Feb 28, 2012

Continue Issue #1

It's already been covered, I know, but it seems I've actually forgotten to let you know that the first issue of Continue has finally been made available. For quite some time now too. And it's a brilliant read, eloquently covering all aspects of gaming and impressively surpassing my already lofty expectations. Do yourself a favour and read it reader.

Feb 27, 2012

IndieRoyale's Alpha Collection

You might remember the incredibly promising co-op puzzler Wyv and Keep I previewed some time ago, but, even if you don't, well that's what links are for. Besides, Wyv and Keep isn't the only still-in-development game that IndieRoyale's excellent Alpha Collection is offering for the very reasonable price of pay-what-you-want. Oh, no. It comes complete with the very intriguing fantasy city builder Towns and blocky FPS/RPG thingy 3079. Grab them, support the devs, play the current builds of the games and track their evolution to finished offerings with a help of a truly refreshing bundle.

Feb 23, 2012

The Teasing Journey Down

The first episode of The Journey Down was released in 2010 and was a huge critical success that also, very happily, resonated with the tasteful adventure gaming masses. It was played by tens of thousands and even managed to earn 11 of them coveted AGS Awards, including Best Game, Best Gameplay, Best Music, Best Character Art and Best Background Art. Why? Well, why not find out yourself by actually playing it reader? It's still available -for free- over at Skygoblin and looks as lovely as ever.

Then again, this would merely be the first version of the game; the retro-looking one. The stunning trailer you see above, the one with those amazing graphics and that impressive audioscape, is a teaser for the forthcoming and incredibly promising commercial version of the game. Indeed, The Journey Down is evolving into something much bigger and all indie loving point-and-clickers should be more than happy. It will be available for PC, Mac and eventually them smartphones. 

The Book of Unwritten Tales Sale

Having already enthusiastically reviewed The Book of Unwritten Tales, I simply had to let you know about your chance to grab said already modestly priced masterpiece for even cheaper. 33% cheaper to be precise, provided of course you hurry over to King Art's Hooray-Adventures-Are-Not-Dead-Sale. The sale will end on the 15th of March. 

Feb 22, 2012

The Fabulous Screech

I have to admit to being a rather cynical bastard. Well, a constructively cynical one admittedly, meaning that in our dark times I do try to shield myself from sentimentality and focus on what has to be (mostly politically) done. Have been reading much more David Harvey than Novalis lately, I'm afraid. Have been trying to ignore the personal in favour of the societal too. 

And then Jonas and Verena Kyratzes go on and release something like The Fabulous Screech. Something so whimsical, so wonderful, so obviously yet collectively personal, so subtle, so funny, so deeply touching, that, well, I was touched. Really, actually touched. And I frankly didn't expect such things could still happen, not unless the human condition itself were involved. Not that it isn't, mind. Besides, the game itself is a sweet gift.

Go on, give it a try. It wont take more than 20 minutes to see all its glorious secrets and enjoy the metaphysical circus only a cat could create, only a Verena could draw and only a Jonas could imagine. The Fabulous Screech can happily be enjoyed in the comfort of your own browser and, though absolutely free to experience, will ask you to click and think. Or is that click and feel? Ah, well, the Lands of Dream can be a most confusing place indeed.

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Feb 21, 2012

Discover Incursion with the help of an interview

This picture should tell you everything you'd need to get all excited about forthcoming indie game Incursion by Cube Noir, but bits of extra info never hurt anyone. For starters and after having already played an early (and short) demo of the game I can't help but be deeply intrigued about this ambitious, text-based, story-heavy offering. Then there's an interview with designer Peter Moorhead to further enlighten you: 

Who are you, oh people of the ominous Cube Noir?

I'm Peter Moorhead, typically going by the online alias "gazornonplat", and I'm a British seventeen-year-old studying Computer Science, English Literature, and Film Making. I'm the programmer and creative director for Cube Noir, and started it up single-handedly and with no funding whatsoever about eight months back, although I originally started working on Incursion about a year and four months ago independently. People were asking me about whether or not the project was going to cost money, and that they'd happily pay a few bob for it, so I decided to turn it into something more ambitious, and since then I've brought a few talented people on-board to help make it a reality.

What else is there to say? I love electronic music, anime, Converse All Stars, and ramen. That's me.

And what is Incursion?

Incursion is what we're calling a "new-age text-based adventure game"; it's a story-driven, text-heavy game set in a classic Sword & Sorcery universe. It also features beautiful pixel art from Brian Callahan, and an enchanting soundtrack by Nick Borrego.

Will it be a commercial game?

We're planning to charge around $50, and then release a few $15 DLCs over the following six months.

No, haha. We're planning to charge very little for Incursion, around $5 or so. We might release a few limited edition copies that cost more than that, but they'll have some really awesome content to make the extra dough worthwhile.

We're also planning to release the game's soundtrack, some original artwork, and hey, maybe I'll print out a little bit of the source code and sign it if people are interested, haha.

The first demos of the game seem both refreshingly innovative and very promising. What are you aiming for?

We're aiming to streamline the classic text-based adventure game mechanics into something that is much more accessible, while still reminiscent of those amazing titles. The final game should be a satisfying non-linear experience, with several interconnecting story-arcs, and multiple endings.

Many people will hate it, but some will love it.

How did you decide on a text-based, narrative-rich game? How will it play?

Well I was a writer and critic before I was a developer, so I had a lot of criticisms about how most games handled non-linear storytelling, as well as some ideas about how they could go about it better. I feel like most games tell a story that is far too focused on wholly good or bad events, and that this isn't realistic or engaging. Shakespeare said; "All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players", and he couldn't have been more right; anyone who has been alive long enough to be reading this will know that life is full of good and bad experiences, and in fact, what is life if not our own little collection of unique experiences? There is no karma, no payback, your happiness or misfortune are not always a direct results of your actions, and so an engaging story should reflect this.

Thus is the aim for Incursion's gameplay; you'll have some good and bad experiences, but there will be no predictable and unrealistic moral compass that determines the proportion of each. Just because you followed Lassie and rescued the little boy who fell down the well, that doesn't mean that in the next level you'll find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Where did Incursion draw its inspiration upon?

Oh man, all over the place. It's different for each team member, but my biggest inspirations in gaming were Zork, Unreal II: The Awakening, The Legend of Zelda, Jordan Mechner's Prince of Persia, Superbrother's: Sword & Sworcery, Half Life, Super Meat Boy, and many, many others. I can't possibly name them all.

Christine Love's Digital: A Love Story was probably my most significant inspiration to make a game like this, even though the similarities aren't all that obvious. That game made me cry, man. Incursion is even developed with the same technology that she used, since I began teaching myself Ren'Py right after I finished her game. Everyone who cares about story or player immersion in games at all needs to play it.

Could you tell us a bit more on those lovable chunky and pixel-arty graphics of the game?

Brian can take full credit for the amazing art. He says he likes the original artwork I did while I was working on my own, but it's really not even comparable. If I had to put an estimate on it, I'd say his was about a few million times better.

He was a perfect fit for the project; he'd always wanted to make a game but lacked the coding knowledge, whereas I'd was capable with code but crap at making art. He's really, really passionate about his work, and spends a lot of time perfecting and animating each piece.

He was inspired largely by Superbrother's: Sword & Sworcery, and also by Salvador Dali, and Eyvind Earle, in fact, at one point the artwork of Incursion was heavily reminiscent of Eyvind Earle's 1950s work, but we had to reign it back in because, while unique and beautiful, it didn't really mesh so well with the rest of the game, and there was only so much you could do with that style.

He also has a blog at househeadstudios.wordpress.com which he updates pretty regularly, mostly with Incursion artwork, so be sure to follow him there if you want to get a sneak peak at new art assets.

When should we expect the released of Incursion?

I can't make any promises, but we're shooting for some time around December 2012 or January 2013 for PC, Mac and Linux. We might also do an Android port if the demand is there.

What other unique traits will the game sport?

The soundtrack is fully dynamic! Nick does a great job of separating and transitioning pieces, so that the changes in tone of each level are smooth and unique to the player's pace. This means that it doesn't matter whether it takes you ten minutes or thirty seconds to progress to the next scene, the changes in soundtrack will still fit perfectly.

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Feb 20, 2012

The Return of Resonance

Vince Twelve, the tall person responsible for the cheekily named indie ensemble xii games and the creator of such gems as Anna and What  Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed, is happily and most definitely back. What's more, he's not come empty handed either. Oh no, he's got Resonance with him.

Now, Resonance is one of those games I've been eagerly awaiting ever since it was announced (and promptly blogged on Gnome's Lair) back in 2007 and haven't mentioned since the final days of 2008. Nor have I seen anything really new about it since that lovely and happily successful Kickstarter campaign, that did admittedly provide us with an incredibly intriguing playable glimpse at the game.

Apparently though, the wait is over as Vince has secretly been working with Wadjet Eye Games for over a year now and the game will actually be released within this very year; probably even early this summer. It will also, as the Wadjet Eye tradition dictates, come with a full professional voice-over that will feature the voice of Logan Cunningham. Yes, that is the voice of the excellent narrator in Bastion.

As for the game itself, it has always been an incredibly ambitious and visually rich adventure game of the indie variety. Interestingly and despite the retro-inspired look and feel of Resonance, it will try to innovate in numerous ways by sporting a unique rewind mechanism, short and long term memory inventories and four playable characters. Judging by the works of Vince and that early demo I mentioned above, you'll be amazed reader!

Keep your eyes (and internets) focused here and here (but also, well, here actually). Exciting things are bound to be unveiled. The stars are right.  

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Feb 16, 2012

Unmanned by Molleindustria and Jim Munroe

I can't understand how people can get all excited when talking about those deadly modern warplanes, without even thinking about dead children, destroyed buildings and bombed hospitals. I don't know, I might be weird, but that is actually the only thing a F-15 can do; who in their right mind could care about its engines and its acceleration? Heartless bastards, you say. Right, I see. Back to gaming with me then. Back to Unmanned to be precise.

Ah, see you haven't followed that link yet dear reader. Well, you should, for Unmanned is an insightful and deeply innovative game about being an operator of one of those newfangled unmanned airplanes certain armies enjoy deploying. It's a game about choices and ideologies. A game about the real terror of war and the mostly normal people inflicting it. It also is a game I will not further spoil. And a masterpiece.

Feb 14, 2012

A zombie-infested Metal Dead review

Even though one of the loudest clubs of my youth is no more, metal music is far from dead. Just like the demise of Sierra and the sad Star Wars-fueled downward spiral of Lucasarts never really spelled the end of the adventure game as a popular genre and a quality alternative to the mindless, militaristic shooting of things, heavy metal is still happily around. And no, I'm neither talking about that Kickstarter thing nor about Brutal Legend. I'm talking about Metal Dead.

My dear reader shouldn't be surprised to find out that Metal Dead (by shiny, new indie developer Walk Thru Walls) is indeed a 2D point-and-click adventure created with AGS. We both, after all, do love a good adventure and Metal Dead is a very good one indeed. And it feels fresh and funny too.
No, not really... Even cops are well-written in Metal Dead. I'm amazed!
Metal Dead is, you see, the closest we've come to the brilliance of Maniac Mansion since, well Maniac Mansion. It's the Shaun of the Dead of adventure gaming. It's a tongue-in-cheek take on the zombie genre that's more surreal and smart than an open, and usually clumsy, parody. It's odd, smart, funny, delightfully weird and capable of taking the tired zombies theme and turning it into something smart and quirky (admittedly with a little help from heavy metal music and the assorted stereotypes).

The game, a very traditional inventory-based and dialog-driven point-and-clicker, manages to masterfully weave the essentially non-violent and slow paced nature of the adventure game around an action-packed and ultra-violent theme, while impressively maintaining the light-hearted and surreal feel of the finest of Lucasarts and Sierra offerings. Happily, the blood-splattered humorous feel is also to be found in the game's puzzles, which, though generally easy, are logical, well integrated and actually fun.

