‘Old Souls and other Strange Tales’ is now available!

My first collection of short stories Old Souls and other strange tales’ is now available for the measly price of $0.99 at a collective of online distributors!

Check out any of these distributors to buy (or simply read, if you’re a subscriber to any of them) the collection.

24Symbols
Amazon
Apple iBooks
Kobo
Nook (Barnes & Noble)

Page Foundry/Inktera
Scribd (link coming soon)
Tolino

Links will be added as soon as the store pages for these distributors will be updated.

 

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Cyclopean Issue 1 – Out now!

Just a quick update for those interested!

The first issue of the inaugural weird fiction magazine Cyclopean is out now on Amazon.com! Amongst many a talented author, I am proud to say that my short story Cats in the Puzzle Box is included in the magazine’s line-up of great stories.

Cats in the Puzzle Box is a short tale about a young man who discovers an unusual device in his grandfather’s Louisiana mansion. The strange device sets up an amazing journey for the boy as he is transported to another world.

Cyclopean Issue 1 is available here: Amazon Store Page

More links for purchase pages will be added when they become available.

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Mini-blog: P.T. and the future of Silent Hill(s).

So the Internet is generating hype like there’s no tomorrow for the new Silent Hills (yes with an S) game which was revealed in the cryptic P.T. demo on Sony’s Playstation 4. As a big Silent Hill fan I of course had to play it and see it for myself, as well as share my thoughts. Although P.T. supposedly doesn’t have anything to do directly with the new game, it has a story of its own, and as a teaser it is one of the most brilliantly executed marketing strategies I have éver seen. This thing is generating so much hype and the Internet everywhere is theorizing like hell to figure out what it all means and how to even finish it. Yes, although people have beaten it, still nobody really knows exactly hów. That is simply amazing.

So what did I think of the demo?

As a long time Silent Hill fan, I couldn’t be more pleased. Not only are brilliant people at the helm of this project, as well as a kickass lead in Norman Reedus, the P.T. tech demo is actually really REALLY scary. Without going into spoiler territory, I can say that the game revolves around a man trapped in a house, each time when he tries to leave he ends up back where he initially began. These ‘loops’ as the Internet is lovingly calling them get increasingly more uncomfortable and scary, and some require specific actions to be executed by the player in order to break the current infinity loop and progress to the other. This in itself sounds like lovable madness, but actually playing it and experiencing some of the famous Silent Hill tropes found in the demo makes for an amazingly creepy gaming experience.

You will be seeing this hallway a lot.

You will be seeing this hallway a lot.

The demo does in fact contain a fair amount of jump scares, something I am not overly fond of because they are simple the lamest thrills to get. However, unlike most contemporary horror media, P.T.’s jump scares are NOT in fact accompanied by a blaring orchestra sting. No the only thing you are likely to hear are the sounds of your throat spitting back the diet coke you just drank as you encounter something truly disturbing in the game.
Furthermore, the demo is first-person which is a departure from the main Silent Hill series, with an exception of the apartment segments in Silent Hill: The Room. While I still think a third-person segment is preferable, I certainly hope that the finished product will also incorporate these unnerving first-person hallway segments, because wow is it freakin’ creepy!

Pictured: Nope.

Pictured: Nope.

In conclusion, I could not be more hyped for this game. Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro are leading most of old Team Silent into the new generation at last, and already we are (as a collective internet hivemind) truly buzzing about the possibilities. The P.T. angle is brilliant and it rewards people who are excited for a game by giving them something for free that they can already play and theorize for hours to come.

In our restless dreams, we all still see that town. So thank you. Thank you, Konami.

Welcome back.

Welcome back.

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When it rains, it pours: Anchorhead – Game Review

When it rains, it pours.
A video game review of Anchorhead (1998)
Introduction
I am about to review Anchorhead, a free text-based adventure game from 1998 created by Michael S. Gentry. I have chosen this game for two reasons in particular. Firstly, text-based adventure games (also known as interactive fiction) were already long gone as early as 1989 so playing and experiencing a ‘late bloomer’ in this genre could hopefully lead to discoveringsome interesting ‘new’ developments in the genre for that time. Secondly, in today’s frantic race for realism and the best graphics, I wanted to see how and if games of this calibre could still grab a player and immerse them, even if it was in a world in which you yourself could only imagine your surroundings and where little to no outside help of what to do is given to the player. Now, after having played Anchorhead and finished it, I am going to review it from my own experiences and interpretations of the gaming world. There were many moments in the game where I was pleasantly surprised (or rather horrified) of the impact the game had and I want to share these experiences in my review. My goal is to take the reader into the rainy town of Anchorhead and give at least a taste of how it is to experience Anchorhead. I will, however, also comment on actual game design and story cues where necessary.

