Sep 29, 2010

Eye^Game^Candy: 3D Deathchase

3D Deathchase 3D Deathchase or simply Deathchase was released for the humble 16k ZX Spectrum back in 1983 and remains a rather excellent and incredibly addictive game to this very day. Unfortunately and despite its impressively fast 3D graphics it never featured an Ewok.

Sep 23, 2010

The Dave Gilbert / Wadjet Eye Interview

Dave Gilbert, a master of all things AGS, is the man behind indie adventure game publisher/developer Wadjet Eye Games and the designer responsible for such point-and-click gems as The Blackwell Legacy and The Shivah. What follows is -quite apparently- an interview with him.

1. Most know you as a designer, programmer and even publisher of indie adventure games, so, beside that, what are your gaming and non-gaming interests?

Gaming? Hm! I’m a big RPG nut. I’ve recently replayed Arcanum and I’ve just started the latest Final Fantasy, which should probably keep me busy for awhile. I have yet to finish any installment in that series, so let’s see if this is the exception.

As for non-gaming, I’m pretty low key. I love to travel, read, and wander aimlessly around NYC looking for places to go.

2. And how exactly did you first decide that playing via a keyboard and some chips was a good idea?

It’s all my mother’s fault. I was 11 years old and she bought me a copy of Infocom’s Wishbringer. After that, my fate was forevermore sealed.

3. From enjoying to creating; how and when did you decide to start coming up with your very own digital bits of interactive entertainment?

It all started during a time in my life when I was looking for some distractions. The year was 2001 and it was September and I live in New York, so you can imagine what I needed distracting from. I searched the web for freeware adventure games and I ended up discovering the Reality on the Norm project. The idea behind it was basically a shared universe. All the assets – characters, backgrounds, even the world itself – were shared by the community, and anyone could come along and make a game in that world and add to its story. The idea appealed to me. After playing a couple of them I decided to make one, so I took a week or two and made a little game called “The Repossesser.” People seemed to like it, so I kept making more.

4. What about Wadjet Eye Games? A bold step.

Maybe! At the time I was between jobs, having just come home after spending a year abroad teaching English in Asia. My apartment was being rented out so I was staying with my parents. They were both retired, and it was a bit embarrassing to be hanging around their apartment all day when I didn’t have a job either, so I took my laptop to a nearby cafĂ©. For a month, I tinkered around with making a game for 7-8 hours a day and I told myself I was working. Completely self-defeating, but The Shivah was the end result. I had so much fun making it that I realized I didn’t want to do anything else. I had about nine months worth of savings in my bank account, so I figured it was “now or never” and just dived right in. So it wasn’t a “bold step” so much as putting off getting a real job. You could say that I’m kind of still doing that.

5. And you've already been around for almost 5 years. Quite a feat that. How did you manage?

If I do anything on purpose it’s that I make a point of keeping my games a bit on the short and manageable side. It’s a lot easier to recover from a commercial failure if the time and money you put into it is minimal. There’s always that temptation to throw more and more money and time at a project to make it super awesome, but there’s always the fear that the game will bomb and you’ll lose it all. I’ve learned to treat every dollar I put into a game as a potential loss, and I’ve become very careful. While it does occasionally force me to cut some corners, it does force me to be very creative in how I do things. If I screw up, I can bounce back much faster.

6. What are your ambitions for Wadjet Eye? To create an absolute classic? Turn into the next EA?

Future plans, eh? Yeesh. I don’t even know if I’ll have matching socks tomorrow! Well, my wife and I have eventual plans to take a break from adventure games and work on a cRPG in the vein of Fallout. Unlike with adventure games, there is no middleware available for that kind of thing so we are making the engine ourselves. Or rather, my wife is, since she’s an actual programmer. It will take a long time to make, so in the meantime I am content working on point and clicks like Blackwell. Honestly, our only ambition is to keep things the way they are. I love that we can live this way. As long as we can still make games and enough people are still willing to buy them, I will have no complaints.

7. So, what does the (more or less) immediate future hold?

Right now I’m working on the fourth game in the Blackwell series, called “Blackwell Deception.” It’s fully designed and I’m in the midst of getting art and writing the dialog.

8. If it isn't too much to ask of you, could you suggest a couple titles (and describe them a bit) that would help our readers understand what's unique about your point-and-clickers?

I suppose if you have to start somewhere, you can’t go wrong with the Blackwell series. They games star a medium named Rosa Blackwell and her sardonic spirit guide Joey Malone, who are tasked to seek out lost and confused spirits and help them move on. Usually this is done by looking into the spirit’s past and using that knowledge to help them confront their death. So the games are one part mystery, one part detective story, and one part character study. They are also designed, written and programmed completely from within various cafes in the east village of Manhattan. So by supporting Blackwell you are also supporting the New York coffee industry.

