Saturday, April 16, 2016

Turning Down the Blog

So, it's been a few weeks since I posted on here. That was a conscious decision to start with, and now I've got a few more things weighing heavily into my time.

I'm writing this post basically to say that I'm not going to be posting regularly on here for a while. I wouldn't say I'm burnt out, particularly, but I've kept this going for about three years fairly regularly, and topics I haven't already covered are getting pretty thin and I don't feel like enough time has really gone by to revisit a lot of them. Meanwhile I don't want this blog to turn into a more writing business or review blog.

I want to make it clear though, I'm not planning on letting it die. I still plan on doing reviews as I play games, see movies, and read books, and when a particular subject pops into my head I'll do posts on that too. As well as letting everyone know when I have new works out or I feel like dropping a new short story for all you lovely people to read.

This is just the way life is sometimes though. What you really want to do just has to fall to the side for the things you have to do. The bright side is that the other drains on my time right now will be giving me a better chance to improve my writing and get more of it out to the reading public.

So, fret not! I'm not going anywhere, I'm just turning down the volume on my blog here for a while. New posts will still pop up occasionally, so feel free to make sure you're following me on my Twitter and my Facebook so you'll know.

Catch ya'll soon, people!

~ Shaun

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

31 Posts of Monsters: OOP Monsters

This post isn't about a singular creature, or even a singular place. OOP stands for Out Of Place. The cryptid application is mostly of creatures that are not known to live in an area, but are seen with some frequency. These differ from regular invasive species in that OOP animals generally are never caught, or verified outside of infrequent eyewitness reports.

Name: Various. All OOP animals are real, known animals, just in places they're not supposed to, or known to live, in. See also Alien Big Cats.

Size: Per the animal seen, though sometimes species are said to be bigger than normal, which is attributed to large amounts of food and a lack of predators or competition.

Threat: Again, per animal. Many of the OOP animals commonly seen though are predators, and/or dangerous to people. This includes large cats and primates.

Indeed, large cats are one of the most commonly reported OOP animals. This includes panthers and cougars in the UK, and lions in the US. Cats are known to be resourceful, and quite good at hiding, so it wouldn't surprise many if they elude capture for quite some time. The infrequency of the sightings would also indicate individuals much of the time, as opposed to breeding populations.

Much of the evidence is through blurry photos, eyewitness sightings, and half-eaten corpses of prey animals. Traps set out catch nothing, and even methods that are tried and true for the species don't seem to work. So the animals remain a mystery.

The other commonly reported OOP animal is primates, specifically chimpanzee's, which have been reported in the Everglades, in New York, and the mountains above Hollywood. (Why isn't THAT surprising?) Keep in mind that chimps may not be as smart as we are, but they are much stronger, and more vicious. They can easily kill a human if the mood strikes them, so are every bit as dangerous as a rogue cougar.

This even extends to the popular Alligators in the sewers myths, where animals have sometimes actually been caught.

Let's not forget the always terrifying Sharks in a narrow hallway.

Movies and books have used this trope quite a bit, as well. Lake Placid is about a crocodile that ends up in New York. Alligator is about a reptile in the sewers of Chicago. It's the basis for the episode Devil Monkey in the series Lost Tapes. Many stories go horribly wrong when they put an animal in an environment it's not supposed to be in. Like when King Kong breaks loose from his bonds in New York city.

So, there you go. Just keep in mind, absence of proof is not proof of absence.

~ Shaun

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Game Review: Until Dawn

Just to give fair warning, it is very hard to talk about this game without major spoilers. I'll do my best though.


As video games progress, many of them strive to create a more cinematic feel. They want to immerse the player to the point that they feel like they're controlling a movie, with real people, more than just playing a game.

Until Dawn makes a significant leap toward the cinematic experience. You're not so much playing a game, as much as you're experiencing a "Choose your own adventure" movie.

If you're familiar with slasher flicks, much of Until Dawn will be familiar to you. A group of nubile teens, heading up to a remote mountain cabin for Christmas break, where just the year before a few of them disappeared. An abandoned asylum, a psycho with a flamethrower, much of the game will seem old hat; but that doesn't stop any of it from being effective on the player.

The other aspect of Until Dawn, and a theme they literally beat into the ground, is the Butterfly Effect. Which basically says that the smallest of actions can have the most dire consequences. This takes effect through the choices you make during the game, and results in who survives and who doesn't at the end.

The story is excellent, with twists you certainly won't see coming, even with the hints the game tosses your way through clues to be found scattered around. It builds up real tension, leading to actual scares, and never lets up. There are almost no moments of levity once the action starts. It really is a "buckle your seat belt" ride.

