Mar 31, 2011

250 Indie Games You Must Play (1 Book You Must Read)

How many books on indie games have you recently read dear reader? Not that many, eh? Well, that does actually make sense as -to my knowledge- none have been published just yet. Despair not though, for quality games writer and editor of such prestigious sites as Gamasutra UK, and Pocket Gamer Mike Rose has been kind/wise/brilliant enough to come up with the excellent sounding 250 Indie Games You Must Play book.

Said aptly named offering highlights 250 of the best indie games around, is lavish enough to provide colour screenshots and even includes some thoughts by prestigious (and irresistibly cuddly) indie developers. You can find out more about it here and even pre-order it via,, Waterstones and Blackwell's. It will be released on April 18th and you should expect a proper Gnome's Lair review soon after that. Oh, and if you were wondering, as I actually were, there will also be a Kindle version available. Yes, yes and thrice yes, though I think I'll just stick to the analog version for now.

Anyway. Here's a short interview Mike Rose has been kind enough to provide the Lair with, that will hopefully make things crystal-clear and enlighten you further. Read on, read on:

Would you mind starting with a short gaming bio of yours?

I started as a naive, narrow-minded gamer who had no idea what an indie game was, and instead shot people online on a regular basis. A few years ago, I stumbled across indie games, and have been addicted to them since. I set up my own small indie gaming blog, but was soon grabbed by the folks to write for them instead. That's where I've been since! I'm currently also editor at Gamasutra and Pocket Gamer.

How would you describe the 250 Indie Games You Must Play book?

It's a collection of the most weird, wonderful and exciting indie games to date. I started off with a list of around 800 indie games, and slowly but surely whittled it down to 250 of what I believe to be the most interesting. The games featured range from very recent to many years old, from fast-paced platformers to brain-scratching puzzlers, from visually simplistic to bloody gorgeous.

The main idea was to present a list that would pull non indie gamers in and convert them, yet also give veteran indie gamers something to flick through and relive all those classic titles, while filling in any blanks they may have.

Why did you decide to go on and write this book?

I was looking through books on Amazon last year, and realised that there aren't really any books about indie games at all. My initial thought was 'someone needs to do something about this!', then I remembered that I am in fact a writer, and maybe I should take the reins myself.

Of course, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't an element of doing it for myself as well. I loved the idea of having my name on a book, so that was definitely a plus point for me!

What were the main selection criteria of the games included?

I made a difficult decision early on regarding the types of games I would feature. I was trying to mix console games, such as Xbox Live Arcade/Indie Games and PlayStation Network games, into the mix, as well as certain iPhone games. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realised that this may not be in the best interest of the reader. Everyone has a PC or Mac, but not everyone has a games console or an iPhone.

So every game in the book plays on a PC at the very least, with many working on Mac and a handheld available for the consoles. Whenever this is the case, the description of the game clearly states. Perhaps if this book does well, I may write a second volume that deals with the consoles, but for now I'm happy with this set-up.

The book is split into three sections - free download games, browser games, and paid games. I'm hoping this spread will help to represent the indie scene to its fullest.

Did you actually get all those lovely, creative people to comment on their games?

I didn't ask developers to comment on their games, but rather, I asked a select number about what they think of the current boom in the indie scene, and why they choose to be an indie developer over joining a AAA team. There are plenty of big names with their opinions featured, so it should make for an insight read!

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Mar 30, 2011

So, what's going on inside Gnome's Lair?

I know that posting hasn't been as frequent as you cuddly reader have come to expect and that you might -quite justifiably- feel robbed of your daily gnomic dose. Well, you are right, I'm sorry, but as even gnomes have to eventually eat, sometimes my blogging time is severely limited, though -to my defense- both the twitter and the facebook page of Gnome's Lair remain as active as ever. So, on to what I have been up to, shall we?
  • Well, on the blogging front, I'm currently working on a pretty huge three-part feature on AGD Interactive, that will cover all of their most excellent adventure remakes, their future plans, their unreleased projects, Himalaya Studios and more than a few peeks behind the creative scenes. Problem is I already have a ton of info (thank you so much AGDI!), which I have to transform into something readable and that apparently does take some time. Also I wouldn't want them three parts of the feature appearing farther than a few days from each other. Obviously more gaming and game related writing is also happening behind the scenes, while a variety of other blogs are also maintained.
  • Then, there's always that Wikileaks Stories game I've been constantly redesigning for the past few months. Good news is I've settled on a final desing and started actually crafting the thing; bad news is there's a lot of work to be done and my lack of Inform experience isn't really helping. Still, I'm rather optimistic on this one, though, truth be said, basing something on a true story can be quite challenging and things will necessarily progress slowly. As for that ancient mystery gaming project of mine, it might have been left unattended for a while, but I'm still doing minor adjustments to it.
  • What's more those are not the only game design projects I'm involved with. I have also started working with a rather small indie developer and am currently coming up with game ideas, stories, themes, design documents and even prototypes. It might be incredibly fun mind, but it's time consuming as hell too.
  • On the more personal/professional side of things, I'm also swamped with work for the publishing house a friend and I have started (the first book will be out in less than a month), while preparing a paper for a conference in Istanbul, working on a ridiculously underpaid but very interesting research project, planning another, preparing some stuff for a couple of scientific journals, and joyfully engaging in the fierce political battles inside Greece. Hooray!

