Archive for blog

Happy New Years!

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , on December 30, 2013 by trivialpunk

Hello! So, I was thinking about it, and you might be happier knowing the date of my next post. You see, I spent my holidays recovering from this year. Resting and fighting the mid-twenties, graduate-year angst of what I’m going to do with my life. I’m doing much better now, but I’m on my way out the door and I’ve got plans until after New Years. You know me.

So, the next post from Trivial Punk will come on January 5th, 2014. I’m not sure what it’ll be about, but I’m thinking about what kind of stuff I do here and trying to decide how best to proceed in 2014. I’ve worked on quite a few projects over TriviPunk’s life-time. Some were put aside. Others were quietly released. This year, I’m thinking of simplifying and focusing.

Stuff I’m hanging on to that you know about:
Trivial Punk on YouTube
Trivial Writing (Story section only)
Gloam (I’m nowhere near done it yet)

Stuff I’m hanging on to that you don’t know about:
An Unannounced Novel
The Binder
Code-name: The Pilgrim
The LOMG

Stuff I’m letting go:
Duel (The Online Version) -no funding, no staff

I would also like to offer my sincerest apologies to Recollections of Play and CheeeseToastie, both of whom nominated me for awards: The Versatile Blogger Award and Blog of the Year awards, respectively. Thank you for your nominations, and I sincerely apologize for having a brain too full of frappe’d guacamole to accept in a timely fashion. I feel that it’s been far too long for me to accept them properly, but I’m grateful for the mention. Go check them out! There’s a reason I follow them.

Good luck to you in this new year. Kick some ass! You know, metaphorically.

Here’s wishing you many bright days and High Scores in 2014! Stand steady against the flow of the years, and I’ll see you on the other side.

-Trivial Punk

Oh, and here’s a little something just for you. My name, Trivial Punk, has many different meanings and ways to shorten it. Trivial Punk was something I thought of as a throw-away name for on-line Go games. I wanted something that reflected my awareness of my own insignificance, but also something that would be ironically poignant if I ever became successful. It also gestures towards my love of trivia.

So, Trivial Punk is a reference to my state as a single, unimportant being, my love of things trivial and the irony of how we think of things of relative unimportance. And, if you’re reeeeal good, it shortens to Tri-Pun, for obvious reasons. What’s in a name? Oh so very much and nothing at all. It’s Trivial.

Happy New Years 😀

Why We Secretly Live in a Horrifying Dystopia

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , on November 4, 2013 by trivialpunk

Hello! So, the week of Halloween saw the release of another video and two new stories by yours truly: the longer Unfinished and the shorter While You Weren’t Looking. This week, in honor of my favourite holiday, and because I was sick through the whole damn thing, I thought I’d bring you, personally, a little of the horror that haunts my nightmares. The truth is that movie-monsters aren’t as frightening as they once were. I’ve simply watched too many movies. Right now, true horror lies in interactive experiences and real-life, which is, in a way, an interactive experience, except it’s unbalanced as butts. I mean, if we’re going to be doing open-world PVP, shouldn’t we balance the zones a bit better? Whatever. I’m sure there’ll be a balance patch any day now.

For me, horror lies in the little truths of life. The things we take for granted and try to forget always apply. Things like: We’re all going to die someday. I’m a bag of flesh-bones. My consciousness is a complicated illusion. I will never again feel as invincible as I did when I was a child. Every moment of my existence is part of the process of degradation that will eventually rob me of mind, mobility and metabolism. BUT, most terrifying of all: I live in a terrifying Dystopic Nightmare.

Oh, you don’t agree? Well, here, I’ll show you Why We Secretly Live in a Horrifying Dystopia. First, it helps to know that we’re all on the same page. A Utopia is a perfect civilization living through benevolence and love. Its attributes include: unending sustainability, a perfect balance of humanity and necessity and a loving, accepting society of equitable opportunity. A Dystopia, on the other hand, is a perversion of the idea. Yes, it’s perfect, but it’s not always benign. The advanced technologies and organizations that might have been used to create a Utopia are instead used to indulge vice and greed. Maybe you get to live a perfect life, but it’s only for 25 years (Logan’s Run). Maybe everything seems perfect, but that’s only because of the powerful hallucinogenic drugs you’re constantly being slipped (Futurological Congress). Maaaaybe it’s all actually amazing, but it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi of personal agency (Brave New World).

Whatever the reasons for a Dystopia, it’s here, it’s bleakly soul-crushing, get used to it. The path to the realization of our personal Dystopia lies in the city. I know people romanticize country living all the time, and I’m right there with you: it’s silly. Living off the land included brutal winters, sweltering summers and the very real threat of starvation or sickness.  Naturally, we must be doing much better than our forebears did on farms, right? In some ways, perhaps we are, but in others…I’m going to be talking about my city in particular, but I’m sure you’ll be able to extrapolate.

First, I rarely interact with nature at all. When I go down town, or to the University, I’m walking on solid pavement or cement 90% of the time. The streets form, basically, a huge concrete island. Just think, for a second, how often you interact with any portion of nature for any amount of time. I’m not saying that we should throw off our clothes and flounce into the wilderness… actually, that’s kind of what we do on vacation. We’re so eager to feel anything natural– to interact with the Earth at all– that we’ll sacrifice time, money and dignity for a brief respite from the solid concrete borders we’ve erected.

Actually, I shouldn’t say solid, because the really creepy part of the city is how honeycombed with shops, rail-lines and maintenance entrances it is. If you stop for a second and look at an office, if you squint reeeeal hard, you can see it as an ant-farm. Glass windows open up onto hundreds of individual workers that scurry about important, personal tasks, running between cubbies and dens. Buildings themselves are like the artificial dens we constructed, because we’re too ashamed to dig in the dirt. Sometimes, when I stop and look, the entire landscape seems like an alien hive, honeycombed with chambers and passages. The hive is alive with us, but each building, each sign, is constructed with the sole purpose of directing our movements. They’re pheromone trails made manifest in print.

That’s not to say that each individual doesn’t direct his or her day-to-day movements, but if you step back, it’s eerie. Also, why would we dig in the dirt to build warrens when houses go up so easily now? No reason, it just sounded dramatic. But, that’s all just the surface layer of perturbing. Yeah, yeah, people live in a city like it’s a hive. We all knew that. To really get a Dystopia going, we need to denigrate the very foundation of our shared humanity: the value of human life. Did you know that there is an actual dollar amount associated with your life? What that value is varies depending on who you’re asking and what condition you’re in.

