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...

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

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.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

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.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

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...

Related @ Gnome's Lair: