Aug 24, 2011

Decker's Delight Links (24.Aug.11)

Seems it's been over a year since them Decker's Delight Links last appeared on Gnome's Lair and, well, it also seems the time has come for them to return, albeit in a slightly altered way. I am after all taking a few days off computers and cities, and I sincerely believe this particular link list will cater to your every -every!- gaming need for the next 10 days or so. Feel free to click it to exhaustion. Try to ignore the fact that it's rather short; I'm short on time myself. Got to pack.

So, where to start eh? Well, the relatively new and definitely excellent Electron Dance blog seems like a lovely place, what with its excellent Rescue on Fractalus! piece and that David Fox interview follow-up. Retro gamers, adventurers and (r)ageing Lucasarts fanboys/girls should immediately apply.

The rest should instead take a virtual stroll to the newly reopened and elegantly refurbished Elderly Gamer blog. Elderly is back (having escaped the trans-dimensional cellar of this very Lair), in high spirits (despite the sad loss of a certain leprechaun) and with a brand new helper (Alf apparently). Console gaming and Tom Waits are happy.

As for aspiring (and proper) indie developers too busy to read, they could have a look at this comprehensive Indie Resources guide by Pixel Prospector. It's a treasure trove of information covering everything from inspiration to marketing. RetroDreamer's piece on Media Kits might be a handy nice thing to round things up.

Then again, if you are into reading dear reader (see what I did there?) there's something else for you to check out: Life Support. A science fiction novelette by Verena Kyratzes of The Book of Living Magic fame. This of course reminds me to remind you to actually play The Book of Living Magic if, despite following this blog, you haven't done so yet. It's an amazing game, it is.

For something less whimsical, extremely short and joyfully disturbing give Hero's Adventure a try. It will only take a minute, yet you will discover just how demented Terry Cavanagh can actually be.

Traditional point-and-clickers, on the other hand, can find out more about the adventurous re-imagining of the Count of Monte Cristo via this lovely Enter the Story review by the Hardy Developer's Journal; you know, that excellent source of indie adventuring goodness. And don't forget to check the AGS blog out too.

In case you were somehow reminded of the Atari ST you'll be elated to know that The Joy of Sticks has gone on and created an amazing online repository for classic, ST-related, gaming magazines. It's apt name is none other than The Atari ST Magazine Archive

More retro gaming fun can be had over at the Recycled Thoughts of a Retro Gamer blog where magisterrex has been covering a variety of subject from ancient copy protection schemes to American McGee's Alice. Oh, and while you're wondering whether American in a proper name for an American, you can also download a fantastic 1981 TSR catalog in PDF.

The analog fun oddly continues over at Rock Paper Shotgun where Robert Florence writes about the Shadows over Scotland, while explaining why everyone should be playing the excellent Call of Cthulhu RPG. It's my favourite pen and paper pass-time you know.

Now, as I really have to pack and this wouldn't be a proper Decker's Delight Links post without something by Richard Cobbett, here are two brilliant articles: A-Fforde-able Adventure and the 9:05 Crapshoot. Read them carefully; I'll be asking questions.

Aug 23, 2011

Eye^Game^Candy: Perihelion

Post-apocalyptic RPGs weren't particularly common on the Amiga, though I'm pretty sure that post-apocalyptic RPGs created by a team of three must have been as rare as, well, an incredibly rare thing. Perihelion, a 1993 Psygnosis release, was not only such a game, but  an incredibly polished and downright stunning RPG too, with striking 32-colour visuals, excellent atmosphere, interesting plot, unique mechanics and a lovely chiptune soundtrack. It has nowadays been sadly more or less forgotten, but one of the people behind it is kindly offering it as a free, ready-to-run download. Get it, play it.

Aug 22, 2011

A C64 Walkabout Book Review

As I love books, care for retro games, deeply appreciate the Commodore 64 and don't have the disposable income to entertain myself in more extravagant ways, a little $1 ebook called A Commodore 64 Walkabout was both tantalizing and within reach. I thus digitally grabbed it, was pretty amazed I had bought it in a huge variety of formats ranging from PDF to them Kindle-loving .mobi files, promptly loaded the thing on my Kindle and started reading, while simultaneously noticing it was written by Robinson Manson. Yes, the same person that happily runs the excellent C64 Walkabout retro site.

