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Trilby and Knytt sitting in a tree: I.N.D.I.E.G.A.M.I.N.G

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Trilby: Art of Theft and Knytt Stories are two games I’ve been playing extensively lately. Both share an exceptional game experience. Trilby: Art of Theft reminds the player of those good old games from the 90’s – addictive and challenging. Knytt Stories takes the player to a dreamworld that reminded me of listening to Death Cab for Cutie, but then in a gaming package.

Trilby

What makes Trilby such a great game to play then? It aren’t really Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s graphics that blow you away, they’re straight from the 90’s. But the game’s architecture is very well done, everything seems logical and flows over into the next. The purchasing of abilities to make you a better crook (better safecracker, lockpicker) or new moves (roll, hide in shadows) all seem very intiutive and more importantly: I haven’t seen this kind of gameplay in any game, ever. Not convinced? Check out the Trilby: Art of Theft Walkthrough / Rankthrough, which includes video to check out the gameplay, here.

Yes, finally the message has been returned to the medium after the tsunami of bad first person shooters and 3D action adventures in the last years. Repetition of a genre, however, is not something that is “evil” per se. Exceptional narrative in gaming has developed over the past years, with some of my top games being Max Payne, Deus EX and recently Assasins’ Creed. However these games do not, in my opinion, excell in an exceptional game experience. Much like Hollywood productions they share a good story, but are essentially the same format.

Knytt Stories is something totally different. French arthouse movie Amelie is to Hollywood productions as is Knytt Stories to big budget gaming. Under the influence of mood strengthening music, this game has you travelling the beautiful lands of protagonist Knytt, a “small guy with long hair”, and providing you with an experience that is different from so many similar experiences. And yes, it is free! And yes! You can create your own levels! After playing Knytt on my laptop in the train, I found myself thinking about what level I would create with Knytt Stories. It feeds personal creative process outside of virtual space. But even without this, the works of Knytt creator Nifflas are so original and really fuel the imagination, and not just in the sense of narrative… Check out the gameplay in this Knytt Stories Walkthrough of the The Machine level at YouTube.

Knytt Stories

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Written by newmw

January 8, 2008 at 12:52 pm

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Kubuntu Experiences: Cisco 350 and the grasp of Windows’ compatibility

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X30Yes! I finally have a laptop on which I’m typing this new blogpost! The beautifully small, although not very new, Thinkpad X30. Exactly what I was looking for and it came pre-installed with Kubuntu 6.10, which I wanted to try out for quite some time. An overview of my experiences with the Open Source operating system. And to spoil the ending: Why I had to go back to Windows XP.

The Wow Effect
When I first booted the laptop and saw Kubuntu with the KDE desktop for the first time I had a ‘Wow’ experience Vista couldn’t top. Not really because it looked so good, it actually did, but this wasn’t the effort of thousands of paid employees but of the masses. Every connection working, every click I did was made by people who wanted you to click and connect for free. The people working together to create a system that is actually free. It is the effect of the GNU manifesto, the call for the sharing of software and not keeping it under (distribution) control.

After this first experience I had to change my way of thinking in dealing with an operating system. So far my only experience are with DOS in the early days and of course Windows with a little bit of MacOS experience mixed in. After some clicking and searching the web (the internet worked ‘out of the box’) I learned how to install a programme. It felt like I had to learn how to walk again. I felt, well, stupid really. But after reading the Kubuntu documentation I learned how to use Adept to install packages and also manage repositories.

kubuntuNext up was how to play the various media filetypes. Since most are protected formats these don’t come supplied with for example AmaroK, but the Seveas package turned out to be a lifesaver. It supplies every codec I need to play various mediatypes like DVD and lots more. But since this wasn’t supplied through Adept, I had to look up how to do an install from a .tar package. It took me some time to figure out, but lets say it comes down to these simple terms: ./config, make, make install. So far so good.

