Dec 21, 2011

A Bagfull of Wrong for Free!

Wishing everyone a kind and touching Merry Squidmas the brilliant game developing mind responsible for the Bagfull of Wrong collection of indie games and firm Gnome's Lair favourite Rob Fearon, has decided to let everyone grab his lovely games for free. Just follow this link to the Bagfull of Wrong and grab some of the best arena shooters ever accompanied by a fantastically weird take on Pac-Man (only with pretty colours). And do remember that donating something might just be the kind thing to do. You only have till Boxing Day (whenever that one might be).

Dec 20, 2011

Remembering Willy Beamish

From all the games I have ever played, there is only one I have firmly associated with Christmas and the whole wintery festive period (I sadly don't seem to particularly care for this one much anymore, what with me being an apparently empty/logical shell of a gnome and all). Said game is none other than The Adventures of Willy Beamish; a game designed by Jeff Tunnell, developed by Dynamix and published by Sierra back in the too distant sounding 1991. A game I was reading about in every gaming mag of the era, an expensive VGA offering in a big box, and a most excellent Xmas present by my parents.

I distinctly remember being incredibly excited about it, yet somehow carefully opening its box to discover a ton of 5.25" disks, one of the best manuals ever designed, a Sierra catalog, some feelies of sorts and those amazing, colourful Willy Beamish stickers that ended up on my room's door. I also remember waiting impatiently for what felt like ages for the game to install itself on my 40MB hard-drive and playing it for hours to the sounds of an old Platters LP. Hmm, this must be why I also associate this kind of music with the holiday season and, apparently, why I was listening to 50s music while photographing my dearest of all game boxes:

Interestingly though, I have never played the game since finally beating it later in 1992, admittedly with the help of a learned, yet younger, friend who I am sure must have gotten his hands on some sort of rare at the times walkthrough. But, why haven't I played it again after all those years, then? Why have I abstained from its many charms? Well, truth is, I somehow feel I might just spoil its memory and have decided to only periodically re-read the manual. Besides, I do actually remember Willy Beamish pretty vividly.

I remember its fantastic Dragon's Lair-esque graphics; they were the first of their sort in a point-and-click adventure. I remember the stunning animations and (low-res, I'm afraid) cartoon quality cut-scenes. I remember the way it showcased the capabilities of my very first PC soundcard. I remember how the story of a nine year old boy trying to competitively play video games while avoiding parental troubles and getting the girl, somehow turned into a ghost infested attempt at foiling an evil corporation. I remember getting sent off to military school and dying a dozen lushly animated deaths. I remember cajoling my in-game parents and entering my frog into competitions. I remember exploring the sanitised darkness of 90s American suburbia and being both shocked and delighted. I remember enjoying the subtle humour. I remember getting hopelessly stuck, but, above all, I warmly remember loving it.

I also remember things I didn't quite notice back then. I remember that Willy Beamish sported an incredibly simple (or elegant if you prefer) interface, one of the first ones to feature a smart cursor, yet remaining incredibly difficult. I remember the dead ends and pointlessly punishing arcade sequences too. And the fact that the trouble-meter was a very smart way of letting players know whether they were on the right track.

Then again, that's enough with my memories. Anyone else care to reminiscent on the festive joys of gaming? Well, that's what comments are for I suppose.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Dec 17, 2011

Let OĆ­che Mhaith gently disturb you

Did you know that increpare and Terry Cavanagh were flatmates? Neither did I, but they apparently are. They also made a new sui generis game together and you can play it on Newgrounds. Now! For Free! And be disturbed!

Dec 15, 2011

Continue & the Quest for the Perfect Online Mag

I always loved reading quality gaming mags and, ignoring the Greek atrocities I was exposed to during my tenderer years, I frankly can't complain. I have enjoyed such brilliant publications as PC Zone, Zero and C+VG for many years and even managed to overcome the current mag crisis and subsequent drop in quality with the help of Retro Gamer and a variety of online offerings ranging from Adventure Lantern to the now defunct Retroaction.

Happily, things are about to get better. Much better actually, as a team of game journalism veterans have joined  former PC Zoner Paul Presley (who incidentally wrote the funniest Total Carnage review possible a mere 15 or so years ago) in creating the wildly ambitious Continue mag. It will be a (mostly) online magazine covering all kinds of gaming via the excellent medium of lengthy and well-written features. It will not sport any reviews -a brave and wise choice- and will be published four times a year. Apparently a limited print version will also be made available.

You can already download the excellent and impressively hefty preview/demo issue over at the Continue site and get a taste of things to come. Then again, you can find out more about the mag by reading the words of its esteemed editor: Mr. Paul Presley. Interview right after this logo:

So, a new, ambitious, online gaming magazine. Why?

Continue is basically the gaming magazine I've always wanted to both make and read. It's always frustrated me as a games journalist that by and large, and for all the fancy frills and bows we'd put on top of them, that pretty much every games magazine out there was little more than a glorified product catalogue. The magazines I'd actually pay for and read were those that celebrated the subject matter they covered, that told interesting stories about their chosen fields. Magazines like Wired, Rolling Stone, Hotdog and the long-departed Neon (UK film mags). I always felt there was room for a magazine to try this about the entirety of gaming culture, rather than just append the odd feature to a review/preview-heavy publication to fill some sort of perceived remit or to simply dress game previews up as 'features'.

And one with no reviews at all. That's a most definitely brave choice. Care to elaborate?

