May 16, 2009

You're in the army now...

Well, actually, not you, but me, and, well, I haven't technically joined anyone or anything yet, but surely you get the idea... As many of you dear friends and readers already know, I'll have to serve my compulsory army duty for the better part of this year. This quite obviously means that Gnome's Lair wont be updated that much -not at all for the first couple of months I'm afraid- and that I'll have to make sure I provide you with these links before I leave: DeathSpank, Resonance, Get Lamp, SYNSO 2: Squid Harder and Into the Mind of Sky Spiders.

That's it from me. Gotta leave now and have a nice weekend before getting dressed in green and shaving my beard. Oh dear, oh dear...

May 15, 2009

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars: The Director's Cut: The Wii Review

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars The Director's Cut WiiAs far as legendary creators of point-and-click adventure games go, Revolution, despite having only released a handful of titles, is second only to Lucasarts, though, as most Sierra fans will happily admit, quantity has absolutely nothing to do with quality. As for most hardened adventurers, they will definitely remember Beneath A Steel Sky, Revolution's magnum opus, a game that is up there with Monkey Island 2, Gabriel Knight 3 and Grim Fandango, and a game that you simply have to play and then play again just to make sure you fully enjoyed its delights (especially now that it's free). Many more though, the rather more mainstream audience apparently, will probably remember Revolution for the original Broken Sword instead; it was always the more popular game and has even gone on and spawned three quality sequels.

Interestingly Broken Sword, or to give it its full name Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (a.k.a. The Circle of Blood in the US), was, despite its popularity and the fact that it also appeared on the PlayStation, a truly great point-and-click adventure game. Possibly even the last truly successful genre offering ever, and one of the first games to have a Templars theme. Some would even call it a classic and they definitely wouldn't be wrong.The player stepped into the shoes of George Stobbart (a semi-likeable American tourist in Paris), who, with the help of Nico Collard (a very likeable French journalist), had to travel around the world solving puzzles, discovering the true history of said monastic order and uncovering conspiracies. Now, as most of you dear readers are either already familiar with the plot or don't care to have it spoilt for you, well, I wont say anything else about it. I'll just admit it's way above than the average game offering in terms of quality, sports some well defined characters, interesting themes, varied locales, a decent story arc and some rather successful touches of humour. Actually I'd rather watch someone play through Broken Sword than watch the Da Vinci Code ever again. Besides, Broken Sword still looks absolutely fantastic.

What's more, the game I should be talking about -what this review is all about- is none other than the brand new Director's Cut of Broken Sword for the Nintendo Wii; the only console that can properly handle adventures. And, yes, it does handle Broken Sword brilliantly, despite the Wii Remote being no mouse. After all, the slight lack of precision is offset by the sheer joy of playing an adventure on a big screen and from the comfort of your sofa.

Now, and to be absolutely honest, I have to admit I would probably have loved this Director's Cut if it was nothing more than a quick and dirty Wii port with new controls thrown in. I really would, but this, well, this was just unexpected. The game has really been expanded, updated, enriched and given the true -and 100% successful- director's cut treatment. Possibly for the first time in gaming history.
Not only have all the original artists (and that would of course include legendary Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame), actors, and team returned to update this classic, but the work they've done is truly stellar. There are brand new gameplay segments where you get to play as Nico, new recorded music, new bits of dialog, new cut-scenes, brand new graphics, more puzzles, an amazing hint system, a helpful and well written diary you can access at all times and even a new anti-colonial (!) subplot. Of course the old bits have also been upgraded to look and sound the part -though a slight gap of quality, especially between new and old audio, is at times noticeable- and some gameplay glitches have also been fixed. Yes, even that notoriously frustrating goat puzzle has been simplified. And picking up that irritating little wire in Ireland wont irritate anyone any more.

On the downside of things the clickable hotspots have been reduced and the disc doesn't offer anything else besides the game as one -well, I at least- would expect form anything labeled a director's cut. I mean, really, how difficult would it be to include some trailers, bits of concept art, some sort of making of and a slightly richer manual?Then again, I really shouldn't be complaining. I mean, look at the screenshot above. The improved interface and Dave Gibbons' close-ups of characters , as well as the excellent and innovative new puzzles (especially the two deciphering ones) are more than enough extras and brilliant additions to an already excellent adventure.

