Dec 31, 2010

And a very happy 2011!

This humble and newly renovated blog wishes to wish you all a very happy, exceedingly healthy and truly hopeful 2011. So, uhm, happy 2011 everyone! As for Gnome's Lair itself, well, I suggest you expect more than a few new indie game reviews, the belated conclusion pictures of that toy train, many retro articles, more new features and adventure gaming articles, dollops of ZX Spectrum love, and of course quite a few Wikileaks Stories games. Maybe a few slightly less expected offerings too.

See you all next year!

Dec 27, 2010

La Molleindustria presents Leaky World

La Molleindustria, the Italian team of radical artists that has already given us such indie gaming masterpieces as Every day the same dream and Oiligarchy, has also become the fist developer to release a game for the Wikileaks Stories project. Leaky World, said aptly and brilliantly named brand new game, casts gamers as an abstraction in the service of international elites. An abstraction trying to connect them, while simultaneously stopping any (wiki or not) leaks before the peoples of the world -their anger fueled by the leaked truth- revolt, using some truly unique game mechanics in a game that's way more elegant and simple than it sounds.

Molleindustria calls Leaky World a "playable theory", which actually makes sense. The thing really is a playable theory, though one with unique aesthetics and excellent ideas, that also happens to be fun and challenging. Oh, and Leaky World makes for a great semi-random exploration tool of the more interesting published Wikileaks cables, while simultaneously showcasing just what Wikileaks Stories is all about. You can play the Leaky World (for free of course) right here.

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Dec 23, 2010

The retro lovable TI Invaders

I do believe that the first video game I ever played was Berzerk for the Atari 2600, but I frankly can't be absolutely sure about this. What I actually do know though is that TI Invaders for the Texas Instrument TI 99/4A home computer was the first game I could call my own and play at home, provided of course I were a good little gnome. And I absolutely loved it (playing the game, not behaving that is); it did after all look and play so much better than Space Invaders on my cousins' 2600 and was actually better than the eponymous glorious game glimpsed in arcades.

I also remember being rather good at it too, but that was probably the result of spending more hours playing TI Invaders than anyone else in my rather limited social circle. This beautiful cartridge, you see, was constantly replacing boring math and alphabet games, just like nature intended it to:

The game itself, a bold Space Invaders clone, felt totally unique and incredibly high-tech. Little did I know back then that the cheap yet powerful TI 99/4A my father had bought off a colleague was an early 16-bit machine. All I cared for was its one-button joystick, the impressive looking keyboard and its infuriating lack of a pause function, the inclusion of which would make mandatory sleep-breaks a mere temporary stop to my high score beating attempts.

Nowadays, in our era where everything comes with pause buttons and save options and despite the fact that I always keep the old Texas Instruments micro close, I rarely plug the thing in. Connecting it to a modern TV can be quite a problem, you see, but, as I recently re-discovered, a problem worth solving. TI Invaders remains a fantastic game. Possibly the best retro iteration of Space Invaders ever. I mean, really, look at these graphics. How many 1981 game could be this wondrous? 
Then again we all know that graphics aren't everything. TI Invaders might retain a certain retro charm with its blocky aliens and blippy-bloppy sounds, but it's the gameplay that counts and that has aged way more gracefully than you'd expect. 

The game is slightly faster than your average invaders shooting offering, sports a lovely death animation, has a unique scoring system and way more variety than even the arcade it perfectly apes itself. Every three or so levels a new kind of invading alien appears -all of them sporting unique appearances and abilities- two difficulty levels allow you to start off with a less brutal game, an impressive variety of smart little touches enhances the overall experience and then there's the bonus stage that really spices things up. Obviously, constantly improving ones high-score remains as addictive and enjoyable as ever...

You can find out more about TI Invaders here, here and here. To download the game's manual try this link and in order to actually play the thing  I suggest you give the Win994a emulator a try.

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Dec 21, 2010

The Dream Machine beautiful Pre-order

The Dream Machine is an episodic, indie, point-and-click adventure that will very soon be released. You can now pre-order it here and get a lovely discount. Oh, and yes, it will span five episodes, the first of which can also be played for free here.