Though pretty short (stopping the zombie apocalypse shouldn't take more than 5 hours), Metal Dead stays refreshingly silly and engaging throughout and never outstays its welcome, while constantly offering a response for absolutely anything you might think of doing and, of course, something surreal to do. You'll be talking with the severed zombified head of your best mate (an ingenious hint system), killing zombies, saving doctors, unlocking hilarious achievements and murdering mutated cannabis plants, all the while combining items, engaging in brilliant dialogues and even guessing passwords. 

Things do actually get very bloody indeed.
On the audiovisual side of things, well, things are simple but effective. There is no voice-over and only a few tracks of music, but you'll probably never complain. Imagining the sound of the characters' voices is something I always enjoyed... Oh, and I do quite love the graphics. Simple, clean, unique and very expressive.

Verdict: You'll love the bloody humour. You'll love the plot. You'll love the characters. You'll love the puzzles. You'll love the price. Buy it.

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Feb 9, 2012

Schafer, Gilbert and the Double Fine Adventure!

It was bound to happen you know. Adventures, you see, can't help but happen when Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer work within 100 meters of each other and apparently that's exactly what has recently been going on over at Double Fine. Well, that and discussions with Notch on Psychonauts 2, as well as attempts to port the (allegedly) excellent Stacking to the PC, but anything pointable-and-clickable is vastly more important than anything else.

Especially as a small, elite team of Double Fine comrades -with the help of Ron Gilbert and under the guidance of Tim Schafer- will actually go on and create a traditionally proper point-and-click adventure game. You know, of the sort that has been dying those past 15 years. No, really. There's a pretty excellent Kickstarter campaign that has been going on for the past few hours and rather impressively showcasing the fact that adventures are very much alive. Almost $300,000 have been raised in much less than half a day; is the FPS dead yet?

Now that you've hopefully watched the trailer, I could go on and mention just how important the fact that Double Fine will be doing everything the indie way is, or maybe highlight the equally intriguing fact that the process of creating the game will be both (relatively) open and documented (as in a documentary), but that would simply delay you in your task of supporting the creation of the Double Fine Adventure. There's a ton of lovely and even extravagant goodies to be grabbed.

[UPDATE]: Goal reached and it's only been a couple hours... Three cheers for dead genres!

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Feb 7, 2012

Play SF: the sci-fi gaming magazine

Richie Shoemaker, an excellent writer who has enlightened and entertained us via the pages of such prestigious gaming magazines as PC Zone, Retro Gamer and C&VG, is preparing something new and special that is none other than the forthcoming Play SF mag. A computer and video gaming magazine that has decided to cover the futuristic and at times dystopian world of space and science-fiction gaming.

Play SF will be a bi-monthly, digital-only publication that, Richie Shoemaker aside, will also feature the eclectic talents of Jamie Malcom, Paul Presley, Emma Boyes, Brian Rubin, Harry Slater and Adam Tingle. The first issue seems to be very close to being released and it will be something I will definitely be grabbing and happily reading.

Play SF, you see, has already pushed all the right buttons. It will be PC focused (but not PC only), it will cover both new and old games, it already looks fantastic, it has wisely decided to cover all the varied and exquisite types of sci-fi, it will not ignore indie game releases and, above all, it will not provide with review scores! If that doesn't look like a quality magazine worth its ultra-low asking price, well, I really don't know what to say. Or do I? 

Oh, I do; I'll also let you know that Play SF is being published with the help of Zinio; the Steam of of the magazine world apparently, meaning that you can expect to be able to handily sample, buy and read your magazine on a variety of platforms. What's more, the first issue will cover a rather lovely selection of games including X-Wing, X3, The Old Republic, Transarctica (!), XCOM and even Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Dawn. Here is the magazine's site (in case you missed the previous link you absentminded reader, you) and here are a couple lovely page samples from issue #1 to further excite you:

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Feb 6, 2012

The Cat That Got The Milk

Not wholly dissimilar to the excellent Swift & Stitch, the recently released The Cat That Got The Milk is a freeware indie game you, oh tasteful protector of the arts of a reader, should definitely try. At its basis, you see, The Cat That Got The Milk is a simple yet well designed twitch-arcade game that only lets you go up or down and handily press space to skip a level. Said simplicity is a wise choice* and will not make enjoying the game's artful take on modern art (and Russian constructivism) a chore; it is, after all, this take exactly (and those exquisite visuals too) that sets The Cat apart. 

