The Art of Scary

Check out my latest article at COG Connected – The Anatomy of a Terrifying & Horrific Video Game

It’s about the principles of horror and how to apply them when making a video game. Or any work of horror.

Advertisements

Bronze Age Beauty – The Talos Priniciple

Here is a copy of my PS4 Videogame review over at COGConnected:

http://cogconnected.com/review/the-talos-principle-deluxe-edition-review/

In a creative leap as big as the one Naughty Dog made when they expanded their horizons from the platforming games of Jak & Dexter to the more cinematic and narrative driven Uncharted franchise, game developer Croteam has made a similar leap up from their Serious Sam shooters to the puzzle / adventure game titled, “The Talos Principle.”

Talos in Greek mythology is the Man Of Bronze. If you have ever caught the 1963 stop motion Ray Harryhausen classic fantasy flick – Jason And The Argonauts – then you know in Greek mythology he is a gigantic bronze statue. In the movie he guarded the treasure island of the gods and seemed an undefeatable foe. Yet, Jason discovered that Talos could be defeated, not by brute force but rather by brains. Seems old Talos had an Achilles Heel, if you will, and Jason used that fact to defeat him.

Croteam has pulled off that rare feat of crafting a game that engages you not only with it’s gameplay but pulls you in with the mystery of the story. Where did this world come from? What happened to its builders?  Why are Artificial Intelligences(AIs) being created to search out and solve the puzzles left behind?

Others reviewers have noted that Talos feels like a mix of Myst and Portal and I wholeheartedly concur. Talos feels like a marriage of those two games capturing the best qualities of both. There is a sense of wonder and awe, tinged with sorrow, as you wander through ruined levels that use elements of Greek / Roman / Egyptian architecture but you realize they are recreations – some form of holographic projections as you see, and hear, glitches in the environment. Sometimes glitches in the system even let you see ghostly afterimages of your predecessors! Along with the terminals you access, there are robotic sentry drones and light powered door locks. The past and future clash to create very intriguing environments and a compelling game playing atmosphere.

______________________________

“Croteam has borrowed from the gods and used not only Greek Mythology but dashes of other ancient cultures such as the Egyptians and Stephen King’s – The Dark Tower to fashion a very engaging game.” 

You play the game as an AI – just one in a long line of previous units – resurrected by a God-voice deity known as Elohim. He has sent you out to discover the secrets and solve the mysteries of the world. It appears you are in the world’s ultimate Alexandrian library where collecting sets of Tetris shaped sigils allows you to open up more levels and access tools such as light beam connectors, blocks, fans, and other items that you need to solve the more progressively difficult puzzles. Along the way you find bar code signs that turn out to be messages left by fellow AIs. You even get to leave your own such messages!  Seems Elohim has sent out many AIs like yourself on a similar quest. This bit of knowledge and the edict that you avoid the Tower cause you to question Elohim’s motivations. And his sanity.

When I first started up the game on the PS4, my initial impression of the game was not good. There was a horrible visual glitch that caused the game to stutter badly when looking around. Turned out this was due to a ‘Snap To Horizon,” option under the visuals for menu. Turned that off and voila! – the game’s graphics become liquid smooth. Not sure why anyone would want this option turned on. It’s a horrible game immersion breaker. The game runs at 1080p and 60FPS. If there are any frame drops they are unnoticeable or happen during transitional moments and so have no game playing impact.

The Talos Principle_Road to Gehenna - Screen 8

Croteam have used the Serious Engine 4 to great impact with this game. The visuals and the lighting, especially, are fantastic. No doubt the fact that game playing world is a series of ruined structures – based on a series of assets that can be cleverly reconfigured and reused over and over – has helped Croteam hit the hot button resolutions and frame rates. The game engine is able to utilize high res textures which really make the ruins looks authentic via weathering effects.

Another big plus is on the audio side of things. As appropriate, each world contains ambient noise, wind, glitch noises, and crickets. OK, maybe a bit too much with the crickets. The sound effects really help make the various worlds come to life. Also, very appropriate is the game soundtrack which evokes imagery of Greek Gods and mythology with its choral anthems mixed with harps. It really helps inspire the proper feelings. Also impressive are the looping segments during level play that are repeated but never irritate.

Talos Principle_The Road to Gehenna - Screen 1

The PS4 version also includes the DLC content – The Road To Gehenna – aka – The Road To Hell. With over a 120 puzzles in this package, that’s a lot of bang for your game playing buck. The balance they have attained with all aspects of this game is a showcase of their various talents. The gameplay, visuals, audio, game atmosphere, and storytelling form a joyous, orchestral experience for game players.

Action junkies will probably come away underwhelmed but if you are looking for a change of pace in your game playing regime this thoughtful, Carl Sagan Cosmos-like experience is a wonderful candidate to consider. Naughty Dog went on from “Uncharted,” to create the masterpiece, “The Last Of Us.” Will Croteam follow a similar evolving game creation path? I’m keeping my fingers crossed and can’t wait to see what they have next in their pipeline.

***A PS4 review code was provided by the Publisher**

The Good

• Wonderfully realized world
• Clever puzzles
• Engrossing story

The Bad

• Why are there so many damn crickets?
• Some puzzles are insane!
• Did I mention the crickets

Slow Spring

Spring continues to snooze.  Third week of April and finally the snow has begun to recede.  Most of it was lost due to overnight/early morning rain late in the week.