In America, before Obamacare, if you had a pre-existing condition and didn’t qualify for medicare, then you couldn’t get an affordable rate from an insurance company. In fact, you’d be lucky to get any rate at all. Yet, when reforms were put in place to make it so that anyone could have access to medical insurance, huge waves of people fought back against the idea. Obviously, it wasn’t the majority of people, but some did. Why was that? Well, many reasons, ranging from the ideological to the financial, but, at the end of the day, the real take-away is that human lives aren’t as valuable as money to a lot of people. Usually, it’s those people in control of a lot of people. Like insurance companies (man, they come up a lot), they’ve got to make some pretty tough decisions about what is acceptable in terms of realistic possibility. If they know that the cost of paying off accident victims is lower than the cost of doing a recall, then they won’t alert anyone. It’s a fairly well-known story, but it illustrates my point beautifully.

Of course, money can do many things. Things like feed the poor and educate the people (IF, you know, that’s what it’s used for). Money can build empires and destroy countries. So, it’s easy to see why it might get a privileged spot, if one sum can kill a million and another can save a thousand. Yet, it’s not just the money thing I find perturbing. It’s the commercialization of every aspect of our lives. I mean, as a blogger and part-time YouTuber, I accepted that notion a long time ago. It comes with the territory. But, the social media tools we use everyday– Have to use everyday –are just as invasive. The people who say you can just go without aren’t really considering the implications of not using social media. I got my last three jobs with Facebook posts and my current dorm through a Tweet. At the same time, though, we are being surveyed. And, I don’t just mean with surveys.

Did you hear about the kid who was arrested, thrown in prison and beaten to concussion because of a League of Legends chat post? How about the people that were fired because their Facebook profiles had pictures of them using elicit substances? What about the woman whose on-line soft-core-porn life totalled her teaching career? Yeah, we laugh at them and say they’re stupid, but are they really? If this was anything but our way of life, we’d be thoroughly disgusted by the surveillance and the level of penetration that the internet has into our lives. Between phones keeping track of your location when you post and sophisticated deep-web-trawling technology that can produce and organize a vivid portfolio about you and your buying habits with no prior tracking required, using the internet basically means you’re being watched. Maybe not actively, but this information doesn’t just disappear most of the time. Hell, our search histories alone would be worth their weight in gold to a marketing firm. Our Facebook Likes. Our Tweets. Whatever.

A lot of interaction happens on-line now. In fact, a large portion of our life is lived through social media. It’s a poignant expression of who we are. I’m sure you can see people’s personalities emerging through their profile usage. I know you and I have, at one time or another, posted something just a little too personal in a passive-aggressive Facebook rebuttal or a lonely-night hate-fest. It happens. It’s part of being human. Normally, that would be acceptable, but it’s not, because Facebook removes context. On-line, we’re rarely afforded the emotional states or extenuating circumstances that are the Hallmarks of understanding in personal interactions. That’s the other creepy thing: how well do you know the people you’re spilling your life to?

Personal privacy and the like are all on one hand. On the other hand, how often are we that personal… in person? If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a small cabal of close friends and a larger extended social network. Thinking back, it’s hard to remember spending the time to make the memories I have with them. A lot of the lives I’ve had brush up against mine have been experienced through pictures, videos and posts. My Facebook account does way more socializing and keeping up than I do. If it ever went rogue, it could ruin my life. Honestly. Also, you know, because A.I. My point is that we let machines handle a lot of our personal interactions. Even videos seem, to me, at times, terrified cries from lonely people locked within 1920×1080 collapsible screens.

One of our greatest advancements in medicine and general well-being was antibiotics. Unfooortunately, we really went to town with the stuff. Now, many of the most common diseases are producing antibiotic-resistant strains. Most often in Hospitals. I know, the place you go to get better. Worse than that, though, is that the antibacterial soap we’re washing into our streams in massive quantities is creating strains of similarly resistant bacteria in the wild. Whoops. Fear not, though, because bacteria is not the greatest health risk we have (Yet), Obesity is.

We’re a race of beings that is so successful that we can literally experiment with the fundamental elements of existence and life. We can shape our surroundings to a fine edge. In fact, that’s the only reason we can feed and support the population we have. So, what do we use this incredible power for? Letting our rich countries eat waaaay too much. Of course, over-consumption isn’t the only source of obesity. Inactivity plays a big role. Aaaand, what technology keeps us tapping keys to type in: “plz, can I haz reason not to move for 4 hours?”

Okay, let’s break it down a little faster now. Racial inequality. Sexual inequality. Class inequality. The mad pursuit of profit. People reduced to viewing figures. Rampant unemployment. Access to enough weaponry to destroy all life on Earth. Insane Dictators ruling through fear and power. The constant impingement of technology into every aspect of daily life. A complete lack of silence in most major metropolitan areas. Extreme levels of pollution. Artificially-induced climate changes that could be irreversible with our current level of technology…

Let’s recap: We’ve used our technological might to enslave people through force of arms and subtle, head-throbbing indoctrination. We’re so out of touch with the natural environment that it seems normal to rarely touch the Earth and to communicate the most important moments of our lives through digital renderings on social media sites. Our medical technologies have been over-used to the point of redundancy, and we don’t use them to treat anywhere near the number of people that need it. Homeless people are nearly forgotten, despite their singular humanity, because they don’t have… well, money. Our abuse of fossil-fuel-tech has created spiraling climate changes that could wipe out humanity, and we’re still fighting about whether or not it’s happening. We’ve destroyed our atmosphere. We’re never unimpeded, but we’re usually alone. Our most powerful, earth-shattering weapons are in the hands of the only people who would care to use them. We could end our global food shortage, but beef just tastes amazing.

It loooooks bleak. Well, it LOOKS bleak. I’m not sure it’s actually as bad as it looks, because I’ve got faith in people. Yeah, we can be stupid at times, but we never did wipe out all life on Earth during the Cold War. That’s something. A Dystopia is the nightmarish warping of something perfect. But, that’s just life. Nothing is ever actually perfect. It’s always just to the right of perfect. And, I think that’s fine, because we change with the world. Sure, we may live in a 1984-esque Dystopic digital Penopticon, but that was 1949’s definition of a Dystopia. We live under very different circumstances. Thus, the things we think are insane are a little different. I mean, when I was a human worm-spawn, the idea of an iPad would have blown my Trekkie mind. Yet, today, I’m using one to play videos while I write.

Tablets are just another fact of life, now. It’s easy to sit back and accept the way things are, because that’s usually a pretty sound strategy. However, every now and again, it’s worthwhile to compare our world with unchanging literary exemplars. It gives us perspective on just what our world means in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, it can make our world look a hell of a lot more terrifying than it actually is. Other times, it shows us exactly how horrifying our lives really are. Either way, sometimes, it’s refreshing to take a step back and make an ant-hill out of an office building. Enjoy your Dystopic ramblings.

