Jan 30, 2009

Behind the scenes: Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Remake

(a 100% spoiler-free and all-natural making of)

Anyone either mildly interested in Douglas Adams' brilliant and amazingly weird humour, or deeply obsessed with Infocom's classic Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (try online luvs), could do much worse than wait for the release of H2G2 Remake. It is, you see, an incredibly promising attempt at remaking a classic text adventure into a proper and fully graphical point-and-click game, while simultaneously fiddling with genre conventions and even the original text. Having already played the demo (download it and see for yourselves) I can assure you that H2G2 Remake is shaping up to be a more than intriguing and probably great AGS adventure, sporting excellent art, obviously great writing, some interesting takes at classic puzzles and a brilliant interface. Here is what James Spanos, one of the game's two creators, has to say for the still unfinished project. A behind the scenes look at the development of a freeware indie offering, if you will:

Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy RemakeAs promised, I'm going to take some time and let you guys into the game's production stages and fun facts. Before I begin, it would be wiser to introduce you to the team of the game. First, it's me James Spanos (Dualnames), responsible for creating the art, interface and organizing the rest of the team to do those little chores for me. Then it's Kevin Haddley (Yukonhorror), who recruited myself and had this whole idea about remaking the text game into a graphical point and click. Then it's the team of tireless beta-testers: 1) Leon (who is keeping a site full of walkthroughs about AGS games [gamesolutions.efzeven.nl]), Ghost (Bjorn Ludwig) and Jon. The game is still in production but, with all luck on our side, it will be finished on 2009.

So, why did we make the game for?

Because I really love the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and from the very first moment I started coding and scripting, I wanted to make a game about the book. Kevin is a fan of the original game and sort of had the whole thing of turning the game into a point and click game in his mind, so he came in to the AGS forums asking for help, and I believed in his vision...he still hasn't paid me. :P


Well, of course the story is totally based on the original game. The main difference of the game we're making to the Infocom one is that (besides not having Douglas Adams in the team), since I'm a really big fan of almost every single quote of the book, and since the original game sported only minimal content from the book (most scenes seen on the book are not seen in the original game), we decided to use all those fun dialogs verbatim from the book. We've also added an introduction sequence that the original is lacking. The whole story/puzzle thing is based on a 100 page document written by Kevin Haddley, inside which the Hitchhiker's Guide on How to Make this Game is to be found... No, really!


Well, remaking a text game into a graphical one is really not as easy as it sounds. We've lately (just a month ago) gone into a total remake of a big number of sprites, due to my determination in making this game look better, and thanks to Shane Stevens , a wonderful guy from the AGS forums, who shared his knowledge on drawing. If you just take a look at the picture below you'll see how things originally were, and what they look like now.
H2G2 RemakeWe are apparently using pixel art drawn characters and Photoshop edited low-resolution background art. From left to right and in pairs you can see above just how the sprites evolved. Character art is drawn/painted on GIMP while background art (boy am I ashamed to say this) is drawn on MSPaint with a few small effects and finishing touches added on Photoshop.


That's definitely the hardest part for us to do. In the original game events happen in turns, whereas in our remake, they're happening in real-time, meaning there is actually a great number of timers going on. Some parts of the game were also very tricky at the initial stages of production. One is the GUIDE itself. We've created a lot of animations for this one, but also implemented a module to make it work like the original should be (links, hypertext). As for the gaming engine we're using, AGS is really very, well, useful and I'm happy to say that Chris Jones (the author) has really, really helped us on this matter. The interface of the game is a little similar to the Verb Coin that first appeared on CMI (Curse of Monkey Island), but the Verb Coin appears instantly and has two buttons for objects and three buttons for characters. Right click opens the inventory etc.

We basically tried to keep the interface as simple as possible, but in the same time allow for the players to have the same level of interactivity the original game offered. Players can even drop items, though the limit of items you can pick up is quite a bit more flexible (at least on normal difficulty) than in Infocom's original. Also, on normal difficulty most of the dead-end situations are tipped, meaning you get to be warned whenever something inappropriate is being done, and even some dead-end puzzles can actually be finished, though without awarding players any points. Generally the game is very newbie friendly and rather more tolerant than the original. On difficult setting, things appear to be definitely closer to the original's difficulty.


