Archive for the ‘Indie gaming’ Category

I’m back, I’m back (but not in demin)

8 December, 2009

The novel reached the 50,000 words demanded by NaNoWriMo quite easily but it’s only about half-finished! T’is something of an epic, really.

"What? Write an article? Begone, medieval wench!"

Anyway, I don’t have a full article for you yet because, er, um… ooh, look

what’s that?! Why it’s Bob Smith’s Stranded for the ZX Spectrum, now ‘undenianced’ and available for free download. And, if you like that, why not buy the sequel from Cronosoft for whatever reasonable price it’s going for?

What? You still want to know about articles? Well, erm, to be perfectly honest I’m not quite sure what to write about. I’ve been playing quite a lot of

Daggerfall recently (now available as a free download from publishers Bethesda) and someone suggested last night that I give Dwarf Fortress a try so I might do something on one of those games. Or both of them. Or I might do one of those Sega Megadrive games I keep meaning to write about. We’ll see.

Manic Miner the Lost Levels

28 October, 2009

MMLLIt’s here! Manic Miner the Lost Levels is a collaborative project by coders Headsoft and journalist and videogame historian Stuart Campbell which came about after the latter wrote an article in Retro Gamer magazine about the “missing” Manic Miner levels: platform-specific extra stages which appeared when Matthew Smith’s 1983 ZX Spectrum classic was ported to various other home computers. The short of it is, these various levels (50 in total – more that double the number of screens in the original game) were hunted-down, documented and then used to create a whole “new” Manic Miner game for the DS with tarted-up modern (well, more-modern) graphics and sound.

Whilst it can be played on emulator, it really wants to be played on a proper DS. Download it from its website here.

I’ve not played it yet, but when I do expect a review to appear on this ‘ere blog o’ mine.

EDIT: I made an error (how unlike me, ahem)! Apparently, the number of “lost” Manic Miner levels actually comes to 20, the same as the number of stages in the original game. The 50 levels in the DS game includes new levels by the programmers. So there.

Machinarium demo

21 October, 2009


Just a quick post to let you know that a demo version of Machinarium is available to play online. It’s a point-and-click adventure/puzzle game for Windows, Linux and Mac by Czech indie company Amanita Design and, according to Wonkypedia, the money to finance the project came out of the developers’ own pockets.

Gameplay-wise, it’s a mixture of the Monkey Island games and the old Gobliiins series on the 16-bit machines but the really striking thing about the game is the visuals which look absolutely gorgeous even though they’re mostly of robots and things that look like they’ve been made out of scrap metal. Music and sound are also well above-average and, as is common in games of this type these days, there’s an enormous amount of character in the protagonist and the various other machines he meets.

Play the demo version on its website and, if you like it and you’ve got the readies to spare, buy a copy so that Amanita can refill their pockets and we, hopefully, can see more of this kind of thing.

Spelunky 1.0

20 September, 2009
"This is as far as Dangerous got, just before he was perforated by a completely hidden spear"

Newer, shinier, V1.0-ier

I mentioned in a post a while back how much I love Spelunky the excellent procedurally-generated platform game where you whip snakes, avoid piranhas and steal gold. Well, the game’s programmer Derek Yu has finally got around to releasing the first non-beta build of the game, V1.0, and it can now be downloaded from its very own website.

Data used in previous versions seems to carry-over into the new version without any problems, just copy-across the relevant files from the game’s root directory.

Even better news for XBox360 owners – apparently a special version is being written (presumably for download from XBox Live Arcade) and pencilled-in for a 2010 release!

Now, if only a Nintendo DS release were forthcoming…

Why aren’t you all playing ‘Homebrew’?

12 September, 2009
Alcohol brewed from fruits dropped by shot bees? That's sure to be good!

Alcohol brewed from fruits dropped by shot bees? That's sure to be good!

No, I’m serious. Apparently, not many people have downloaded Jonathan Cauldwell’s new ZX Spectrum game Homebrew which is scandalous.

So, using my amazing powers of persuastion which are almost nearly arguably not quite as good as Derren Brown’s I’m going to (hopefully) convince you all to download it.

For starters, like much of Cauldwell’s work Homebrew is free and not only is there no real excuse for not downloading a freeware game but to not download this one is to thumb your nose at all the hard work Mr C has done (no, not the one out of the Shamen).

Secondly, it’s a great game because it invokes the spirit of the early Ultimate Play the Game titles like Jetpac and Cookie – single screen, baddies all over the place to be shot and a collect-and-drop gaming mechanic. Although, rather than fuelling a spaceship or making  a cake the player is trying to homebrew booze which doubtless wouldn’t have been allowed in commercial gaming in the ’80s lest the kids try it at home and be sick all over the walls.

Thirdly, you play a barrel. I think this is the only game in the history of gaming where you play a barrel. You want to own the only game in the history of gaming where you play a barrel don’t you?

So, go here and download a copy to play on your Spectrum emulator (or real Spectrum if you have the know-how); if you need a Spectrum emulator go here.

Well…. off you trot!

How much does r0x rock (if a rockr0x could rockr0x)?

13 July, 2009
"Rocks to the left of my, nothing to the right, here I am stuck in the middle(ish) with a bonus (erm)"

"#Rocks to the left of me, nothing to the right, here I am stuck in the middle(ish) with a bonus (erm)"

Something I find a little disappointing about the current retro-gaming scene is the lack of new titles being released for the 16-bit platforms. Whilst the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 have a healthy turnover of new indie releases each year fans of the Atari ST, Amiga, SNES, Sega Megadrive et al are usually left standing around wondering why no one wants to write anything new for their platforms at quite the same rate. Given that the Amiga and ST had huge numbers of freeware games published for them each year in their heyday I’ve always found this a little puzzling.