Verdict: Buy it. Even if you don't have Nintendo's latest console, buy a Wii and then buy it. Then love it sweetly, passionately and deeply for Broken Sword deserves it.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

May 12, 2009

Forty (+), Fearsome, Fabulous and Free (Games, that is)

Haven't made one of those lists for quite some time, but, well, I guess it's never too late to let you know about some of the best freeware games that recently made themselves available. Neither of course is it too late to make another horrid attempt at a collage supposedly showcasing some of the freebies that made the list. What list? That list:

QuakeLive: It's Quake III playable in your browser with -or indeed against- thousands of lightning fast veterans. Please don't shoot anyone called Gnomey.

Gravity Bone: A rather more novel use of that ageing Q3 engine. Brilliant, beautiful and innovative.

Spelunky: One of the greatest games ever. Ever! Also what Rick Dangerous should have been.

Legends Of Zork: Casual MMO with frying pans and a zorkian touch.

Elite The New Kind: Elite's space traveling experience brought kicking and screaming to the 21st century.

Naked War: The brilliant two-player strategy game the Pickford Brothers developed finally got itself a free play mode.

Opera Omnia: It's interesting and quirky. Please explain it to me. Not a game per se, but rather a way to enjoy some classic Sierra adventures online and in a lovably silly multiplayer environment. Larry and Space Quest should be the first ones to try.

Left 4k Dead: Just like Valve's zombie shooter only vastly different and in a mere 4kb.

Balance of Power: Showcasing the amazing power of Chris Crawford's Stotytron.

Annie Android: Automated Affection: AGS cartoon adventure anyone? It's got a hot mailbot in it, you know.

Blue Lacuna: The evolution of interactive fiction.

Dead Like Ants: Literary fun with insects.

Ultimate Stunts: Impressive stunts, glorious graphics and realistic physics, all packed inside a fantastic driving game.

Treasure Island Dizzy: The egg with the face makes the jump to the PC freeware scene in an official re-release. Thank you Codemasters.

Nanozoa: Smart name for a beautiful shmup.

Barkley, Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden: A surreal, vast, funny and quite frankly excellent CRPG of sorts.

Mental Repairs, Inc: In the Mind of John Malkovich in point-and-click format.

UFO Alien Invasion: Deeply tactical and inspired by the classic X-COM / UFO series.

Ferrari Virtual Race: As close as you can get to driving a Ferrari, provided you only choose to use your PC and not spend any money.

Doom: Fall of Mars: Diablo meets Doom; hilarity ensues. By If Software.

Beats of Rage: Always thought that Streets of Rage can't get any better, didn't you? Well, think again.

Teen Agent: Obscure 1994 adventure released as freeware by Quite interesting too.

The Marathon Trilogy: Top quality FPS offerings from the era before HALO and after the Mac was invented. Playable on everything with a keyboard.

Thrust Extreme: With its lovely entourage of arcadey and neon lighted retro remakes. Obvious highlight said reimagining of Thrust.

Squid Yes! Not So Octopus!: Arena shooting squids FTW!

The Suffering: Formerly commercial, distinctly shocking and always fun. Also developed by the aptly named Surreal Software.

Gods Deluxe: A remake of the brutal Bitmap Bros fighting platformer.

GeneRally: Another remake, though this time of the racing persuasion.

Enviro-Bear 2000: The outrageous winner of the TIG Source Cockpit competition and the only game to ever let you play as a bear.

Dad 'n Me: Flash arcade fun by the creators of Alien Hominid.

Nanobots: Unique point-and-click adventure sporting lovable robots and innovative mechanics.

Frets on Fire: The indie version of Guitar Hero (or indeed Rock Band) that sports a ton of available content.

Masq: An interactive story for grown-ups.

The Spring Project: The best free RTS money can get! Actually compares rather favorably to most current commercial releases...

PeG: Excellent digital wargames for every historical taste.

Immortal Cities: The one and only (I guess) online Egyptian city builder

The 3D Realms Oldies: Kroz, Dark Ages, Beyond the Titanic, Monuments of Mars and more.

