Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Nailing Down Terminology

One thing lacking in game design, especially when it comes to interactive storytelling, is a proper set of terms. While I do not think having a precise terminology will directly aid in making games better, it will help us communicate better. As proper communication is crucial for progress, proper terms are indirectly an important part of making better storytelling games. Because of this, I am going to go over some terminology that I find essential, what I mean by them and why I define them in a certain manner.

This is not meant to be a list of terms that I want everybody to adopt. Instead I want it to start a discussion so that we can come a bit closer at agreeing on the terms we use to discuss these matters. I have changed my terms quite a bit over the past few years and I am prepared to do so again.

I need to go over a few things before I start. When choosing a term and its definition I think that, if possible, one should use an existing word and to use a definition that is close to the word's common usage. Making up new words often just adds to the confusion, making it harder to communicate. In some cases it is needed, e.g. I find "affordance" to be a very practical term, but in the case of interactive storytelling we have so much existing terminology to derive from that I do not find it necessary  By choosing a definition that is close to the common usage it also makes it possible for uninitiated people to follow a discussion; it makes misunderstandings much less likely. What constitutes "common" is of course a bit vague (to game developers? people in general?), but it at least set up some guidelines which is better than none at all.

With that out of the way, let's start.

- Story -
Story is arguably the most important word and probably one with the fractured meaning. I see "story" as a container word that encompass a lot of different parts. The most significant are: Theme, Setting, Characters, Plot and Narration. I will get to each of these in a bit, but before that I need to discuss why I chose this definition.

First of all, the reason why someone enjoys a story does not need to be a the exact way that the events unfold. It can be the beautiful environments, the snappy dialog, the dense atmosphere and so forth that makes the story engaging. There is never any specific criteria that makes one say "this story is good", instead there is a wide range of elements that can make a story great.

Second, the definition reflects how stories are created. A story always starts out as some seed idea; a specific person, situation, plot twist, etc, and is then built around that. A setting is determined, characters are created and other elements are fleshed out. These added elements are not the core of the story, they are there in order make the initial idea come to live in the best way possible.

Third, it makes for a very inclusive definition that suit videogames. Games often have a lot story elements, yet often lack some of the more common elements like dialog or plot. If a story is only a carefully planned sequence of events then many games, some vital for understanding interactive storytelling, are left out. At the same time the definition is not so broad as to become meaningless; Tetris is still not a game with much (or any) story, while Limbo contain tons.

- Storytelling -
Given the above way of seeing story, "storytelling" is pretty straightforward to define. It is simply a way to communicate the elements of a story to an audience. They way we are most used to doing this is in the form of a linear sequence of events, but this is not the only way to go about. When doing interactive storytelling, the story is communicated as the player interacts with systems, each representing a part of the story.

Now onto the elements of story:

- Theme -
This is sort of the holistic intent of a story. It can be things like: premise, message, subject, an intended experience; anything that deals with a core idea that permeates through the story. Despite not being a concrete part of a story, like an environment or a character, it is still something that has to be taken into account. Just like a character needs to fit with the environment, all elements of a story need to fit with the theme.

- Setting -
"Where does the story take place" is the question this term answers. It is not just the physical place, but also the time period, history, weather conditions and so on. It describes all the background conditions for the story. This is probably the story element that is most common in a game. Even games that lack all other elements can still have a very strong setting.

- Characters -
Anytime some intentional action is performed, a character is there to perform it. This term simply applies to any sentient agent that takes place in the story. It is trivial to point out characters in a book or movie, but for a game it seems like is a bit harder. For instance, are the enemy ships in Space Invader characters? How about the turtles in Super Mario Bros? In both of these examples, I think one might just as well lump them into the character element. Both of these games both have very thin stories and are not really any attempts at interactive storytelling. As far as I can tell, the vague character cases come solely from these sort of games. They never arise when there is stronger focus on the story. In Uncharted, for example, all the cannon fodder enemies are pretty clear cases of character story elements.

Also important to mention is that this term, like all the others, come with sub terms. Inside the term character are things like dialog, relationships and destinies.

- Plot -
A plot is a sequence of events, each event occurring in a specific fashion. This sequence can be a branching one; the important factor is that all is set and known beforehand. It may seem a bit strange to set this as its own separate element of a story; after all, any book or film is composed out of events laid out in a preset fashion. This notion is also why it is so common to see plot and story as pretty much the same thing. When you deal with books or movies, there is not a big problem with this view, but for games it is disastrous  If a story is something that is laid out in an exact unchangeable manner, then an interactive game is unable, by definition, to tell a story. (A line of thinking which I have seen academic papers written about).

So it seems obvious why one wants plot to be different from story; interactive storytelling other than Choose-Your-Own-Adventure would be an oxymoron. There is however a deeper, and more important, reason for this separation and it lies in how stories are created. When a writer starts a story, most of the events are unknown. Instead it starts with some seed (as discussed above) and is then fleshed out from that point. It is constantly revised and polished. During this process, the exact events, either the planned or already written, are in constant flux. Most of the time other things are much more important than a precise happening. Only a subset of events need to happen in an definite fashion; the rest are just there to realize other elements. Together, all the crucial events make up the plot.

If a person A needs to be at location B at time C, then this is part of the plot. The way in which person A accomplishes this is of less importance, and thus the manner of transportation is not a plot point. Thinking in this way makes it a lot easier to think about interactive stories.

- Narration -
The final story element is the way in which the story is told. At the highest level this deals with things like chronology, how cuts are made, the voice of the teller (e.g. first person) and the subjectivity of the telling (e.g. unreliable narrator). All these concern the basic framework for how the story is put together. It is a basic definition of narration that most agree to.

Narration can be thought of having lower levels as well. In a book or movie, most of the story can come from the protagonist simply making certain actions, but in a game the interaction makes this a lot harder and other tricks are needed. Examples of this is using audio logs or spoken narration (as heard in Bastion). Therefore I find it best if the term narration also includes very specific devices that help communicate the story.

Now that we are done with the constituents of a story, I will discuss a few connected terms:

- Narrative -
My proposed definition for this term will probably be a little harder to get a across, but I think it is a very important one. In common language "narrative" is pretty much a synonym to "story". My definition, however, is the subjective experience of the player; the personal sequence of events and emotions that the player has when playing through the game. It can be said to be a player's account of her experience, but that would not be entirely accurate since what I am after is the raw direct experience of actually playing the game.

What follows are my three main reason for using this term and definition:

First of all is that we need a word for the personal experience; story does not sum it up as it does in other media. However, this definition still applies to other media too. As explained in for the term "plot", every last detail of the final work is not a part in the story, thus it can be said the final version a book or movie is not a story, but a narrative of a story.

Second, it allows us to talk about intended narrative; the experience that we want the player to have. This can be in pretty rough terms, but it is a very helpful way to talk about it.

Third and final, why not just use the word "experience"? Because it is too broad. When we talk about narrative, we mean the story focused experience. For instance, a shoot-em-up game give rise to a very complex experience, but the story material that is communicated is very thin and simplistic. A game that is focused on a providing an engaging narrative is a game where every part of the experience is directly connected to the story.

Important to note is that a good story does not mean a good narrative. The elements in the story can be very compelling, but if they fail to be communicated in an engaging fashion, the narrative ends up a bad one.

