May 5, 2015

Let's Tell A Story Together

Words can do amazing things. Beautiful things. Ageless things. And though interactive words haven't yet managed to surpass the things static, printed words have accomplished --which is only natural for a particular sort of words that has been around for mere decades-- they have managed to create a more literary, more engaging and, usually, more demanding genre of gaming: interactive fiction. Or text adventures, but let's not argue terminology here.

Jimmy Maher does after all cover terms and definitions brilliantly at the beginning of his 2006 book Let's Tell A Story Together (A History of Interactive Fiction). Actually, Mr. Maher does an impressive job of getting you all excited about interactive words, introducing you to the many charms and idiosyncrasies of the parser, the intricacies of designing text adventures and even a more or less complete history of interactive fiction and its evolution.

From the late seventies and Adventure to Infocom's golden era and contemporary interactive fiction, Maher's book really does save me the trouble of doing anything beyond suggesting you read it. Read it even you've never dabbled with a parser in your life, read it if you have always loved the genre and, by all means, read it if you are an interactive fiction author. 

Let's Tell A Story Together, besides being well written and thoroughly researched, offers unique insights into defining text adventures and a comprehensive approach that covers over 30 years of parser driven gaming. Handily, it's also generously available for free both as an online hypertext and downloadable ebook.

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Apr 30, 2015

IGS, RPS, Earthling Priorities and that RPG

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
It seems that after another most substantial break I am back with yet another update. Why? Well, because I've been incredibly busy with all sorts of things and you'd most probably like to know what said things are. They interest you, dear reader, for they are all about games.

Let me start with IndieGameStand then, for this is the indie focused place I've started working with in order to provide people with a shiny new freeware gaming place (soon to be revealed) and some excellent, pay-what-you-want deals. The first one is already live and let's you grab Daedalic's Journey of the Roach and Night of the Rabbit adventures for less than $2. Not bad, eh?

Well, to move on to some not exactly brilliant news, my freeware column on the lovely Rock Paper Shotgun, Freeware Garden, is no more. It ran its course, showcased over a hundred of the best freebies available and has been put to rest, though chances are more of my words should be appearing on this excellent site. Also, you can still find my writing on indie things over at Indiegames.com and Warp Door.

Hopefully on a new still super-secret site too...

What's more, both that rather huge and decidedly unique RPG I've been working on with a most amazing team of people is progressing along slowly yet surely. Earthling Priorities, on the other hand, that short sci-fi adventure, should finally be finished in the following months. Weeks even.

But, enough about me. How are you, oh reader? 

Mar 16, 2015

DualMondays: Why isn't Hideo Kojima making Snatcher 2?

Well, probably everyone by now knows, has heard of or has seen Hideo Kojima's name somewhere. But I'm gonna be a hispsterish kind of guy and admit that I loved him more when he was doing visual novels. Yeah, yeah, I do agree that Metal Gear Solid is a fantastic game, one of the most impactful to be precise. I love MGS as much as the next person, don't get me wrong, and I do appreciate how Mr.. Kojima grew up to be a developer whose name is now sung on shrines and temples. He deserves every single bit of his stardom and wealth, if not more.

But, I grew to love him by exploring the cyberpunk streets of Neo-Kobe in Snatcher, and I didn't care if it was a direct nod to Blade Runner, Terminator and The Invasion of Body Snatchers. I didn't mind at all and while it was obvious, it didn't feel like a rip-off. It felt as if there was an attempt to mix all the movies we all came to enjoy into one cohesive, playable whole. The same goes for Policenauts which was only released in Japan; frankly I didn't mind playing as the anime version of Mel Gibson's character from Lethal Weapon.

The best thing in these games, besides the obvious focus they had on setting and story, was the music. I fell in love with each song that was featured in either Snatcher or Policenauts. I can still hum the main theme to the latter. Du du - du du du. Du du - du du DU. The atmospheric setup of these games was successfully transferred to the next games of Hideo. Whilst in Snatcher, the technological and sinister-like themes were engulfing the player as he or she dug deeper looking for answers, the eerie, jazzy, nostalgic tunes were flowing together with the smoke coming out of the cigarette of Jonathan Ingram and Ed Brown - the protagonists of Policenauts.

I'm not sure why HK moved away from the visual novel style. Perhaps the sudden tech evolution allowed him to follow an older vision. Perhaps he felt imprisoned within the gameplay confines of heavy dialog and action mini-games. Regardless, a huge leap of faith was performed.

And that's how we got MGS. And as I began playing it, I still remember my reaction when the Konami logo appeared on my screen. I screamed, "Oh, Oh, that's the song from Policenauts!", wondering if the latter was going to ever be translated in English for me to enjoy. (That took a long while, but it finally happened)

Thing is the mastermind behind all these games converted me to a believer. I was anxious to play any of his games after I came across Snatcher. Even though they were not exactly shaped for everyone, I understood the vision and I felt mesmerized by it. So, without crying and complaining about the same stuff over and over, Hideo, I would love to see a true sequel to any of your older games.

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Feb 20, 2015

An Update On Words And Games

Why, hello there precious reader! We haven't chatted in a while, have we? No, we haven't and the only one to blame is me. I have been incredibly busy lately and working on a most intriguing menagerie of things, you see. Things I have for the most part failed to inform you about.

Well, let's at least fix this. First of all, I'm still writing about games though mostly not on Gnome's Lair. I do instead maintain the daily Freeware Garden over at Rock Paper Shotgun and spend hours upon hours each week trying to find the very best and weirdest of PC gaming freebies, keep on covering indie games over at IndieGames.com, highlight retro stuff over at Retro Treasures and contribute the occasional post at Warp Door.

