Nov 26, 2010

Being Creative with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum

The ZX Spectrum was, and gaily still is, a brilliant little computer and a working class gaming machine with a truly huge game library. But why should you care for such a relic of the 80s and why should you try to contribute one more game to the 20,000 already available for the thing? Well, nostalgic and historic reasons aside, the Spectrum does have a variety of advantages: a) it doesn't need to be upgraded/replaced every few years; the Spectrum *is* and Rilke would love it, b) it imposes a series of limitations that help artistic and programming skill thrive, c) it allows for small and focused games, and d) there's a huge and active community that will happily show its amazing spirit of camaraderie.

What's more for those of us that feel that assembly can be incredibly intimidating and Sinclair's BASIC ridiculously slow, there are more than a few game creation utilities that can help get things started. This post is a selection of four of the best and simpler to use utilities of the sort I'm aware of and have even actually tried. Mind you, searching around will definitely provide you with further options.

Professional Adventure Writer: This is probably the best text adventure creation system available on the Speccy that will let you pen pretty huge pieces of interactive fiction and -provided you are so inclined- add graphics to them. More than a few classic commercial adventures have been created with it and though I'd suggest you grab a used boxed copy of the thing (I do like my manuals printed, you see) you can download a copy of everything you need from the World of Spectrum. The PAW Reservoir might also come in handy.

SEUD (Shoot-em-up Designer): A Jonathan Cauldwell creation and an easy to use (really) program that will allow you to create fast scrolling shoot-em-ups on the Spectrum. Having already created a few tiny shmups and having already reviewed SEUD I can't help but suggest anyone interested should grab a copy from Cronosoft. And here is another review.

Arcade Game Designer: Another powerful utility, though this time one geared for the creation of simple arcade games. You can download it for free and thank the prolific Jonathan Cauldwell for it. Keep in mind though that this does require a bit of programming as -despite being much more powerful- it does feel a lot like BASIC.

Platform Game Designer: Shockingly, this is another Jonathan Cauldwell offering and another game creation utility you can buy from Cronosoft. It apparently is very easy to use and will allow for the creation of a variety of platform games provided they are in the style of Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy. Judging by what the community has come up with this, it is a platforming powerhouse and your one chance at creating Manic Miner II.

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Nov 23, 2010

Games of Empire - A Book Review

Remember books? Remember their smell? The way they made you think and question stuff? Well, you really should dear reader. The times are desperate and knowledge can indeed make you powerful, kind, beautiful and heroic. And since, dear reader, I know how much you like games, let me present you with the key that will help you understand what they are all about: Games of Empire - Global Capitalism and Video Games by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter. It apparently is a book and smells lovely. You can and quite frankly should order it from the University of Minnesota Press, though I'll admit to ordering my copy from Amazon. Anyway, here's the UMP link.

Unlike most gaming books I've read so far Games of Empire is neither a game creation guide, nor a retro gaming essay, though it admittedly does cover most of video gaming's history, yet in a way you've definitely not been accustomed to. Instead of finding some sort of childish glee in the birth of Mario and Space War the authors prefer to look at the nation-bombing military complex that allowed for the first video games to be created, being especially interested in pointing out the obvious antithesis of the joys of playing and being creative to the ultimate horror that is war. Unless of course war is slowly being turned into a plaything or games -like, say, America's Army- are used as recruitment tools, which also happens to be a subject Games of Empire isn't afraid to tackle.

Then again, this is a book that tries to completely lift the fetishistic veil covering the games industry, tackling everything from the militaristic propaganda of Full Spectrum Warrior and the racist/sexist overtones of most mainstream games, to the underpaid people working in the industry or even the wars the production of consumer electronics has fueled. Yes, the wars. The interesting little stories about money laundering via Second Life and the informal economies of gold farming aren't left out either.

History and shocking facts aside and despite the book's fascination with Negri's not particularly impressive imperial theory, Games of Empire does manage to come up with an extraordinary -impressively, quite entertaining too- critique of video games. It shows how a World of Warcraft player is indeed both a consumer and a producer of value, discusses the representations of actual space and spatial relations in games (mostly GTA IV) and even helps us hope that indie and radical games can fight the good fight, while avoiding any kind of conservative moral hysterics. Games of Empire is an eye-opener. And you too dear reader have to read it. 

