Feb 28, 2008

Rex and the ZX Spectrum militant ecology movement

1988 was 20 years ago and I admittedly do feel a bit on the older side of mankind. Regardless. It's amazing that 20 years since the release of Rex for the ZX Spectrum video games with a strong environmental theme can be counted on one (very crippled) hand, whereas happily militaristic shooters where starry-eyed young gamers kill anything vaguely resembling an Arab are a dime a dozen. And to think that back then it was still actually cold in Antarctica... Oh, well, it must be this clampdown thingy again.

Anyway. On to the game. On to Rex, the brilliant Speccy arcade platformer/shooter that, yes, you guessed it, was released back in 1988 by Martech Games to generally rave reviews. After all, massive Metroid-esque exploration-heavy action games, especially those that used both sides of a tape, weren't all that common for the humble Sinclair 8-bit.

In Rex, dear readers, players assumed the role of the cunningly named Rex, a heavily armored anthropomorphic rhino with a certain passion for ecology, and set off to rid his home-planet from a huge polluting factory-tower-fortress big building thing. Actually, make that a huge, cavernous, impressively non-linear factory-tower-fortress building thing and you'll have managed a way more accurate description.

Oh, and in order to survive said treacherous fortress thing players had to be more than skillful, as this was another traditionally difficult 8-bit game. To be fair though, Rex did provide with quite a few power-ups, occasionally a shield and some almost fairly placed respawn points, that actually did help. What's more, as the game was divided into two parts, there was a brilliant code system in place to help 'em poor gamers avoid playing the first bit all over again. Impressively, this code system even managed to pass on information regarding Rex's health/ammo/etc status.

As for the graphics, well, they were nice, colourful and detailed, and quite wisely designed to avoid as much colour-clash as possible. Sounds, on the other hand, were kept to a minimum few effects and obviously no music was featured.

The gameplay, what truly matters, of course was brilliant and immensely addictive. Otherwise, I guess, I wouldn't be battling my way through Rex all over again, especially on a pretty decent PC loaded with games and while ignoring a Wii...

To legally play Rex, download its tape images, read relevant reviews and/or generally go for the complete Rex experience, I strongly suggest you click yourselves over to the excellent World of Spectrum website. Among other stuff you'll find tons of Rex reviews, maps, ads, previews and walkthroughs.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Mersey Remakes interview, Matthew Smith in FMV, Sensible Train Spotting, the Retro Gamer eMag

Feb 27, 2008

The indie loving Slave Circus

Indie games are going stronger by the day and Slave Circus, the brand new Canadian publisher with the intriguing name, is apparently here to help them. Visit the shiny new Slave Circus website, see what's on offer and don't forget to feel happy for finally getting a chance to grab proper boxed copies of such indie favorites as Devastro and Autocross Racing. Oh, and watch this blog for reviews of some of the more interesting games on offer.

Anyway. Here's a rather juicy bit from the particularly official Slave Circus Entertainment press release:
Slave Circus Entertainment Inc, opens its doors in Brampton, Ontario. Slave Circus management brings extensive experience and support to independent game developers worldwide. Providing valuable experience and service to developers in the fields of game publishing and distribution. Slave Circus was founded by a dynamic sales and management team from such notable companies as Wal-Mart Canada, CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) and RBC World Markets.

Our current efforts include establishing our catalogue to major retailers and building new markets for developers. We've had an excellent response thus far from developers worldwide, most recently building partnerships with studios such as Gabitasoft (Hyperball Racing), Pi-Eye Games (Scavenger), DK Games (Animates) and many more. Clearly developers want options when choosing a distribution partner said Peter C. Wood, VP of Distribution.

As part of our continuing distribution efforts we are actively seeking games to distribute as we forge new retail channels through North America, with over 30 additional titles set to release by the end of year.
Related @ Gnome's Lair: Age of Decadence Interview, Savage 2 - A Tortured Soul, Aquaria, the LotRO demo

Feb 24, 2008

The 2007 Adventure Game Studio (AGS) Awards

I did it for 2005, I did for 2006 and now I'm apparently doing it again. Tsk. How repetitive and what a bloody linking marathon it will turn out to be. Anyway. I'm sure indie adventure lovers and freebie grabbers should enjoy it, so here it goes (oh, and if you haven't figured what it is all about, then I truly am sorry). Oh, and here's me source.

