Friday, 27 December 2013

Dark Fiction - Butterfly Digitalis

Butterfly Digitalis

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

He sat hunched over on the worm eaten log, the warmth of the winter sun doing nothing to heat the deceased tree trunk. He scuffed his feet through the crinkly carpet of brown leaves, some emaciated to a skeletal degree. 

The low sun forced its lack lustre light through the sentinel-like trees, their scuffed and pitted trunks casting zebra patterns across the ground, across one tip of one of his shoes. He adjusted his foot a little, trying to sense any heat in his toes.

He looked at the ground with unblinking eyes, the chill breeze unnoticed where it buffeted him, but pin pricks of his attention were aware of the leaves arcing and bending as they scrabbled over each other in a queer race to nowhere.

His mind turned inward, searching for some spark or presence that he could call “him”. All he found was a void, the echoes of his thoughts snuffed out by its all encompassing presence. He spurred his mind onwards, the strange duality unheeded as if in a dream, watching himself watching himself and yet was in control of both parts. 

The sun shifted slightly and began to shine onto his left cheek, the light indeed having some small measure of warmth, on naked skin at the least. A further portion of his mind split off and danced around the fringe of this spotlight, welcoming it and probing it for usefulness. This part revelled as the furnace glow expanded and blew through mental chambers and cloisters unused for many years, their darkest corners sizzling and stirring in renewed industry.

A small beep jerked him to motion, his eyes blinking rapidly as the various parts of him vied for attention. The correct parts thus corralled, he reached into his pocket and retrieved his smart-phone.
“Rubylips Wants To Meet You!” a small banner with a heart icon flashing next to it proclaimed. He snorted and cleared the notification from one of the handful of dating apps installed on his phone. He shoved it back into his pocket, the familiar tides of loneliness and unworthiness percolating to the forefront of his consciousness. He didn’t buy it any more. The only women who wanted to meet him were the ones who just looked at his photo. They never read his profile. They would never click to meet if they had.

The sunlight shone on his lap, his hands acquiring a surreal looking halo. Holding them up, he turned them around and around, marvelling at how something so glowing could feel so cold. He lined them up side by side, pushing the edges of each thumb together and splaying out his fingers in a butterfly fashion. He pivoted his wrists to make the wings flap of his butterfly, his butterfly digitalis, the light playing strangely across his finger nails. He was pretty sure that the Latin meant something else but was pleased with the aesthetic of the word.

He wondered what kind of butterfly could be born from an abyss, a place of dead feeling and unearthly air currents. It would have to be a hardy one indeed. He reflected on the idea that in fact, it had actually been born, the seed of his thought setting other mechanisms in motion to bring him to that moment, his hands fluttering in the darkening woodland, his mind lifted once more to brighter things, even if for only a short moment.

Pain lanced across his lower back breaking the spell. He struggled to stand, his joints and nerves complaining of sitting too long in such inclement weather. Stretching to work out the kinks, he slowly headed off, his feet shuffling through the loam and leaves, his thoughts on a new track. Maybe if an abyss could give birth to a butterfly, what does it matter of what is inside, if it brings interesting and amazing things into the world. Things that could inspire and build, or destroy and deceive. It was less an abyss and more the ultimate creative well, sometimes reflecting what is thrown in, other times birthing wholly new creations of awe and might. A cold shiver traced along his spine.

His phone beeped. He left it in his pocket. He walked slowly, his eyes drawn from one trunk to the next, a casual pace, light to dark...light to dark, and gradually lost himself amongst the trees.

--THE END--

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Dark Review - My Top 10 Dark Picks from the 2013 Steam Winter Sale

Yes it's that time of the year. The time for good will to all men (and women), peace on earth (yeah right) and the Steam Winter sale, where games that cost mucho deniro mere months ago can now be had for less than the cost of a glossy magazine. The main Steam Page showcases games with even more of a discount, and also the short flash sales too, so it's well worth checking at intervals during the day to see what is newly reduced. In the UK, the main large ticket items on sale change each night at 6PM. If you are anywhere with a different timezone, adjust accordingly.

So here it is, my own Top Ten of the best horror and dark games currently on sale:

Deadlight - Zombie platformer shooter with a lovely art style and interesting story.

Papers, Please - A Dystopian document thriller which is more bleak than anything. My review on Geek Syndicate can be found here.

Call of Cthulhu - An oldie but a goody. A genuinely dank and fishy smelling game and well worth playing for the door-bolting chase scene alone.

Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition - Hard, but fair. A game world that doesn't give two shits about you but that touches something inside you that makes you feel a cold love towards it.

The Walking Dead Season One - A great point-and-click adventure game with interesting relationship building and nice levels of zombie gore. If you enjoy stomping zombies, you will like this game. Season Two has also popped up on sale but currently is only one episode.

Outlast - A journalist investigating an old asylum with only his camera for company. What could possibly go wrong in this creepy first person explore-and-run-athon.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent - You awaken in a creepy old house and carefully pick through the clues to see what is going on. What is that noise behind you though? Another great first person creep-a-thon.

Thief: Deadly Shadows - Another oldie but such a well designed game. Take control of Garrett and play warring factions off against each other while lining your pockets with their possession and solving the bigger threat. This also features an asylum level, which is critically praised as one of the best levels in many a game.

