May 30th, 2012

“You find… A bundle!”

The whole indie bundle movement exploded about two years ago with the smashing hit Humble Bundle. Since then, this phenomenon has grown to unexpected proportions with roughly one new bundle being offered each month. Indie Royale, Indie Gala, Indie Facekick Bundle (notice a trend?) and others have jumped on the bandwagon with intriguing offerings and a recurring feature: an extremely low entry price which increases over time, combined with a pay-what-you-want model.

BundlakosThere’s a new kid on the block, though, and it’s called Bundle In A Box. With so many (by now) established offerings out there, a newcomer should at least make an effort to differentiate itself from the rest. Well, Bundle In A Box (from now on BIAB) does muc

h more than that. It has FIVE unique features:

1) Price goes down over time. Yup. As of this writing, the current minimum is $1.59, which is nothing short of a steal for all these games.

2) It’s a thematic bundle in a sense all the games share a common trait: in this case, they’re all adventures.

3) For the first time ever, a game is exclusively debutting in a bundle (The Sea Will Claim Everything). Note that BIAB is currently the only way to acquire this game, so it’s definitely exclusive.

4) Also, it marks the first time a piece of Interactive Fiction is featured in a bundle.

5) Finally, it’s the first indie bundle that doesn’t have the “indie” word in its title.

However, bundles live and die by their games and none of the above features would mean anything if the included titles are bad. Fortunately, BIAB does really feel like opening a box full of neat surprises. Let’s see why…

Gemini Rue

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Chances are you heard about Gemini Rue (from now on GR). If you haven’t, then I must beg you to come out from under that rock because there’s a brave new world waiting for you. GR is one of the most remarkable adventures released in the past few years and one that pushed the venerable and highly popular AGS engine to its limits (at least until Resonance is released). Yes, it’s low-res, but mark my words: this is hands down the most atmospheric low-res game ever created. In fact, I bet it would lose its charm in high resolution.

Obviously influenced by Blade Runner and other Sci-Fi stories, GR weaves a complex storyline with excellent puzzles and writing. It deservedly garnered lots of acclaim and, if you’re remotely interested in adventure games, this is a must play. Do the low-res graphics turn you off? Grow up. You can thank me later.

Ben There, Dan That!

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Or BT,DT!. Actually part of a series later continued by Time Gentlemen, Please! (TG,P!). I must confess I hadn’t played these until this bundle arrived, and I owned them on Steam. In a word: WOW. In 112 words: this game is a riot. It never ceases to parody typical quirks of the adventure genre and itself, and because of that this is one of the most self-aware titles that I played in a long time. The story is nuts: it involves aliens, time travel, and talking dinosaurs. Developed by a couple of deranged brits (incidentally, the same ones starring the game), BT,DT! features a very surreal sense of humor that probably won’t appeal everybody and can be quite offensive at times, but who cares, we’re in the XXI century and in the Internet of all places, so you’re probably way over being offended. That is, unless you play…


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I’m not sure what I was expecting (probably anything) but this game is WAY out there. It’s better and more of everything: an even more outrageous story involving Hitler’s obsession with coathangers, clever puzzles that at the same time somehow manage to make you feel like an idiot, witty writing, and the humor… oh, the twisted humor. Sexist, racist jokes and gratuitous violence run aplenty; the writers didn’t shy away of smashing every taboo with the force a sledgehammer. As far as I know, this is the only game that allows you to pick Hitler’s bloody feces with a skeleton arm. And it gets worse. With endlessly quotable lines such as “cheerio, wobbly knockers”, I loved every degenerate moment of this fun adventure. It’s been a while since I laughed so much with a game.

1893: A World’s Fair Mystery

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Or 1:AWFM. Still annoyed by GR‘s low-res graphics? Listen, in my day we used to play with TEXT. You typed and the computer responded with words. The only graphics were imagined in the canyons of your mind, with glial cells like clouds and neurons like electrical storms. Those were good times, long before the device that destroyed adventures was created: the evil mouse.