- Gameplay -
This term is really hard to pin down as it easily becomes too wide or too narrow. One could simply say that gameplay happens anytime the player interacts with a system in the game, but that does not really hold up how most of us use it. Mostly it is only a subset of possibly interactions that serves as gameplay. For instance , if a bushes waves a bit when the player walks past, few call this gameplay. Having this wide definition also makes it so close to simply "interactions" that it becomes meaningless. On the other hand, one could say gameplay is any interaction that is framed as a goal oriented challenge. This is seems accurate as it agrees with many common forms of  gameplay (puzzle solving, shooting bad guys, matching blocks, etc). However, it becomes problematic in terms of storytelling.

If the aim of a game is to provide the most powerful narrative possible, then that goal often clashes with that of creating challenges.  When creating a game about storytelling, characters should be perceived as proper elements of the story (with emotions, motives, etc) and not just an obstacle or power-up. Because of this, a game with heavy focus on narrative might have to cut down a lot on the challenge. However, it does not seem right to say that means the game must do away with gameplay as well. If a game offers non-challenging interactions with character or other parts of a story it becomes very restrictive, and unhelpful, to instantly claim none of this can be called "gameplay". Thus, there needs some other way to define it.

My conclusion is that gameplay occurs whenever "the mental game space of the player contains a horizon of potential actions that allow for planning". This may sound a bit cryptic, so let me break it down a bit. First of, the "mental game space" is the player's subjective perception of the current state of the game. Important to note is that this does not have to match up with the actual computer state of the game. The player might imagine there is a monster behind the corner when in fact there is none and so forth. The "horizon of potential actions" are actions that the player can see themselves doing in the future. There might be potential actions that are too far away for the player to directly imagine a path to, and these are not part of the horizon. Also, there might be actions that are possible to do, but does not seem meaningful to the player (e.g. jumping off a cliff) or are hidden (e.g. an alternative path to a location). Neither of these are part of the action horizon. Finally, "allow for planning", means that there is some sort of end goal for the player and that the actions on the horizon can help in getting there.

This definition cast a pretty wide net on what gameplay can be, but at the same time also excludes a bunch of interactions. Anything that just happens by chance is not gameplay, neither are actions that lack some sort of goal. A caveat is that this definition can apply to just about any 3D editor, word processor or similar software. But when used in the context of interactive storytelling, there is no real issue.

What is good about this definition is that "gameplay" is not just a binary term. Instead, one can talk about the frequency, action width and narrative relation of the gameplay. All of these shape how the game is played. The higher the frequency of the gameplay, the quicker the action horizon change. A large action width means that the player always have a lot of options on what to do next. Finally, narrative relation means how much the gameplay connects with the underlying story. Important to note is that this term is not a value judgement. Of course, in a storytelling game we want the player to be inside a narrative, but that does not mean that gameplay always have to have narrative relationship.

- Immersion -
Normally this word is used for describing how "real" a game feels, but I think that is the wrong usage. Immersion is simply the state of being very focused on an activity. This can happen for instance when reading a book, watching TV, playing chess and of course playing a videogame. Whenever the rest of the world fades away, and your sole attention lies on a single thing, that is being immersed into something. I think this is the way the term is commonly used, and it is also the most useful for storytelling. Immersion does not rely on crafting something believable; it is simply a measurement on how much attention a game gets from the player.

However, I think it is possible to use "immersed" when talking about believability, but then one has to precise and say, for instance,  "immersed in the game's world". Now it is clear that we are not talking about any kind of focus, but very specifically about feeling strongly connected to the game's virtual world. I think it is important be very clear in this manner as discussions can otherwise become really fuzzy. For example, if I suggest that replaying breaks the immersion, then somebody might counter that they sure as hell were immersed when playing Super Meat Boy. In my statement I meant the specific usage world-immersion, but the response meant the more basic focus-immersion. Further debate becomes pointless as me and my interlocutor are talking about different things.

- Presence -
Closely related to immersion is "the sense of presence". I think this is a great term for talking about the feeling of being inside a game's world, as it basically means being present somewhere. Even though someone has never hear the term before, they can easily guess what it means, and it is harder to make false connections. This makes it a lot better to talk about presence than immersion when discussing the sense of being somewhere else..

So how to define "presence"? If we simply take it as "the feeling of present in a fictional place", then it becomes hard to know exactly what to strive for. What does it really mean to feel more "present"? With immersion, we only talked about the focus; in that case it was just a matter of how much of the player's attention is directed at the game. But "being more/less present" is either awfully close to the definition "immersion" or very fuzzy.

My suggestion for a definition is this:
  • How much how of the mental model (ie, what we use to predict and make plans) for the game overlap the with the game's story. If we treat characters like real people then presence is strong; if we treat them like robots then presence is weak.
  • How much involuntary reflexes are triggered in accordance to the story aspects of an event. If the player makes a quick jerk when an objects is coming right at their face, then presence is strong. If the player does not shiver a bit when entering a cold environment, presence is low.
The stronger the game achieve the above criteria, the stronger sense of presence it has. By thinking about the relationship between the actual story and what is going on in the player's head, we get a very clear idea of what presence really is. This makes discussions on this subject a lot easier and also makes it easier to set up goals for oneself.

These are all the terms that I wanted to bring up. There are a few more, some of which I will cover in the notes, but I think the above are the mostly commonly used and the most important ones. Keep in mind that these definitions are not meant to be something set in stone. It is the first step in a conversation and I am interested in hearing what everyone thinks of them.

Super Meat Boy is a game where the player dies A LOT. It is a very good example of when a game can be very repetitive, but remain immersive.

Script for a lecture in which I go over how challenge can be damaging to games with storytelling.

An older post that explains more of the reason for the above definition of storytelling.

  • Related to setting and characters are the words "fiction" and "lore" as well. I do not want to give any clear definitions on these, mainly because I do not use them very often, other than saying they are subsets of "story". They share a lot of the the elements in a story, but I never think one use the word as meaning exactly the same as story. Most often they are used with the meaning of something very similar to "setting".
  • Another word that can be worth touching upon is "mechanic". Normally this is just a shorter version of "gameplay mechanic", thus it is any system that helps gives rise to gameplay as defined above. This is not limited to pure code and logic, but it can also be text, graphics and sound.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Goosebumps Review: Monster Blood

It's a monster blood drive!

This is the first Goosebumps book I've been afraid to open. I must have read it a great load of times because it has a very well worn cover and pages. This book was one of my favorites of the original run of Goosebumps, and I regard it and its sequels very fondly. Actually throughout the first dozen or so books this was always my favorite. I love the premise, the characters, the writing, and what happens throughout. While never explicitly terrifying, the sci-fi and "magical" elements of the book are all really part of its appeal.

Monster Blood was released in September 1992, the same month of the release of the next book I'll review as well.

While the first book was a bit of a miss for me and the second was surprisingly good, this one hit the mark exactly. It is both very well done and never boring. Some elements of it could have been more concise and less hand-wavy, but the story works in general. I liked the idea of a mysterious substance ultimately ending up as both something harmful and truly unnerving. I mean, I can't even imagine what I would do or think if a substance I bought just starting growing and changing consistency without warning. I'd probably freak out and act much like these two kids did, plopping it into multiple containers and hoping for the best.