There will always be a place for reviews, but unfortunately for traditional print (and print-style) magazines, that place is increasingly on the web. Magazines can't hope to compete with the immediacy of a review site that puts its opinions out the same day the game is released. On top of that, 'professional' reviews are becoming ever more obsolete. A triple-A title will sell through the roof regardless of reviews simply down to hype and brand recognition. Equally, niche titles such as all those European street cleaning simulators and whatnot all find an audience too, regardless of the slating they might get from jaded journalists. With Continue being quarterly, we'd rather sit back and write interesting features about the games we're already playing. We're more relaxed about it all. I care less about what exciting new thing is coming half a year down the line and more about the games I've already bought and am playing right now. That's where Continue's focus is. The best kind of magazine, I've always felt, is the one that makes you feel like you're all part of the same club, rather than one that dictates to the reader what to do.

What aspects of gaming will Continue cover?

All gaming! By which I mean videogames, PC games, board games, pen and paper RPGs, card games (CCGs, traditional, whatever), ARGs, reality games, social games, etc. etc. For a long time we've been seeing the boundaries between gaming 'sub-cultures' breaking down. Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition has seen an incredible renaissance in tabletop RPGs over the last couple of years, board game clubs are springing up everywhere. I know that I love gaming in all its forms, I'm not solely a videogamer, or a PC gamer and so on. I just love games, full stop. Gaming has always been relegated as a non-serious pastime by the wider world, hopefully we can start to show that gaming is as important a leisure activity to our generation as music, film, TV, theatre, books and so on are to previous generations.

You've been writing for PC Zone and a for quite a few of the truly great gaming mags. Could you kindly -and briefly- talk a bit about the rest of the team?

We're small. We're a start-up and looking to grow. Continue's core is essentially a three-man/woman team working virtually (i.e. from our homes), backed up by some of the best freelance writers and artists working today. We're all professionals mind you, all of us have extensive magazine publishing and game industry experience and we're not setting out with a 'fanzine' mentality. Basically, I like to think of myself as Jim Phelps at the start of every episode of Mission: Impossible, sitting in my swanky apartment, thumbing through my IMF folder, picking the right team for the right job.

What would you say distinguishes Continue from other gaming publications?

We're any good? <Joke> We've mentioned earlier the whole 'no reviews' thing, but really it's just the whole approach. We're text-heavy, we're not scared of words, we're not filling every page with screenshots of the latest, greatest thing. We're more relaxed, a magazine you can dip in and out of. We're quarterly so we can take the time to really go deeply into our subjects rather than scrambling to meet impossibly tight deadlines every other week. We're digital, so you can read us on just about any mobile platform or desktop screen around (and we will be producing dedicated tablet/mobile versions post-launch of the first issue proper). We're globally-focused, so just as we're all used to playing games virtually across the world, so Continue brings you stories from all corners of the Earth. 

Any idea of when the first full issue will be available? 

Soon. Very, very soon. Unless you're reading this after our launch in which case, then. Very, very then. 

Could you kindly describe the print version of the magazine? 

First and foremost, Continue is a digital title. However, we are looking to produce a (very) limited, some say 'collectible' run of print copies for those that still love the feel of ink on their hands and paper cuts on their fingers (hmm, free plasters with issue 1? Hey marketing, look into that will you). The website ( will have details up soon on how to go about pre-ordering copies of the print version, which will basically be the same magazine as the digital version, but more useful as an impromptu fly swatter than your desktop PC.

And after we thank the kind Paul (thanks!) for taking the time to answer the above questions, on to an even shorter interview -the aptly named interview no.2 of this post- with Richard Cobbett; a brilliant writer who will also be contributing to Continue:

Why did you decide to join the Continue writing team?

Paul asked me a few months ago, when the mag was being designed. We've both been around the UK games journalism scene for... uh... a fair while, and he thought it would be good to have a column taking an old-school look at current trends. The first one is in the preview issue, looking at how gaming's barriers of entry have changed over the years. Seemed like a good intro. 

Do you believe that such a unique mag will manage to find its audience?

Hopefully, though right now the whole industry is in a pretty hefty state of flux that makes predicting anything more than a little tricky. The idea though is solid. As I've said many times, the main advantage of the web is that you can find more or less whatever you want about anything you care to look for. Magazines, in print or otherwise, have the edge when it comes to presenting the cool things you *didn't* know you want to read - like Chris Donlan's feature about his grandfather surviving WW2 with Monopoly - which can be so easily drowned out by the ever-increasing pace of the daily news churn. 

What interests me about it specifically is that while Continue is for gamers, it casts a much wider net than simply computer games, consoles, and generic things like reviews. I've never played a P&P RPG for instance, and I don't play board games. Why would I actively search for news about either? I wouldn't. And I don't. Something like this can put the awesome stories from those worlds right in front of me though, and hopefully open whole new avenues of interest and intrigue I never knew I was missing out on. A truly great writer might even persuade me to finally stop making fun of bards, though I doubt I ever will. Bards are rubbish.

What can we expect from you on Continue? 

At the moment, I'm just doing a column. As a freelance writer type though, I'm surprisingly open to writing more...

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Dec 13, 2011

The Xmas Blackwell Bundle

As I have already mentioned I simply cannot blog each and every gaming bundle that launches. It seems there is one announced/launched/unleashed every week and I frankly cannot be bothered. Besides, I am quite aware of the fact that you are not made of money reader. I'm thus sticking to the important ones, and Indieroyale's Xmas Bundle definitely feels both important and like an excellent chance to grab some fantastic adventure games for a ridiculously low price.