Metro 2033 - Nuclear war, mutants, dark claustrophobic tunnels and a creeping menace from the Botanical Gardens. An immense first person survival shooter with a well written story. The sequel, Metro: Last Light is also well worth a purchase. It continues the story but has a lovely spruce up graphically.

Limbo - A striking black and white world and a young boy caught between this life and the next. A great platform-puzzler from a few years ago.

There we have it, a nice little list on which any bleak geek is sure to find something they fancy. The sale as a whole so far has been largely underwhelming for me, but I think that is partly due to not actually being on the lookout for anything in particular that I don't already own. I'm hoping something will come up dirt cheap though, anything is worth it if the price is right. Happy hunting!

Happy Xmas to everyone!


Friday, 20 December 2013

Dark Article - The Risky Business of Gaming

My "The Risky Business of Gaming" is todays Friday Feature on Geek Syndicate here


A look at the way some gamers might be short-changing their enjoyment by abusing save files to always get the outcome that they desire.

Dark Fiction - Ogham's Windy Ring

Ogham's Windy Ring

By Casey Douglass

as part of #FridayFlash

Ogham's Windy Ring Artwork - Casey Douglass

‘You look terrible! How long’s it been?’
Ogham shuddered as he forced the skeleton of a smile onto his face. ‘Three weeks!’
Dimitri made a noise like a bashful firework soaring into the sky. ‘So what’s the plan?’
The two boys hunkered lower into the flower bed as a gaggle of giggling girls clipped past, their squeaky shoes and, as was the current fashion, over-length scarves sweeping their way across the quadrangle.
‘Billy Craver’s got it in his room!’ Ogham whispered, his hands gripping his sides.
‘How do you know?’
‘Orac...ulus,’ Ogham hissed out as his abdomen rumbled.
‘Why didn’t we ask him before!’ Dimitri slapped his already balding head.
‘Don’t...know.’
‘Okay okay you’re fading Og. Lets get it back right now!’
‘That’s the...plan!’
They shimmied along on their stomachs, the feral undergrowth taking nips and bites out of their clothes and skin, the mulch that it grew from not even worth contemplating unless you found a small bone here and there.
They neared the window to Billy Craver’s dormitory, eyeing the plaque nearby that designated it as the “Lesser Gods Domicile”.
Dimitri hissed. ‘Don’t know why they let them in!’
‘I don’t care! I’ll think about it...later!’ Ogham wheezed as he wiped sweat from his brow.
‘We wouldn’t have had all this happen then!’ Dimitri said, his fist punching into his other palm to emphasize every word. ‘I’m surprised your Dad hasn’t got involved!’
‘He won’t...he’s always doing his...hammering. Get moving!’
Dimitri looked at Ogham, the faintest impression of a scowl crossing his features before vanishing just as swiftly. ‘Come on then,’ he smiled.
Ogham neared the open window and looked inside. Long rows of beds criss-crossed the room in the most haphazard manner. Ogham’s brain was unable to make out any pattern or reason to the jumbled mess. He gasped as he felt a shove lift him up from the ground and shoot him into the room. He fell heavily onto a nearby bed and bounced to the floor as Dimitri climbed through window frame, a big smirk on his face.
‘Just trying to move things along!’ he laughed.
‘Thank...you very much...I almost lost...control you tit!’
Dimitri just laughed as he began lifting beds one-handed, flicking them up into the air one after the other, inspecting the detritus under each before letting them clatter down to the floor again.
‘Shhh!’ Ogham hissed.
‘Too late for Shhh!’ Billy’s voice oozed into their ears.
They both turned and glared at the little waify fellow standing in the half open doorway. His rattish features contorted into a happy grin as his mind obviously revelled in the amount of trouble they were about to get into.
Ogham groaned and fell face forward onto the floor, the most disturbing rumbling coming from down below.
Dimitri yelled and through himself at Billy, one large fist already splitting the air between them. He would have killed him too, if he had actually connected. It was just at this moment that Ogham blew. It started with the smallest hiss of air, but in moments had transformed into the most undulating vibrating mass of fast moving particles that had been seen in the universe since that other big noisy thing happened. A ripple bellowed out from Ogham’s twitching body, the shock-wave diverting Dimitri through a wall, and then another and another, until he ended up in a large closet seven rooms down. Billy’s sneer was likewise blown away, his eyes widening as his own foot managed to kick him in the face as he lifted and twisted through the air. Earthquakes might dream of the rumbling havoc that pushed beds through walls, stripped the patina from the door handles and hit the windows with such force that the glass reverted back to sand. And then it all stopped.
The sound of this and that falling to the floor was the only thing to spoil the silence for a good few moments, but not long after, a loud contented sigh cut through the barren sound-scape. Ogham sat up and rubbed his palms over his ears making them bend in ways they didn’t like. He didn’t know what else to do to stop the ringing.
Dimitri stumbled in, his head and shoulders covered in cobwebs and their now mobile-home living spiders. ‘I’m guessing the problem is solved?’
Ogham grinned as his cheeks reddened. ‘Yes it seems so.’
Dimitri walked over and patted him on the back. ‘Glad to hear it! I thought you were done for!’
‘Apparently not. I don’t know why not, but here I am!’
‘So what was the ring for?’
‘Prevention I guess. Dad gave it to me before I came here, said his Dad gave it to him.’
‘So we still have to find it?’
Ogham was staring at the ceiling, his eyes crossing slightly.
‘Og?’ Dimitri flicked Ogham’s nose.
Ogham snorted and looked at Dimitri. ‘What? Oh sorry. It’s just...nice. I haven’t been sleeping and it’s just all...the world’s such a nice...’
‘Dimitri Jarilo and Ogham Magni!’ A loud voice yelled in the hallway.
‘Oh no, it’s Old Snaver!’ Dimitri blanched. ‘We’re for it now!’
Ogham nodded as the blissed out look was replaced with glumness.
‘Tell him about the ring Og! It’s the only way we might get out of this.’
‘Okay Dimitri, I will,’ Ogham sighed.
They both struggled to their feet and began to walk towards the door, the now glowering face of Snaver shooting lances of ice through their veins.
Dimitri whispered: ‘Og?’
‘What?’
‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’
‘What?’
‘Pardon me! I know you’re a Wind God but that was something else!’
Both felt giggles begin to climb their throats but in what could only be described as the most startling feat of repression ever seen, they managed to stifle and smother them so that all that survived was the merest rush of air over their lips. Many young giggles are killed this way at birth, never having the chance to mature into a chuckle or even, gods permitting, a full belly laugh.
Snaver glared at the two boys and beckoned for them to follow as he disappeared from view. Now for the real storm.