9. You really seem to enjoy life in NYC. Care to tell us how you incorporate it in your -decidedly urban- games?

You look at a magnificent skyscraper, and it’s hard to imagine that it was something made by people. And a whole city of those things? It’s kind of overwhelming. As cities grow over the centuries (or millennia, in some cases) they develop a personality and history of their own. But New York is kind of special. It’s so prevalent in media – you see New York in movies, television and books all the time – that it’s touched everyone in the world in some way or another. You could live all your life in some isolated little town, but step into New York and it’s like you’ve been there before. I like being in the center of all of that. It’s a kind of energy that inspires me, and that’s obviously reflected in the games I make.

10. Ever thought of being creative in the cafes of other major cities? Berlin and Paris do sound different enough I'd say.

Not a bad idea! Although I don’t think I meet the minimum requirement of intellectual pretentiousness. Plus I look stupid in a beret.

11. Care to briefly describe the (usual/average) way to a Wadjet Eye game release?

It varies! Typically I get a notebook and scribble down ideas until something forms. Then I take those notes and compile a working design document so anyone else involved will know what to work on. For myself, I often try to make a schedule, with a day-to-day list of tasks that I intend to complete by a certain time. But then Things Happen and there are delays or I get inspired to work on something other than what I am scheduled to do that day, and it becomes a free for all. There is really no rhyme or reason to the way I work, but I’ve still managed to get six games out the door in four years so I figure I must be doing something right.

12. After publishing Puzzle Bots, do you think you might care to try something similar again? Oh, and how was working with Erin as an experience?

Puzzle Bots was an interesting experience! I had never worked on a game quite like it before, and we really stretched the limits of what AGS could do. At the time I had lofty goals of becoming a publisher for other indie adventure titles, but I soon discovered that publishing someone else’s game requires just as much time and attention as publishing your own. Over the course of making Puzzle Bots, I was also involved in several other projects (Emerald City Confidential, Blackwell Convergence, and another game for PlayFirst) which forced us to delay Puzzle Bots much longer than any of us would have liked. It turns out that I’m not one of nature’s best multi-taskers! Would I do it again? Yes. Sort of. I’m in the midst of publishing another game designed by somebody else, but rather than funding and developing it from scratch, the game has come to me 95% complete and I’m helping to push it the rest of the way. You’ll hear more about that in a month or so. It’s a project I’m really excited about.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Sep 21, 2010

Get Lamp - A DVD Review

Get Lamp

Get Lamp, as the more faithful readers of this blog should already know, is a documentary about video games. Old video games. Mostly old video games. Mostly old video games that do not sport graphics and are not to be played on consoles. Actually and to finally get to the point, it's a documentary about a very special kind of text-only video games: interactive fiction (or text adventures). A documentary about the most literary and rewarding form of digital gaming so far and the only genre to truly and fully challenge ones imagination and intellect.

What's more, Get Lamp is a brilliant and quite impressive -both in scope and execution- documentary, that, carrying on with the themes of impressiveness and brilliance, also makes for a rather great movie. After (not so) extensive field testing I can actually assure you that even people who couldn't care less about any form of interactive entertainment whatsoever, thought it was fascinating and were actually moved to give Infocom's Planetfall a try.

Get Lamp was directed and produced by Jason Scott, the same person that was responsible for the BBS Documentary, and the same person that apparently traveled throughout the US in a quest to conduct almost a hundred interviews, that were eventually molded into the basis of the documentary. Among the interviewed, you'll find such impressive names as Don Woods, Scott Adams, Ian Bogost, John Romero and almost everyone from Infocom, as the movie takes viewers on a mostly chronological trip through the history of interactive fiction, stopping only to focus and expand on the important bits, in what can only be described as an excellent whole. This main feature comes in interactive (something like a simple but well-implemented choose your own adventure thingy) and non-interactive flavors and covers the genesis, rise, fall and current evolution of the genre.

But you think I'm over-reacting, don't you? Well, I could be, though the truth is that Get Lamp is very well shot, masterfully presented and quite extensive in its coverage. It also sports some amazing production values, filling two DVDs with hours of greater and smaller features and featurettes, comes in a beautifully illustrated case (complete with a fantastic coin), features a written intro on text adventures by Scorpia, and even provides gamers with more than a few interactive fiction offerings and a variety of other digital goodies. Oh, yes, and everything is fully subtitled too.

Actually, the only thing lacking and my main gripe -both regarding the main feature and the tons of extras- is coverage of the European and generally non-US text adventure. Now, I do understand that traveling to Europe would have been far too costly, but the omission of Magnetic Scrolls, Level 9, Zenobi, Delta 4, Gilsoft and a variety of other classic publishers and developers was quite a bit disappointing, especially as Get Lamp is such an immensely enjoyable and frankly brilliant offering.

To grab your own copy of Get Lamp, simply follow this very link to its official website. Anyone ever interested in interactive fiction will simply have to own the thing.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Sep 17, 2010

The Blackwell Legacy Review

I have been interested in The Blackwell series of indie adventure games by Wadjet Eye Games, for quite some time now, but -as is traditional in this humblest of lairs- hadn't managed to play through any of its games until yesterday, when I finally installed the first chapter: The Blackwell Legacy. Unsurprisingly, I promptly finished and deeply enjoyed it. I also decided not to do a review of the series as a whole, but to take on each game separately. They deeply deserve it. And can easily be played independently of each other.