Well, things are going very smooth lately, and thanks to some attention that has arisen over the project, we're getting a lot of extra hands to help us out. Beta-testing is going quite well, and when it's finished, we will be looking for voice actors. Hopefully you'll be able to get your hands on H2G2 Remake September 2009. But well, can't really promise anything apart from the fact that the game will definitely be finished. If you want to see more, head over to the DNGames YouTube channel or just enter the AGS forums and head to the game's production page.

And always know where your towel is.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Jan 28, 2009

Decker's Delight Links (28.Jan.09)

Things I currently have to do include such lovely activities as finishing a design doc for a certain game, completing the redesign of this very blog, helping with a mag, playing a C64 shmup and finally getting around to reviewing a lovely and brand new indie game. But, really, you don't have to wait standing. Here's a seat, some tea and a selection of links to entertain you.
10 games that redefine science fiction? Well, that's an interesting approach based on a truly intriguing -if not obscure- selection of games . Almost valid too. Well done Fidgit!

Swabbleflange doesn't mean anything apparently, though this top 100 games list definitely does. It's a very personal and quite brilliant look at over 20 years of gaming and it even includes Dungeon Master.

Imagine's MegaGames... the stuff of legends and a concept that failed to save the company from a truly spectacular crash. Click the link to an insider's view as narrated by Bruce Everiss.

Eurogamer goes for a rather more fascinating Jon Hare insider view instead. This time about the legendary and never completed Sex 'n' Drugs 'n' Rock 'n' Roll Sensible Software game. Soundtrack, video and art are happily included.

Ever heard anything about Lucasarts' online Habitat of the pre-intenet era? No? Thankfully GameSetWatch has all the answers in a fantastic Rogue Leaders extract.

On the objectivity of game reviews: how devs punish game journos. Totally unrelated to all things BDSM. Courtesy of ars technica.

On the objectivity of Contra Retrospectives: from the mind of NebachadnezzaR. Shockingly, the word Probotector isn't mentioned once.

Jeff Minter, the hairy psychedelic prophet of a new digital interactive art (uhm, video games that is) has spoken to the RPS flock about his forthcoming Gridrunner +++. Some Space Giraffes were also mentioned.

The Artful Gamer, on the other hand, proved his artiness by searching for the poetic and lyrical bits in BASIC text adventures. Oh, and by exploring the wonderful Art of Eriq Chang.

Matty from the aptly named Matty on Games blog chose to focus on 8-bit text adventures, remade Amiga Knights and a retro Grandad. Lovely, indie, old, freeware and smart!

And, finally, let me remind everyone that the Sega Master System Junkyard is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, while the Saturn Junkyard is preparing to celebrate the scary, pagan, dirty and highly dangerous Saturnalia. Oh, and Retroaction is coming. Soon. Very soon.

Quick Links FTW. Really! Here:

Jan 26, 2009

A word from our gloriously old-fashioned editor

Thousands perished, dozens of motherboards worked overtime and at least four Z80 processors despaired to the point of suicide while crowds of digital joysticks rioted wildly, but -finally- here are the words you wanted to here. Direct from the horse's mouth. Or, well, Retroaction's editor. Remember Retroaction? Now, if you'll excuse me I've got important and highly creative (well, almost) stuff to do.

Dear retrogamers,

A new digital retro games magazine, Retroaction, is about to launch; we are putting the final touches to issue one. Retroaction is an interactive PDF magazine featuring old and new games on retro platforms: Sinclair, Commodore, Amstrad, DOS, Arcade, Atari, Sega, Nintendo, NEC, MSX, Acorn, Apple, and more. We have been working on issue one for a few months now, and expect it completed within the next couple of weeks. The magazine will be available as a free PDF download and will be around 40mb (compressed) for around 62 pages.

The Retroaction team consists of a handful of writers from around the world. Our main goal is to cater to retro gamers all over the globe who are looking for a good balanced magazine; one that is easy to get hold of, has articles and reviews on new retro games, old classic ones, and those forgotten games lost in retro time.