--THE END--

Friday, 13 December 2013

Dark Fiction - The Goat of Hades

The Goat of Hades

By Casey Douglass

as part of #FridayFlash

Phil trudged along the narrow dusty tractor track, the incessant buzzing of flies darting around him starting to get on his nerves. It was getting late but the hot summer evening was as stifling as ever, the setting sun smirking as it bathed the fields in a fiery golden glow.
He looked up from his phone and could see the back of his house looming in the copse in the distance. He loved living here, nice and quiet with great views, but it was a pain in the backside to get back to civilization. He swished a finger across the icons and began searching for take-aways.
‘Chinese...na.’
To his right, a wire fence conspired to keep a few motley looking sheep from wandering away. The smell of animal crap and sweaty fur made Phil’s nose itch.
‘Pizza...nope.’
He batted a fly away.
‘Psst!’
‘Indian...could fancy an Indian.’
‘Pssssst!’
Phil looked up and glanced behind him. Shaking his head he went back to his phone screen.’
‘Oi!’
Phil jerked upright and stared all around.
‘Down here!’
The voice came from Phil’s right, but he couldn’t see anyone.’
‘Down!’
He swivelled his eyes down lower. A mangy black goat stood at the very edge of the wire fence, its glistening nose pointing straight at Phil.
‘Bingo!’ it said.
Phil felt his back and shoulders relax, the tension stuttering through his body and flowing away with each deep breath he forced into his lungs. ‘Oh this again!’ he said.
‘I don’t know what you mean, but I need your help!’
‘Oh do you! Might I say that’s not very clever, a goat in a field of sheep!’
‘Drop that tone mortal. I am the Great Goat of Hades! Show me some respect!’
Phil's vision began to shimmer and go dark around the edges as he stared at the goat, its black fur darkening, its eyes beginning to glow a little bit red around the edges. ‘Very impressive, but I’ve had worse.’
‘I will kill you!’
‘Then who is going to help you? I don’t see many candidates!’
‘I don’t have time for debate. This vessel was moved here by the farmer and had a shock collar put around its neck.’ The goat craned its neck, the heavy buckle of the collar glistening in the fading light. ‘Take it off me!’
Phil stared around him and shook his head. Everything else looked so normal, the settling dusk, the birds roosting, even the jogger in the very distance with a pink t-shirt on. His mind went to his stomach which was gurgling and felt like it was holding his other organs hostage. He sighed and stepped over the fence. Better to get it over with.
The black goat turned and raised its chin, its small wispy beard matted and tangled into a briary point. ‘Good!’
Phil got behind it and stood over its back, one leg either side. He reached down and pulled the collar around so that he could get at the buckle more easily. He unfastened the flappy bit and paused. What had he done before when stuff like this happened. Oh yes.
‘Wha-,’ was the only sound the goat emitted as Phil yanked hard on the tongue of the collar as he stood up to his full height, his knees pinning the back of the now kicking animal. A horrible gurgling sound filtered out of the creatures mouth accompanied by a thick black jet of faeces at the other end. Phil gave a mighty heave and was rewarded with a sharp cracking noise. He let go, the lifeless goat falling to his feet.
He stood still and panted, his hands shaking and greasy with sweat. A cool evening breeze blew across his brow, the moisture on his face lulling his mind. He heard muted scuffling from a way behind him. Turning, he looked at the huddled sheep that had now taken up residence in the furthest corner of the field. He looked down and nudged the black shape with his foot. He smiled.
‘I could fancy a kebab!’
Stooping, he lifted the thing over his shoulder and ponderously straddled the fence to get to the path. The flies buzzed around him with renewed ferocity, diverting his attention just enough that he didn’t feel the ground shudder ever so slightly. He grinned as he walked, his mind clear once more. It had been years since he’d heard voices, but he knew how to shut them up. That rabbit at Easter when he was ten, the dazzling little white dove that glowed and that grinning smirking reindeer with the red nose. Oh yes, he knew what to do!

