Saturday 31 March 2012

Down in the Dungeons - The Legend of Grimrock Awaits

As I mentioned on my previous posting, some of the work currently occupying my energies is involved with a team of games developers and as a consequence my games antenna is in a much more alert mode than is usually the case.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled over the work of a team of Finnish games developers, who like Dave Morris (author of the graphic epic Mirabilis and soon to be arriving on your iPad Frankenstein Interactive Book) and your blogmeister have happy memories of a ground breaking game which went under the title of Dungeon Master and changed the face of computer gaming when it first appeared in 1986.

The developers working under the title of Almost Human Games, first cooked up what was to become The Legend of Grimrock in April 2011 as a weekend's moment of catharsis, during a particularly hectic period for the four guys who were busily chasing deadlines working on other companies games. They thought about the first person RPG games such as Eye of the Beholder and the aforementioned Dungeon Master they had enjoyed so much as children and just for the fun of it knocked out this little trial piece.

Three months later and with the pressure of commissioned work easing off a bit, they had a look at what they had wrought and thought a bit more seriously about actually making a game imbued with the spirit and atmosphere of Dungeon Master but with the benefits of all the developments and refinements the games industry has achieved in the intervening quarter century.

Like all small concerns, they had to work within a very tight budget, financing themselves meant setting parameters for the way the game would unfold and also for the amount of outside help they could pull in. The first constraint actually suited the format of the game perfectly, so this is no Skyrim affair where you can wander over an endless landscape, the landscape of Grimrock is the dungeons and the feeling of claustrophobia it engenders just adds to the sense of unease in a way that bigger games with bigger budgets fail to achieve. Also and as you will notice from the trailers, the game  as with it's predecessors, is grid based in terms of movement which is a constraint that adds greatly to the fun of devising strategies for defeating the grim cavalcade of fetid monsters that inhabit these dungeons.

The parallels to Dungeon Master are also evident in some of the traps that await the incautious explorers with pressure plates, fireballs and rooms full of pressure sensitive trap doors. The runic magic system which is based on skills acquired on the perilous journey will also be  a nice reminder of times past, pointless Googling to find out how to cast a lightning bolt if your wizard skills are barely up to summoning a light spell.

This is niche games for niche markets and the gamers that The Legend of Grimrock is unerringly directed at will be blown away by what they see when they start to explore the damp and foul smelling crannies of a game that pits four adventurers against some of the most diabolical beasties and fiendish brain teasers ever to be encountered in the dark recesses of a digital dungeon. Just imagine this thing on an iPad!

The work that has been carried out to achieve this level of games artistry is simply inspirational, a lot of the concept painting was done on the basis of what the team would want from a game like this, without constraining themselves to paring down their visions to allow for the endless hours transforming these 2d paintings into 3D actuality. Above is the very first concept painting whilst below is a glimpse of the Dungeon Ogre in the early stages of his animation.

Which brings  me to the important release information, the game has been developed for PCs as it's first incarnation which will be released on the 11th of April - further details here. And then the plan is to release versions for Mac and iOS as soon as is feasible after that.

The rest is down to you dear reader, so help spread the word, visit their Facebook page, check out their YouTube channel, log on to their website and lastly but by no means leastly, buy a copy of this friggin' thing, which has a 20% pre-order  discount up until 11th April when the game is released!

All images © AlmostHumanGames 2012

Thursday 29 March 2012

Cowboy Hamsters, iPads and Commandos

I am drowning in deadlines, too many to list but as is always the way with such affairs, it is sometimes good to momentarily climb off the hamster wheel and engage in an altogether different activity as a kind of catharsis. Hence I am back in blog mode.

In fact talking of wheels and hamsters, one of the deadlines involves working with a team of developers on a new app game and one of the characters that I have generated is this little guy.

.... Dawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!

Little cutie. Anyway the upshot of working with app developers is that I had to arm myself with an iPad and being as financially cautious as ever, I plumped for last year's model which is now just about affordable to someone of my modest means.

I must confess though that although I had not allowed myself to become too obsessed with having an iPad, now that I have one I can just see what an incredible leap forward in computing these things are, it's like looking at the next step in digital technology and in it's potential hints at things well beyond having a portable means of covering most of your computing needs in a phenomenally touch screen responsive format.

However, one of the first downloads I made was to the financial betterment of an auld and venerable establishment located in Dundee home of jam making and home to DC Thomson publisher of a myriad of newspapers and magazines such as the Beano, The Sunday Post, The People's Friend and also Commando. This lastly will be of considerable delight to my dear old chum Simon who with acidic sarcasm, recently berated me for not featuring Commando more prominently in my blog.