Best Game Created with AGS: Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! by Alasdair Beckett (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: 6 Days a Sacrifce, A Tale of two Kingdoms, Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator Case 6 - Scourge of the Sea People, Infinity String.

Best Innovation: _Access by Akatosh (download).

Lifetime Achievement: Nick "Ashen" Mallon.

Best Gameplay: Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! by Alasdair Beckett (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: 6 Days a Sacrifce, A Tale of two Kingdoms, Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator Case 6 - Scourge of the Sea People, Murder in a Wheel.

Best Story: 6 Days a Sacrifice by Yahtzee (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: A Tale of two Kingdoms, Blackwell Unbound, Infinity String, Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!.

Best Dialogue Writing: Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! by Alasdair Beckett (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: 6 Days a Sacrifce, A Tale of two Kingdoms, Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator Case 6 - Scourge of the Sea People, Murder in a Wheel.

Best Puzzles: A Tale of two Kingdoms by Crystal Shard (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator Case 6 - Scourge of the Sea People, Charlie Foxtrot & The Galaxy of Tomorrow, Murder in a Wheel, Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!.

Best Player Character: Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! by Alasdair Beckett (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator Case 6 - Scourge of the Sea People, Cayanne Pepper, Earl Bobby is looking for his Balls, Earl Mansin: The Breakout.

Best Background Art: Infinity String by Sektor 13 (download, review, walkthrough). Nominees: A Tale of two Kingdoms, Earl Bobby is looking for his Balls, La Croix Pan, Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!.

Best Character Art: Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! by Alasdair Beckett (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: A Cure for the Common Cold, A Tale of Two Kingdoms, Earl Bobby is looking for his Balls, Earl Mansin: The Breakout.

Best Short Game: Murder in a Wheel by Eshaktaar (download, review, hints). Nominees: A Cure for the Common Cold, La Croix Pan, Trance-Pacific, Trevor Daison in outer space - Chapter one.

Best Non-Player Character: Trilby from 6 Days a Sacrifice by Yahtzee (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: Ace Kilnobi from Charlie Foxtrot & The Galaxy of Tomorrow, Baum the Scarecrow from A Tale of Two Kingdoms, Lula the Nymphomaniac from Earl Bobby is looking for his Balls.

Best Animation: A Tale of two Kingdoms by Crystal Shard (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: Charlie Foxtrot & The Galaxy of Tomorrow, Earl Bobby is looking for his Balls, La Croix Pan, Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!.

Best Programming: The Art of Theft by Yahtzee (download, official website, review). Nominees: A Tale of Two Kingdoms, Earl Bobby is looking for his Balls, La Croix Pan, Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!.

Best Music: Blackwell Unbound by Wadjet Eye Games (demo download, official website, review 1, review 2, walkthrough). Nominees: 6 Days a Sacrifice, A Tale of Two Kingdoms, Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator Case 6 - Scourge of the Sea People, Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!.

Best Documentation: A Tale of two Kingdoms by Crystal Shard (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: Charlie Foxtrot & The Galaxy of Tomorrow, Earl Bobby is looking for his Balls, Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!.

Best Non-Adventure Game created with AGS: The Art of Theft by Yahtzee (download, official website, review). Nominees: _Access, Chinese Checkers, Gesundheit!, Quest Fighter II.

Best Use of Sound: A Tale of two Kingdoms by Crystal Shard (download, official website, review, walkthrough). Nominees: 6 Days a Sacrifice, Earl Bobby is looking for his Balls, Infinity String, La Croix Pan.

Best Demo: The Marionette by auriond (download, official website). Runner-up: Asterix and the Roman Underground.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Resonance Screenshots, DeathSpank, The House, The Indy Adventure Games Guide

Feb 18, 2008

Download a complete Knights of the Dinner Table issue (free PDF)

The Dane of War, while not obsessing over explosions, fires, zombies and/or boobies, has made a magnificent discovery: this one. Should you choose to follow the link, don't be surprised if you end up with a brilliantly freeware (well, promo), utterly hilarious, 100 pages long and absolutely interesting to read Knights of the Dinner Table issue. Oh, and in case you don't know what this is all about, well, I guess Wikipedia is your friend...

