- and it sure feels as if someone pressed the diarrhoea button for the great arsehole up there. Oh, and thankfully it's still 2007 and this, apparently, is a review of Urban Legend.

So, uh, let me introduce the game properly, shall I? Well, according to the developer (Russia based ELENS) Urban Legend is an isometric turn-based squad-based strategy game, and, shockingly, it really is. And a good one at that too. The game offers over 30 levels of sheer strategic fun that will definitely appeal to the Fallout, Jagged Alliance and X-Com (a.k.a UFO) crowds, providing a very elegant action points based combat mechanic and an intuitive interface, that's as simple as left-clicking to move and right-clicking to fire. Then again, moving and firing, admittedly with the added hassle of picking the right weapons and selecting/equipping a modestly sized squad, can be tactically challenging enough to test years of accumulated turn-based combat experience and even lead to frustration and/or insomnia. Thankfully genre beginners and tired middle-agers can always go for the easy setting.

Us young and lively gnomes, on the other hand, always go for the harder difficulty setting such as hard and nightmare... It's a masochist thing, really.

The enemy AI feels brilliant, and -what's more- getting progressively smarter, the level design is varied and lethal enough to have your clumsily positioned sniper killed in no time, whereas the simple RPG-like progression of your squad gives the game a depth that can easily turn it into an addictive marathon. I for one have spent over 30 hours with the beast and have yet to beat it or at least get bored. You see, Urban Legend might not be the most innovative indy game ever developed, but it's a brilliantly polished, immensely playable and very fair experience, that does make sure you'll only loose when you make an obvious -even if tiny- mistake. It's a fully satisfying example of an almost extinct, but still popular (ah, gotta love them contradictions) genre.

The only rough bits are some awkward translations from Russian to English, that are easily forgiven, as they almost enhance the (cyberpunk; did I mention that?) atmosphere. Besides, when you get tons of beautiful pixel-artist created graphics -some the best I've actually ever seen- and smart splashes of sarcastic humor, you can definitely ignore the odd misspelling.

Visit the Urban Legend website and grab a demo.

That's an (eight) out of (ten).

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Resident Evil 4 PC review, Sensi 2006, Ron Gilbert & Penny Arcade, reviews archive

May 23, 2007

Warhammer Nemesis Crown - The Free PDFs

Games Workshop isn't much of a freebie provider, with the brilliant Warhammer Monthly 0 being a notable and pretty rare exception, and that's why the relative abundance of free downloadable material released to promote the Nemesis Crown Warhammer campaign came as quite a shock. To experience said shock yourselves follow this link and get a Nemesis Crown Booklet in PDF, an excellent campaign map (with markers) or some wallpapers. Now, sell your house and buy some lovely minis.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Capcom does Talisman, Warhammer stuff for people who read, Battle for Skull Pass review

May 22, 2007

A short & brilliant Sinclair ZX Spectrum documentary

Searching YouTube for retro content is way more satisfying than looking for renegade porn videos and it can eventually lead your average pr0nless gnome to the Your Sinclair Rock 'n' Roll Years video, the one I've already posted above. It's a brief history and description of the classic ZX Spectrum 8-bit computer apparently.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: The Vectrex, Legend of Zelda retrospective DVD, Peter Favaro on Alter Ego, 3D Ant Attack

May 18, 2007

Wolfenstein 3D (sort of) Lives!

Wolfenstein 3D, the spiritual offspring of the not particularly 3D Castle Wolfenstein from the 8-bit era, was the First Person Shooter that managed to popularize the genre and change mainstream gaming for ever. At least, Wolfenstein 3D also managed to spawn the modding craze and in a way revitalized the whole bedroom programming thing. Oh, yes, and the whole freeware gaming scene too.

What's more, Majik Monkee, the sinister genius responsible for Star Wars: Bloodlines, has quite a few impressive Wolf3D mods to offer and some nice related sprites too. Simply follow this link and download said eclectic mod mix (ranging from the medieval to the surreal, mind you) for free. To try your Wolf3d tweaking skills yourselves have a look at the NMAP level editor or -for a less casual approach- at The Wolf 3D Dome.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: NWN: Darkness over Daggerford, UT 2004: Hollow Moon, Reunion, Classic Doom

May 14, 2007

The guilty pleasure of discussing video game reviews

Discussing video game reviews is a very cheap and highly amusing way to pass one's afternoon, provided of course there's no football on TV and everyone involved has more than a passing interest in video (or -and that's being truly anal- computer) games. Extra amusement is guaranteed to those familiar with the repetitive use of adjectives such as fantastic and ..uhm.. fantastic in the long and frightening tradition of the Greek gaming press. What's more, the whole thing can get pretty serious, as current web discussions keep getting closer to being an almost proper discourse of the subject or, to say the least, a pretty mainstream chat of the wider gaming community, as David Jaffe's latest reviewing of reviews showcased (hit the link for an example).

