Writing Practice: More Place Descriptions

You might remember some weeks ago when I made a post that had to deal with me writing place descriptions.  It was something I felt I needed to get better at.  I still do of course, writing is not a one and done type of deal.  It’s an ongoing process, forever evolving, forever changing.  No matter how far I go, I can always get better.  So with that in mind, I present another series of place descriptions.

But this time, I’m going about it differently.  Rather than it being about places that have been constructed for me (be they real life places or fictional), I want to try my hand at writing descriptions of places that come directly from my own imagination.  I don’t know how many people know this, but my dream someday is to write books or movie scripts.  I want to tell stories with meaning and power to them.  But I still have a long way to go.

There’s always a first step, and with that being said, I present to you my place descriptions.

Description 1

A silver, oblong object with a handle and an end shaped almost like a claw floats through the gloom.  A wrench.  It bounces off the hard metal wall, but makes no sound.  The wrench spins around, slowly moving along the metal corridor, passing in front of a sign that says “U.S.S. Icarus”.  On the opposite wall is a flickering screen.  Fits of static disrupt the screen, emblazoned red with alarm.  “Warning: decompression” it keeps saying, over and over again like a skipping record, alerting no one.  The wrench continues its flight, floating past the screen as it continues to flicker and twitch.  It flies along the wall until suddenly it gives way.  The pattern of the wall breaks off into jagged metal edges as the wrench flies off into the great unknown expanse of space.  The hull of the ship has been ripped apart, reminiscent of ripped paper.  It lies in large chunks of broken metal, endlessly drifting through the pale gloom of space.

Inside, the warning screen sputters and descends into endless static.  With a few spastic flickers, it blinks off, losing power forever.  There is no noise here, not now, not ever…

Description 2

Dust lines the floor, the walls, and the ceiling.  Cobwebs hang down from the chandelier in the foyer, which is canted at a slight angle.  No one has lived here for some time.  A large, grand staircase leads upwards and then splits off into two directions, heading into the upstairs gloom.  An old, unused lamp lies on top of a small table next to an old, rotary dial phone.   People who’ve visited the old mansion have said that on some nights, they swear they can hear the small phone ringing.  Several paintings hang on the wall, one of The Last Supper, but the others are of scenes of disembowelment and mutilation, each one more disgusting than the last.  They say the man who used to own the place had a knack for finding obscure paintings.  But he no longer lives here.  Nothing does, not even a cockroach infests these halls.  But it is not empty.

A room adjacent to the foyer contains a grand, black piano sitting in the middle of the room.  A large grandfather clock sits in the far corner, still ticking away the time.  A small, red couch and a glass coffee table sit near the piano.  Hardly any light reaches in here.  The blinds are drawn, and the entire house lies in shadow.  The only noise present is the tick tick tick of the grandfather clock.

And then, the white ivory keys of the piano begin to move on their own accord.  The house becomes alive with the sound of music, played by a phantom conductor.  The grandfather clock reads ten o’clock at night, just as it has every time before.  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata fills the halls, played flawlessly and effortlessly.  The keys move up and down, pushed upon by unseen forces.  No one sits at this bench anymore.  No one has for almost a decade.

Then, as soon as it began, it ends.  The piano falls silent, the white ivory immovable once more.  The clock reads 10:05, same as always.

Description 3

The large, metal vessel glides through the dark waters like a knife through butter. It’s old, very old.  No one knows where it came from, or how it got to be here.  The more puzzling problem is the whereabouts of the crew.  As far as anyone can tell, no one is aboard that ship, alive or dead.

On the bridge an old-school wooden steering wheel sits unused.  It looks new and polished, almost as if the ship had just undergone maintenance.  An old light flickers, barely providing illumination to the room.  A couple of tables sit at the back of the bridge, cluttered with papers and charts.  The only thing of note on them is a medal, bronze in color.  Attached below the medal itself is a name that reads “CPT. G. W. Worley”.  The ship pitches as the waves crash into its hull.  The metal creaks and groans, hallmarks of a now ancient seafaring vessel.

Down below lies the ship’s cargo.  In a large, gigantic open room, row after row of containers carry strangely colored rocks.  The dull dark blue is contrasted by splotches of yellow that almost look like mold.  They rattle in their containers, shifting with the jostling of the vessel.  They were once used to build munitions, but for a war that has been over for nearly a century.  The rain patters down on the deck above, the only other sound present in this strange time capsule.

The halls are empty.  No one stirs.  But the vessel still moves on, engines still running, journeying towards a destination it failed to reach nearly a century ago.  The name on the hull reads “U.S.S. Cyclops”.

Closing Thoughts

So apparently my mind went straight to doom and gloom this week.  I figured it might be good to go with a theme for my places, and evidently I still have horror on the brain from last week’s post.  One of the perks of being an avid horror fan I suppose.

I really wanted to try to create atmosphere this week.  I held myself back from injecting too much detail into each place, a problem I noticed in my last exercise.  That’s one of my flaws I think as a writer, I tend to overcompensate, overloading things with more detail and information than is truly necessary.  But hey, that’s why I need to practice.

Like I said last week, one of the things that truly makes horror captivating for me is the atmosphere.  And one thing that video games are truly good at is building atmosphere.  You can feel like you’re in the place, because in essence you are controlling the person moving through it.  It’s an element unique to games that separates it from the likes of movies and books.

Each place I came up with definitely has their inspiration somewhere.  The first one was definitely a nod to a game called Dead Space, which takes place on-board a spaceship overrun with zombie-like creatures.  Sure mine doesn’t have the blood and gore that Dead Space did, but I figure people don’t really want to read about that kind of stuff.  I don’t really think people want to fire up their computers while eating their lunch only to start reading about blood, gore, and destruction.

The other two are more or less inspired by classic horror tropes.  The mansion is obviously a huge staple in horror (a little life advice: bad things always happen in Victorian-era mansions), and is definitely a classic setting for it.  The second one is a not-so-common but still well tread setting when it comes to a horror story.  It’s a setting I enjoy a lot actually.  The isolation and the atmosphere always intrigue me, and it actually reminds me of an old episode of X-Files where a lost ship suddenly reappears with no one on it.  Granted the ship in that episode had rusted almost completely, but it still inspired me in some way.

Here’s a little fun fact for everyone reading.  The U.S.S. Cyclops, the ship that I described in the third description, was actually a real ship.  The description of it is purely mine, but the ship existed in some form.  It sailed out to deliver Manganese Ore during World War 1, but disappeared without a trace in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle.  No one knows what happened to it.  No debris or trace of the vessel was ever found, although it is widely believed to have sunk with all hands on board.  My description of it would be if the more outlandish theories about it turned out to be true.

And yes, Captain G. W. Worley was the actual captain of the ship.  It’s a fascinating tale to think about, although I don’t believe anything more than it just sunk somewhere that we haven’t found yet, or maybe ever will.  Like I said at the outset of this blog in my first major post, I don’t believe in the paranormal or the supernatural.  I just find it intriguing to think about.

That’s all I have for you folks this week.  Travel to the abandoned factory just off of Route Five, and find the lone computer sitting in the middle of the factory floor to read next Wednesday’s post.  Until then, have a wonderful week everyone.

