Aug 31, 2007

2 free LotRO Europe buddy keys for 7 lovely Tolkien-esque MMORPG days

As I've already tried to explain in my rambling Lord of the Rings Online review, LotRO is both a Tolkien fan's wet dream and an excellent MMORPG that everyone should try at least once. Something like a gamer's ménage à trois I guess, but apparently I'm about to digress. Anyway, for the curious lot out there who'd rather not spend anything before deciding (a wise choice) I have two free buddy keys for the European servers of LotRO each granting a 7-day trial.

Now, as I'm obviously generous enough to give those two codes (that cost me absolutely nothing) away, you might want to know how you could grab 'em. Easy. The first two lads or lasses that mail me -cunningly using the contact button on the sidebar- will get them. Simple, innit? Oh, and you gotta somehow have the game's files I think.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: MMO Gnome: World of Warcraft, Half Life 2 Flipside, FlightGear, On video game reviews

Aug 29, 2007

Bioshock Orchestral Score in all its free mp3 glory

The Elderly Gamer has already provided you with the excellent Bioshock PDF Artbook and a discreetly beautiful walkthrough, Eurogamer brought you the game's definitive review and now I, a lowly gnome of all online personas, am about to suggest you have a walk over to the fantastic Cult of Rapture website. Why? Well, there's a brilliant free 12-tracks long mp3 Bioshock orchestral soundtrack by composer Garry Schyman to download. Cyber-leg hurts? Here's a direct download link to make things easier.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: 1700 arcade game manuals, Kudos Rock Legend, more video game soundtracks

Aug 28, 2007

RGCD issue 3 unleashed. Retro gamers rejoice.

Everyone's favourite retro-gaming discmag, the aptly named RGCD - the essential discmag for retro gamers, has just matured enough to release its glorious third issue and you can freely help yourself to an absolutely free copy here (or be nice and buy one here). RGCD #3 sports the usual quality of writing, tons of free games & emulators, over 25 video game reviews covering everything from the MSX to the ZX Spectrum, an excellent bit on Mr. Minter's legendary Llamasoft, one whole hardware review, an assortment of retro extras and a humble contribution by yours truly. Grab it now.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Some lovely free CPC games, Space Quest IV retro review, Atari Jaguar emulation

Aug 27, 2007

The freeware side of episodic gaming

I really don't know if you 've noticed, but Greece just burned down (as expected), this is no more and real-estate capital is about to have the party of the century. Joy, oh joy! To feel even better and prepare for the Greek elections (in the extreme case you are Greek, please try to avoid casting more idiotic votes as has been the trend those past 100 or so years) let me present you with the frankly excellent yet not particularly interestingly named platform game Platform. Tadah!

Platform, besides being absolutely freeware, web-based and smart looking, is also very episodic in a very weekly manner. Every Sunday a new room/episode is released, featuring its brand new traps and progressing the game's story, which is shockingly focused on two amnesiac youngsters trapped in an industrial(-ish) building. The player takes control of said characters, happily switches between them and tries to see both wall-jump their way to freedom. Cunning players should start at the beginning (episode 1, actually) by simply clicking here.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Half Life 2 Flipside, free video game soundtracks, Indy Adventures Guide, Castle Wars

Aug 23, 2007

Decker's Delight Links (23.Aug.07)

Probably (definitely, actually) won't be around till Monday, so here's a selection of some of the finest moments this ..uh.. cyberspace thingy has to offer. In gaming. As is customary.
Independent Gaming got an impressive facelift and also happily discovered Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa a pretty impressive Diablo-esque CRPG. In case you were wondering, yes, it's freeware.

More free games, though of the quasi-legal abandonware variety, can be found over at Ben Kudria's brand new weblog. Just follow the link to The Top 7 Games from Abandonia and see if Fable is the game you've always wanted to play.

The Saturn Junkyard, on the other hand, is offering one of the most famous unreleased games ever: Sonic X-treme. Download a copy, burn a CD and see what the Saturn might have been able to do to the titular yet innocent blue hedgehog were it not constrained.