Mar 23, 2011

King's Quest III Redux - The Review

It's not everyday I choose to review freeware offerings. Everyone can after all effortlessly and freely download them and see what they are all about. There are though some games, some freeware games, that have had so much work put into them, that they fully deserve the proper review treatment. King's Quest III - Redux by AGDI is definitely one of the lot; then again, it does actually feature the voice of legendary Sierra designer Lori Cole.

King's Quest III Redux: To Heir is Human, to give it its full title, is a remake of Sierra's classic, parser based King's Quest III, and has been in the making for eight long years. Happily, this definitely shows, as KQ3 Redux is a truly stunning update of a classic adventure, that's worth all the love and care it can muster. I for one consider the original King's Quest III the second best game in the series, for apparently King's Quest VI sits comfortably on its golden throne.

One of the things that made the original King’s Quest III so special were its unexpected dark atmosphere and its truly satisfying story. Unlike the whimsical and too family oriented first two installments, KQ III didn't take place in the fairy-tale land of Daventry. It started off in the rather unsettling and foreboding land of Llewdor, where instead of a royal family and its shiny heroes the new main character is Gwydion; a humble and unfairly doomed servant boy. For Gwydion, you see, is in the service of none other than the evil wizard Manannan who seems to have decided that killing his servants on their 18th birthday is the way to avoid trouble and live a long and prosperous life. Faced with such a worrisome fate Gwydion quite obviously had to escape, survive an impressively (for a Sierra release, that is) twisting plot and finally make sense in the KQ universe.

While King’s Quest III Redux isn't a carbon copy of the original, it does follow said lovely and puzzle-filled plot very closely, being faithful to a -dare I say- exciting and classic adventure. The changes it introduces focus mainly on gloriously updating the audiovisual side of things and introducing a modern point-and-click interface. The graphics are gloriously pushed up to the 256-colour VGA standard and full voice acting, along with a brilliant, new and quite dynamic soundtrack have been added. The major aesthetic overhaul of the game’s graphics is more than successful. It's actually jaw-dropping and incredibly detailed. Each scene is beautifully framed, new character portraits have been created, and a a huge variety of smooth, pixel-art animations has been added. Just have a look at the following piccies and you'll understand: 

Now, everything may have been updated to use a lovely point-and-click interface, effectively dismissing the brutal difficulty the classic parser introduced, but KQ III Redux remains a particularly taxing and long adventure, that delights itself in murdering gamers in a variety of imaginative ways. Saving a lot, early and often are mandatory if you actually hope to beat this one; it did after all take me a couple of weeks of blowing myself up with spells, failing to beat time limits, trying to remember puzzles I had solved ages ago, encountering new tough problems, and falling off cliffs to reach the finale. So, if you haven't figured it out yet: the new puzzles are tough. What's more, many of the old ones have been tweaked, places have been moved around and brand new locations have been added, making this the most elaborate and challenging version of KQ III. Also the best.

King's Quest III Redux is available as a free download for your PC and/or Mac. You can grab it via its excellent and content-rich official website. Apparently you could also grab one of the game's poster while you are at it too.

Verdict:  King's Quest III Redux is the definitive version of a truly classic adventure. Play it even if you never cared for point-and-clickers before, if only to admire this impressively polished and definitely epic work of love. Truth be said, I'd easily pay for such an amazing offering.

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Mar 14, 2011

You Shall Support An Indie Gaming Artist

Between us, oh wise and generous reader, the truth is that Jonas Kyratzes is a truly rare breed of indie game developer and all around artistic type; the kind of breed that simply refuses to sell out or dumb down. And he's prolific too, having already given us -and by given I do really mean given in the most selfless of freeware ways- seven excellent, incredibly written, beautiful, meaningfully innovative, deeply satisfying and actually unique games, while simultaneously providing us with more than a few (digital) pages of prose and theory, the Wikileaks Stories project and some most intriguing short films. Oh, and he's even preparing, with the help of his wife Verena and composer Helen Trevillion, a beautiful and promising point-and-click adventure game: The Book of Living Magic. Here a making-of  video to inform you further on said project:

Thing is though, that Jonas, following a series of problems, really needs our help to keep being creative, as, quite obviously, money is still necessary for people to survive and properly indie art isn't as edible as the mainstream sort. Then again it's not as common either, but the few that support it have to be themselves supported. So, if you've enjoyed You Shall Know The Truth, Phenomenon 32, The Infinite Ocean or any other of Jonas' creations you should really consider answering his call for help and donating some of your earth money to the cause of quality gaming and proper interactive art. Just click your way over to and then click on that donate button. Just don't forget to try some excellent games while you're there. 