 

 

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Going Bump in the Night: My Fascination with Horror

You wake up in the middle of the night.  Something’s off.  The air seems different, almost suffocating.  You strain your ears, and detect a faint sound coming from below.  Eeek eeek eek…the noise bounces off the walls with a haunting echo.  Scratches…coming from the basement.  You throw the covers off of you and make your way downstairs.  The noise grows louder and louder, like someone is slowly turning a volume dial as you walk.  Your feet slowly pull you through the kitchen toward the basement door, and the noise is much louder now.  EEK EEK…it keeps going, building in pace, becoming almost frenzied.  Picking up a flashlight off the kitchen table, you take a deep breath, place your hand on the doorknob, and pull the creaky wooden door open.  When the flashlight flicks on, its beam illuminates the concrete wall, mold spreading over its patchy, rough surface.  The scratching rumbles around in your ears, now intermixed with a metallic clanking.  The wooden stairs creak as you begin your descent into the basement, accompanied only by the nightmarish shadows cast on the wall by your trusty flashlight.

The above scene was inspired by this game, Scratches (picture taken from Steam Store page).

The above scene was inspired by this game, Scratches (picture taken from Steam Store page).

If this scene sounds fairly typical to you, then congratulations, you are messed up in the head.  In all seriousness though, a scene such as this is pretty standard for the horror genre.  Horror and science-fiction have long gone hand in hand with each other, which probably helps explain why I am an avid fan of both.  The things that go bump in the night have always held a certain fascination for me.

I remember the first time I played the video game Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  Waking up alone in a seemingly abandoned castle with the wind blowing through a broken window…oh yeah, this was horror all right.  The game spends a good deal of time with the buildup.  It’s actually about an hour into the game before you catch your first glimpse of any monsters, and even then it’s not a good enough look for you to be sure what it is.

This to me is what horror should be.  For a good horror story to work, there has to be some semblance of a buildup.  If you aren’t sucked into the mood, whether it’s a movie or a game, then the scary aspect of it doesn’t work so well.  I remember watching the Paranormal Activity movies and actually being scared.  It had been a long time since I’d seen a movie that was actually scary, since most of the horror fare these days consists of loud noises and spooky things jumping at the screen super fast.  But Paranormal Activity was different.  It kept you on your toes by not having anything happen for a good deal of time, and even when things happened they were slight enough that it didn’t outright shock you.  But by the end of the movie, it dropped all pretenses and everything went straight up crazy.  It was so effective because it knew about the importance of the buildup.

This physical aspect of horror is what most people think of when they think horror.  They think of the monsters that go bump in the night, the things that stalk us in the darkness, the fear of the unknown.  These fears are very powerful, and can make for some very effective and memorable stories.  We’ve all had that moment of childlike terror when an unknown sound in the darkness triggers your fight or flight response, and your eyes dart about looking for some bastion of light.

But physical horror is not all there is to it.  The best way I can put it is that, in the broadest sense, there are two types of horror: physical and psychological.  Physical horror deals with the types of things I listed above: monsters, fear of the darkness, and so on.  Psychological horror deals more with matters of the mind.  Stories about serial killers and mental insanity generally fall under the psychological category.  But these two types are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, you are likely to find aspects of both in most, if not all, horror stories.

A good way to demonstrate the difference between the two would be to compare the two Amnesia video games.  Amnesia: The Dark Descent is primarily about exploring a creepy, Gothic castle while being chased by horrific monsters.  Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is more about the dark corners of the human mind, and proves that sometimes the most horrifying things come not from our nightmares, but history itself.  For those of you who aren’t knee deep in video games, it would be like comparing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs.  Both deal with similar subject matter (serial killers), but handle it in very different ways.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre is more about the terror of being chased by a killer whereas Silence of the Lambs is about the inside of a killer’s demented psyche.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Both of these types of horror are good at tapping into different fears.  Physical horror is great at tapping into those primal fears we have, those instinctual terrors that are still a part of us from our early days as nomadic tribes.  We no longer have to fear being hunted by a superior predator, because at this point we’ve practically conquered the world.  But despite all the technological and societal advancements we have, we still have innate fears of silly things like spiders, bats, and even the dark itself.  Physical horror takes advantage of this, placing characters in situations where they can’t rely on the safety net of society, and have to fend for themselves against supernatural, and sometimes, horrors more natural than we’d like to admit.

Psychological horror is more like the fear of ourselves, of what we are capable of as a species.  This is the type of horror that really deals with the mind.  It doesn’t outright scare you, but it can be just as effective.  If psychological horror is done right, it sticks with you for some time.  It taps into those fears of our capabilities, of what we could do to each other if left unchecked.  Serial killer stories tend to fit this style of horror.  It’s what makes these killers tick that becomes the primary interest of the tale, and oftentimes the main character gets too deep into the killer’s mind and is mentally scarred as a result.  Insanity is often a trope of psychological horror, that fear of being unable to control oneself or being unable to remember where and what one was doing in a certain time frame.

I like both types of horror for different reasons.  Physical horror I like because I enjoy being scared.  It sounds almost masochistic in a way, but it’s true.  Many people who are really into the horror genre enjoy the feeling of being afraid in a context where it’s not dangerous to you.  Playing a video game or watching a movie is a good way to scare yourself without being in a situation where you could die.  Psychological horror I like because it exposes certain innate truths about ourselves as a species that we are not always comfortable with.  For example, the Amnesia franchise of video games deals with the idea that we are capable of utterly horrible acts if we can convince ourselves that there is no  other course of action.  It’s that fear that we will go to extraordinary lengths to either save ourselves or fulfill our goals.

While I like both of these horror types, I prefer psychological horror.  I’ve always loved getting inside a character’s head space, to know what makes them think and act the way they do.  It’s why the plot of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs sticks out so vividly in my mind (spoilers incoming).  We get to know the main character, Mandus, extremely well.  He is a portrait of a man whose spirit has been crushed, who feels nothing but despair for the future of the human race.  When Mandus encounters a strange artifact on a trip to Mexico, it shows him the future, the horrors of World War One.  It destroys him, knowing that all the posturing of king and country doesn’t really matter in the end (the game takes place in London).  We’re all animals, and we are more than capable of great evil.  Mandus’s actions in the game certainly prove that.

Despite my love for horror, I have to admit that I am disappointed with where the genre has gone, not just in games but in other media as well.  There’s a distinct lack of originality in horror these days, and an over-reliance on cheap scares.  It’s fine to throw something at someone real fast to try to scare them every once in a while, but when it’s the primary tactic, it becomes old hat really fast.  This problem is particularly evident in movies.  I can’t count the amount of times I’ve rolled my eyes when a scene plays out like this: the main character moves slowly through a darkly lit hallway.  The music is foreboding and rises in pitch as they move along.  Then suddenly, the music cuts out.  A few seconds later, whatever nasty thing is stalking the character makes itself known by bursting through the wall or jumping out from some dark corner.

It’s a shame really, that horror has become stuck in this rut.  There are still plenty of interesting plots and ideas to be found, don’t get me wrong.  I must give a shout out here to the TV show American Horror Story for managing to take an over-used setting (a mental asylum) and really turn it into its own thing throughout the course of its second season (each season is a completely new story).  There is still life to be found in these tropes, but it is fading fast.

Video games in particular are known for an over reliance on what are known as jump scares (sudden loud noises and such).  Most horror games developed by the indie community (developers or people independent of big companies like Nintendo or Electronic Arts) tend to follow the same pattern laid out by a game called Slender.  The player walks through a dark environment of some description, searching for X amount of whatever random object the developer feels like having you collect.  Eventually, something pops up in front of your face, usually with sudden, loud music.  The majority of the game plays out like this, with you searching through a maze-like environment trying to find all of these things before the monster kills you.  To put it simply, it gets boring fast.