To study (yes, again, practice makes perfect) the complete, completely fascinating and probably exhaustive History of Zork better follow this very obvious History of Zork link and thank Gamasutra for another top quality article.

Now, readers with a taste for the artistic, the decadent and/or the freebie must absolutely grab the excellent Bioshock free PDF Artbook and glimpse at the demented artistry behind a video gaming utopia turned dystopic. Courtesy of the wise and Elderly Gamer.

Readers with a taste for the hilarious will definitely enjoy Afrotech's Super Megason IV reviewy thingy. It's the only way to discover the true meaning of next-gen post-meta-gaming.

Failing that, better discover the Call of Cthulhu silent movie right from the gutter. It's a brand new production and a fiercely non-innovating movie presented to you in a way only a magnificent gaming blog could manage.

Pen and paper gamers, especially Dungeons & Dragons fans dressed in chainmail and waiting for the 4th edition of their drug, after of course watching the film just mentioned, should a) have a thorough search through the Dungeon Mastering blog b) enjoy 83 free 3rd edition D&D adventures.

Ye olde Quick Links:

Aug 22, 2007

Binary Sciences & the dreaded Free CPC Game

Binary Science, obviously a psychotic, sexually depraved and particularly dangerous cult of 8-bit Amstrad CPC worshippers that has only been around for a few months, has already released two excellent and very freeware CPC games for our retro gaming pleasure. Apparently their psychotic depraved and dangerous plan is cunning like a plan devised by a particularly cunning thing.

Better help them take over the world and restore the glory of Amstrad by grabbing the rather obvious Sudoku Master game or the way more innovative, addictive and visually impressive Groops! (v.2). Mind you, Groops! is a pretty hard puzzle game with some Tetris/Columns tendencies that actually manages to do away with any element of luck.

Oh, and in case you're out of Amstrad 6128s and still want to play Sudoku Master and/or Groops! do not despair. Grab a CPC emulator like the freeware CaPriCe32 and be a happy punter.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: The AMSTRAD feature, Z80 GUIs, CPC & C64 games in glorious video

Aug 21, 2007

Half Life 2's Flipside

Flipside, a properly freeware total conversion mod for Half Life 2, that, as you should have already guessed, is refreshingly not another FPS variant, has been created by 12 university and art school students from Denmark, and it absolutely shows. The mod uses the Source engine to create a stunningly surreal 2D/3D setting for a platform game and then puts the player in the stylized shoes of a mental patient trying to escape the asylum, or at least the version of the asylum he actually sees.

Interestingly, Flipside constantly alters its colors and/or artwork style to portray the main character's mood changes from an almost delirious happiness to a less flamboyant despair. Then again, to actually understand what I'm talking about you should either have a look at some gameplay videos, or -better yet- download the mod itself.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: more Half Life 2 total conversions, H-L 2 & the society of spectacle, GoldenEye: Source

Aug 20, 2007

Kudos Rock Legend

Kudos, a pretty brilliant board game-ish life sim for the PC and a game I happily (yet wisely and not properly dressed) reviewed less than a year ago, must have been quite the well-deserved indie hit. Its sequel, you see, none other than Kudos Rock Legend, has already been released and, what's more, chances are it'll probably do as well, as this game is better, deeper and definitely way more interesting than your average band management game.

Eurogamer even went as far as awarding Kudos Rock Legend a rather prestigious 7/10 and though I have only played the demo, I must admit the game really feels better than the original, provided of course you don't a) hate music b) can't see why Guitar Hero isn't enough, which definitely isn't the case with me. Instead, I just enjoyed the added depth, appropriate music creation mini-games, extra polish and improved visual style.