 

Welcome to Anchorhead
“I was far from home, and the spell of the Eastern sea was upon me” with these words by H.P. Lovecraft we are send to the outskirts of a real estate office, after having read an introduction explaining that our husband inherited a big mansion on the outskirts of a small fishing community called Anchorhead in Maine. With only a feint hint of our current goal, we are being thrown into the town and are able to navigate by reading the text complimentary to the current area, figuring out where we can go and typing commands in the textbox like; north, southwest, east etc. The game is reluctant to hold your hand even here. On more than one occasion I found myself trapped. Forinstance on a wharf, plagued by salty sea water and heavy winds, nothing indicating directions. The player is expected to scroll up to see which direction took him to the current area, and reversing it to go back, a nifty game design choice that, albeit simple exploration, already makes the players puzzle instinct prepare itself for later trouble. When exploring the grey eerie town there were a few things that caught my eye. For a text-only game, the world feels very much alive, for example; when exploring your mansion you’ll find your husband, Michael, wandering around the house at random intervals. It is never clear where he is exactly and this collaborates well with a person hectically unpacking all his things after a big move. Every person has an agenda in Anchorhead, which makes the game feel far less stale than an actual book, in which everything is predetermined, no matter how many times you read it. Even the smallest things as the sudden drizzle of rain or the passing of a train happens randomly, making the world feel very vibrant, something new and uncommon in text-based games. Furthermore, the diverse locations like an abandoned paper mill or delapitated lighthouse are really ‘brought to life’ by the excellent narration provided.

Something wicked this way comes
Yet all is not well in Anchorhead. As you’ll soon find out, your real estate agent is missing and you see it as your personal duty to find out what happened. This is where the game really starts to shine. As the player only has a text prompt, he/she is expected to investigate everything on their own, which will lead to tricky detective-style thinking and text entering. Though whenever the player succeeds in their investigations and uncovers more details to the plot; it will lead to a great sense of accomplishment. A good example of this is when I had to inspect my wedding-ring for a date, which was of importance later.  We uncover disturbing occult secrets concerning our husband’s family branch, the Verlacs, while he himself is growing more and more temperamental and violent. Talking to the few trustworthy people around the town, it appears that our husband’s old relative has constructed a vast plot of ancient destruction and it’s up to us to stop it. From this moment on, the game’s pace becomes more hectic. Rather than casually exploring the town by navigating, every command you enter will feel like a ‘turn’. Everything you do and every step you take can lead towards disaster, this is especially true for the last chapter of the game. Which must be finished in a set number of commands before the Verlac scheme is completed and the player loses. This can be especially harrowing considering the twisted navigation and the sometimes downright sadistically hard puzzles in the game. Surprisingly, for a game with no graphics or sound effects, these latter parts are absolutely nerve wrecking, especially when you are being chased. Looking at my personal saves I quickly deserted the “At kitchen” “Mansion” formula and found myself writing down things like; “There is something in the sea”, “The thing is behind me” and “Terrified”. The game really got to me by this point and once again, passing these harrowing sections after countless tries really gives a great sense of player accomplishment.

In the aftermath
In conclusion, Anchorhead is a one of a kind experience. It reads like a book but plays like a true adventure/mystery game mixed with Lovecraftian horror. A great accomplishment in itself is that as a text-based game it immerses the player tremendously. The game never holdsyour hand, is relentless in its difficulty yet will make you feeleuphoric when triumphing, something that our current generation of games can lack, despite their graphical wonders.

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Uncovering the secret – TV game shows and society in the 1950’s and 1960’s

 Throughout the years television and it’s respective programs and content have had many incarnations and styles. When we look back at some of the earlier TV content from the 1950’s and 1960’s we can make out certain aesthetic and stylistic differences that might come across as out of place or strange for today’s viewers. For the purposes of this paper we are going to have a look at I’ve got a secret, a television quiz show that ran from 1952 up until 1967. Our goal is to take a look and analyse not only the contents and structure of the show, but also any remarkable changes or events in the television ‘world’ itself, to see if we are able to place it into a certain historical or national context typical for that day and age. Thus we would be able give the program it’s specific place in America’s television history. To be able to get a clearer view of the subject we are firstly going to quickly explain what the show is about before we can uncover the ways it has fascinated so many people.

