The Lonely Man

I’ve published another short horror story so if you enjoyed The Quiet House then why not have a look at this one. It’s available both on Smashwords and Amazon (so it’s easier to get to) and costs about a dollar or regional equivalent (Links below). There are samples available on both sites so why not check it out?

I think it’s creepier and scarier than the last one, I’m quite proud of how it turned out. I’ve got ideas for many more so if you enjoy it there’ll be plenty to come as well. Thank you.

The Lonely Man

Amazon Link (UK)

Amazon Link (US)

Smashwords Link

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I’m Published Again!

Hello to my blog readers. Things have been up and down since moving halfway across the country which is why I’m still not in the habit of posting here. But I can tell you that I have been working on a new project which I hope you’ll be interested in.

For a long time I’ve enjoyed the works of M.R. James. For those of you who don’t know M.R. James then you should know he was one of the most prolific Victorian writers of ghost stories. In fact the popular image of a ghost as a sheet actually comes from his works. I really enjoy Victorian ghost stories and since playing The Last Door I have taken it upon myself to start writing my own.

They’ll be published fairly regularly and I will be posting on here when they are published. At the moment there is one available on Smashwords for free! Yes at no cost at all you can have a read of some of my work right on this fancy hyperlink here or at the one below.

You can download it in a number of formats best to suit you or just have a read on the site. 

My first story is The Quiet House and is set in modern day London. Joe, a recent graduate, has moved into a new house that is unnaturally silent. Soon strange things start to happen and he begins to suspect that he is not the only one in the flat. 

If you’re into horror then have a read, there’ll be plenty more in the coming weeks.

 

The Quiet House

the-quiet-house-cover_edited-1

The Last Door

I stepped back from the window, tearing my gaze from the forest before the house. The crows had settled once more, I could feel their beady eyes watching me. But I cared not for I am a great big polar bear. 

It’s been a little while since last I wrote. There are several reasons for this including mild depression and the fact that I will be moving house soon. But enough about that, let’s just get right back into the swing of things with The Last Door.

The Last Door is a point and click (I know, so unusual for me) horror game set in 1891 in Britain. In it you play as Jeremiah Devitt, a young man who receives a mysterious letter from an old friend from his boarding school telling him to come to his house at once. When Jeremiah arrives he finds the place oddly deserted and beings to uncover clues that talk of strange happenings. The beginning of each chapter also shows us a little hint of what is to come with the player controlling a different character who is in the throes of a disturbing act.

The game is episodic with chapters 1 and 2 already released and chapter 3 is in the works. It is very clear that the developers took influence from the contemporary horror writers of the era (There’s even a nice H.P. Lovecraft easter egg in the second chapter). It does a very good job of creating that sense of the Victorian horror story with underplayed tension and this constant air of mystery that keep you enthralled.

Despite the fact that it’s a comparatively tiny number of pixels it also manages to look pretty awesome

The game has a retro pixellated art style (Hey, I’m not sick of it, I think it looks good), yet has more modern lighting effects which to a fantastic job of building on this tense atmosphere. It’s not always obvious what an object may be but if you can’t work it out and if Jeremiah isn’t going to tell you then it’s really not important enough to merit it. Besides, it’s much easier to get lost in the sets and backgrounds than in the tiny details.

The sound is also fantastic with all the effects keeping the theme alive and an original score which is available to download for those who help support the game. The music is excellent and helps heighten the creepiness and the tension. It’s not a frustratingly difficult game and most of the puzzles are fairly logical, if occasionally esoteric. More attention has been given to the atmosphere and the lore.

But what’s more important in a horror game than the scares. The Last Door does well in evoking the older style of horror stories where unsettling creepiness is given priority over jump scares and gore. There are some gore-scare moments but they’re few enough that when they appear they are genuinely scary. If you like a more sophisticated sort of horror then you’ll enjoy the horror in this game.