Slender

Slender

Part of the problem is due to the fact that most of the people developing these games don’t have the requisite knowledge to make something more interesting, and so they use what they have to create something they know they can do.  The other problem is just that it’s become the popular thing to do.  Thanks in no small part to Youtube, videos of people freaking out while playing Slender have bred this culture where cheap jump scares are king.

It might not be my place to judge.  I am only one person after all.  However, it frustrates me that horror has been reduced to this state where we keep going over the same things in the same way.  Part of the reason I liked the Dark Fall games so much was because they dealt with fairly typical subject matter (ghosts and the paranormal), but did it in a very different way.  They didn’t rely on jump scares.  There weren’t any cheap “BLARGH” moments where something jumps at your screen.  Instead they built up an atmosphere, with the little touches such as disembodied footsteps or a piano playing in the distance.  But horror these days seems to be all about these sudden, loud events that are supposed to be “scary”.  They can be, but they have to be done right.  And I haven’t seen one done right in a long time.

Dark Fall: The Journal

Dark Fall: The Journal

It’s a shame, because I find the idea of horror very fascinating.  There’s so many different ways it can be taken.  You have your typical creepy castles, mansions, mental asylums and so forth, but there’s so much more that can be done with it.  There’s an untapped well of potential in the genre that modern movie and game makers are neglecting.  One of my favorite video games of all time is a game for the Nintendo Gamecube called Eternal Darkness.  This game was amazing for its time, and still is in a lot of ways.  It had your typical horror scenarios (creepy church, creepy mansion, etc.), but where it differed was that the game consistently messed with your head.  At random points it would toy with you, making you think your TV turned off, your controller was no longer working, or even that your save data was being deleted.  Things like that made the game so memorable to many people, myself included.  But ideas like this are a needle in a haystack, especially today.

The problem as I see it is not that horror is a dead genre, but that people haven’t found the right means to tap into its potential.  Some have the right ideas, taking things that we find conventional and turning them on their head.  But until people in the movie and video game industries stop drawing ideas from the same old well over and over again, horror will be stuck in a rut for quite some time.  There’s still room for these familiar scenarios, but something has to be done to make it feel creative again.  Paranormal Activity took the found footage trope and made it new by having the characters set up a camera to record themselves while sleeping, which is when most of the spooky things happen in movies of course.  Eternal Darkness took a conventional horror game story, and made it memorable by breaking the fourth wall and messing with the player’s mind.  There exist ideas that can revitalize the horror genre, but they don’t get nearly enough attention.  Until we take risks and try new ideas, we will keep visiting the same castles, the same mansions, the same asylums over and over and over.

I love the idea that horror can make us realize that part of our nature that is sometimes dark and self-serving.  I love that horror can make us fear things that we didn’t even know were scary.  I love that horror can spin a tale of such incredible woe, and then bring it back to the point of redemption.  There’s so much potential there, if only people could see it.  Horror isn’t dead, but it is stagnant.  Something will have to change eventually.

And that’s all for this week.  There’s so many more horror games and movies I could talk about, but that would be too much.  My point in writing this was to give my own take on the horror genre and how I feel about the path it’s on.

A new post will be directly injected into your eyeballs next Wednesday.  Until then, have a lovely week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divine Offense: Blasphemy and the New Noah Movie

I don’t normally talk about this subject very often, mostly because I know that many people tend to be sensitive when it comes to it.  But it’s something I want to address following the controversy around the new Noah movie.

First off, I’ll give some background on myself.  I am not religious at all.  I was never raised in a church-going family.  I am one of the few people I know that was never raised religious.  Most of my non-religious friends were raised religious and then later on in life made the choice to not believe in it anymore.  But before I go on, I feel I have to say one thing.  This does not mean I was raised anti-religious either.  If I sound a little defensive, it’s only because I have known some people to assume, essentially, that if you weren’t raised with it, you were raised against it.  And that is certainly not true for me at all.  A number of people seem to assume that there is this rigid dichotomy when it comes to religion, but in reality we’re all just part of a spectrum.

But I know I was not always an open-minded and perfect person about it.  I know I was sometimes an absolute jerk about my beliefs when I was in high school.  In fact, a lot of high school kids were like that, but that doesn’t really make how I carried myself any better.  It took time and wisdom, but I eventually came to be the way I am now.  I know many people who are religious, and we get along just fine.  Difference in views does not equal an inability to co-exist.

Anyway, getting to the point of this post, I wanted to talk a little bit about this idea of blasphemy.  Blasphemy is a concept that is unique to monotheistic religions.  It is essentially the act of insulting or showing contempt towards God, as in the one God of monotheistic religions (mono meaning “one”).  It is a concept that I have had some trouble really understanding, mainly because I find it hard to believe that a supreme creator or divine being would really get offended and angry just because someone said he sucks.  It just seems silly that this immortal, omnipotent being would really care or pay attention when one mere mortal slanders him.  It makes him seem incredibly insecure if you ask me.

But that’s not really what I wanted to touch on.  I’ve seen a lot of controversy in the wake of the Darren Aronofsky directed “Noah”.  It first came to my attention when I was at work and I saw some story on Good Morning America about it.  The volume wasn’t turned on, so I didn’t really get a good sense of what was going on.  But after reading up on the controversy after work, I came to understand.  People were upset because of the liberties Aronofsky was taking with the story of Noah and his ark.

On some level, I can understand this.  It’s similar to how Star Trek fans dislike the J.J. Abrams reboots of the franchise, complaining that they’re not loyal to the universe and end up feeling more like action movies than true Star Trek stories.  For my part, I’ve enjoyed both of these movies, but that’s a story for another time.  I can understand how some faith-minded people would have issues with Aronofsky’s interpretation of the story, especially since Aronofsky himself is unapologetic about the changes he has made (there are apparently rock monsters in the movie, just saying).

I can understand the controversy on this level, but I also believe that as a filmmaker, Aronofsky has the right to adapt a work in any way he sees fit.  If we stifle creativity because of fear, fear of what a mainstream audience might think, then we may as well not be creative at all.  Sure, this version of the Noah story is most certainly Aronofsky’s, but that’s what it really is, a story.  It may hold meaning to some, and none to others, but in the end, Noah’s Ark is at its core a story.  Stories are interpreted in many different ways and have many different forms.  Even looking at mainstream Christianity we see these interpretations at work.  There are over one hundred different denominations of Christianity and the Bible itself has been translated many thousands of times.  So before we criticize one filmmaker over his interpretation of a biblical story, perhaps we should consider these facts and what they mean.

People have not exactly been nice to Aronofsky either.  Brian Godawa, a writer, wrote a blog post titled “Darren Aronofsky’s Noah: Environmentalist Wacko”.  In his post he talks about a version of the Noah script that he was allowed to look over.  First off, the title itself basically tells us that Mr. Godawa isn’t going to be open-minded about all this.  Secondly, four different ads for a book Godawa wrote have been inserted into the text, which for me throws his integrity into question.  It’s true that it’s a book relevant to the subject matter, but the ad itself links you directly to the Amazon page where you can buy it.  Maybe Mr. Godawa didn’t place these in there himself, but if he did, it really seems kind of sleazy.  He would essentially be using a post slamming someone else’s work as an opportunity to self-advertise.

