Sep 28, 2011

The Case of the Vanishing Entree

I was writing the other day that video game porn can be done, that it hasn't been done properly yet and that the best way to probably do it would be via a text adventure; a piece of interactive fiction if you prefer. Someplace else Anna Anthropy was busy creating those lovely indie offerings you can find over at auntie pixelante and was apparently wholly unaware of my writings. Can't blame her really...

Anyway. Thing is, despite being oblivious to my dream game, Anna Anthropy just released Encyclopedia Fuckme And The Case Of The Vanishing Entree, a game one could definitely describe as the first major step to quality porn, though she -the lovable dominatrix of indie gaming- does prefer to humbly call it a dirty game. Then again, an explicitly pornographic text-adventure game of the choose-your-own adventure sort and one that's handily playable for free in your browser, would be a more precise way of putting it.

Happily and very conveniently, as I actually am from a part of the world that never had Encyclopedia Brown books, I apparently don’t have to even sweat the title. Anna came up with it when almost the entire game was written and it really works on more than a few levels. Oh, and though definitely pornographic Encyclopedia Fuckme is far from arousing. It's tense and rather disturbing instead, though it does sport a few actually erotic scenes, which is, well, really nice indeed. Now, go play it; don't let me spoil it for you. Mind you, this could be considered NSFW in more than a few places.

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Sep 26, 2011

Time to enter A Valley Without Wind

Arcen Games, the creators of the amazing AI War, have never been afraid to try radical new ideas and wildly innovate while offering deep gameplay and unique visuals. Their latest offering though, the brilliantly named A Valley Without Wind, does indeed surpass anything they have dared to dream, and even more impressively actually create, so far. Now, the best way to describe AVWW would be as the spaced-out spawn of Midwinter, Terraria and Lords of Midnight after a chemically altered night everyone is trying to forget everything about, but I simply can't see how anyone besides me would be able to comprehend a description of this sort.

That's why I've wisely come up with an alternate description too: it is a procedurally generated, side-scrolling, 2D arcade adventure, with strong exploration, RPG and strategic elements, that is sort of infinite. Is this better? Does it make sense? Well, I sure hope so, for I have only entered the still-in-BETA world of AVWW for a couple of hours and am incredibly impressed. I'm also pretty certain that it's only by playing AVWW that one can properly understand and  fully appreciate the thing, but here's another try:

Did the picture help at all? Right. Better provide you with the developer's description then:
Environ has been shattered in the wake of an unknown cataclysm, with only small pockets of humanity left in its wake... What will you do in this strange new world? 
The creators of AI War bring you a procedurally-generated 2D side-scrolling adventure of limitless proportions. Survive and explore a vast persistent world filled with dangerous creatures, powerful magic, and ancient technology. Do so while helping other survivors establish settlements, gathering resources to craft, fending off evil invaders, and more.
Intrigued? Excellent. On to the news bits then, as you too can now have a taste of A Valley Without Wind via the just released and pretty fantastic AVWW demo. What's more and for a mere $10 (that's a hefty 50% discount on the launch price, that is) you can also pre-order the game and gain instant access to its current version, which, incidentally, is getting constant updates. As for me, well, I'll be playing said BETA and will soon let you know all about my slightly more coherent thoughts on AVWW. AVWW is available both for Mac and PC.

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Sep 23, 2011

Tadah! Dino Quake!

This will be an incredibly short and focused post, carefully designed to let the Lair's sole and thus truly precious reader know that Dino Quake has been made available as a freeware, browser-based game. Done. Now, if you ever loved Bubble Bobble you'll love this one and its elegant mechanics too. Uhm, play it, will you? It does look lovely you know.

Sep 22, 2011

Space Hulk and the joys of murdering Tyranids

I have been forming a pretty wild theory (which belongs to me and is mine) recently and it more or less goes a bit like this: The deepening of the economic crisis will lead to increased socialization, that will in turn lead to an increase in the popularity of board gaming; even more so if the required board games have already been bought. And, uhm, that's about it I suppose. Besides, that was the theorem I went on and empirically (successfully too) tested last night with the help of Space Hulk.

Interestingly it wasn't the second edition of the game I cracked open and hauled over to a friend's place; it was the third and latest version of Space Hulk. The one Games Workshop cunningly released in limited numbers. The same game I hadn't played since 2009 even though I most definitely enjoyed it. Actually, I was most impressed by it, but apparently was the only one in the Lair that appreciated it. The kind lady was mostly indifferent to its many charms and exquisite production values.

