Jan 31, 2011

King's Quest III Redux

AGD Interactive, the indie adventure gaming heroes with a love for the retro glories of Sierra and the group formerly known as Tierra Entertainment, have recently announced their latest game: King's Quest III: Redux. Then again, you probably knew this already, and that's why I thought you might care for a slightly more extended post. News reporting has after all never been the strongest aspect of the humble Gnome's Lair.

So, King's Quest III: Redux it is then or to give it its full title King's Quest III: Redux - To Heir is Human. Well, as you should have guessed it's another spectacular remake of a classic Sierra game; namely and unsurprisingly King's Quest III, which according to this (admittedly incredibly cuddly) gnome is the second best installment in the King's Quest series, second only to the Jane Jensen co-designed KQ VI. It's the tale of Gwydion, a boy that has been kidnapped by the evil wizard Manannan and must escape the land of Llewdor and return to save Daventry. Impressively it is as interesting a fantasy fairy tale as it sounds, though also one that sported some bastard hard puzzles.

The KQ III: Redux remake will not only add amazing VGA graphics, full voice-over and a new soundtrack to this classic game, but also a handy point-and-click interface. What's more this will not be a mere straightforward remake. AGD, having already proven their sometimes even radical remake skills with their previous efforts, have decided to keep the main plot, puzzles and characters, while polishing and livening everything up, hopefully giving us their best Sierra re-imagining ever. The thing has after all been in development for the past eight years and will sadly be the final AGD production.

Oh, and here's something exclusive and (hopefully) terribly exciting for you precious reader. Two lovely pics created by artist Eriq Chang, that showcase his ideas and absolutely beautiful work on the game's interface. Eriq did after all push for a completely revamped and heavily themed interface.

King's Quest III: Redux will be released for the PC and Mac this February. It will happily be a freeware production, though admittedly one you'd probably have no problem paying for. It will surely be worth it. The download will become available here. Oh, and Gnome's Lair will definitely be reviewing the thing as soon as possible.

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Jan 26, 2011

Totally Tiny Arcade Review

Totally Tiny Arcade is based on the rather brilliant idea of combining WarioWare styled mini-games with a classic arcade aesthetic. Or is that the idea of revisiting Lazy Jones while liberally remaking some of the best known arcade cabinets ever? Well, we'll never really know I suppose, but what actually matters is the simple fact that Totally Tiny Arcade is, despite its flaws, a truly great offering for us ageing retro gamers.

Set in a visually pleasing and distinctly 80s arcade, the game has players rush through more than a dozen imaginatively remade classics chasing after a nefarious virus and trying to beat a pretty strict time-limit. Beating the game, leads you to a brilliant boss stage -played in front of a most obtrusive audience- that will in turn unlock a short and lovely finale and -happily- a new arcade venue to tackle. Do this another couple of times and the game is pretty much over and a few extra modes become available.

The main attractions of Totally Tiny Arcade are of course the arcade remakes themselves. Impressively, there are more than 20 of them available, each sporting excellent, chunky, retrotastic graphics and some equally impressive sounds, with each game spanning four levels. The games are inspired from an impressive variety of titles including Space Invaders, Spy Hunter, Pac-Man, Joust, Frogger and even the Atari 2600 version of E.T., though -unfortunately- not all of them are equally good. For every two or three excellent remakes there's a dull or even a completely unsuccessful one, but admittedly the brilliant and imaginative games far outnumber them mediocre offerings. After all, not all arcade games were that good, even back in the day.

You can grab Totally Tiny Arcade (or of course try the hefty demo) via its very own, very retro official site. Oh, and here is the trailer, that will hopefully clear things up:

Verdict: Retro and indie gamers will love it. The rest should first give it a try. Gnomes should indeed instantly buy the thing.

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Jan 19, 2011

Eye^Game^Candy: Agony

Agony, quite possibly the most beautiful Amiga game ever, was released by Psygnosis in 1992 and made sure jaws dropped all over the place. Its fantasy loading screens, animated backgrounds, parallax scrolling, impressive palette and truly breathtaking art have kept its beauty young, fresh and actually quite perky. Oh, and Agony also remains a decent and very enjoyable -though tough- shmup. As for the music... Ah, the glorious music. Better have a look at this video I suppose.

Jan 17, 2011

VVVVVV - The Belated Review

Terry Cavanagh's VVVVVV is a wonderful and most brilliant game. Really. You have thus to buy and play it immediately or -failing that- smash your computer to tiny, sharp bits and send them over to EA. Here's the link in case you failed to notice the previous, less obvious one. You know, just to make sure. There. Review done.