Now the outdoors look like a great sandstorm has blown through.  Gritty streets and sidewalks bear witness to the amount of sand that is used during the winter months.  Soon the street and sidewalk cleaners will be out gathering it all up for reuse next year.

~~~

Not much new on the TV front. Still processing the conclusion of Spartacus.  It’s been a while that a show has engaged that emotionally and just been pure entertaining from start to finish.  What a great cast of memorable characters.

Been watching the latest superhero show – Arrow – in big gulps.  The show moves quickly and is not afraid to shake things up.  The cast is uniformly good.

I don’t feel the show has adequately explained Oliver Queen’s modus operandi with him dispatching the bad guys with arrows.  If the focus was kept squarely on the names in his book hit list – after giving the victim of the week a chance first to turn themselves in – it would be more palatable.

The problem is the bulk of his dispatching occurs with the hired hands.  Yeah they are bad guys but Queen never gives these red shirts the same consideration that he gives to the named offenders.  A bit of a conundrum the show just skates around.

The real delight has been in the guest casting the show has pulled off.  Actors such as Seth Gabel from Fringe, Manu Bennett as Craxus from Spartacus, James Callis and Rekha Sharma from Battlestar Galactica, and Ben Browder from Farscape.  None of them get a real chance to develop their characters as its usually a one and done deal. The exception has been Manu who has had a recurring role playing an Australian Secret Service Agent – Slade Wilson in flashbacks from Queen’s time on the island where he was shipwrecked for 5 years.

~~~

Been reading self published author Hugh Howey’s Wool which hit a chord with readers where it was available as an e-book in the Amazon store.  From there it has been picked up by a traditional publisher and sold in paperback.  Howey is on the vanguard of a new publishing path that is now possible with the continuing rise of eBooks which bypass traditional methods.

It’s still takes a lot of luck to get a book published and noticed that way and you have to have the skills to back it all up.  So far from the reading I have done of Wool,  Howey has proven himself to be able to let his work speak for himself.  The book is well written, technically and artistically.  It’s a page turner peopled with engaging characters all taking part in a bigger story that has interesting twists.  Some characters, especially the bad guys, are a little two dimensional but there have been traditionally published books with far worse examples.

Wool is an enjoyable and entertaining read which I highly recommend if you like dystopian/mystery/thriller types of stories.

~~~

Went to my second meeting of the Edmonton Writer’s Group and have been enjoying myself.  It is very interesting to listen to other people’s feedback from the same story.  Opinions vary widely and I am constantly amazed at the differing reactions to story points that I either had no problem with or even considered.

It’s also evident that there is a great support structure here as the group keeps each other apprised of upcoming writer/book events.  It is also been helpful from a motivational perspective too.  Glad I checked it and I will continue to attend.  One more meeting and I will be considered a full time member.

Does that mean I earn my first letter?

Red Planet Blues / Green Planet Glory

On Tuesday, April 3rd I went to Audrey’s Book Store in downtown Edmonton to see SF Writer – Robert J. Sawyer do a reading from his new book – Red Planet Blues – a mystery noir set on Mars.  I haven’t been able to attend on of Rob’s readings since we moved out west so it was a real treat to see and hear him again.
We chatted for a few moments – he actually remembered who I was! – and compared notes as to what we had been up to lately.  His reading was excellent.  Quite funny in fact.  Rob joked around that he had learned that the best way to entice readers was to make sure his reading selection included nudity and action.  I thought he was just kibitzing with the audience but Rob was telling the truth. His reading contained both and a lot of humor too.
There was a question period afterwards which was interesting. His nex project is based on, ‘The Psychomatic Zombie.’  Sounds like Rob is trying to tap into the serial killer/zombie craze.  Fascinating stuff.
I have his latest book on my To Be Read pile.
RJS entertains with his reading.

~~~

So we went west for Easter Weekend and stayed at an inn in Lake Louise.  The trip was gorgeous and the roads were practically deserted.  The first shot below is typical of the both scenery and traffic.

If you scroll back to my previous post you can see what Lake Louise looks like in the summer.  This is what it looks like in the winter.  Truly gorgeous.
We ate very well – too well for me, I felt like the 10 pounds I have lost since the start of the year all came back that weekend.
A splendid time was had by all and we plan to visit Jasper in the summer.
~~~
Off to my first writer’s group meeting with the Edmonton Writing Group tonight.  They meet twice a month and do group reviews of each other’s writing.  Looking forward to hanging out with some other writers and sharing thoughts and feedback.

Easter Getaway

So having moved out west to Alberta in 2012, one of the allures was being able to head to the hills for quick vacations.  Big hills ie The Rockies.

Last year we made it to Banff and this weekend we are heading to Lake Louise.  Pictures of it look gorgeous such as:

Seeing it in person should be a stunning experience.

Another trip we plan to do this year is to go to Jasper and see the glacier field.

~~~
In the near two years we have moved from Ontario to Alberta things have been going very well.  Our son’s school marks have improved drastically as has his attitude about school.  We are ecstatic on that front.  On the home front, we are mortgage free and very happy with our living space.  Finally, on the job front since moving out here, my wages have increased by almost a quarter. Very nice. Even better, the work is interesting and my work team is composed of a great bunch of guys to work.  The clients are also an excellent bunch.
It’s been win, win, all around.
~~~
Things are on the writing front are pretty well stalled.  The mantra is to write everyday but without a mapped out story, I find such advice impractical.  It’s not for a lack of ideas but for me the stumbling block is creating interesting characters to dramatize those ideas.  And that process always takes time for me.