Now, as I was emphatically reminded yesterday, Space Hulk comes in a particularly impressive, big, heavy and beautiful box, that's filled to the brim with miniatures, dice, tiles, rulebooks, counters, an hourglass and everything one might need to play. And though I did remember that them Space Marines and Tyranids (nasty Alien-like nasties) were some of the best Warhammer 40,000 miniatures ever, I had completely forgotten just how fantastic the game tiles were in all their embossed, beautifully painted, dark glory. Well, apparently, they still are and everything looks excellent to the point that the table we set up to play, impressively made the good ladies present take notice. I mean, really, who could have the willpower to resist the evolved aesthetics of everyone's favourite totalitarian sci-fi army?

Not that the bugs look much worse of course...

Anyway. That's enough with the fanboy drooling and gawking at tiny plastic skulls. Time to completely ignore the quality of the rule- and mission books too, and briefly describe how the thing plays. Well, Space Hulk is a two-players only game in which one player controls the Space Marine and the other the Genestealers side, each taking turns to move on the board and performing actions like opening doors, shooting, attacking the close combat way, moving artifacts, burning rooms, reloading weapons and further things of the sort, while trying to achieve each mission's objectives. Interestingly the game does come with 12 built-in  missions - every single one of them featuring new objectives, weapons, miniatures, special rules, board layouts and even a bit of backstory (fluff, I believe some would call it) to help with the atmosphere. Every game usually takes around 60 minutes.

Gameplay-wise though, what really stands out are the action-points mechanics (they should be familiar to people who have enjoyed turn-based strategic games like X-Com or Laser Squad) and the fact that Space Marines only see the aliens as blips on a radar, up to the point they come face-to-face with them and their true numbers are revealed. As each of these blips could conceal up to three Genestealers, things can get both strategic and very tense indeed. Oh, and good poker players will definitely be at an advantage here...

Thankfully, neither me nor the friend I played Space Hulk with are terribly good at card games, yet I must admit we really enjoyed the game in its initial simplicity, apparent balance and revealed depth. After finishing the first mission we were both craving for more and coming up with strategic principles and tactical responses. Yes, it was this good.

Closing bit: This article might have felt like a review, which it partly is, but sadly it's a review of something you can't easily buy unless you head off to places like eBay. On the other hand you can get a very good idea of how Space Hulk plays and what it looks like over at the Games Workshop and Board Game Geek sites. And you can always play the excellent and freeware Alien Assault on your PC; it's the closest you will ever get to a digital version of the game and a fantastic strategic offering in its own right.

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Sep 19, 2011

The Dream Machine Chapters 1 & 2 review

Plato, Jung, Freud, a young ordinary couple and some exquisite visuals are the true stars of The Dream Machine; an episodic, indie point-and-click adventure game I have already enthusiastically previewed and now finally get to properly review. Well, properly review its first two chapters to be precise, as apparently the third and far from final one is just around the corner and not quite available yet. Besides, reviewing unreleased stuff can be quite tricky. Impossible some might say.

Now, following my urge to simply instruct you dear reader/minion-thing to immediately hop over to the Dream Machine site and grab it -for it is a great game indeed- would be way easier, but something tells me this wouldn't be much of a review then.

Anyway, let us now focus on the picture posted above. How could we describe it? Well, beautiful I suppose. Unique might come in handy too. And stylish. Yes, yes, deeply atmospheric also. Slightly ominous is another one. Definitely nice. Then again the word we are indeed looking for here is handcrafted. Yes, as in properly, physically, manually crafted using traditional non-digital components. Everything you'll see in the game -every backdrop, every character, every animation- was actually created by hand and photographed. This dear friend is 3D, but not of the 3D Studio kind:

Stunning visuals aside, the Dream Machine is an impressively good and rather traditional indie game of the point-and-click sort, that is less traditionally played via a browser and somehow manages to save your process in a cloud; or was that clouds? I frankly wouldn't know. Steam also sports some sort of a cloud they tell me, but I'm pretty sure I was once taught clouds are made of steam and, well, did I mention it's a great game? It is. And it's got a great and appropriate soundtrack to go with it too.

The puzzles, though relatively easy, are varied, excellently integrated in the plot and -importantly- never feel out of place or immersion-breaking. In the surreal and perfectly paced story of the game, after all, oddness feels integral. Besides, and without wanting to spoil anything from the plot which slowly progress from helping a likeable young couple find its way around a new apartment to discovering some rather disturbing truths, I really wouldn't care much for another vaguely disguised take on Tolkien and/or Stoker, let alone another half-baked adventure pathetically apeing genre classics. This actually is a truly original game that manages its characters, storytelling and twists way better than your average Hollywood movie.

Oh, and The Dream Machine is also one of those rare few game that constantly evoke the sense of wonder and excitement the games of yore used to. One simply can't expect the wonderfully wonderful wonders awaiting around the next corner and I can't help but feel this is what games were supposed to be all about. 