Anyway, the main characters are one of the strengths of this book. Andy and Evan are basically the stars of the book here and of the series as a whole. They pop back up in the next three sequels to Monster Blood, and are about as likable and amazing as protagonists can be in this series. They are believable as kids of twelve or so and work really well. Andy (Andrea) especially always worked well. The way all of what she's wearing is described every time she's shown really gave her a personality well beyond what any dialogue could. Sure, she's quirky and tomboyish and fun. And being able to give her that kind of character worked really well in establishing something about her beyond the mundane. Evan is also well established, being sarcastic and a little whiny, certainly not the perfect hero, but one who works in the book anyway. Kathryn, Sarabeth, the twins are also well done here even though they appear in none of the other books as far as I remember. Sarabeth works well as the villain without any reason or care. Kathryn, the great-aunt who doesn't care, is both intimidating and a question mark throughout the book. And the twins are the first real bullies we get to see in Goosebumps, a theme that will become more and more pronounced throughout the books.

I like that the protagonist is thrown into an awkward and foreign situation from the first page. I like how that leads to all of the problems. I guess I should tell the plot? I don't know. It's simple. So, Evan Ross is left with his great-aunt as his parents try to find a house in another state. Evan is alone with her, she's deaf and refuses to learn any real way of communication. Evan brings his dog Trigger as well. Eventually he meets Andy and they strike a friendship up. They go to an old toy store, buy some Monster Blood "SURPRISING MIRACLE SUBSTANCE," and begin playing around with it. It's just some bouncing goo at first, but after a day seems to become sticky and awful, growing and changing as time goes by. Evan's dog eats some of it, which can't be healthy, and starts growing himself too! Well, this can't do. Andy and Evan try to figure out what to do, only to learn that the Monster Blood is seemingly hungry as well, pulling things inside of it. As it grows, it finally gets out of its containment and goes after them, reaching a final confrontation where Evan's great-aunt's cat, Sarabeth, is the mastermind of a spell put on the Monster Blood and is looking to murder the children because "they know too much" even though they really don't know anything and probably wouldn't know a single thing if this cat-lady had just not been evil and ready to murder them. You know? Hospitality among cat-ladies is really awful today. Well, she ends up being eaten up by the Monster Blood and disappears for... reasons. And everything's good after that. Yup. Obviously there will never be a single sequel to this because it was all a spell by a lady who no longer exists. Right?



Well, we'll wait to answer that until book 18.

Specifically that book.

I wonder why...


So, yeah, the book works pretty well at being coherent and quick, but surprisingly well put together too. The characters are so good here and the plot isn't too shabby either. Out of the first three books this is easily my favorite. It explores heavy subjects as well, just like the first two tried to do. Moving seems to be a surprisingly common theme, mostly because there are certainly people who have to move around, and, for a child, it must be difficult to cope with those moves. The fear and terror of moving and dealing with it is kind of within the books as well, the plot basically reinterpreting what it means to move to somewhere new. Or maybe that's just me over-thinking things.

This book takes on the subtheme of bullying and what that means much like how Welcome to Dead House deals with what moving to a new town does to a young kid. Evan and his family are also moving, but the move to a new place is never important to Evan like it was to Amanda in Welcome to Dead House. Hell, he hardly mentions it at all besides stating that's what's going to happen. The bullying though is a pretty main theme, with the twins not only bullying and hurting Evan, but also doing the same to Andy, nearing concussing her against a sidewalk while they steal her bike for a joyride. There is something sickening about the characters of the twins. Their utter inhumanity and eventual cowardice really say a great deal about bullying in general. I think this subtheme is wonderful and really shows a clear difference between those who are picked on and those who do the picking. The most shocking thing is when Andy is hurt. But almost as shocking is Evan being beaten to a pulp by them. Yes, I know Monster Blood's main plot has literally nothing to do with this theme, but I think it's way too important not to discuss. The kids reading these books would almost surely identify with the victims (I may be profiling here, but seriously, I used to be one of those kids, I think I have a good idea about this.), and see the bullies as awful people. I guess I like how it's handled. I like how Evan deals with it. And I like how the bullies get their comeuppance.

Monster Blood. Well, I don't really know how four (five?) books are made about this substance. This could have been a standalone book, and I would have been fine with that. I hate to admit this, but my memory of the other Monster Blood books is pretty spotty. While I remember this book well, and perhaps the beginning of the second book too, none of the others have stuck in my mind at all. I assume because they are simply not as... uh... not as good as this one. Then again I might eat my words when I get to them. We'll see...

I liked this book a great deal as a kid. It was one of my favorites in general of the series, like I mentioned, but it also had some of the more memorable moments of the books. I really liked the characters, Evan's sense of abandonment, and the friendship between Andy and Evan. Those things all worked so well here, and Monster Blood makes other books pale in comparison to its absolute brilliance at times. There is a great deal to praise here, and I do wish that every book could be this good. Well, there are some things to mention, mostly small things, but...

Okay, so one of my big questions: Why does the old toy shop close up inexplicably? I'm not sure I understand that detail. It had obviously been open for a very long time, then suddenly the owner sells the Monster Blood to Evan and closes shop? Was he not doing a good business? Did he die? I mean, as far as we know the Monster Blood's properties were specifically created by Sarabeth because she's a witch or something. So, did she kill the proprietor because she wanted to trick Evan? Or am I seriously missing something here? I just have no real answer. I guess it could have been a coincidence, but in horror like this I don't believe in coincidences. So, it's a problem that doesn't wrap up nicely or easily.

This is also the first cover that really has nothing to do with the contents within. Look at that book cover by Tim Jacobus. That never happens in the book. I have no idea if any of the characters even wear glasses. I don't think any do. So, unlike Stay Out of the Basement where that scene could have happened because plant-dad did happen or Welcome to Dead House where the house did exist, this cover never actually happens. It always struck me as odd, but I know things like this happen all the time. I'll continue to pay attention to covers and talk details. None of the covers have been particularly striking yet, but some are certainly brilliant eventually (or really baffling), and I'll be sure to speak about them at length when they come.

So, the last thing I want to speak of is a relationship between characters. Evan and Andy seriously have one of the best relationships in any of the Goosebumps books or series. I have no idea why, but their friendship works incredibly well. I'm pretty sure back when I was twelve I might have acted similarly to girls I liked. Or liked if that should be highlighted. Anyway, I like their dynamics and am looking forward to the other books with them together.

This book gets a good rating from me. It's a great read for an older or younger person to read. It works well even if some questions are left lingering in your mind. It doesn't really easily set up a sequel, but I can understand how this book became popular enough to warrant some when only one other book in the first ten books of the series did (The Night of the Living Dummy) (I have no idea if there are other more recent sequels now though.). Anyway, I highly recommend this one, and I look forward to more.

The next book up is the sequel to the first Fear Street review I did, Cheerleaders: The Second Evil.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A look at the Eisenkern APC

I thought I would pass along some shots of the Eisenkern APC. When last you saw the design it was pretty much a roughed in hull, the final version received more details inside and out.