When you’re on your own in a spooky cellar with only a lantern to see by, it’s always handy to grab a crowbar (Best tool in any game)

So are there any problems with it? Well nothing that really breaks the game for me. Some of the subtitle errors are distracting but considering it comes from a non-English developer that is easily forgiven. Other than that the only problem I have is the problem I have with all episodic games. There is always this need to build up the tension but there is little payoff since it is waiting for the next chapter to explain more.

For someone like me who enjoys getting sucked into a story it’s a little jarring to have to put it down and come back to it later. Yes you can make arguments about savouring a good thing and there are technical justifications, the game is still being made after all. Nevertheless part of me wishes that games like would just be released in one go to really keep you hooked to the story.

Creepy boarding schools/hospitals for the win!

The game is still being developed and they are asking for donations at their website (Link below). You can play the first chapter for free and can donate any amount to unlock the next chapter or there are a few reward schemes for higher donations including access to all future chapters and the excellent soundtrack.

If you enjoy classic horror then I really recommend giving it a go and sending some money their way. These developers have an excellent grasp on what makes a good adventure game and what makes something scary. The whole game has this oppressive, unsettling feel that only gets heightened as the chapters progress. Give it a go and I urge you to help fund more.

Link to the Website

My Top 5 Scary Characters

Muahahahaha! Welcome, dear reader, to the chamber of horrors! Well, my chamber of horrors, because this is my personal top 5 scary characters. I doubt you’ll agree with most of them because, let’s face it, what’s scary is subjective. Plus a number of these are things that used to scare me when I was younger and have just stuck in my brain. As usual I’m keeping spoilers to a minimum but it depends on your idea of a spoiler. So without further ado:

Number 5

Game: Puzzle Agent

What? A harmless little puzzle game? A harmless little funny puzzle game? What could be scary in a very simple game about an FBI agent in charge of the Puzzles division going off to investigate a crime?

Character: The Hidden People

Do not mess with these gnomes

Besides everything?! The art in this game is pretty cool but goddamn it makes for some terrifying people when they scream. But even worse than that is the little red gnomes known as the Hidden People. I think most of the terror comes from the fact that you just aren’t expecting this game to be scary. Then suddenly killer gnomes everywhere! What’s worse is that they sometimes just appear while you’re doing a puzzle. So you’re concentrating very hard on the game and suddenly these creatures appear! Not cool, Puzzle Agent, not cool.

Number 4

Game: Condemned: Criminal Origins

Maybe the only genuine horror game on this list, Condemned: Criminal Origins puts you in the role of Serial Crimes Unit officer Ethan Thomas as he investigates a series of brutal, ritualistic murders in a city that is slowly going mad. Fighting your way through armies of mad homeless and drug addicts while making your way through various abandoned locations is bad enough but one of the scariest bits of the game…

Character: Serial Killer X

Get ready for death, Agent Thomas, it will come visiting again

There is a sequence towards the end of the game where you have been making your way through an old farmhouse, locating clues and solving riddles. Near the end you are confronted and get chased by a serial killer. This sounds pretty standard but this game does this scene so well. The killer is about the same strength as your character and he’s clever, much cleverer than the other enemies you fight. He’s also a little faster meaning that once he retreats and you chase after him he’s already gone. Now it’s a game of cat and mouse as you each try to find the other and get the upper hand, waiting for him to come behind you with a rusty pipe. Oh and it’s not in some dark, dank villains lair, it’s in a house. A normal house, just like one you might live in.

Number 3

Game: Space Quest IV

The Space Quest series is amusing, oddly charming, kinda freaky, and, quite frankly, a classic. So what, in these stories about an incompetent space janitor getting himself thrust into the role of reluctant hero, could possibly be so scary?

Character: the Cyborgs

The things are bad enough to look at, and then they scream.