So, Blackwell Legacy. Well, it's the first game in the series, and the installment that introduces the characters, setting, mood, play-style and backstory of the series, while simultaneously being a brilliant short adventure by itself. The story focuses on slightly-neurotic medium Rosangela Blackwell and the ghostly Joey Mallone, who seem intent on solving the supernatural problems of New York City, in a plot that might not be groundbreaking, but is definitely brilliantly written and paced.

Both playable characters (Rosangels and Joey, that is) and everyone else you'll meet while playing through the game are believable, interesting and properly fleshed out. No stereotypes are to be found in Blackwell's version of NYC. Interestingly and against contemporary fears, the city is not vilified; far from it. This is really close to the Jane Jacobs version of urbanity with a bit of Woody Allen thrown in and it frankly makes for an excellent setting. Oh, and that Woody Allen atmosphere never really goes away, despite Blackwell Legacy not being a particularly humorous adventure. Then again, its rare, cynical jokes do work.

Great writing aside, Blackwell Legacy also sports beautiful pixel-art graphics, excellent voice actors, a lovely soundtrack and some truly impressive production values. I'd actually go as far as saying its on par with most classic-era adventures you'd care to mention and even manages to subtly innovate.

You will, to your shock, never face a single inventory-based puzzle (well, you will face one, but it's not of the standard use banana on car variety), but instead talk and think your way around, mostly by using your notebook via a thought-combining mechanic that reminded me of Discworld Noir. The puzzles themselves are generally original and, though challenging, far from difficult, thus making the game a great yet accessible adventure.

Verdict: The Blackwell Legacy is a brilliant AGS adventure any lover of classic point-and-clickers simply has to play. And then got on to grab the rest of the series.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Sep 15, 2010

Toy Train Tycoon (Analog Version)

As promised some time ago, here I am letting you know all about the progress of the model/electric train diorama, that will hopefully sometime evolve into the official coffee table of the non-virtual, strictly analog and rather comfy version of Gnome's Lair. Well, progress has been made. The wooden basis of the thing has already arrived, the table's frame has been designed and ordered, a ton of miscellaneous stuff has been bought, ideas have been discussed and -finally- its actual construction has began. Things initially looked like this:

Slightly chaotic, but -trust me- it could have been worse. Anyway, after deciding that using all those train pieces would simply be over the top, the very WIP diorama has been arranged into what can only be described as a first draft:

And here's a zoomed in look at the station. Nice, innit? Watch this space for further developments. They wont be shocking or anything, but I sincerely do hope they'll be quite interesting for you game-loving people.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Sep 11, 2010

Dark Disciples II: The Freewareing

Freeware CRPGs are less common that -say- freeware adventure and platform games, mostly due to the fact that they need to be bloody big to be any good; a simple fact that translates into tons of content, detailed mechanics and buckets of Tolkien-esque words. Enter, Dark Disciples II, the honestly named and vastly improved sequel to the original Dark Disciples. It impressively is a rather huge freeware, tile-based, non-linear RPG sporting an impressive number of quests, characters, monsters and areas, that let's players freely explore its four continents and even come up with some interesting characters. I suggest you give it a try. I did.

Sep 8, 2010

No charge, indie, point-and-click excellence in three parts

The summer is gone, a most interesting winter is just around the corner and here are three lovely, new, point-and-click, freeware and quite independent adventure games to keep your minds off the seas and on them yellowy pleasures of autumn. Prepare to happily point, click and think your way around these beauties:

Astro Galaxy Mega Quest VIII

Or, to give it its full title, Astro Galaxy Mega Quest VIIII: The Half Moon of Ray'don, Chapter 008.52 - Sci/Psy/Psi/SighBots of the Past (Historical Simulation Series) Editor's Choice Edition, is another offering by AGS master and designer of -among other stuff- Eternally Us Ben 304. The music is great, the visuals sharp as ever and you get to play as Master Chef in a very Sierra-esque adventure. Download it here.

Le Miserables: The Game of the Book

This one is a very impressive adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic (Marx never quite liked it, mind) and quite revolutionary (in the political sense, that is) story, that used to be a proper commercial adventure game. Well, no more it seems, as the developers have been kind enough to provide us all with free copies of the thing via their lovely site. The game's artwork and of course the writing are simply jaw-dropping.

The Journey Down: Over the Edge

Corruption and adventure in the first episode of the highly promising The Journey Down, err, episodic adventure series. Won't spoil anything for you. Just follow the link and you'll thank me. Preferably by sending in crates of Dom Perignon.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Sep 2, 2010

This September's Adventure Lantern

Still Life 2Ah, I'm back, Gnome's Lair is back and apparently so is Adventure Lantern. And though I'm still on vacation, I thought I'd let you know we are all, err, back. Anyway. Simply click over to the magazine's lovely site and grab yourselves a (freeware as always) PDF copy of the mag. It's filled with reviews, previews and interviews and covers a most intriguing variety of games, including Still Life 2, those Dr. Who offerings and The Clockwork Man 2