But I’m digressing: 1:AWFM is a most excellent specimen of this prehistoric genre that still endures thanks to a very hard working community. It’s not for faint of heart, however: even to the most dedicated IF player, this is one very demanding game. Huge setting, exhaustive descriptions, an extremely non-linear experience, and lots of note taking required. An interesting aspect about this adventure is that it’s based after a real fair held in Chicago in 1893. In this sense it’s an educational game since the creator went to great lengths to reproduce the experience of attending this fair, adding a layer of mystery involving a diamond theft on top. In fact, you could ignore the main plot altogether, treat the game as simply a virtual tour of this uniquely historical setting, and it still would be fun. If you’re observant, you’ll notice on that screenshot that there are a few graphics to enhance the atmosphere. 1:AWFM is regularly sold for $20 (you do the math) and boasts dozens of hours of gameplay, if you’re up to the task.

The Sea Will Claim Everything

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Or TSWCE. Jonas Kyratzes broke into the indie scene a decade ago with Last Rose In A Desert Garden, even before the term “indie” was coined in games. Since then he has produced a dozen titles, very unconventional and mostly story based, that have become small treasures among indie adventures. TSWCE is his first commercial one and, as I said before, an exclusive launch in BIAB. This is a game of understated beauty that plays like a strange dream you once had. Again, an experience that demands attention but is very rewarding as you untangle the mysteries, first of Underhome and its quirky inhabitants, then Isle of the Moon and beyond into the Lands of Dreams. I’m not sure what will be the price of TSWCE when BIAB is over, but I would handsomely pay for it, especially when its developer has been giving away free games for so long. Mention apart deserves the soothing and inspired music by Chris Christodoulou. These Greeks really know their stuff. I’ll be damned if they don’t deserve the support.

The Shivah

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Yup, you’ve guessed it: TS. The shortest game in the bundle is a creation by Dave Gilbert of Blackwell saga fame. It might be short, but it’s among the most compelling titles as you take the role of an unlikely protagonist: a Jewish Rabbi! Talk about a first. But this isn’t a cop out premise as you become embroiled in a murder case and its unexpected ramifications. I was amazed by how much story and development Dave managed to effortlessly include into little more than two hours, but he pulled it off with excellent results. By the end of the story you have taken critical moral decisions and know more about the Rabbi than most protagonists in current games. A small gem that deserves recognition.

Metal Dead

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Or Metal Dead. There are two things you should know about this game: it has heavy metal and zombies. In some ways similar to BT,DT!, namely its interface, style, and the fact that two friends are the protagonists, even if one of them is dead, Metal Dead is another zany, fun adventure that is a pleasure to play. Immediately accessible (its story kicks off with a bang as you’re victim in a car crash less than five minutes into the game) and quickly paced, this is the first effort by a small studio and they passed the test with flying colors. With loads of gore and comedy, topped with delightful writing, Metal Dead is the perfect closure to this eclectic, yet remarkable selection of games.

Rounding up the offering are soundtracks and booklets of select titles. I should clarify that the last two games are only available to those that beat the average of $5.58. Considering that any of these games is at the very, VERY least worth $5, you’d be missing out on an incredible offer if you pass. It should be also noted that, as is mostly the case with bundles of the sort, some proceedings go to charity.

Every bundle I’ve seen so far has at least one lousy game no one cares about, but this is not the case with BIAB since each one is a winner. And best of all: they’re adventures which, as we all know, is the best game genre around. It would be a huge oversight from my part if I don’t mention Konstantinos Dimopoulous, known among the interwebs as “Gnome” (of Gnome’s Lair fame no less), who spent many sleepless nights to make this happen.

To recap: BIAB includes GR, BT,DT!, TG,P!, 1:AWFM, TSWCE, TS and Metal Dead. That’s five games for $1.59 if you’re a cheap bastard, and seven for $5.58 if you break the piggy bank.

Be cool. Support those guys:


Just Passing By…

March 16th, 2012

Hello. How are you? Today I remembered that I have a blog and this is a post. See? I’m posting.

It’s been a few seriously crazy months, especially when it comes to the development of Asylum, but things are finally looking up and all the pieces are falling into place. I will be sharing many exciting details in the upcoming new installment of the Diary Of A Madman, but today I’ll bring your attention to Darkstar, that mythical game which has been in eternal production for over a decade, second only to the King Of Vaporware, Duke Nukem Forever. Well, it’s no longer vaporware, and neither it’s Darkstar. In fact, it’s here. For real.