--THE END-- 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Dark Article - Achievement Unlocked


Geek Syndicate Issue 8 is online now here. Featuring :
  • Interviews with Butterfly Gate Writer, Benjamin Reed and Elysia creator Serena Obhrai.
  • Bluffers guide to Board Games.
  • Luke Halsall takes us on a personal journey to explain what Superman means to him.
  • We look at the cult of Achievements in video games.
  • Cat Collins puts Marvel Phase One to the Bechdel Test.
  • Fashion geek Jess shows us how to achieve some great cosplay on a budget.
  • Reviews include Day of the Doctor, THOR: The Dark World, X-MEN: Battle of the Atom and more.
  • The members of GS reveal some of their loves outside of geekdom.
 The article on Achievements in games is my own.


Monday, 2 December 2013

Dark Review - Papers, Please

My review of the PC/Mac game Papers, Please is now live on Geek Syndicate here. A game that manages to take tenets of admin and turn them into a game that is pretty damn good.



Friday, 29 November 2013

Dark Fiction - Razor

Razor

By Casey Douglass

for #fridayflash


 
The neon tube overhead shuddered as a train rumbled past somewhere to the left, the small subway toilet quiet and unminding. The rough looking man stood alone, the only denizen of the grimy smelly pit. A wan and drawn face stared back at him from the smudged mirror, the dark rings under its eyes and poking cheekbones looking even more ghoulish under the artificial lighting.
He hadn’t wanted to do it here, but with his ticket lost and no money, why bother arguing his way out of the station above. What difference did “where” make in the long run anyway. Better to do it now and save some hassle.
He rolled up his right sleeve with a dirty hand, twisting the stiff jacket material so that it stayed behind his bent elbow. He pushed up his jumper sleeve next, then undoing his shirt cuff, he forced that up with the others.
His forearm throbbed and shook with his pulse; the veins and muscles pushing up against the paper-thin skin. He looked in the mirror one last time before reaching down for the razor blade that was propped up against the cold tap.
The icy metal chilled his thumb and index finger but in the smoothest motion he could manage, he brought it to rest an inch above his exposed right wrist.
His eyes locked onto the mirror almost against his will, and he noted that they looked calmer now, more relaxed. He smiled and his double smiled back.
‘I wont make the same mistakes next time,’ he said to the glass.
With one swift motion, he spun the razor blade around his wrist, it never fully dipping to actually touch the skin. Blue sparks fizzed and sputtered from the sharp edge, ghostly worm like tendrils momentarily appearing and fading as the razor severed them.
The lights above flickered and buzzed as another train rattled past, failing totally for a few dark seconds. When they recovered and blazed once more into the tiled space, the man was gone. The only sound heard over the still vibrating train line was the quiet gurgle of the urinals as they entered their scheduled flushing cycle.

--THE END--

Not some of my best writing by any means, but I have been stuck in such a poor state that I felt I just needed to get something out and start the ball rolling again.Thanks for reading.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Dark Review - Atrium Carceri - The Untold

Review of Atrium Carceri "The Untold"

By Casey Douglass

 


Atrium Carceri’s albums are my absolute favourite to kick back and relax to. I used to listen to so called “new age” music for that purpose, and while I did find it relaxing, the airy-fairy lightness was so saccharine, it made me feel at risk of becoming diabetic.

I first stumbled across Atrium Carceri on last.fm, having searched for some dark ambient stuff. One of the tracks immediately reminded me of the music from the Silent Hill film which I adored. I quickly bought his first three albums and the love affair began.

That doesn’t mean that I have taken to all of his albums. I bounced off some of them and really became attached to others like Phrenitis. I view that as a good thing. It shows that there is some variety to what he produces, rather than them all being the same.

The Untold is his latest release, and certainly follows in the same vein. Eerie footsteps mingle with deep white-sound rumbling. Vague voices speaking strange languages argue in the distance, but in the most unjarring way. The sounds of slithering and rustling as the music ebbs and flows, the odd piano sounds adding to the dark undertones of the unknown vistas conjured in the mind.

That is what I truly enjoy about his work. With his horror soundtracks, I have mentally journeyed through abandoned cities, across desolate landscapes, and ventured deep into the earth with something unseen and gurgling accompanying me. I have also fallen asleep, which might mark me as some kind of psychopath. I don’t know.

The Untold is well worth a purchase if you are already familiar with his work, or other dark ambient artists like Lustmord. If you haven’t heard anything in that genre, Atrium Carceri is the best place to start, in my humble opinion. I did.

Rating: 5/5

Atrium Carceri's Website can be found here.




Sunday, 17 November 2013

Dark Pondering - Update

I just wanted to thank Kat and Jamie at Generic Movie and Tv for giving me the chance to write for them at the start of this year. I have decided to part company with them after around ten months of contributing movie reviews, as my time is being taken up with other writing projects and I don't feel I can have my attention divided in that way at the moment. I wish them all the best and hope to see Generic move on to bigger and better things.

This month also saw me sign up for NaNoWrMo but it has turned into a bit of a tool to berate myself with. I have continued to write, but just cannot get into the right headspace for a longer work, partly due to a few bad events in other areas of my life. I am getting there but I am sad that I couldn't make the best of Nano this year.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Dark Review - Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal

My review of Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal, is now up on Geek Syndicate. A great little indie game with a fluid enemy and a lot of complexity. I really enjoyed it. Find the review here.