The bundle, you see, includes six games, three of which are none other than Wadjet Eye's Blackwell Legacy (review), Blackwell Unbound (review) and Blackwell Convergence (review). If you can't be bothered to read the reviews I took the time to link to, well, know that those Blackwell indie adventures are three brilliant indie point-and-clickers with excellent writing, lovely retro-styled graphics, quality voice-overs, relatively easy but interesting puzzles, subtle humour and some amazing characters. They are all about ghosts and New York too, and the versions this bundle is offering include new voices, a new commentary, bug fixes and an assortment of little cosmetic enhancements. It's a proper remastered version, it is, and one that will happily let you play with it on Steam and Desura too. Yes, for the very first time.

Blackwell games aside, you'll also be getting Eets, Dino D-Day and The Oil Blue. Now, I don't know much about these ones, but I do know that The Oil Blue sounds like a very intriguing, satirical oil-drilling thing, Dino D-Day seems as interesting as your average FPS and that Eets has some beautiful graphics. Actually, Eets has been created by the makers of Shank and is a Lemmings inspired puzzler, meaning it simply cannot be all bad. Anyway, better hop over to IndieRoyale, find out more about the games yourself and then grab some indie lovelies.

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Dec 8, 2011

Terry Cavanagh presents At A Distance

Terry Cavanagh is a brilliant game designer, an inspired artists and -from what my dark sources tell me- a very good person too. Following the release and well-deserved success of the second best platformer of all time, he has been coming up with some incredibly wild designs while, hopefully, working on a very intriguing CRPG. Anyway, following the release of American Dream and Hero's Adventure Terry has finally unleashed the ground-breaking At A Distance. A game that has already confused, frustrated and brilliantly entertained visitors of more than a few gaming exhibitions.

At A Distance, you see, is a psychedelic two-player puzzle game that's been designed to be played on two computers running side by side. It is a game sporting unique visuals, an amazing atmosphere, fantastic mechanics and an uncanny ability to feel like a collaborative board game that has somehow made it inside a computer. It is thus an original and very much indie offering in which the right player will be looking at something like this:

whereas the left player will be admiring this:

Both players will have to try things out, discuss, think, navigate, jump and come up with puzzle solving ideas all the while looking at each others screens. Intrigued? Good, you should be, for I'm not saying anything else, besides pointing out that though you could tackle the game by yourself, really reader, don't. Simply visit the At A Distance site and download the game for free for it has finally been publicly released.

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Dec 6, 2011

Remember Remember the 6th of December

Three years ago, on the 6th of December 2008 the police, without provocation, murdered a 15 year old boy in the streets of Athens leading to mass outrage, grief and the greatest and most dynamic demonstrations in years. Athens burned, the government almost collapsed, the police trembled and the people, having just rediscovered their power, seemed to be preparing for the battles ahead. Well, those battles are here and what better way to commemorate the murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos than taking part in today's demonstrations? None really, but as the vast majority of the readers of this blog are not in fact residents of Greece I'll suggest something else: support the heroically striking steel workers.

Following drastic pay cuts, mass lay-offs and hundreds of workplace "accidents", they have entered their second month of strike and though the support among Greek society is indeed huge, you have to understand that said society is actually collapsing. People are living on the streets, youth unemployment has exceeded 40%, taxes are rising, shops are closing, pensions are vanishing, nobody gets properly paid and, well, though we have so far managed to support the striking workers, I really can't see how much longer we can last. People from around the world have to help by spreading the solidarity and donating as much as they can via this bank account: 

IBAN: GR 40 0110 2000 0000 2006 2330 152

Every donation counts; the bank account belongs to the workers union. And do remember that these workers aren't just striking for themselves. They are striking for the people of the world. They will win.

Oh, and hadn't Alexandros been shot down he would only be 18 years old now...

Dec 5, 2011

The Book of Unwritten Tales Sale & First Impressions

Let's start off with the news bit: indie, European point-and-click adventure game The Book of Unwritten Tales can now be grabbed with a hefty 20% discount and is happily accompanied by a further 20% discount gift coupon that can apparently be gifted to a misanthropic friend of yours. Mind you, this being a holiday offer, it will only be available up to the 24th of December and only for the downloadable version of the game that can be grabbed via the King Art Online Store. You know what to do now, don't you? Buy it now and thank me later. Yes, truffles will be fine. Truffle-oil too.

Supposing you haven't heard of The Book of Unwritten Tales, well, reader, there's always the thing's free demo you know. It should be all you need to be convinced of the Book's quality, elegant interface, overall polish, well-written plot, intriguing puzzles and stunning graphics. If you feel that more info will be necessary, you could alternatively google for its glowing reviews, wait for the upcoming Gnome's Lair review (this is a huge game, you know...) or just read my first impressions that are following this very paragraph.

So, I suppose the main question is: what do I so far think? Well, after only 5 hours of gameplay and having thus only scratched the game's surface, I must admit I'm deeply impressed. The Book of Unwritten Tales is the first full-length, full-blown, non-retroesque, properly ambitious and definitely quality adventure game I've played since, I believe, Scratches. Actually, as this is a humorous fantasy offering and I have criminally missed The Whispered World, this is one of the truly rare games that evoke the glory days of the genre.

The first thing that stands out is of course the visual richness of BoUT. Every background is lively, happily zoomable and scrollable, filled with detail, perfectly lighted, varied, unique and based on some truly amazing artwork. What's more, the 3D characters are of the same high quality and blend-in effortlessly, thus creating a beautiful, coherent and happily HD whole. These, reader, are some of the best graphics ever to appear in an adventure game. Ever!

