Tuesday, April 21, 2015


So, a few weeks ago, I went to the meeting of the local writing group. It's not a big group, just a handful of people really that get together to read bits and pieces of their works in progress for feedback.

Last time I went, someone brought in the opening for a book they were working on. Before reading, they described it as an intricate sci-fi story, bridging religion and science, centered around an autistic man discovering a way to bridge the regular world with another dimension. The later parts of the book would be about trying to find a way to put the genie back in the bottle once it was released.

Sounds like an incredible story, huh?

Then they started reading.

The first chapter is about his girlfriend and her musings on how much she wants to leave him, but can't bring herself to.

When asked about the difference, they replied that they had read that romance novels were the biggest seller of books on Amazon, and they wanted to grab those readers.

Now, I want to point out that is a recognized fact. Romance novels ARE the biggest sellers on Amazon and probably most other outlets as well. It's also something that you want to portray your work as cross-genre, in order to attract readers that otherwise might pass on your book.

That being said, you want to be very careful when you set up a bait-and-switch like this. Yes, you might draw in a few people that wouldn't have read and enjoyed your work before; but you also run the risk of pissing off just as many, if not more people.

Given the description of the book, if you picked it up expecting an interesting sci-fi story and found the entire first chapter read like something out of a romance novel would you really keep on reading? Or would you close the book and move on, possibly leaving a scathing review on the way past?

What if you read the first chapter and thought you were picking up some kind of romance novel? Once the first chapter is over, the POV switches, and the focus is entirely on the guy and his discovery, would you keep reading? Or would you be outraged at being caught in the bait-and-switch?

I actually know from experience that people get angry when they don't get what they think they bought. Angry people are also those most likely to leave bad reviews.

My first book was supposed to be a slow horror/thriller story. Unfortunately, between the cover, blurb, and the way it was written, a lot of people seem to have mistaken it for a supernatural romance and I paid the price for that in reviews. That's one of the reasons that I withdrew it from sale. It was completely unintentional, but it did end up being a kind of bait-and-switch. Some people did like it, despite it not being what they thought it was, but far more were angry.

Yeah, not exactly genre-specific, is it?

I'm only speaking from my own experience. I'm not saying anyone should or shouldn't try the bait-and-switch approach. If you know how to advertise to specific groups, and you're aware of the risks involved, feel free to give it a go. After all, what doesn't work for some, might work very well for others.

Just make sure you're well aware of what you might be bringing down on yourself should you get it wrong.

~ Shaun

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Alien: Isolation

So, I just finished streaming my first play-through of the incredible horror game Alien: Isolation. What follows is my review of the game, so I am giving my general fair warning, this review may contain spoilers for the game, as well as for the movies. So if you haven't seen either of them, you may want to skip this blog post. Or keep reading. You know, whichever.

This game fits in between Alien and Aliens. The Nostromo is gone, and Ellen Ripley has been missing for fifteen years at this point. Which is where you come in. You play Ellen's daughter, Amanda, who has spend the last several years looking for her mother. After years, the flight recorder of the Nostromo has been found and a helpful synthetic by the name of Samuels has decided to offer you a place on the crew going to pick it up. 

Of course, once you get there, you find all hell has already broken out, with people and androids alike acting out in their own best interests while the Alien stalks the corridors. As Amanda, you have to reunite with your cohorts, find allies among the other survivors, and make your way around the station without being horribly and brutally killed. Eventually, all hell breaks loose and you have to escape. 

Everything can kill you, from humans with guns, to androids strangling you.

This game is incredible. I don't know that any other game exists with as much real tension as this game has. Making your way through a level with the Alien stalking you through vents, rooms and corridors is as anxiety-riddled as you would honestly expect it to be. Even as frustrating as it can be, it still remains fun for the most part. 

The graphics are beautiful as well, with the ships from the movies re-created in amazing detail and for fans of the old movies, is worth playing just for the nostalgia you'll get. 

The music and sound are also expertly done, with very few unnecessary noises or music cues. 

There's really not too much good stuff for me to say about the game that hasn't already been said, or that I don't feel was already covered with "Incredible". 