Now, the book might generally and rather oddly be aimed at people that aren't so much into retro gaming and collecting (especially of the Commodore variety) just yet, what with its extended introduction on the joys of classic hardware and gaming, but there's quite a bit more to it than that. Mind you, as a beginner's guide to emulating and enjoying the hundreds of classic C64 and VIC-20 games the C64 Walkabout is pretty much excellent. It lets readers in on a bit of history, what emulators to grab, where to find the games, utilities and demos they'll need, how to run them via emulation and even suggest some rather lovely titles.

It's also pretty good when it comes to collecting hardware, though it rather infuriatingly chooses to focus on the VIC-20 and actually for the most part ignore the Commodore 64 itself. Now, you might call me an idiosyncratically grumpy person, but when I do read a C64 book, I do expect C64 content to outweigh VIC-20 one. Not that this isn't the case throughout the book, mind, but I would really love to read an equally detailed piece on collecting C64 hardware.

Said minor annoyance aside, the book is pretty lovely and actually unique as, unlike most retro publications, it does go for a more personal feel, which is frankly brilliant; Mr. Mason, you see, does have a thing for CRPGs and text-adventures and isn't afraid to even walk readers through the more obscure ones like Castle of Spirits. Actually, many of the included games are presented with all the info you'd ever need to get them running on a modern PCs, as well as a short play-guide and -in selected cases- are impressively accompanied by a creator's interview.

As an added bonus the Commodore 64 Walkabout doesn't limit itself to games either. A whole section of the book details the productive and creative aspects of the machine, with SID music being of course the most prominent. The modern remix scene is briefly presented, the needed programs are examined and some lovely tunes are suggested, though what I particularly enjoyed, what really convinced me to take the time and suggest this book, was the look at the Micro Illustrator art package. Why? Well, why not?

Verdict: A lovely, personal book for the Commodore 64 and VIC-20 micros that keeps in mind that some people might have only recently been retro-intrigued.   

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Aug 18, 2011

The lovable Atom Zombie Smasher

Killing zombies is part of a gamer's daily routine, which is all fine and apparently dandy, but I simply can't stomach another undead infested FPS. Bombing thousands of undead along with some unfortunate not-quite-dead-yet citizens, on the other hand, is another matter entirely and as Atom Zombie Smasher emphatically showed me, a most refreshing and enjoyable, if not downright noble, pass-time. Oh, and it's a novel way to battle stuff too, though you probably know all about it already, what with Atom Zombie Smasher being a part of the biggest and least humble of Humble Indie Bundles so far.

Anyway, as simply reminding you of its existence wouldn't do anyone any good, let me just point out that in Atom Zombie Smasher you get to evacuate yellow and blue dots (civilians and scientists apparently) while destroying pink dots (those would be the zombies), in what can only be described as an unholy fusion of RTS, action, orbital bombing and tower defense mechanics in one impressively coherent whole.  Add the between levels strategic and slightly reminiscent of RISK portions and you have a deep, satisfyingly difficult and unique game; yes, with zombies. In a nutshell, it is thus an engaging, addictive and downright fun affair that had me using my upgraded artillery throughout more than a few nights.

Admittedly though, dots of varying colors and, after a certain point, bigger dots don't sound like much when it comes to visuals, but this lovely indie game manages to look good in a way vaguely reminiscent of the original GTA, only with some added pyrotechnics. Besides, it does feature an utterly brilliant soundtrack, that puts much grander productions to shame. 

What's more, the dozens of extra game modes, unlockable, brilliantly illustrated vignettes and a multitude of little touches add a polished feel to Atom Zombie Smasher, which more than makes up for its minor shortcomings. Only a couple of different enemies and a handful of playable units would have made a lesser game feel pretty poor indeed... And the difficulty curve is far from perfect too, which does admittedly make for a more rewarding first, uhm, dozen of hours.

Verdict: Orbital terror at its best and least terrifying. Also, a zombie murder simulator to cheer you up while perfecting those tactical skills.