Everything was working fine, I also found a very addictive game to play under Kubuntu called Battle for Wesnoth, and I really had the feeling that I was part of something special. Part of a group of users who are aware of what software in the digital age is really about: sharing.

The Grasp
But then the main problem came up. The bad guy. The pure evil. The one thing that can beat all goodwill of the open source community: Incompatibility.

Let me elaborate. At home my wireless connection worked fine with the Cisco Aironet 350 Mini Pci WIFI card that comes installed. Although it is an older model and is a 802.11b and not g, it works great. Untill I went to the University of Amsterdam, for the first time. Because to access the UvA network under Linux/Kubuntu I had to use the WPA encryption. For two days I tried to connect, upgrade, install and check again. I tried it all, HostAP, ndiswrapper, wlan-ng, WPA_Supplicant, Knetworkmanager and more. But they all failed. They were my Kubuntu Waterloo. And deep in my heart I really, really, really wanted it to work. Because I wanted to live the completely open source lifestyle.

But I needed the internet connection at the UvA. Compatibility overruled personal ethics. As I found out, the only option for my Cisco 350 to connect via WPA encryption was by getting a firmware upgrade… which is only available through… Windows. So I’m very sorry if you were reading this post hoping me to say that it is possible to get WPA on your card. I’m sorry…

The incompatibilty turned out to be the struggle that the open source community is fighting against. Every time that the corporate software distributors copyright a new portion of their software, the open source community has to find a way to make their operating system to be compatible with those standards. If the protocol does not match, there is no communication. The copyrighted compatibility is a serious issue and it caused me to leave my newfound glory and go back to that operating system everyone uses. The system that conceals the abilities of the open source community. The code curtain.

Meanwhile… back in XP
As I’m typing this my eyes can’t escape the returning presence of the XP start button. The much critized 5 letters didn’t return in Vista, but they’re not so bad. The biggest change in my use of Windows is that the extra programmes I use are almost all open source. VTC media player, GIMP, Firefox, Thunderbird, Open Office. The best thing I got out of this is user awareness. We have to be aware of the limited nature of (corporate) controlled distribution of software. It is good to see the alternatives, the margins that fight the giants. And in turn the margins influence those giants. Those see-through menu’s from Vista look awkwardly familiar, don’t they?

My solution for quality gaming on a U3 USB stick

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I’ve tried a lot of the games available for the U3 USB stick, but none of them really seemed to give me the relaxation I needed after a lot of hard work at the campus computers of the University of Amsterdam. And since I’m kind of addicted to my ZSNES Super Nintendo Emulator, I decided to use Package Factory to make a U3 install for it.

snesvintage

It’s very simple. Step one: Download ZSNES Windows version. Step two: drag the zsnes.exe into the Package Factory window. Step three: Choose install from your harddrive from the U3 launchpad. Get yourself a couple of roms and put them on the U3 drive -of course only from SNES games you have in your possession- and you’re set to go! I’ve heard that other emulators (for example GBA) also work.

Also a short update on my personal experience with the Smart Drive. I’ve been using it intensively on campus and besides a sometimes long startup period, it has been very ideal for me. Now I don’t have to use that annoying Internet Explorer anymore, I have Firefox always ready with my personal plugins (del.icio.us, wordpress.com) which is a big advantage. Besides that I use it a lot for syndicating content with my home computer.

Any points of critique? Some, because I think development of the applications is still a bit slow. What I would like to see is more use of programs like Package Factory so people can create their own (freeware) programs from existing ones and post them on the web. This would stimulate the community around the medium.

By the way, It’s good to see prices are going down for the U3 sticks with a higher capacity, because more capacity might mean larger applications and I’m anxious to see what that can bring us.

Some more websites for good free games

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Earlier I talked about about the free downloadable game Penumbra which I discovered through Gamershell.com, but since then I’ve come across some more pages with good overviews of the free/freeware gaming market. And I don’t mean those crappy Java Tetris clones, but games which are worth a try because of their original approach and effort. Here’s a short list, I’ll keep this updated and if you have any additions just post ’em in the comments.