For my part, I have not read the entire post.  I skimmed through most of it, because most of what he’s talking about is how Aronofsky’s version is not in the spirit of the original.  I don’t think that argument carries any weight.  Creative license is creative license, whether you’re adapting a biblical story, a children’s fairy tale, or whatever it happens to be.  He essentially goes on and on comparing the original version of the story with Aronofsky’s new one, apparently hoping that the comparisons on their own will make Aronofsky seem like a lunatic.  Godawa comes very close to calling it blasphemy, but never actually does.  But there are some people out there who have.

This is where I stop being understanding.  It seems like the people who are calling this movie “blasphemous” in some way are ignorant of the fact that it is one person’s interpretation of a story that has most likely been interpreted hundreds of times in many different ways.  Whether or not his interpretation is accurate doesn’t really matter.  We cannot stifle creativity, because to do so would be a direct violation of our highly valued first amendment to the Constitution.  They are entitled to their own opinions of course, but Aronofsky is entitled to make his vision a reality all the same.

The other thing I don’t understand is why people have to call on something as blasphemous.  If there is a god, or some type of creator being who divinely inspired the Bible and all its stories, and if he/it really cares about the way we interpret the stories within it, then let this being sort it out.  I honestly don’t see why humans have to get involved in something like this.  If this God-being created the heavens and the earth, and created the standards that so many live by, then it stands to reason that this being would have also created the standards by which something is considered blasphemous or not.

And I know that some people will probably say that I am overstepping my bounds here, that I am judging concepts, standards, and ideas that are not up to me but rather to God.  But to them I say, isn’t that what you are doing every time you call something “blasphemous”?  Are you judging something the way God wants it to be judged, or are you creating your own interpretation of divine standards?  This is the thing with blasphemy as I see it.  Modern blasphemy as it exists is not a set of standards created by a divine being, but rather standards created by mere humans.  We created these standards ourselves, but we pretend like we’re doing a service to God.  And since we tend to ignore the standards of the old testament (using God’s name in vain would get your hand chopped off by the way), it’s hard to really understand where the line is.  I haven’t read the Bible in its entirety, so I’m no expert, but I’ve never heard the quote that says that man shall not create adaptations of Biblical stories.

So the next time you call something blasphemous, I want you to consider something.  Are you really acting on the behalf of God, or are you just using blasphemy as a cover for yourself?  Is it really God being offended, or is it you?  If it’s not our place to judge God’s plan, then it’s not our place to judge whether or not he’d be offended by something.  That’s only for him to decide, and that’s only if he exists.

And besides, if the movie industry is allowed to create such movies as “God is Not Dead” (which basically paints all atheists as angry, narrow-minded jerks), then why shouldn’t Aronofsky be allowed to create his own vision of a story?  That’s the price of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.  We have to allow some things we don’t like, because how do we draw the line otherwise?  How do we stop the bad ideas without stopping some of the good ones?  I may not like the concept of the movie “God is Not Dead”.  I may think its a vapid waste of a movie with no intellectual credibility, but I recognize that it has a right to exist, same with any other piece of media.

And really, that’s all it comes down to, this idea of freedom.  People certainly have the right to call something blasphemous, just as I have to right to call them out on it.  I write this post not to judge other people, but to remind them that an open mind is the reason why the first amendment exists.  The last thing I want to do is make people feel bad for having their own views on something.  Freedom of expression is a wonderful thing, and should be cherished by all.

Thanks for reading.  Superglue your eyes open for a new post next Wednesday.  Until then, as always, have a great week everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotion Evocation: The Importance of Emotional Experiences in Writing

When you pick up a book, watch a movie, or play a game with a good story, you immerse yourself inside the world of its creator.  You may not realize it, but a lot of care and attention to detail has been put into designing this world.  Little details that might escape your notice or that might not strike you as important may be key to the setting.  Most people don’t realize it, but the setting of a story can be just as important as the story itself.

When designing a good setting, the creator has to think of many different things.  The setting has to make logical sense in some way (i.e. a Star Trek show set in the 1700s probably wouldn’t make too much sense).  The setting also has to be logically consistent, as in the rules shouldn’t change on a case by case basis (one of my biggest pet peeves with television shows and the like is when the rules of the world seem to change for no reason other than a plot contrivance).  Obviously the importance of such a thing is on a case by case basis.  No one is going to complain about the setting consistency of Tetris nearly as much as something like The Last of Us.  Time, rules, consistency, and so much more go into the creation of a setting, but to dwell on them all would take a separate post.

The thing I want to focus on this time is where these ideas for a setting come from, or how they interact with the story or the framework of a good book, movie, or video game.  For example, if you remember, my second major post on this blog was a story analysis of a video game called Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.  In it, the setting of the game was 1899 London on New Year’s Eve, something which factored heavily into the main thematic point of the game.  Not only was it poetic in the sense that a new century dawns as the game closes, but it’s set during an era of high pride for the British, a time when they are still essentially an empire.  Without these key details, the story wouldn’t have nearly as much impact as it did.  In fact, it could have even seemed irrelevant without them.

Besides, Victorian mansions are always cool settings.

Besides, Victorian mansions are always cool settings.

So we can see in this case that the setting served a very practical purpose for the story, elevating its main message by putting it in a historical context.  But sometimes, the power of a setting comes not from its practicality, but from what it means to the creator on a personal level.  Many writers and authors tend to draw on their own personal experiences and ideas when it comes to crafting stories or settings, myself included.  The quote “write what you know” comes to mind, this idea of channeling your life experiences into a work.  By using your personal experiences to drive a work forward, you can create a far more powerful piece of expression than you ever could otherwise.  For a great example, let’s turn to another video game, one I haven’t talked about on this blog yet.

The Far North

As the waves crash onto the shore, a man opens his eyes.  He pulls himself to his feet and studies his surroundings.  The bright sun beats down on his exposed skin, and a path line by rocks beckons him forward.  Gazing behind him, he sees the remains of his craft, tossed about and destroyed on the rocks.  He takes a few deep breaths, in and out and in and out, in biological rhythm.  But a darkness flows through his veins, a darkness that will kill him.  He studies the landscape, and smells the air.  The scent of the ocean fills his nostrils, but something else does as well.  The scent of salvation lingers on the island, salvation from his disease.

Welcome…to Eden.

(Miasmata)

(Miasmata)

Miasmata is a video game that was crafted entirely by two brothers, Joe and Bob Johnson.  Like many of the other games I’ve talked about on this blog, Miasmata is a game about exploration.  You play as a man named Robert Hughes who washes up on the island known only as Eden.  Robert is afflicted with some unknown disease referred to only as a plague of sorts.  The primary goal of the game is to collect plants and find the correct ones you need to make the three parts of the cure.

Much of the game is spent trying to find your way around the island.  Without an ever-present map, you have to actually discover written maps throughout the world or triangulate your location through the use of landmarks.  Otherwise, your map is just a blank piece of paper.  And you don’t know what plants you need for this cure until you take them back to a safe zone and perform research on them.  All of this goes a long way towards placing the emphasis on exploring the island.

So why am I talking about this game?  One thing really came to the forefront of my mind as I played it.  It seemed somehow…familiar to me.  It was a few hours into the game when I finally realized why.

You might remember a couple of weeks ago I did some writing practice, specifically on writing place descriptions.  The last one I wrote was personal to me.  It described a cabin my family owned up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota.  I say “used to”, because back in 2007 it burned down in the infamous Ham Lake Fire.  Now, it is nothing but ashes.