Here's the back of the book blurb to further intrigue you:

Video games have become an integral part of global media culture, rivaling Hollywood in revenue and influence. No longer confined to a subculture of adolescent males, video games today are played by adults around the world while also serving as major sites of corporate exploitation and military recruitment. In Games of Empire , Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter offer a radical political intrigue of such video games and virtual environments as Second Life, World of Warcraft, and Grand Theft Auto, analyzing them as the exemplary media of Empire, the twenty-first-century hypercapitalist complex theorized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. The authors trace the ascent of virtual gaming, assess its impact on creators and players alike, and delineate the relationships between games and reality, body and avatar, screen and street. rejecting both moral panic and glib enthusiasm, Games of Empire demonstrates how virtual games crystallize the cultural, political, and economic forces of global capital, while also providing a means of resisting them.

Oh, and fuck off banal internet-man. Video games are not just games. 

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Nov 22, 2010

The Infinite Ocean

When the first version of the Infinite Ocean was released back in 2003 I was apparently going through a particularly rare (for gnomes at least) anti-games period and stupidly missed it, meaning that when Jonas Kyratzes announced that a new updated version of the game was in the works, I simply didn't know what to expect. Apparently, I was lucky, as getting to experience The Infinite Ocean for the very first time is quite, well, an experience.

One, you see, could superficially describe The Infinite Ocean as a freeware, indie, vaguely cyberpunk, point-and-click adventure, and one would be right, except for the fact that the only game that comes close to capturing the feeling you'd get by playing The Infinite Ocean would be Infocom's A Mind Forever Voyaging. Then again, that was a text adventure and The Infinite Ocean, despite featuring a lot of excellently written text, plays more like a version of Myst that actually sports an interesting plot and puzzles that make sense. So how does it play exactly (I pretend to hear you ask)? Well, guess you'll have to find out yourselves. After all everything feels quite intuitive and not particularly taxing, but try it out yourselves you must.

Such a brilliantly written story isn't common in our day and age. Then again, a sci-fi game that avoids being technophobic is even rarer, let alone one that manages to not only to tackle major political and philosophical issues, but to actually discuss them with the gamer. This, dear friends, is a most Brechtian experience and an intelligent game that will dialectically challenge your beliefs without attempting to impose its ideas on you. The Infinite Ocean really does make one think. And -quite shockingly- even hope. Play it now. This is art and it's exhilarating.

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Nov 19, 2010

Testing and updating...

Expect a variety of random and unexpected changes thought today's trip. As soon as Gnome's Lair settles on a design, I'll let you luvs know.

[UPDATE]: Well, most of the changes have been implemented and I'm quite happy with how the blog looks and the fact that those currently reading, playing etc bits make it more personal. There are a few ideas that haven't been realized just yet, but I'm pretty sure you'll see them before the end of next week, along with a minor few corrections and an overall lick of paint. So, uhm, any other suggestions? Like the way the thing looks?


Nov 15, 2010

The Lairs They Are a-Changin'

Hello dear reader! How are you then? Hope the lady (or the mister, excuse me, but I do keep forgetting your gender and/or sexual preferences) is doing fine. As you might have noticed things have been pretty slow here at your favourite Gnome's Lair. As you also might have noticed all the ads are gone too, in what can only be described as a first step in revamping this particular (mostly) gaming blog.

Now, don't get me wrong. I really don't have anything against people making a little extra for their online contributions, but I just don't feel that roughly two euros a day are worth cluttering the design of the Lair and possibly distracting from the content. Removing them ads is after all just the first part of the blog redesign I've been postponing for quite some time now, but which will piece-by-piece soon be more apparent. After all I am a bit too busy right now and I've decided that crisis or not, advertising isn't the way to solve problems.

Anyway. Free time can be quite a problem too. Academic work -though either severely underpaid or even unpaid- can't take the backseat and I'm currently swamped with stuff that simply needs to be done, while a new blog (in Greek), a perpetually under development new site, a few game ideas and a ton of other things have more than reduced my time available for Gnome's Lair. And let's not forget the international political situation which I really feel I have absolutely no right to ignore.

So, does this mean Gnome's Lair will be ignored instead? Definitely not. It will simply have to change a bit in order to be more satisfying to me (and hopefully you). And I'm not only talking about the design... Hopefully you'll very soon start seeing what I have in mind, though I will of course remain open to suggestions. Actually, I'd really love suggestions. And ideas.

Oh, and look at the lovely picture at the top of the post. Fantastic, eh?

Nov 1, 2010

Cloud 9 (freeware) Racing

Cloud 9, might not be fully operational just yet, but -just like any Death Star you'd care to mention- it already looks lovely and plays in a most impressive manner. Cloud 9, you see, feels quite a bit like a 3D, cell-shaded, steampunk version of F-Zero, with some interesting new mechanics and a roller-coaster feel thrown in. You can try it for free here and get yourselves update via the thing's facebook page.