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