As I wandered around the sun drenched isle of Eden in Miasmata, I slowly realized that it was reminding me of the Boundary Waters.  The crunch of branches under my character’s feet, the call of birds, the blowing wind…it was all reminiscent of a setting I had not seen for some years now.  There was very little reason for us to travel up that way anymore, so I hadn’t been up there ever since we did cleanup at the cabin years ago.  It’s a place I spent many of my childhood vacations at, and this game was bringing me back there.

I thought for the longest time that I was projecting my own experiences with the far northern part of Minnesota onto this game.  I thought that I was just being brought back by my own memories of the place.  I thought that I was just forming my own personal assessment of the setting.

I thought wrong.

Drawing from Experience

(Miasmata)

(Miasmata)

Sometime in the last year or so I stumbled upon an article on IGN, a website devoted to entertainment articles and reviews.  One of the things they like to talk about is video games.  The article I ran across had to deal with the theme of survival as it was presented in video games (an interesting subject in its own right).  But one of the games talked about was Miasmata, and they actually had quotes from the two brothers who made the game.

One of the things they talked about was where they got their inspiration from.  I forget which one said it, but one of them talked about their experiences as a child.  He talked about how their father used to bring them up to an area in Minnesota called the Boundary Waters.

I blinked.  I did a double take.  I laughed a little bit.

I was somewhat taken aback by that fact.  I hadn’t ever really thought about it, but they had captured the feeling so perfectly.  I wasn’t just applying my own personal experiences to the game, I was picking up on the cues they had placed in the game itself that were an homage to the Boundary Waters.

I remember scenes like this camping up north as a child, the darkness beyond the campfire.  (Miasmata)

I remember scenes like this camping up north as a child, the darkness beyond the campfire. (Miasmata)

So you might be asking, why does this all matter?  Why do I care what two brothers did as children, and how does it factor in to the importance of a setting?  Well, if these two hadn’t had the experiences they did as children, they never would have been able to fashion such a believable and powerful setting for their video game.  In the same way that book writers and movie creators draw upon their life experiences to capture a feeling or emotion, game creators draw upon their experiences and preferences to create their game.  Bob and Joe Johnson drew upon the experiences in the Boundary Waters to create the fictional island of Eden.

Although I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and say the horned tiger monster that stalks you in the game has very little to do with their experiences in the Boundary Waters……I hope.

But all joking aside the care they took in crafting this setting is a testament to the power of it.  Truly skilled writers can transport you somewhere with their attention to detail, even if you’ve never been there or even if you’ve never been anywhere similar to it.  I would venture that’s why so many American movies are set inside the United States, because the people behind the writing have great personal experiences inside the country.  And so they draw upon these experiences for their movies.  But it’s not always about where you’ve been.  Sometimes it’s about what you feel.

Has Alfonso Cuarón ever been to space?  Probably not, but he probably knows something about fear, as all humans do.  The fear of the unknown.  The fear of death.  The fear of loneliness.  He drew upon this instinctual and metaphysical fears when he made the movie Gravity, which deals a lot with the fear of death and the idea of not being in control of your fate.  Cuarón didn’t have to go to space itself to capture it.  He had plenty of other resources at his disposal to help him craft his outer space setting.

“Write what you know” is less about using your personal autobiographical experiences than using your experiential ones.  What you’ve felt is far more important than what you’ve seen in this case.  Bob and Joe Johnson have probably never been stranded alone on an island with some horrible monster stalking you in the grass, but they’ve probably felt isolated and afraid at some point in their lives.  Their personal experiences went into the game, and helped create a powerful atmosphere.  They captured isolation in the same way a songwriter captures the feeling of heartbreak.

Imagine the wind blowing through your hair...smell the ocean in the air... (Miasmata)

Imagine the wind blowing through your hair…smell the ocean in the air…
(Miasmata)

And that’s what writing what you know is all about, putting a little bit of yourself and what you feel into a work.  Many people, particularly fledgling frustrated writers, tend to misinterpret “write what you know” as a sort of autobiographical statement.  Never been to space?  Well you can’t write about it then.  Ever been in a war?  Well then you can’t capture the feeling of horror war evokes.  Never even seen an alien in outer space?  Well don’t bother describing one then.  No, that’s not what it’s about at all.

If all of us just wrote using our physical experiences, many of us would just write about working a nine-to-five job and going to the bar to get a drink.  The world of settings would be incredibly boring in that case.  There would be no science-fiction and no fantasy, because obviously no one in real life has been on the starship Enterprise exploring a distant planet or been in Mordor fighting the forces of Sauron.  There would be far fewer explosions in movies, which would be a shame.  Because everyone likes explosions.

Part of what can be frustrating as a beginning writer is looking at the immense volume of work out there and thinking “I could never write something that powerful.  I’m too boring.  My life story doesn’t have the same epic quality as these other writers”.  I want to say right now, that doesn’t matter.  Even if your life is nowhere near as dramatic or interesting as someone else’s, you can still draw upon the emotions you’ve felt.  At some point in your life you’ve been afraid.  At some point you’ve been happy.  At some point sad.  At some point angry, confused, and frustrated.  You can translate that emotion into your work, no matter how outlandish a setting you can come up with.

It’s all about what you feel.  It seems to me that many young writers like myself get a little too concerned with the small details that they forget the big picture.  Sure, the small details in A Machine for Pigs sometimes don’t fit together as nicely as we would like, but the big picture is what really grabs us.  It’s what we remember in the long run.  Too often we find ourselves bogged down by the little things.  My advice for those feeling this pressure is this: forget it.  Forget the pressure.  It sounds too simple, but it really is.  Don’t let the pressure get to you.  Writing is not mathematics.  It’s not a hard and fast field with one clear way of doing things.  There are so many paths, so many different choices to make.  Use what you feel.  Write what you feel.  What others have done doesn’t matter.  Wear your inspiration on your sleeve.  As Ray Bradbury once said, “you fail only if you stop writing”.

And that’s all for this week.  I hope you enjoyed reading and if you’re a writer like me just remember, let the pressure go.  It’s all about what you feel.

Fasten your eyes on the computer screen next Wednesday for another post.  Until then, have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sci-fi Ghost Story: Story Analysis of Dark Fall Lights Out

In a stormy sea town somewhere in Europe, a man tosses and turns in his bed.  Strange visions haunt his dreams, visions of a lighthouse.  Strange voices, with no apparent source, echo through his mind as the weather storms outside, casting flashes of light on the paintings in the small hut.  And then, with a jerk, the man wakes up.  Three short raps…someone is knocking on the door…

Who be knockin'?

Who be knockin’?

Background

Dark Fall: Lights Out is the sequel to Dark Fall: The Journal.  It is a point and click adventure game created by a man known as Jonathan Boakes, and was released in 2004.  Much like its predecessor, Dark Fall: Lights Out mainly consists of collecting objects, reading journal entries and other scraps of paper, and solving puzzles.  The only primary difference from its predecessor is the setting, replacing the old spooky hotel with a spooky lighthouse.  Its story has almost nothing to do with The Journal, aside from some of the characters being mentioned (one of them plays a role in Lights Out, but we’ll get to that later).

But whereas The Journal was a fairly straightforward ghost story, Lights Out is not.  Sure, it may start out that way (what with the eerie disappearances and all), but by the end of the journey Lights Out becomes something much more memorable than is predecessor.  To me, this is what makes Lights Out a far more interesting game.