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Knights of the Dinner Table in flash, Instant fantasy worlds, Prols: The Uprising, free e-book archive

Feb 15, 2008

ten gnomish questions / Age of Decadence

Age of Decadence, as I've already mentioned, will soon probably turn out to be one of the best RPGs a modern gentleman and his lady can enjoy, while also being the first truly ambitious CRPG the indie scene has ever attempted. Now, before heading off to its official website to find out more, have a read at what the developers have to say for themselves and -more importantly- their forthcoming game.
Age of Decadence1. Well fearless developers, care to introduce yourselves?

Nick handles programming, Oscar does the visuals, Rami models stuff, Ivan animates it, and I [Vince] am responsible for the overall design and writing.

2. Now, how about introducing us to your forthcoming release: Age of Decadence?

It's an RPG featuring:
- an original, low magic post-apocalyptic setting
- a detailed skill-based system
- turn-based combat with action points and different attacks
- a lot of dialogue with stat, skill, and reputation checks
- meaningful choices & consequences
- multiple paths & multiple endings

3. Any idea when we should expect to play it? Will it be a download-only title?

Sometime this year. We'll offer both download-only digital copies and professionally done boxed copies with a full color manual, a map, and a jewel-case CD. We've received quite a few publishing offers, but it's too early to tell.

4. And the name, the name... What is the significance of the Age of Decadence title?

It describes the setting. Highly anticipated sequels "The Age of Renaissance" and "The Age of Nationalism" are already in pre-production. Buy two, get the third one for free.

5. Care to elaborate a bit on the setting and story bits of the game?

The setting is post-apocalyptic fantasy. Several hundred years ago a war between two kingdoms almost destroyed them both. Magic, not unlike nuclear power, was used and supernatural allies were summoned. What's left wasn't in any shape to be called empires or kingdoms, so the age of town-states and decadence had begun. A lot of knowledge has been lost; magic was blamed for the devastation, and was all but banned; facilities that were seemed too dangerous were sealed.

The story begins when your character acquires an ancient map and revolves around learning where and what the map leads to, dealing with factions that have very different goals, and finally dealing with what awaits for you at the end of your journey.

6. I understand this will be more or less a turn based experience. How exactly will AoD play?

Turn-based. As for how:
- your Dex defines the amount of action point you get per turn and ranges from 6 to 12.
- all actions have AP costs, so for example swinging a short sword costs 4AP, while bringing a two-handed sword on someone's head will cost you 6AP. So, if you have 12AP per turn, you can either attack twice with a two-hander, or 3 times with a short sword, or 4 times with a dagger.
- AoD offers a large variety of attacks: fast, regular, power, special, and aimed. Fast attacks deliver less damage, but cost 1AP less and come with a to-hit bonus which works well against fast, hard to hit opponents. Power attacks pack quite a punch, but they cost 1AP more and are easier to avoid. Aimed attacks target specific body parts, etc.

So, going with the above mentioned example, armed with a short sword and 12AP per turn, you can do 3 regular attacks, or 4 fast attacks, or 2 power attacks, in which case you'll still have 2AP left. If you grab a dagger in your free hand, you can perform a fast attack with a dagger. We also offer throwing nets, acid, and black powder bombs to enhance your combat experience.

7. Will there be dialog? Puzzles? Moral Choices? Naked goblins?

We've spent all our money on dialogues and choices, so we had to skip puzzles and goblins completely. Even though they look kinda hot naked.

Overall, dialogues and choices are the main aspect of the game and the main attraction. We have seven different endings and only two involve mortal combat. You'll be able to talk your way in and out of trouble, make allies and enemies (there are no default good and bad guys), and handle quests in non-combat ways using dialogues and text adventure elements.

8. Any information on the engine you'll be using you'd care to share?

We are using Torque Game Engine, which was at the forefront of the WW2 technology. It's a real pleasure to work with advanced technology and craft living & breathing photorealistic worlds.