GameHippo
Direct: http://www.gamehippo.com/
About: Good thing about this page is the fact that they keep reviews of the games posted. So if a game is really bad, you don’t have to download it first and go through the annoyance of installing and uninstalling. Which is a big plus for this GameHippo over the other websites.

Gamershell
Direct: http://www.gamershell.com/fullgame_download_archive.html
About: The website I check first if I’m looking for a freeware game. Every big release by an indie is on there, a must-bookmark. Hands down.

Home of the Underdogs
Direct: http://www.the-underdogs.info/
About: Although not packed with new releases in freewareland, Home of the Underdogs provides the best of abandonware games. Games from the beginning of videogaming (text adventures), the first 3D shooters, and everything in between. Older games can give you a whole new perspective on gaming in ways of convention, narrative. Retrogaming is cool!

Megagames
Direct: http://www.megagames.com/news/html/freegames/freegames.shtml
About: Nice website with some good games. Skip through the more than 50 pages of free games and there should be something you like.

Planet Freeplay
Direct: http://www.planetfreeplay.com/
About: Added by recommendation, and I must say I enjoyed this website very much. It’s got interviews (check out the interview with the guys from Penumbra), podcasts, messagebaords and two good gameslists. One for online games and one for freeware games, with a total of (as I write this) around 1400 games you can definitely find something here.

Runtime Entertainment
Direct: http://www.runtime-hq.com
About: A website dedicated to posting high quality freeware games. Or as the about section mentions: “The number of freeware games increases every day and often you can’t cope with the huge amount of titles you find when you are googling.” That does sound very familiar when you’re looking for freeware games on the web. Runtime also offers reviews on freeware games, and for gamecreators of freeware games an application form.

Softpedia
Direct: http://games.softpedia.com/get/Freeware-Games/
About: Not the best, but definitely worth a check if some of the other websites don’t have anything new. I saw a game called Babylon V: I’ve Found Her and tried it, it’s a tough but beautiful game. Definitely worth a try.

Wikipedia
Direct: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Freeware_games
About: Well, who doesn’t know Wikipedia? And some people are working on a freeware games list, so why not check it out? It’s good, but still a bit small. So if you have a freeware game that should be added to Wikipedia, don’t be a stranger.

Façade: Interactive storytelling on a whole new level

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Façade is a one-act interactive drama according to it’s makers Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern, and what that is exactly? I can tell you it’s a whole new experience in computer gaming, if it can even be called gaming. It’s more like a digital play you are a part of, and above all it is something you have to try for yourself to see what I mean. You can get the free Façade game from the developer website InteractiveStory.net.

I’ll give you a short introduction, but I’m not spoiling anything that would ruin the fun of playing it the first time. When you begin the game you are invited by Trip and Grace to come over to their house for a cosy get together. The drama starts as soon as you get to their apartment where you are welcomed by the couple. It seems their marriage has some cracks and holes and they aren’t affraid to discuss ’em in front of you.

The interface is simple, you can walk around the appartment, interact with some of the objects and type almost anything (as long as it is related). Especially the communication in Façade is great, you can interrupt the couple, ask them about things, choose sides, etc. And all that in normal sentences, and in a way you would normally respond in a conversation yourself. It’s feels a lot more natural than your average RPG interface with only so few options.

For some more indepth information and very interesting reading from the makers, check out the press page at InteractiveStory.net for papers, articles and a lot more and their vision and motivation

This game also won the 2006 Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Independent Games Festival. And at the end of the play, you can also look at the stageplay you just created. Need I say more? Just as an example here is a small part of the (words-only) stageplay from my second time playing the drama. I’m ‘Ben’:

GRACE
Hi! How are you? Oh god it’s been such a long time! — (interrupted)
BEN
Hi grace

GRACE
H-mmm (happy smile sound)
BEN
How are you?
GRACE
Good! Yes! Very good. Some exciting things at work I’ll have to tell you about.
GRACE
So come on in, make yourself at home!
BEN
What happened at work?
TRIP
Oh yeah, let me tell you about work. I just brought in a new account – print ads for a line of bridal fashion.
(BEN sits on the couch.)