Some random blog post eye-candy

Then again, beside Mr. Jaffe's well justified wrath, a simple cyber stroll through the gaming halls of Digg should convince you that everyone has an opinion on how games should be reviewed and seemingly everyone is interested in finding out what said opinion is all about. Obviously, these oh-so-popular opinions tend to touch on a colourful variety of subjects, ranging from the ways games should be graded and the scale that should be used, to whether a game's price or length should be taken into account, or even to whether innovation is a value each game should possess. Interestingly, but seemingly not so obviously, the huge percent of review related opinions are actually opinions regarding video games per se, as each author, podcaster, vlogger, whatever, is pretty damn sure of what games should be like and accordingly shapes his/her attitude towards reviews and points to what reviewers should be looking for.

Trouble is, a game should be nothing in particular, as, let's face it, neither god has ever sat down and emailed mankind with a concrete set of rules, nor has nature shown the way to proper game design. As for the equally existing, omnipresent, abstract and conscious market, let's just say it historically hasn't had an eye for quality and leave it there.

Happily, every form of art (which, I'm convinced, nobody has succeeded in definitively defining) be it cinema, music, dance, literature or any of the visual bunch, faces the same lack of divine, natural and/or capitalist direction, but I digress. Better stick to games. Even better start with what the video gaming society thinks games should be like. Astonishingly, most answers, varied as they are, are equally valid. Storytelling and writing definitely matter, but Tetris isn't such a bad game, is it? Oh, and the audiovisual bit of each game is definitely important, but what about Zork, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and NetHack. As for length, well, excuse the sacrilege, but would anyone in their right mind dare to think of comparing Ulysses to a poem by Rimbaud? And, really, what is it that makes World of Warcraft something more than a glorified chatroom and Wii Sports such an astounding success? Not so easy to decide, is it? And quite a bit contradictory too.

As good as they get...

The buyers, are a contradictory lot too, and better not forget that a video game, just like a movie, a novel or a painting, is both a piece of art and a commodity to be traded. This, after all, is capitalism, which is definitely kinder than Sparta ever was to its slaves, but doesn't care much for quality (or mankind, but that's another subject altogether). Anyway. Everything is a bloody commodity, and vulgar as this might be, commodities can be judged from a consumer's point of view, even though things can get a bit tricky when it comes to anything related to art or personal taste, as the silly positivist quantification of virtues isn't so easily applied.

So, what's a reviewer to do? Well, actually, there's no wrong or right here. It's only a matter of taste and culture, that's heavily influenced by the fact that some reviewers actually ..uh.. review stuff for a living and are thus required to follow certain guidelines. Judging a game by its price can be such a guideline. Or taking its intuitive interface into consideration. Or even originality and art direction. Whatever a magazines or website's stance though, there's a definite lack of standard yardsticks of gaming quality and anyone trying to come up with objective ones, is bound to run into some pretty tough theoretical problems. Proving that a mature and flawless implementation of an already tried idea is less important than a promising but rough new gaming innovation would be such a tricky little thing, mind you.

But, theoretical woes aside, what is the role of a review? Is it a consumer's tool? Is it a critique, and if yes, does it aspire to helping video games evolve in the way -say- Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature attempted to guide a certain literary genre towards progress? Can a games journalist separate between high-tech and beautiful? Do you, dear readers, believe the average reviewer would be able to notice decent writing even if it wore a wig and danced while juggling three dildos in front of him, when he (the reviewer; less usually a she) believes that Duke Nukem 3D is a genuinely funny experience and that Half Life's banal storyline is monumental? What of the fanboys? Don't you think that the fan base of a game and the inherent populism of big gaming sites can influence a review? How about the game's expected sales? And what if a professional reviewer's honesty is not always taken for granted, which, judging by the average Doom 3 reviews, shouldn't be such a preposterous thought?

Answers on a postcard please (alternatively -preferably even- in the comments section, provided any of the 15 people frequenting the Lair are interested in further discussing the subject). Oh, and vision doesn't sell copies.

As for me, well, any review that's well written (preferably funny), tries to honestly describe the game and treats it at least as seriously as it would treat a mainstream movie is good enough...