Even being a Horror afficionado and having prior knowledge of some of the games twists and turns, I was on the edge of my seat. I can only imagine how much more it would've gotten me if I'd gone in blind.

The characters are excellent as well, they're stereotypes, to be sure, but each one is an individual, with none of them actually falling into the pits of the dreaded cliche`. Some you will love, some you will hate, but there really isn't any one hero or villain of the group.

The artwork and backgrounds are just as well done, giving you scenes of exquisite natural beauty, and horrifying terror. Many times, the only difference between those two extremes is lighting and atmosphere. In one moment, the cabin looks cozy and inviting. Later on, it becomes foreboding, with God only knows what ready to leap out at you from around the corners.

It's not a perfect game though. Honestly, the game aspect is where it kind of falls apart. Your time is split between slowly wandering around looking for clues, making decisions, and fast-paced quick-time sequences where you literally have seconds to push the right button, or a character could die.

The exploration scenes are long, slow, and generally fairly boring. The controls are also definitely not optimized, with the direction you need to push your characters in changing with the camera angles, one of my biggest complaints about the early games in the Resident Evil franchise. In the quick-time scenes, you lose all control of your character, outside of making choices like "Hide" or "Run", and hitting the button that pops up on the screen.

Once you've played through and been exposed, you'll probably find the game also doesn't have a lot of replay value. While the plot twists are pretty surprising, they lose a lot of power once you've seen them, and the ability to go back and make different choices doesn't seem to impact the main story all that much, in spite of the game's insistence that the butterfly effect can create drastically different outcomes.

This is still a hell of a Horror game, and if that's what your appetite is for, Until Dawn is easily a game you'll want to play at least once. If you can't play it yourself on PS4, Xbox, or PC, you can go on Youtube and find someone who has. Multiple Youtubers have played through it, and given how cinematic the game is, you don't lose much by just watching someone else play. It might even help you get through the game where you otherwise might not if you were playing alone. It's really that good and scary.

Overall, I'm giving Until Dawn 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is worth playing, but it's much more of a movie than a game, and since it is a game, that's a pretty big hit.


~ Shaun

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Short Story: Deadline

Welcome! I've got a fun little jaunt of a story for everyone this week. I hope you enjoy it! 


Deadline


Karl rolled his eyes and did his best to tune out the blaring alarm. Just a few more minutes was all he needed to verify the numbers on his report and send it off to the analysts. The building wasn't going to come crashing down that quick.

"Four, Nine, what's this three doing over here?" he mumbled to himself.

Someone ran down the hallway, screaming. Bob, from three cubicles over it sounded like; It was hard to tell when people were half-crazed with fear. Karl only huffed and continued scanning for numbers that didn't look right.

He didn't know what all the fuss was about. Seattle was a big city, after all, and their office building wasn't near the docks. The monster would take some time to crash its way up the hill, and there was no way to tell which way it might turn. It made no sense to him to panic and dive down into the bunkers the moment the beast made landfall.

One more page. Bob ran past again, still screaming. Apparently he had lost his mind, otherwise he would've been hopping down the stairs two at a time, or more, considering the frenzy the man was in. The pull of the alarm automatically locked down the elevators and unlocked all the stairwell entrances and exits. Stairs could almost always be safely used. As opposed to elevators which had a tendency to speed up obscenely going down during building-breaking emergencies.
Bob again.

"Would you shut the hell up out there!" Karl hoped the guy would just trip and curl up under some desk. "Where was I? Fuck. Oh, right here. Okay..."

The report had to be in by the end of the day, giant monster or no. He had a reputation to uphold. Out of everyone on the 19th floor, he was the only one to go an entire year without turning a report in late, or asking for an extension. A stupid little paper award they'd given out at last year's Christmas party.

"This is good. This is good. Annnnd....this is good. There. All done." He smiled and sat back, zooming out on the document and giving the whole thing another once over. Attaching it to the waiting email was quick and easy, and it was off. Right on time.

He leaned out of his cubicle. The floor was quiet.

Karl stood up and stretched. He was going to take his time collecting his things and heading down to the bunker. No reason not to, with everything looking like yet another false alarm.

His computer powered down, overcoat pulled on, and briefcase in hand, Karl finally headed towards the staircase to join the rest of the office in the basement.

The building shook, a very slight tremor that only lasted a few moments. He paused at the exit and looked back across the floor and out the windows that faced toward the water. The building shook again. Harder. Longer.

Karl couldn't help himself, he'd never seen one of the monsters in person. His curiosity pulled him over between the cubicles to stare out the window. The building shook more, once for every four steps he took himself. The windows rattled in their panes and some of the cubicles started to lose the knick-knacks their users had spread around. He watched a Richard Sherman bobble-head bobble right off a desk.