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Dark Review - Talisman Digital Edition

My review of Talisman Digital Edition is now up on Geek Syndicate here. A very nice little conversion of the Games Workshop boardgame.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Dark Review - The Inner World Collectors Edition

My review of The Inner World Collectors Edition is up on Geek Syndicate here. A lovingly drawn world that was a pleasure to explore and puzzle over in a quaint PC/Mac game.




Friday, 4 October 2013

Dark Review - Monaco

My review of the PC/Mac game Monaco is now up on Geek Syndicate here. A great little retro styled heist game that falls a bit short in the AI department.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Dark Article - Writing While Ill

Writing While Ill

By Casey Douglass

 


At various times, I have searched the internet for any articles that might feature tips on how you can feel like grim death but still write as much as you want to. If such an article exists, I’ve yet to find it. In lieu of this, I thought I might just have a stab at one myself, knowing that it could easily turn into a case of the blind leading the blind, or at best, a show of solidarity with no real answers. If nothing else, I am hoping it might get me past some of my own frustration at the least.

This piece will focus more on people with long term health issues. If you have the flu or a cold or something like that, do what you want and be thankful you will recover. If you are the type to force yourself to sit at the laptop trying to catch your snotty sneezes in a wet tissue while your fingers struggle for purchase on the keys, knock yourself out. If you have to take yourself off to bed to tremble under the covers and curse life, do that too.

I have been chronically ill for more than a decade, and while I don’t want to get into the details, it’s a real fucker. My prospects for recovery are now pretty much as close to zero as they can be, and I am gaining a collection of other health issues like some strange macabre set of Pokemon. This means that even if I really feel like writing something, my health can very much get in the way, be it struggling to sit upright or just feeling so exhausted that my eyes struggle to focus and my hand to write. This bugs me, it really does. I can usually tell the difference between this kind of obstacle and the “writers block” kind which seems to be equal doses of procrastination and lack of ideas, which is a different beast altogether. I have worked through a lot of my own issues in that area: the anxiety that writing can cause, the mental tension that comes with trying to suss things out and the lure of quick feel-good pastimes like firing up the Xbox for a quick game of something. If you do suffer from that kind of issue, there are certainly some good books on creativity, procrastination and writers block out there, and it is well worth investigating those.

As far as the illness side of things, yes you can power through and force it, trying to shoehorn yourself into some routine where you write everyday without fail, but what happens when day after day you have to reduce your word counts, lose other things that you enjoy being able to do or just feel so shit in yourself that you lose all interest in life in general? The last thing you will be worried about then will be your writing. On the other side of the coin, what if you just wait until you feel like writing? Days can drag on to weeks and maybe months, waiting waiting waiting. Not a very attractive prospect either.

Like many things in life, it seems to be that the middle ground holds the most promise. I find that I can sometimes write when I feel very bad, and other times I just have to concede defeat and see how I will be the next day. If the next day is no better, there’s always the day after. This creates its own kind of stress of course, which is why you need to have some kind of basic self awareness and enough drive to actually stay the course, or you might end up floundering in a sea of apathy which takes even longer to get out of. Every time the thought enters your mind “Can I write something?” you need to realistically judge if it’s feasible, not just procrastination, and won’t make you feel too ill.

I sometimes have the fantasy of wondering what it would be like to wake up at my laptop/notepad one morning having written and worked so hard that I just had nothing left to give. Then it occurs to me what that would do to me and the health consequences I would likely have to live with for the next weeks and months. I guess that that is at the heart of so many writing issues and doubts. Any writer wants to feel that they have done their very best, not held back or compromised and achieved something worthwhile, overcoming all the obstacles that that may entail. This is very much the game, whether you are ill or healthy.

This balancing act is all that I have found mildly useful since trying to increase my writing output and quality while struggling with my illness. I don’t doubt my motivation, and as far as my ability, past evidence does indicate that I have some. Of course there are always doubts about how far you can take something: do you have what it takes to turn pro, build your readership and become the name on at least one person’s lips when asked which writer they recommend?

Like any skill, the most important thing is just to write. It’s the only way to improve your craft. Any obstacles that get in the way of that need to be assessed on an individual basis, and the decision taken on how best to deal with them. Don’t become a writer who needs everything to be perfect before you start something, and don’t waste money on writing aids or too many books that teach you about writing. Write and put your creations out there and you are a good way towards winning the battle.

This article has come to an end without much in the way of answers, which I thought might happen. With this in mind, I will share a few general writing tips that I have found particularly helpful below.

Keep a notebook to write down ideas as they come to you. I find that if I do this, my mind sends me more ideas, as I am showing that I am interested in what it has to say. On a day where I feel too ill to write, the ideas often flow like this, and can lay the foundations for some good writing when I have a better day.

When you have finished a first draft, leave it for a few days and work on other things before coming back to it. We get too close to our own writing, and just a few days focussing elsewhere will help you in a big way when you come back to begin your editing process. It’s the mental equivalent of trying to see an elephant from an inch away or moving back a few metres and seeing the whole thing.

Acknowledge that some days, you will be in a media consumption mode rather than a creation mode. I might write for a few days and then find myself wanting to read/watch films/play games more than actually write. In my own experience, I find it is best to just allow this. I don’t know if it refills the wellspring or just gives my mind a break or outlet for other pressures, but I find it broadly helpful. Just take care that it doesn’t become your default mode. I find that too much of this makes my mind feel more sluggish and leaves me more prone to procrastination.