9. How about the available quests?

Well, they are much more better than the unavailable quests, I'll tell you that much. We have over 100 quests (104 to be specific, but that could change), but your choices will filter it down to about 60 quests per playthrough. I'm glad to report that we have 0 FedEx quests and 0 "kill x monsters/Bring me x items" quests.

10. What kind of character creation and game mechanics systems will you be using? Should we expect something like D&D or something more akin to Fallout/GURPS?

The system is skill-based. Your stats define your starting skills and then you gain and distribute skill points. We're slowly playing a "Let's play AoD" game on our forums, so drop by and take a look at the character system, dialogues, and some mechanics.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: It's Alive: the interview, Savage 2 - A Tortured Soul, Ron Gilbert's DeathSpank, Prototype 2

Feb 14, 2008

Game Cabaret: A Cabaret for ... err ... yes, Gamers!

Otto Dix CabaretYears in the making and having already costs us 4 virgins, 2 pens, 12 acres of fertile farmland, a ZX Spectrum (complete with Interface 2) and a particularly cuddly dog, but, well, we finally made it for here it finally is. Actually, make that here. All you have to do is follow the link and be transported to the world of the Game Cabaret, where -apparently- the sexy, dark, humorous and at times serious side of video gaming is being discussed.

Now, to be on the more informative side of things and assuming you wouldn't care to read this little post, the Game Cabaret is a blog by the Artful Gamer, Guttertalk and my humble self, that will try to be quite a bit different by cunningly focusing on what others ignore. Cunning, innit? And, just to make sure we achieve such a lofty goal, there will hopefully be some regular guest posts, so if you'd like to contribute your well-penned ramblings do let me (us) know. Oh, and if you'd be so kind as to spread the word by linking to the thing... Thanks!

Related @ Gnome's Lair: The Player!, Trainspotting: the game, Fallout 2 bondage, The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Feb 8, 2008

ten gnomish questions / Mersey Remakes' Obbbob

Oddbob, one of the few retro remakers, game designers and webmasters that is constantly rubbing himself in flour whilst looking at your webcam, has been kind enough to find some time and answer a few question for your reading pleasure. Now, before you fellow retro gaming addicts and wise ludology connoisseurs go on and read this extremely interesting interview, better learn that Mr., uhm, Bob is responsible -among other things- for G-Force, JSWO, helping humanity with Retro Remakes and getting all creative with MFOR.
1. So, it's Bob, Robert and oddbob. Care to explain who you are and state your age, obsessions and/or any bit of personal info you think the Gnome's Lair lot would be interested in? You know, for the record...

Hello! My name is Robert Fearon, otherwise known as Oddbob, Wrongbag or Genius depending on which forum you attend - although some people have slightly less polite names for me. Like "Dave" for example.

I'm old enough to remember the ZX81 but not old enough to have been party to Computer Space in its original incarnation, although this beard makes me look around twelve (or so I like to believe - that's my excuse and I'm sticking by it). For the past 5 years I've been involved in the Retro Remakes "scene" running Mersey Remakes and for 3 of those, running Retro Remakes itself. I have a sideline as a small part of the gestalt entity known as Cassette50Man on Somewhere Beyond Cassette 50 whereby along with the other parts of said personality (rumour has it that another part of Cassette50Mans personality was responsible for Veck and the still unreleased but very good Veck2 but I don't believe a word of it), we test out the worst games on the internet so you good folk don't have to. It's a dirty job but someone has to do it. Sometimes I wish it wasn't me though as they're really, really bad games and often we need a good few months recovery time inbetween.

I'm also part of the team behind Jet Set Willy Online, and responsible for 2 games for the UK Retro event and all round Llamasoft love-in Retrovision. Both games unsurprisingly based on the works of Jeff "Aw fluffy sheepy" Minter.

In a past life I've been a trained studio engineer, a store manager and a binman but these days I mainly idle my time away playing and swearing at games and on occasions, attempting to write my own. I am also, for a change, fully clothed.

2. Besides being responsible for some brilliant retro remakes you (well, Mersey Remakes and you) have a lovely blog. Love the name. What do you mean with it? Do you guys indeed make the cops look bad?