Addendum#SaveTheDay

End of Summer Pop-Culture Run-down!

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts with tags , , , , , on September 5, 2013 by trivialpunk

Remember all that time I took off from writing? Well, I wasn’t idle during that time, but I wasn’t exactly working on projects. You see, I had just gotten Sherlock (my PC) back and started back in on my projects when I realized that this summer was drawing to a close and, between this, other projects and a full-time University course load, I wouldn’t have time to enjoy myself if I didn’t do it now. You can’t just let those summer months float by unacknowledged! So, I thought I’d do a quick pop-culture run-down of what I’ve been viewing and playing to bring you up to speed.

This last week, I was camping, so I didn’t get much watched. However, I did nail out quite a few short story frameworks for the coming month. I realize that this week will have to be a double-post to make up for the stories I’ve missed, but that’s okay. (And here they are! Actionable ContentSolitude and another revamped classic: About A Ham Sandwich) They’re ready and waiting for a final edit. I also got to play some Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn!

FinalFantasyXIVARealmRebornBanner

Apparently, Squenix acknowledged that the original FF14 was tripe, so they built a new game from the ground up and gave everyone that bought the original a free copy of the new one. Now, that’s taking responsibility for your mistakes, and it’s a company policy I can really get behind. In my mind, they bought so much good will for themselves with that move that I’ll forgive the initial server outages and realm roll-out problems.

The game play itself is pretty standard. My friend and I rolled a Thaumaturge and a Marauder to compare the combat styles and how they’re dealt with. They’ve got pretty simple built-in rotations that won’t blow the mind of anyone familiar with World of Warcraft, but they’re functional. The game itself is beautiful. They didn’t use the always-in-season cartoony-WoW approach. They went for a full-on Final Fantasy graphical style. I know that sounds redundant, but anyone familiar with the FF art-style will know what I’m talking about. The biggest surprise of all wasn’t in the actual game-play, though. It was in the controls.

Your user interface can make or break your game, because it’s the set of tools through which you invite your player to explore your world. If your system isn’t fun or engaging, if it turns your game from an experience into a slog to grind through, then you’ll swiftly lose players. This is one of the reasons that PC games have had so much trouble adapting to console waters: the interfaces are just so different. Developers have tried to solve this problem in every way, from console keyboards to PC controllers, with greater and lesser success. FF14 solves this problem rather elegantly by using the bog-standard keyboard interface for the PC and a sleek, intuitive controller design for the PS3. Unfortunately, the 360, at time of writing, doesn’t support cross-platform play very well, so you won’t see a 360 release of FF14 any time soon.

The console controls are as follows: analog sticks to move, single buttons for simple commands, like targeting, and shoulder buttons + arrow-pad/ shape buttons for hot-keyed commands. Between this UI and the uncomplicated rotation I mentioned earlier, the game sets itself up for lolling couch-play rather nicely. There are options, but they add more than they complicate, at least during the level-range we played. There’s a Job system and cross-class-actions to build up; unfortunately, the game’s one fault is how poorly it instructs you to deal with these matters. But, as this game is a deep rabbit hole, we’re going to stop there and move on to…

movies-the-worlds-end-poster

The World’s End! This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in years, even among the host of best-movie-I’ve-seen-in-years that have been released this summer. It’s funny without being crude and true without being too crass. It’s an overwhelming satire of itself, as well as notions held by both dominant cultures and sub-cultures. It’s both prophetic and, quite honestly, rather fair. Its deeper, harder-hitting points are masked by smashy-smashy-eggman fun and double-talk that seeps from its every pore. As insane as it seems, every aspect of it has been carefully crafted to add to its artistic value, satirical outlook and subversive humour. It’s a send-up of able-ism, digital imperialism, whining-without-doing, mass consumerism, personal psychology and brand creation. It even finds time to mock apocalypse movies and self-righteousness.

I’m not sure where it got the time to do all that, but it’s one of the best written movies I’ve seen in years. It quite honestly follows on from the previous movies in the trilogy, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, in spirit if not plot. There are the usual meta-jokes and your old-favourite cast of characters. I’m starting to wonder if British actors are always in the same movies together because of some cultural carry-over from the acting-troop days of old or if it’s just a writer-director preference thing, because after watching Spaced, I’m constantly having “OH! It’s you!” moments. Martin Freeman even shows up to assure us that he’s more than just a furry-toed hobbit that hangs around with a detective. I promise you: you will enjoy this movie. Everyone brought their A-game.

Castle-promo

Speaking of detectives, I went all-in on Castle this month, and it just keeps getting better. He’s somewhere between Jessica Fletcher and Sherlock Holmes. Fletcher because he’s a crime-solving writer and Holmes because his primary strength is creative consideration of the many horrors committed on one man by another. To top it all off, he’s played by Nathan Fillion of Firefly, Captain Hammer and Neil’s Puppet Dreams fame. Also, Nathan Fillion is from my home city, so I like him that much more. The basic premise is that Castle’s a famous mystery author that has, through his connection with the mayor, been authorized to shadow Detective Kate Beckett, while she investigates homicides, in order to do research for new books. I know it sounds a bit crazy, and it is. It only gets more absurd as the series progresses, but that’s okay.

It both does and doesn’t take itself seriously. It never lets a little thing like plausibility get in the way of a good story, but it’s not so out to lunch that you’ll switch off in disgust. Its creativity deserves your suspension of disbelief. The gender politics are interesting and the characters feel real. They may be larger-than-life, but they’re also very human, flaws and all. When someone’s misogynistic, it’s because that character is, not because the show’s outlook is. It’s a balance that’s rare and hard to maintain.

There are some portions that are a bit too sensationalized, but that only serves to reinforce the quasi-pulp feel the show occasionally swerves towards. At times, it’s exactly like reading a trashy crime novel, which is appropriate, wouldn’t you say?

I also started up Papers, Please: a simple little indie game on Steam about working at a border checkpoint station under a thinly-veiled, oppressive, Communist regime. The mechanics are simple, the moral choices poignant and the stories compelling. If you’ve got some time to kill and you want to think about what you’re doing a lot harder than you need to, then pick it up!

I started watching Raising Hope. It’s pretty funny. Not to be taken seriously. Watch with liquor in hand.

Speaking of liquor in hand, Outlast dropped today and I’ve been itching to finish it up. Before I go, though, I want to talk about a pet peeve of mine: default keyboard controls. To me, Outlast and Final fantasy 14 are clear indicators that part of the industry is made up by people who game, because their input systems make intuitive sense to me as a gamer. The interface for FF14 was a refreshing surprise, but the default keyboard layout for Outlast actually made me smile.