This kit will feature see through window sections so that you may view the interior, movable quad ‘Scorpion’ weapons system that provides enough arc, azimuth and elevation to clear unwanted guests from your doorstep. Linked and movable front suspension, doors and hatches that you may leave open or closed (Due to the scale I could not create full working hinges on the smaller doors and hatches, you may need to decide if you want to glue the smaller doors in the open or closed position, the larger rear hatch has full hinges). The Kickstarter backers will receive the full crew compliment, 10 riflemen, driver and gunner. I won’t know if we can include the ten riflemen in the general release until we know how many sprues we will need to complete the kit.


I was able to shrink the vehicle down a bit from the original render but it is still a BEAST! It is about a foot taller than the modern day Stryker APC but considerably wider and longer. Roughly 3 meters tall, 4.97 meter wide and 10.15 meters long. You won’t be parking this monster in a tight space without smashing a few bumpers.

This vehicle is as heavily armored as a main battle tank, weighing in at over 70 tons in rides on six huge solid tires, each with an independent drive system that allows this vehicle to spin in place, in the same manner as its tracked brethren.

The nose section is taken up by the reactor, this is the same full size reactor found on the Leviathan Crusader and Mortis, allowing the APC indefinite range and access to impressive speed… The reactor in this vehicle is capable of recharging equipment and the super capacitors found on lighter vehicles and Leviathan, in this way, the ‘Keilerkopf’ becomes a central part of any forward unit’s logistics.  Everything you need for planetary conquest.

Even with its monster size, the interior is still a bit cramped, eight riflemen are seated in the rear with just enough room for a trooper to stand, equip and egress. Two riflemen take up the ‘shotgun positions on either side of the APC’s driver and gunner and would likely use the side doors when possible.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Going to the past: The next PTD2 Story Update and more!

to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
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Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog! Coming back from chaos!

Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

Our Goal: $50,000

What's New

It has been chaos, to say the least, these past couple of weeks. For the first time in my life I moved out of my parents house and into my own apartment. All of this in preparation for my wedding which is 2 short months from now! Chaos might have been a soft word. With all the moving also came computer problems. I had to take my development computer to be fixed and now my old computer is giving me trouble. I've never had this much trouble before! While I haven't been able to really sit down and work on anything my mind has not stopped thinking about what and who is making all of this possible. You guys and gals are the reason I'm able to push my life into the next stage and I'm able to wake up every day and think about making video games instead of coding something I have no interest in for somebody I don't even really know. Because of that I will give it my all as long as you guys will have me.

I did manage a few things, Cosmoids got a small update, some tweaks on the first level to make it a bit shorter and some massive changes to the tutorials so they are easier to understand and more to the point.

Speaking of Cosmoids...

Designing a game before coding it

The way I make Pokemon Tower Defense is that each week I think about what to work on next and early in the week I will make a plan, write the blog with my plan and then I try to accomplish my plan. In more detail this means I'm making it up as I go. Each week I think about where the story could go. While I have some very basic plans for the overall story, the lines of dialog and the different events that will happen are not planned out months in advance. At the most I will have an idea like having Mewthree win, and then slowly during the week I will think about how this will happen. Same with the battles, ptd1 transfers, new attacks. Having been doing this for a few years now I can see that there are benefits to this method. The main benefit is the speed that you can put things out. There are however some drawbacks to this style. I think an obvious example is the Avatars in PTD1. Your player doesn't have an avatar until later in the game. This is the result of not having time to add it initially but then eventually getting the time and figuring out how to add it in. Going back and adding it to all the previous levels would have been a big undertaking that would have stalled the game updates so I was never willing to do it. At the same thing I think it is odd to add new things as you go and having the old content not take advantage of these things.

So for Cosmoids I want to design the game in advance before I make it. What this means is that I will be coming up with the levels and moves in advance before I actually code them. Then I will see what everything looks like and be able to implements new things into the whole game instead of just adding them as I go. So far I have designed up to level 5. My goal for the game is for it to have about 40ish levels before I consider it complete.

Designing a level doesn't take a very long time but making it interesting, challenging, and fun can be quite a challenge. For Cosmoids we are following a similar formula that PTD1 has. You watch a story scene then you play the level and you watch another story scene. So the first thing you have to think about is where is your story at. What happened in the previous level, in the previous story scene and where do you want the story to go and how will it tie into the next Cosmoids you want to use on the next level. Then you think about what attacks should this new Cosmoid have and how is it different from the others. What kind of different role can it take. Finally using those new attacks you create an idea for how the level itself will play. What will be the challenge on the level. How will you test the player. Will it be a puzzle or the ability to dodge moves. Or will he have to have Cosmoids that have high defense. A lot of thought goes into making each level. So being able to focus on just the design lets you do it quick and it also lets you see the big picture quicker which can hopefully lead to the game feeling more unified.

Going to the past: The next PTD2 Story Update

It's going to be a good one! Mewthree has taken over the world with his massive clones, your friends, family and heroes are about to be captured. Celebi, the time traveling pokemon, shows up and offers you a chance to save the world but you must go to the past to change it! This update will have you going to the past. You will be able to visit the locations that you have already visited but 10 years into the past. In the world you aren't born yet and Silver is still alive! What can do you to stop the events in the future? Only time will tell.

The past will be a different place, while the maps themselves will look the same, you can expect more people to be around, and different house and buildings to be accessible.

You will be able to enter the poke mart and buy items. You will be able to enter the pokemon center and rest until night time, day time or early morning. Essentially giving you control over the time of day. There will be more trainer battles in the Routes.

Another cool feature is that you can travel back to the future! Talking to celebi from your pokepad will allow you to travel back a few moments before Mewthree took over the region, allowing you to replay old battles or talk to people in the future after finding out more about them in the past.

There is a lot of content to be added to make this update possible and I hope you guys enjoy the things I have planned.

Weekly Progress

Cosmoids Progress

  • Design Level 8 (70%) - Honey Badger vs Bees

  • Design Level 9 (50%) - Electric City

  • Design Level 10 (50%) - Electric City 2

  • Design Level 11 (50%) - Electric City 3 Boss

PTD2 v1.45 Released!

  • Mystery Gift (100%)

    • Graphics (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • Attacks (100%)

      • Block (100%)

      • Stealth Rock (100%)

    • Abilities (100%)

      • Soundproof (100%)

    • Evolution Info (100%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (100%)

    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

  • Bug Fix - Can no longer use items that have zero quantity (100%)

  • Traveling to the past (100%) - Travel 10 years into the past to save the world! 

    • Past Route 30 (100%)

      • New NPC Graphics (100%)

      • House 1 (100%)

      • House 2 (100%)

      • Trainer Battles (100%)

    • Past Route 31 (100%)

      • Trainer Battle (100%)

    • Past Dark Cave (100%) - No Changes

    • Past Violet City (100%)

      • People Outside (100%)

      • Houses (100%)

        • Map Graphics (100%)

        • People Inside Houses (100%)

      • Sprout Tower (100%)

        • Trainer Battles (100%)

      • School (100%)

        • Map Graphics (100%)

        • Trainer Battles (100%)

      • Gym (100%)

        • Map Graphics (100%)

        • Gym Battle (100%)

      • PokeMart (100%)

        • Add new Items (100%)

      • PokeCenter (100%)

    • Past Route 32 (100%)

      • Trainer Battles (100%)

    • Past Ruins of Alph (100%)

      • Trainer Battle (100%)

PTD2 v1.44 Released!