Anyway the reason for my shoving more money that I don't  have in their direction, was the delight of taking out a digital subscription to Commando (I have no shame Simon!). The delights of a digital subscription are manyfold but for anyone sharing living space with a woman of practical mind and an eye for minimalist interiors, the stress of having four issues of Commando comics arriving on a fortnightly basis with the unstoppable force of the Wehrmacht's invasion of Western Europe in Spring 1940 is too much to bear.

When you have an iPad all this is taken care of, there is absolutely no need to worry dear boy, the comics are ready for download as soon as you see them on the Commando website. They reside on your iPad awaiting your digital summons to be perused in razor sharp resolution and you are not having to squirrel them away underneath the sofa. OK so you don't get the tactile joy of flicking through the pages and the smell of the paper is gone, but the heady aroma of old newsprint is precisely that... OLD newsprint. It takes decades of careful storage to achieve, new Commandos are virtually a non event in terms of paper aromatics.

So imagine my delight when I discovered that yesterday there was yet another new batch of Commandos showcased on the Commando website, including yet another golden oldie which has never been reprinted before. Within what seemed nano seconds the reprint of Commando No 19, last seen on active service in March 1962, was on my iPad! The Death Dealers comes complete with another of Ken Barr's in your face covers, clenched teeth, buggin' eyes and Nazi dagger to the fore as the team of Tom, Dick and Harry take on the Fallschirmjager  descending on Crete. The script by retired Major Eric Hebden (who was a truly prolific writer of these 64 page comics for both Fleetway and DC Thomson) throws the trio up against the fiendish Leutnant Wolf Altmann who worries that if he fails in his quest he will doubtless find himself on zer Russian Front (a front which erm... actually didn't exist in May 1941. Zoon, zoon mein kamerad but not yet). Anyway that aside and the fact that the fall of Crete is somewhat marginalized by the derring do of Tom, Dick and Harry, the whole thing has a weird topicality as to a certain extent the Hellenic peoples are once again feeling more than a little aggrieved by the demands of their German neighbours.

However and returning to the iPad the most amazing aspect of Commando on the iPad is the quality of the art work, in this case you can see every line of artist Cecil Rigby's manic hatching and contra hatching creating the most diabolical symphony of pen work ever seen within the pages of a war comic. Rigby's work even at the time looked as if it came from another era and truth to tell it did. Like the much younger Gordon Livingstone, Rigby's work was devoid of any overt influence of the "Latin" school of war comics artistry. Rigby's work in contrast looked like that of a man who had followed a correspondence course in illustration. I well recall seeing one that my mother had followed and it was full of exercises of penmanship with the sort of cross hatchery that so distinguished the work of C.T. Rigby. Much of his formative work had been in the 1930's where he specialized in creating caricatures of sporting personalities and you could see the signs of it in the pages of this story particularly with the delightful portrait of Harry looking not unlike Joe Louis on page 59. That's where Rigby excelled but as regards placing his figures in a convincing environment, you can see that head and shoulders portraiture was really his comfort zone and straying beyond that was something he evidently found a chore.

Nevertheless a really fun experience and definitely one to be recommended for anyone wishing to sample the early and very heady years of the UK's longest serving war comic.

All Commando images © DC Thomson 2012

Thursday 15 March 2012

More From The Grahame Johnstones

Here are some more samples of Anne and Janet Grahame Johnstone's delightful work, courtesy of David Slinn, who as well as being a mine of information on this period of UK illustration has a collection to back up his passion some of which he is generously sharing with you here. The work you see is but a mere fraction of the amount of illustrations that they generated over their career. A career which was horribly compromised in 1979, when Janet Grahame Johnstone died as a result of smoke inhalation from a kitchen fire, leaving Anne alone to try and carry on the work and meet the omnipresent deadlines.

The bulk of the work shown here comes from the UK weekly nursery comic Robin and shows how their style developed from looking like an offshoot of Pauline Baynes work to achieving their own distinctive style. Whereas the illustrations for such commissions as Dodie Smith's 101 Dalmations shows a style still in transition, by the time they come to working on The Water Babies, they have really found their own voice.

The Biblical themed color spreads are from Dean and Son's Bible Stories published in 1971.
Ad as a final offering here is a scan courtesy of Phil Rushton from the ultra-rare Jason and the Golden Fleece.

(Why did you have to show me this Phil???...)