Verdict: A wonderful, smart, visually stunning, polished and downright brilliant adventure game. Buy it. Now.

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Sep 18, 2011

Hot off the presses: Adventure Lantern

It's a Sunday and I frankly don't have much time on Sundays, though admittedly I do have less time on Saturdays and it was only yesterday (most definitely a Saturday) the latest issue of everyone's favourite adventure gaming magazine Adventure Lantern was released. This can of course only mean one thing: you can download the September issue of Adventure Lantern by following this very lovely link. The issue features reviews of two Adam's Venture games, The Immortals, Dracula 2 and King's Quest remake The Silver Lining: What is Decreed Must Be. Have a fine read; I have to water the plants. 

Sep 15, 2011

A spoiler-free Blackwell Deception preview

Having just finished playing through certain lovely bits of Blackwell Deception, the fourth installment in the Blackwell saga, I'm elated to announce that a) the game has been officially announced, b) its hefty demo is waiting to be downloaded, c) pre-orders have been made available and d) it's a very good adventure indeed. Really! You can verify everything I've said by clicking over to the very special web-space Wadjet Eye Games have joyously created.

But what is Blackwell Deception? Well, just in case you're having some sort of memory lapsus dear reader, let me remind you it, just like predecessors, is a commercial, indie, point-and-click adventure with traditional yet interesting mechanics, a full voice-over, a lovely soundtrack and excellent pixel-art, retro-esque graphics. It also is the latest entry in a series all about guiding psychic detectives Rosa and Joey (only one of them is corporeal and alive, mind) through intriguing and slightly dark mysteries and having them lead stray ghost to eternal rest, while modestly saving the day.

Actually, scrap that, here's what I'll do instead: I'll link you to understanding and save all them precious words for the thing's review. Cunning, eh? Just have a look at the Gnome's Lair reviews of Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound and Blackwell Convergence and you'll sort everything out. Failing that, there's also a pretty enlightening Dave Gilbert interview available for your reading pleasure.

Now, as this very post is supposed to be a preview, I wont go into much detail about Blackwell Deception, but will admit that I was once again pleasantly surprised by the fact the series is far from stagnating. The games do impressively seem to be getting bigger, better and more polished with every episode released and I can't help but get the feeling that the Blackwell series is maturing to become a true classic. Its two playable characters constantly evolve and become both more interesting and believable, the integration of gameplay and story becomes all the more seamless, subtle innovations are introduced and everything feels so much more polished. 

Deception, in particular, does look better than any Blackwell game before it, sports the customary top quality voice acting and soundtrack, and is fantastically animated by brilliant pixel artist and game designer Ben 304. What's more, the interface has been further streamlined, the game is much lengthier than the previous chapters and the plot -besides being perfectly standalone- does actually progress the wider over-arching story. And don't get me started on the characers' portraits, the multitude of new ghosts or the simple elegance of certain puzzles; that might just end up being too spoilery.

As for Blackwell's New York, well, it remains as Woody Allen-esque as ever... Slightly dark, well thought out, occasionally funny, vaguely threatening, rich, interesting and definitely pre-order worthy. 

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Sep 14, 2011

Misfortune: a piratey BETA

Misfortune, one of those freemium offerings facebook seems to favour, has been around for quite some time now, provided of course a few weeks would be considered quite some time now. Now, being a lover of all things indie and free, and following a kind invitation by one of its creators, well, I decided to take a look and let you precious reader know whether this would be a pass-time worthy of your lofty status or not; apparently and happily, it is.

The game is a refreshingly old-fashioned CRPG -that's a Computer Role Playing Game, I oddly feel the urge to remind you- quite reminiscent of Dungeon Master, what with its first-person, tile-based, puzzle-featuring mechanics. What's more, Misfortune is much more than a tribute to the RPGs of yore that can be played in a browser. Oh, no. It's a very well written and verbose game that never fails to raise a smile, while wisely avoiding them generic fantasy settings and going instead for a Monkey Island-esque take on pirate folklore, which frankly suits me fine. Actually the plot and setting are its strongest and most impressive assets.

On the other hand, this being a product of its era, it does tend to go for a more casual approach to roleplaying. The interface is simple, the puzzles are simple, the graphics are simple and the combat is incredibly simple, while each mission/quest is pretty short, meaning that Misfortune should be perfect both for the casual crowds and of course for the lucky people that aren't unemployed just yet. As for me, getting my 30 minutes fix every day or so seems to work brilliantly; you could also join the fun over here too, you know. Oh, and do know the game is still in BETA; not that you'd notice, but we should all understand that things will improve even further.