Still, every so often you get what you want (as the Rolling Stones never sang) and so it is that a brand new title for the Atari ST has recently come to light calling itself r0x.

Now, despite what a cursory glance at any screenshots of this game might suggest (see the one top-right) r0x is not a shoot-em-up. It is, for want of a better term, an avoid-em-up. The player takes control of a spaceship and has to fly through asteroid fields and avoid the many rocks that hurtle towards you; as the level proceeds, a timer ticks down and as it reaches closer to zero the rocks start to move faster meaning that the last few “ticks” of a level can get a bit hectic.

Whilst the ship doesn’t have any weapons of the sort you’d expect in a game featuring a player-controlled ship flying through space it isn’t completely unarmed. It carries a form of smart bomb which, when activated with the fire button, will destroy all rocks on screen. These are very limited in number but a good way of getting out of a tight spot.

Whilst most of the things flying through space towards the players doughty little spaceship have no other effect than to smash it into tiny pieces some space debris is useful. Certain rocks can be collected for bonus score (identified by crystals sticking out of them but also by their worth in points helpfully written across their sides) and extra lives, extra smart bombs and letters spelling “E X T R A” (giving, unsurprisingly, an extra life) can also be grabbed from bonus pods. There are a couple of those notorious things known as power-downs to also be found, though, namely “death” pods which destroy the ship and “reverse” pods which reverse the controls. The instructions and intro screen also, respectively, describe and show cosmonauts who can be collected for a bonus although I’ve not come across these yet (I must be too rubbish)*.

r0x (I started a sentence with a small letter because I had to, please don’t tut!) is, at heart, a high-score title and the scoring mechanism is one of this game’s clever features. Whilst the score slowly ticks up as the timer ticks down, bonus points can be achieved by “skimming” the rocks with the ship’s wings adding a strong element of risk/reward to gameplay as you end up trying to scrape the ‘roids in order to grab a few hundred or thousand extra points.

It looks even better animated; you could toast your marshmallows in it

It looks even better animated; you could toast your marshmallows in it

So, I’ve given you the basic overview and the big question now hangs over this review like a friendly white cloud (can cloud’s be friendly? They can now!): is it any good? Well, we’ll go over the answer to that bit by bit shall we? Let’s start with presentation: everything looks and sounds excellent. Amiga and Megadrive owners tended to look down at the ST for its 16-colour display capabilities but in the right hands 16 colours could be used to create bitmaps of beauty and that’s very true here with an excellent blue/yellow metallic/rocky look to everything (and superb fire when the ship thrusts upwards – see the pic for details). As for sound, there’s a rolicking in-game tune which brings to mind Buck Rogers and other pulp sci-fi. This is a game whose visuals and audio are nigh-on perfect and very atmospheric.

As for gameplay, we have something of a mixed bag (albeit one with much more liquorice allsorts than fluffy boiled sweets). Generally, r0x is brilliant stuff with play never being boring and the scoring mechanism making things very often exciting. There are some problems, though; gameplay is a bit repetitive after a while and I thought some audio/visual feedback for when your ship is skimming a rock for points would have been a good idea. I also had some problems with the power ups/downs – first, the “extra life” power up made collecting the “E X T R A” letters feel a bit superflous and tokenistic rather than as vital as they should have been; secondly since the “kill” power-down had the same effect as a rock I felt it might as well have been, well, a rock; finally, the temporary “reverse controls” power-down continues to effect the player after losing a life which is really shitty. I also noticed it was possible to skim rocks for points whilst the player was indestructable during the first few seconds of a new life although whether that’s a good or bad thing is debatable. In addition to these, I came across a couple of bugs namely a “score” rock killing me when I flew into it (although I’ve only had this happen once so far) and the high scores sometimes apparently being lost (or at least not appearing in the table).

Speaking of this last problem, this brings me to what was r0x‘s only major downer which was that, in the earlier version I played, the high score table didn’t save to disc on exiting. A new version (1.0) has since been released, though, which includes highscore saving as well as ironing out some bugs (hopefully those mentioned above).

I know that the small number of moans I described earlier might put some people off but they really, really shouldn’t. r0x is a great game: fun, addictive, beautifully presented; it’s easily one of the best indie titles that I’ve played so far this year and now that it has highscore saving its only major negative has been sorted-out. If you’ve a real ST with over 2MB of memory (you’ll need that, forgot to mention) or you’ve got an emulator then there’s no real reason not to download this terrific, if imperfect, little game.

And I’ve not even had a shot of the two-player option yet!

r0x can be downloaded from its website here which now provides the game in various formats for ease of use.

Thanks to Stickhead for making me aware of this game on his blog; Stickhead’s take on r0x can be found here

*EDIT: I’ve since encountered one, they seem to be very rare

One sausage and a cup of tea?

16 March, 2009
Banger ingame

Okay, who ordered the sentient sausages?

I was at a retrogaming event called Byte Back just over a week ago and it was excellent and yours truy was as happy as a pig in poopies. As well as loads of old games consoles and computers running games that show most modern stuff how to do it properly without five minute cutscenes and terrible storylines that seem to think they’re as important as the gameplay there was also prolific ZX Spectrum indie coder Jonathan Cauldwell sitting behind a monitor and looking all serious as he busied himself writing the Byte-Back game in a day challenge. And now the fruits of his labour are here and the game in question, the excellently-named Banger Management, can be downloaded and played. I’ve not had a proper shot of it yet but it looks like a rather more frantic version of Lemmings and involves sending food orders to irritable customers and, given that just about every game Cauldwell writes is excellent I’m willing to bet this one is too. So download, play and (probably) get terribly confused!