Even more impressively, both the music and the game's voice-over stand up to the visual quality on offer, as do the writing, the puzzles and the pacing. BoUT is indeed a very well designed game. It starts off with an excellent yet wisely brief introduction, goes on to a short playable bit that acts as a tutorial for the intuitive control system and then moves on to to the proper game and introduces the second (of four!) playable characters. The puzzles, though never too difficult (so far at least) are quite varied and seem to get progressively more challenging and elaborate. Oh, and the humour actually works, but more on this and the rest of the game in the forthcoming review which should appear pretty soon. 

Now, if you'll excuse me I have a weird furry creature to guide, while Death remains buried following an elaborate and pretty hopeless business scheme...

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Nov 29, 2011

Zenobi presents Behind Closed Doors 5

Zenobi has been a truly independent text adventure developer and publisher that has miraculously survived for over 20 years know, as any ZX Spectrum -and, indeed, Atari ST- adventurer will most probably tell you. Though it hasn't published a game in over 10 years, it is still offering its dozens of classic games on a DVD packed with interactive fiction, graphic adventures, one action game, scans of reviews and every emulator you could ask for. Quite a departure from tapes and disks apparently, and, what's more, its brave founder and creator of brilliantly surreal fantasy adventures, the Balrog (who was interviewed on Gnome's Lair some time ago), is still at the company's helm, and, incredibly, back to designing games too!

Yes, it's very much true, there's a new Zenobi text adventure available and it has been coded by the Balrog himself: Behind Closed Doors 5. You can download it for free over at the Balrog's Bits section of or follow this rather handy direct link. The game was created with Twine and is thus a point-and-click, choose-your-own-adventure type of affair, that brilliantly continues the proud tradition of the Behind Closed Doors series that began back in 1988. It is thus an elaborate, humorous, fantasy, toilet-centered affair and a tribute to Zenobi Software; to play it, you'll have to open the downloaded file with your browser. Oh, and there are some actual puzzles in there too.

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Nov 28, 2011

Melonade on a Couch: the Gnome's Lair interview

Ah, the dialectical motion of the world. It does lead to such intriguing and slightly ironic situations, doesn't it? I mean, it feels like only yesterday when I was interviewing the multi-talented game designer/visual artist Ben Chandler and then, suddenly, there I was being interviewed myself by the very same man. Why? Well, why not I suppose. You can read the whole interview over at the Hardy Developer's Journal.

I do go on about such profoundly deep and meaningful stuff as my deep inability to finish a game, the glories of indie creativity, a certain iOS project of mine, Gabriel Knight, favourite games, future projects, blogging and such astoundingly tedious stuff as my fascination with cities. I also say the following (consider this a teaser):

And that is why I’m currently working on some smaller and hopefully interesting projects (including one Wikileaks Stories text adventure sort of thing), but mainly focusing on a pretty big iOS game with a group of artists and programmers. 
I simply feel that games -a truly wide medium- can and should engage political themes. The mainstream is after all already bombarding the masses with the deeply political themes of imperialist war, militarism and crypto-fascism.  
Truth be said my obsession with cities has led me to playing such offerings as GTA IV and the SimCity series, only to be mildly disappointed by the fact that the vast majority of game designers seem unable to understand urban planning, let alone cities themselves.

Nov 25, 2011

Free Vintage Gaming Magazines

Something I've been preparing on and off for quite some time now is finally ready. Hooray, eh? Anyway. Just follow the link to the brand new Retro Gaming Magazines page on Gnome's Lair and once again enjoy those lovable vintage gaming mags. For free. Mind you, the page already features a rich selection and will also get constant updates whenever something intersting is discovered or pointed my way. Hope you enjoy it!

Nov 24, 2011

The Humble Introversion Bundle

Seeing as indie games bundles are showing up every other day and taking into consideration the fact that I'm not some sort of mega-blogging enterprise, I've decided to only mention the important ones. The ones I really care about, to be absolutely frank, and the latest Humble Bundle, the Humble Introversion Bundle, is indeed one such bundle. It's actually so great an offer and such a lovely chance to support one of the best and most ambitious indie developers around, I simply bought it despite owning each and every game on offer (in a shiny big box too).

Introversion, you see, is the first indie developer I was actually impressed by when ten years ago it released Uplink; the best and most atmospheric hacking game I've ever played. An amazingly intuitive affair that felt like proper hacking and one of the offerings bundled together in this pay-what-you-want offer.

You'll also be getting Darwinia, an innovative and brilliantly looking RTS set in the sentient pixel-world inside the computer of Sir Clive look-alike Dr. Sepulveda (that's two whole references for the price of one, mind), as well as its multiplayer sequel Multiwinia. Oh, yes, and Defcon too, and that's another excellent offering and a deceptively simple, yet incredibly deep, anti-war nuclear wargame.

Importantly, two prototypes are also thrown in for no extra charge. And though the Voxel Tech Demo is interesting but nothing ground-breaking, the Subversion City Generator is simply stunning. It's a procedural city generator that -on the fly- generates some truly realistic urban environments, that may be mostly random and very simple but do actually make geographic sense. It's such a shame that Subversion was put on hold...