Other than that, I do edit DualNames' lovely DualMondays column for this very blog and have slowly started working on a series of feature articles requested by my wonderful and extremely generous (patient too) patrons. I'm also planning to write the odd article or too, keep updating my list of brilliant freeware games and making little edits to the site.

Moving on from my writing endeavors, let me first reassure you that freeware adventure game Earthling Priorities has not been abandoned. Chris Christodoulou has finished the soundtrack, Daniele Giardini is almost done with all the art and animation, I am close to completing the thing's design and simply need to find a few weeks to code and put everything together. Provided all goes well, this should happen sometime around April.

Why April? Simple, really. April is when I believe work on the first major milestone of the RPG I'm working on will be concluded and the first internal demo (following a pretty cool prototype we are already playing with) will be ready to do the things it's supposed to be doing. 

And, yes, I did say RPG and though I'm not at liberty to discuss details with anyone outside the development team right now, I can tell you that Kyttaro Games and my humble self have assembled a brilliant team of indie developers, artists and writers to create something unlike anything you've ever seen. A bold claim, I know, but if we manage to actually finish the project, which I believe we will, you'll be bound to agree with me.

That's all for now, reader. See you luv!

Jan 26, 2015

DualMondays: Motivation

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things. It usually appears on Mondays -- only rarely on Wednesdays. And some times fortnightly.

My main concern about this topic is that I'll fail to stay on it. Like, miserable fail.

I've grown to realize something god-awful when it comes to game developers as a collective of human beings who enjoy making games as much, if not more, as playing them. All of them start with this super-fancy excitement frenzy. Which, is normal. You've decided you wanna make games, and it freaks the living shit out of you; especially as you're growing so very ambitious so very fast. So, you spam forums and retweet people you're jealous of.

You are running on pure energy, being all revved up, but have no actual idea how to make a game. You're most likely lacking all the necessary skills as it is. Coding, artwork, game design, sound design. And that's okay, don't be hard on yourself. Ask any game developer that's successful and she/he 'll say, "I was never that immature", and you'll know that she/he 's lying. They've definitely been there, they hid it by lurking or showing their attempts to a selective few, or maybe nobody knew who they were anyway back then.

This flow of excitement is completely natural, and your improbability of making a good game is also equally high. It's like wanting to play the guitar. Υou like the instrument, you dream of playing solos, and then you buy one, and completely suck at it. At first. But honing your skills with practice and research and proper techniques will yield results, both in guitar playing and game making.

So, why do we as game developers start with such motivation and then proceed to lose it? Well, mainly due to letting people get into our heads. We get an honest comment about how awful something we spent hours upon hours on, is, and we get discouraged. We lose motivation. We tell ourselves "I'm bad at this." and it is then decided that we shouldn't bother with it anymore. I couldn't disagree more. Hear this then: Nobody gets good at something unless they try, and try, and try and try, and then some more. You may not get it, you may abandon a project, but you sure as heck need to keep moving.

Most importantly however, you need to stop being afraid of what other people will say about your creations. You need to anticipate all reactions and realize what reactions you really crave for. Then, you devise a plan on adjusting things to achieve/force these behaviors, from those who befall into the midst of your. From the peeps who play your games.The difference between you as a game designer now, and [insert name of game designer idol here], is only that she or he took risks by trying.

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Jan 12, 2015

DualMondays: Let me be your guide!

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things. It usually appears on Mondays -- only rarely on Wednesdays. And some times fortnightly.

Alright, first, let's get formalities out of the way.

Happy new year, fellas and gals!

I hope you had a good share of the holiday spirit and rest. Even if it wasn't full frontal partying but spending time with loved ones on a cozy and warm environment instead, everything counts in my book. Enough about holidays though. And to get the thing out of the way, I'm not gonna talk about New Year's resolutions, these are silly. If you're gonna do something, there's no need announcing it to everyone, unless you're looking for attention or confirmation. And these should never be the motive to accomplishing anything.

Alright, back on topic, which is none other than tutorials in videogames. So, what is their purpose? Why do they even exist as a term and comprise such a big role in the medium? Well, videogames have evolved a lot those past 40 years and with them so have their respective controls. These aren't the 80s anymore; we don't use the Atari 2600 control schemes anymore - just a stick and one button rarely cut it. We've instead been transported to an era of rather complex and multi-level control over our videogames. And that can be accounted mostly to the traversal to an extra dimension.

Nowadays we can move a character regardless of perspective (the position of the camera is irrelevant, dear viewer) to a space that isn't pseudo-3D because of limitations - emulated through mode7 algorithms or the like - but rather is actually presented in front of our very eyes as genuinely three-dimensional. Also, as games swell in complexity, the number of available actions the player can perform to impact his surroundings increased as well. To explicitly explain and help the player realize and understand the game mechanics, tutorials slowly started popping in videogames. But, while the tutorial --on a theoretical level-- fixed a major upcoming problem of the medium, it also created a couple of issues with its presence.

You see, on a practical level, initially at least, nobody bothers making use of the tutorial a part of their story and world. Instead it is stuck between some part of the story usually on the first stages, to make sure the player has been shown everything there is to know about the videogame in question.

While this is useful, it also breaks immersion, reminding us constantly throughout its duration that this is a videogame we're playing after all. In their majority tutorials are uninspired and as such, there are several tropes they're falling into, some of them becoming some sort of inside joke among gamers, who are anxiously smashing buttons, hoping to go through the tutorial faster to get to the actual game. FarCry 3's tutorial even goes a long way joking about this entire situation.

However, games such as Half Life, Little Big Planet, Portal, Black & White, Beyond Good & Evil, Metal Gear Solid 4, Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night and Fallout 3 sport wonderful tutorial sequences, that don't feel intrusive and instead feel natural and part of the entire game. They exist because they actually work as a concept based on the principles and the rules which govern the universe they happen to be a part of.

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