Review: “House Of 1000 Doors: Family Secrets” (Computer Game)

Alas, I was but a brief visitor to one of the coolest houses ever imagined.....

Alas, I was but a brief visitor to one of the coolest houses ever imagined…..

Although I bought my first hidden object game (“Millennium Secrets: Emerald Curse”, if anyone is curious) in 2012, I didn’t really rediscover this amazing genre until earlier this year when I happened to watch a very cynical review of “House Of 1000 Doors: Family Secrets” by TotalBiscuit.

And, since this was the game that indirectly got me back into hidden object games, I finally thought that I should probably check it out….

house 1000 doors 1 title screen

(Before I go any further, I should point out that this review will contain some SPOILERS. You have been warned.)

“House Of 1000 Doors: Family Secrets” is a horror/fantasy hidden object adventure game that mostly takes place in a ghostly mansion (called “The House Of 1000 Doors”) that randomly appears in different locations around the world.

You play as an uninspired writer called Kate who receives a mysterious invitation to a seance in New York. Although she is initially amazed by this, Kate quickly discovers that the seance is a hoax – but, just before she can expose it, the ghost of her grandmother (or great-grandmother?) appears and begs her to visit the house of 1000 doors.

Following the ghost’s instructions, you travel to Batlow Island at midnight and, to your surprise, the house suddenly appears right before your eyes….

I love this place already :)

I love this place already :)

One of the first things I will say about this game is that it looks amazing. The FMV videos are absolutely top-notch and all of the settings are beautifully painted too.

Seriously, this game is an absolute work of art. And, since this is a horror game – the beautiful painted settings really help to add some atmosphere to the game too:

Like this room...

Like this room…

...or this wonderfully spooky corridor in the bonus chapter.

…or this wonderfully spooky corridor in the bonus chapter.

As you might expect, the gameplay consists of exploring the house, solving item-based puzzles, mini-games and hidden object scenes. The hidden object scenes in this game are slightly more challenging than in most hidden object games, since you usually have to find 12-16 hidden objects instead of the usual 8-10.

This might be a bit confusing at first, since the game only displays the name of eight objects at a time and these are replaced with the names of other objects when you find the thing that you’re looking for.

What this means is that you’ll have to memorise the locations of a lot of things, since you have no way of knowing what the other 4-8 objects will be. In addition to this, most of the hidden object scenes feature multiple locations (eg: you have to look inside boxes, drawers etc…) too. So, this is a game for more experienced fans of the genre.

Yes, this isn't as easy as it might look.....

Yes, this isn’t as easy as it might look…..

Most of the item-based puzzles are fairly logical and can be solved with a reasonable amount of thought. The same is true for the mini-games too, although – as usual – there’s a “hint” button (and an integrated walkthrough in the collector’s edition) for the times when you get stuck.

One of the great things about “Family Secrets” is it’s length and the variety of settings on offer to you. As you explore the house, you’ll find mysterious portals to other locations (eg: a train carriage, a frozen forest, Venice and… Hampshire?) where you will have to solve a problem for a ghost that resides there in order to progress through the game.

Some of these storylines are surprisingly, and refreshingly, dark. When I saw the “12” rating on the cover of the game, I wasn’t really expecting much in the way of horror – but this game thankfully includes all sorts of wonderfully dark and macabre stories:

Yeah, you don't want to know how that blood ended up on the train window.....

Yeah, you don’t want to know how that blood ended up on the train window…..

However, there is a bit of unintentional (or intentional) dark humour in this game too. For starters, when you discover the “frozen forest” area, you’ll read a newspaper article about a sculptor who mysteriously disappeared after his wife’s death. Not very funny, right? Well, take a closer look at the man’s name:

If you're a "Game Of Thrones" fan, you'll probably be smiling right now...

If you’re a “Game Of Thrones” fan, you’ll probably be smiling right now…

And, yes, both him and his wife even look like how you would expect them to too:

Winter is coming....

Winter is coming….

Likewise, this game was obviously made by American developers who haven’t even looked at a map of England.

Since, in one part of the game, you find a book which sets out the macabre legend of Bloody Mary. And, well, I couldn’t help smiling when I noticed the words “in the village of Hampshire..” in the first sentence.

I come from Hampshire – it’s a little bit larger than a village….

Foolish developers! Hampshire is a county NOT a village!

Foolish developers! Hampshire is a county NOT a village!

Anyway, moving on to the length of the game. It’s surprisingly long for a hidden object game – seriously, it took me about two of three days of regular playing in order to complete it. And even the “bonus chapter” that comes with the collector’s edition of the game took me a good 2-3 hours to complete too.

Whilst some of this length is due to the wide variety of locations that you’ll get to explore, a fair amount of it is – as you might expect – because you’ll have to go back-and-forth between locations quite a bit. But, since the puzzles are fairly inventive and the settings look really nice, this isn’t really too much of an issue.

As for the voice-acting in this game. Well, it’s about as good as you can probably expect for an adventure game. That is to say, it’s not that brilliant.

She later asks for a "hock cup", instead of "a glass of hock". I'm not joking...

She later asks for a “hock cup”, instead of “a glass of hock”. I’m not joking…

All in all, “House Of 1000 Doors: Family Secrets” is an astonishingly good hidden object game. It’s long, it’s challenging, it’s atmospheric and – best of all – it actually works as a horror game too.

Yes, it isn’t the scariest game that I’ve ever played, but it’s wonderfully gothic, tragic and atmospheric. Seriously, if you like gothic horror and/or you like hidden object games, then check this one out….

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get five.

Today’s Art (19th October 2014)

Well, today’s painting is a “re-imagining” of a drawing I made in 2010 that ended up inspiring a dystopic sci-fi short story I wrote at the time called “Refinery Girls”. Although I have a couple of print copies of this story (and it was included in a small press anthology I worked on at the time), it’s kind of a rare story for the simple fact that I lost my only electronic copy of it in a computer crash later that year.

I’d thought of making an “ordinary” copy of the original picture (like I did in 2011), but I felt like using a slightly different perspective (with mixed results). Still, I’ll also include the previous versions of this picture in this post too.

As usual, all three pictures in this post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Refinery (III)" By C. A. Brown

“Refinery (III)” By C. A. Brown

And here are the previous versions from 2011 and 2010:

"Revinery Girls (V.2)" By C. A. Brown [10th March 2011]

“Revinery Girls (V.2)” By C. A. Brown [10th March 2011]

"Refinery Girls" By C. A. Brown [12th March 2010]

“Refinery Girls” By C. A. Brown [12th March 2010]

Thriller Fiction Is A Smarter Genre Than You Might Think

2014 Artwork Smart Thriller Fiction sketch

If you haven’t really read many thriller novels, then it can be easy to assume that it’s a “dumb” genre. After all, it’s the genre with all of the gunfights, car chases and short chapters. So, obviously not that much of an intelligent genre, right?

Wrong.

Yes, thriller fiction isn’t exactly Albert Camus (although Camus’ “The Stranger” is written in the kind of minimalist style that thriller novels often use) or anything like that, but don’t be so quick to write it off as a “dumb” genre.

Yes, there are formulaic, militaristic “conservative” thriller novels out there but these don’t really represent the genre as a whole.

You see, thriller fiction actually developed as an offshoot of the detective genre – and this can be seen most clearly in early thriller novels like John Buchan’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps” (where a man is framed for murder and has to find the real culprit, before the police find him).

But, even most modern thriller novels involve the narrator and/or protagonist having to solve a mystery of some kind or another. This is because coming up with a suitably intriguing mystery is one of the most effective ways to make your readers want to read more and read as quickly as possible.

Not only that, this also means that the main character of a thriller novel is usually a “detective” of some kind of another. In other words, they have to be someone who is smart enough to solve a crime or a mystery of some kind.

In other words, whilst action movies might do well with macho Arnold Schwarzenegger-like protagonists with an average IQ of 80, the average thriller novel protagonist is more likely to be slightly more of an “ordinary” kind of person, with a slightly higher-than-average IQ.