It’s clearly set up with WASD and a simple mouse in mind. I always tweak a couple of things, but this time I really didn’t want to. It made me realize how often I’ve had to. So, I’d like to address the people who make these default button maps for a second:

Dear Designers:

I know it’s tough figuring out exactly where to put what buttons, but it’s important. Sit down and really get into playing your game before you make that decision. After all, you’ll need to have a game built before you have a default set-up, but, failing that, let me give you a word or two of advice as someone who has played games for many years:

1. Just because “crouch” starts with “C” doesn’t mean it’s the best button to bind crouch to. I know Warcraft did the first-letter-hotkey thing, but it doesn’t make sense in an FPS. There are going to be times you need to hit the crouch and enter commands at the same time and, given that “E” is usually enter, you’re going to get a lot of finger movement out of that one side. WASD should do for gamers what home-row does for typists: provide a safe place to return to. Try pressing “C” to crouch, “E” to enter and “W” to walk forward at the same time without moving your basic hand position. You can do it by moving your thumb up from the space bar, but you’ll either need to look to see the specific key for your thumb to press or know the area very well by muscle memory. With something like crouch, I could have all the time I need to check, such as when I go through a vent, or I might need it to hide like a scared fox when the twisted monstrosities come calling (Or, if you like, guys with guns that I need to take cover from). Give the pinky something to do: Keep crouch as control.

2. Consider the rate and urgency with which people are going to be pressing buttons relative to their position. If I have to hold a button to run, then don’t bind it to a finger-key I’ll want to do multiple things with, because running is a pretty big part of any game. Likewise, don’t bind it to a finger that never does anything simply to give it something to do. The ring finger on my left hand is highly untrained. Be kind to it. Also, if I’m going to need to switch off my flash-light quickly to hide a lot, then “G” is not the best key.

3. Use toggle keys judiciously. If I’m going to be toggling something a lot (like run), then make it convenient. If it’s more like the walk function in WoW, then not so much.

4. Lean functions are cool, but, unless they’re an integral part of game-play (like in Outlast), don’t mess with my “E” key.

5. Giving someone the option to have a “You just bound “_” to A, but A is already “__” You’ll be replacing “_” Are you sure?” pop-up on the control-binding menu would be nice for more complicated controller layouts.

6. Bind Journal to “J.” It’s what all the cool kids are doing.

7. Be very careful with where you put high-value buttons. My only problem with Outlast was that Reload was bound to “R” which is right next to Lean, which is “E.” So, when I went to Lean, I instinctively skipped over “E”, because it has been my Enter key for the last 20 years of gaming and reloaded my camera, wasting precious batteries. I rebound the key to “Caps Lk,” which solved the problem, but always consider  game-play layout precedents and the habits your players might have going in. It’s okay to shake up the formula when you do it well, like Outlast did generally, but I’ve seen it done poorly enough times to have to mention it. Also, if there’s a button we’re going to be pressing a lot, then it’s sort of a bad idea to place a button that wastes a valuable resource right next to it. Until I made the switch to “Caps Lk,” I wasted three batteries. For a psychotic survival-horror player like me, that’s unforgivably shameful on my part.

Thanks for your time and good luck with your game.

Okay, I knew I wasn’t really writing a letter there, but it would be rude not to sign off properly.

Speaking of, this has been Trivial Punk and I’ll see you on the Other side.

…It’s Always Such a Pleasure

Posted in Everything Else, Game Guts, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2013 by trivialpunk

Things don’t always work out the way we want them to. My computer’s in the shop again, and my projects sit on it, unfinished. Even today’s post is in its embryonic form somewhere on my D: drive.  Thankfully, this week’s story was sitting on my Google Drive, so it went up, along with today’s Let’s Play.

The post? Well, we’re just going to have to wing it, aren’t we? You all know how I love to harp on old topics, so let’s talk about the critical responses to The Last of Us.

Enough time has passed since the game dropped that we’ve gotten quite a few opinions on the much-vaunted game. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Others are completely indifferent. Still others wonder why it was made within this generation at all.

I’m not here to comment on the game specifically. I still haven’t played it yet. Whoops! Did I type that out loud?

Unfortunately, I’m in a PC household now, so we didn’t have the hardware to play it. I was, however, privy to its critical reception. Again, I’m sure you can figure out why people liked it. Also, probably, why “the people that didn’t like it” didn’t like it. I read and listened to quite a few of them, but there was one thing that I wanted to discuss at greater length. That thing is the notion that the game was boring because it used stale mechanics.

Now, some of you might not have thought the game was boring, and that’s totally cool. I’m not here to reiterate the opinion. Again, I can’t possibly have one, because it’s a game I haven’t played. So much of a game relies on your engagement with it that it’s almost meaningless to write a review of a game without having played it. Sure, you can criticize things about it, but, as a holistic experience, you’ll be missing something if you don’t spin it up. Granted, you can rely on past experience to figure out what it would be like to play it, but you may still miss out on something integral to the game if you play it like a movie.

That over with? Cool, let’s talk about reusing mechanics. If you watched this Extra Credits video, then you’ll know that one of the best ways to start a game is to begin with a set of mechanics. This means that narrative is usually going to take a back-seat to game-play.

But what if you’ve got a story you want to tell? Well, you can use a franchise to do that. A franchise is a sub-section of genre, really. It’s a collection of mechanics that are wrapped up in an identity.  Look at the Halo and Silent Hill (you knew that was coming) franchises. The first games set the stage for narrative, but, more importantly, they also tested out the mechanics. Knowing how those mechanics would affect their audience, and how it would all fit together, provided the designers with the space to tell a story.

What if you want to tell that story without a franchise? Well, you can use the same techniques that Halo and Silent Hill used: you can learn from other games. As much as I hate to admit it, Silent Hill came after Resident Evil. RE dropped three years before the first Silent Hill. Games aren’t made in a vacuum, so you can’t possibly imagine that one didn’t affect the other.

In fact, if you really think about it, survival horror games would utilize the mechanics tested in the original RE game for years after its initial release. Few of them would truly add anything revolutionary to the formula, besides a new story. Now, I know that’s a pretty controversial statement, because games like Silent Hill 2 improved on the formula in many ways, besides through story-line, but you can see the similarities.

Fast-forward a little bit and we can see that trend blossoming behind us. We had the bloom of the first-person RPG, in the ancient days, with games like Deus Ex and System Shock. They would later evolve into the sleeker FPS with RPG elements of today, but that’s a different post. There was the era of the platformer, where every movie tie-in that had a story to tell became a jumping-puzzle game. Let’s not forget the Eldritch days of the point-and-click adventure. Or the sweet petals of the third-person shooter with RPG elements, still fresh upon the bulb.