Are You Social Enough?

November 18th, 2011

This week we return to our beloved books and take a look back at one of the most intriguing entries in the fantasy genre. It’s actually very hard to pinpoint the genre of To Walk The Night, but the book has been often featured in Top 100 lists of best fantasy fiction, so that’s a start. Whatever it is, it’s a damn good mystery that no one should miss.

In addition, I’d like to bring your attention to a contest that I will be holding next week. If you consider yourself an adventure game connoisseur, then this should be right up your alley. Basically, I post a small part of a screenshot and you have to guess the adventure. Simple, yes, but also extremely addictive and devious! Plus, you also get a chance to win one of 10 (ten) Steam codes for Scratches Director’s Cut. The contest is particular in that it will be hosted through Facebook and Twitter, giving me the chance to market this as SOCIAL trivia. At some point I intend to create a buzz word out of that… Say, “trivisocial” or “socialtrivism”. I envision a future in which everybody will be happily playing trivisocial games on the many social networks. So if this little experiment turns out well, expect greater things to come.

Here’s the link to the rules, and hope to see you there!

Happy Halloween!

October 31st, 2011

That’s right, kids. IT’S HALLOWEEN! Remember to wear your masks tonight and be in front of your TV set for the big giveaway. Don’t miss it… The clock is ticking. While you’re waiting, check out the Top 5 movies you can watch today. You should watch them before nine o’ clock though…


October 20th, 2011

When I go out on the streets, people stop me and ask what the hell is going on with my blog. Then I quickly run and hide among the crowd, away from their accusing fingers as they cry “Update! Update!”. For a while I managed to evade them like this, but they became more intelligent and anticipate my every move. In the bus, in the subway, supermarket, bank, beauty shop, there’s always one of them waiting for me. They’re driving me out of my mind.

It’s been now weeks since I left home. There is a settlement in the front of my house. I even fear opening the door as their reactions might be violent. They barely move while they camp all night, standing still and staring at my window. Last night I dared look outside at midnight: the crackling bonfire casted devilish gleams in their eyes, their faces like marble. Not a gesture, not even a blink. I think some of them had… fangs.

I hope you are happy. I’m posting words, yes, even meaningful words. Not just these words but many more as I discuss one of the most amazing games released this year… that very few know about. I’m typing more words about Asylum and its development, and yes, I’ve also decided which movie and book I will discuss next. But please, please leave my house and stop chewing on whatever you have there, or else I’ll have to take some drastic measures… such as screaming.

Diary Of A Madman #4

August 11th, 2011

Whew, this has been one crazy week! So many things to discuss… It’s either complete months of silence or one week of grinding news (and there’s still more to come). Of course, the most noteworthy event was the first gameplay video from Asylum. This was raw, unadulterated in-game footage with the exception of a few crossfades. If I have to be honest, I was very nervous about this video; I had a hard time capturing the footage, squeezing an annoying 50fps out of my CPU (and yes, those 10 frames short of the golden 60 make a huge difference). On top of that, the entire footage amounted to 8 gigs so it wasn’t precisely lightweight. Converting those to a more reasonable size was another world of pain.

But my real qualm was the actual video. After watching it a few dozen times, I realized it was lacking. There are tons of things that could have been improved but fans were threatening our lives for some new material, so I said to myself what the heck and pulled the plug. One hour later I was literally floored by the positive reactions: retweets, likes, pluses, mails, forum posts… 99% of people have been equally delighted and scared by this video. Since several hundred folks can’t be lying together at the same time, I guess it was fine after all. And we have many features that didn’t make it and will enhance the atmosphere even more… For example, falling dust. I couldn’t get this to work on Windows in time and it’s a shame because this small addition is very effective. It gives the game a considerably stronger 3D feel. Also, those of you who loved the animated skies in Scratches are in for a treat as we’re working on some groovy and scarifying nighttime scenes.

