Jan 28, 2010

The Free (!) ZX Spectrum Book - 1982 to 199x

When I first heard about the ZX Spectrum book - 1982 to 199x by Hiive books I was decidedly thrilled. I also decided to grab a copy and miserably failed. This apparently brilliant book, you see, swiftly sold out and was soon replaced by a luxuriant hardback edition, that was way to expensive for me. Thankfully, Hiive, being the busy indie little publishing house it is, went on and published the The Commodore 64 Book - 1982 to 199x, which I immediately grabbed. And it was brilliant. Both in content and in layout.

This of course made things worse in a weird way that had everything to do with me not being able to read the Speccy book. I even emailed Hiive books and asked them to make a digital copy of the thing available for purchase. Being the nice fellows they are, they said they'd look into it.

Obviously, they didn't, as they went on and released the whole book for free. Yes! Exactly as I tweeted (?) almost a month ago (did feel the subject needed a proper post of its own though), the ZX Spectrum Book - 1982 to 199x can now be downloaded for free over at the World of Spectrum in its complete 258 pages glory. And, yes, it's as good as I imagined. Even better really, what with the introduction by Sir Clive himself, the excellent quality of the game presentations and the tons of info. Here are a couple pages to wet your appetite:

ZX Spectrum Book The HobbitZX Spectrum Book Riddler's DenRelated @ Gnome's Lair:

Jan 25, 2010

Deus Ex Machina by Automata

You could experience Automata's 1984 magnum opus by downloading the game's tape images and synchable soundtrack from the WoS archive. You could experience it by watching a complete playthrough on YouTube. You could even experience it on a proper ZX Spectrum installed next to a tape recorder running an original copy of the game. But, no matter how, the truth is you really have to experience Deus Ex Machina. Or at least find out more about it. It's such a unique and utterly unsurpassed piece of interactive entertainment (?) nobody can afford to ignore it.

Then, you have to head over to the brilliant DeusExMachina2.com website, where you will be able to find out everything you can imagine about this early 8-bit masterpiece. Expect tons of artwork, videos, reviews, interviews, photos, storyboards and, shockingly, more.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Jan 23, 2010

The Great Adventure Gaming Project

Readers of this blog must have by now guessed that I quite love adventure games. Always had really, even when I was far too young to properly enjoy them -let alone finish them. Thing is adventure games can be quite demanding. Enjoying and finishing them can be very time consuming, and usually requires a certain amount of peace of mind. That's why I have all those (mostly old) adventures I haven't gotten around to actually beating, or even starting, sitting around. When you add some excellent freeware offerings that have already been downloaded and are waiting to be savored, as well as a select few games I played too far ago to actually remember, well, we are talking about -at least- a couple dozen adventures I want to play.

And I'm surrounded by them. So, guess what... I decided to go on and play them. You know, just to make sure I've really studied their breed. Perhaps even to steal a few ideas. Oh, yes and to fully enjoy myself. What's more, I've decided I should blog my thoughts on each and every one I play, and let you know just what I thought of it and whether I bothered finishing it or not. I'll most probably have a lot of adventure gaming experiences to share via Twitter too.

As for the adventures I'll be playing, uhm, here's a pretty comprehensive list of what I have in mind. Might be forgetting a few, but I'm sure I'll remember them eventually.

[Hugely important update] From now on, please do consider this article the hub of the Great Adventure Gaming Project, as it will be where all links to separate game write-ups will appear and where new games will constantly be added to the list. 

Currently Playing:  Scratches: Director's Cut

Monkey Island 3: The Curse of Monkey Island. An excellent adventure with great humour, fantastic cartoon graphics and at least one brilliant song. Unfortunately have only managed to see 70% of the thing. Cursed computer crashes! Thrice damned lost saves!

Loom. Always wanted to try it and have read a thousand reviews and features on this musical masterpiece. I'll finally get to play it in its Steam version.

Planetfall. An Infocom classic. Haven't managed to get very far yet, but this time around I'll persevere. Might even use a couple hints.

Day of the Tentacle. I admit it: I never finished it. Got stuck on the very final part of it ages ago and haven't retried it since. A crying shame really, as DotT is one of the best adventures I've ever played.

The Feeble Files. Don't know much about it, but the screens alone made me grab a copy from GOG.com.

Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon. Loved the first in the series, thought its sequel was mediocre, and now I'm going to see if the reviews were right for this one. It does look terribly nice though.

Under a Killing Moon. The press loved it and I had a taste 10 or years ago over at a friends place. Seems promising and I always thought its 3D/FMV engine was impressive.

Simon the Sorcerer. Must have started it over a dozen times. Never completed it, despite enjoying the particularly British humour. And the pixel-art.

The Longest Journey. Another excellent -epic too- adventure. Apparently it was a bit too epic for me. I must finish though, as I really want to follow it with a bit of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.

Zork: The Grand Inquisitor. The latest Zork adventure and it has been sitting on my desk for years. Yes, despite the glowing reviews and the hilarious opening video.

Wonderland. I tried this one as a kid and I pretty miserably failed. Wisely, I've kept the box and am now ready and willing to revisit this incredibly promising and lavishly illustrated text adventure.

I could go on you know, but here are (roughly) the rest in a pretty laconic list. You wouldn't expect me to write a bit on each and every one of them, did you? Oh, come on... I wouldn't have any time left to game.
  1. Lure of the Temptress
  2. Beneath a Steel Sky
  3. Teen Agent
  4. Maniac Mansion
  5. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
  6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  7. A ton of Zenobi and Infocom games
  8. Evil Under the Sun
  9. Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail
  10. Syberia I & II
  11. Amerzone
  12. Necronomicon
  13. Space Quest VI
  14. The King's Quest Collection
  15. Post Mortem
  16. Jack Orlando
  17. Simon the Sorcerer 3D
  18. B.A.T.
  19. 5 Days a Stranger
  20. The Blue Lacuna
  21. Heed
  22. Salambo
  23. Dracula and Dracula 2
  24. Gabriel Knight II
  25. The Hobbit
  26. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream
  27. A Vampyre Story
  28. Scratches Director's Cut
Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Jan 21, 2010


Interactive fiction, and thus quite obviously the humble text adventure, are about to receive the documentary they always deserved: Get Lamp, which I think I might have mentioned some time ago on this very blog, but you frankly just can't be sure these days. So, Get Lamp... Well, it seems like it will be an epic piece of work spanning two DVDs (housed in what will apparently be a truly luxuriant box), that will impressively play out like an interactive movie of sorts, and will be accompanied by a variety of shorter features and a DVD-ROM section filled with games, photos, scans etc. Expect -among other stuff- tons of info on Infocom & co and interviews from such adventure heroes as Scott Adams, Steve Meretzky and Brian Moriatry.

Get Lamp is the second documentary from Jason Scott of BBS Documentary fame, and you can find out more about it over at its official site. Oh, and do pre-order; I know I have. As for the trailer, here it is:

Jan 19, 2010

ten gnomish questions / Ben Chandler

Ben Chandler (or Ben 304; it's your choice really) is the creative mind behind such freeware indie gems as !, Annie Android, Featherweight, Heed and Awakener. What's more he's been nice enough to let me pick his mind and present you with this enlightening interview, that -among other stuff- sports some pretty mouth-watering exclusive info. Read on, read on.

1. Well Ben, the indie gaming public knows you for (and from) your games, but what about the social you? Care to introduce yourself?

I am a 22 year old Australian who is interested in everything and constantly tries to avoid growing up. After high school I spent three years working in a bank and generally living a reasonably normal life. About 2 days after the release of Trance-Pacific, the first game I worked on, with my friend Paul, I handed in my resignation letter and started doing a variety of casual labour jobs to earn money.

My obsession with learning how to make games has turned me into something of a recluse, and I've always been considered something of an eccentric amongst my friends, but happily when I convert my oddball ideas into games people mistake this for creativity - which possibly explains why I remain so intent on doing it.

2. And why do you make your games?

That's a rather hard question to answer in a way that describes how I feel about it. Basically, I make games because I can't not make games - and believe me, I've tried. If developing games was removed from my life, there'd be an enormous space that I'd have no idea how to fill. In short, doing this is the reason I get out of bed in the morning (although working on games at ridiculous hours often means that I get out of bed at night or in the afternoon). It's something I am quite passionate about, and the only thing I can actually imagine myself wanting to do for the rest of my life.