Yes, they might be ex-military (like in Lee Child’s thriller novels) or possibly have lots of academic qualifications (like in Dan Brown’s thriller novels), but they won’t usually be superhuman action heroes of any kind.

Usually, the main character of a thriller novel is pretty much alone too (or, at the very least, he or she only has a very small team of supporters) in order to increase the level of suspense in the novel too.

What this also means is that whilst the narrator might have to rely on their fists and/or their guns when faced with overwhelming adversity, they’re a lot more likely to rely on their wits and cunning to get out of tough situations.

So, yes, in most thriller novels, the protagonist’s brains are more important than their muscles.

And, yes, there are valid storytelling reasons for doing this. Whilst it might be dramatic and spectacular the first time that a thriller novel protagonist fights off a horde of bad guys with her fists and a large rifle, it gets kind of boring the fifth time that it happens.

However, showing the main character outwitting their enemies in lots of different ways adds a lot more variety to the story. Plus, it’s also a lot more satisfying because it sets up a “David and Goliath” kind of storyline, where the “underdog” always wins.

And, yes, at heart, a good thriller novel protagonist is an underdog – they’re a rebel, an outsider and an outcast. Not only is thriller fiction a more intelligent genre than you might think, it’s also a more subversive genre than you might think.

Even when the main character is a soldier, a cop or a spy – then they’re usually not completely liked or trusted by the “establishment” that they serve. They’re likely to break the rules in order to save the day and they might not even fully agree with everyone in the organisations that they work for.

And, let’s face it, people love an underdog. Why? Because there isn’t a person on this planet who hasn’t felt like they were an underdog at some point in their lives. And, well, underdogs are just more interesting than extremely conservative “ordinary” good guys too.

So, yes, the thriller genre is a surprisingly smart, and subversive, genre.

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting :)

Review: “Doctor Who – Flatline” (TV Show Episode)

2014 Artwork Doctor Who Flatline Review sketch

I’ve just finished watching the latest episode of “Doctor Who” – so, I thought that I’d review it.

Sorry in advance about the badly-written plot summary this week (I’m fairly tired at the moment and, as such, my plot summary really doesn’t do this excellent episode justice). Since the summary is quite long and rambling, I’ll mark where it begins and ends, in case you want to skip it.

As I say every week, I’m not sure how many episodes of this series I’ll get round to reviewing (or even how promptly I’ll be able to review them) but I’ll try to look at as many as possible.

Before I go any further, I should also point out that this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS. You have been warned.

—Plot summary begins —-

“Flatline” begins with a man frantically calling the police to report an intruder in his house. However, before he can finish his call he is mysteriously sucked into the floor and – a few seconds later, his face appears on the wall – distorted and screaming.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara are returning from another adventure when – due to some mysterious malfunction, the TARDIS ends up landing in Bristol rather than in London (yes, it’s a “Doctor Who” episode that doesn’t take place in London – what a delightful rarity!).

Not only that, Clara quickly notices that the TARDIS door is smaller than usual. They leave the TARDIS, only to find themselves standing beside an abandoned train station and a metre-tall version of the TARDIS. Puzzled by this, the Doctor asks Clara to investigate whilst he climbs back inside the TARDIS to repair it.

Clara walks away and quickly finds a memorial at the entrance to a nearby underpass. Whilst she is looking at it, some guys on community service nearby make comments about her, until one of them (a graffiti artist called Rigsy) tells them that she’s mourning and that they should leave her be. He then goes over to Clara to apologise, but is surprised when she starts asking him questions about the memorial.

He gestures towards the underpass, and the walls are lined with images of people facing away. Each one of these people has died recently under mysterious circumstances and, according to Rigsy, the police are doing nothing about it. When Clara returns to the abandoned train station to tell the Doctor about this, she can’t find the TARDIS anywhere – until she notices that it has shrunk to about six inches in height, since something is mysteriously draining power from it.

The Doctor is still his normal size though (due to the TARDIS being bigger on the inside, obviously) and he hands Clara his sonic screwdriver, psychic paper and an earpiece that allows him to both communicate with her and see what she is seeing. He also tells her that, to all intents and purposes, she is the Doctor until he can get the TARDIS back to it’s correct size. She puts the TARDIS in her handbag and keeps investigating.