Speaking of 3D, many people was expectedly disappointed to learn that Asylum is node-based (even though I have repeatedly stated this was the case). Yes, I know that fully 3D is nice and modern but there are several reasons why this wasn’t going to work in Asylum. In truth, there’s only one major reason: it doesn’t need to be in 3D. This isn’t a FPS where the environments are secondary to the gameplay. Those games don’t require players to explore every nook and cranny of a location, or carefully look for hints, for example, on a desk. Therefore, they can get away with repetitive scenes, reused props, and stuff. Players don’t spend so much time on these scenes; they either kill or run and move on.

Things are extremely different in a game like Asylum. Each single room matters and even the bathrooms are brimming with details. Of course we repeat some things, if not we wouldn’t ever finish the game, but the level of detail required is several notches above full 3D games. This is why the exploration part in Asylum will be so lifelike and intriguing. Going realtime 3D is simply out of our league because of budget and time constraints, but even if we had the resources, Asylum doesn’t need it.

Let me also state that the walking in the video was intentionally slow and that you can move much faster in the actual game. There’s also plenty of freedom in choosing your direction; everything is highly non-linear. Finally, as someone stated in our YouTube channel, the discrete movement makes the game feel even scarier. And I definitely agree.

One tiny little thing that also worried me from the video is the breathing effect that can be heard on the background. Not the one when the protagonist is startled but a constant breathing. Apparently this wasn’t very noticeable as nobody mentioned it. We’re still ironing out this detail; one of our goals is to make the central character always very present, and the effect fits. Add to this many thoughtful comments and you have a very fleshed out and intriguing character. That said, the breathing shouldn’t be annoying and I feared the gameplay video would give the wrong impression. This wasn’t the case fortunately, but I’d still love to hear your thoughts.

This is already a lengthy post so I’ll save for the next update comments about the animations (did you catch the ocean through the window in the hallway?) and visuals. In the meantime, because you have been such a great audience, I leave you these renderings of the Asylum in all its raw glory. Yes — you get to explore it. Every nook and cranny of the place.

Diary Of A Madman #3

July 15th, 2011

In those rare occasions I go out to the streets, people ask me about the status of Asylum. Shady characters in dirty coats most of the time, lurking in the shadows and speaking in whispers. They could be a product of my imagination (after all I can never see their faces, provided they have one) but I always respond them for the sake of politeness. I mean, imaginary people deserve respect too. But I’m going to assume that you’re real and want to know about the status of… What was I was talking about?

Right, Asylum. As you can imagine, it’s been a very busy period for us, and there’s so much to tell that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Perhaps the most important news is that the game has gone semipublic and people had a chance to actually play it. In other words, it exists. More specifically, we featured an early build in a local fair and visitors were able to walk without restrictions around a sizable portion of the first floor of the Hanwell Institute. The reactions were very positive and, even though the mood is kind of lost when you’re in a big room with dozens of people and loud noise, they were all clearly impressed. The game was shown on two big HDTVs and graphics still looked sharp and detailed, so I’m not lying when I say that Asylum really, really is high-definition.

Here, I have a blurry and completely useless picture to prove it:

Asylum @ MICA

Anyway, back to the inner workings, last time I spoke about the video system that was finished, enabling us to populate Hanwell with dozens of lively videos. Since then we have completed the first floor, which is the biggest one and therefore a very important milestone for us. All the doors are now animated as well and, if you’re familiar with Scratches, you’ll know that represents a great deal of work. It’s almost fifty videos of doors opening in the first floor alone, along with beautiful animations of the ocean waving through some windows, faulty lights, moving trees, water in a fountain and inmates inside the cells of a truly sinister corridor. And we’re not even done yet. When put into perspective, the sheer amount of work makes me want to cry.