Console emulators for your mobile and smartphone

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Mobile games for the current mobile phones are becoming somewhat better. But still the games supplied with the phones or the ones you download often feel like cheap ripoffs of real classics, or badly executed new ideas to sell you the phone.

Combining gaming with mobile phones has been tried (see Nokia N-gage), but never really succeeded. So how about looking back to some of the older consoles and use the older technology, but great classic gameplay, for your mobile? There’s nothing like a bit of classic Super Mario on your mobile phone.

Since the coming of the Smartphone, the marriage of the mobile phone and the PDA, there are a lot of new apps coming out including console emulators. Retrogaming is becoming more and more appealing for the Smartphones. Firstly because the gameplay of the old games is often just amazing and secondly the limited specs of the Smartphone still make it possible to run these games pretty well.

You might want to consider trying out one of the free available emulators below. I’ve also added some non-console emulators. They do require some adjusting to your phone and some are work in progress, but you can find all the info you need on these webpages. On the pages you should be able to check if your phone can run it. I’ll keep this list updated, and if you have any additions just let me know. Also let me know if any of the linked developers started charging.

Armstrad CPC
S60-CPC: http://kokak.free.fr/s60cpc.htm

Commodore 64
E32Frodo: http://e32frodo.sourceforge.net/

LucasArts Adventures
ScummVM SymbianOS: http://www.scummvm.org/downloads.php

Nintendo Gameboy & Gameboy Color
Gnuboy: http://www.surrealservices.dsl.pipex.com/gnuboy.html
Goboy: http://goboy.en.softonic.com/ie/24802 

Nintendo NES (Nintendo Entertainment System)
PocketNesterPlus: http://www.modaco.com/PocketNesterPlus-06-t237915.html
Vnes: http://vnes.en.softonic.com/ie/36935

Nintendo SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)
PocketSNES: http://www.surrealservices.dsl.pipex.com/pocketsnes.html
Snes9x UIQ: http://notaz.atspace.com/snes9x_uiq.html

Sega Mastersystem & GameGear
SMS Plus S60: http://ngage.dcemu.co.uk/smspluss60.shtml 

Sega Megadrive
Picodrive: http://www.finalburn.com/mobile/pico.html

Just to see how it performs and how it looks, you can check out these Youtube examples of the performance of the emulators. Of course this differs per phone, just give it a try on your own.

Picodrive (Sega Megadrive) on Motorola Q

PocketNesterPlus (Nintendo NES) on Motorola Q

Vnes (Nintendo NES) on Nokia 6260

 

Penumbra: Good free games still exist

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Penumbra is a game developed by Frictional Games, and you just have to play it. Download it for free at Frictional Games.

What is so good about Penumbra? Well I’ve not seen a narrative like this in a virtual world before, it’s original and fresh. As I’ve read on some of the Frictional Games messageboards the level of immersion is great. And that for a free game that has some very nice graphics, which are coming from a 3D engine which the studio developed by itself. Another great thing is that it is a FP game, but not with a lot of shooting. Just a truckload of suspense. Check out the trailer for yourself here:

So good free games still exist! I often check the Full Games section at Gamershell to find some very nice games. This way I discovered Warrock, a Battlefield 2 styled FPS which was in Beta testing a while ago but will be back on the 14th of July. But also a nice RPG called The Spirit Engine. Both games are very addictive, so don’t say that I didn’t warn you! Free games can be surprisingly good and they give a fresh perspective on the gaming industry that seems to be stuck in more of the same, already at the beginning of its existence.

Written by newmw

July 13, 2006 at 12:17 pm