Luckily for me, my only brush with the law previous (aside from the occasional lift home late at night whilst wondering back from the 24 hour garage) involved attempting to avoid a single police car whilst carrying a conspicuously large bag of posters and a bucket of paste when I was much younger. To prove that I definitely don't make the cops look dumb, my escape route consisted of circling the town hall repeatedly in the hope that they'd get bored and leave me alone. They didn't. They just turned round the police car and drove round the other way stopping me in my tracks. Both my fly posting and criminal career came to a rather abrupt end that night. Mister Smila on the other hand, I hear, is wanted in 32 countries for crimes against Sinclair products.

The name itself comes from a song by the perennial musical grouch Mr Luke Haines entitled Baader Meinhof, from (curiously enough) the album Baader Meinhof. It's a slightly obtuse album about terrorism from the mid 90's and oddly, given the subject matter, filled with rather catchy songs. As we share the same beard, it seemed only fair that I should honour the man in some way from my blog and so I stole the first line wholesale.
3. On to Mersey Remakes. What's the story behind this very giving group?

In short, we remake games from the eighties with modern(ish) technology and in a lot of cases try and put a slight personal spin on them as well. It's all done in the name of freeware and love and hugs and thankfully, so far - we've had a higher proportion of happy original authors than we've had "unhappy" original authors with regards to what we do.

Mersey Remakes is, technically, myself and Mr Smila - although just to confuse the issue despite a *walks off whilsting* failed attempt at Dropzone and Mr Puniverse many years ago when I was even less reliable and slightly less able to code than I am now we don't actually work together. Although I still have the graphics Mr Smila made for both of these games, so maybe one day they might just see the light of day. The site itself came into existence not long after I finished the embarassingly bad take on an already embarassingly bad game that I somehow made worse (that'll be Kokotoni Wilf, originally from Elite) and realised that perhaps, I was going to need some webspace to dump the files to. Despite being convinced it'd never come to anything, I let the then owner of Retro Remakes (the sadly missed The Toker) talk me into picking up a domain and some proper hosting just on the off chance. Not long after I bought the domain the gentleman who was hosting Smila's early works decided he could no longer maintain his site. Given I had webspace to spare, we came to an arrangement that we'd both pay 50/50 on the site hosting fees and in turn I'd provide a permanent home for Smila's work and he'd never have to see the back end of a site in his life. Nowadays though, we just share the same webspace as it's as much his site as mine now.

Over the years the site grew as both myself and Smila churned out games, I took on a few homeless remakes and games, started a blog and despite the lack of care I gave the front page, the site took on a life of its own. I think. That was 5 years ago, but that's how I remember it all happening. In all likelihood, it was probably a space chipmunk or something that nibbled a neuron and the entire site just appeared overnight.

Best of all, after the best part of five years behind the wheel - it's still fun. I get to spend my time playing and remaking games, and getting first dibs on Smila's own work. It doesn't get much better than that.

4. Ok, that was slightly confusing yet quite reassuring. Then again you are not thinking to try creating some non-retro inspired games, are you?

Not for Mersey Remakes at least, no. But then, I'm not sure if I could ever shake the retro influence too much.

When you've spent years gorging yourself on games, it's hard not to take influence from the best bits of gamings past, more so I guess if you remake games for a hobby.
5. Any hopes for a commercial game? You would do quite an impressive indie group you know...

Aw, thanks. I don't know if we'd be quite that impressive when you consider some of the stuff that's emerged over the past 12 months from the scene and some of the stuff still to come on the horizon but yes, yes, there is actually. A couple even.

The big project that will likely see the light of day either towards the end of 2008 or early 2009 is Project MFOR - it still hasn't got a title outside of the "that'll do till we think of something better" name I'm afraid.

It's going to be a horizontal shooter set in a sort of kids picture book world with a library as the central hub. Your main character is left late at night in the library waiting for a relative to collect him and drifts into a few adventures via the books themselves. Each stage is going to be based around a different scenario of the character trying to find his own way home.