Then again, all this doesn't sound very exciting, does it? No, I know, but if you knew what a magnificent little thing The Dream Machine is you'd be absolutely ecstatic and (metaphorically) running to pre-order it. It's an imaginative, smart, highly polished and jaw-droppingly handcrafted adventure for all PCs (Win, Mac, Linux). Really. It's a rare, proper claymation game that puts the visuals of your latest FPS to shame, and as I have already described in my preview of the thing a brilliant adventure. Read it, get excited, and pre-order. Oh, and the team responsible for it isn't afraid to write this. Expect a Gnome's Lair review sooner or later.

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Dec 20, 2010

Wikileaks Stories: The Website

Wikileaks Stories, the independent gaming initiative started by Gnome's Lair and Jonas Kyratzes, is picking up steam rapidly. Happily, it also got itself a glorious shiny new site; the aptly named Wikileaks Stories. Said site will function as a hub for all gamers and indie developers that are interested in games made for democracy and freedom, already sports a fine hand-picked selection of game making resources and of course all the latest news and Wikileaks Stories games. Oh, yes, there's a facebook Wikileaks Stories page too. Where? Why, right here. So, uhm, go on, make a game! Get creative and -while you are at it- be kind and help us spread the Wikileaks Stories word.

Moving on to related news, let me inform you that Molleindustria will have its game ready in a matter of days, whereas both my and Jonas' games are progressing nicely. Also more than a few -yet unannounced- game devs are working on their ideas, as are at least a couple of people who have never crafted a game before. Exciting, eh? Oh, and you can already play these interesting, Wikileaks related and obviously freeware offerings: Wikileaks: The Game, Uncle Sam vs Wikileaks and  Cablegate: The Game.

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Dec 16, 2010

News from the indie adventures front

Old gnomes don't do that well in huge protests, but despite feeling sore all over the place, I was happy to have been part of the couple hundred thousand people that marched in Athens yesterday and am now in a comfy chair sharing the latest and most interesting indie adventure gaming news, while also working on the Wikileaks Stories project.  So, uhm, where to start from eh?

Well, I guess Dark Visions, the freeware, web-based adventure, should do. You can and should play it here, for it is a horror/mystery offering that feels quite reminiscent of classic Sierra games. The game does feature some really good puzzles and a great atmosphere, and should last you for a few hours.

On the not-so-freeware side of things we have the incredibly promising Prominence. It's a sci-fi first person adventure that will apparently sport multiple endings, top production values, space colonists, alien cultures and some great puzzles. Here's the impressive trailer:

As for The Dream Machine, a game Gnome's Lair has already covered and loved, it's got a shiny new site, whereas retro-styled point-and-clicker Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine has received a huge update that can be grabbed here. Oh, and here is the latest and greatest teaser of Blackwell Deception to round things up.

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Dec 8, 2010

WikiLeaks Stories around the web

Let's start with the humble news regarding my (first) contribution to WikiLeaks Stories; you know, the text adventure I've already mentioned in the original WikiLeaks Stories post. Well, it's doing fine really. The document on which the game will be based has been selected, my knowledge of Inform 7 is rapidly deepening and some design ideas are already being tested, meaning the thing will definitely be ready (sooner or later -hopefully sooner).

On the rather more important creative front of proper indie developers, Jonas Kyratzes is happily being productive and imaginative as ever, and more than a few indie devs are trying to come up with an idea. I wouldn't be shocked if a Molleindustria production suddenly got released, mind.

Important note: WikiLeaks Stories is not a compo. There is no deadline. Whenever you decide to actually start and/or publish your game will be fine, as these stories will be equally important in a year or a decade from now. The battle for online free speech and against corporate/state censorship will -surely- also remain more than crucial.

What's more, WikiLeaks Stories is once again proving that the game community is interested in such political matters and that gaming is not something that ignores society/life/universe/fish. I'd thus like to thank the countless Twitterers (sp?) that helped spread the WikiLeaks Stories ...err... story. Oh, and here are some links to WikiLeaks Stories related stuff you will surely appreciate:

Dec 6, 2010

WikiLeaks Stories

The 6th of December is a very important day indeed, especially if you live in Greece. Two years ago a 15 year old boy, Alexis, was brutally murdered by the police. It was a shocking event that led to a month-long revolt throughout Greece, which signaled a new phase of civil disobedience. Today, just like last year, the streets are once again (already) overrun by the angry youth (and many more) and this blog is happy. Then again, a blog can't help you join the students, workers and school-kids of Greece.