On to the show

‘I’ve got a secret’ was an American game-show first aired in 1952. It featured Garry Moore as the host and a panel of four celebrities that were set on guessing the ‘secret’ that various contestants on the show had brought with them. These contestants ranged from ‘ordinary’ people to other celebrities, the first ever episode for example featured renowned actor Boris Karloff revealing his fear of mice. The show was based on other radio and TV shows like What’s my line? and Secret, secret, who’s got the secret?. The panel had a limited amount of time or questions to ask the contestants questions on which they could answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The host would generally give a hint at the beginning of the questionnaire to not make it too abstract, for example: ‘Mr. Johnson has seen something’. Contestants could win small money prices if their secret wasn’t guessed or if the panel took too much time. Contestants also won complimentary products supplied by the show sponsors, usually a brand of cigarettes. The show was not an immediate success but managed to run up until 1967, gaining an immense popularity as the years went on.[1] The question that remains here is what made the show so popular? We are going to take a look at audience reception and cultural significance next.

 

Popularity, criticism and scandal

The show was ultimately being broadcast during a time in which some big changes took place in the US TV business. More and more radio giants took to the glowing living room screen, AT&T was developing coaxial cross-country land lines which would make sure networks could be received throughout the entire country and new stations popped out of the ground in a heartbeat. By the time it was the mid-’50s TV had evolved into the number one entertainment medium in the American public’s living room. [2] Game shows got very popular during this time. Often they were being broadcast by night to offer a full night of entertainment for the whole family. The questionnaires were popular due to the fact people loved to participate from their own living room and try to figure out the answers themselves. The live aspect of the game-shows were inviting and thanks to the growing number of television sets in America, they gained more and more popularity.[3] With popularity came criticism however. Public intellectuals who had their hopes set on television to replace the commercially ‘tainted’ radio as a supplier of high drama felt somewhat betrayed by the highly commercialized game shows and quizzes. They criticized the shows for their reliance on sponsors and were angry to see their live drama performances being replaced by programs that went hand in hand with capitalism and advertising[4]. More on that later. This criticism ultimately led to the television quiz show scandal of 1957 in which I’ve got a secret was not really effected but other shows, specifically Twenty-One were being accused. By 1958 the American public became increasingly suspicious of certain game shows and were accusing producers and networks of conspiring together. The idea was that one contestant was given all of the answers in advance so the quizzes would generally get more exciting for the viewers. According to Venanzi and Halberstam, many Americans felt betrayed by the quizzes because, especially the big money ones, thrived on the ‘American dream’, which had it’s heyday during this period. The idea that one answer to one question could open up so many gates of opportunity was riveting and seeing it as a hoax came to many as a slap in the face.[5] I’ve got a secret got off mostly scathe-free from these events however, since it mostly relied on the contestants having intriguing material and instead having the panel trying to come up with answers, it was an exciting premise on it’s own merits.

 

Advertising

“Winston, the cigarette that changed America’s view on filter smoking. Tastes good, like a cigarette should.” Winston cigarettes were one of the biggest sponsors on I’ve got a secret and it seems peculiar today that a single TV show was so heavily supported by consumer markets. Let alone one for cigarettes, which all by itself seems even stranger for today’s standards. However on the American market in that era cigarettes were big business and it was made to look important and elegant, as Shields et al have found in their study: “Everyone had a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, it was part of the culture and it was supposed to be glamorous.”[6] It is also interesting to note that some of the advertisements like the one for Winston on I’ve got a secret was simultaneously plugging drive-in theatres, which were also huge in that time. On a slightly other note, the advertising in a show itself was typical for American TV during that era and marketers were anxious to hope to receive a spot on a show. It was only until later that the US decided to use the British standard of advertising that was being used by the BBC well in advance. That standard consisted of marketers buying blocks between shows to display their product, rather than sponsoring a show all together.[7] This is evidently the same system we still use as of today.

 

In the end

In conclusion we can certainly see a similar style and aesthetic in between game shows in the ’50s and ’60s. Fun and entertainment for the whole family laid the foundations on which the game shows thrived and technological changes and advancements brought it into every American living room. Cigarettes and drive-in theatres were all the craze and in the heart of every viewer there laid that American dream of winning the big one. We can certainly say that I’ve got a secret has a solid place amongst a select few of truly iconic and popular TV gems of the ’50s and ’60s, meanwhile making TV history and being right in between the biggest aesthetic changes of the era.

 


[1]    Moran, A.  I’ve got a secret. [2012] museum.tv, 18-05-’12

[2]                           Hilmes, M. Only Connect. A Cultural History of Broadcasting in the United States. Florence: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2002. 161-166

[3]    Venanzi, K. An examination of television quiz show scandals of the 1950’s. [1997] universityhonors.umd.edu, 18-05-’12

[4]                            Hilmes, M. Only Connect. A Cultural History of Broadcasting in the United States. Florence: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2002. 192

[5]    Halberstam, D. The Fifties. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. 643

[6]    Shields et al. Hollywood on Tobacco. Berkeley: ANR Foundation, 1999. 379

[7]                           Hilmes, 192

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