I guess more than anything I want to prove to myself that there doesn't have to be a divide between the alleged hardcore and the alleged casual crowd - I think Bit Blots Aquaria certainly goes a heck of a way to proving that Indies don't have to cater to one or the other and that a good game will float (no pun intended) regardless. I'd hate to be the kind of person who sits there as some commercial indie devs do and tailor their product to a demographic, clipboard in one hand ticking off features, calculator in the other totting up their monthly earnings from a swathe of lacklustre products.

Games creation should be about love and care and writing the game you want to write, and sure, you can argue that where we're heading with MFOR might not pay the bills so as to speak, but at least I'll be able to sit back and say "well, I bloody tried" regardless of how the cookie crumbles and I can't do any worse than some tat that's already gracing the market with a pricetag attached.

Plus, I like the contradiction of having a shooter set within a kids book. It amuses me.

Unfortunately, due to life circumstances a lot of the development of MFOR is going to rely on both myself and the artists (the uber talented Gary Pinkett) schedules aligning long enough to get some work done. At the moment he's not long started up a business of his own, new kid etc... and I'm my usual scatty self bounding from one thing to the next but the wheels are in motion, albeit slower than either of us would have wanted.

Aside from MFOR, there's a few vague plans in the pipeline for a budget game label/site plan with a few friends. A couple of which have been bitten on the arse before now by previous commercial ventures and wouldn't mind striking out into low key "fun but not enormous" sort of games and hopefully, I can help them make this happen. But at the moment, that's all rather sketchy and vague and we're still kicking stuff around. They're all incredibly talented folks and deserve a bit of a boost up so fingers crossed.

Might happen, might not - either way I've got a couple of ideas for games to throw into the ring myself to help kick things off should we go with it.

6. Oh, and -I know that's quite irrelevant- but are you interested in them modern games? Played anything interesting lately?

Oh yes, indeed I am. 2007 has been a corking year as far as I'm concerned - I've probably put more gaming hours in this year than I have in quite a long time.

360 wise, I tend to alternate between Crackdown and Space Giraffe for gaming pleasures. Cracking the leap from the agency tower into the water below was one of the most satisfying (and terrifying) game experiences ever. I near filled my pants and my stomach repeatedly sank like a stone with every leap. Truly wonderful and even after finishing the missions I'm still having a great time just kicking around the city collecting the odd orb here and there and playing with piles of cars and rocket launchers.

A fine testament to the designers I guess, that even when the game is done, I'm still having rucks of fun with it.

Bioshock was highly entertaining and one of the most consistent worlds I've got to wander around in, even with the needless boss battle at the end... other than that, I'm just hanging fire with a handful of points waiting for N+ and Rez to hit XBLA.

On the PC I've not long blasted through both the Half Life 2 episodes and Portal, didn't enjoy Episode 1 quite so much as a lot of it felt like the worst parts of Half Life 2 rolled into one - luckily Ep2 and Portal more than made up for things. The final battle with around 12 striders in Ep2 had me on the edge of my seat, even allowing for the wonky car controls. And of course, that song at the end of Portal is sublime. More games should end on a song.

I picked up Crysis as well but that depressed me with just how utterly and totally bland it was and disappointed me with how it didn't look *that* gorgeous all told - the vistas and landscapes were for the most part beautiful but as soon as you walked into a hut it may as well have been RTC Wolfenstein. I also struggled to find anything remotely enjoyable to do in the game. Shame really.

Oh, and of course, it'd be rude of me not to mention the enjoyable time I had with Sam & Max.

For Nintendo kicks, Excite Truck on the Wii has been a firm favourite since I got frustrated with the Ice Dungeon in Twilight Princess and I'm spending my toilet time alternating between Geometry Wars Galaxies and Contra 4 on the DS. Although the latter is perhaps a little too brutal even for me. Still, I live in hope that one day I might someday make it past level one on Normal difficulty.

So yeah, I may be firmly routed in the past with a lot of what I write - but there's still so many great things going on in gaming that you'd have to be a fool not to prick up your ears, pick up your sticks and get playing.
7. Couldn't agree more. Also, there are just too few memorable (and even less funny) songs in gaming. Then again, there aren't enough Python references either... Anyway. Aren't you immensely proud for Jet Set Willy Online?

You know something? I am. Immensely so.