3. So, uhm, how come you've focused your creative efforts in short adventure games?

I am very much a beginner at this, and making small projects has been my way of testing the waters. Doing short games means that I have learnt much in a relatively short space of time, and allows me to try out ideas that might fall flat if someone tried to stretch them to fit something larger in scope.

As for adventure games - firstly, because I am not much of a programmer and AGS lets me try almost anything I care to without having to pull my hair out, secondly because I loved adventure games as a kid, and finally because while there are loads and loads of cool games in other genres, the adventure game scene still feels a bit empty. These games are the perfect medium for telling an interactive story, and I think this opportunity is something that not enough people are taking advantage of.

4. Care to -briefly- describe the creative process you tend to follow while creating a game?

I'm not much of a planner. I prefer to start a game by asking myself "What sort of message do I want the game to have, what sort of mood do I want it to have and what do I want to learn from making the game?"

From here I generally start building the assets for the game straight away - my short time spent playing in a band taught me appreciation of improvisation, and I like to treat game design as a jam session, where one throws in elements to see how they work together, and then focuses on what works from there. I treat games as an expression of myself as a writer does with their stories, so I mostly avoid following formulas and ignore conventions whenever I feel like it.

5. How did you achieve your distinctive art style? Guess you must be pretty proud of it, right? Your work is utterly beautiful, you know...

Thank you! My style is born from a combination of an inability to draw very well and lots and lots of practice. With a pencil and paper I'm a very weak illustrator - I have a hard time defining shapes with lines alone. I generally rely on painting form in with light rather than relying on a planned sketch to do so, and doing this actually has a specific look which people seem to find pleasant.

I always try to make sure that my work is perfectly functional as game assets without sacrificing any of the atmosphere, and this means I break rules all the time. Unlike many artists I bend perspective and proportion, preferring to sacrifice some realism in order to focus on these things. I haven't relied on drawing vanishing points in years, and see no real reason to return to doing so. I also rely on rather bold, and at times surreal colour choices in order to create a greater sense of atmosphere. Some people dislike this, but most seem to be willing to overlook it.

6. Your games, the way I feel at least, are mostly akin to adventure vignettes or short stories. Is that a conscious choice of yours or do you feel shorter games are the wiser choice for an indie creator?

I have to answer "yes" to both of those. I think a lot of people get hung up on this concept that "longer is better"; a lot of people try to make full length games like the ones that they enjoyed as a kid without the resources that the people who made the games they look up to had. For me, longer indie adventures seem to be quite unfocused and directionless when compared to the shorter ones. While I very much feel that everyone should do whatever they want when making a game, for me focus is the key, and whilst I plan to move onto longer games, I hope to keep the same sense of direction that my short games (hopefully) have.

7. How about your favourite games? Care to name a couple and tell us why you appreciate them?

I could talk at length about a number of games, but that is always boring, so I will keep it as brief as I can:

Planescape: Torment - If somebody asked me if I could change the way they saw games, I would tell them to play this and keep trying to play it until they "got" it. It's not as 'fun' as most of the games in my collection, but it is definitely proof of the potential that games possess.

Deus Ex - The game that finally showed me that shooters can be thought provoking. The addition of The Nameless Mod makes this two incredible games in one.

Beyond Good and Evil - It never loses its focus on being fun, but still manages to create plenty of atmosphere and a moving story.

Dreamfall - Most adventure games frustrate me with their puzzles. Dreamfall bypasses this problem and whilst many hate it, I loved it.

Indigo Prophecy - See above.

Full Throttle - An adventure game that has a lovely setting, a great and fast paced story and plenty of variety in gameplay for once. What's not to love?

8. Any plans for creating a commercial game?

I am a 2d developer in an increasingly 3d world. I am aware that this limits me, however if I could turn this into something that I can do for a living, I'd be absolutely delighted! The answer is, to a degree, "most definitely", but my reason for creating commercial games would really be simply to allow myself to spend more time making games. I have no grand dreams - I just want to make more games.

9. Would you mind telling us a bit about your collaborations with other indie developers?

While there are a few things in the works, there's really only one to discuss at the moment. My main project currently is with fellow AGS developer Steven Poulton who released his first short game The McCarthy Chronicles: Episode 1 (which is totally worth a look) about a month and a half ago.