I know, we didn’t really want another third-person shooter with stealth elements. Most of us have played Tomb Raider or Uncharted, so The Last of Us isn’t exactly fresh. I’m sure it doesn’t help that The Last of Us and Uncharted are both from the same studio. Nor that it’s a zombie game. If it smelled anymore like compost, we could use it to fertilize our vegetable gardens.

BUT, is that inherently a bad thing? Okay, sure, we can over-do things sometimes, especially in the video game industry. Playing through two very similar game-play styles in two different titles can be a bit of a pisser, because a video game is a long time commitment. Two similar movies, okay, that’s four hours. Two similar games? That’s at least twenty hours for two AAA titles.

Still, by all accounts, The Last of Us had a great story and solid game-play. Hell, I’ve read through it, and it made me wish I’d been able to play it, just to experience it. Maybe I’d have gotten bored after the sixth hour, I don’t know, but I can see what it was trying to do.

Video games get a lot of flack for telling bad stories, and that’s not undeserved. Many of the epics of our past are, from a strictly literary perspective, quite silly. Or simple. Even lame. Part of that is a haphazard approach to story-telling, and some of that is the result of completely disregarding it in favor of game-play. That’s not to say we haven’t had some amazing game stories, but Mario? Come on.

We don’t always need a great story for a great game. We can stitch it together through game-play or experience it through the world; that’s the sweet alchemy of video games, but what if you want to tell a story? A specific one. What if you look at a game and think, “I know exactly what story I could tell using that as a vehicle.”

Do we want to, on those grounds alone, muzzle creativity? Like or dislike a game all you want on its own merits. Maybe, you’re bored of the mechanics; that’s legit. Hate away. I think that’s awesome, and we can always use another voice asking for originality. However, I would caution anyone against pronouncing something stale simply because it’s similar to another thing. The deployment of a set of mechanics can be horrible, but the mechanics themselves are tools.

Don’t say that a mechanical paradigm is inherently dull. The industry listens to that kind of thing. Say that it was used badly. Say that this particular game could have benefited from X instead of Y. Say that you’re tired of hearing about zombies! Say anything, but remember that what you say will be heard. We’re part of the creative process. When we criticize better, the industry becomes better.

I know I hold this stance because of how important stories are to me. I admit that without any shame to provide you with full disclosure of my bias. I’ve read through horribly written books for a good story and vice-versa. I’ve watched terrible movies for analogical reasons: to learn something about them and myself. I approach games in much the same way. I believe that some games should exist because they tell a story. Others, because they are fun games. Other because we want to learn how to type faster while we kill the undead.

We wouldn’t have Megaman X without Megaman. We wouldn’t have Silent Hill 2 without Resident Evil. We wouldn’t have SpecOps: The Line without CoD… or SpecOps. You know where I’m going with this.

Actually, SpecOps: The Line is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Think about it. It wouldn’t exist without the games that came before it: without a profound understanding of the mechanics they used. Maybe The Last of Us didn’t utilize the mechanics it had perfectly, but if we didn’t try that sort of thing, we wouldn’t have games like SpecOps: TL. We wouldn’t have Silent Hill 2.

In other words, gaming would be the lesser for it. So, don’t get down on rehashing mechanics. Get down on doing it poorly. Or, just get down.

images

Gloam: Entry 2 – Day 6 – Status: Disoriented

Posted in All the Things, Gloam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2013 by trivialpunk

I’ve been ruminating on this one for a while. I guess I kind of backed myself into a corner with Gloam. I spent so much time trying to figure out how to address the topic of “Writing” that I neglected the most obvious solution: split it up.

Writing:

…for player freedom

Role-playing games are very open-ended. The suite of potential tools available to your players is limited by imagination and game-master enforcement. I would encourage you to do as little enforcing as possible. If you can get your players to imagine interesting, novel solutions to problems, then you have them engaged. You can run into problems, though.

The first time I ran Gloam, it was a city-wide campaign. I went for a full-scale, county-wide apocalypse. I spent hours writing open-ended script events and making up rules for improvised weapons. I wrote long descriptions and multiple solutions to problems. I slaved over creature design and atmosphere. I crafted an entire room to run the game. Then, about thirty minutes in, my players got in a car and said, “We drive towards the edge of the city.” Oh. They’re just leaving.

For one reason or another, I’d gotten so mixed up in the specifics of the game, that I forgot the overall reason my players were there. I managed to sputter out a weak excuse about giant holes in the road, ripped straight out of Silent Hill, and tailored it to fit the game. It wasn’t a total disaster, but it wasn’t a great start. I suppose the take-away here is that you’re not going to be aware of everything your player thinks to do. My players solved the hospital problem by asking probing questions about its architecture.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I had an architecture-based solution prepared for a one-off puzzle and nothing ready for my players’ attempts to just flee the city. Well, the truth is that I had to cobble it together from three other potential solutions. As you already probably know, running a role-playing session is part story-telling, part improv and part gaming. Your players will hit you with curve-balls, and you’ve got to be ready to dig in and swing. Be confident. The last thing you want your players to think is that they’ve caught you off your guard. Ideally, they’ll think that any subtle dissonance or uncanny scenario is a clue. If you can convince your players to try to dig into the mystery here, you’ve reversed a serious battle.

There are many ways to mitigate this. The least useful of all is to deny your players an action. Once you’ve defined the limits of the experience, your players should be given as much freedom as possible. Naturally, you’ll be puppet-mastering events behind the scenes, but be prepared to let them use a soda machine. Open a door with a crow-bar. Investigate a light. Naturally, they shouldn’t be able to fly if that’s not a part of the world. No four-story back-flips or Matrix-style bullet-play. Your players will understand that, but they’ll be a bit unnerved if they can’t take a nap on a bench.

You can actually benefit a lot from this natural predilection to try things. Small events within the world can help bring it to life, and, if you act quickly enough, you can use those events to drive the central plot. I’m a big fan of letting players sign their own death warrants. That’s why I recommend that you steer away from death-traps or ambushes. When it comes to role-play, it’s never going to be the description of the events that gets your players. It’s going to be the anticipation of those events animated in their imaginations. It’s going to be the other players’ reactions. So, make use of foreshadowing.

To do that in the realm of horror role-play, I come up with a short list of possible clues and multiple routes to acquire them. For instance, in that first game, I had a cult attempting to use the city to complete a large, apocalyptic ritual. Now, in order to let my players in on the events, I had to find a way to let them know it was happening. Here are the avenues they might have used to discover the cultists’ plans:

-One character type was an investigator that was looking into a rash of recent disappearances. He’s in town following up on a leather-bound book one of the families that hired him gave him. It’s written in some strange language and it’s his only lead. The linguist recognizes the ancient language and can decipher the book. It details the rituals and practices of an ancient cult. However, despite the age of the text, the book itself is quite new. The binding is bent in one place. This particular section has clearly seen heavy use. (Unfortunately, neither of these characters was in my player-party)

-Recover a copy of that same book from a dead cultist’s house. The linguist can still translate it.