What do you mean you are not convinced yet? Here, go play the demo. That should do it.

Not enough? Very well then, you win oh imaginary reader. I'll review the thing properly, as I admittedly wasn't blown away by it the first time I tried to play through its demo, and if it weren't for the glowing reviews I wouldn't have given VVVVVV another chance. That of course, would have been a huge mistake, as after returning to said hefty demo I was impressed enough to promptly grab the full version of the game. A wise choice and a criminally belated review as it turned out.

So, on to VVVVVV: the review then. Well, VVVVVV is an indie platform game with C64 style graphics, a proper chiptune soundtrack and a rather unique lack of a traditional jump button. It also is quite brilliant. Actually make that the best platform game released since Manic Miner, meaning that I actually do consider it a way better game than any Mario offering you'd care to mention, all Sonic the Hedgehogs ever, Castlevania and, indeed, Jet Set Willy. It's that good, it is.

Despite being incredible simple, all you can after all do is go left, right and reverse gravity (and consequently walk on ceilings apparently), VVVVVV offers a unique, varied and deep platform experience, that will test both your puzzle solving abilities and your platforming skills. Also it's difficult, as my 1735 in-game deaths should easily prove. Then again, it is difficult in the fairest of ways and does help us average gamers by providing a ton of well placed save points. Not that trying and retrying screens isn't enjoyable mind. Even the occasional feats of rage are fun in a decidedly old-fashioned way.

What's even more enjoyable is that each screen in this glorious flick-screen platformer has its very own, usually silly, sometimes helpful and always appropriate name.

Oh, and the simple graphics, besides allowing for some impressively expressive 8-bitish characters, do much more than a simple screenshot can convey. They move, change their colours and create a beautifully psychedelic visual experience, that -coupled with the huge and hugely imaginative variety of enemy sprites- makes VVVVVV one of the most interesting and visually unique indie games ever released. Did I mention it sound brilliant too? I did. Great. Let me then just add that it even comes with an incredibly simple, definitely not preposterous yet rather enjoyable game story, and a more than a few extra modes and be done with it.  

Verdict: Second only to Manic Miner, though you should take the fact that I'm an overtly nostalgic gnome into consideration. Anyway, just play it!

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Jan 12, 2011

Behold (and pre-order) Gemini Rue!

Wadjet Eye Games, the deeply independent developer/publisher of fine adventure games that has already given us the excellent Blackwell series and such refreshing point-and-clickers as the Shivah and Puzzle Bots, has announced its latest offering: Gemini Rue. Actually and, well, happily, Gemini Rue preorders have also been made available, allowing tasteful gamers to either reserve their digital copy or even grab the proper limited edition boxed version.

But what is Gemini Rue and why should you care? Easy, that. It quite obviously is a point-and-click indie adventure game with amazing retro-styled graphics. What's more, it is the indie adventure formerly known as Boryokudan Rue. You know, that Boryokudan Rue that actually was an Independent Game Festival Student Showcase winner in 2010, only finished, with a new -gloriously pronounceable- title, professional voice-over, an original soundtrack, dollops of polish and even in-game commentary. Exciting eh? Here's the trailer:

Besides looking and sounding beautiful, which it impressively does, Gemini Rue also is a neo-noir thriller set in a properly noir-ish dark version of capitalist future dominated by the corrupt Boryokudan crime syndicate. According to Wadjet Eye's press release, "players assume the roles of two very different characters: Azriel Odin, an ex-assassin searching for a defector from the Gemini system, and Delta-Six, a hospital inmate whose memory has been wiped by mysterious, Big Brother types. As fate brings the two men together, players explore a world where life is cheap, identities are bought and sold, and a simple quest for redemption can change an entire galaxy's fate".

As the game wont be released before the 24th of February, you can further tease yourselves by reading this PC Gamer preview and having a stroll over this little AGS corner of the web. Oh, and you can follow the game's creator on twitter and via his personal blog. Just don't forget to preorder Gemini Rue. And do expect a review to appear on Gnome's Lair as soon as possible.

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Jan 7, 2011

Oh video game pornography, where art thou?

What you are about to read, oh precious reader, is an edited and updated version of an article that appeared a few years back on the now defunct Game Cabaret blog. It also is slightly NSFW, but only if you work at some sort of weird ultra-conservative place where nobody has ever been to a demonstration for the past five years.