It can on the other hand interest you, oh fickle reader, with a new indie gaming initiative: WikiLeaks Stories. A selection of short and sometimes longer games that will turn some of the more interesting WikiLeaks ...err... leaks into playable stories. Maybe even provide you with a hacker game that will let you attempt to battle the powerful censors and their allies; we'll see about that.

Now, where are them games? Well, they are being made. I have already put a variety of other projects on hold and started working on a piece of WikiLeaks Stories interactive fiction (you know, a text adventure) and Jonas Kyratzes will soon come up with something himself. Hopefully a few more indie developers will join the fun, as being indie does not simply mean going for a pixel-art look...

That's all for now; back to Inform 7 for me. As for you luv, do watch this space and do support WikiLeaks.

Dec 3, 2010

Eye^Game^Candy: Alien 8

Ultimate Play the Game, the game developer now known as Rare, was one of the most secretive and brilliant teams of people creating games for the ZX Spectrum. They were also responsible for the 1985 hit Alien 8; a beautiful, isometric arcade adventure that came in a pretty lavish box. Do find out more about it and play it online over at the excellent World of Spectrum.

Dec 1, 2010

The DeathSpank PC Review

Back during the desperate times when Ron Gilbert was failing to find a publisher for his Diablo meets Monkey Island game, the skies were dark, gamers were gloomy and gnomes disappointed. Nowadays DeathSpank has not only been published, but after much delay even ported to the PC, the one platform one would think would have been ideal for the game's launch. Anyway; we might be going through the deepest and most savage recession capitalism has ever known, multinationals might be teeming up with nationalists in preparing the bombs that will help the system flourish once again and the police might just be the only facet of the welfare state that's going stronger, but we gamers can be happy, for DeathSpank is a great little game indeed. And we can even play it with a mouse and keyboard.

In our times of barbarism and boring mainstream games DeathSpank is a wacky splash of colour. It looks surreal and lovely, can at times be really funny, plays well, and -more importantly- actually does what it was supposed to do. It's a shiny Diablo-clone that effortlessly though sporadically manages to do a pretty decent impersonation of Monkey Island, what with its simple puzzles and dialog trees. Interestingly and despite the fact that only a handful of puzzles made it into the game, they are all quite varied and smart.

The hack-and-slash CRPG aspect of the game is on the other hand extremely rich. There are tons of different and outrageously named weapons, bits of armor and objects to collect, dozens of quest and side-quests, a rich selection of silly baddies, two kinds of chicken, a ridiculous amount of  loot, many locations and a rather big world to explore. Combat itself is close to perfect and always satisfying, making great use of the keyboard-mouse combo, but also allowing the traitorous among PC gamers to use a joypad. Disgusting, I know, but that's what kids seem to enjoy these. Unfortunately joysticks have been wholly ignored. Oh, and what I really thought was brilliant in the mechanics were the ways in which all the tedious bits of Diablo-clones have been eradicated: players can teleport around the map, store their weapons in a variety of chests, access a handy quest journal, consult a variety of helpful maps and -above all- use the brilliant grinder to turn loot into gold pieces.

What though actually helps raise DeathSpank above the soup of mediocrity that are Diablo-clones, for let's face it that's what it really is, is the combination of a unique presentation and a generous helping of humour. DeathSpank features truly beautiful graphics that create a unique, colorful world not entirely dissimilar to a pop-up book, excellent voice-overs and so many and varied jokes you are bound to both constantly chuckle and at times properly laugh. Apparently, it also features a plot, but this being a review on a blog, it really shouldn't be much longer than it already is. Let me just add that beating DeathSpank took me 12 hours.

Verdict: If you either love Ron Gilbert's work or care for humorous RPGs, you really can't go wrong with DeathSpank. It's a great game and it's already available on Steam. If only its Monkey Island elements were more apparent, this would have been a true classic.

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