Our website (http://www.retroactionmagazine.com/) is up and running, where you will find the home page (current issue box-out with magazine highlights and a link to the download page, as well as any major retro news), the magazine download section (with contents of the first issue), a page about some of the magazine's writers, a link to the magazine's forum, and a retrolinks page. So go to the website, look around (it'll only take a minute or so. No, really, it will), and pop into the forum.

Thanks for your time,
Neil Reive
Editor, Designer

Jan 20, 2009

A teaser to tease you with

Yes, it's a scan of something and probably contains a hint on what I've already started working on. It's a game mind and I'm not doing it alone. Oh, no. A most accomplished indie creator has already joined and he will be thinking, programming, designing, writing and possibly dancing for this humble yet hopefully refreshing project. Can't say anything else for now, but do watch this space. It will be watching back you know.

Jan 18, 2009

Steve Meretzky's Planetfall

Planetfall InfocomNot much to say besides stating the obvious fact that Planetfall seems like a truly fantastic Infocom game and I'm already loving it. Deeply, passionately and while wearing a particularly silly hat. Only wish I had managed to grab a more luxuriant copy than the Mastertronic re-release. Oh, and having exited that cursed pod a second earlier...

[Update:] Exited the bloody pod in one piece, swam to safety, chatted the parser, explored, despaired in front of locked doors, chuckled and finally succumbed to starvation. Progress!

[Update 2:] Aha! It's all so obvious now. Maps are definitely needed and fun to create, whereas colourful blobs of goo can be eaten. Doors, on the other hand, remain mysteriously locked.

[Update 3:] Finally met Floyd the comedic sidekick robot. What fun! And despite the limited inventory I've already filled up with a variety of mechanical bits, I can positively say I'm enjoying Plantefall. I think I'm about to break a padlock too!

[Update 4:] No more updates.

Jan 14, 2009

ten gnomish questions / Pacian

Pacian's cat has consulted his legal team and apparently allowed Pacian to go on and be interviewed. So, well, without further ado, here's what Pacian, the man, programmer, writer, game designer, funny-guy, cat owner, pulp serial provider and creator of brilliant games like Gun Mute, Space Shot and Snowblind Aces, has to say...

Poizoned Mind: A game tragically not mentioned in this interview.

1. Space-faring Pacian, how would you describe your game making activities? And, frankly, why do you make games?

I'd describe my game making activities as poorly focused, unproductive and easily interrupted.

Why do I keep making my little games? I guess for the same reason that I play them: escapism. I'm a hopeless day-dreamer, and I'd much rather be piloting a Zeppelin through the acrid clouds of a volcano than sitting at work writing boring software for boring people. And since, although there are plenty of games out there that grab me and draw me into their worlds, no-one's yet made one where you specifically pilot a Zeppelin through a volcano, I end up trying to make that one myself.

2. How about your crafting of short and not particularly short stories? How? Why? Ugh...

'Ugh' is my take on it often enough as well. There are people who write and people who don't write. The only difference between those two groups is whether they write or not. As simple as that.

But of the people who *do* write, there are those who write, and those who write and then re-draft and get a second opinion and a third opinion and scrap the whole middle section and re-write that and rinse and repeat until someone pays them for all the hard work they've done. That's *not* me - at least, not at the moment. I only write for fun - to create worlds and characters that interest me. I just hope that a few like-minded people will come along, look at what I've done and say, "Hey that'd be pretty cool if it went through a few more drafts."

One day I do mean to make a dedicated effort to write something 'good', but I'm such a scatter-brained procrastinator, that's not likely to be any time soon.

3. Interactive fiction, text adventures, must have been quite a natural choice as a game making genre, right?

Yeah. Sometimes I worry that I'm focusing on this as an easy way out. I'm useless at making graphics, and I hate tedious coding, so working in ready-made environments for text games really appeals to me. In TADS and Inform it's trivial to create a location with a character in it and some scenery and a cool gizmo - and when you push the button on the gizmo the prince dies and you have to feed dead apples to his ghost. Whereas working in C++ or even Game Maker there's a lot of set-up to do just defining the basic rules of the universe you're creating. How does the main character push that button? How do they pick up the apples?