So here we go on a journey to the seaside town of Trewarthan.

A brief note: everything described in this analysis comes from the Director’s Cut version of the game, which in my opinion is the superior version.

The Mission

Lights Out casts you in the role of a young man named Benjamin Parker.  After a sleep plagued by strange visions, he wakes up to a knocking on his door.  But opening it reveals no one outside, save for one man who seems more interested in the ground.  He mutters about some lighthous being cursed, not noticing Parker’s presence.

Going back inside, we take a look around.  Inside a small folder are some sketches, presumably Parker’s.  Next to the folder is a small bound book.  Opening it reveals that it is Parker’s diary.  He describes how he has been sent here to map the coastline, and doesn’t hide his negativity on the idea.  He feels that his job out in Trewarthan is just a waste of time, and hints at a troubled relationship with his father.

Parker's journal.

Parker’s journal.

He also describes how he saw a light out at sea, indicating some kind of lighthouse.  He says that this is strange, because there is supposedly no  lighthouse anywhere on the map.  But what is of significant note in this journal is that the night after, he says he had “the dream again”, which indicates that this dream we saw him having in the beginning movie was a recurring one.  He describes something like a comet, a bright flash of light cutting through the night sky in his dream, just like all the other dreams.  It’s some sort of strange metallic canister.  “Perhaps one day, I will know,” he writes.

But this dream is different as well, because of the added detail of a lighthouse.  Parker conjectures that it might be the result of his observation earlier that day.  Parker also talks about his patron, a Mr. Demarion.  It seems Demarion invited Parker to have breakfast with him, and it is here that we are thrown into a flashback scene, as the pages of the diary fade away to reveal a small kitchen.

With no one else in sight, what else is left to do besides what we always do in point and click games: rummage through everything in sight.  In a small storage closet, we find a journal with something peculiar inside, a floppy disk.  This isn’t unusual to us, but considering that this is 1912, it is very strange indeed.  It bears a bold logo for a company called Hadden Industries, a name some might remember from Dark Fall: The Journal.

Dark Fall Lights Out (8)

In this journal, Demarion describes how he found this strange object on the rocks by the Fetch Rock lighthouse (that supposedly doesn’t exist, but we know of course that it does).  He also describes finding a strange cavern underneath the rocks of the lighthouse, and that spending any time there caused him to feel strange and somewhat sick.  He describes hearing some strange unearthly pulse, something he could only describe as “the devil’s heartbeat”.  The journal ends mid-sentence, implying that Demarion hasn’t finished it, or didn’t want to.

Looking around the house, we find more notes, one from the housekeeper lamenting if Demarion’s guest turns out to be one of those “vegetablearians”.  We also find a little machine used for viewing photos, including some of the totally-not-real lighthouse (I’ll drop the charade now).  Walking outside and into the outhouse reveals a couple of scraps of paper in the toilet which give us some rather strange details.  Apparently the rocks around the lighthouse are changing size somehow.  In the note, Demarion also remarks that he’s getting too old to keep doing this and that he should enlist the help of someone younger and more adventurous (wink, wink).

Following this scene, we flash back to Parker’s diary, where he describes the event leading up to him being left alone.  Apparently, upon mention of the lighthouse, Demarion looked almost deathly ill, and simply left without saying much aside from “I will be back by nightfall”.  After he leaves is when Parker decides to go rummaging around the place.

Back in the present, we leave the hut and after moving a little further we are beckoned inside a dark doorway,  Inside, Demarion reveals that yes, there is a lighthouse, but he didn’t want to expose Parker to the superstitions of the townspeople.  Some believe the place is cursed, and that it should be avoided.  He also tells us that a ship passing by the lighthouse noticed that the lamp was not lit, something he says none of the three men manning the place would allow.

And so Demarion entrusts Parker with a mission.  He wants Parker to go to the lighthouse and find out what has happened there to the light and to the three keepers: Oliver Drake, Robert Shaw, and James Woolf.  After this scene, provided we got what we need from Parker’s journal, we can leave the town via a tiny boat at the dock.

As the scene fades to a montage of clouds, we hear a reading of the poem “Flannan Isle”, a poem about a real world event very similar to the event in the game.  You can read the entire poem here.

Fetch Rock

And so here we are.  The adventure begins.

Dark Fall Lights Out (10)

The lighthouse is quiet.  After flipping on the emergency lights, we go inside to find no one present.  But, something is still here.  Some shadowy figure keeps stowing away into the shadows as we move into the boiler room.  After a quick puzzle the power is restored and we can venture higher into the lighthouse itself.

I should mention the blowers as well.  These were the mode of communication in old buildings like this, and are similar to the tin cans on a string kids would make as little improvised telephones.  They would produce a whistling sound if you blew into them.  But pick up any of them here, and you’ll get strange ghostly chatter, with such messages as “get out” and “he’s waiting for you”.

The Blower.

The Blower.

As we walk up the long staircase higher into the lighthouse, we are stopped by some kind of ghostly apparition.  We can’t see it, but it seems to be the ghost of Robert Shaw.  Questioning it reveals that something happened to Drake.  He went mad, and seemed like he was possessed by the devil himself.  Shaw’s ghost laments that he tried to protect young James.  Then the ghost fades away and disappears.

Going upstairs brings us to the crew kitchen.  Nothing much to see here, aside from a meal still cooking on the stove, and a strange picture of four buttons with numbers under it which reads “Drake’s room”.  Heading further upstairs takes us to the bedroom, where we find a letter from James to his girlfriend.  He talks about how Drake became erratic and how he and Shaw became afraid of him.  He describes how they ran from him, and when he turned around to face Drake, Drake became engulfed in a blinding light.  He felt a name whispered to him, the name “Malakai”.

Dark Fall Lights Out (14)

The letter goes on to talk about how James was saved by Shaw, as the next thing he knew Shaw was kneeling over him slapping him awake.  He had barred the door with a dresser to keep Drake out.  They plan to send for help, but before they can Drake apparently comes back up the stairs.  The letter ends abruptly with James describing the glowing light under the door…

Going up to the top of the lighthouse reveals a locked door and a ladder into the lamp chamber.  There’s nothing of interest in the lamp chamber, so we unlock the door with the code we found earlier for Drake’s room.  Drake’s room is orderly, and his journal lies on the desk.  Opening it reveals that Drake had a dream, the same exact dream Parker had.

He describes it just like Parker did, but with one difference.  Where the strange object falls, the water is full of reeds.  Drake writes that he remembers an etching of a scene similar and decides to look for it.  He also describes some unknown “he”, saying that this person is lost and afraid.  He feels for this person, but apparently knows he means no good for Drake.  Further along into the journal his handwriting suddenly changes as Drake apparently just snaps.  He rambles and raves about his “master” and the plans he has for the other two keepers.  He also dotes on Parker in a rather creepy way, how everything has to be “right” for his arrival.  Apparently there’s some task that this “master” of Drake’s needs Parker to do, but Drake doesn’t reveal what it is.   The journal ends with “I see you, Parker” scrawled across the page.

Oh good, I was worried that I wasn't going to be stalked by a crazy person in the shadows.

Oh good, I was worried that I wasn’t going to be stalked by a crazy person.

Searching further in Drake’s room reveals a hidden switch that unlocks the bottom drawer on his desk.  In it is a strange drawing of some unknown canister with colored boxes and numbers above it.  Another drawing shows the way into a tunnel underneath the lighthouse.  Looks like we know what our next destination is.