How do we manage with all this? Well, in the first place, loads of coffee and illegal drugs. It also helps, as I hinted before, that the scripting language of the engine is deceptively simple. I’ve already told you a bit about the process of creating nodes. Now, here’s a quick glimpse of the process to create what we call a “spot”. It’s not a “hotspot” because it may not be interactive:

door = Spot.new(WEST, {64, 424})

This means we create a spot object named “door” on the west face of the cubemap and we give it a set of coordinates, in this case just the origin. The vectors of coordinates can be of any length and shape, so it’s completely freeform (the engine itself makes sure it’s a closed region). And before you ask, we’re working on a tool to easily draw regions directly on the cubemap. But let’s stick to the basics for now. So, why do we give it a single pair of coordinates? Because of this:

door:attach(VIDEO, “vid_door_corridorb_hospital.ogv”)

We attach (and that really is the meaning of this action) a video file to the “door” object. The engine calculates the size of the video and resizes our previously created spot accordingly (with two coordinates, it was a single point). This saves us a bit of work as we only need to worry about placing the video properly. For now we support Theora for videos which is open source, lightweight and very fast. It has proven to be a powerful format (with a sucky API though). Overall, this is a very straightforward process to include videos in our nodes. But wait! Games need audio too… So:

door:attach(AUDIO, “sfx_door_large_open.ogg”)

Which I think speaks for itself. Suppose we want to make that spot interactive as well:

door:attach(CUSTOM, from_corridorb_to_hospital)

This links a custom action to this spot, effectively making it clickable. Now the only task left is to add this spot to one of our nodes. The entire chunk of code would look like this:

door = Spot.new(WEST, {64, 424})

door:attach(VIDEO, “vid_door_corridorb_hospital.ogv”)

door:attach(AUDIO, “sfx_door_large_open.ogg”)

door:attach(CUSTOM, from_corridorb_to_hospital)

corridorb1:addspot(door) — Our previously created node

Easy peasy. And the contents of that custom action (in reality a Lua function) could be as simple as this:

function from_corridorb_to_hospital()

door:play() — This plays both the video and audio attached



Do you like the approach? Are you excited? Are you still awake? We think this is an equally intuitive and powerful method, combining many aspects of coding into one single concept: the spot and stuff you can attach to it. We’ll go over a few more options in future episodes of this exciting diary.

What next? We’re preparing a big update to our website in which we will finally reveal the new name of the engine, along with the first gameplay video of Asylum and “official” batch of screenshots. I’m committed to keep a good pace of updates from now on… Yes, I can be that naive.

Dear Deranged Ones…

July 8th, 2011

I’ve been trying to update the site for the past month but Evil Forces are working against me. I know I must level up to overcome them, it’s just that these things take time. I swear by my left tentacle that I’ll catch up the next week.

In the meantime, here’s a few modern (gasp!) movie recommendations for you. It’s been quite a successful streak!

Loft: A surprisingly good thriller from the Netherlands that beats Hollywood in its own game. Five married men sharing a risky secret end caught up in a twisty network of lies and deceptions (hey, I could write movie scripts). Make sure you watch the original before the inevitable crap remake.

The Adjustment Bureau: Featuring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt (who is downright gorgeous… when she isn’t wearing any makeup). I wasn’t expecting much honestly but the movie blew me away with a very intelligent mix of sci-fi and religious themes. I won’t say much but, trust me, this is one of the most clever plots I’ve seen in a while. It works. I was very pleased at the end and thinking how it was possible that no one came up with such an idea before, and then the credits revealed it was based on a Philip K. Dick story. Duh.

Limitless: Guy takes a drug that makes him supernaturally intelligent. Great pace and trippy scenes (especially an outstanding camera work). Not so relevant in the end but a seriously fun ride. The movie is based on The Dark Fields novel by Alan Glynn, who stole the plot from Ted Chiang (Understand) who in turn stole the idea from Daniel Keyes (Flowers For Algernon). Both recommended reads afterwards.

And that’s it! Stay tuned, I AM coming back. Someday.

Diary Of A Madman #2

April 20th, 2011

I’ll never understand the Internet: post one screenshot that was already publicly available and in less than 24 hours it becomes our most popular post in Facebook, with an astounding 38 likes. On Sunday, no less. Now, start a developer’s diary, reveal a few exciting new tidbits about the project, post ANOTHER exclusive screenshot, and it gets 21 likes — nearly half. On Monday. Conclusion: does most people read Facebook on Sunday? Because if that is the case we might be forced to reorganize our marketing department… Unfortunately, since the amount of likes did not surpass the previous post, there won’t be a new screenshot of Asylum this time. By all means, if todays post surpasses 21 likes, you get a new breathtaking shot in the next update of Diary Of A Madman! Yes, I’m evil.