Now, to try the obviously free Kudos Rock Star demo yourselves better follow this link, whereas to actually grab a full copy click here. Oh, and the official site might interest you too.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Empires & Dungeons, Alter Ego: the retro life sim, Lord of the Rings Online review

1700 Arcade Game Manuals in sturdy PDF

Always loved video game manuals and always considered them the perfect gaming appetizer (or sometimes even dessert), but never really thought there was any point in them lovely arcade games having their very own papery things. Well, apparently, they actually do, seems like they always did and Jason Scott, the brain behind the excellent ASCII weblog, has managed to collect and upload an impressive 1700 arcade game manuals in PDF for your freeware reading pleasure.

Grab the files here and spend hours looking at arcane schematics, modification tips, upgrade guides, operation guides and even some proper gaming instructions. Happily, quite a few of the manuals are in lovingly untranslated Japanese too.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: New OSs for the Z80, Atari Jaguar Emulation, Zelda Retrospective DVD, free PDF & ebook archive

Aug 17, 2007

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers

1991. 16 years ago. The members of the rock band Nirvana are starting their mainstream career and people are still gaming on Amigas. Sierra On-Line is probably the most powerful game publisher for the PC, and the graphic adventure genre reins supreme. First-person shooters and RTS games haven't even been imagined. A 256-color VGA card is considered cutting-edge. Playing a game in any resolution over 320x200 is preposterous. Sierra releases Space Quest IV for PC, Amiga and Macintosh. Fast forward to 2007, where I, a lowly gnome, get to review said game. But what's the point, I hear you ask?

No particular point to be honest. I simply felt like looking back at one of the first adventures I ever played. See if it retains its charm. Provide you with the sweet and fuzzy nostalgia feeling every retro review tends to evoke. Perhaps even teach the younger readers of the Lair a small history lesson that has nothing to do with Lenin. The fact, of course, that Space Quest IV was the last Space Quest game to be designed by the Two Guys from Andromeda (Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy; Wikipedia entry), the first Space Quest to feature VGA graphics and the first Sierra adventure with scrolling screens in it, did help me a bit in selecting it.

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (hence SQ4), as its title subtly suggests, is all about time travel. Roger Wilco the titular space janitor, occasional world-saving hero, and Space Quest frontman, travels from the lush 256 color VGA landscapes of Space Quest IV, to the 16 color EGA Space Quest I ones, while having fun at a few more eras, namely Space Quests X and XII. In a pretty cute twist of gaming design logic, you don't get to actually play in Space Quest IV, but simply experience it through amazing (for the time) hand-drawn cut-scenes. The plot is pretty basic: fight an old enemy, save your son, avoid one of the dozens of possible and fully animated deaths and save the galaxy. It's as simple -and almost cliched- as that.

Well, maybe not so cliched after all. You do have to accomplish standard superhero goals, but there is a twist. You see, Roger Wilco right after saving the two game designers known as the Two Guys from Andromeda in Space Quest III, and while vacationing through the Galaxy's space bars, gets attacked by the aptly named Sequel Police, who are apparently operating under the commands of arch-enemy Sludge Vohaul. Roger's yet unborn son comes to the rescue, transports him to Space Quest XII, where Roger promptly hands control over to the player, who must now save the Galaxy. Not a groundbreaking story, but nice nonetheless and quite an appropriate setting for some silly gags..

This, you see, is no serious sci-fi dystopian epic. From the moment you look at the cover of the game's box (which in typical 90s fashion includes lots of diskettes, a manual, a Sierra catalog, and the amazingly funny Space Piston Magazine; have a look here) you'll get the silly attitude that prevails throughout SQ4. The game pokes fun at Sierra, Space Quest games, adventure games in general, Star Wars, sci-fi movies, contemporary society, life, universe, fish (not) and apparently the player. Most of the jokes and one-liners actually work, thus crowning SQ4 the funniest (non-text) adventure of the early nineties, if for whatever criminal reason we choose to ignore Monkey Island. Or Day of the Tentacle. Ok, to be frank, SQ4 isn't the funniest game ever. Big deal! Its humor is much better than your average Larry Laffer, Broken Sword, or Quake-Doom humor.