These are the tips that I consistently put into use and that I have seen work time and again. There are lots of other things you can do of course, but like anything, that becomes a personal choice for the writer and it’s their own personal task to see what works for them and what doesn’t.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Dark Review - Pacific Rim: Man, Machines & Monsters

Pacific Rim: Man, Machines & Monsters Review

By Casey Douglass

 

Books that explain the process of creating a particular film don’t usually appeal to me. Maybe on some level I am afraid of seeing the wizard behind the curtain or the strings manipulating the puppets. What went through my mind when I picked up this hefty Pacific Rim book, I just can’t be sure. I think it was largely the desire to find out more about the creatures and creations, and to see a little bit more of the world that was created (and partly destroyed), with the hope that nothing would be “ruined” for me.

On first noticing the cover, I was a little put off. I felt it had a childlike quality: the yellow hazard markings akin to something seen on the box of a toy bulldozer for a three year old. The rest of the artwork looked fine, but this just made it look a little cheap. Thinking about it more deeply, Pacific Rim was very much formed from the films that the young Guillermo del Toro watched as a child, so maybe it isn’t such a bad thing.

No...it still looks cheap. When you open the book for a browse, you will probably find it falling open at the middle pages which have sandwiched between them a small collection of stickers. Yes. Stickers. While nice to have I suppose, they do little to shake my notions above.


Casually flicking through, you will find other things stuck to the pages, little slips of paper or bits of cardboard. The cardboard is in the form of two I.D badges, which while nicely presented, also add to the childlike air of the book. 


 I’m glad to say that this is where the childish stuff seems to end. Other inserts are in the form of Guillermo del Toro’s notebook pages, and blueprint designs for the various Jaeger machines. These are very nice to look at and are the only things included in the book as a novelty that I genuinely think add any value.


The book itself is a great read. It feels high quality with lots of images and information to digest about the characters, Jaegers, Kaiju and other aspects of the film, with plenty of specs and charts to mull over while having your tipple of choice. I can’t go into too much detail as that will just devalue the book should you choose to buy it. Just suffice to say that there is a lot of material contained therein. 


It probably goes without saying that you need to have liked the film to really get anything out of the book. If you were indifferent or disliked the film, I don’t see why you would be even thinking of getting the book anyway. If you enjoyed it, I think you will enjoy the book as well. Even if it’s a book which you just flick through now and then to enjoy the artwork, I think you will get your value from it. The book sells for £29.99 RRP which is what I paid. I don’t feel ripped off, but if you see it for around the £20 mark I think you would have a proper bargain on your hands.

Rating: 4/5

(My review of the film itself can be read here.)


 


Monday, 16 September 2013

Dark Article - Fast Travel Mechanics In Games

My article looking at Fast Travel Mechanics in games is now up in issue 7 of the Geek Syndicate Magazine. I ponder if they hide a multitude of sins, or if they are just the time saving godsend that they appear to me. The mag can be read in a variety of ways here.



Friday, 6 September 2013

Dark Review - The Chaos Engine

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My review of the remade Chaos Engine game is now up on Geek Syndicate here. The classic Amiga game given a new HD treatment but still looking and playing faithfully to the original. Not bad at all.


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dark Pondering - My Second Competition Result

I entered the August Flash Fiction Competition on Darker Times and received two honourable mentions, which I am quite happy with. I'm a bit disappointed to have not improved on my last attempt but I`ll settle for that. Winners, runners up and honourable mentions can be seen here.



Sunday, 25 August 2013

Dark Review - Kick-Ass 2

Kick-Ass 2 Review

By Casey Douglass

Image ©Universal Pictures

 
If you have no memory of watching a film featuring a weedy guy in a green and yellow wetsuit, or a young girl dressed in purple with a severe case of potty mouth, go and watch Kick-Ass right now! I’ll wait. If these characters conjure up mental images of jet-pack mounted mini-guns and mugs of hot chocolate stuffed with marshmallows, welcome to the sequel. While it’s not absolutely necessary to have seen the first film before viewing the second, you will get the most from it if you have.

The film begins at the tattered ends of the first one, with Mindy Macready / Hit-girl (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz) adjusting to a life without her dead father (Nicolas Cage’s Big Daddy). A friend of his has taken her in, and is trying to push her into a more normal, less violent life. Mindy takes to it like a boxer to needlework. It feels strange and scary and she would much rather be out ridding the streets of criminal scum.

Her partner in heroism Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has also given up the mask, partly due to feeling like some kind of false superhero that, while inspiring to others, was nothing compared to Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. Dave decides to engage Mindy as his tutor and trainer, wanting to finally become the real deal.

It is not long into the film where a botched training session draws a lot of unwanted attention to “masked-vigilantes” and the two part company to pursue their own attempts at the lives they want to lead. For Mindy, this is being forced ever deeper into High-school culture, concerns of having to fit in and to be popular, all the while having the feeling that she is selling her soul for the price of a promise to her dead daddy. She pushes her Hit-Girl persona so far back into the closet that Aslan might soon be seen sporting a purple wig and swearing at Mr. Tumnus. Dave faces similar issues as he follows the opposite path and embraces his superhero alter-ego even more, having to fit into a new group of like-minded individuals and seeing if he can survive without Hit-Girl’s aid.