That's not to say the game itself is perfect. Far from it. 

I have two main bones to pick with the game. 

The first is actually a minor control issue. The controls are pretty much standard for games these days, the only thing is the button to crouch is the right control stick which also controls where you're looking. So in particularly intense moments, where crouching means life or death, it can be relatively easy to accidentally push too hard on the stick, stand up from your hiding spot, and get a face-full of teeth. 

The other bone I have to pick is the last 30% or so of the game. It feels like two different groups were making the game at that point. The game could easily and perfectly have been ended at the 70% mark, but instead it was dragged out with little thought given to continuity or story. There is no suggestion at all that there was a queen aboard the station or that anybody went back to the planet for more eggs, so the appearance of eggs and facehuggers in the last few stages is really a bit of a headscratcher. (I considered inserting a picture of the facehugger death scene here, but, really, the game is considered M for Mature for a reason...) 

But yeah, despite those two little flaws, the game itself is solid and deserves every Game of the Year award that it compiled. I'm really looking forward to the DLC, to get even more of the story and spend more time on the edge of an anxiety attack. 

~ Shaun

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Outlast

Every fan of horror has said, at some point, "Hey, these people are stupid! They deserve to die! I would never do anything like that. I would survive with no problem." This game proves those people wrong.

Lots of games claim to be Survival Horror. Outlast is just about the only one that truly is. The reason that is? Simply because throughout the entire game, your only choices are to run and hide. At no point in the game do you even have the option of fighting back. You make it through the game based on timing and your choice of hiding spots. Otherwise you die. Horribly. Over and over.

The story isn't particularly original to be honest, not that it really needs to be as well-executed as it is. You are Miles Upsure, an investigative reporter looking into a tip that a huge corporation is conducting illegal human experiments on the patients of a local asylum. In order to investigate this tip, you go and break into a (as far as you know), still operating asylum. It seems that all hell broke loose just prior to your arrival though and your investigation quickly turns into a nightmare of simply trying to survive.

Along the way you encounter more than a few psycho's that want you dead, and a few that lead you along by the nose, trying to show you what was going on. Eventually you find out all about what horrific experiments were being conducted and the end result of them.

The controls are good, if somewhat specific. I died more than a few times as I tried to shut a door behind me in the face of an enemy and ended up shutting the door in front of me instead, but that's not really too big of an issue.

The environments are excellently done, with the use of your camera's night vision absolutely imperative to your survival and making everything even creepier with it's green tint. There's nothing really beautiful here though. Every setting is meant to creep you out, if not outright disturb and horrify you. They all succeed.

If there is one thing that brings the game down, it's the fact that it's so short. If you don't get stuck, this could easily be played in three hours or so from start to finish. I'm also a little disappointed in the plot twist at the end, even though the game does a very good job of making you think one thing through most of the game and then turning it into something else entirely. 

So if you enjoy games that are high tension and WILL scare and disturb the crap out of you, play Outlast if you can. If you can't you can watch a few others play it on YouTube. It's certainly worth watching if you can't play it. 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Well of Horror Ideas

If you're working in any kind of creative field, the one question you are absolutely going to be asked at some point is "Where do you get your ideas from?".

The answer is going to change based on the person and the genre they write. It can come from inspiration, imagination, perspiration, or even inebriation. It could even come from any combination of those things and even more.

This is a Horror blog though, so that's what I'm going to focus on, otherwise I'm probably going to start rambling on and on.

Stories of Horror are typically based on things like fear and death. As such, there are any number of things in the world (or supposedly in the world), that would grant inspiration for such stories.

The nightly news, for example, is well known for being a well upon which one can draw stories of horror. It is commonly said of the news these days that "if it bleeds, it leads." Which is, rather unfortunately, true for the most part. The head-on collision that kills a family of four, while the drunk driver that caused it escapes with just a few bruises. The man who walks into a local supermarket, and randomly opens fire, killing three and wounding a dozen others. The quiet house in a regular neighborhood, suddenly raided by the police as a meth lab. The horrific virus which is rapidly spreading beyond borders. The night news regularly covers dozens of real-life stories that could easily become something even more horrific.