I wasn't for a long while being far too close to it to appreciate it and being a misenthrope at the best of times. For a while it was like being in a whirlwind, builds of the game flying back and forth, bugtesting galore. Stu, Smila, Scott and myself bouncing edits and changes daily and then the playtesting till I was heartily sick of the sight of it. Looking back on the whole time, I can see why some of its magic was lost on me.

Now everytime I think of what we pulled together there I grin from ear to ear.

I still remember the moment Trev (Smila) dropped into #remakes, PM'd me to grab a file and test it - and it was just a test of a networked console. Nothing but a black box, some text and the four of us yaddering on at each other. That was the moment I thought "if anyone can do this, we can" and with Stu's prowess - we did.

I got into this remaking lark originally with the bizarre notion of making the best Jet Set Willy homage ever. It may have took 4 years, an insane joke kinda backfiring and a whole bunch of good people to get there. Stu, Smila, Scott and the Rodent chaps all made a crazy dream come true. Who wouldn't be proud of that?

8. Guess you should be proud about G-Force too, even though I've wasted an unhealthy amount of time on the beast. Still, top visuals, great humour, trippy music and frantic old-school shooting action are too good to ignore. How did you manage to pull this one off?

Thanks, I'm still surprised at how popular G-Force has been even in it's unfinished state. I had to laugh when Retrogamer gave it a mark of around 80% even when the build they reviewed wasn't even the latest at the time. Got to love magazines.

I started writing G-Force as a quick project (ha!) to get myself back into the swing of coding. For some unknown reason I'd managed to convince myself the original only had 10 stages and so would be a walk in the park to bang out. Then I started going through the original and found 30. Whoops! Not long after it started to evolve from a quick project to a labour of love. I'm happy to say that aside from a lot of real-life things that have caused a massive reduction in my development time, one of the reasons G-Force absorbs my hours is due to playing it so bloody much.

It may not compare with the likes of some of the commercial offerings or even some of the fabulous stuff the Indie scene throws out for free, but it's my baby and a game that I wanted to exist in this form outside of my own head for a long time. There's a purity to the game that just appeals to the early arcade gamer inside of me, and a dash of the original, a dash of Minter and a dollop of my own outlook I think has put it in good stead.

Now I've just got to find the time to finish the bugger!
9. So, uhm, not a particularly exciting question, but which is your favorite Mersey Remakes game?

Oh god, definitely not one of mine. Prior to G-Force, they're at best sketches, at worst plain incompetant and not something I'd recommend anyone dive into. I'd say Smila's R-Tronic - it's not quite Robotron, but still a fast paced and lovely looking blaster.

10. And finally, what do you think of innovation in game design? Can it co-exist with a retro feeling or was JSWO a work of demons?

Generally, innovating isn't something that even comes close to my thoughts when it comes to games. I leave that to folks like Jon Blow who are generally better at thinking on those terms than me.

It's weird because during my life to date, I've watched the gaming scene grow from a select few games to the giant that it is now - I've seen consoles, computers, companies and studio's rise and fall and yet there's still so much more to explore, so much more to do. That's why, even though I don't actively think about innovation when writing games myself - I'm glad that other people do. I don't want gaming stuck in a rut, it'd kill part of what makes gaming a beautiful past time.

In the same way that the industry needed the VidKidz, the Mel Crouchers, Denton Designs, Andrew Braybrook and the likes in the eighties, we need Jon Blow, Keita Takahashi et al today just as much.

And whilst I will attest that JSWO certainly must have had some sort of infernal influence in order to exist, I don't see any reason why we can't sit there and look at our heritage and history and meld it with modern innovations. Why not have an online mass multiplayer pixel perfect platformer? If Space Giraffe can create a one game microcosm of 30 years of gaming history and still throw in curveballs - I see no reason not to pull from the past and look to the future.

For me though, I'm more interested in pulling stuff apart, seeing what makes games tick, analysing the good and the bad from our gaming history. Heck, part the reason I'm so heavily involved in the remakes scene more so than any specific retro scene is the lack of rose tinted spectacles the scene provides. I dearly love a lot of games from the eighties and nineties but the industry has progressed generally for the better since those times when it comes to player experience (not always, I grant you) - and the fight for more accessible games is something that couldn't have existed in the Eighties when having a keyboard overlay and using every key on the keyboard was akin to having the biggest cock to wave around.