This is why I keep persisting in making crappy non-text games like Space Shot. I kind of want to prove to the world that I'm not just an IF writer - and that when I do write IF it's for a specific reason beyond it being easy for me to do.

4. Do you actually believe games can move beyond being merely games? Could they actually manage to be political, thought-provoking and interesting while embracing Dada?

Yes, of course. Creative minds can (and do) make moving and provocative experiences from any medium.

From the Dada angle, I immediately think of Cactus and games like Mondo Medicals and Psychomnium, in that they really seem to take a lot of the unquestioned assumptions about how games are 'supposed' to work and then slap them about a bit. Beyond that I'm afraid you're merely dazzling me with your technical terms.

5. Am I? Well, let me blush here for a moment. [...] Done. Lovely. But, really, Mondo Medicals and co, even though surreal and innovative in style and mechanics, don't actually offend the gaming, let alone the societal, status quo. They really aren't political or progressive in a meaningful sense. And frankly, besides Molleindustria's games, I think nobody has even attempted such a thing. Are you sure it's not the short-comings of the medium?

My gut instinct is that the mere act of player participation creates a whole range of possibilities for messing about with people's prejudices and received wisdom - but for all we know, you may be right. We never truly know if something is possible until someone actually goes and does it.

Interactive fiction with cover-art? Look no further than Snowblind Aces!

6. On a more light-hearted note, any truly favourite games? And I am asking for something that could stand next to a book or a film for example.

So what, I'm not allowed to say Resident Evil 2? When it comes to what I look for in a game - imaginative worlds and strong characters - I think Chrono Trigger is the one that immediately springs to mind. In many ways, it just chimes really well with my personality, but I'd also argue that objectively it's a very well put together game in terms of tone and motivation.

I'm also a big fan of Emily Short's Galatea. It's pretty much the only IF game that I unreservedly find enjoyable to mess with, just in idle moments, and I think it has plenty of interesting things to say about the nature of interactive characters. I know a lot of people only like it as an experiment or a piece of dry academia, but I don't really enjoy that kind of thing by itself. I like Galatea because I like the characters, the tone and the little stories you end up experiencing.

And also, Resident Evil 2, damn it.

7. Any favourites among your ludic creations?

Well there's only about four or five to choose from. I am very pleased with Gun Mute. I think I created a nice set of characters in an accessible package, in some ways purely by chance. To be honest, I don't expect to be able to create a better game in the future, but I hope the stories I want to tell will still interest a few people.

8. Oh, and how would you describe the general game making process you follow?

I'd say the most notable thing about my game making process is the distinct lack of process to it. It usually starts out with scrappy notes in my diary, and then graduates to a grid of tasks to tick off. And then beneath the grid are a load of scribbles supposed to remind me of other things I've suddenly thought of.

Honestly, it's a wonder that I have the wherewithal to get out of bed in the morning, let alone write semi-functional code.

9. Would you ever attempt to sell a game? Live off your creativity?

That's an interesting question. If a company offered to pay me to do interesting, creative work on a game, I'd take the offer. But I don't think I'd ever want to charge for games that I've created all by myself. Going back to what I said about writing, I'd want to put a lot more time and effort into these things before I thought they were actually worth paying money for - but I have so many ideas and such a short attention span that I'm not really interested in doing that.

10. Any particular plans for the future per chance?

Over the next couple of months I'm going to try and squeeze out a small IF game for David Fisher's EnvComp - an IF competition for unusual settings and locations. In the longer term, I'm working on a larger IF game - and of course I have plenty of ill-considered ideas for action and strategy games as well.

I'm also engaged on a super-secret collaborative project with this short, bearded fellow in a pointed hat. I last saw him standing over by the garden pond with a fishing rod...