Related @ Gnome's Lair: The Interactive Storytelling Sanitarium, FPS history: a pictorial, Fahrenheit Postmortem

May 12, 2007

Ron Gilbert gets all Grumpy in the Penny Arcade

Truth is, this blog, humble and saintly as it is, couldn't be considered a regular news outlet, as it usually doesn't get any exclusive information, neither does it (the blog, that is, this cyber entity from pr0n hell) mindlessly reproduce any bit of Joystiq-esque info making the rounds of the eager to ..uh.. reproduce stuff blogosphere. This time though, it's different. This time it's about Ron Gilbert actively reentering the sufficiently dull gaming world and attempting to teach the uninspired and unfunny a ludology lesson or two.

But let's start at the beginning. The excellent Bits Bytes Pixels and Sprites blog was where I first learned of the very official and undeniable fact that Ron Gilbert, the creator of Monkey Island himself (albeit in his mortal guise), is working on the forthcoming Penny Arcade game, soon to be released in episodic format under the most impressive title of On The Rail-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Obviously, Penny Arcade confirmed the news and added some pretty juicy if not personal details:

We had our first meeting with Ron pretty early in the design process. Tycho and I [Gabe] were getting the story fleshed out and we had some ideas about the design and over all pace of the game. We laid it all out for Ron and then he picked up a whiteboard marker and started teaching class. I’m not sure how many people can say they got a game design 101 course taught by Ron Gilbert, but that’s exactly what Tycho and I got that day. His insights into the way you move the player through an interactive story so that they get to explore the world but don’t loose the narrative were incredible. He was drawing diagrams and helping us really visualize the game in a way that had never even occurred to us. We’re ridiculously lucky to have him on board and helping us with On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One.

As for Ron Gilbert, well he might not have blogged about his new game over at the appropriately grumpy and funny Grumpy Gamer, but the PC Zone team heard the man admit stuff along the lines of:

I have been a fan of Penny Arcade because I have always found their comic so funny and biting. When I first heard they were making a game and that they had chosen to weave adventure game elements into it, I knew immediately I wanted to be involved. Working with the Penny Arcade guys and the team at Hothead has been an absolute riot.

The first episode of the Penny Arcade Adventures, the only game ever to feature three creative minds with a proper sense of humor, currently under development by Hothead Games, will be hitting Windows, Mac OS X (!) and Linux platforms and has all ready gotten its very own press release. Oh, yes, and a trailer.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Adventure Radio, 2006 AGS Awards, Warhammer webcomics, Resident Evil 4 PC

May 11, 2007

Reunion unleashed

Mike Bithell creator of Visiting Day, blogger of Power-Up fame, Great Herder of mainstream porn, Imperial Dark Lord of the Sith, General Secretary of the International, Commander of everything commendable, King of Austria, Transformer of the 57th Order, Knight of the Realm, Artist of Socialism, Wing Commander, Pokemon Trainer, Pooty Tang O São Jão Bão da Bôca, Master Chief, Lord of the Rings, The Man, The Pimp, That Guy, Ultra-secret Spy and Voice of Cthulhu has finally graced us with his latest -happily freeware- video game: Reunion. Click here and enjoy it. It's beautiful, polished, innovative and worthy of Oscar Wilde.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Some freeware CRPGs, Web Warcraft, 80k of free gaming bliss, Star Wars: Bloodlines

May 10, 2007

Retro gaming with a Vectrex

Actually, make that retro gaming with a Vectrex emulator, as I haven't yet managed to get my hands on one of these vector producing beauties just yet. Yes, despite blogging about a pretty interesting Vectrex auction over at Retro Treasures and despite being really intrigued by its compact 80s Apple styled design.

The Vectrex (first release: 1982 US, followed by a 1983 UK & Japan release), much like the admittedly beautiful Mac Classic of yore, came with a built in 9'' monochrome but crisp monitor, which unlike the Mac one, was capable of producing some impressive and quite 3d-ish vector graphics. Zooming and rotation effects were also available, while some rather ill-conceived screen overlays added a touch of color to the games. Speaking of games, only 28 were officially released for the short-lived console, but a vibrant homebrew community has added many more during the last ten or so years, as well as some quirky hardware add-ons. Oh, and it had a controller featuring a proper and obviously innovative analog stick.

The following video (created by the brilliant tr0d) will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect from the 8-bit Vectrex. The games showns are Mine Storm, Web Wars, Heads Up, Solar Quest, Hyperchase, Armor Attack, Spike, Berzerk, Clean Sweep, Spinball, Fortress Of Narzod, Scramble and Pole Position.