A while later, Clara meets up with Rigsy again and he shows her the house of a man who recently died mysteriously, but they can’t really find anything there. A while later, Clara uses the psychic paper to enlist the help of a police officer called PC Forest (by pretending to be from MI5) and they, along with Rigsy, investistigate another house.

The Doctor theorises that whatever killed the people must be hiding in the walls and he hands Clara a sledgehammer through the TARDIS doors. By this point, PC Forest has gone into another room to investigate, when the walls start shifting and distorting strangely. She calls out for help but, a few seconds later, she starts melting into the floor. When Clara and Rigsy run into the room, she is completely gone.

A few seconds later, they notice a mysterious painting on the wall. It looks like a diagram of the human nervous system – it is then that the Doctor finally realises what is going on. The creatures that have been killing people come from another plane where things can only exist in two dimensions and that they have recently discovered our three-dimensional world.

Needless to say, a few seconds later, the creatures attack again and Clara and Rigsy barely escape from the house with their lives (and the TARDIS). They return to the underpass, where Rigsy’s miserable boss starts reading him the riot act for being late for his community service. Not only that, he isn’t fooled by Clara’s psychic paper (due to the fact that he possesses no imagination whatsoever).

He is about to call the police when one of the other community service workers in the underpass is suddenly sucked into the wall. Terrified, everyone runs into a nearby abandoned train depot and the Doctor tells Clara that she is the only one who can save these people from the two-dimensional creatures.

What follows next is a long and suspenseful chase through the underground train tunnels beneath Bristol. By this point, the creatures have also learnt how to exist in three dimensions as glitchy, distorted zombified versions of the people they’ve killed.

Along the way, everyone except Clara, The Doctor, Rigsy, Rigsy’s miserable boss and a train driver that they meet (after failing to ram the zombies with a train), is killed by the creatures.

Finally, Clara, Rigsy and The Doctor are able to find a way to trick the creatures into restoring power to the TARDIS – returning it to it’s normal size and allowing the Doctor to leave it.

Staring at the zombie-like creatures, the Doctor waves his sonic screwdriver like a magic wand, tells the creatures never to return to our plane of existence, names them (although I didn’t quite hear the name properly when I was watching the episode) and then banishes them.

—- Plot summary ends—

One of the first things I will say about “Flatline” is that I was pleasantly surprised by it.

From the trailer at the end of last week’s episode and from the plot description on the BBC website, I expected it to be a “bottle episode” of some kind. Kind of like that really crappy episode with the ‘adipose’ creatures (and guest-starring Peter Kay) from a few series ago. Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

This episode is excellent!

In fact, it’s an even better horror episode than last week’s episode was. Although I haven’t really done it justice in my plot summary, this episode is genuinely creepy.

Yes, you heard me correctly – it’s an episode of “Doctor Who” that is actually scary. One of the things that makes this episode so brilliantly chilling is the fact that we never get to learn too much about the two-dimensional monsters in it.

Whilst it’s shown that they are experimenting on people (eg: by studying PC Forest’s nervous system), the Doctor initially assumes that they’re making an innocent mistake and don’t realise that we are sentient.

However, by the end of the episode, he has assumed that the monsters’ intentions are far more malevolent…. but he still isn’t sure exactly why they’re killing people, or whether they’re just exploring our dimension or trying to invade it. This ambiguity and uncertainty really adds a lot to the chilling atmosphere of the episode.

Plus, there’s the fact that we never actually get to really see the monsters’ true form. Although, thanks to some brilliant CG effects, we get to see them moving through our dimension and we also get to see their hesitant first attempts at taking human form (as both a giant hand that mysteriously grabs someone from nowhere and as a a group of genuinely creepy zombie-like creatures that look like glitchy holograms), we don’t really get to see what they actually look like. And this alone makes the episode about twice as mysterious and creepy.