But what would a sequel be without the return of the evil mastermind in waiting Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Having seen Kick-Ass propel and explode his father with an RPG from the top floor of a skyscraper, the boy certainly has vengeance issues. After the fortuitous death of his kill-joy mother, he reinvents himself as The Motherf**ker and sets about building his own evil empire to choke the city and to sever the veins of his father’s killers.

This ladies and gents, is the film. The story arcs of each character collide and then veer away at intervals, forming a deadly dance of dressing up in funny clothes and crude name calling, with the occasional brutal fight or one-upmanship in between. I think that it trundles along at a nice pace, the action never outstaying its welcome, nor the quieter scenes dragging on indefinitely. The humour that ran through the first film is still as pure in the second. If anything, the swearing is even more inventive and some of the one liners even more memorable.

The real strength of the second film is the ensemble of other characters that flesh out both sides of the conflict. Kick-Ass teams up with Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) and his crew of heroes, which also include Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison) and Night Bitch (Lindy Booth). The villainous ranks are also swelled, most notably by Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), a giantess of a woman who’s epic stand-off with four or five police cars using nothing more than what is at hand is well worth the price of admission on its own.

The technical side of the film is very well done, with the variety of costumes and colours on screen a nice reminder of the comic book origins of the series. Every scene is clear and precise, and the accompanying score carries it all along nicely to its grandstanding conclusion.

While I did enjoy the film very much, it does suffer from the usual malady of simply being a sequel. While it does change the formula here and there, it did feel like a case of having “seen it all before”, even if it has been expanded and polished to within an inch of its life. I think that may be the reason the fighting was more brutal and the swearing more deviously placed; to cover the notion that it is all a bit samey. It is definitely still well worth watching, and if you loved the first, I am almost certain you will love this sequel.

Rating : 4.5/5


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Dark Pondering - My First Writing Competition Result

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I entered my first paid entry writing competition last month. The reason it has taken me so long isn't due to any aversion to paying, just that I didn't really feel ready until now. I had entered a couple of free to enter competitions over the last few years but didn't place in those.

When I found Darker Times, I felt that I could write the kind of story that I really enjoyed and so felt it was definitely worth a go. A few days ago the results for July 2013 were published and I was very happy to see that both of my flash fiction stories were placed. One as a runner up, one as an honourable mention. I was disappointed not to win of course, but to have two get a mention was almost just as good for me. Even better, they will hopefully be published later in the year as part of the Darker Times Anthology, which I can actually buy from Amazon as a paperback! I know it's not quite the same as having your own book published but mentally, I feel that I am another step along the path that I want to travel with my writing.

I will certainly be entering again, and other competitions too. If I can repeat or better that result, I will feel more able to push ahead and to at least have some confidence in the idea that I might not be deluding myself as to my abilities or my feasibility as a writer.

The winning entries, along with the runner up and honourable mentions can all be seen here, and are well worth a read if you like dark things.

Darker Times Fiction Logo

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Dark Review - Brothers : A Tale of Two Sons

My review of the latest Starbreeze game Brothers : A Tale of Two Sons is now up on Geek Syndicate. A novel game that sees you control two brothers (get out!) simultaneously. I really love it and it's dark story. Check out the review here on Geek Syndicate.


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Dark Review - Pacific Rim

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Pacific Rim Review

By Casey Douglass


Image ©Warner Bros. Pictures


Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim has been my most looked forward to film of the year so far. This is unusual for me as I don’t often get to that stage of anticipation with many films. The last one that did was probably The Dark Knight Rises. So I will tell you now, I give Pacific Rim 5/5. It’s not a perfect film but I personally loved it.

Pacific Rim is the story of humanities struggle against invading monsters that emerge from the depths of the Pacific. These creatures are Kaiju, denizens of another dimension, that travel to our own through a “dimensional rift” on the ocean floor. Initially they come through at the rate of one every few months, but the frequency increases as time progresses, the gap between each emergence narrowing with every new creature rearing its ugly head. In response to this threat, the countries of the world band together and create the Jaegers, colossal human driven robots that can fight the Kaiju on their own terms.

The humans prevail for awhile, but the escalating numbers of Kaiju soon overwhelm their capacity to keep patching the Jaegers up and sending them out to do battle. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), is a Jaeger pilot who comes off the unfortunate loser against a large Kaiju. He bows out of the program feeling that he is washed out and done. The Jaeger program is deemed ineffective and funding is stopped in favour of other defences. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), was in charge of the whole scheme, and refuses to give in. He corrals the last of the Jaeger into one base, determined to carry on the fight, and re-enlists his favourite pilot Becket once more.

It is here that the film really launches off into the guts of the storyline, giving glimpses of pilot relationships, research into the Kaiju and other projects and dealings that both empower and jeopardize the war effort. It felt to me that more time was spent running around deciding what to do than driving the robots and punching monsters in the face. I do feel that the film was better for it though. It made every action scene that much more exciting by not over-saturating the viewer with too much robot flesh (I’m looking at you Transformers!).

The Jaeger themselves are things of metallic beauty, each one built by its own respective world power in its own distinct way. The Russian one is strong and stark compared to the Chinese one which is lithe and agile with whirling blades. The Kaiju themselves offer great variety too, some resembling lizards, others sea creatures. They also vary in size and abilities in as many ways as the Jaeger.