Anyway, I’m sorry that I took a bit longer to publish this new update but Easter holidays has complicated things a little bit. Many keep asking about the status of the project because, apparently, we’re in 2011 already, but rest assured that we’re steadily moving forward. It’s tricky to settle on a release date since there’s a lot to be done yet, but we are certainly preparing some exciting things to ease the wait. Remember that playable teaser I told you about last time? It’s just around the corner in fact and a few privileged ones have been testing the code with very positive first impressions. The overall consensus is that exploring the Hanwell building feels eerily realistic and is filled with “touchably crisp textures” (one of my favorite quotes). What’s holding us from releasing this code then? On one hand bug fixing, obviously, and on the other the inclusion of a couple of features that were suggested by our daring group of testers. If done well, this has the potential to change the way you think about adventures. Seriously, it’s that huge.

An aspect that has become very apparent during our testing is that Asylum, unlike most first person adventures (Scratches included), is really fluid. There are virtually no loading times, control is quick and smooth, navigation is easy, you have an amazing deal of freedom of movement — all in all, everything feels just right. At times it feels like a first-person shooter actually, which is pretty cool if you ask me — after all, adventures should test your creativity and intuition, not your patience with the controls. In this regard I believe that we have definitely achieved our goal because Asylum feels, in one word, “modern.” It’s immediately accessible, which is what most gamers seem to demand today.

Another aspect that remains almost completely in the dark is the story. Occasionally someone asks about this, a few shrug, and we all move on. I prefer to keep it that way. Actually, there’s quite a bit of information leaked about the story already, either through interviews or forum posts, so if you’re really interested you could put all the pieces together and get a pretty accurate picture about the premise of the game. I will only say this: Asylum is supposed to feel surreal, like there’s something horribly wrong going on inside Hanwell as soon as you set foot inside the place. Don’t try to make any sense out of it, at least not until you’re halfway into the game. If the premise of Scratches was that “a novelist escapes to the solace of an old Victorian house to finish his horror novel” then the premise of Asylum would be that “an ex-patient returns to a mental hospital to understand why he is suffering of bizarre hallucinations”. Think about it: that’s all you needed to know about Scratches before playing it (because you DID play it, right?) and this is all you need to know about Asylum for now. The script remains locked inside a vault and no more than five people will have it read completely before the game is released. Yes, I’m so evil.

What we are going to reveal soon is the cast of the game, and oh we have many surprises here. There are old friends from the Scratches cast coming back and a new celebrity doing a wonderful work as the main character. Hint: the first game that he worked on has been mentioned in this blog.

So no new materials released this time but I do hope to share something in the next update, where I’ll be further discussing the new engine and its programming language. Since my last post we have concluded the implementation of the dynamic music (and boy it’s dynamic, you can never tell when the tracks are really changing) and the video system. Videos were sorely missing in Scratches (other than fullscreen cutscenes, that is) so it’s truly neat that we have them in Asylum. Basically, this means that we can “populate” the nodes with an indefinite number of small animations here and there, which makes the locations look more lively. Anything, even drapes being moved by the wind can make a huge difference in terms of mood. And it’s as simple as loading a file and positioning the video on a texture. Nothing else — no obscure calculations or invocation of elder gods is required. Stay tuned for all the nitty gritty details!

Eclectic Sunday

April 17th, 2011

At last we have a sizable update here on the blog! And look at that, I actually kept my word this time (marginally). First we have Creating Rem Lezar, hands down the quirkiest and most politically incorrect musical out there. Whatever you do, you must NOT let your kids anywhere near this movie. Then we have Thexder, a forgotten arcade of the mid-eighties, but a very special one since it may be the game that started it all. Honest. And finally, The Affirmation, arguably the best novel by Christopher Priest, a fascinating book by an extremely talented writer that begs to be read. Talk about eclectic updates!

Hope you enjoy all the articles! There’s more coming, and you won’t have to wait four months to get it. To those of you wondering, the Diary Of The Madman will return tomorrow with more Asylum goodies, so stay tuned!