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Jan 13, 2009

A ZX Spectrum + enters the Lair

Sinclair ZX Spectrum +I've been craving for a ZX Spectrum for the better part of the last 20 years, but -as the above photo should have already made clear- the long wait is finally over. No more house visits to Speccy owning friends, no more emulation-only fun, no more begging, no more avoiding loading times or fiddling with interfaces. A lovely Sinclair ZX Spectrum + complete with tape recorder, joystick, joystick interface, manuals, an assortment of cables and an interesting selection of mainly obscure games has finally arrived, while more Speccy goodies are already on the way and The Hobbit has been sitting on my desk for more than a week. Oh, and so you know, this Spectrum is quite possibly the best 30 euros I've ever spent online. And no I shouldn't be posting this over at Retro Treasures.

What's truly weird throughout this long waiting period though, is the simple fact that I've always been a huge Spectrum gamer/fan, despite never actually owning a Spectrum. I have, you see, been emulating the thing on everything from the 16-bit Amiga, to my current PC, to my trusty Pocket PC and have also been constantly asking people to get their ancient 8-bits out of the closet. Then again, Manic Miner is among my top favourite games, Ultimate and Mr. Ritman are still being daily praised, dozens of text adventures have already been beaten, hundreds of reviews have been drooled upon and hours of arguing over Match Day II have been spent. So, well, hoorah for my new acquisition I guess! I can finally enjoy my fav games the way Sir Clive intended.

Also, with the added pleasure of the almost proper Plus keyboard, 8-bit interactive fiction will hopefully become a daily fetishistic practice. Let alone the fact that such keyboards have been know to turn simple gamers into creative people...

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Jan 12, 2009

A bit of a belated review lovingly mixed with a look at some demos and digital crayons

Penny Arcade AdventuresI bought, downloaded, installed, played, enjoyed and finished Ron Gilbert's Penny Arcade Adventures - Episode 1 (the brilliantly named On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness) over 3 months ago, and thus can't recall every little thing I loved about it, but I can assure you I loved it. I really did, and as I had promised to review the game ages ago, well, I thought I'd let you know. It actually is, you see, a fantastic game. Now, if you don't know what Penny Arcade Adventures is all about, you could read my previous more extensive post or, better yet, give the demo a try.

The game itself -provided I remember correctly, that is- fully delivers the goodies said demo promises. It's funny, at points hilarious, sports a truly weird lovecraftian plot that even comes to a satisfying end, some great dialog, excellent combat, light adventuring elements, exploration bits, RPG elements, jaw-dropping 2D cutscenes and a ridiculous amount of polish. What's more, the game is way longer than I expected, lasting me quite a bit more than 10 hours and that without any noticeable attempts to artificially lengthen it. So, my advice? Well, buy the game and please do consider this a review. A mini-review at least? Thank you.

Oh, and as the second episode of PAA has already been released, I'd suggest you give it a try too. Preferably by following this link. Having already tried the demo, I can assure you that, besides some minor enhancements, Episode 2 seems at least as intriguing as the first series installment. What fun.

Crayon Physics DeluxeCrayon Physics Deluxe, on the other hand, a brand new indie game suggested to me by dear NebachadnezzaR is not particularly funny. Then again, I'm pretty sure it was never supposed to be. Surely Crayon Physics was always meant as a rather impressive physics based puzzle game with innovative mechanics, a sandbox element, an intuitive interface and gorgeous graphics, that would go on and win the IGF Grand Prize of 2008. Apparently it succeeded. Hoorah! The demo of the thing is more than hefty too, mind.

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Jan 8, 2009

Please update your links - URL change

As part of the general restoration/upgrade project of Gnome's Lair, this very blog has gotten itself a brand new address. You will now find it at http://www.gnomeslair.com instead of the older, slightly banal, url at http://gnomeslair.blogspot.com. Please update your links and do point strangers and old friends to the new address. Thank you luvs!

Jan 6, 2009

Retroaction Teasing You

Speedball 2Laser SquadRetroaction LoadingGlorious piccies, wouldn't you agree dears? And to think they are here just to tease you... How very naughty of them. Anyway. Feeling teased already? Great! Now, know that Retroaction, the spanking new pdf e-mag for retro gamers, will soon be available and will -among an eclectic variety of other things- feature gnomes, amstrads, neils, amigas, text-adventures, speccies, shmups, and c64s. You will most probably get to get it from this place, which apparently also sports a forum bit.