What's more, should you chose to spend more than the average buyer you'll also be getting indie exploration classic Aquaria and that over-rated physics puzzler that is Crayon Physics Deluxe. As is customary, all the games are DRM-free, available for Windows, Mac and Linux, and even downloadable via Steam. So, uhm, here is the link again and here is the trailer:

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Nov 23, 2011

Dreadfleet: Not a Review

I was actually thinking of writing a review of Dreadfleet, the latest limited edition (was that really necessary?) board game by Games Workshop, but, thing is, I really can't. It's not a board game; it's a miniature wargame that comes in a box, and miniature wargames cannot be judged after one game. Nor after two for that matter. They really should be deeply explored and played to exhaustion till a concrete conclusion can be reached, and that, dear reader, is why I will not review Dreadfleet. I'm out of time and by the time I've fully made up my mind, chances are, the game will already have sold out. That's why I'll simply write down my impressions on the thing instead.

So, let's get the basic and pretty obvious stuff out of the way first. Dreadfleet is a fantasy, naval wargame set in the world of Warhammer that has been designed for two players, but can apparently be played by up to ten. It pits the Dreadfleet, five monstrous ships crewed by a variety undead captains and their minions, against the Grand Alliance, a five pirate ships fleet of men, elves and dwarfs. Everything comes in a lavish box, that you can grab over at the Games Workshop site for the not so modest price of £70.

Then again said box is indeed filled to the brim with 10 extremely detailed and downright stunning miniature ships, a selection of smaller vessels and sea monsters, dice, some beautiful islands and shipwrecks, a full-colour 98-pages long manual, rulers, quite a few extras and a truly stunning seascape - the board of sorts on which the two fleets get to battle it out.
Besides the obvious quality of the miniatures and seascape and the fact that the box contains everything you need to play -it really is a wargame in a box, and that does suit us time- and money-poor, former  Warhammer gamers- the setting is also very well written and thoroughly presented. It's a battle between all sorts of undead characters (and, yes, that does include both Skaven and an almost chaotic, but not Chaos, dwarf) under the command of a powerful Tomb King against a vengeful pirate and his unstable alliance, taking place on the waters of a turbulent, extra-dimensional, aquatic graveyard where everything that dies in the ocean ends up in. Each ship and captain are thoroughly detailed, and even the twelve available scenarios and the rules are compatible with the overall plot.

This does of course lead to some problems; the chaotic nature of the graveyard's winds for example makes for an overtly randomized wind direction, that definitely doesn't help with strategic planning. Then again the rules are incredibly easy to grasp and almost intuitive, especially for those that have already had some experience with either naval or miniature wargames. Also, and not unlike Warhammer, it's a game that's based on movement and -despite its strong random elements- ultimately relies on each player's tactical and strategic decisions.

Oh, and assembling the ships and islands is a pretty straightforward and relatively fast procedure. Properly painting and gluing them together is -as is customary- another matter entirely. 

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Nov 21, 2011

From the Mouth of the Indie Dev

50 excellent interviews with independent developers by the ever-inquisitive Steve Cook who has (most kindly) interrogated such creative masterminds as Locomalito, Ben Chandler, Adam Atomic, cactus, Gregory Weir and Loren Schmidt. Read them and be wiser.

Nov 18, 2011

Game Machines 1972-2012

The original Game.Machines: The encyclopedia of Consoles, handhelds & home computers 1972-2005 by Winnie Foster is one of the gaming books I've enjoyed the most. It is a richly illustrated, full-colour, excellently organized, well-written, well-researched and highly informative examination of gaming hardware covering everything from the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey and the Apple II to the Sega Dreamcast and the Sony PSP.

What's more, and besides classics such as the ZX Spectrum, the NES, the Sega MegaDrive or the Amiga 500 and contemporary offering like the Xbox and the Nintendo DS, a huge variety of obscure and rare machines are also getting detailed and visually lush entries that cover their history, games, accessories, various models and evolution. The Interton VC 4000, the Sharp MZ, the Entex Adventurevision, the Commodore C116, the Amstrad GX4000, the Sharp X68000, the IBM PC Jr, the iQue, the Pippin, the Nuon and the NEC PC-FX all get their pages and we (you and me reader, it's always you and me) get a glimpse at the wonderful history of gaming.

Enough with the name-dropping though. What actually matters is that for quite some time now the book has been out-of-print and thus selling for exorbitant prices over at eBay and Amazon and that GamePlan, the book's publisher, has prepared a brand new and updated edition of the book that will launch on the 5th of this very December. It will apparently be a bigger, better, 248-pages long version that will also cover our contemporary HD and iPhone-infested gaming era. You can preorder Game Machines 1972-2012 and find out more over at GamePlan Books

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Nov 16, 2011

The Cryptozookeeper Interview

Robb Sherwin, the man behind the excellent and lavishly illustrated Cryptozookeeper interactive fiction offering talks about designing text adventures, his latest creation, horribly mutated beasties and gaming. He also talks about his previous games and, well, you should really read on. And play this.

After more than ten years of creating quality interactive fiction, care to introduce yourself to the Gnome's Lair audience?

I'm Robb -- I live in Denver, Colorado with three cats and an Asteroids machine. I've been making text games for over ten years, and have won a couple awards here and there for them.

And how did you get into this most text-based form of digital entertainment?

Graham Nelson, who gave us Inform and the ability to make games for Infocom's Z-machine, wrote an introduction to programming Inform 6 that was the clearest and most approachable book on creating software that I had ever experienced. It all just clicked for me thanks to that book. I always had a fondness for text games, although I suppose if Graham had written a book on COBOL I'd be a ten-year veteran of payroll systems that have lots of dialogue.

Any favourites? Also, any favourite games that aren't text adventures / interactive fiction?