That might hit a bit too close to home though for some people. In that case there's things a bit further outside the realm of everyday life. Rogue animals, that have taken an active interest in turning the tables on human hunters. Sharks, bears, wolves, giant squids. Of course, in this category, there's all the cryptids I've mentioned on this blog previously. Thunderbirds, sea monsters, lake monsters, bigfoot, and others.

To stretch things even further, you have the mythological creatures. Vampires, werewolves, zombies. Although I would recommend steering clear of those unless you have a take you know is fairly original. Ghosts fall into this category as well, but they aren't as overdone at the moment as the others are.

You can even mix and match different ideas to make wildly different stories. Like the man that walked into the supermarket and opened fire was possessed, or maybe he was infected with a virus after being bitten by a Chupacabra! So many ideas listed just in this small post alone. That's not even counting ideas which may be original, with their own monsters and threats.

And none of that is even close to the two-word idea that so many books start with.

So where do my ideas come from? All of these places. My first book was a "What if..." story. My second was actually an "I can do this story better." idea. "Hannah" is based on the mash-up of two ideas to make something relatively new, Cujo + The Exorcist, respectively. And of course, my book "Cenote" was based on the Lusca.

In the pipelines I have a stories I'm working on based on the Chupacabra, Megalania, and the Ropen. I've also got outlines done for a two-book series, one with a psychotic maniac, and the other with a haunted house.

So the ideas are out there.

Go find one and make it yours.

~ Shaun

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: The Evil Within

I'm not going to warn you about possible spoilers in this review. That would imply the game actually tells you things as you play through it. But that's kind of the point. This game is one big mind-screw.

This game was made by Shinji Mikami, the mastermind behind the entire Resident Evil franchise and an attempt to get back to the roots of good survival horror. Despite that, it comes across as fairly generic.

You are Detective Sebastian Castellanos. A walking cliche` for the scruffy, hard-drinking police detective that's lost everything but his work, and complete with the 100% stand-up, by-the-book partner. Responding to an all-points bulletin, you arrive at a mental hospital, where right away, things go crazy. You're greeted by a guy who blips in and out of sight like a scrambled TV channel, and then you're being chased by a big maniac with a chainsaw before driving out of the city which is crumbling around you like there's a 9.9 earthquake going on. 

From there the game truly begins, bombarding you with drastically different levels, and zombies wrapped in barb-wire and adorned with piercings from Hell. Eventually, you meet up with massive monsters, some you run from, some you kill, until eventually you do battle with the twisted mind in control of this world you're trapped in. 

Mannequins abound, for no reason that's ever explained.

Cinematically, the game is great. Almost every level is a different creepy, but cliche` in horror, environment. From the small village, to the ruined church, to catacombs and secret floors in an asylum. Transitions between them are incredible as well, as a fall into a black abyss becomes a roll across the floor until you smack into the wall. Or climbing into an elevator, which then opens a thousand feet in the air before splashing down into a lake made from a broken water-main.

The controls are standard for over-the-shoulder viewpoints, though the menu is pretty nice to set up your most used weapons. 

You're not really going to be playing this for the story though, I'm rather sad to say. Throughout the game, you get bits and pieces of story about the main psychopath's reasons for doing what he does, as well as the backstory of Sebastian, and hints of more ominous things. 

Nothing is ever actually explained to any level of satisfaction. The machine that makes the game possible is only mentioned as an experiment in shared consciousness. The reason for it's creation and the organization behind it are completely veiled in secrecy. The mystery of what happened to Sebastian's family, the mannequins that are everywhere, the agony crossbow, none of it makes any sense. Even the ending to the game leaves you with a "What the hell?!? That's IT?" feeling. 

This remains a fun game to play though, with the variety and challenge keeping you coming back until the end of the game. At this point, where you can get it used in most places, it is well worth the price of admission. 

One last thing, and one of the neatest little things to set this game apart, you're granted an End of Game screen that includes a tally of your deaths. I actually did a lot better than I thought I did. 


~ Shaun