Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: The Five Nights at Freddy's Series

I figured it would be better to do one review for the whole series, since these are comparatively short games, with a complicated, over-arching storyline and fairly similar controls/set-ups.

As I start with that though, don't think that I'm putting down any of the individual games. Every one is terrifying, intense, and horrific fun like we haven't had in a video game since the original Resident Evil.

Five Nights at Freddy's

The first game is our introduction to the world. The set-up and game-play is about as simple as it can get.

You play a night security guard for a Chuck-E-Cheese type establishment called Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. The place comes complete with security cameras and animatronics. You never actually move from the security office, you just watch the cameras as the robots mill about. You're given a power allowance for the shift though, so you have to keep an eye on its usage.

The thing is, the animatronics are somewhat faulty. As far as they know, there aren't supposed to be any people in the building after hours. So if they see you, they think you're a robot without a suit, so they take you and stuff you into one. Which results in a very wet, squishy death. Your only way to protect yourself is to keep an eye on where they are, and if they get too close, close the doors to your office. Just keep in mind keeping the doors closed uses power...

The game is very intense between checking the camera's, checking the doors, and listening for sounds which could let you know you're about to die. All this sets you up perfectly for the scenes where you fail and the animatronics lunge at the screen, prompting some genuine scares. As you might expect, the game proceeds over five nights, each night moving faster and increasingly intense.

Definitely an A+ start to the series.

Five Nights at Freddy's 2

As in the first game, you're limited to your office, using security camera's to keep an eye on who moves where. Power is less of an issue overall, but there is still a flashlight that can run out if you overuse it.

The second game also adds a lot onto the formula for the first game. There are more animatronics, and more ways for them to reach you. There is also a music box that must be kept wound, or it releases another entity which kills you no matter what you do. 

Five Nights at Freddy's 2 also introduces mini-games occasionally after you die, which explains some of the backstory which, up until now has only been a collection of theories pieced together from things in the background of the first game. 

The second game continues to be intense and frightening, even for those who grew immune to the first game's tactics. Rarely will you see a sequel as good as the original in any series. This one is.

Five Nights at Freddy's 3

While the third game holds onto the security guard in one spot formula, it continues to mix up everything else. 

In addition to watching the building's rooms, you have a whole second layer to keep an eye on in the AC vents. The issues with power are completely gone, replaced with an unstable system of ventilation, sound ques, and camera feeds that need to be rebooted periodically. 

While many of the old animatronics are back, they are just hallucinations, caused by the faulty AC in the building. There is really only one animatronic in this game which can kill you. 

The third game also continues the mini-games, showing you things that happened between games and imparting even more of the story of the history of Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. 

The series continues to be good and intense, keeping the formula close to the original, but mixing things up with new and innovative ways. 

Five Nights at Freddy's 4

Now things have actually changed drastically. No longer are we a security guard at the pizzaria, but a young boy at home. Doors are also far enough apart now that you have to run back and forth between them, peeking out, and pulling them shut before some nightmare beast grabs you. The animatronics are now as terrifying as ever. (Minor spoiler: the nightmare animatronics are the young boy's imagination.) 

The gameplay is different as well, focusing much more heavily on sound to determine where the monsters are and when you need to shut doors, as opposed to security cameras. This actually leaves you even more vulnerable to the jumpscares when they burst through the door. 

The story of this game is actually the explanation of why one of the specific animatronics at Freddy Fazbear's Pizzaria is possessed. (Oh, yeah, that is the actual reason why the animatronics roam and kill night guards. All the animatronics are possessed by dead kids.) 

Still, even with the differences, this game has that distinct Five Nights at Freddy's feel to it, and it continues to scare people every bit as well as the other three. 

So there you have it, the Five Nights at Freddy's series. There's DLC scheduled for October, and then we'll see if any more games are added to the line-up. It's just a little sad that these games are only available on PC and not on any consoles (yet!). But if you can get the chance to play any of these fright-fests, definitely do so.