-The opening scene involves dead kid walking on stage during a reunion dinner. Upon investigating his death, the team discovers his family’s involvement with the cult. This leads them back to the school and the first ritual site.

-If the players stumble upon a ritual site and interrupt it, then they can find a nearby map outlining the other locations.

-If players go to city hall, they can discover the involvement of the Mayor in the cult’s activities, as well as that of the finance officer. If they root through his office for a while, they’ll discover a hidden compartment in his desk. In it, they’ll find financial information and a cultist robe, along with related paraphernalia. With a little thinking, they’ll figure out that the cult has sunk a large amount of money into renovations on particular buildings, as well as made several land purchases. Investigating those areas will lead players to the ritual sites.

-Interrogating a cultist with yield some of the data. Interrogating many of them will uncover the truth.

-If the security guard is in the party, he can reveal that he worked for the cult. He didn’t know much, but he knows where a lot of man-power was concentrated.

Any one of those situations will lead players down the same rabbit hole. All of them point players in the right direction, and they can be picked up and employed almost anywhere, especially the “How-To Cultist” guide. Yet, they allow your players the freedom to discover the truth in their own way, and the extra work you put in gives you the draw-cards you need in case your players throw something at you you’re not quite prepared for. Now, you’re prepared without being prepared. Although, if all else fails, you can go the old mysterious text-message route. I’ve had to pull that one out a couple times, I’m ashamed to admit. Just… make it make sense.

I find it helps to have someone to write with. You can’t be expected to see your work from every angle, because you’re right in the middle of it. There are things you know about the world you’ve created that you can’t just forget. However, those things might be completely foreign to your players. It helps if you create a unified world, where the rules always apply even-handedly, but having someone on hand to tell you something doesn’t make sense is invaluable. If you can’t find someone who wants to sit and jam out horror riffs, then write your work down. After you’ve finished working on something else, come back to it and see what things you’d think of doing with the information you’re providing.

Taking time to clear your head is incredibly valuable, no matter what you’re working on.

…for flexible encounters

It’s all well and good to talk about creating flexible puzzles, but what about flexible events? Believe it or not, this has by far the simplest solution: modular encounters. However,othere are going to be location that you want your players to visit. For those, I’d recommend writing personalized, flavoured encounters. I’ll provide you with an example of each to illustrate the difference:

Stage Specific: Breathless (The Manifest Symphony)

-Beams of light spill across the monstrous pile of flesh quivering on the floor. A horrible high-pitched whine, a cacophony of tortured lungs gasping in the darkness, shakes the air around you. The impossible beast before you, seemingly cobbled from the bodies of the restless dead, rises. Air sacks, once lungs, inflate, holding the creature erect. The sacks under one of its many appendages puffs violently, flinging the arm upwards like a reckless marionette. As the arm slams into the trunk of the enormous body, a howl from the skull at the end of the limb racks your ears. Lungs on the trunk send the arm crashing down towards you.
> 1-3 “Heavy” Shoulder wound
> 4-6 The creature is clumsy, newly formed. The appendage smashes into the wooden stage, teeth chipping off and wood splintering.

-The creature, at its full height, is a collection of lungs and ribs, skulls and spines. Well over 10 feet tall, the creature flails its 6 limbs in the air, a symphony of wailing that inches the body forward.

Hoo wiiii daaaa…”

-If the investigators choose to leave the area, the creature will not follow, unless they jump into the gym, whereupon it will topple over on the other side and pursue them. It can strike from all sides.

-It’s easy to outrun. Shooting a lung will puncture it. Cutting it open once all its arms have been disabled, will reveal a hollow core. Light shone inside of it will instantly kill it.

-Killing the creature will yield 1-2 candles of psychological empowerment.

Alright, I know some of that was a bit confusing. Candles and such, but I’m sure you get the gist of it. Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense with time. Now, let’s look at something purely modular.

Modular: The Wittigo (The Empty Man)

-A slow, methodical crunching sound, like the careful chewing of meat and gristle, draws your attention to the corner of the room, farthest from the door, most shrouded in darkness.

-Panning a light across it reveals a man, huddled in the corner of the room, crying. Crying and gnawing on a hunk of fresh charred flesh.

-Startled, the man looks up. Squinting in the glare of the light, it takes a second for you to realize that his lips are mangled stumps of red. They’ve been chewed off. In morphed, half-slurred words, he wails, “I was just so hungry! I didn’t know! How could I have known?!”

“Here piggy, piggy…”

The Wittigo will dive upon its victims, attempting to tackle them to the ground.
>1-2 He has a fire axe.
>3-6 He is unarmed

-If he has an axe, treat it as equivalent to a pistol if it strikes.
>1 – Strike in range
>2-5 – Miss
>6 – Strikes self

-A bite transfers the delusion, which doesn’t dissipate until The Grey One is scared off. [Motivation: Army building]

-The original Wittigo is beyond redemption. Having consumed his family, he must be killed. This leaves you thoroughly shaken. 1 candle of psychological damage.

The Wittigo encounter can be deployed anywhere and at any time. Granted, Breathless isn’t restricted, either, but he’s thematically related to the stage. Writing area-specific encounters allows you to direct some of the action of the story. Having modular encounters allows you to inject a little fear into your players, regardless of where they are. With a little quick thinking, any encounter can be re-written to serve your purposes on the fly. This approach balances the warring factions of narrative direction and ubiquitous threats quite nicely. It is by no means the only solution, but it’s one I’ve found to be effective.

The Original Gloam Manifesto

Posted in Gloam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2013 by trivialpunk

The gloaming is the edge where night meets day. It’s a game about the fading of the light in the face of an incontestable darkness. Of course, the light can technically persist, but only with some quick-thinking and careful planning. Created in the void of systems between gaming and story-telling, Gloam attempts to pare down the elements of meta-gaming and rules-lawyering that pull one out of the experience; it is, after all, a horror game.

Simplification and freedom put a strong emphasis on imagination and a heavy burden on the part of the story-teller to make decisions fairly and on the players to trust in those decisions.

Atmosphere, attitude and immersion are key elements. Psychological warfare is also encouraged in playful, creative ways. Chance plays a role (roll lol) in deciding the direction, occasionally, but a clever move by the player should always be rewarded.

Help your players become attached to their characters, but don’t be afraid to kill them. There has to be some risk involved.