  • Mystery Gift (100%) - Shiny Sandile!

  • Traveling to the past (100%) - Travel 10 years into the past to save the world! 

    • New Pokemon (100%) 

      • Graphics (100%) 

      • Stats (100%) 

      • Attacks (100%) 

        • Embargo (100%)

        • Horn Drill (100%)

      • Evolutions (100%)

      • Add to Trading Center (100%) 

      • Add to Breeding Center (100%)

    • New Story Scenes and Battles (100%)

      • Talking to Celebi (100%)

      • Past New Bark Town (100%)

        • Town (100%)

        • Lab (100%)

        • Gold's House (100%)

        • Silver's House (100%) - Still locked!

        • Crystal's House (100%)

        • Special Spot (100%)

      • Past Route 29 (100%)

        • Trainer Battle (100%)

      • Past Route 46 (100%)

        • Trainer Battle (100%)

      • Past Cherrygrove City (100%)

        • Trainer Battle (100%)

        • Houses (100%)

          • Map Graphic (100%)

        • Flower Trade (100%)

        • Pokemon Center (100%)

          • Map Graphic (100%)

          • Allow you to change time (100%)

          • Nurse Joy Graphic (100%)

        • PokeMart (100%)

          • Map Graphic (100%)

          • Add new items (100%)

          • Allow you to buy items (100%)

          • Item Security (100%)

          • Save Money on the Server (100%)

    • New NPC Characters Graphics (100%)

  • Fixed a bug that would not reset a map's music if you exited Story Mode (100%)

  • The story maps will now show the name of the location that you are in (100%)

  • Trainer Adoptions will now show if the pokemon is hacked in the Adoption Page (100%)

  • Added a Trainer Adoptions link to the Adoption page (100%) - You can easily find the pokemon trainers are putting up for adoption on that page.

Thanks for sticking with us! That's all I have for you this week. As always let me know what you think!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Blanks and other materials...

I got asked a few times in the last workshop where I bought various of the materials for use in the workshop. I've linked to some of the materials via Amazon on the right hand side of the page, but I bought material from various sources - I'll link to some of the key things below:

Blank Playing cards. I've been getting these from Amazon in packs of 1,000, but smaller packs are available! These

Referencing Rummy

A referencing card game, based on Gin Rummy.
Thanks to Carol writing them up, instructions follow:

To collect a set (or run) of referencing elements for either a book, British Standard, journal or website.

Instructions of how to play
1.    This game can be played with a minimum of two players and a maximum of six.
2.    Shuffle the cards well and deal five cards per player.
3.    Each


A card game, around picking appropriate words to create an effective search strategy based on set concepts.


A lecture theatre / large group game around the use of keywords in searching for information.

Spin to Win

A short team game aimed mainly at inductions and basic sessions, can be used with a wide range of questions to adapt the game.

Hot Source - a card game

Hot Source - a card game based on a "top trumps" style idea assessing information sources.


Bust-a-block, a library induction style game.

Castle of chaos, a quest for qualitative understanding of information

A #libraryplay board game from the London workshop.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Fear Street Review: Cheerleaders: The First Evil

When the cheers turn to screams...

"Give me a D-I-E!"

So, here we are at our first R. L. Stine teenage book released in August 1992 called Cheerleaders: The First Evil. Unlike the Goosebumps books these really weren't for kids at all. Now, that didn't stop me from reading them when I was very young, but it is a fact. These are pretty creepy even for an adult to read. They are not baby books for babies, but I don't think any of these R. L. Stine books are. They all have that little special piece of horror that most books, especially those made and written for kids and teenagers, seem to be missing. And how ballsy must it have been for R. L. Stine to actually write these books for teenagers at all? I mean, look at the teenage books that are popular today- supernatural romance, vampires, werewolves, supernatural romance, fantasy romance, romance, and maybe a little fantasy for the adventurous. But that's about it. You don't get horror books written for teenage audiences anymore, and certainly not horror books for teenage girls starring teenage girls! That's insane! That's just crazy!

And yet here it is- a book that involves no romance elements written for teenagers- specifically teenage girls- that is good in every way. Well, saying this book is good is underplaying the quality. It is an excellent book, standing up to my memory in every single way. I remember this being one of the best R. L. Stine books and series around, and it certainly didn't disappoint me thus far.

I know that a story centered around cheerleaders seems like it would probably make a pretty uninteresting book, but it really works amazingly well. One can relate to the characters, the situation therein, and the emotions. The horror, very vague for most of the book- more similar to paranoia and regular high school drama than actual horror- really hits a stride that I haven't seen equaled in many other horror books at all.

"When you jump up, everyone can see your underpants."

The story begins in such an innocuous way and goes to very dark places. It begins in an almost typical Goosebumps fashion- a prank set upon a younger sibling. The lead character, Bobbi, and her sister, Corky, set up a prank on their younger brother. They plan to scare him with a fake rat, succeed, and enjoy the evil of their deed. This works so well at establishing their characters. They become strong from the get-go, each with her own personality, and each with her own establishing moment. Corky is the younger one, in Bobbi's shadow more than likely, but not caring all that much about it. Bobbi is the perfect one, the more mischievous one, and the one who the story follows around. They are both new to the town of Shadyside (where the Fear Street books take place) and are looking to try out for the cheerleading squad even though it's a bit late in the season for that. But they're good, and it shows. They're given a chance, and the story kicks off.

Is it about cheerleading though? No, not really. You could substitute any high school activity into here and get the same results. Drama club, football, chess club, etc. It doesn't really matter since high school kids will be themselves in the end. The cheerleading squad works well though because of what they have to do, because of the trust they need to have, and because of the utterly non-horrific imagery associated with cheerleaders.

"Jennifer's startled scream was drowned out by the squeal of the skidding tires.

By the crunch of metal.

By the shatter of glass." 

The sisters are allowed onto the squad to their elation because of their obvious talent. The problem is that things go wrong quickly. Kimmy, one of the cheerleaders, does not like the sisters at all and seems bent on turning the other girls against them. Jennifer, the captain, seems able to keep everybody together- but then an accident. The bus they are traveling on to get to a game crashes, Jennifer gets hurt, so much so that she is thought dead, fallen on top of the tombstone of "SARAH FEAR." She awakens, but is paralyzed, and a new captain is to be chosen.

The book has a limited third person narration. It follows around certain characters' thoughts. Though it mostly focuses on Bobbi's own thoughts, Corky's, Kimmy's, and Jennifer's are also seen. While Bobbi is the main character, it becomes very obvious that the whole plot is much larger than her. Corky is largely forgotten in the background, just another girl in the shadows as Bobbi's teenage life goes through its moments. A boy, Chip (the football quarterback himself no less!), asks Bobbi out, she is chosen as the new cheerleading captain, and everything seems to be going her way.

And yet...

And yet.

"Everyone is watching me, Kimmy thought, forcing back the loud sobs that pushed at her throat. Everyone is feeling sorry for me."