If you can't play it, I would definitely suggest you at least watch someone else do so. It's funny as hell watching them jump, and you can still try to piece the story together as they go. I would personally recommend Markiplier on Youtube. 

So check it out!

~ Shaun

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The End of the Horror (?)

Just fair warning, this blog post is going to be discussing the endings you commonly see in Horror stories. As such, expect more than a couple spoilers.

(That's Blade in the background.)

It can be quite a journey from the start of a Horror story to the end. People die, pain and suffering is endured, and fears can be faced. But just because you've made it to the end doesn't mean it's over. In a proper story, the rest of the book is just a build-up to the final battle. It may be a challenge of lasting through the final assault, or finding a way to kill or drive off the beast. 

However, one of the things I enjoy most about Horror, is that the ending, commonly isn't the ending. Even when it is, it's rarely happy. I think that makes Horror fiction a closer representation to the real world more than any other genre, even taking into account the hideous monsters that roam about.

Even after the "Good" ending, in a horror movie, friends and family (and housepets) likely need to be buried. The next stop after the credits finish rolling is likely to be the nearest hospital. Houses and vehicles will likely need repair or replacing. And you can't leave out all the blood that probably needs to be cleaned up. That's not even discussing the years of therapy and anti-depressants any survivors will undoubtedly need.

(Cabin in the Woods)

And that's the best possible ending. Second to that is the survivors just managing to drive off the horrors for a while, or just being lucky enough to escape it's path. The Friday the 13th series is the perfect example. While the body count might be up into the double digits, the main character manages to avoid, escape, or even kill Jason long enough to get out of town. There is no way to permanently kill Jason though. Inevitably, he rises up to torment a new group of nubile young teens. 

A lot of Horror stories end with the victims merely escaping the monsters that plague them, not necessarily defeating them. Even if there isn't a sequel, the movie ends with the monsters still out there to continue indulging their dark appetites. While the survivors simply try to heal, forget and live out their lives. If they can.

(Stephen King's The Mist)

Then you have the true Horror ending. The one where everyone dies, the monsters rule the Earth, and nothing will ever be the same. The kind of ending where even if one of the character's survives, death would be kinder. Stephen King's The Mist is one good example. Escaping the town, only to find the Mist covers farther than they can travel, the father makes the ultimate sacrifice, being the one to take the lives of his loved ones, and then finds he doesn't have a bullet left for himself. He falls out of the car and screams to the Heavens, only to watch the army finally roll by. 

Nightmare on Elm Street does this every time as well. Although they put a twist on it, letting you think the kids have won a reprieve before revealing there is no escape from Freddy's blades. Freddy Vs. Jason pulls the same trick, with Jason walking out of the lake with Freddy's severed head, only to have Freddy wink to the camera before the credits roll. 

Many of these endings do set up for sequels, but many also don't. (Or they don't make enough money for the studios to sign off on a sequel.) The best ones plan out a Horror ending, with no intention of continuing the story, because sometimes we just need to know the monsters are out there and what they're capable of. 

Because Horror stories are supposed to scare us, and what is more frightening than to know there really is no stopping the monsters that prowl the darkest corners of our imaginations? 

What are your favorite Horror endings? Cabin in the Woods? Alien? Feel free to share in the comments below! 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sea Monsters

It's the end of July, which means Summer is now in full swing. That means road trips, camping, and, of course, the beach.

Of course, there's no shortage of beach-flavored horror novels to read while you're on vacation. Most of which are of the creature-feature variety. So there's a lot of stuff out there.

If you're a horror author, this can be incredibly frustrating if you want to find something new and frightening to dazzle a reader with. 

Now the sea is filled with predators, terrifying and cute. From seals to sharks. And the vast majority of the particularly nasty ones already fill books. From the sizes they naturally come in, to giant versions capable of swallowing people whole. 