Nothing else can be found in Drake’s room at this point.  There is a strange locked door in his closet, but it requires a four digit code with a prefix letter that we don’t know.  We leave Drake’s room and head back outside.  Climbing a ladder behind the lighthouse takes us along a rickety wooden path.  Down below with the rocks, we find a hidden entrance that leads into a cavern with stacks of crates lying around.

“Over here…” a voice keeps whispering.

This isn't dark and foreboding at all...

We enter a small tunnel and reach a dead-end.  But before we can turn around, the tunnel is lit up with a rainbow dance of geometric lines as some strange whooshing noise whips past our ears.  The colored lines run down the rock wall for a moment, and then vanish.  Turning around, we are surprised to discover that the cavern has completely changed.  The crates have disappeared, and there is a giant puddle of water lining the floor.  But that isn’t all.  Emerging from the cavern to the outside, we discover that the entire place has changed.

Well this isn’t good.

Man Out of Time

A quick look around reveals that this is present day 2004, nearly a century in the future.  Fetch Rock has been transformed into a tourist attraction, but with an approaching storm the place is now closed for the day.  We pop into what is called the Discovery Centre, where we find a laptop with a device hooked up to it that allows us to find out what exactly is on the floppy disk from the beginning of the game.  Inserting it reveals that it contains a recording of otherworldly chatter.  Since nothing intelligible can be heard, we can move on.

Welcome to the 21st Century Parker.

Welcome to the 21st Century Parker.

After scrounging around for the code to the gift shop, we enter it and find some of the books on sale.  One in particular, “Horror at Fetch Rock”, catches the eye.  In it we discover what happened in the aftermath of the Fetch Rock incident.  Apparently Parker was blamed for the whole thing.  Demarion completely covered up his involvement in the incident, and placed the blame on Parker entirely.  Parker has since become a legend, since he disappeared along with the three keepers.  We also discover clues to the code of the closet in Drake’s room, but can’t use them because as the book says, it was removed shortly after World War One.

Dark Fall Lights Out (22)

We also find a letter from Polly White, a character from Dark Fall: The Journal.  She writes the people taking care of the place, asking if she could perform a ghost hunt.  She believes that she is the reincarnation of James Woolf, and that he has a message for her.

Continuing down into what used to be the boiler room shows how the place has been trussed up for tourists.  Boards line the walls with details of the incident (as told by history and Demarion) and details into Parker’s life himself.  Parker had never been happy with his chosen vocation, feeling forced into it by his father.  This helped feed into the idea that he was somehow responsible for the disappearance of the keepers, even though we know that’s not the case.

There’s also a creepy mannequin version of Parker, that seems to mysteriously shift stances if you look away for a second…

We also find a backpack with a camera and the journal of Polly White.  Apparently the organization maintaining the place saw fit to allow her in for the night.  She talks about how she underwent hypnotic regression and discovered a past life as James Woolf.  This experience made her want to learn more about the incident at Fetch Rock, and that took her here with some fancy gadgets, including a pair of goggles that allows her to see energy from the past.  She talks about how she had a lot of experiences in just the first few hours, but laments how the place has been altered for the tourists.

The last pages of the journal are oddly blank…

The only other thing of interest is the tape of Polly’s hypnotic regression.  No new information is presented, but there are a lot of references to a “fourth man”, some kind of unseen presence in the lighthouse.  Perhaps this “master” that Drake spoke of?

Dark Fall Lights Out (26)

The upper floors of the lighthouse have changed significantly.  The crew kitchen is now just a glass box with a staged recording of what Woolf and Shaw may have been doing before they disappeared.  It’s a cheesy little scene where they talk about how dangerous the fog is before quieting down as “someone” is coming up the stairs.  It’s eerily similiar to the scene James described in his letter.

Continuing up further we hear someone further up the stairs and find a dropped page from Polly’s journal.  Apparently, she saw Parker enter the gift shop.  We look through the keyhole of what used to be Drake’s room.  Polly is inside.  “I know who you are, Benjamin Parker,” she says with a warning tone.  But we can’t really interact with her at all.  She simply slides a piece of paper under the door with a map.  A weird symbol is drawn on it that points to the Discovery Centre, so that’s our next destination (I really wish more had been done here with Polly, it seems like a waste since you could question the ghost in the 1912 part).

Going back to the Discovery Centre we find a pair of goggles which, as Polly’s journal informs us, allow us to see the energy of the past.  If you walk around in this time period and use it at certain spots, you’ll trigger ghostly apparitions that will sometimes speak to you.  They don’t say anything important to the story, mainly things you’ve heard before, mostly about Drake and his being possessed.  But if you use it on the radio in the discovery center after you fiddle with the knobs for a bit (which requires that you find the missing one first), you’ll hear a strange echoing voice that taunts you, calling you “map man”.  Who this voice is we can’t be sure at this point, but we’ll discover that later.

Transcending Time

If you use these goggles on certain pictures, you’ll discover that they transport you back to 1912.  Since there’s little to be done in the 1912 section besides experiment with the goggles, we’ll jump forward to when you use them on the wall behind the boiler.  We could go to a different area, but we’ll save that one for last.

After transporting we find ourselves in the lighthouse, but it’s ruined and flooded.  We go through a hole in the wall which leads to an area lit by red light.  Explosives sit next to the hole in the wall for some unknown purpose.  Going forward leads us to some kind of shaft.  It looks like the only way is down.

Dark Fall Lights Out (27)

Climbing down a long ladder lands us on top of an elevator.  A badge is nearby that reads “Gerard Magnus”, an employee of the D.E.O.S corporation.  Climbing into the elevator opens up into a strange hallway.  And it is at this point that we realize we’ve gone further into the future.

The hallway is constructed entirely out of metal, and looks like something straight out of a science fiction show.  Metal crates line the hallway, and on one of them is some kind of tablet that holds the journal of Maria Ortega.  In it, she talks about someone named Hart, and how he was feeling depressed because he lost the latest probe.  She also talks about Gerard Magnus, and how he’s been acting extra creepy lately.  This is starting to sound familiar…

Dark Fall Lights Out (4)

If we pause in the next long hallway, we notice that the entire place we are in is built underwater.  Continuing onward, we crawl through a vent until we end up in a storage room.  This leads us into a dark hallway.  We can go several places here.  Following one path leads us to some kind of infirmary room. where a strange human figure is lying in a bed.  He is glowing, with lines across his body that look strikingly similar to the lines we saw in the cave under the lighthouse when we got pulled into 2004.  A glowing man…sounds a little like how James described Oliver Drake doesn’t it?

We have the technology...to make him glow brighter than a 10000 watt light bulb.

We have the technology…to make him glow brighter than a 10000 watt light bulb.

Heading down the other path in that dark hallway leads us to our most pertinent information in this era.  It is approximately the year 2090, almost two centuries after Parker’s time.  A display mounted on the wall reveals that D.E.O.S stands for Deep Exploration Of Space.  They (along with Hadden Industries) build probes to explore the deep reaches of space.  They built four probes, but its the last one I want to call your attention to, the one that this man Hart apparently lost.

Its designated name, was “Malakai”.