Versus: Games for the Ages

I know you know dear reader, but I simply had to blog this. I do love pretty screenshots, outrageous indie game mechanics and TIG Source competitions you see. Versus, the latest competition of the sort, the one cunningly subtitled Games for the Ages, is all about crafting games that pit at least one human player versus another human player. What's more all the entries have been uploaded to the compo site and are freely available for you to download, enjoy and -should you feel so inclined- rate.

There are 81 wildly innovative (and plain wild) games available to try, including the incredible AGI Combat for the trigger happy adventure gamer, the rather unsettling A Cure for Friendship, the deeply spiritual Jesus vs. Dinosaurs and even the particularly silly Macig - The Gambling. Expect surreal genre mixes, visuals any indie gamer would love and some truly frightening sounds; all in glorious multiplayer! Here are a few screenshots to spice things up: 

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Mar 10, 2011

The 2010 AGS Awards

Gone are the days of my ridiculously time-consuming posts on the AGS Awards and in are the days of a glorious new epoch where only the winners and a select few nominees get a short, belated mention I'm afraid. Then again, you do want me working on that King's Quest III Redux review, don't you? And how about that fantastic AGD Interactive mega-feautre you hadn't heard about till a second ago? Of course you want me to.

So, on to the AGS 2010 Awards and some of the best indie point-and-click adventure ever developed with the help of the AGS engine. Well, here's the competition results link, here is the lovely video of the awards ceremony and here are the winners:

The Journey Down: Despite having already mentioned and enjoyed this brilliant point-and-clicker by Skygoblin, I really should have written more about it and the creative forces responsible for its development. It has after all won 10 of the 17 AGS Awards, including Best Game, Best Gameplay, Best Original Story, Best Puzzles, Best Animation and Best Music. Impressed? Well, you really should be.

Eternally Us: Another one your humble Lair didn't miss and a truly fantastic game by the prolific Ben 304. It went on to win Best Dialog, Best Short Game and more than a few nominations.

Matt to the Future: Haven't played this one just yet, but I quite love both its artwork and the idea of mixing zombies, time-travel, humour and point-and-click adventuring. Oh, and it did win the Best Demo award too.

Operation: FORKLIFT: Seems like an Advance Wars rip-off that has been impressively coded with AGS. Too politically dubious to make me care, but it did grab the Best Non-Adventure Game and Best Programming Awwards.

Ben Jordan - Case 2 Deluxe: It's the same Ben Jordan game we've all loved, but updated and sporting an extended storyline and an excellent voice over. It did obviously win the Best Voice Work award.

Honorable mentions go to the utterly wacky Snakes of Avalon (review) that made it as a nominee to almost every category possible, to the rather brilliant and dark Technobabylon and to the Japanese-speaking Kuma Story. Enjoy clicking through each and every one!

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Mar 4, 2011

It's not Warhammer, it's the gnomic model train!

Time for another picture heavy post it seems, but this time it's something I with the lovely lady of the lair have constructed. Yes, what you see above is indeed a detail from that toy train modelling project I've been mentioning for quite some time now, and what follows is a selection of work in progress pictures. It's been incredibly time-consuming, yet equally satisfying mind.

The first version of the final build...
...was hiding those lovely holes, that provide access to the diorama's lighting.
Looking nice already.
It's fully working too. Look at those lovely cables!
And a word of promise: the next -and finally final- post on the gnomic train project will let you see the finished thing and its lovely lights. Oh, and quite a few detailed pics.

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Mar 2, 2011

Gemini Rue - a noir review

You should have heard of Gemini Rue by Wadjet Eye Games by now. It is, after all, the indie, AGS-authored, point-and-click adventure that has actually (well, finally) made it to a more mainstream gaming audience, earning glowing reviews left and right. Then again, being of a more indie persuasion, you, precious reader, might remember Boryokudan Rue by  Joshua Nuernberger, the dystopian, neo-noir sci-fi adventure with a thing for both action and mystery that won the 2010 IGF Student Showcase award; well, they are both the same game, though publisher Wadjet Eye have added a full voice-over and helped with polishing things over.