My favorite text games are Zork, Interstate Zero and something called Knight Orc, which modeled the awful, despicable behavior of players of an MMORPG long before there was such a thing. The non-text game I most wish I made is Mr. Do!, the arcade game from 1982 by Kazutoshi Ueda. I mean, I own a beach ball, night cap and problematic garden, but never thought to solve the latter with the first two.

So, why design interactive fiction?

To be honest, I don't have the math chops to be a very good solo programmer at other kinds of games. You know how in Asteroids, there is a 'mathematical' way to determine if the player's shot hits the jagged edge of an asteroid, instead of the programmer just putting an invisible rectangle around the rock and counting a hit when it's "close enough?" Me either, which is why I have been failing at making the simplest game possible with graphics for like a decade.

But one thing I can do is try to leverage the interactive stories I want to tell in front of a literate, tough audience, all within a genre I have nostalgia for. I can also do all the coding and art myself (which at times has its drawbacks) but still gives me the chance to present a world for players to experience. I love working in interactive fiction, and haven't felt I've approached all that I can do with it.

You have had more than a few successful and (very) well reviewed games such as Necrotic Drift and Fallacy of Dawn; care to briefly let us know what their unique features are? Besides great writing, that is.

I've tried to put at least one unique graphic in place for every single character and room that those games have. When I was playing early Infocom games, they were on a floppy disk with a single red light. And in some ways, just getting to new areas and seeing the disk light up was a reward in itself. Nobody uses floppy disks any more, but by giving each newly-discovered area a visual component, I've tried to mirror that feeling of exploration.

I've also tried to put some jokes in each game, which other text adventures definitely do, but my hope is that someone would want to play one of my games so they can also experience whatever comedic bits I've been working on the last few years, if that makes any sense.

Is there a game you've created and feel it's your best? Your proudest achievement perhaps?

I was flattered to win a couple XYZZY Awards for Fallacy of Dawn. I am still very much into the cyberpunk genre, and I think that cyberpunk has an amazing ability to still be relevant if the technology advances we see every few weeks are incorporated.

There was one thing that happened a couple years ago that made me proud, and it's not because I'm so great or anything; I only mention it because it meant a lot. I was at a vendor table with GET LAMP's Jason Scott at the Boston Penny Arcade Expo, and a guy, this stranger, bought a copy of Fallacy of Dawn. He told me that he really enjoyed the game. There was something about it happening in real life that really made it stick with me. It was like, I was able to get something *lasting* at PAX instead of avian flu.

On to your latest release then: Cryptozookeeper. How would you describe it?

I tried to put together a dialogue-rich, character-driven comedy that included every major beastie in the pseudo-science of cryptozoology. If the potential player really enjoys any of the jokes or lines in the first few moves, my intent is that the game will speak to them throughout on that wavelength. It also has graphics featuring these various crytpids that -- while looking completely made up -- tend to look more genuine than what's normally used as actual proof for them.

What would you say makes it special?

While there's standard adventure game things to do, like DNA to gather and people to talk to, there's also a mini-game in the middle that lets you fight and train the cryptids that you created. You can eventually venture forth with your own army of fantastic creatures. But really, the one thing I tried to do with Cryptozookeeper is design it with the intent that every small decision the player makes is defensible for the particular situation, while leaving it quite clear from a bird's eye view that the player character is going to a really dark place after those decisions add up.

It also has a number of extremely cute girls.

Any particular influences -gaming or otherwise- you'd care to mention?

There is a time in Colorado, from about the middle of October until the first week or so of November, where all the leaves start to fall and the temperatures start to drop. I usually put off getting any real exercise in the summer, so I try to make up for it in autumn. The air at this time gets very still, and the good people of the state are inside, for the most part. I'm a transplant -- I moved from New York in 1998 -- and this stillness, combined with the long stretches of flat land (to the east) and mountains (to the west) just fascinated me. What would it be like if, within this silence, there was all this terrible stuff going on? The game takes place in the dark, over three days, and I was really influenced by walking around this gorgeous state I live in at a time of year where the earth starts to go silent.

Why did you go for those lovably b-movie-ish graphics?

Well, cryptids are all mostly fake-looking when they hit the news, so I felt it was "in bounds" for the theme. But most of the actors in the game lived in far-away places. Gerrit Hamilton (who plays the player character) lives in Georgia. Alex Gray lives in Scotland, Jon Blask lives in Wisconsin... these are quality, but far-away places. The actors are therefore in front of a "green screen" or (more realistically) a "living room wall." I have to then put the actors in backdrops I shot in New Mexico and Colorado. I thought the best way to approach this was to embrace this with heavy outlines and custom Photoshop filters, as it let me work around competing light sources and such. But yeah, it was done out of necessity. Kevin Smith has said that "Clerks" was in black and white only because he couldn't afford to shoot it in color. I have to admit that if I could afford to fly the actors out to my city I would do so, heh.

Did you expect its popularity in the wider indie scene? Where would you attribute it?

Well, I think there has been a certain number of indie-only game blogs that I have yet to interest or get the attention of. I'm trying to get better about promoting my own stuff, but I am sure the e-mails I sent out came out as awkward or unprofessional. I'm all for demonizing marketing on forums like anyone else, but then, every few years, I finish a game and find I'm lacking the know-how to properly promote it. So that Crypto has received the attention it has -- I really am thankful. People have been kind to talk about it and review it. 

How did the boxed version do? I would love to see more interactive fiction commercially available in deluxe versions, mind. How come you decided to go for it?