Our project, Winter's Shadow, is a (hopefully) mature, (hopefully) atmospheric game - darker in tone and content than anything I've created before, and we're both really excited about it. Although nothing is certain at the moment, we have hopes that Winter's Shadow will be the first commercial game for both of us, and we're putting a lot of effort into making this an immersive, atmospheric and satisfying experience.

I'm having a great time working with Steve, and we seem to share a fairly similar vision for the game, and indie games in general. Our interests and abilities complement each other's very well, and we're proud of what we've done so far. We haven't actually announced the game anywhere else, so feel free to have an exclusive screenshot:

10. Finally, what does the future hold?

More games, of that much I am certain. I've set myself some pretty big goals - not just for the next year, but for the future in general. I'm not sure how much I can achieve, but I'll keep working at it and hope that I can continue to learn as a developer and create some truly worthwhile games.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Jan 18, 2010

The Special Effect Gamebase

Creating -and consequently playing- truly accessible games, games that everyone can enjoy, is not only a noble cause and a true designer's test, but also a very feasible goal. Especially now that the rather excellent, rich and particularly impressive Special Effect Gamebase has gone live, gathering and showcasing a wealth of information on game accessibility. Mind you, you can read more about it over @ Retro Remakes, where you will also find out what Special Effect is trying to achieve. Oh, and please do help spread the word...

Jan 15, 2010

Chains: A Puzzle Game Review

Chains is beautiful. That much is instantly obvious. After all, were it not for its visual appeal I'd have probably ignored it in this modern sea of small casual indie games, the Internet seems to have become. I would of course have been wrong.

Chains, you see, might on the surface seem like another game that uses the rather tired idea of making things disappear by matching them with, err, things of the same colour, but it really has way more than that to offer. It sports a brilliant and very versatile physics engine, that, combined with the excellent level design, make for a rather excellent and quite unique game. Not to mention an addictive one too. And wait till you see them graphics in motion while listening to that utterly brilliant electro soundtrack...

Only negative thing about this lovely indie offering is its size. Weighing in at twenty levels, the whole thing will be over in a few hours, though admittedly it is infinitely replayable. Oh, and the levels are so varied, they could almost be from different games. From different genres even, as one has you frantically clicking around in typical arcade fashion, while another has you thinking in a most tactical manner or solving flow (you'll see) puzzles.

What's more, great care has also been given to the overall production of Chains, what with its three difficulty levels, player profiles, detailed stats, hints and even colorblind option.
To grab a (dirt-cheap) copy or try the demo visit the official Chains: The Puzzle Game website.

Verdict: An absolutely excellent indie game. Hypnotic, short, sexy and definitely more enjoyable than drinking expensive wine in the cold (?). Play it!

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Jan 13, 2010

Primitive Nightmare for the Dreamcast

Primitive Nightmare Dreamcast homebrewAncient readers of this very blog should remember a Cry of Xaz -later Encounter Zone- for the Sega Dreamcast. It was a very promising homebrew little shooter, with unique graphics and some truly interesting gameplay ideas, that at some point sadly seemed to vanish. Well, dear Sega-minded friends, cry no more, as Cry of Xaz has miraculously returned under the new name (and concept!) of Primitive Nightmare.

The game, finally developed and released by Fuseki Games, incorporates many elements of classic 80s coin-op shooters mixed with some strategic elements, while also sporting some unique visuals and sounds that will blow your mind. Primitive Nightmare runs -as all Dreamcast homebrew does- on unmodded consoles and can be easily downloaded for free from the Fuseki site, where you will also find instructions on running, playing and enjoying the thing. You can also watch a gameplay video here. As for people lacking a Dreamcast, emulation is your friend. Enjoy.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Jan 12, 2010

Army? Break? Tsk tsk...

Well, I haven't given up being in the bloody army just yet, but I wont be serving anywhere outside Athens for the next couple of months and I will finally be released on the 18th of March. This means I'll probably have some time for playing some games, writing about games, thinking on games and possibly even creating games. It also means I'll have to freshen this very blog up and start coming up with new content, while also trying to revive Retro Treasures, Gaming on the Go, The SMS Junkyard and Game Cabaret. Not that I intend to ignore Retroaction, mind.

So, uhm, happy 2010 everyone!