He pressed his face up against the glass. The waterfront looked pristine, no toppled buildings, no fires raging out of control, no giant reptile looking for snacks. The shaking intensified, until with one heavy boom, every chair on the floor rattled. Then the impacts stopped. He peered out the window, straining to scan every bit of the horizon.

"Wonder if some dumb bastard got himself seen."

He shrugged and turned away from the glass.

The giant eye looking in the windows on the other side of the building blinked, its slit pupil widening as it took him in.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Don't be seen. That was one of the basic tips. The monsters were predators, looking for food. If everybody stayed quiet and out of sight, they might wander through the city and wander right back out again leaving nothing but some slight damage. If they found people though, the hunt was on, and they would smash buildings to rubble trying to get at the soft little rice grains.

Karl froze. The reptilian head spanned the whole width of the floor, taking up every window. The eye watched him, blinking; the nictitating membrane sliding across it. Maybe if he just didn't move, it wouldn't recognize him as food. The beast might just walk away.

Bob streaked through the office. Karl stared as the naked man ran up to the window in front of the giant eye and slapped the glass, yelling incomprehensible noises at it. The head turned, looking at the strange man straight on. Even facing the building, it spanned at least six of the window panes. Nostrils big enough to walk into flared, steaming up the glass before the mouth opened and Karl found himself staring down its throat. The opening was lined with teeth bigger than he was, and the resulting roar the creature loosed was enough to crack the glass and drown out even the roucous alarm.

Then the head rose up out of sight, quickly replaced by a massive clawed hand that swung towards the windows. Bob answered it with both of his middle fingers.

"Bob! You're a fucking asshole!" Karl could barely flip Bob off himself before the monster's claw gutted the building. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Are You Writing Good Reviews?

Now, just to get this out of the way, I'm not asking if you're writing all four or five star reviews. I'm asking if your reviews are any good. Sure, the main point of a review is to share your opinion on a particular thing, be it books, movies, art, whichever, but how well does your review really do that?

But first a little rant.

Ratings are NOT universal. The ratings shown here are from Etsy, and are pretty close to what you'll find in most places. Three stars is the middle with "It's okay". Less than three stars are varying levels of dislike or hate. More than three become Like and Love.

However, then you have ratings like on Goodreads.com, which puts the "It's okay" bar at two stars. Three stars becomes "I liked it", while four and five become Love and Praise Be To God This Was Written! The only negative rating is less than two stars and is limited to "I didn't like it". So, please, be aware of what the rating system on the site you're using means.

Back to the scheduled post. To start, I want to point you back to my review of Fallout 4 that I posted last week.

To be sure, this isn't exactly a bad review, but it's not a good one. I have a synopsis of the game, which is good, and I make sure to cover things like graphics and controls. I have a few things that didn't work for me, and the rating I would personally give it as a sit-in for my opinion on it.

I'm missing some important details though. There's no mention of the things that I really liked or enjoyed, and in spite of the high review I gave it, a reader of my review would not get the enthusiasm I have for the game, or the reason behind my review.

If you look through almost anything that can have reviews, most have a curve that either tops out at 4+ or 2-. Very few things have a high point of a review at the "It's Okay" point. That because if you think something is just okay, you're not really going to care enough one way or another to tell people about it. People generally leave reviews to encourage people to buy something or to warn them away from it, and that is the purpose of reviews, as much as just letting random people know your opinion.

So, here's my little list of the requirements for a good review.

1. A brief synopsis of the product. Keep in mind though, that for a good review on something like a book or a movie, you want to either avoid spoilers, or give fair notice. Like usually when I'm posting a review, I'll give a spoiler warning followed by a picture, to give people a chance to stop if they want to.

2. Talk about what you liked about the product. If there is nothing you liked about it, then say that.

3. Talk about what you didn't like about the product. Again, if you loved it 100% say that.

4. Include an overall opinion on it, including who you would recommend the product to or who you would warn against getting it. For instance, at the end of my Fallout 4 review, I recommend it for people who like RPG's, and some people who like FPS's.

5. Make people feel your enthusiasm/hate. Remember, you're sharing your opinion to help other people make an informed decision about whether or not to get this product. If you loved the product, but don't convey that to people, you're not writing a particularly good review.

6. Rate the product. Now, on some sites, this will be separate to the review, so you don't have to worry about it, but if you're posting on a blog or something, make it clear, because people like visual aids. Also, make sure you're aware what the ratings you're using mean.

So, what did you think of this blog post?

~ Shaun