SQ4 is polished too. The production values of Space Quest IV are, even by today's standards, impressive. There are buckets of animation, lots of detailed screens, full and rather funny descriptions for everything you could wish to click on, a great soundtrack, an optional shoot-em-up styled mini-game (Ms. Astro Chicken), an irritating hamburger making sequence, lush animated sequences, easter eggs, cameo appearances and enough Star Wars jokes to bore you to death. All this in the shortest Space Quest game in the series, as you shouldn't need more than a few hours to reach the (almost touching) finale, but only using a walkthrough. Or some sort of invincibility cheat.

Try finishing SQ4 without any external help and you will loose your precious time, your precious temper or even both, for this is a bloody difficult game. Unfairly and excruciatingly so. Hint book sales were after-all a major income source for Sierra during the long forgotten era of the early nineties, when the Web was just a Swiss scientist's thought and walkthroughs hard to find. Timed sequences, arcade bits, a variety of frequent and unexpected deaths, mazes, dead ends, obscure riddles and every twisted anti-player trick the designers could conjure is there to make your life miserable and your adventuring quest a descent to paranoia. On the plus side this is an adventure game with a point system, meaning that even if you manage to reach the end, you should probably replay it in order to achieve full-points glory. Talk about value for money. Hah. Those were the days.

Today, where walkthroughs and porn are readily available on the web, SQ4 is still good fun. Graphics and music have aged well, the interface is one of the first point-and-click ones (just don't hope for hotspots), the story is still great, and the puzzles tough as always. Download DOSbox and VDMSound and experience this classic in Windows XP (better yet try this link). It will be worth it. And as Sierra put it: "It's not just an adventure, it's a convoluted mass of obstacles only the designers could ever hope to unravel. This 10 pound box of fun is sure to confound even the most dedicated computer game masochist".

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Space Quest IV Easter Eggs, SQIV walkthrough, The Lurking Horror by Infocom, reviews archive

The 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons

Noticed how ridiculously busy the DnD servers of Wizards of the Coast have recently been? Well, so have I, and frankly believe it all has to do with the announcement of the 4th edition of the Dungeons & Dragons RPG that will debut in May 2008. This stunningly unexpected move -only a few years after D&D 3.5- will probably deeply shock gamers, feature some less complicated but more AD&D-ish mechanics, come in colourful books and rely heavily on the hallowed d20.

Expect the first demo/preview booklets in a few months, hold your breath in anticipation of some complimentary pre-painted plastic miniatures (eurk) and -why not- have a look at the history of the D&D evolution. Remember, this was the RPG that started it all and the 4th edition has been officially announced.

[UPDATE] And here are two very enlightening videos to ..err.. enlighten you:

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Sadistic DMing, Dragon Magazine issue 1 pdf, An introduction to RPG gaming

Aug 16, 2007

Z80 OS for the Retro Gaming Techie

Interestingly retro gaming is bringing people in touch with their more tech-oriented side, or so I hear. To be honest though, I wouldn't touch a screwdriver to save my hard disk, but that's both an outrageous exaggeration and way besides the point of this post, said point being them spanking new and terribly impressive Z80 operating systems.

The first one is the aptly named SymbOS Z80 for the Amstrad CPC 6128, a piece of software that might need a few extras attached your CPC (or MSX variant) but will undeniably turn it in an 8-bit computing monster complete with its very own Windows-like GUI. Real multitasking, a 128GB (!) filesystem and a collection of multimedia apps are also provided. Have a look. Oh, yes and don't forget to grab the excellent SymbOS version of Pac-Man too.

The second OS (and this pretty much sum things up, I'm afraid) is ALPACA, another Z80 OS, but one specifically designed for the Pac-Man/Pengo 1kb RAM featuring arcade hardware. It too features a GUI, drives the hardware beyond its original limitations and is quite impressive as you can easily see for yourselves here.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: The Atari 2600 GUI, Saboteur 95, C64 & CPC games videos, retro features

Erratic posting, erratic gaming

In case you haven't noticed, Gnome's Lair hasn't been updated that regularly lately. The situation will soon change (after the invading tentacled aliens have been crushed), but I definitely wouldn't be too eager. I'd probably say ..uh.. 10 days should be enough.