Quite early on in this game you get introduced to the many different ways in which Roger Wilco can die. This game is so full of ways to die that the video showing all the possible methods is more than twenty minutes long. The first death shown on that video is what happens when one of the Cyborgs finds you. The mad lip twitch, raising their hand, and then screaming at you is terrifying and it’s so early in the game that you just aren’t expecting it. It’s pretty nightmarish.

Number 2

Game: King’s Quest VII

Like Puzzle Agent this game shouldn’t be scary, it’s  high fantasy and very cartoony with talking animals and a wicked witch and royalty saving the day. Yet this game has some incredibly freaky elements, from simple giant scorpions and trolls to living nightmares, murderous children, a woman who literally cried her eyes out, and…

Character: The Bo(o)geyman

Sadly there aren’t many good pictures of him. There are some videos on youtube that show you more.

I’m English so to me it’s always Bogeyman but the Boogeyman of King’s Quest VII is unlike any other. The level of the game with him is full of sadists and undead creatures but he is the worst. If you linger to long on one screen he’ll crawl up out of the ground, leap on top of you, and eat you. With his long, thin limbs, rotting flesh, and sharp teeth he’s scary enough but it’s worse to know that he’s always there, just waiting for you to be a little slow on a screen. There is a theme to warn of his coming that just ends up creating a Pavlovian response after a while and just causes panic.

And Number 1

Game: Thief: Deadly Shadows

The Thief series is probably the best example of a stealth game done right. Very few games have been able to implement stealth even half as well as these games, meaning that they have a pretty well deserved reputation. You play as Garrett, master thief, who is mostly just looking to rob enough people to keep himself in luxury for the rest of his life. Yet he seems unable to go even a few weeks without getting involved with zombies, trickster gods, cultists, and even robots. But there is one challenge that is probably the most memorable part of the third game.

Character: The Shalebridge Cradle

The Cradle remembers you now….

But wait, that doesn’t sound (or look) like a character. Well yes, you’d be right there. The Cradle isn’t like a character like the others in this list but it is a character in a very real sense. There is a malevolent presence there that manifests itself in a whole load of different ways. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Cradle was originally an orphanage and then became an insane asylum, while still functioning as an orphanage. This is an abandoned orphanage/asylum, how is that not the best horror combo ever?

The house manifests itself through Puppets, the remains of the nine insane patients which are wrapped in linen bandages and wear cages on their hands and heads. There are schools of thought which sat they aren’t undead like zombies but are just plain dead. Except the Cradle is controlling them. Oh and they’re almost impossible to kill. If they detect you they will scream and run at you and beat you. So you’re practically always on the lookout for them, holding your breath in case they can somehow hear you in game. But the Puppets aren’t all the Cradle had to throw at you. Beyond spirits of the dead, and the silhouetted Cradle Staff, you have to contend with viewing the awful history of the place and it’s methods of treatment. Quite literally re-living them. But the worst thing *slight spoiler alert* once you have completed the level, once you’ve done all your objectives, you can’t leave. The Cradle won’t let you, it remembers you now and it’s not going to let you go. This is the main reason I can give for calling the Cradle a character in it’s own right. *Spoilers end*

You do not want it near you. Ever.

So there we have my top 5 scary characters. Hope you enjoyed them and next week I promise we won’t be looking at another adventure game.

So see you soon, and don’t have nightmares.

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

The Cat Lady

Oh, Miss Arshworth, you’re such an interesting person. You say your hobbies include playing the piano, killing parasites, looking after your cats, and returning from the dead? Well I’m sure we’ll get along perfectly.

I love horror games, despite the fact that I tend to be quite cowardly when I play them. In fact I love horror in general when it’s done well. The problem with horror is that it’s difficult to keep going and very easy to mess up. The Cat Lady is an indie horror adventure game by Harvester Games where the player takes control of Susan Ashworth, a severely depressed woman who is the archetype of the crazy cat lady (TV Tropes link for those five people who don’t know what this means here) in her little flat complex.