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Sep 8, 2011

Excellent Free Games For Falling Leaves

Ah, yes, freeware games. How we all love them, don't we? Even more so when they are of the indie persuasion, brimming with quality, polish and innovation. You know, just like the following seven offerings that have been hand-picked for you quality gaming entertainment. There's something for everyone mind; enjoy! 

Warthogs: People that not necessarily hate but, well, dislike Harry Potter and love adventure games should probably love this little gem. It's a short, sweet, beautifully pixelated, impressively crafted and occasionally sarcastic AGS offering. Interestingly, Warthogs is a also a very good adventure game too, and one discovered by the ever brilliant Indie Games Blog

Reprisal: Only a demo one has to admit, but such a promising one (one has to also admit). Oh, and everybody will have to further admit that Reprisal is an incredibly intriguing take on Populous, which itself hasn't been properly remade for ages. Not that I'm talking about a remake; what we have here is more of something inspired by Populous. Obviously something that let's you raise mountains and destroy virtual lives too.

Ultima IV: A freebie that will let you enjoy (relatively speaking that is) the Quest of the Avatar on modern PCs complete with a PDF assortment of manuals, maps and spellbooks. Just don't expect to be overly thrilled. This is an archaic and badly aged roleplaying offering with an infuriating morals mechanic and a demented parser; still, it's somehow considered a classic so there.

Forget Me Not: You could of course pay and grab this psychedelic Pac-Man-esque thing for your iDevice (should you own one), but the free PC version is just so much better. And rather unique too, as you get to blast an impressive menagerie of vaguely recognizable baddies. Excellent fun for the extended family this one! Besides, grandpa would never get to manage them touch-screen controls.

Cryptozookeeper: A huge, polished, well-written and lavishly illustrated piece of interactive fiction I have yet to finish. Should you enjoy its weird animals, tons of characters, lovely soundtrack, odd visuals and splatterpunk-iness, you'd be better off grabbing the boxed version available. You'd also be helping the rise of a new era of text adventures, which would be really nice.

Maldita Castilla: Locomalito, that amazing indie developer, plays with the Ghosts 'n' Goblins formula. Why? For love, culture and glory of course, and in order to create a pretty brilliant action platformer with a distinct retro feel. The game is short, looks spectacular and sounds like a proper arcade machine. It's not too hard either.

Hero's Adventure: Disturbing and over in 30 seconds, that's what it is, yet I love it. It reminds me of certain teen experiences I might have had. What's more, Hero's Adventure is a truly smart and cynical take on top-down CRPGs. And Terry Cavanagh created it. And I love it, but I already said so, didn't I?

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Sep 6, 2011

The Syberia Collection Review

With the advent and admitted affordability of downloadable games one can easily forget just how lovely a properly packaged offering can actually feel. Yes, even by today's meager standards, the physicality of a box, a modest manual, a sleeve and an actual DVD can be rather satisfying. Especially when sporting a most affordable price tag, which, oh so conveniently, happens to be the case of the Syberia Collection.

Said collection of the almost classic and definitely well known Syberia, Syberia II and Amerzone adventures, you see, is much cheaper to grab in a DVD-case than its online/download only equivalents, which does indeed confuse my vaguely economological mind, but definitely sounds great. Being thus confused and all, I do also believe the thing should have been called The Benoit Sokal Collection, as Amerzone most emphatically is not a Syberia game.

Now, as most adventurers know, all three games are fine point-and-click specimens that managed to make an impression during the darkest period of the genre and are still absolutely worth playing and owning. Especially if one is into this sort of thing (i.e. considers oneself an adventure gamer), as all three have been designed with the traditonal point-and-click gamer in mind. The re-mastered versions included in the collection seem pretty much identical to the original ones, though I must admit I haven't played those since their respective releases and can't be absolutely sure whether minor enhancements have been included or not. What does matter though is that everything runs lovely and glitch-free under both Windows 7 and Vista, meaning that these are indeed the versions to own.

As for the misguided souls that haven't tried any of the games on offer yet, let me just say they all feature excellent art -Mr. Sokal is after all a most talented comic artist- classic gameplay mechanics, great soundtracks, mostly easy but well-integrated puzzles, traditional interfaces, brilliant settings and pretty decent plots. The two Syberias in particular are played from a third person perspective and take place in a whimsical clockwork-operated world, whereas the first-person Amerzone is set in a fantastical version of a thinly disguised Amazon rainforest.

What's more and judging by the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed replaying all three of the games on offer, I must admit they have all aged gracefully. Might even have to accept the fact they are, despite their flaws, great adventures I would probably had appreciated more weren't I comparing them to Grim Fandango and Gabriel Knight III

Verdict: A collection of three classic and traditional adventures at an excellent price. Genre lovers shouldn't miss it.

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