One of my favorite aspects of this book is how right it gets the teenage mentality.Everything is in the moment. Each thought is hectic and pumped up and ultra-emotional. Both Bobbi and Kimmy act in emotional manners, both lashing out because of jealousy or anger or a million other little emotions that they cannot hide. This book gets it so right though. It hits that pitch-perfect feel of teenage and high school life. I can remember going to high school football games with my girlfriend at the time, watching the cheerleaders, feeling the charged atmosphere, and hearing the noise throughout the bleachers. And R. L. Stine captures that atmosphere perfectly, right down to every little description. The teenage life reminds me of those teenagers I used to know and those that are left behind in my memory- and it works- it works so well that it's scary.

I think that's the point really.

"He's dead, she thought.

It was so silent in the stadium. So unearthly silent.

We're all dead. All."

The narrative keeps going as Bobbi's new "boyfriend" freezes during a game. This comes back as she later freezes as well while trying (unsuccessfully) to catch a girl during a routine. And this all happens as her relationship is straining with the other girls on the squad, even her own sister. It seems like only Jennifer seems to have any time for Bobbi, but even that is- strange. Bobbi keeps seeing and sensing odd things. First some lockers seem to shut on their own, then she freezes and is completely unable to move, and then, finally, she sees a paralyzed Jennifer, in silhouette, seem to stride across her window.

This seems impossible, but she feels the need to believe her own senses. She tell Corky who thinks she's cracking, and they leave each other to sleep, both angry at the other.

"'Help me! I can't- breathe!'

She closed her eyes and covered her ears.

The roar didn't go away.

The pain didn't go away.

The roar grew louder.

Then all was silence."

The twist in this tale is that Bobbi, our lead, is the one to die. She dies, or is killed, in an incredibly gruesome fashion, drowning and being scalded to death all at once in the girl's locker room. This has always stuck in my mind as one of the creepiest and most descriptive deaths I read about in my early life. I can't say I enjoyed it, but the artistry and the writing are just so incredibly well done. To write a death that has stuck with me for well over a decade has to mean something. I always remembered this scene, was even looking forward to it in a sick kind of way.

I can't seem to remember a single other death in an R. L. Stine book, but this one sticks out so vividly, perhaps because of the twist that Bobbi was never the main character, she was never the one we were supposed to be following, and she was nothing more than a false protagonist. And something about that shattered the illusions that I had always known in my young mind. I no longer could trust the narrative or the author. I was tricked into a false sense of security. Surely nothing could happen to the lead character, nothing bad could befall that character, that would be silly.

And when something bad did befall Bobbi, I found myself a little shattered. I was shocked and upset. I didn't understand how this could happen. And I realized it could never be any better. In many ways this book introduced me to an adult narrative, a gave me a huge distrust of horror that has continued to this day.

"'Fear Street,' one of the policemen had said grimly, shaking his head. 'Fear Street...'" 

See, Corky figures it all out after Bobbi's death. She first thinks that Kimmy killed her after she noticed that she found Kimmy's pendant on the floor with Bobbi's stuff when she found Bobbi's body. but Kimmy had given the pendant to Jennifer, but poor paralyzed Jennifer couldn't-

Well, she could actually. She wasn't paralyzed. She wasn't anything. She had died in that bus accident and was possessed by the spirit of Sarah Fear... or something, it seems. Corky sees Jennifer walking, then driving, then dancing near Sarah's tomb. Corky confronts Jennifer, and after a few chapter long struggle, defeats her, leaving only a body of bones and dust behind, much to the confusion of literally everybody, police included. Although, it seems everybody knows something is wrong with Fear Street, but they're unable to do anything about it... 

The First Evil

Well, here we are, again through another R. L. Stine book. And what a great book this one is. It stood in my mind as a high point of horror in my young life, and it didn't disappoint. It is an excellent book from beginning to end. The characters are brilliant, each fleshed out in turn. The setting of the high school works well, and it is incredibly surprising just how right the details seem, even to me, who went to high school a decade after this book was released.

It is a horrifying book, one with creepy and incredibly descriptions. The deaths are so well detailed, and yet still left ambiguous, not gory exactly, but leaving a great deal to imagination. It still is a teen book, but the terror is a much older and thicker terror than that. It works so well that it has to be one of the very best R. L. Stine books out there. And I wouldn't be surprised if it is the best teenage horror book as well. 

I don't think this book will ever leave my mind. I've thought about it a lot in the years since the last time I read it, which was well over a decade ago. It is one of the few R. L. Stine books that comes back to me from time-to-time, and I have no clue why. Maybe it was because this was the first Fear Street book I read and therefore the first teen horror book I read as well? Maybe the descriptions were brilliant even to my much younger mind- or maybe it did truly scare me, and maybe it still does even today.

I can't help but recommend this book. It works so well at everything it does. It is incredibly well-written, well-paced, and well thought out. I can't think of a single negative- unless I include the slightly too quick ending and the lack of characterization of Corky. Then again... well, I know what's coming, so neither seem like huge flaws because of that.

Well, now I have a choice. Monster Blood and Cheerleaders: The Second Evil were both released in September 1992. I'm going to choose Monster Blood to review next to shake stuff up a bit, but realize that very soon we'll be hitting the sequel to the first Cheerleaders book...

Anyway, see you next time, readers.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bruckenkophf's In Depth Review of the Leviathan Crusader!

Some time back I sent Dennis over at Bruckenkopf the last release of DreamForge kits.

For those of you that don’t know, Bruckenkopf is a premier gaming site over in Germany, they host discussion and review covering all aspects of the hobby. Google translate makes quick work of the site for those of you such as myself, who barely speak our native tongue :)

Last week I sent Dennis an email, asking if he had an opportunity to review the kit, he let me know it would be up in time for the German gaming events circuits that are now making their appearance.

I just wandered over, as I am apt to do, and I was blown away by the review they posted on the Crusader. They said this would be the most comprehensive review in their history… they did not exaggerate…Over 100 pictures and a wall of text, explaining the assembly and his thoughts, good and bad on the Leviathan Crusader.
Here is what Dennis had to say in his closing remarks (translated by Google)
We strive to critical reviews, highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the kits, but at best will want nothing struck us out of the stable branches casting / part-approaches some criticism as to the weight. For the Leviathan Crusader we can now certify whether as a supplement to an existing project or as a display model / modeling project, an unqualified buy recommendation.

All I can say is wow! Strap on your google translator and have a look for yourself
Thank you Dennis for such an in depth review!

Library crawl

First idea from the making games for libraries event in London! A treasure hunt style idea called "Library Crawl"...

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Leviathan Mortis is now in plastic!

The Leviathan Mortis is now production ready! This was actually the first of the new generation of Leviathan I designed back in 2002... I still have a soft spot for the Mortis.
Unlike the old resin kits the fingers and scythe will remain completely poseable. Just like the Crusader, the Mortis is highly dynamic, arms move, legs move, waist moves.... great fun and ready for some smack down.

When will this hit retail? About 3-4 months, we hope... We will not make this available until all the Kickstarter backers have been shipped and are well on their way. Stay tuned for updates!


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Goosebumps Review: Stay Out of the Basement

Something's waiting in the dark...