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Aug 15, 2011

Sympathy for the Squid

Arenas! Shooters! Indies! Laughs! Naughty notions! Psychedelic pyrotechnics! Twats of war! Pixelated buses! Squids! Octopi (not so much)! All this and more can be yours to digitally frolic with, oh reader, and -should you hurry and visit the Bagful of Wrong today- for no charge whatsoever. Yes, it is Sympathy for the Indie time and the excellent Bundle of Wrong, the same collection of indie arena shooters (and assorted games) I recently grabbed and loved, can be downloaded for free. Hurry and thank me later. Just don't forget to also thank Mr. BagfullOfWrongMan. He's so nice and cuddly.

Aug 12, 2011

The Book of Living Magic (Reviewed?)

I know I can be overly enthusiastic when it comes to certain games, but, if I were you, I'd really trust me. Believe me, I do know; it's me I'm talking about. Now, I don't usually write about many games, but those I do choose to spend my time with are -for the most part at least- absolutely worth it. Fantasy, indie point-and-click offerings starring girls named Raven Locks Smith who live in the city of Dull, on the other hand, are a particular favourite of mine, so please do expect me to rampantly praise any such offering. Especially considering that Raven Locks Smith is a particularly unfortunate name only a shoe industry motivational speaker would choose for his or her offspring.

Oddly, The Book of Living Magic, the latest game by Jonas and Verena Kyratzes, does indeed star a Raven Locks Smith from the city of Dull, a major urban centre in the Holy Corporate Beaurocratocracy of Yawn west of scenic Borington. Then again, it also sports an interesting menagerie of bottled gnomes, human-taming cats, demonic eyeballs, evil doctors, and, yes, depressed robots. Oh, and as you wouldn't really find such wonders in good ol' Dull, the game takes place in and around the village of Oddness Standing; a wonderful and pretty hilarious place, but also, handily, a perfect setting for a surreal fantasy point-and-click adventure.

So, yes, the game is indeed an almost traditional graphic adventure when it comes to its interface and generally easy puzzles. Very much less so should its plot, quality of writing, setting, visuals, characters and music enter the equation, for The Book of Living Magic is a truly unique -nay, magical- beast comparable only to its equally excellent predecessor: The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge. It's a piece of fine art and just like all proper art (according to "Gnomic Definitions", page 57, paragraph 57) it also is a thing of unique allure. Oh, and it's incredibly rich too as anyone willing to click on dozens of different little things will soon discover.  

The beautiful hand-painted graphics by Verena Kyratzes and the joyfully eerie music by Helen Trevillion fit the world and story that Jonas has crafted brilliantly, and make this one adventure you simply have to play. Even if you don't care much for point-and-click entertainments. It wont take too long mind and I'd rather not spoil it anymore. It's better to enjoy the wonders on offer by yourself reader. Remember: you don't need no stinking guides; never did, never will.

If there is one criticism one could direct against The Book of Living Magic is its length or, to put it better, its lack thereof, though nobody really thought less of, say, The Great Gatsby due to it being a few pages short of a proper novel. It's just that I would absolutely love more of this game. Much more. Something truly epic would be really nice actually.

You can and indeed shall play The Book of Living Magic by following a certain not-so-well hidden link. It is happily free to play, kindly hosted by Jay is Games and can be enjoyed in the comfort of your browser, preferably while wearing nothing but an obscenely silly hat. 

Verdict: A game I would love to have in my bookcase and hang on my wall. Also a beautiful, unique and quite excellent indie adventure game.

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Aug 11, 2011

Asylum: a first and disturbing look

Horror adventure fans are in for a treat, wouldn't you agree dear reader? Of course you would, as you've most probably already watched the freshly released gameplay trailer of Asylum by Agustin Cordes and Senscape, and are presumably admiring the piece of concept art above. Now, if you'll excuse me for a moment, I'll just link to the developer's brand new site and post said trailer below; you know, for the misguided souls that have missed my original Asylum post and aren't following its development closely. Here it is then, in all its dark and brooding glory: 

Does look both impressive and incredibly atmospheric, doesn't it? And believe me when I say that actually playing the game -its very early BETA version to be precise- is even more impressive, what with the stunning graphics, dynamic sound, intuitive controls and fluid movement on offer. Asylum is without a doubt bound to be a worthy successor to the excellent Scratches horror point-and-clicker, a rare game that actually managed to scare me in a most disturbing and persistent way, while offering some tough yet fair puzzles and a deep plot. As for Asylum's plot and setting, well, you could read the following and rather disturbing (yes, again) press release to find out more:
It all began months ago: first a vague sense of uneasiness, then blackouts that would last for several minutes. Now, you are experiencing vivid hallucinations several times a day. They went from being short fragments, akin to fleeting dreams with no meaning whatsoever, to complete episodes with strange apparitions acting in front of you, having conversations and even in certain cases addressing you. A story is unfolding right there before your eyes, blending in with your daily life, growing in complexity and threatening your sanity. Again. 