Of course, there's giant sharks of all kinds. Then you have large squid. Even giant crabs have been used.

Reaching back into pre-history is also a wealth of strange and deadly creatures. Most common of these is the giant shark, Megalodon. Also a bit popular are Mosasaurs and Liplurodons. Of course, these aren't the only prehistoric predators which could find a home in sea-based horror. There are creatures such as Dunkleosteus and giant sea scorpions, but as things become lesser known you get more reactions of "Huh?" as opposed to "Oh shit!" 

Not that people are really put off by that. Especially over at the SyFy channel where they're happy to throw up movies about killer Lampreys. You can even find horror based on a parasitic louse that eats and replaces the tongue of its host fish. 

And, I am legally required to mention Cthulhu in a post about sea monsters. 

There are lots of home-made sea monsters you can find as well. Sharktopus is the first thing to come to mind, and a good example of a combo monster. There are also alien creatures, as well as man-made creatures. Some people even count Kaiju such as Godzilla and the beasts of Pacific Rim as sea monsters. 

So what's a horror writer to do? Pump out yet another re-hash of JAWS? Pick some obscure creature from Earth's history such as Livyatan Mellvillei? Maybe play the role of a sea-based doctor Frankenstein and plop down the lobster-shark? 

No idea, to be honest. We'll just have to see what happens when you see a water-based horror novel with my name on it. 

Did I miss any? What are some of your favorite sea monsters? Feel free to drop them in the comments below! 

~ Shaun

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: Arkham Knight

Batman: Arkham Knight is the finale of the Arkham Series. 

There's dropping the ball, and then there's DROPPING THE BALL, and then, there's this. So let's get started.

First, the good. 

Visually, this game is Batman. Just like it's predecessors, the atmosphere, the look of the city and the characters are all spot-on. Each game in the series has expanded into a larger and larger area, and this one is no exception, dropping you into a good chunk of Gotham City. 

For the first time in the series, to take advantage of the huge map you get to roam, you also get the Batmobile. Well, Bat-Tank is more like it, but it comes to the same thing. You get to drive around as Batman.

And, of course, you get to BE Batman. Just like in the other games, you're beating up thugs, solving Riddler's puzzles, and you're tracking down Penguin and Two-Face. 

And...that's really all I have to say about it that's good. Sad to say.

I'll start with the newest addition, the Batmobile. Yes, this game is the end of the Arkham series. Still, it would be better to leave us wanting more than it would be to ram something down our throats as full and hard as possible. I expected the Batmobile to be like the gadgets. If you wanted to drive around town, you can drive around town. There might be a few side quests that use it heavily, and a few missions in the main story that you have to use it for, but it's not going to be the focus of the game. I was wrong.

The Batmobile is as much the focus of this game as the story itself is. An enemy in a side quest is fleeing? You HAVE to use the Batmobile. Riddler's puzzles? Race tracks. EVERY. OTHER. TASK. In the main storyline, you're jumping in and speeding through the streets either chasing something, or blowing up remote-control tanks. If I wanted a racing game, I would have bought a racing game. Or Grand Theft Auto. 

Control-wise, the game feels rather sloppy compared to the previous versions. The Batmobile slides all over the place, combat is more difficult as you try to direct yourself to the next henchmen out of a group of 10 and find yourself punching air more often than not, and there really isn't much in the way of tips or instructions when you first start out about what buttons do what. Granted this is the fourth game of a series, but the controls are NOT exactly the same.


Then there's the story. 

Arkham Asylum, City, and even Origins had pretty original storylines to them. While Arkham Knight does take a few loose ends from the previous games, almost anybody familiar with the basics of the Batman mythos will recognize the Jason Todd/Red Hood storyline. So the mystery of who is the Arkham Knight is pretty obvious almost as soon as it's brought up. Once that reveal is done, we're back to chasing Scarecrow, who Batman just surrenders to, unmasks for, and then defeats. After four games, countless puzzles and battles, and gadgets up the yin-yang, Batman just shrugs and goes, "Okay, you got me, guess I have no choice but to give up my secret identity." Really? We're supposed to buy that Batman had no other way to win? I mean...THIS IS BATMAN! 