Keep in mind the strength, but also the intense fragility of the human being. A large portion of the terror comes from that weakness. After all, what is a small group of regular humans in the face of the hordes of the unknown?

Finding Nirvana – A Trip to The Lobby

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by trivialpunk

Hello again, dear readers. I know it’s been a week longer than I’d like it to have been, and I’d like to blame that on the birthday weekend I just had, but truthfully, I’ve been struggling a bit with the proper words to use. That, and a crippling addiction to Sonic Screwdrivers (Blue Curacao, Vanilla vodka and Lemon-lime soda, because I’ll always be a Tennant man). I know, I know, I should really be using my summer hours more efficiently, but we all need time off, right? Right. Let’s ignore the number of hours I spend playing games for this blog and the spin-off YouTube series I’m writing. That’s… that’s work ( >.>). Since I couldn’t think of a way to properly boil all this down to something pithy and worthy of a forgotten 200-word column in a newspaper bin somewhere, we’re going to try something new but stay within the boundaries of my trademark undisciplined style.

Last week, I stepped a little out of my comfort zone. I decided that, if I wanted to provide you guys with interesting content, I was going to have to try out some new things. From there, I got it in my head that it would be a good idea to try some interviews. Let’s keep in mind that I have no background in journalism whatsoever, besides a bout of my childhood that I spent training for the job should it be a requirement to become Spider-man, and dive right in to how this started.

As you may know, this was a blog I started to explore, criticise and deconstruct horror video games on narrative and mechanical levels. However, after a while, I realized that I was becoming a bit of a broken record. There were issues with the games that I was reviewing that couldn’t be explained by bad design alone. No, these were systemic. These issues were going to stem from convention. “But what conventions?” I would fret, “They were already in place in the earliest games I’ve played.” I thought on this and came to a conclusion. Unless there was a long-forgotten ColecoVision game from the Clocktower series, many of the conventions of horror games were going to come from horror movies (and books). A poor choice? Probably, games require their own style of thinking to craft. They’re primarily interactive experiences, after all.

However! You’ve got to start somewhere, right? Besides, there have been some decent games that use well-established television tropes. The Clocktower series is as close as you can get to Scooby-doo, while still having an 8 year old boy murdering people with 4-foot-long scissors involved. There was a Playstation 2 spin-off from John Carpenter’s The Thing that was pretty decent. There’s that Walking Dead game that only excludes itself from counting here because it involves zombies, and the day that zombies become scary again is the day they’re pounding on my door, demanding my tastier bits be highlighted in permanent marker. Oh, yeah, and that other Walking Dead game we’re just not going to talk about, because it sparks all kinds of silly debates. Why yes, I am going to skip over the terrible movie/show games and game-based movies, because we’d be here all day otherwise. The real point here was that I decided it was time to dive back to my roots and re-discover the horror movie.

IMG_0070

Luckily, there was a cult-horror-movie shop right down from where I was living when I made the decision. Unfortunately, there was also a giant library of movies in my home that manifested from the collector instincts of a group of middle-class pop-culture scholars (Read: gamers). So, I coasted along on Silence of the Lambs and Silent Hill. Little did I know what awaited me down the block.

Now, I can be a bit jaded at times. Between my Steam library, physical console copies and retro games, I own hundreds of different game titles and I’ve rented far more than that. I’ve also had the pleasure of playing and finishing 90% of them, so cracking a new game is often an exercise in comparison. Since the industry tends to focus on certain practices, and because the limitless void space that gaming’s potential hints towards is kind of scary, I can usually figure out what’s going to go down before the first Bargle-wargle monster shows up to try to catch me unawares. Of course, it doesn’t take a degree from Free Time University to figure that out. Only so many games get put out each year, and they’re all exercises in massive risk-taking on the part of the company that puts them out, so we get a bit jacked on the variation end of the art-form. Movies, though… they’ve got a long, varied history, especially indie-cult classics. That brings us to the moment I decided to hit The Lobby.

I want you to imagine this with me. You’re walking down the street. On your left is a shoe store, then a daycare… and, attached to the daycare, recessed in the wall, is a little push door with a hand-made paper sign. There’s a small standee outside and a window wall-papered with print-outs of movie covers. Pushing open the door leads you to a staircase going down to another standee and a door going off to the left. Hesitantly, you trudge down the stairs. The door at the bottom gives off a subtle red ambience, almost as if its contents are eager to bleed into the outside world. Stepping across the threshold brings you to a concrete-floored room full of wonder. Pinhead stands to your right, shelves full-to-bursting with movies struggle to support their payload to your left. Another step in reveals the rest of the shop, bathed in the same red ambience, which you now realize is the light reflected off the shiny shelves, walls and couch. To your right is an alcove with a couch and a television playing a piece of horror movie history. A coffin shelf holds memorabilia, as do the walls, ceiling and floors. You are inundated. Saturated.  Every one of these movies is a new-favourite waiting to be played. “They’re all horror,” you realize with a grin.

At least, that was my reaction. It’s a veritable playground of new experiences waiting to be had. Sitting right at the back, past the shelves and wonder, is Kevin Martin. Believe me, if the store is open, he’s there. Kevin is the owner-operator of The Lobby. At first, I’d wondered how many of the movies in the store he’d watched, but, after a brief conversation, it became clear that the answer was all of them. He’s friendly as all hell, too, so I walked out of that first visit with an armful of recommendations. I couldn’t have enjoyed the visit more, unless I’d also been offered a job designing the new Silent Hill game, but that’s hardly Kevin’s fault. Several months and plenty more movies later, brings us to last week.

I knew that, if I was going to try interviews, then The Lobby was where I wanted to start. So, on the way to return the key to my old house (I’d just moved), I dropped off my latest cache of films. While I was there, I decided to ambush Kevin with the idea of doing an interview. I was trying to sound casual, but I was nervous. Then, he said yes and time slowed down. My brain screamed, “What the HELL are you doing?! You aren’t the least bit prepared! You’ve got a recording device, some paper and a prayer, what are you going to do if you screw this up? You’ll never get to come back here again. What if there are SPIDERS in your BAG, NOW? Wouldn’t THAT be fitting punishment?!” Still, I also knew there was another voice quietly whispering, “You know enough about how this works. You’ve got questions you’ve always wanted to ask. You guys have shot the shit before, just think of it like that.” Thus, we sat down on the couch, and I did my first interview.

IMG_0071

Kevin, on the other hand, is an interview veteran. Besides owning one of the last video rental shops in the city, he also helps to organize and promote DEDfest, a cult-movie horror film-festival. It’s a time, let me tell you. His store is also being featured in a series of movies. You can check that out under The Last Video Store on CineCoup, or, if you just want to keep up on the news in general, you can join The Lobby’s Facebook group. So, he’s been asked a question or two.