And the Mastertronic ones: Though mainly remakes of classic (a.k.a. ancient) arcades.

Mirror's Edge 2D: A promotional game that's fun. I'm shocked.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

May 11, 2009

Retroaction Issue Two Released

After any teaser it is customary for the real thing to come, and the time for this particular real thing has apparently... err... come. All you now have to do to grab your very own, very freeware, very retro and very PDF version of Retroaction #2 is follow this link and click your way to 84 pages of retro gaming goodness. And yes, it is indeed a fantastic new issue of everyone's favourite retro gaming magazine, sporting new writers, shiny design, top quality content and even a few pieces by yours truly. Here's what you can expect:

Building Classics
We take a look at one of the most successful game engines ever, including the many games developed for it.

The Retr0brite Project
Are your old computers and consoles looking “not-so-mellow yellow”? Then read our Retr0brite feature where we explain how to deal with this problem.

Want to re-live old retrogaming nostalgia or discover old publications that you didn’t read first time around? Then join us as we bring details of some of the most popular magazines of olde.

Twilight of the Spectrum
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum didn’t really disappear in the early 1990s. As we explain, in this first part of a huge Spectrum retrospective, Europe enjoyed many years of rubber-keyed gaming...

MAME: Emulator Profile
Often referred to as the best arcade emulator and most recognisable names in the emulation world. We tell you why, while examining the history, the software, and some of the better known games.

Computer Warrior, Part 2
Memoirs of the Computer Warrior comic strip, from the 1980s Eagle comic, where gamers discover how to play computer games within the computer's realm.


Ken Silverman
We talked to Ken Silverman, the creator of the Build engine, about the development of said engine and the games that have appeared on it.

Simon Ullyatt
We managed to corner indie publisher Simon Ullyatt, and chat with him about Cronosoft, new games on old machines, bedroom coding and obscure 8-bit micros.

The retro magazine scanner king gives us a moment to speak about his scans, the DVDs, his current projects, and future plans.


The latest happenings in the world of retrogaming.

Retro Respect: Hexen
We've all missed a classic during our time (I know I have). This is where we pay respects to the forgotten classics, the misunderstood, and the underdogs.

GamesMaster Lookback, episode 2
Lookback at an episode of the classic GamesMaster television show. The challenges, the games, the celebrities, the journalist commentators, and Dominik.

Raiders of the Lost Arcades: X-Men: Children of the Atom
Unfortunately, the arcade is becoming extinct as a gaming platform, so we take a trek back through time to relive some of the arcades' greatest and underrated games.

Retro Respect: Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday
SSI's Tactical RPG gets the Retro Respect treatment.

Killer App: Killer Instinct Gold
These are the games that are so outstanding that you would buy the system just to play that game. The essential games that every retro gamer should play.

How to Cause a Complete Controversy: Night Trap
Forget the GTAs and Manhunts of the new generation of consoles; games were causing controversy from as far back as the 8-bit days. Here we look at the controversy that surrounded these games.

Retro Respect: Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa
We pay respect to one of the Famicom's best Disk System game.

The Weird and Wonderful World of Retrogaming: Traffic
There have been some truly strange games, demos, and cover disks released in the heyday of retrogaming. This is where we dig up some of these weird and daft creations.


Rock Boshers (windows)
BeTiled! (Amstrad CPC)
Legion of the Damned (C64)
Phantomas Tales #1: Marsport (Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum)
K.O. Cruiser (Atari 2600)
W*H*B (ZX Spectrum)
Star Sabre 128K (Amstrad CPC)
Captain S (windows)
Deathchase (Dragon 32, Tandy CoCo)
Frogger (ZX Spectrum)
Nanako Descends to Hell (Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum)
I Need Speed (ZX Spectrum, MSX)
Giddy 3 (Windows)
Danger Tower (MSX)
Sort'em (Amstrad CPC)
Banger Management (ZX Spectrum)
Deep Dungeon (MSX)
Horace Goes Skiing (Windows)
Eternal Light (Amstrad CPC)
Supaplex (ZX Spectrum)
SEUD (ZX Spectrum)
Oh, and please be nice and let the Retroaction forum (and its inhabitants) know what you thought of this very issue.Better yet stay a bit longer and discuss your retro obsessions.