The only possible explanation makes you feel nauseous. It has been years since you left the Hanwell Mental Institute, finally cured, and you would not have returned to it for anything in the world. It was a despicable place filled with hatred and pain; the inmates often more human than the doctors in charge. But there is no denying it, you are recognizing the faces in your visions, the stories are becoming too familiar and they are unbearable. Something terrible happened here and it has somehow affected you. It was dormant in your memories for years until today. You can no longer discern reality from the imaginary, and you will not be able to live in peace until you unravel the past and find out what happened to you. It is time to come back and face the horrors awaiting in the asylum.  
Decay surrounds you, dread around every corner. You feel imprisoned while traversing the endless hallways, yet you must keep striving to reach the truth. With every step you take, a dark menacing presence draws nearer. Unimaginable atrocities occurred between these walls... What have they done in here? What have they done to you? 
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Aug 8, 2011

Middle Earth: The Rise of the Oblivion Mod

I wouldn't want to infringe on any perceived copyrights and use such no-no words as elder, scrolls, earth and lollipop and that's why I'll just let you know that TES Oblivion has (almost) gotten itself the best, free, total conversion mod any game could ever hope for: the Middle Earth Roleplaying Project; MERP for short, which does sound quite a bit like the dear MERP pen-and-paper RPG that brought the deranged critical hits and elaborate systems of Rolemaster to Tolkien's world. Well, this newer kind of MERP is about to bring a stunning, massive and most authentic version of the good professor's world to Oblivion.

When I'm saying about to I do of course mean that MERP is still in an apparently early BETA state, which you can still download and thoroughly enjoy, preferably from the Middle Earth Roleplaying Project page over at modDB. Unfinished though the mod might be, it will still blow your mind away with its amazing depictions of Middle Earth, promise of massive battles, inclusion of new races, weapons and monsters, huge map and fierce dedication to the preservation of Tolkien's lore. Actually, anyone kind enough to lend the dev team a helping hand would be immediately recognized as a true Gnome's Lair hero.

And to prove that this will be the equivalent of the excellent Lords of the Ring Online in single-player, well, here's the trailer:

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Aug 5, 2011

Thunder Fleets gets its review

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear... Not the most encouraging way to start a review, I know, but I simply didn't want to sound overtly optimistic really. Wouldn't want anyone to get instantly excited about Thunder Fleets and recklessly stampede over to the game's site now, would we? Of course not, for as you might have guessed Thunder Fleets isn't a particularly good game and all this stampeding around might result to some sort of broken web-things.

Still, the game does initially sound vaguely interesting, or at least it did before I actually loaded it. It is after all supposed to be some sort of naval warfare RTS taking place in the WWII-torn Pacific Ocean, where gamers have to wrestle the interface and act both strategically and tactically in order to either subdue the Japanese Imperial Fleet or the American one.Well, in theory at least, as I just can't see how anyone could stick with Thunder Fleets for more than a couple of hours; the time needed to fully realize that this is as sub-par an offering as they go.
Mind you, I really do hate writing nasty stuff about aspiring indie developers and the fruits of their work, and I've already fought and won a titanic battle against sarcasm. Frankly, that would have been cheap and uncalled for. Let's just say that Thunder Fleets starts off with a lacking yet boring tutorial that fails on far too many grammatical levels and manages to exclude key information, goes on to provide with some incredibly dull and visually poor battles, only to end up in what can only be described as an explosion of frustration. Now, I'll have to admit there's a chance I didn't give the game the attention it deserved, but two hours of wrestling with the scrolling mechanics and enduring impressively uninspired grey ship-like things firing at other grey things was too much, even though I did sense that some interesting ideas and mechanics were struggling to make themselves felt...