In addition to all of this, the acting and writing in “Flatline” is absolutely superb. Not only is the chemistry between the Doctor and Clara a lot better than it was earlier in this series (eg: they aren’t arguing with each other every five minutes), but Clara is also absolutely brilliant when she finally has a chance to be the main character for once. The Doctor, on the other hand, makes a hilariously terrible companion though.

Still, the fact that this episode actually inverted the whole “Doctor & Companion” thing is really cool and it was refreshing to see a change in emphasis for a while.

I don’t know why, but making Clara the main character really gave the episode a totally different quality and atmosphere (eg: a slightly more “realistic” one) and it worked really well. Seriously, after this episode, Clara deserves her own spin-off series.

The set design and settings in this episode are fairly good too. Although most of it is just set in an “ordinary” version of Bristol, it’s great to finally see that the Doctor’s adventures in modern Britain can actually take place in cities that aren’t London.

Yes, it’s our capital city, but it gets boring seeing it again and again in almost every episode of the show set in modern Britain. So, I’d like to congratulate the BBC and the Doctor for finally stepping outside of the M25 for once. Well done, keep up the good work! :)

Plus, the underground train tunnels near the end of the episode are brilliantly claustrophobic, dark and creepy too. Seriously, as settings for a horror-based episode go, you can’t beat underground train tunnels. They also reminded me of a lot of a brilliantly creepy horror novel I read when I was a teenager called “Domain” by James Herbert.

All in all, this review probably hasn’t done this episode justice. As I said, I’m kind of tired at the time of writing it. But, if you want to watch a genuinely disturbing and creepy episode of “Doctor Who” (with some excellent writing, special effects and acting), then you can’t go wrong with “Flatline”. Seriously, it’s a great episode.

If I had to give “Flatline” a rating out of five, then it would get a solid five.

Descriptions – Less Is More

2014 Artwork Descriptions less is more sketch

Although I’ve already written about the classic “show, don’t tell” rule for writing fiction, I thought that I’d take a deeper look at how to write good descriptions today.

You see, one of the problems that both new and out-of-practice writers can have is that we tend to over-describe things sometimes. We use four or five words of flowery prose, when we should only use one or two at the most.

I can’t speak for everyone but I think that, to some degree, this problem comes from the British education system. I can’t speak for anyone else, but on the rare occasions that I had creative writing assignments at secondary school and in exams, you always got more marks for flowery over-descriptive prose. You know, the sort of purple prose that would make most actual readers cringe.

Of course, having had a lot more writing education after this, I should probably know better by now. But, since I’ve been out of practice until recently, this old habit seems to have crept back into my writing and I’ve produced things like this:

“A vast, unsteady tower stretches up into the deep grey clouds above.

Whilst this sentence is by no means the worst example of an over-written description in my recent writing, it’s useful as an example because of the redundant descriptions in it.

For starters, if the tower stretches up into the clouds, then we already know that it is “vast”. So, this word should probably go.

Likewise, if the tower stretches “up” (as towers generally do) – do we also need to know that the clouds are above the narrator?

You see, redundant descriptions can creep into a sentence very easily – especially if you’re trying to write something “serious” or “atmospheric”. So, watch out for them.

The other thing to remember with writing descriptions is, as I’ve said in the title of this article, less is often more. Yes, it might seem slightly counter-intuitive when you’re actually writing a story, but keeping your descriptions fairly low-key can actually improve your story.

Why? Because your readers have imaginations and they want to use them.

If you only provide a few key details in your description, then your readers’ imaginations will fill in the gaps and create something which is probably much more interesting than the thing you were thinking of when you were writing.

Yes, you still need to use descriptions in your story so that people know what is happening and have a vague idea of what everything looks like, but just keep your descriptions to the most important things.

For example, writing “He was a tall man, wearing a faded beige fedora and a long trenchcoat. A few flecks of pale stubble clung to his thick lantern jaw.” is a bit excessive.

You could easily trim it down to “He was a tall, bold man in a beige fedora and trenchcoat” and your readers will probably still imagine pretty much the same character, the only difference will be that your readers will have to use their imaginations slightly more. And they will thank you for it.

——–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)