May 9, 2009

Introversion's fine games-in-a-box

MultiwiniaIt was roughly a week ago when everyone's favourite indie gaming blog TIG Source reported that British indie developers Introversion weren't in the best of shapes, and thus a mere week since I ordered the complete and utterly brilliant Introversion Anthology. In a box! And no, it was neither a matter of guilt for having never purchased any of their games, nor a matter of bad feelings regarding a certain not particularly legitimate version of Uplink I briefly enjoyed 8 years ago. It's just that I felt that such talent had to be supported and that the games on offer -Uplink, Darwinia, Multiwinia and Defcon- are some of the best and most original to ever grace a PC.

As for the point of this post, well, there isn't one really. Just thought I'd let you know I'm still spending what little money I make (mostly) on quality games and suggest you try a few of the Introversion demos on offer yourselves. Oh, and admit that I really enjoy it when my downloadable toys are also available in a proper old fashioned box.

May 8, 2009

Retroaction 2: The First & Final Teaser

Expect Retroaction issue #2 crashing onto them retro loving Internets very soon, while impressively spanning dozens of pages filled with all things retro gaming. It will also -as was promised and prophesied- come in the lovely form of free, brilliantly designed PDF magazine.

May 6, 2009

Space War Commander Review

Space War CommanderYou'd be excused if -by looking at the above screenshot, that is- you were expecting some sort of retro review, and you would also, quite happily, be very wrong. That, you see, is the beauty of indie games: developers and artists that simply create the stuff they like, without trying to appeal to everyone and without having to suffer armies of useless managers telling them what is supposed to be popular (as if any creative person ever really cared about such trivial matters). That is also why Space War Commander is such a unique game with such unique 16-bit retro style graphics.

Come to think about it, the only thing not unique about Space War Commander (hence SWC) is its name. It's definitely apt mind, though as far from imaginative as computer game names get. You actually get to assume the role of a commander in what can only be described as a space war. Then again, gamers never really cared for names, did they? It's the way a game plays that matters or, well, should matter, and SWC plays a great game indeed.

SWC could best be described as an RTS version of a board game with intuitive controls, simple rules, simple sounds and Amiga-like graphics. And don't expect something at the frantic pace of Command and Conquer or Dune 2. This is a much slower -you can even pause the game completely to issue orders- and way deeper affair, that does away with base building and focuses on resource gathering and -mainly- tactical movement. All you seemingly have to do is buy some ships, group them into fleets if you so wish, left click to select and right-click to move them around, make sure you have a steady influx of resources by conquering planets or even trading (nothing more complicated than another movement selection), and make sure you beat each level before your base explodes. Should a ship or a fleet contact the enemy it will automatically attack it and give you the tactically handy option of disengaging parts of your fleet for repairs, and, well, that's all there is to it really.

SWCGetting to grips with SWC is thus incredibly easy. Mastering it is wholly different matter, as the aforementioned depth comes into play. Think of SWC's gameplay as chess with a bit of chance thrown in and you won't be far off. Each ship has its own unique strengths and weakness and each map its unique tactical necessities, sometimes even making the whole experience feel like an elaborate puzzle game. An excellent, tough and addictive puzzle game to be precise, that would definitely benefit from some multiplayer options.

After all, the only thing SWC really lacks is the chance to pit yourself against another human player in some lovely multiplayer carnage. That and a bit more variety , though all in all it admittedly is a great indie strategy game that will appeal to most PC gamers of the thinking while gaming persuasion. Oh, and it can easily be played in 15 minute chunks too!

Verdict: Simple, deep, addictive, smart and -dare I say- sexy as an Amiga game. You really have to at least try it. Really.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

May 4, 2009

Squid Harderer (coming soonerish)

Squid Yes, Not So Octopus 2 from oddbob on Vimeo.

First there was War Twat (and its kid-friendly version War Bus) and it was the best arena shooter ever. Then the Bob that is Odd created Squid Yes! Not So Octopus! and this was the best arena shooter ever. Now the time has almost come for what will surely be hailed as the best arena shooter ever: SY!NSO! 2: Squid Harder! Oh, and to learn when it will actually be released better watch this space. Also watch the video above. It's really nice.