Anyway. You can see a magnificent, moving and quite playable version of Kandinsky's work and find out what I'm talking about by following this very link. And apparently by pressing space quite a bit.

*if you are in a rather more hardcore gaming mood, well, the game can also offer quite a challenge. And some pretty lofty high-score goals too. 

Feb 3, 2012

A Valley Without Wind Interview

Despite not having particularly enjoyed either Minecraft or Terraria there is one game sporting crafting that I simply love and it's none other than A Valley Without Wind by Arcen Games. Must have something to do with its brilliantly alienating and definitely unique setting, its strategic elements, its procedural landscapes, its crisp yet delightfully odd graphics, its deep combat system and its excellent arcade-adventure-exploration gameplay methinks... Anyway, here's Erik Johnson explaining us stuff and telling us what the future holds.

A Valley Without Wind, its ever-evolving BETA to be precise, has been out for quite some time now. Have you been happy with the coverage of the press and the engagement of the gaming public?

In some ways, open development seeks its own attention, and we've been sharing information about A Valley Without Wind's progress since February of last year -- just three weeks into development. So to answer the question, yes, we're happy with it, both through people contacting us about the game and through our efforts to seek coverage from some key members of the gaming press.

As for the gaming public, we find that those who have tried the demo and/or bought into the full beta have really taken to it, some logging in hundreds of hours in the first few months of the beta's availability. The critical thing for us is to just get people to try the game, because we find when people give it a try, they tend to really enjoy it.

You've been providing us with steady and at times really impressive (let alone, huge) updates. What does the future hold? Will the game keep expanding and getting better indefinitely? What major additions could we expect?

At the moment we're gearing up for the final phase of AVWW's beta stage. That puts the game's 1.0 version roughly 8-10 weeks away (not accounting for any unforeseen issues that may come up). Obviously that makes it an extremely exciting time for us with official release coming up rather quick (likely prior to our PAX East showing in April.) That said, our development schedule is to continue to update the game well past the game's launch just as we have throughout the beta. It all really depends on how the game does sales-wise, and subsequently how long after release the community wants to see it expand and evolve. As long as we have a fair amount of people who'd like us to continue to update the game, that's precisely what we have planned -- much the same as we've done with our space strategy title AI War over the last couple years.

Major additions are difficult to predict in a lot of ways, because we tend to work in collaboration with the players to brainstorm and refine the core vision of the game. We have our immutable design goals that we continue to work towards, and everyone is welcome to join AVWW's forums to share any ideas in the active brainstorming section.

How radically can we expect the game to change?

The past several weeks the game has been through a series of those, and is just finishing up with one more bout of fairly major changes, so hopefully we're settled in for a while with most of the radical stuff behind us. That's definitely one of the main purposes of the beta: to get the game to a point where the majority of our current player base finds it fun and engaging. However, if there's something that's in need of drastic change, count on it being addressed, whether before or after launch.

Also meant to ask you: When will AVWW be considered finished? Will there be some sort of official, more or less final release?

As far as being finished, as in no more updates, it will probably be years before we consider it absolutely done. AI War is currently on version 5.0, two and a half years after its own 1.0 release, and it still isn't "done" with another expansion planned for later on this year. Again though, it's all really based on community support.

Regardless of the post-release support, 1.0 for the game is intended to be a self-contained, satisfying experience even if players never chose to update beyond that version. That's the point where we start seeking reviews rather than previews, and courting a larger audience, before we continue evolving the game on top of that foundation.

Now, for those that have criminally not joined AVWW, how would you describe the game?

The game is a 2D side-scrolling action adventure (read: Metroidvania) that hearkens back to the 16-bit era, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world that's been ravaged by an ice age along with several other factors. As the player, you take on the role of a glyph bearer, a chosen one of the Ilari, a mysterious race of non-corporeal beings that look after what's left of the planet Environ. (This is a very different world from our own.)

There's heavy emphasis on exploration, crafting, spellcasting, civilization building, and tactical missions. AVWW is procedurally generated, so no two players' worlds will be alike, and with content updates arriving all the time, there's always something new out there to discover, new resources to harvest, and new enemies to battle.