I could go on and try to ridicule the thing, but I wont. Sadly knowing that the developers are reading this, I'll humbly suggest a few things to vastly improve the game and give it a fighting chance in the rich world of commercial indie games, where it will apparently have to compete with such acclaimed games as AI War, VVVVVV, Eufloria, The Dream Machine and Revenge of the Titans. I also promise that should Thunder Fleets get an update in the correct direction, I'll be more than willing to re-review it.

Here goes then: 1) Make sure the screen scrolls properly when the mouse hits its side; 2) add some music and proper sound effects; 3) make the thing playable in windowed mode; 4) fix all spelling and grammatical errors; 5) redo the tutorial from scratch; 6) redesign the interface and, above all, make sure the buttons that select tactics indicate whether they have been pressed or not; 7) add more tactical options and let players -at least- control the facing of their ships; 8) make sure the graphics are passable; 9) polish the thing; 10) add some historical bits of info; 11) add a simple intro and 12) drop the price, as an asking price of 11 euros for a game like this does feel rather outrageous.

Verdict: Almost passable for a freebie I'm afraid.

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Aug 3, 2011

August's Lovely Adventure Lantern

It's August 2011 and something most unsurprising happened today dear reader: a new, lovely as always Adventure Lantern issue got itself released. You should either download it from the Adventure Lantern site or via this very handy direct link. You should then proceed and read those enlightening reviews the team put together for your (mostly) adventure gaming pleasure and a little something by this humble gnome. Apparently and in the hope of furthering your enjoyment an interview on the first person adventure Prominence has also been included.

Care for a list of the reviewed games then? Well, regardless, here it is:
  • Slip Space – The Burma-Shave Analogy
  • Lost Horizon
  • Knights in Shining Armor – Episode 1
  • Dracula Resurrection
  • Dead Meets Lead

Aug 1, 2011

The Mark Jones Interview

Having worked on more than a few classic games on the ZX Spectrum -including an amazing port of Wizball, Arkanoid II, Tai-Pan, Gryzor and Total Recall- Mark Jones, a game designer and game artist, has agreed to shed some light on what developing 8-bit (and some 16-bit) games was all about. Oh, and to talk about retro graphics design, classic games, modern indie gaming and his forthcoming iOS projects too.

Do you miss the days working and being creative over at Ocean?

Yeah, I suppose I do. I don't miss the waiting around after I'd finished a project and waiting to be teamed up for the next one. I spent many days looking for things to do. Shame really. It was great though in the main, it was my first job away from home. I was doing something I daredn't even dream of 6 months before and working for one of THE big software houses in the world with some very talented and lovely people.

Did you also work for Imagine?

Yes, but it was the same company after the original Imagine went bust and Ocean bought just the name. The same people did the games, in the same building on the same computers. We all tried to work out the pattern, as to wether a game would be an Ocean or Imagine game, but whenever we thought we'd worked it out, a game would be announced that would contradict our theory!

You were both a games artist and a game designer. Were you often conflicted about your role? What did you enjoy the most in each aspect of your work?

I was never employed as a games designer. The closet I got to being one was throwing some ideas around with Simon Butler when he was given the task of designing a game based on the film Platoon. I was staying at his house at the time and remember talking about it a few evenings after we'd got back to his. I thought of the tunnel section where the bloke comes out of the water, but that was about the only major contribution I ever made to a games design in the Ocean days. I did have a major hand in designing Flood 2 for Bullfrog which was going to have lots of original monsters in it and loads of nicked ideas from all the best platform games I'd ever played, but it didn't happen in the end. 

The best part of either roles was seeing something you'd been working on coming together, be it a loading screen or a walk animation and the programmer puts it in the game and you can see it, moving about, doing what it's supposed to do.

What tools did you use?

On the Spectrum we used an amended version of Melbourne Draw that had added animation capabilities, tacked on by Paul Owens, a veteran in-house programmer. And for the loading screens I used a combination of that one, plus The Artist 2 and Art Studio. They all had bits that they did better than the others, but as to what those bits were, I've completely forgotten. Once we'd moved over to 16 bit graphics we used an in-house animation and map editor called Fudd-Ed (after the programmer John Brandwood, who's nickname was Elmer Fudd). It was a breeze to use and made creating animations & maps on the ST a doddle.