Well, I had done boxes for Fallacy of Dawn and Necrotic Drift, and I personally wanted the third game in the series to exist as a physical item. I also really loved the music of Clint Hoagland (the guy behind Bachelor Machines) and I thought that teaming up, with one disc being Crypto and the other disc being selected tracks that he's created would make for a fun package. But really, I just needed something tangible to act as a proxy for all the time I spent making Cryptozookeeper. I had hopes that it would connect on the same level with people who like having a game they enjoyed in their hands. It's a shrinking set of people who like that sort of thing, and I don't know if I could justify doing a similar run for a game in the future.

Would you say that text adventures need to update their visuals and/or interfaces in order to approach a wider audience?

I think the biggest advance text games can make is in delaying the moment the player starts typing in swear words out of frustration, and getting games onto the web. I did neither of those things, so I naturally feel particularly qualified to speak as to how valuable they'd be.

For whatever reason, a modern game player will accept that his rocket launcher will not destroy the wooden door in front of him, but not accept that a text game hasn't implemented a Turning test-passing, natural language processor for talking to minor characters. That's OK - what text game developers might be able to do in the future to decrease frustation is to look at as many experiences as possible. Juhana Leinonen placed his latest game (Starborn) on the web and automatically recorded what people did as people played it. He ended up with hundreds of transcripts. It was brilliant. He then revised his game so that it was as smooth as possible for a new player who maybe isn't that into IF to play. I think if we can all learn how a game player's interest starts to fade from the illusion of a text adventure, it would really advance the genre more than better graphics or UIs would.

(Though I would love to make a game at some point that required those old red and blue 3D style glasses.)

Finally, is it text adventure or interactive fiction?

I like both terms, although I'm really more partial to just calling them "warez" because that makes us all sound like we belong at the cool kid's table. =)

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2011 Interactive Fiction Competition: The Results

All good things have to come to an end, though not necessarily to a vote proceeding said end as was the case with the 2011 Interactive Fiction Competition. Still, end it did, and you can now have a look at the results as voted by the stalwart text adventurers that selected the very best entries for our gaming pleasure. Apparently Taco Fiction, Six, The Play, Escape from Santaland and PataNoir were the five games that were rated the highest and probably the first you should play. You can download them all here.

Nov 15, 2011

Show me the (Royal) Indie Bundles (Sale)

The Indie Gaming Renaissance has already begun reader and we are apparently heading straight to the phase of the Indie Gaming Revolution, but let's not overexcite ourselves just yet. Better grab a cup of tea, take a deep breath, ponder on the desperate stagnation of mainstream gaming, count our pennies and go grab some of the best indie offerings for very cheap indeed. Apparently, it also is the Age of the Bundle! How very nice and crisis-sensitive.

The first bundle you should care about is none other than the second indie bundle by IndieRoyale -the brand new bundling site- that will be offering its aptly named the Difficult 2nd Bundle for the rest of this very day. Yes, I do suppose you should hurry over to IndieRoyale and spend the ridiculously humble amount of money asked in order to grab seven (!) glorious games for a few cents each. I also guess I should have blogged this a bit earlier. 

Among said seven offerings, you will find the excellent political strategy game Fate of the World (complete with DLC packs and soundtrack) I only recently reviewed, the amazing shooter that is Scoregasm, both Ben & Dan adventure games and indie darling NightSky. Sounds brilliant, doesn't it? Well, that's because it quite frankly is. 

Failing that (yes, I know, hours can fly by so fast and missing stuff online is ridiculously easy), you can always head over to the pretty excellent Show me the Games Sale and grab vastly discounted games safe in the knowledge that all the money will go to the developers themselves, thus furthering the indie cause. Or, well, aesthetic. What's more, you have thirteen whole days to make up your mind and choose the games of your liking.

Now, if you'd allow me, which -let's face it- you have no chance but to, I will suggest a few of the more interesting games on sale. So, there's excellent VVVVVV platformer which I loved and reviewed here, brilliant space strategy game AI War, action-puzzler Tidalis (review), Ultimate Play the Game homage Mr. Robot and the best tower defense variant I've ever played: Revenge of the Titans. Apparently you can also grab Frozen Synapse, which, despite being quite popular, I've yet to try.

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Nov 14, 2011

The Oneiropolis Compendium and Kohlrabian Dialecticus

The beautiful and most whimsical picture you see above will very soon be adorning the physical walls of this very lair. What's more, it's already accompanied by a most intriguing and excellently written bit of text, detailing Kohlrabian Dialecticus; a pretty amazing academic from the Lands of Dream, the fantasy setting where Jonas and Verena Kyratzes have already placed two of their excellent games (The Book of Living Magic and The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge) and the setting of their most ambitious (upcoming) project yet. Rumours have it that a Lands of Dream book isn't too far off either...

Anyway. You can find out more about said game and the Lands of Dream themselves right here. While you are at it though, why not help uncover more of them magical Lands of Dream by supporting this truly unique indie developer? You might even get your very own, hand-painted, framed, fantasy picture mailed to you too.

Nov 12, 2011

Egress - The Test of STS-417

I really do love freeware (and not-so-freeware), indie, AGS-crafted adventures. I enjoy their imaginative takes on the genre, their unexpected themes, their wild puzzles, their sheer variety and their pixel art visuals that so nostalgically remind me of my gaming youth. It's only rarely though that I'm blown-away by their (relatively, to be precise) high-res graphics and lavish animated intros, and the newly released Egress has a pretty stunning opening cinematic. It sports some lovely, hand drawn, frame-by-frame 2D animation, and though short, it's even more impressively accompanied by a few ending sequences, to go along with the game's multiple endings. 