And why did you decide to add strategic elements to the already rich action-adventure-exploration-crafting gameplay mix?

Because at our core, Arcen is a strategy game development team, that's especially true about our programmers Chris and Keith. They both live and love strategy. We're known at the moment primarily for AI War, an intensive strategy affair we're still updating and expanding, and our puzzle game Tidalis, which while not in the same genre, includes its own bag of strategic elements.

Like Tidalis, Valley is considered to be in a genre that doesn't innately bring about thoughts of a strategy game, but having a variety of methods to solve a problem just sounds like a better experience for more people. I'm not at all a natural at strategy games, but I find the inclusion of those elements in the game gives players more of a choice, even allowing development of individual play-styles as they explore and interact with their respective world.

In more recent versions of the game, the game has actually taken on both more and less strategic elements. More in the sense that we're tying in more and more strategic decisions, and have implemented an "Enemy Progress" concept that is very much the same idea as "AI Progress" is in AI War. But also less, in the sense that we no longer are including a traditional strategic-style map overlay -- we've no longer split our interface into two. Instead of trying to mash two very different game interfaces together, we've opted to make all the strategic bits controlled through the existing action-adventure interface. Most of the core decisions boil down to what missions you undertake, what spells you craft, and otherwise what you choose to do in order to thwart the overlord of each continent.

How about the utterly unique look of the game?

Our intention was to pay tribute to some of the classic 16-bit games of our childhood, while still creating our own feel and an entirely original setting. We've received plenty of positive feedback on it thus far, especially later into beta as some of the rougher edges have been polished off.

As I mentioned, Environ is a very unusual place, and our aim was to have that reflected in the visual style. When we showed the game at MineCon the various locales and enemies (specifically the bosses) took many attendees by surprise. Abandoned futuristic buildings, quiet snowy expanses, and lush undergrounds fertile with flora and fauna closer to what would be described in fairy tales as opposed to anything real. Odd, intimidating creatures that seemed to intrigue as much as strike a bit of fear into players--and that was only the intro portion of the game! Several asked about what else there was to find/fight out there, and where else they could go if they played deeper into the game. That part specifically hooked them in. It was fun to watch.

We've certainly seen the reader comments on some of the press coverage the game's received questioning the incongruity of the artwork. All we can say to these people: Download the demo. Try it out. We think it's quite pretty ourselves, and we've found that screenshots and YouTube videos (even high definition ones) just don't do the art justice compared to actually playing the game. There are details that only at full resolution you're able to see, and a lot of subtle animation that gives life to the exteriors in particular.

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Feb 2, 2012

Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass

Wadjet Eye Games has definitely earned my attention. Let me tell you this wasn't easy reader, but, after playing seven of its rather brilliant adventure games, I have mentally awarded the studio with my spotless record award (disclaimer: doesn't actually exist yet), and am thus always eager to find out what its been working on. So, what has it been working on? Easy; on none other than Da New Guys: Day of the Jackassa game that, not unlike Full Throttle, is a humorous point-and-clicker that a lesser developer would have turned into some sort of action, button-mashing thingy.

Happily then, Wadjet Eye and Chris Burton (for this is indeed a collaborative project) didn't do anything of the sort and have instead come up with a novel, delightfully odd, obviously humorous and unavoidably surreal adventure game set in the delightfully violent world of professional wrestling. The plot is centered all around Brain, a professionally misguided wrestler who has somehow used a table and won the championship belt, promptly gotten himself abducted and is thus now in need of being saved by a most eclectic and unlikely wrestling team. Right. Better watch the trailer I suppose:

Then again, it would be even better if you actually played the demo; it has just been released and will easily convince you of the quality of the game's humour, animation, writing and puzzles, while showing off its voice-acting talents and multiple playable characters, and simultaneously making you crave for more. Sadly, that more bit will have to wait a while till the 29th of February; the very day Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass will be properly released.

For now, all you can do is play (and replay) the demo and of course pre-order the actual game. The download-only version will set you back a mere $9.99, whereas the complete, extras-packed boxed offering a very modest $19.9. Mind you, the boxed edition will only be available during the pre-order period, so, uhm, better pre-order!

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