Ultimately, I'm greedy. I want the best of both worlds. I want the bits that made games drag me in by the scruff of the neck and force me to love them, but I want that without the things that frustrated.

Mind you, when all said and done - I just want good games and whilst they keep coming, I'll be gaming as long as I'm still able - innovative or nay.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Regarding Llamasoft, 100 excellent free games, Monty's Christmas Special, the Alter Ego interview

Feb 6, 2008

Add some freeware dark fantasy to your Civ IV

Civ IV Fall From Heaven II modCivilization II: Fantastic Worlds (these days available only in the Civilization Chronicles collection) has always been my favorite flavor of Civ, as it seamlessly managed to combine Sid Meier's amazing empire building game mechanics with a dragon infested, properly fantasy world. Apparently though, time does indeed go by and Civ II is considered by many passé. 2D graphics they sneer. Shallow diplomacy, slow gameplay and no resources they add.

Well, dear tech snobs, I must admit this time you do have a point. Civilization IV is indeed a vast improvement over Civ II and probably the best Civilization game to date. Happily it can also make sure us dark fantasy fetishists can get our Tolkien-esque gaming via the excellent, mighty impressive and kindly freeware Fall From Heaven II mod. You can download all 312MB of said total conversion mod from this place, install it and enjoy its heroes, weird new civilizations, dark religions, RPG-style gameplay additions and shiny new graphics. Oh, and e prepared to research and cast tons of spells...

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Half Life 2 total conversions, Darkness over Daggerford, Battlefield 40k: the mod, 100 excellent free games

Feb 4, 2008

Warhammer Fantasy & 40k Bitz and Pieces

Care for some lovingly overpriced miniature bits to help you customize your Warhammer army? Feel the need to spend 20£ for a chance at a glorious conversion? Brilliant! Games Workshop is more than happy to provide you with an absolutely free PDF catalog (and a price list) to make sure you choose wisely and preferably richly. All you need to do is follow the link and download. Oh, and the rest of us might just enjoy looking at the pretty pictures.

Related @ Gnome's Lair: The Mighty Empires free PDF, Some Chaos Stunties, Blood Bowl: the novel, Adrian Smith's Art

Feb 1, 2008

Savage 2 - A Tortured Soul. Care for tea with that?

Savage 2 ArtworkRegular readers, friends, cousins and other relatives that have been around this blog for some time must have noticed the rather recent, yet complete and utter, lack of MMO Gnome updates. How very perceptive of you dears. Probably you are also wondering about it too. Well, thing is, after playing the truly excellent Lord of the Rings Online MMORPG for what must have been 7 months straight, I felt inexplicably tired of the genre. Or of playing MMO games with people that aren't actual friends. Heck, even Half-Life 2 Deathmatch failed to ignite the spark and make the prospect of online gaming versus opponents that constantly type nonsense appealing.

Then, I sort of metaphorically bumped into Savage 2 - A Tortured Soul and things got interesting again, which frankly is quite odd as the original Savage (available for free here) had failed to enthrall me. It was interesting, yes, fresh, innovative and polished too, but it lacked a certain, uhm, a certain thingy I guess. Apparently Savage 2 miraculously came up with said thingy and I am once again feeling all normal and gentlemanly in my enjoyment of all things MMO.

Savage 2 A Tortured SoulNow, as this definitely is not my review of the game (guess you'll have to wait for this a bit more; gotta put the hours in you know) all I can say is you absolutely have to try it out for yourselves. The free demo would be a nice start. Knowing that Savage 2 is an incredibly smart RTS/Action-RPG hybrid, with one player doing the RTS bit and several going all action-RPG or even FPS, should come in handy too. And don't get me started on the excellent melee system. Or the fluidity of the gameplay. Oh, and you might want to know that the game comes without monthly fees and will only cost you a very modest 30$ (29.99$ actually, but that's a silly price).

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Lord of the Rings Online Review, Age of Decadence, Aquaria, the B-Game Competition