Because I’m hopelessly predictable, I asked him about the fate of the movie rental industry. If you haven’t been suspended in cryogenics for the past couple years, you probably already know that many of the bigger movie rental businesses have shut their doors or switched to being whatever Rogers is now… some kind of amorphous mass of wires and connection issues. However, businesses like The Lobby have survived. When I asked Kevin about it, he said that it was thanks to his loyal customer base and serving a niche market. It makes good sense, after all, to not try and compete with the larger stores or Netflix. But, it also helps that he’s a devoted fan of the genre. I told you earlier that Kevin has -probably- watched all of the films in his shop and I meant it. This means that, if you’re looking for a particular type of scare, then he should be able to help you find it. There’s something to be said for coming in, looking at the titles on the shelf and having a conversation with someone who loves the movies you’re looking at. He doesn’t do late fees; his primary concern is that you get to watch the film. In short, ladies and gentles, this is someone who deserves our ear; he bleeds horror.

IMG_0074

We covered a lot in the hour and some long interview, which you can find recorded here, but a lot of it came back to originality. Originality is at a premium in the AAA industry today. As Kevin put it, despite his love for big-name movies, this summer’s line-up… “Sequel, sequel, based on a book, based on a book, remake, reboot, re-imagining…” He’s pretty right. There’s nothing wrong with that, really. However, when he went to see The Hills Have Eyes and Evil Dead remakes, he admits to feeling like he’s been there before. The friends he went with loved them and he enjoyed them, which speaks to their quality, but I feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong there. The very foundation of horror lies in the imagination. Reboots are nice, because we shouldn’t be afraid to update old properties with the benefit of our future hyper-tech and they’re new experiences for some people, but what about people like Kevin? He’s a die-hard supporter of the genre, so he’s seen these stories before. Doesn’t the industry owe him the opportunity to experience that feeling of omen, that sticks with you for days afterwards, that comes from being truly affected by something new? Yes, I understand that they’re interested in up-dating and snagging new fans, and that it’s hard to do something truly original in an industry that pumps out ideas faster than a fire-hose spews kittens, but, if a large portion of horror is socially contextual, then old properties aren’t going to cut it, even for newcomers. It seems silly to think that copying something, instead of producing something, is a preferable risk in a genre that runs on sparking dreadful wonder.

Still, if you’re going to do a remake, then how do you do it right? I asked Kevin that very same thing. He seems to think that it rides the line between being respectful to the original idea and making it your own. I don’t want to spoil the plots, but Kevin provided a few examples of good remakes: “John Carpenter’s The Thing” (1982) and” The Thing from Another World” (1951), “The Fly” (1958) and “The Fly” (1986), as well as, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978). In these movies, especially “The Fly,” what you already know going into the movie may work against you. If part of horror is about subverting expectations in the spine-tingling-est way possible, then a remake should use what you think you know to scare the crap out of you. It’s like what SpecOps: The Line did by making you think you were stepping into another brown-desert-shooter and taking you on a psychological-thrill-ride. Maybe what we’re really crying out for is a Sims-style Silent Hill game where you play a white, middle-class office worker that grows old and dies in obscurity. That would be true horror in a world cello-taped together by social media. Still, up-dating new franchises is only one of the ways to extend the life of intellectual property. What about sequels?

Kevin says he has a soft-spot for sequels, “but only if the sequel continues the story-arc of the first one…” and isn’t just a sequel in name only. That’s something I can kind of get behind for movies, but many of my favourite games were evolutions of the original formula and mechanics in sequel form (Silent Hill 2, Far Cry 3). I guess a gaming-equivalent would be expansion packs tarted up to look like sequels (Crysis 3). We’ll hit up that particular topic another time, though. Movies are singular narrative experiences, after all. The story is our core engagement. That’s what you’re supposed to be getting. Unfortunately, as Kevin mentioned, a lot of the time, what you’re buying with bigger-name  franchises is the brand. That doesn’t mean that all sequels are like that, but when you consider things like Freddy’s Nightmares, House 2 (not about the cynical, fun-loving doctor) or Friday the 13th: The Series, that’s all you were getting of the original IPs. They traded off the names of the original series’ to attract an audience (See BioShock 2 for that particular sin in a gaming context). You can make a good movie that way, but it’s a bit misleading. This is where sequels and remakes diverge. Yes, they’re both using the same idea, but a sequel is a continuation. It shouldn’t just use the original as a spring-board to do something totally different. That’s what reboots are for.  Good sequels? Kevin gave props to the Saw guys for their winding, unified story.

Then again, he says, the big franchise he watched growing up was the Friday the 13th series (not to be confused with the Friday the 13th television show mentioned above), “the more, the merrier.” He equates his love of horror to a drug. I can definitely relate. Even though you know going into a theatre that you’re not going to totally enjoy something, you still go. You have to. It’s the same driving force that got me through Cthulhu and made me instantly want to rent Dagon, even though it was unrelated to it, simply to see what they had done.

As a horror movie junkie, it can be hard to elucidate why you love a movie, or even the genre itself. After years of watching horror movies, you can get a bit desensitized to the same old business. It’s a problem that I’ve run into, even as I’m sucking back B horror movies and indie games like a voracious frat-boy with a tray jager-bombs. I could only imagine what it was like for Kevin. So, I asked him what he wanted to get out of a horror movie now, years after he fell in love, “When it comes to horror movies, I want to be entertained, or [watch] a movie that resonates with me. If it scares me, [that’s] even better…” That was something I really needed to hear someone else say. One of the scariest things for me has been losing my ability to be fully immersed in a horror experience, because I’m too busy studying the movie (fear of losing fear, how meta is that? >.< ). Kevin himself says that the edge started to dull a bit when he got into Fangoria magazines and the how-tos of special effects. Still, he finds the odd flick that still gets him. That, if nothing else, gives me hope that I’ll find movies that will once again rake my nerves over a smattering of red-hot razors and Lego bricks.

IMG_0076

I’d recommend listening to the original interview, which I’ll link again for convenience, because I didn’t cover everything or do Kevin’s quotes justice. You really have to hear this guy talk about his genre; it’s awesome. So, track down your local cult movie shops, if you can. It’s not because it’s cool to buy indie or, even, local, although you’ll find arguments for both. No, for me, it’s because if you’re still running a business like that now, you love what you do. You love your subject-matter and you show it in your business practices. Kevin, and people like him, are more concerned with giving you a great experience than making a buck, so you can trust their word on the things they enjoyed. That’s where you’re going to find your next truly fantastic experience… It’s like Reddit in real life. Except that it costs money. Money that will go to fueling the industry making the things you also love. See? One big, happy, terrifying community.