Now, to emulate the thing, you could either use the ParaJVE Vectrex emulator, the Vecx or the ultra impressive multi-machine emulator MESS. Googling around will get you most of the system's games. For further Vectrex info try the following:

Related @ Gnome's Lair: PSX: the PlayStation PDF guide, the best in online NES emulation, Shredz 64, retro features archive

May 8, 2007

Free games: assorted selection of the RPG variety

A decent freeware CRPG is a rare beast indeed, usually to be encountered in the deepest caverns of cyberspace (where the particularly kinky & nasty porny web bits also reside) and in the south-eastern parts of the great Rio Amazonas, unless of course one is looking for the more popular and quite populous Rogue, NetHack or MUD variants. Or MMORPGs of course. Oh, and better let's not forget all those classic games gone freeware, but you get the point. Freeware RPGs are to preserved and showcased and that's what I'm about to do (sort of), after of course you hunt for some more of them here and here. Without further ado then, here are the games:

The Ruins of Cawdor, Sierra's final installment in the highly innovative online graphical MUD series that began with The Shadow of Yserbius, has now been patched, upgraded, generally messed around with, turned into a WinXp single player hack 'n' slash dungeon romp and released for free. Still addictive and good looking as ever, mind you.

The Warrior's Tale, a game inspired by Bard's Tale and another fantasy dungeon exploring RPG experience, is a fine example of traditional homegrown freeware game production. Download it and lead your party of 6 (no, not that kind of party, it would look silly) to victory against the viciously vicious, abominably nasty and irritatingly demonic Moloch.

Exult, on the other hand, is more of a brilliant storytelling experiencing in a rich and detailed universe than a turn-based killing fest. Actually, I could even argue that when Exult reaches its final version and its full power is finally unleashed, it will be one of the best CRPGs ever created. Ever. Why? Well, simply because it will be a complete WinXP compatible reworking of the utterly fantastic Ultima 7.

Ark 22 will be less familiar an RPG for PC gamers, as its roots are the cutesy console action RPGs of the 16-bit era. SNES ones to be more precise. If you still enjoy the Zelda games of the 90s, then you 'll definitely enjoy this one. Quite an addictive little thing too.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: The Legend of Zelda Retrospective DVD, Lone Wolf online, Decker, freeware gaming archive

May 4, 2007

The Night of the Living SEGA Dreamcast

So, Sega decided to officially kill the Dreamcast by ceasing the production of GD-ROM discs and not offering any hardware service support whatsoever, which, let's face it, is quite a nasty thing to do, but not much of a shock really and definitely nothing to be mortally afraid of. After all, the GD-ROM is nothing more than a fancy name for a CD and Caleb of Hunyak Blog fame has been adamant in his belief that the Dreamcast is, indeed, undead. Thus, it cannot die, unless of course Blade gets it.

Admittedly though commercial software might run into some problems with the lack of official GD-ROM support, but considering that online distribution is a valid option and 400 megabyte downloads are no longer considered ridiculous, I wouldn't really worry. After all, DiscJuggler can burn CDs the GD-ROM way, be they homebrew games, diskmags, backup copies, emulators, whatever. And you don't need no stinking modchips either, as the Dreamcast is quite the pirates' dream console. Oh, and on a happy sidenote a new Neo Geo emulator for the DC has also just (well, not just, but ..uhm.. quite recently really) been released.

As for any hardware trouble, like -say- a malfunctioning laser lens, fan problems or a slightly deceased DC controller port you don't need no SEGA. You can fix it all yourselves (ok, I can't, but I'm a gnome; you can definitely try). Here's how.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: A proper Sega Dreamcast emulator, 5 reasons to own a Dreamcast, Dreamcast 2: the non-joke

May 2, 2007

Patching & modding Resident Evil 4 PC to decency

Hopefully my less than glowing Resident Evil 4 PC review has protected you, oh dear and wise readers, from this abomination of a port, but frankly I know better than this. Some people, you see, just won't listen. Or learn. Mercifully enough though, even if you are one of the poor souls that just had to see what this RE4 fuss was all about and got the dreaded PC version, all hope is not lost.

For starters, the highly creative PC gaming community has come up with an RE 4 mod that adds mouse support, works decently and can be freely downloaded here (it's the MouseAim thingy you're looking for). Then, Capcom, miraculously sensing that such shoddy ports won't win any PC gamers' hearts, went on and produced a 70 megabyte patch that fixes many. Have a look at the above pic (blatantly stolen from the excellent Destructoid) to see what you should expect in terms of improvement.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Darkness over Daggerford, Warcraft 3 widescreen, System Shock 2 2K7, Kudos