After struggling with years of depression, Susan decides to take her own life. In doing so, however, she comes to the attention of the Queen of Maggots who refuses to allow her to die but instead charges her with ridding the world of five Parasites (read: serial killers). Aided at times by the brightly optimistic yet mysterious Mitzi Hunt, Susan tries to deal with her multitude of mental problems while completing her odd quest.

Gonna have to get used to seeing some real weird stuff, Susan

The story does get more complicated as it goes on, with the player interacting more with other characters and leading and branching of paths to one of the game’s multiple endings. I don’t want to spoil much because it is a very compelling story. The game also has quite a unique art style with a great deal of black and white settings juxtaposed against odd colours in nightmarish scenarios. Even the movement and actions of the characters has this otherworldly quality to it that at first I mistook for bad design but ultimately saw the aesthetic appeal.

Despite the excellent art style I did find myself getting jolted out of my immersion by some of the animation effects. This is particularly noticeable with the cats, their movement uses very little animation so when they leap they just remain still object moving across the screen as though on a wire. Though I consider it must have been by design it was just silly enough to spoil some of the atmosphere. Nevertheless for the most part the game looks excellent and very creepy.

Creepy is this game’s middle name, in fact.

Though the game has seen critical acclaim for its voice work I must confess I don’t agree. Harvester Games are not an English developer and nor are a number of the actors but there are some odd inflections and accents that, like the cat animations, tended to kick me out of the moment. The character of Mitzi is probably the biggest offender for this. Her pronunciation has no fixed rules apart from her pronunciation of Ashworth (Arsh-worth). Susan herself, however, does an excellent job of conveying the attitudes of someone suffering from severe depression. It’s also fun hearing David Firth (think Salad Fingers) voicing not one but two characters, this is a man that knows how to sound creepy.

As far as the puzzles go there are a few pretty esoteric ones but you it’s not so fiendishly difficult, or requiring a particular way of thinking, that you’ll be reaching for the walkthrough every five minutes. There are a few puzzles that require some out of the box thinking but the game does a pretty good job of keeping you on track. The game does also give a good sense of drama through many of these, ramping up the tension despite having a main character that simply cannot die.

That and the eerie set-pieces.

I mentioned the difficulty with the horror genre at the beginning of this article because that is, unfortunately, the game’s main weakness. The tone of the game jumps around considerably to a very odd effect. The first few chapters are pretty terrifying in many different ways, with great build up to the parasites and some bizarre imagery. But this quickly falls away in the later chapters to the point that one chapter practically becomes a buddy comedy (Let’s pretend to be the babysitter, now let’s scare this man by acting out an urban legend). It goes from this horror/occult story into a mystery that ends up with a message about friendship. It’s an interesting character and story arc but the tone and the aura of tension from the first few chapters disappears.

Similarly there are some gameplay features that are a little bit of an issue. There is one scene where you have to balance Susan’s stress levels vs her relaxation. While this makes for an interesting sequence it never makes an appearance again.  It does have an effect on the ending but other than that is fairly pointless. When it first appeared I thought it was going to be a new gameplay feature throughout the rest of the game which would have been quite interesting but alas it disappeared as suddenly as it came.

One last point: Harvester Games did release another game prior to this one entitled Downfall and set in the same universe. The main character of Downfall does appear in this game and in fact has a fairly major role in one chapter. There are some interesting and bizarre sequences that did get me hooked… and then completely failed to develop. It’s fine to include characters from earlier games, certainly if they’re in the same universe, but to someone who never played the other game it just seemed to be another plot thread that got picked up and discarded with no real closure.

Clock kitty is watching you…

Despite these issues I did have fun playing The Cat Lady, the characters were interesting and it’s an experience I won’t forget. It is such a shame it has the issues it does because it feels like it could have been absolutely brilliant. But with the tone going all over the place, the odd gameplay features, and a very very heavy handed nod to Downfall, the game falls a bit far of achieving this goal.