The result is a truly impressive game, that, interestingly, has one of the best plots I've recently seen. Oh, and lots and lots of beautifully rendered 2D rain. Anyway. The two playable characters of Gemini Rue, Azriel and the aloof Delta-Six, star in a mature adventure that sits somewhere between Blade Runner, Rise of the Dragon and Beneath a Steel Sky. The pace of the realistic sci-fi plot is excellent and the storytelling itself quite remarkable, as Gemini Rue follows Azriel, the rogue police officer with a dark past and Delta-Six, the inmate at the Center 7 facility who has had his memory wiped, in a mostly dark story taking place in a beautifully noir setting.

A properly noir scene.

Azriel's attempts to locate his brother take him to the dark city of Pittsburg on the unnaturally rainy planet of Barracus, where the Boryokudan, an organization not unlike the mafia, are running things and engaging in a most destructive, yet apparently exotic, drug trade. Delta-Six, on the other hand, spends his days in the aforementioned rehabilitation facility, where he attempts to discover his true allies and his true identity while trying to escape. As you should have guessed, those seemingly disconnected stories collide in the dramatic and definitely climactic final part of the game, that leads to a pretty brilliant finale. Mind you, these are not happy Sierra characters in a fairy-tale land and they most definitely are not people you'd invite over for tea and biscuits. 

The game setting, the game world if you prefer, feels both big and interesting. It's a labour of love that you'll love to explore, especially if you care for its decidedly retro aesthetic. What's more, it's mostly evenly split between the gritty, rainy planet Barracus and the sterile Center 7 facility. A deep visual contrast, that helps highlight the differences between the two playable characters and the situations they are in. 

Spot the difference yet?

The characters in Gemini Rue, though not all of them extensively developed, are for the most part well-written and believable, with the two leads being by far the best and more elaborately developed. Gemini Rue does after all  focus on them protagonists, and has them face a dark setting, more than a few, uhm, unhappy scenes, betrayal, death, and their dark pasts. This, you see, could also be described as a game about identity; also as a game that treats amnesia as punishment.

The Gemini Rue controls follow, for the most part, a pretty standard point-and-click system, but do sport a few intriguing new mechanics and additions. You, beside fiddling with your traditional inventory, get to shoot stuff in a tactical-arcade manner, control two characters, use a handy phone/digital organizer thing, access terminals and even physically manipulate other characters. The puzzles themselves are mostly easy, yet highly entertaining, very well implemented, and feel perfectly integrated into the plot, and, before everyone starts screaming against the shooting sequences, let me just remind you that combat systems appeared in quite a few Sierra games too. What's more, the action sequences work, fit nicely into the setting, help change the game's pace, and are perfect for the sluggish reflexes of the average adventurer. 

I did really enjoy playing through said shoot-outs, (almost) as much as I enjoyed playing through the game without a walkthrough and getting only mildly -and, importantly, very briefly- stuck; never in a truly old-fashioned hair-pulling way mind. There's nothing in there that can't be solved with a bit more exploration and some thinking, whereas the only part I disliked was a pretty tedious mechanical little puzzle that was both generic and not that well explained. Oh, and this is wisely sized game too -should take you anything from 6 to 8 hours on the first playthrough- without any boring and/or filler parts. The fact that Wadjet Eye have implemented a fantastic in-game commentary makes a second playthrough necessary...

As this review is finally coming to its conclusion, I know I just have to mention the visual retro glory of Gemini Rue with its deeply atmospheric VGA graphics, the impressive character portraits, the weather effects, the tons of top-quality animation, the successful framing of each room, and the lively yet hand-painted backgrounds. The sound consists of some lovely ambient effects, mostly rain apparently, a very impressive -in most cases- voice over, and some atmospheric, subtle and slightly bleak music, that sadly doesn't play throughout the game. All in all, Gemini Rue is a brilliant mix of old and new on every level, that manages to be entertaining and even (mildly) thought-provoking. If this were released sometime during the nineties it would now be considered a major classic.

The plot thickens...
Verdict: One of the very best commercial indie adventures I have ever played. It's beautiful, gripping, seamlessly combines the old with the new and I would thus describe it as an absolute must-buy for adventure gamers of all persuasions. Get it here. Now, please!

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Mar 1, 2011

From the desk of Eriq Chang

Stunningly beautiful pictures, aren't they? Well, better thank Eriq Chang for being brilliantly creative in all sorts of ways and -of course- for being generous enough to let us glimpse both his studio and the creative process taking place there. And in case you hadn't noticed, you are indeed looking at King's Quest III - Redux art and the game's official poster. To actually grab said poster better have a look here.

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