Book number two of the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine is an interesting one and one that started a couple trends among these books. Stay out of the Basement was first published, like Welcome to Dead House, in July 1992. It was the first of many Goosebumps books that would feature a mad scientist and the first of many that would, in my opinion, act as a young adult homage to famous sci-fi or horror movies/books. In this case the movie this book most resembles is The Fly, either version of it, with the genetic splicing and monstrous results. Even the ending seems to pay homage to those movies, particularly the older one with Vincent Price from 1958. I'm reminded of the iconic, "Help me! Help me!" from that movie in the ending to this book.

My memories of this one are all over the place. While it was never one of my absolute favorites, my copy of this book is well read. I remember having a good time with this book even if I didn't understand the references to The Fly back when I first read it. It had a creepiness to it that not many of the Goosebumps books seemed to equal. The funny thing is, for whatever reason, I remember the television version of this book almost as much as I remember the book itself. It is quite possibly the only book I can say that about.

This book certainly hits a much higher mark than the first and improves upon almost everything from Welcome to Dead House. While it may not quite be as gory or repulsive as that book, it is quite creepy, showing a paranoia about one's parent that I have not often seen before in any other book or piece of fiction. It almost seems to have a message that could read, "If your parent is doing something really weird and creepy and wrong, maybe it really is weird and creepy and wrong."

I was always struck by the way the dad in the book acted towards his kids. And I was confused that not more was done by the kids to do something about their nearly absent parental figure. I don't know, but I kind of figure this book was trying to say something even if it never quite had the message absolutely picked out.

Reading it through today, I found it really well done. If I were scoring this one compared to last week's Welcome to Dead House this one is not only improved in almost every way- its narrative, characters, setting, situation, and creepiness- but it also drew me in much more than that first book, which was always a weak one in my memory and seemed even weaker as I read it back. While I wasn't exactly excited to read this book, it was one I knew I wouldn't have any issues with getting through. I knew it wouldn't be a slog and, mostly, I knew it wouldn't be Welcome to Dead House. Sorry, but that was a book I simply do not think is very good at all.

"The dirt was filled with dozens of moving insects. And long, brown earthworms. All crawling through the wet, black clumps that lined her father's bed."

The plot here is pretty simple. Two kids, Margaret (the lead) and Casey (her younger brother), become curious as to what their dad is doing int he basement. He had been laid off from his previous job as a university botanist and for weeks had been toiling in the basement to find a way to get his job back with some experiments with plants. Obviously he is a scientist MAD with SCIENCE. And somehow he makes a weird genetic electronic thing that splices genetic material between organisms. His DNA gets spliced into a plant and vice-versa, and the plot kicks off.

While the kids' mother is away, things start going awry with their father's experiments. He starts acting weird, seems to be becoming a plant, and warns them from going into the basement. The title is even thrown out in dialogue within the first chapter of the story, something which I have to giggle about.  Well, anyway, the kids obviously have to be curious and not listen to their dad. They snoop around, get into some trouble, suspect him of lying and being a creepy plant-man, and ultimately find out that a plant has been imitating their father- but to what end? That we don't know. A lingering question I have is why did he kidnap his boss, Mr. Martinez? And why wouldn't the police be around questioning him about the man's disappearance since it was the last known place he had been? It's a question that seems to be shrugged away, but I was wondering it as I read the book.

Anyway, the book ends with a confrontation between the kids, their two dads, and their mother to figure out which one is the real one. Plant-dad is axed down and all seems well with the world- except that a flower seems to be screaming to Margaret that he is her actual father...

Live Plants... Dead People?

I realize, too late now, that the book also seems to reference Little Shop of Horrors. Okay, I didn't realize it too late. It's an obvious reference, but the plot doesn't seem to follow that plot so much as the plot of The Fly. Again, I'm probably a little wrong for not mentioning this sooner, but it's so obvious that I realized it was a reference back when I was ten. The problem is, it's only a surface reference, with the main plot being very different indeed.

This book is creepy. No, it's not the scariest Gossebumps book I remember, but it has both aged well and works well even today, especially at bringing out the feelings of paranoia- and even more especially in regards to a parental figure. Something about that seems incredibly well done to me, and something, I suspect, that could not be done today in quite the same way, which saddens me. It's upsetting to see that fiction can be influenced by the way the world is, but it's absolutely true. This is a book that could only exist in the 1990s.

All of the characters are fleshed out. They all feel real, and seem like they could live in a real, albeit twisted, world. The kids act and seem like kids that age, both curious and a little hyperactive. The dad is a workaholic and the mother's expressions in the early parts of the book seem to say just as much about her tension as it does about what the kid's perceive. It almost hits on the idea that work could put a strain on a marriage or on a relationship- which is essentially what this book is about already. I find that both intellectually stimulating and that it is amazing these things existed in a horror book for kids. 

The setting- winter in a warm climate- worked well too, although I couldn't exactly say why. Something about a time that is supposed to be bleak being like summer creeps me out, possibly because I grew up and live in New England, where there's no such thing as a warm winter. I guess the whole humidity and warmth thing works well for me, it is exactly what a greenhouse would feel like, and it's also what this book reads like, if that makes any sense at all.

Anyway, while this is not one of the fondest remembered books of the Goosebumps library to me, it certainly works well now that I'm reading it as an adult. It is much better than Welcome to Dead House, and has excited me for more books. I mean, seriously, if a book I wasn't looking forward to made me this happy- then what will happen with the books I really am looking forward to?

So, the next book will be Goosebumps number 3-



No, actually, Monster Blood will not be next even if it will be the next Goosebumps review. See, I mentioned I was going to do R. L. Stine books in some kind of chronological order- and while I don't own all of the Fear Street books like I used to (I didn't like a good portion of them, and sold them off half a decade ago, a thing I still don't regret.), I still have some that I was incredibly fond of back when I was a younger. Actually I read them alongside of the Goosebumps  books, so I find the way I'm reviewing these appropriate.

So, instead of Monster Blood, the next review that you can expect from me will be a Fera Street book. In particular I'm going to start my Fear Street Review series (of the eleven books I'm planning on reviewing from that series) with August 1992's Cheerleaders: The First Evil.

Thoughts on Slender: The Arrival

Slender: The Arrival is the commercial version of a free game called Slender. The original was based upon a a simple concept: find eight pieces of paper before the Slenderman, a now famous creature that started out as an internet meme, gets you. I wrote a blog post about the game when it was released and as a short experiment I found it quite interesting, but wondered how one would make it into a longer experience. So when I heard a commercial version was in the works I became quite curious, and gave it a go soon after release.

My initial guess was that the game would essentially be like the original, but set in different locations. Each of these would have special collectibles, instead of the original's pages, and some form of modifiers, e.g. mud that makes movement slower. So when I launched the game, I was quite surprised to find out that it started out as an adventure game. Slender:  The Arrival began with my car having broken down somewhere in the forest; I was met by a beautifully rendered forest path, the sun was shining and there was a sense of calm. As I started walking the sky got increasingly darker and by the time I arrived at a desolate house it is almost pitch black.

This was a very simple start, but also an extremely effective one. It set up a notion of how things ought to be and gave something to contrast with later on. Part of the trick was also that I knew there would be a Slenderman, but had no idea what shape it would take. The game had planted an idea in my head and put me in a very suggestive state.