There is one thing that actually saves this game from being just plain bad. In one of the loose ends from Asylum and City, we find that Joker is actually a virus. (A prion, actually, but I really don't know how many people are going to know what that is. If you don't, go look it up, and then you will have learned something new today!) A virus for which there is no cure and that Batman was infected with. So from about a third of the game on, you are regularly greeted with hallucinations of the (deceased) Joker, chatting away like you're his best friend, and giving his twisted and hilarious input on just about every situation. 

There are other villains in the game as well. Providing fodder for side quests and little else. Two-Face is robbing banks. Penguin is smuggling guns. Ho-hum. And even though apparently every super-villain in Gotham was in on Scarecrow's plans, they have no bearing at all on the main storyline. 

Oh, unless you want to count the fact that the game requires you to complete a certain number of side missions before it actually lets you finish the game. 

I'm not even going to talk about the butchered PC version, that was so horribly done it was pulled from sale days after release and STILL isn't back up. 

The ball was dropped. Honestly, enough said. 

I'm only giving this 2-stars because it is still Batman, and the hard work the Joker put in to try and save it. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Path to Building a Book.

Hannah is finally coming up on the home stretch. All I have left is cover art, and sending out a few ARC copies before I push the big red "Publish" button.

It's been a long time coming and a lot of work has gone into getting this far. So I figured this would be a good time to go back and review the journey. It helps that I've pretty much documented the trip as things happened, so that makes it pretty easy. Going to be quite a few links to click if you want to get caught up.

This book started as a NaNoWriMo project back in November of 2013, right on the heels of the release of Class 5.

This was the start of my "Building a Book" series, which has actually turned out to be pretty popular. The series largely follows the progress of Hannah, even though I don't talk about the book specifically very often.

The first four posts were about writing the first draft of a book, with tips on characters, plot, and story structure.

Building a Book
Building a Book: Part 2
Building a Book: Part 3
Building a Book: Part 4, The End

Now, I didn't finish the NaNoWriMo project on time. The goal of the project is to write an entire 50,000 word novel in just one month. Hannah took me about four months to finish the first draft. Some people like to take a break between drafts on a novel. I don't, so I almost immediately dove into re-reading, revising, and making changes.

Building a Book: Second Draft

Re-vising and editing takes a lot less time to do than writing, thankfully, and a month later I was ready for the next steps.

Building a Book: Beta Readers
Building a Book: Post Beta Reader Revisions

While all this work was going on, I was also trying to consider where I wanted to go with this book. There is an ongoing debate about which is better, Trade publishing or Self publishing. Both sides have pros and cons, and both sides have extremely passionate supporters and detractors. It's still worth considering what path you want though, and I took the time to address that.

Building a Book: Choosing How to Publish

I decided to try Trade publishing, with a few specific smaller presses. One of the main drawbacks of that being the time it takes to get a reply, and what that reply might be.

Building a Book: The Wait
Building a Book: The Rejection

After the rejections, I decided to head in a different direction. Self-publishing. Which means I have to figure out all the rest of the details, like cover art, distribution, etc. etc. This ended up being the most recent post for the series, discussing the art issues I had (have) looking for a good cover for Hannah.

Building a Book: Cover Issues

That'll pretty much do it for the Building a Book series. There will be one more post, probably, regarding the release when I get the last few puzzle pieces into place, but that'll be it for the time being.

In the meantime, I want to thank you all for accompanying me on this long and twisting journey, and I look forward to sharing with you all just how much of a success or a failure all this work turns out to be. Regardless of how this book ends, you can still look forward to more stories in the future.

~ Shaun