When the two enormous fighters clash, it is certainly a thrilling sight. Guillermo del Toro penned a piece in the July issue of Empire magazine, going into his influences and enthusiasm for Kaiju movies growing up in Mexico. (A very interesting read). He says that he always felt the Kaiju were forces of nature, like a tornado or a tsunami. I would say that he achieves this effect in Pacific Rim with great skill. They are certainly majestic in their own way, which is another effect of his own love affair with them. He says that he always finds himself rooting for the monster. This brings me back to the last film that made me excited to see it. The last two Batman films in fact. Both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises had me rooting as much for the villain as for Batman. I did feel the same in Pacific Rim. There is just a part of me that enjoys revelling in mass destruction and is envious of things that don’t seem to have to follow any outside rules.

I really enjoyed Pacific Rim, the story, the fights, the effects and the acting. It was great to see Idris Elba in something like that, along with Charlie Hunnam and Robert Kazinsky, all great British actors who should appear in as much as possible in my humble opinion. I still find myself reflecting on the film almost a week after seeing it, and am looking forward to its hopefully soon blu-ray release. I may also pick up the movie score on CD. It is odd as I think I saw some of the same monster movies del Toro did when I was growing up, and I can only remember being unimpressed by them. They didn’t capture my heart like they did his, but del Toro has well and truly ruined me for other Kaiju films now.

Rating : 5/5


Friday, 12 July 2013

Dark Fiction - Watcher

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Watcher

By Casey Douglass

As part of  #fridayflash


My head has always been a little empty. Even from a young age, I was content to sit and watch, rather than take part and control.

I watched my granddad fall to the ground when his heart gave out. People fussed around him. I sat serenely in the background, shiny eyes funnelling the scene into my six year old brain.

I watched a girl get raped at high-school. Nobody knew I was sitting quietly under the large conifer hedge, half forgotten Wuthering Heights slipping from my fingers. My brain absorbed and filed, my body just a tripod for my head.

I watched the car get closer through the lens of my sixteenth birthday present, rapidly taking shots so the moment was preserved. Weightlessness and rushing air ruined the last few, but my finger click clicked as my body disintegrated.

I watched so much in life, and now death has opened up new vistas. Walls and doors matter little when you are composed of ether and willpower. My brain is hungry for strange sights and any exotic view. I’ve watched and I’ve watched and I’ve watched...and now I am watching you.


Monday, 1 July 2013

Dark Review - World War Z

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Image ©Paramount Pictures

World War Z Review 

By Casey Douglass


World War Z is the film based on the novel of the same name by Max Brooks. I read the novel sometime ago and found it very enjoyable. It made me think about some of the issues involved in a zombie outbreak that I had never before considered. I’ll admit that as a narrative, being made up of disjointed events and reports, the novel was a little dry. I can fully understand why the film was manipulated into a more traditional narrative, even if it meant leaving out some of the tastiest tales in the book.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a retired U.N employee who happens to have the skills that the U.N needs when the zombie outbreak reaches the worldwide consciousness. He and his family are plucked from the melting pot of teeth and screeching terror in the hope that he will aid the U.N in its hunt for the cause of the outbreak and ideally, the cure. Thus the film proceeds, flying from place to place just ahead of each location succumbing to the scourge. It struck me as a potential idea for the next Idiot Abroad TV series, although I would feel very sorry for Karl Pilkington if that ever got the go ahead.

I was unimpressed with the film, and I didn’t go there thinking that I wouldn’t like it. There were the usual moments of silliness that any film seems to suffer from these days but in the case of World War Z, I just couldn’t look past them this time.

Brad Pitt’s character seemed almost surplus to requirements. Any number of faceless U.N observers would have probably pieced together the clues as to the way the disease might be hampered, if not eradicated. As that is mainly what he did. He took the time to watch and observe the victims and the zombies, while everyone else panicked or fled. This helped him formulate a course of action which he swiftly keeps to himself. He calls his bosses on a satellite phone with a rapidly fading battery, and instead of telling them what he has observed and deduced, he asks if there is a research station nearby. Well thanks Brad, if you die before you get there no one will be any the wiser as to what you were going to do or try!

The zombies in the film are the controversial “fast moving” kind that sprint at you at full speed. I don’t mind those too much, as it does make the chase scenes that little bit more exciting. If I had to choose between two films though, I would usually choose the shambling zombies over the athlete kind. Maybe I am a traditionalist in that sense, but it just feels right to me.

I was unlucky enough to see the film in 3D. All I can say is DON’T BOTHER! Besides a few dark corridor sequences which gave a meagre impression of depth, the rest of the film was flatter than the pages of the book that bares its name. I am not a great fan of in your face 3D but to pay extra for what felt like minimal effect didn’t help my opinion of the film. To this day, the best uses of 3D that I have ever seen were the recent Resident Evil films, they are quite stunning.

The plot of the film was okay, and the ending seemed to be the right one for the film. The acting was fine, the CG passable, the music was the typical “save the world” kind of duh...duh-duh-duh-duh-duh beat. Maybe the book ruined me for the film, I just don’t know. All I do know is that I won’t be too bothered if I don’t ever see it again.

Rating : 2.5/5

On IMDb