I do have one point that I should stress very clearly about this game: I’ve kept the images I’ve uploaded as safe as possible but there are some very awful sequences during this game. Severe violence, extreme gore, child death, almost rape scenarios, suicide, if these are triggers for you then I would proceed with caution in this game. Because it will not hold your hand through the awful bits. Have fun!

 

Alan Wake

The dark presence shifted before my eyes like a great swirling abyss, I could feel it gnawing at my mind like a rat on a scrap of bone. Then it turned out it just represented my father and I punched it to death whilst reciting the names of birds… What did you expect when this is heavily influenced by Stephen King?

My triumphant return! Yes I haven’t updated in a while, I’ve been working on a big project which may well appear within the next couple of weeks (at least I hope it does). But since it’s in the weekly Humble Bundle deal (Link at the bottom) I thought it would be fun to restart my regular features with a look at Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake.

Alan Wake is a third-person action psychological thriller where the player controls Alan Wake, a celebrity horror writer who, after a severe attack of writer’s block, takes a holiday with his wife Alice to Bright Falls, a small mountain town. It is meant to be a holiday but after a mysterious force drags his wife beneath a great lake, Alan is forced to battle against creatures composed of darkness to find his wife and rescue her. Along the way Alan find s a number of allies to help him but still has to contend with the great dark presence and its army of Taken.

Kill it with light!

While the game does have a few puzzles it is primarily an action game with a very heavy and, in some places, complex plot. As Alan you have two main weapons, guns and light. In order to even hurt the enemies with bullets you have to remove the shadowy shield around them with flash-lights, flares, and flash-bangs. The game mostly focuses around you following a linear path, holding off waves of enemies as Alan tries to make sense of what’s happening. It’s a simple style with some fun mechanics.

What it does very well, however, is the atmospheric experience it provides. While not the scariest game I have ever played it is certainly tense, frantically trying to get a generator working while enemies are only a few steps away from you makes for quite an experience. In fact the tone of the game is one of the best things about it, making for quite a cinematic experience. It has an interesting blend of horror, comedy, action, and drama that does make it feel like a film. But unlike other cinematic games the gameplay doesn’t take second place. The very streamlined and simple combat system is easy to learn but still challenging enough to be entertaining.

I wasn’t lying about the “Kill it with light!” thing.

The game is heavily influenced by the works of Stephen King and while King’s stories are iconic they tend to be prey to  a number of faults, at least in my opinion. Most of my experiences with King’s body of work has shown terrific build-up for the first half and then thorough disappointment in the second. Fortunately Alan Wake doesn’t suffer from this problem to the same extent but those who are looking for a satisfying ending may be annoyed at the number of questions left unanswered, and sometimes not even raised by the characters, as well as the rather annoying “The End…?” nature of the finale.

You’ve really got to get absorbed into the world to properly enjoy it, the Stephen King references, the Twilight Zone style television shows and this idea that anything could be happening and you don’t know who to trust. If you’re not the sort of person who likes to get absorbed in a game’s world then you may find you have some problems with Alan Wake, most likely due to cheesiness in some of the dialogue. There is also a strange disconnect when you start a new chapter in the game and it plays a Previously on Alan Wake as though you were actually watching a TV show. It’s a fun stylistic choice but sometimes odd.

He’s so intense and moody

So Alan Wake is good for those that like to get absorbed in a different universe, it’s got simple but often challenging combat systems and a very pretty art style. If you’re not the sort that enjoys heavy plot and a whole bucket o’ moodiness then you may find yourself a bit let down. But at the end of the day while it is on the Humble Bundle (for one week, link at the bottom) then you can pay whatever you like and get the collector’s edition, with a whole load of bonus features as well as the two DLC missions. You also get Alan Wake’s American Nightmare which I have yet to play but certainly seems worth giving it a shot.

 

Humble Weekly Bundle:

https://www.humblebundle.com/weekly