Which games you've worked on make you feel the proudest?

Well, the Spectrum conversion of Wizball is the one I'm remembered for the most. It was my first game proper, it did get loads of great reviews, a Crash Smash and a Sinclair User Classic, but my displeasure at having it released with loads of stuff missing, as good as unfinished, is well documented and I don't feel like moaning about it anymore.

Which of your games and the games you've worked on would you recommend to a modern gamer?

None, they'd all get laughed at. I'd show them my loading screens, that's about all.

How did you decide to get into actually making games?

I just used to draw graphics on the screen while I was till at school, not for any purpose, just messing about, and amassed quite a collection. Not much of it was very good. I was featured in the first Crash 'On The Screen' feature where they showcased readers Spectrum art. Most of mine was rubbish and everyone after me were miles better. I used to show off my work in the local computer shop and my boss, Graham Wilson, and some of the other people who worked there said I should send some stuff off and try and get a job doing it. So I put a tape together and ended up getting the job at Ocean.

And what did you use for your first computer gaming experiences?

My cousin had a ZX81 so my very first games were things like Mazogs and 3D Monster Maze. He ended up getting a Spectrum just after I'd been round a school mate called Neil Anderson's house and saw his Speccy. I remember Neil loading up Bruce Lee, Jet Set Willy and Atic Atac. I started begging my parents for one and they caved in, eventually, and I remember pulling it out, as a surprise, from between the chair and the sofa in our living room. My own 48k rubber keyed Spectrum!

As for Tai - Pan, well, you still remember. it don't you? Could be have a brief making-of?

I only did the loading screen, that's all. The game was made out of house by Sentient Software, they didn't do a loading screen, so Gary Bracey asked me and I did it. It's my least favourite loading screen of mine though.

What about your work on the 16-bit machines? Any fond memories?

No, not really. It all started to go tits up for me then. I suppose back then I didn't have the patience I do now. I lost interest quickly and what with the increase in colours and smaller pixels, graphics took longer to make. You'd end up with 2 or 3 artists working on one game and I didn't like that either. They would do something in completely different style to me and I didn't like that it was going in the game I was working on. Stupid really. I really enjoyed working on Flood 2 for Bullfrog, but then just as we were kicking up speed it all fell through"

What were your favourite games of the era?

Fav Spectrum games include both Legend / Dragontorc of Avalon, Trashman, Tir Na Nog, Dynamite Dan 1 & 2, Stop The Express, all the Ultimate stuff up to and NOT including Cyberun, Boulderdash, Zub, Bugaboo, Splat, Fred, Karnov & Rex to name but a few.

How about today's games?

Well it's not really a new game but I've recently been playing Kameo on the Xbox which is class, by Rare. It's coming on for 10 years old, so I guess it's pretty old now! I have tried playing some newer games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Halo 3 and Fable II, and I lose interest very quickly. Playing them is like watching a film and you have to commit so much time to them to actually get anywhere that I just get bored! The newest games I LIKE playing are those from the Nintendo 64 era, that's about as modern as I get.

Is there a game designer you truly admire?

The Stampers with all their Ultimate & Rare output. Shigeru Miyamoto for Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Predictable answers I know. Less predictable is Steve Turner with his Avalons and the Gargoyle Games fellas.

Would you say the contemporary indie scene is reminiscent of the Speccy bedroom coding era?

A little, the big difference being that back then it was all new, and we were all seeing and experiencing new things for the first time. It's good that people are going back to writing games in their back rooms, but it's all a bit 'seen it all before' now, isn't it?

Are you still interested in designing games and their graphics? Any plans for a new game perhaps?

I am about to start on a retro style game for the iPhone/iPad with a programmer who used to play MY games when he was a kid! He's already had some jolly games published, thought I have to keep quiet about what the game is for now. Though I'm sure I'll just come up some nice but 'seen it all before' type graphics myself! I can't wait to get started. I've had some practice and I'm sure, with just a bit of oiling, I can come up with the goods. It has been over 20 years since I worked on a game that was published. I'm getting a bit bored talking about work I did over 20 years ago! Would be nice to have something new to be interviewed about at last! Fingers crossed all goes to plan.

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