Let's get one thing out of the way first. I don't believe porn, or pornography as people in weird grey-ish clothing tend to call it, is evil. Or inappropriate. Or even inherently sexist. What I actually do believe is that -in all its varied guises- porn is both interesting and a frankly under-explored medium; or is that genre? Also, I quite love the idea behind it, and if you don't or have anything against mankind, sex, having fun and/or life in general, and thus feel offended, well, that's not my fault. I'm a bloody misanthrope too, you know (especially on Mondays).

So, what is porn really? Or, to rephrase the question, is every depiction of sex pornographic? Well, no, though admittedly the answer could change depending on the society within which the matter is discussed. 18th and 19th century Europeans for example were so shocked by the perceived obscenity of ancient Greek and Roman nude statues, that literally went on and chopped their dicks off (the statues', not theirs unfortunately), whereas pornographic depictions of sex were pretty standard in the practice of a variety of more humane religions. Personally -obviously influenced by contemporary society, too- and while cunningly avoiding narrow puritan definitions, I do tend to define any attempt at intentionally, sexually stimulating ones audience as pornographic.

I'm so proud of this little collage, I think I'll print and hang it outside the Lair HQ. It so NSFW, it is.
Whether I (or anyone else) is actually stimulated is another matter altogether. It's the creator's -perceived or actual- intention I care about, in a way not dissimilar to what I would use to classify a horror movie. Or game.

Were I actually discussing cinema, I would definitely not consider any uncensored sex scene as reason enough to classify a film as porn. Baise-moi for example does sport quite a few sexually graphic scenes that are definitely not meant to arouse. The contrary rather. Then, there are films like Novecento where one or two sex scenes are merely added as just another story element or for purely realistic/artistic/whatever reasons. Wouldn't call that porn either.

Proper porn movies, on the other hand, the garden variety of dirty flicks if you wish, usually fail on everything else besides the sex scenes, and one could even argue that most of them aren't that good or varied to begin with. It was Clive Barker I believe who actually tried to define quality porn, as something that manages to captivate its audience even after said audience has climaxed and, sad as this sounds, the only porn movie I think managed to achieve such a lofty goal was Deep Throat with its -at times- brilliant humour (mind you, humour and porn do work quite well together it seems).

Thankfully though, quality porn is more than a theoretical construct or merely a wish. It can be found -among other places I'm sure- in literature, and as most should be familiar with Marquis/Citoyen De Sade's works, indulge me while I go on and briefly focus on Andreas Embirikos. Embirikos, you see, besides being my favorite surrealist poet, a pioneer in Greek psychoanalysis, a photographer of beautiful girls, an excellent writer and, when in the mood, a socialist, was also a great pornographer. And an immensely proud one too. His greatest contribution to porn, Megas Anatolikos (The Great Eastern), was an epic novel spanning one hundred chapters, taking place on the titular cruise ship and eloquently showcasing the glory of almost every imaginable perversion. Frankly, absolutely nothing was considered taboo or perverted enough to be left out and, were the book released in our dark and ultra-conservative era, the censors would be having an editing party. What's more, the sex scenes were at once poetic, funny, arousing, plot advancing and brilliantly complemented with giant penises rising from the ocean or extensive descriptions of the ship's library. Oddly, it was quite a publishing success too.

Let us now move from literature to video games (a humongous leap indeed), where the story so far is rather sad. Pathetic even. To begin with, sex, let alone pure gratuitous porn, is virtually absent in the mainstream and to such a degree that a semi-naked woman is easily considered scandalous, whereas -say- a mutilated corpse goes largely unnoticed. Standard puritanic medium-wide ethics aside, even when sex is present, it usually is presented in a ridiculously sexist/immature way and lazily treated as a reward for gamers. Interactive sex, truly arousing scenes playing on the medium's strengths and thus proper video game porn is, for the time, nigh-on unthinkable.

Cataloging every attempt at sexy games is of course beyond this article's scope, but briefly discussing a few of the niches in porn games most definitely is not. First of all, we have the virtual dollhouse games a la 3D SexVilla or the less germanic Virtually Jenna, that besides their grotesque attempt at realistic graphics don't offer much of a gaming experience either. Pathetic and marginally more fun than undressing your children's dolls or something is what they are. Then, we have more or less proper games that tend to vaguely stick to a genre or another, while cunningly introducing an erotic theme and a few sex scenes, just like the Lula series that eventually spawned the atrocious Lula 3D, or a variety of Tetris-clones and chess games that sort of reward the player with the odd video of a tit being all titty. Slightly better are the Japanese choose-your-own story offerings, which aren't totally unlike watching a hentai porn DVD with a marginally less than obvious chapter selection feature. Finally, and after ignoring such bizarre masterpieces as the wonderfully nonsensical Sex Station 7, we do have games (in name only) that are nothing more than glorified adult chatrooms. Oh, yes, and a myriad of games like Leisure Suit Larry that never claimed to be pornographic, never tried to, but were still horribly misunderstood by the sex-starved gaming audience (and this of course does not include our readers; male or female). In a nutshell: video gaming porn is and has always been in dire straits. At best.