Jan 5, 2009

A belated yet aptly adventurous look at Good Old Games

Good Old GamesOne of the things I apparently missed when not blogging, was the opportunity to help spread the word about the -even to this day in beta, mind- Good Old Games site/service/thingy and let you all know just how excited I was. Well, quite a lot. GOG.com, you see, was full of promise and seemed to be pushing all the right PC gaming buttons, turning all proper retro knobs and fiddling with the necessary anti-DRM levers. Happily it didn't let me down and -impressively- the thing keeps getting better and better. So, yes, I guess I haven't been disappointed yet and probably wont be for quite some time, so it's pretty safe to actually recommend giving it a try.

But, what is this GOG thing, I'm sure some of this blog's aging denizens will ask. Simple, really. In its most obvious form it's an online store featuring downloadable games for the PC, some nice web 2.0 bits and a vibrant forum. What's really important about it though and what truly sets the whole service apart from anything else, is the simple fact that the available games are true PC gaming classics updated to seamlessly run on Vista and XP. What's more, said games come with a ton of extras ranging from avatars, to wallpapers, to manuals and extended game guides, usually cost no more than 6$ and are completely and utterly DRM free, meaning you can easily copy them, back up them up, install and re-install them without ever having to face irritating copy protection schemes. No cumbersome Steam-like interface/loader has to be dealt with either.

As for the games on offer, fear not. They are -generally- gems of the highest caliber or -at least- quirky and unique productions. Here's a semi-random selection of what's available to give you an idea: Fallout, Fallout 2, Jagged Alliance 2, Hostile Waters, the Oddworld series, Gothic, MDK, Unreal Tournament, Freespace 2, Sensible Soccer 2006, Patrician III, Descent and M.A.X.. Impressive, eh? And wait till we get to the newly accommodated adventure games. They are a bloody dream and include hard to find games like the Feeble Files, hugely successful titles like Broken Sword II and even cult classics like the incredibly funny Simon the Sorcerer I and II. Bliss! As for classic cyberpunk thriller Beneath a Steel Sky and fantasy point-and-clicker Lure of the Temptress they are both available for free.

And now for the obligatory very short review bit: Good Old Games is indeed an excellent service. I have been using it for quite a few months -ever since its first beta really- and haven't encountered a single problem with installs, billing, downloading or anything else. Customer support is impressive, the constant introduction of new features more so and the game catalogue regularly expanding. The odd competition, gift, free game or promotion are also welcome, as is the lively and quality community built around GOG. Oh, and these guys are really swift at accommodating community requests too.

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Jan 2, 2009

2009 and a happy Game of Thrones

Well, happy 2009 everyone and lets all hope this one turns out better than the previous one. Not that the mass murder of the Palestinian people leaves much room for actual hope, mind, but still. Things can always change for the best.

Game of ThronesAnyway, it's obvious I digress. Let's -for now- talk about things sillier and happier. Like The Game of Thrones for example; a luxuriant board game based on G.R.R. Martin's fantasy epic and a brilliant gift I very recently received. Now, I may well be past my obsession with all things fantasy, but I really love the still unfinished literary work of Mr. Martin and I'd even go as far as saying that, despite lacking professor Tolkien's prose, imaginary languages and incredibly detailed setting, The Game of Thrones is storywise the better book . It's brutal, gripping, unexpected, at times brilliantly smart, often sarcastic and features interesting characters (with excellent dialog) that are way more complex and realistic than genre stereotypes. Also it has apparently got itself the afforementioned board game. By Fantasy Flight no less.

Truth be said, I haven't played the Game of Thrones game just yet, but judging by what I've read in its rulebook, I'm pretty sure this will definitely turn out to be a deep and highly enjoyable strategic offering. Seems like an expanded version of Risk with added strategic and tactical elements, a bit of Diplomacy (yes!), a bidding part, some cards and no dice. It also -quite impressively- looks like this when posing in its full glory:

The Game Of Thrones Board GameLook at all those tokens... Wonderful aren't they? And have I mentioned the pieces are actually made of wood? No? Well, I will do so in the forthcoming review. Cheers!

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