Walking around in the abandoned house, I found notes, news clippings and other things that hinted of normality. But among these were also signs that something was wrong. At first it was just some weird graffiti and the tone of some texts, but as I progressed further things got worse. Having found a flashlight and a key I came across a room filled with weird sketches. Numerous of these depicted a dark, slim figure. My hear-rate was quite rapid now. The slow pace combined with my expectations was making my imagination run wild. Approaching a window, a scream echoed through the night.

I did not want go outside, but felt that I had to. I exited the house and entered the woods. Being unsure where to go I headed in the wrong direction and became lost in the wilderness. At this point a slight distortion appeared on my screen and a vague whisper was heard. Normally, I am not very affected by horror games, but at this moment a chill literally ran down my spine. I was honestly unsure if I could continue playing the game any longer. The build-up was hitting with some force.

Eventually I found my bearings and headed in the direction of the scream. I walked through a gate and a new map loaded. I started the new map facing a canoe and some ranger cabin; the environment did not seem to fit and the house I came from were nowhere to be seen. Instantly I had a real problem with the continuity. It felt like I had been transported somewhere else entirely. Walking around I also quickly figured that I was supposed to collect eight notes scattered around the area. I had no idea why, it made no sense to my subjective narrative. All of this meant that my sense of presence took a drastic drop; a drop from which it never recovered.

The game was still spooky, but a far cry from what it had been. I managed to pick a few pages and it was not long until I got visual distortions and heard creepy sounds. I quickly understood that this was simply a mechanism for telling me when Slenderman is getting closer, and it never became very effective. Soon after I had some sightings of the creature too. It was spooky at first, but could not compare with the terror felt during the prologue. The encounters became increasingly frequent and the effect was lost. Finding the notes turned out to be tricky for me, and I found myself running in circles most of the time.

At this point my sense of presence was obliterated and the game had lost all of it horror. It is all just a mechanical and repetitive trudge.I eventually died and tried again, but never managed to to complete the level. I quickly checked some guides to make sure was not missing out on some upcoming twist, but it seemed the collect items style of gameplay remained throughout. I felt I could not really bother forcing my through the levels and gave up on the game.

Despite being let down (or rather having my predictions confirmed), my time with the game was extremely valuable. The prologue was fantastic and induced horror in way that I have not felt in a long time. While the game failed to make use of its excellent introduction, it gave me a lot to think about, providing more insights into what really makes a great horror experience.

Now follows a summary of the most important takeaways:

 - Normality Makes Immersion Easier
Most of the creepiness comes from the game featuring perfectly normal situations and locations. It is easy to draw parallels between the game's scenery and your own life experience. There is no need to figure out the world and your place in it, all that comes automatically. This makes it possible to become immersed in the atmosphere almost instantly. It also makes the game leave a certain amount of dread behind after you have finished playing.

It is worth noting that having normality can cause problems as it also sets strict assumption of how the world should work. This is mostly problematic when a game has a wide range of interaction possibilities. It often cause players think some actions ought to be possible but are not or that the world behaves in the wrong way. Slender: TA escapes this problem by limiting the interactions available.

- Flow Is Crucial
When I first entered the house in Slender: TA it was engaging to explore it; every room I visited added to the atmosphere. But once I had gone through all rooms I was unsure how to progress. This state lasted for quite a while and I just ran aimlessly around trying to figure out what to do next. It turned out I had just missed a, not very visible, flashlight and were therefore been unable to properly explore the pitch black rooms. For the five or so minutes I was stuck I was pulled out of the fantasy.

This tells me that is is of utmost importance that the player does not get lost like this, especially at the start of the game. When a game is all about atmosphere it must always be clear for the player how to continue. One must make sure the focus is to become part of the virtual world and not to figure out its rules. Slender: TA has this problem later on as well, and is an excellent example of why maintaining the flow is so important.

- Narrative Purpose Matters
When I started out the game, I felt like as part of a narrative. Sure it was not the a very complex one, "car breaks down and it starts to get dark", but it felt consistent and was easy to become immersed in. The most important aspect of this is that the player's thinking becomes centered around story elements. Happenings are not evaluated as output from a rule system, but as occurrences inside a story. This is a strong contributor to the sense of fear; for instance, sounds are not just part of some random event generator but utterances by the world that the player inhabits.

However, Slender: TA is not able to sustain this for long. The narrative reason for moving on became increasingly vague, and I soon found my self doing things simply because the game told me so. This is devastating from a horror standpoint as the world now get treated as system. The fiction is no longer the point of reference, but any event is evaluated in an abstract manner.

- HUD Can Increase Sense of Presence
It is often said that a really immersive game should get rid of any HUD elements. This is simply not true, and in many cases it is actually the opposite. Among many things, the HUD can be used to portray information impossible to display, help keep the player on track and add to the story of the game. In this game the HUD is that of a camcorder; looking at your shadow early in the game shows that the protagonist is in fact holding an actual camera. In a way this is a bit forced (why would one be recording at a time like this?) but I think it is rectified by the positive effect it has on your sense of presence. By having this filter between the world and your vision, you are never seeing anything directly; it becomes easier to accept the rendered, artificial world. By using this kind of HUD the game also emulates the feel from a shaky cam ghost/ufo/bigfoot/etc video, something which is closely tied to the mythology of the Slenderman and increases the effect further.

The camera HUD is also a great vessel for the visual effects that happen when Slenderman is near. Static noise, image tearing and chromatic aberration (where the components of a color are spread out) are all common camcorder artifacts and shaky video tropes. It is a great way to symbolize the presence of an evil being and connects the game with the surrounding fiction. In weird way, this also links the game to real-life: if you see any of these signs when filming, you will interpret them in a very different way.

Despite all the good stuff, I think the HUD is still underused. The most obvious thing to add would be some kind of navigational help. This would be a great way to fix the flow problems that were pointed out earlier. The camera HUD would also have been great for displaying story information; messages and strange images  could pop up in the HUD and give more depth to the narrative.

- Being Cute Just Ain't Worth It
The house at the beginning contains two a posters with logos of the developers. I really dislike things like this. There is no reason for these posters to be in the house apart from being an attempt at a joke - a joke that I think few appreciate. If a game wants to have  a world that the player take seriously, these type of things are horrendously out of place. They destroy the sense of disbelief and makes the player less likely to put any significance to objects found in the environment  In a game like this it is crucial to make sure of ever last detail serves a purpose and help tell something of the game's story. They should never be used to deliver some lame joke or easter egg.

Summed up, Slender: The Arrival is far from a great game and has many flaws. But it also contains some excellent things. Especially noteworthy is the the build-up, which is one of the best I have ever seen in a game, rivaling my memories of the first Silent Hill. The bad elements are also bad in a very enlightening way, which makes the game especially interesting. It is a must play for anyone interested in horror.

Official page for Slender: The Arrival

My blog post on the original free version of the game.

Information on the Slenderman.

  • It is interesting to note that part of why I found the start so frightening was because I knew some of the game's fictional aspects. This means that the way PR is made for a game can greatly influence the experience of playing it. We noticed this with Amnesia as well; some players started out very tense simply because of what they had heard about the game,
  • The counter intuitive idea that a a HUD can actually increase immersion reminds me of Metroid Prime (from 2002 on Gamecube). Here all HUD elements are displayed on your visor which sort of exist in the actual game world. This visor HUD is also used to enhance other effects  such as rain, and does so to great effect.