Till then,

take care (and do drop in for the odd post)


Aug 11, 2007

D&D sadistic DMing

Well, actually, not exactly sadistic, but definitely not player friendly or particularly creative, as this smart little Dungeons & Dragons centric web-article is all about them 18 ways to increase combat duration, thus only mildly irritating players (and filling up those crucial few hours every GM once in a while needs). If you want true bastardic system-irrelevant sadism better try the utterly hilarious and very very brilliant Bastard's GM Handbook.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Open RPG virtual tabletop, CRPGer friendly intro to RPGs, Draconic for Dummies

Aug 8, 2007

The Lurking Horror by Infocom (retro review)

Text is a weird beast. It doesn't dance or jump up and down, doesn't change colors, produce richly animated 3D photo-realistic landscapes or get (even remotely) close to a true multimedia experience. On the other hand, it does invoke images only your (yes, your very own) imagination can bring forth; images, sounds, smells and feelings that no PS3 will ever be able to match. Text, you see, is so powerful a medium that has stuck around for more than 4 millennia. As Infocom a text dependent company- used to put it (apparently describing their use of text): "We're unleashing the world's most powerful graphics technology. Your brain". And they were right, even though they are also quite bankrupt.

But, who were they? Who were those Infocom guys? Well, if you don't know, you're a youngling and Google is your friend. I'll just give you a tip: Zork. You see, oh dear reader, besides plain old typed text, or even new-ish appearing-on-a-screen text, there has also been an interactive kind of text, a computerized version of novels, the aptly named text-adventure or interactive fiction games. And Infocom was the producer of the greatest.

Learning to read. And write.

Text adventures had, and actually still have, the most intuitive interface one could wish for. The player is presented with -astonishingly- a piece of text that describes the situation he or she faces, the surroundings and anything else the developer fancies. The player then just types what he or she wants to do. Simple as that, but an example should help everyone get it.

Imagine you are standing in front of your PC, as indeed you Ok, scrap that. Imagine the screen goes black, and then -magically- a text adventure is loaded. Guess what you'd see. Correct. Something like this:

"You are standing in front of the magical door everyone has been talking about. Everything else around you is barely visible, even though you can make out a cat, a glass of wine and an old shoe. What will you do?"

Then, you would be quite literally prompted to take action, by typing something appropriate after a nice old fashioned prompt ">". There you would probably type something like "Drink wine and kick cat" or "open door and kick cat", even "take cat" and the game would respond appropriately with something along the lines of "the cat is in your inventory" or more often than not with "I don't know the word cat".

The Horror's true form

The Lurking Horror, the game under this gnome's ever dissecting eye (the game being reviewed to cut the prose), was one of Infocom's last games, released in 1987 just a few years before its final collapse, and following a series of immensely successful and quite legendary games, like the aforementioned Zork, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Sorcerer and the rather risque Leather Goddesses of Phobos. Its author, none other than Dave Lebling of Zork fame, tried to create the first ever pure horror Infocom adventure game. Oh, and the first Infocom game, perhaps the first text-adventure ever, to incorporate sound. But more on that later.

For now, let's be as frank as the mists of nostalgia allow. The Lurking Horror is a very good game, which uses a mature, though still quite limited, version of the Infocom parser, and manages to infuse the player with an (admittedly false) sense of true freedom. Sometimes of dread too, as this game oozes atmosphere like an ooze oozes ooze. The rather loose and at times disjointed plot, that besides its shortcomings does a great job of being interesting and involving, puts you in the shoes of a GUE (George Underwood Edwards) student, in a typical dark and stormy night, one day before an assignment is due. The apparently desperate struggle to prepare said assignment soon turns into a dangerous journey to the GUE Alchemy department, through the old and Lovecraftian underground corridors of the University. Then you get to die a lot and experience quite a lot of weird and some (wisely few) quirky little funny moments.