The only exception that springs to mind is the 2010 release Ute, but the question remains: Could it work? Could there actually be a video game that manages to be arousing? Well, I'd say yes, but only in theory and in the realm of the indie scene, as I just can't see anything interesting happening in the world of children focused consoles or mainstream PC gaming. Quite obviously an erotic text-adventure/piece of interactive-fiction would be a nice start, and a rather easy one too, especially if one were to follow -as is rather typical for this kind of games- classic literally rules while adding a touch of interactivity. Interestingly, and that could be a positive sign indeed, women have been -up to now- more interested in the sexier side of gaming (have a look at the Sexy Videogameland)... This could probably spare us the sexist bits.

Oh, and on an absolutely unrelated and definitively closing note, let me remind everyone that Woody Allen (I think) was correct: being punctual is a very lonely experience indeed. On the other hand, I'm absolutely positive Mr. Allen was the one to also insightfully notice that sex between two people is a beautiful thing. Between five, it's fantastic.

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Jan 4, 2011

(Just) One Chance

Common game design wisdom would have you believe that replayability, multiple paths and a branching storyline are traits of a really good game. Common wisdom is of course right. No, really, just think about Mass Effect, Fahrenheit, GTA or even Vampire: Bloodlines. Well, okay, truth be said, common wisdom is right most of the time, as One Chance recently proved.

One Chance by Awkward Silence Games, you see, is a simple, freeware, indie graphical adventure of sorts you can enjoy on your browser, that lets you decide the fate of a scientist, his family and -rather megalomaniacly- mankind itself. The game will have you choose your way through 7 days in an attempt to either fight the life destroying virus you accidentally unleashed or at least enjoy your final moments. What really though sets One Chance apart from the rest of the indie adventures you've recently played is, that despite sporting nine or so different endings, you can experience only one. Oh, yes. Just one.

You can't replay the thing and thus every choice you make feels just so much more important and helps elevate this at times flawed offering to the level of a successful artistic statement. And as its creator put it:
You only have ONE CHANCE to save the world. One. uno. 1. And you bastards will have to pry this game out of my cold dead hands before I put a replay feature in.

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Jan 3, 2011

2011 mostly gaming, definitely gnomic promises

It does seem 2011 is finally here and the world -as prophesied by a rather obscure Etruscan game designer- isn't doing particularly well. Gnome's Lair on the other hand hopes to enter its sixth year (time does indeed fly) with high hopes and quite a few promises, that will probably bring a smile to the tired face of its fanatic, yet sadly only, reader. So, what is it you should expect from this humblest of Lairs

First of all, expect my game for the Wikileaks Stories project. As promised, it will be a text adventure (a.k.a. a piece of interactive fiction) and my very first game, which should explain why it's not ready yet. I frankly am doing the best I can, but as I want this to be actually good, I simply cannot rush things too much or be afraid to re-desing. Rest assured though; a lot of work has already been done and things do look pretty good.

Following this -still publicly untitled- game, I sincerely hope I'll be doing one more Wikileaks Stories game, this time going for a more comedic/satyric result. Provided this one also gets made, I'll try and finish that ancient gaming project of mine too...

As for Gnome's Lair itself and following the recent re-design of the blog, a couple at least of new, uhm, features will be introduced - hopefully very soon. Added to those and beside a more or less scheduled variety of posts on retro stuff (at least two of them ZX Spectrum focused), opinion pieces, Wikileaks Stories coverage, indie gaming articles, that toy train thing, more than a few bits on board games and the usual assortment of Lair posts, you should also expect the following, mainly adventure and indie, reviews:
VVVVVV, Delve Deeper, Scratches, World of Goo, Space Giraffe, Totally Tiny Arcade, Super Laser Racer, Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine, Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time, Iron Grip: Warlord, A Vampyre Story, Revolution Under Siege, Defcon, Gray Matter and The Dream Machine.