Eye candy aside, and there's quite a bit of it as Egress is very good looking first-person adventure indeed, this short sci-fi offering is a also a good and atmospheric game. Set in the outer reaches of space, it follows you, the commander of a two man recon team attacked by a weird black blob, as you explore a mysterious planet, search for you partner (his screaming is rather annoying apparently), try to figure out what's going on and, quite obviously, save yourself. All this with the help of a pretty standard interface and against some mostly easy but definitely enjoyable puzzles.

You can download Egress either from its very own, lovingly crafted site over at Krams Design (where you can also show your appreciation by donating and getting some excellent wallpapers as a reward) or via the AGS forums. The game is of course happily freeware.

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Nov 9, 2011

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller

What do you mean you have no idea who Erica Reed is? Haven't you been following the lives of fictional FBI agents? Haven't you, at the very least, been developing any sort of extra-sensory abilities? No? Well, Erica has, but I guess we should start from the beginning. It will after all be the most sensible choice indeed.

So, Erica Reed then. She's one of them imaginary FBI agents and the star of forthcoming, episodic point-and-click adventure game Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, that's currently being developed by Phoenix Online Studios; the same team that has brought us the excellent King's Quest fangame The Silver Lining. The game will apparently be a detective drama sporting serial killers and supernatural powers, impressive production values, excellent retro-esque graphics, hopefully interesting and evolving characters (Erica will have to solve both personal and professional problems) and intriguing mechanics.

Erica has been gifted with the power of post-cognition, you see, a power that allows her to touch an object and see its past, events that happened on, to, or around it, and I'm pretty sure that Jane Jensen would be more than able to weave some impressive puzzles and plot-threads around this. And, yes, by Jane Jensen I do mean the Jane Jensen of Gabriel Knight fame who is also working on the game. I'm thoroughly, impressed I am and that's why I'll be doing my best to support this game and, frankly, so should you.

You can help with the development of Cognition by supporting its Kickstarter campaign and consequently by pre-ordering the game and an excellent selection of most collectible goodies. Here's the trailer:

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Nov 8, 2011

Fate of the World: Tipping Point Review

Fate of the World: Tipping Point is a unique, deeply political, scientific and thus truly rare beast. It also is an indie game that plays a lot like a card game and is tasking you, the player, with saving the world. Well, humanity to be precise, as I'm pretty sure that the world will do just fine without us. Shockingly though, saving humanity does not involve fighting aliens with ridiculously sized guns or destroying hordes of zombies while exposing nefarious conspiracies. No. This time around it involves tackling real societal problems and their environmental and political consequences in a frighteningly realistic manner.

Fate of the World is after all based on the scientific and political theories of Prof. Myles Allen, and does an incredible job in transforming an apparently complex set of ideas into a game; not that I'm aware of the good professor's theory mind, but I've apparently been exposed to quite a few similar ones. The EU's official environmental policies do, for example, spring to mind: environmentalism mixed with moderate free market doctrines and capitalist developmental ideas... 

Problem is that such a profoundly political game cannot simply be judged as a mere piece of entertainment software. It should and will have to face political and scientific criticism and -happily- what with me being a geographer, there are a ton of things I disagree with. Now, I could tire both you and myself by providing an extensive critique, but I will simply stick to my key problems: a) the game seems to ignore the political importance of the masses, b) it considers capitalism as a natural and unchangeable socioeconomic reality, c) it fails to see such facts as the strong relationship of services and production and d) it is incredibly deterministic.

The typical gameplay screen is most atypical.
Now, this doesn't mean that the game isn't good or that it doesn't base itself on a sound scientific base. It's just that I couldn't help but notice a few things I strongly disagree with and mainly that generally irritating bourgeois, supposedly technocratic school of thought. It does make quite a few decent and generally accepted points though and I can't help but admit that some of the game's ideological problems might be attributed to the fact that turning a theory into something enjoyable, let alone playable, is very difficult indeed. But I really don't want to sound negative. Really. Fate of the World: Tipping Point is a great, deviously educational, rich and incredibly thought-provoking game.

I am, after all, most impressed with what Fate of the World actually achieves. It's an astoundingly simple to play strategy game that manages to be both deep and educational. Let me give you an example of play: you have to make sure that the living standards of Africa rise, while its carbon emissions fall; you thus buy agents for northern and southern Africa (each agent allows one card to be played in the region he/she is stationed); you buy and play an equal number of cards to your agents (cards are usually certain policies); you click the end turn button and hope for the best. Sadly Africa gets destroyed. Well, the first few times you tackle its problems at least.

Playing, you see, is easy and the mechanics straightforward. Understanding the consequences of your choices is another matter entirely and this is what makes the game such a brilliant offering. You could help industry, but damage the environment and them wages. You could go for supposedly eco-friendly fuel and somehow kill off the panda. You could educate people only to have them revolt (which does make a lot of sense) and so on and so forth. What's more you have a ton of scenarios and cards to play around with and a multitude of connections to discover. 

Oh, and if you already own the original Fate of the World, you should really upgrade it to Tipping Point. It features some apparently important updates and fixes, and two whole DLC packs. You can get the game and the upgrade pack right here.

Want to feel my wrath? Play these cards and wait.
Verdict: Despite some political shortcoming only a few will notice, this is an excellent strategy game, that can indeed educate on certain environmental truths. Definitely worth your time.

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