Puzzles, on the other hand, though not necessarily deadly, are definitely varied, imaginative and happily not as difficult as one might expect from the era of the beautiful but expensive Infocom hintbook, even though saving often can be a damn good idea. After all, dying horrible and unexpected deaths isn't a rare incident in the dark underground corridors, as all you have to do is switch off the lights and something creepy will dismember you. In a nasty way, of course. Other than that, there are some brilliant riddles to be solved, and some, thankfully very few, incredibly silly puzzles like the operating the bleeding microwave bit to be endured. Mind you, and that's one of my minor Lurking Horror gripes, that at times it's just not clear what you're supposed to be doing.

Atmosphere. And plastic worm-thingies.

Atmosphere. Yes, atmosphere. The secret ingredient, that, along with that gameplay thing, used to be found in almost every game of yore. An elusive, and nowadays rarely achieved goal, which also happens to be The Lurking Horror's strongest asset. Everything my dear point-and-clickers has been carefully calculated. The game's box is an impressive and very physical beginning in your immersion in the world of Lurking horror (you even get a disgusting little red plastic bug-worm hybrid), which will only intensify when you read some excellent prose that is dramatically connected to very well thought-of sounds, eerie chants, screeches and unexpected bangs. Sound, a genre innovation, is used sparingly, at excellently chosen times and admittedly to great effect. Usually just when you've forgotten this game features any. Even the copy protection is perfectly blended to the game's tone (it does feel like an actual puzzle), let alone the manual. Don't believe me? Have a look then.

Thus, to experience the full monty, I do believe that a bit of ebay or Retro Treasures hunting is necessary. To experience (a.k.a. download) the light, prop-less but still very engaging version try your luck with Google. You'll get lucky. Then again, you could always play a lovely online version of The Lurking Horror right here.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Sierra's Mystery House revisited, Vinyl Data, Text-adventure maps, naughty i-f

Video game soundtracks for the masses

It sometimes really is as simple as clicking a link and that's the beauty of this whole Internet thingy. So, uhm, delicately click right here and you'll be transported to the freshly updated home of the freely available mp3 video game soundtrack. Just don't forget to enjoy the latest Zelda music and the utterly classic Monkey Island Bone Song and you'll be a happy man/woman.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Museum Monday retro music, Vinyl Data, a selection of online VG soundtracks

Aug 7, 2007

FlightGear Freeware Flight Simulator

You always thought that MS Flight Simulator was the best and most realistic flight-sim for the PC, didn't you? Well, frankly, so did I, untill FlightGear showed up in all its freeware, open-source, multiformat, feature-laden glory and wowed everyone (including granny).

FlightGear, you see, besides letting you fly anything from the 1903 Wright pioneering flying thingy to a 747 or a modern fighter, features over 20,000 airports, an extremely accurate sky, 3 flight models, 3 DVDs worth of world scenery, multiplayer capabilities and anything else its impressive community can come up with.

The game runs on almost any modestly contemporary PC with Windows, Linux, Solaris, IRIX, FreeBSD or even Mac OS. Find out more and of course download it over at the official FlightGear site.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Saboteur 95, Guide to the world of Indy Adventures, commercial games gone freeware, free games archive

Aug 6, 2007

Irresistible Force: Summer's Warhammer PDF

Returning to the city is always dreadful. Returning to the city from nine glorious days on an amazing island is just intolerable. Shocking. Horrible. Too bloody much. Yes, even when you know that the humane forces of idleness are still scheming against work, that all hope is not yet lost, heck, even when you check your mail to find out that the only purely fantasy Warhammer (WHFB, that is) PDF gaming mag is still alive.

You see, oh web-savvy miniature pushing gamers, Irresistible Force issue 11 has just been released, proving that them six months since issue 10 weren't as deadly as originally believed to be. To download all 42 colourful pages of IF#11 visit the IF website, register and ..uh.. download it. It's free and features some excellent articles like Ogre Story, a (successful) tournament player's guide and the cunning like the cunning thing Cannon Tactics bit.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Chronicles from the Warzone, Battlefield 40k mod, Battle for Skull Pass review