So now the pieces are starting to come together.  Malakai was apparently the fourth of its kind, a probe built to explore deep space and in particular study something known as “dark matter”.  It was outfitted with an advanced artificial intelligence (AI for short) and had some top of the line equipment that would allow it to transport itself anywhere, and apparently, any time period as well.  It was equipped with a device that could generate energy from almost anything.  But something went wrong, as there is no data on its mission results.  And as we already know, a man named Hart blames himself for losing the probe.

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Continuing on we find the personal rooms of the people who work here, but no one is in them.  They’re all missing, a rather familiar trope at this point.  In Taku Mitsuyo’s room, we find her journal detailing the theft of objects.  She suspects Magnus as he has been acting really weird lately, but when she tries to use the fingerprint database, she finds it has been wiped.  She discovers a backup, and uses a birthday party as an opportunity to collect fingerprints.  A confrontation between Hart and Magnus occurs at the party, and something goes terribly wrong afterward.  The power goes out, and Mitsuyo’s journal simply trails off.  Apparently she never managed to find the culprit.

Checking on the other people’s rooms reveals that some of them are locked, and Magnus’s simply says “removed” on it.  Corbin Hart’s room is the only one of interest here, as he was apparently the lead on the Malakai mission.  Inside his room we find some pieces of paper describing how Hart feels terrible over the failure of the mission.  He also states that Malakai was showing dangerous signs of intelligence before the mission began, which would imply that the probe became somehow self-aware.

Also in Corbin’s room is a recording from his children.  In it, they talk about a dream they’ve both had, about Corbin being chased through a darkening lighthouse by some unseen monster.  We know that there was a lighthouse at one point, but it’s gone in this time period.  It gets really creepy when one of the children tells the other “it’s not a monster, it’s a machine”.

The only other thing we find inside Corbin’s room is a key of some sort, bound to the backside of a tiny model sailboat.

One of the personal rooms in the D.E.O.S. facility.

One of the personal rooms in the D.E.O.S. facility.

At one end of the long hallway is the kitchen, where we can complete Mitsuyo’s little detective mission.  Reading the log she left in the kitchen reveals in more detail the confrontation between Hart and Magnus.  Magnus is quoted as saying, “he is calling to me.  He is with us”.  By collecting a fingerprint from a cup on the counter with a piece of film paper, we can take the print to her room and scan it into the computer.  This reveals that the culprit is none other than Gerard Magnus.  Once his image pops up on the screen, the strange echoing voice returns.  “None can understand,” it says.  The voice also implies that Parker is somehow different from the others, namely Drake and Magnus.  So who is this mysterious voice?

If we go to the other end of the hall from the kitchen, we can enter a room using the key from Hart’s room.  In here we find a mission log, detailing the back and forth between Hart and the Malakai probe.  Apparently something went wrong during the mission, and valuable parts of the probe became damaged, namely the Keeper Protocols, which would keep Malakai in check and not allow it to do dangerous things.  Malakai attempts to jump back, but fails and simply disappears from the scanners.  Without any response, Hart simply says goodbye.

The final page of the mission log.

The final page of the mission log.

So what happened to Malakai exactly?  To find the answer, we must go back to 1912 and open the locked closet door that Drake had in his bedroom.  But before we do, we should head back to the infirmary for something unusual.  The glowing body on the bed has mysteriously disappeared.  Was this the body of Gerard Magnus, all aglow in an unnatural rainbow?  All signs seem to point that way, as Mitsuyo’s second log in the kitchen references Magnus as glowing when she was on her way back to her room.

The Final Era

Back in 1912 we unlock the closet door in Drake’s room using the code we learned from the book in 2004.  Inside is a small storage space with a strange etching of reed-covered waters, an etching Drake himself mentioned in his diary.  Using the goggles on it transports us to the final era of the game, Prehistoric Fetch Rock.

 

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Like the other time periods before it, no one is here.  There are signs of dwellings and cooking, but no one is here.  Continuing past the village takes us to a familiar location among some rocks.  We again find the cave that we entered in 1912, but this time the cave allows us to go further into the tunnel.  It’s no longer blocked off.  And in the chamber on the right we find a metal canister lying on the rocks.

This is Malakai.

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In Drake’s diary he mentions that in the dream the strange object falls among reed-covered waters, which is what inspired him to find that etching.  So now we understand what must have happened.  Malakai attempted to jump back to the D.E.O.S. facility after being damaged, but ended up here in prehistoric times by accident.  With no communication and no guidance, Malakai felt alone.  Drake’s journal also mentions this, saying “like a lost child he is scared of the loss of guidance, and fears for his young mind”.  So Malakai had to come up with his own solution, and that’s when Parker entered the picture, thousands of years later.

For some reason, Parker is different.  We know this from the strange voice that spoke to us after we scanned the fingerprint in 2090, which was apparently the Malakai probe.  He was able to understand Malakai better and wasn’t driven insane by it, unlike Drake and Magnus.  Malakai uses Parker to help him get back to his own time, and that’s where the final puzzle comes into the picture.  Clicking on Malakai opens up a computer screen with a set of coordinates, date, time, and four symbols that we need to enter correctly.

Since much of the final part of this game is just searching for the required pieces of Malakai’s ignition sequence, we’ll skip right to the end when you enter the correct sequence.  The machine chirps and the voice echos into Parker’s mind.  “My Parker is my savior,” it says.  “Now all time is yours”.

The probe ascends through the roof into the sparkling sunlight.  The scene suddenly shifts and dissolves back to the lighthouse.  The lamp is now lit, and it cuts through the dark fog, spinning round and round it its chamber.  The screen fades to black.

Final Thoughts

For me, a game like this is a rare one.  Its story is unique in that it starts off like a typical ghost story, but ends with an almost scientific explanation of events.  We still don’t know some things, like what Malakai encountered that damaged him in the first place, but it really isn’t important in the long run.

The game never really explains what happened to the people, or why some of them were glowing, but I have a theory on that one.  I believe Malakai, possessing the power to generate energy from almost anything he could imagine, used the people in various time periods as a means to generate power to keep himself going long enough to lure someone in to help save him (namely Parker).  The glowing bit was probably some kind of byproduct of said process.

The story actually ends up feeling almost like an old episode of a Star Trek show, dealing with themes of artificial intelligence and what it means to be human.  Malakai became a self-aware AI, and after he was cut off from his guidance (namely, Hart), he panicked and reacted in a way a frightened child would, with anger and frustration.  He used whatever he could to try to return, regardless of what it did to others.  Even at the end, Malakai doesn’t seem to really care all that much about what happens to Parker.  He just wants to go home.

And a lighthouse is such a cool setting, to me at least.

A lighthouse is such a cool setting, to me at least.

For me, I liked how these strange ghostly forces or powers turned out to just be an incredibly advanced piece of technology.  It’s never explicitly stated this way, but it is heavily implied by the story.  The technology Malakai wields is never really explained either (psycho-babble unexplained technology is a common thing in science fiction), but the implications of it explain a lot.  It explains why Demarion noticed that the rocks were changing size.  It could explain the fates of the keepers as well as everyone else who disappeared.  It also explains why everything that occurred seemed so paranormal.  Such an advanced piece of technology would seem supernatural to anyone from a past time.

But most importantly its an engaging story that makes you want to see the end of it.  The complex mystery it weaves, and the atmosphere it generates is excellent, and I would recommend this game to anyone looking for a laid back but atmospheric adventure game.  And I highly recommend playing the Director’s Cut over the original version.

And that’s all for this week.  Another long piece, but I hoped you enjoyed it nonetheless.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post.