Review: “House Of 1000 Doors: The Palm Of Zoroaster” (Computer Game)

2014 Artwork House Of 1000 Doors the palm of zoroaster review

Well, after I enjoyed the first “House Of 1000 Doors” game recently, I thought that I’d take a look at the second one today (especially since I got both games in a fairly inexpensive “Hidden Mystery Collectives” double-pack).

Before I begin, I should probably point out that this is a review of the collector’s edition of the game – which contains an extra bonus chapter.

If you haven’t played the first “House Of 1000 Doors” game, then this isn’t really a huge issue. Although there are a few recurring characters in this game, it’s pretty much a self-contained game that can be enjoyed on it’s own. But, in this review, I’ll probably be comparing it to the previous game quite a bit.

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “House Of 1000 Doors: The Palm Of Zoroaster”:

title screen

One again, you play as Kate, a bestselling author who is fascinated by the paranormal. When driving through rural New Jersey a year after the events of the first game, a mysterious fire breaks out in the woods around her car and causes her to crash.

When she wakes up unharmed, she finds that she’s crashed near the latest location of the House Of 1000 Doors – a mysterious ghostly mansion that appears around the world at random intervals.

After she makes her way back to the house, she learns from it’s inhabitants that the mysterious fires started in the house and that they are somehow connected to a series of paintings that recently appeared in one of the hallways.

Each of these paintings is actually a portal to a different location and/or time in history and it is up to Kate to enter them and get to the bottom of this mystery…..

Ah, I've missed this place..

Ah, I’ve missed this place..

One of the first things I will say about this game is that you don’t really get to explore the house anywhere near as much as you do in the first game. Literally, you can walk around the gardens and look at about five or six rooms and that’s it.

Yes, you get to visit some other interesting locations too (eg: Tibet, India, Jerusalem, Madagascar and – in the bonus chapter- Viking-era Scandinavia), but the first game had this feature too and also allowed you to explore quite a bit of the house as well.

With the exception of the bonus chapter, the scenes which take place in other locations are relatively short and they only consist of 5-8 different areas. But, saying that, the locations are fairly varied and they all look absolutely spectacular:

Yes, this game has pyramids in it :)

Yes, this game has pyramids in it :)

So, this game feels a little bit shorter than it’s predecessor. But, as I mentioned earlier, the bonus chapter is a lot longer than most bonus chapters in Hidden Object Games are.

Although the pirate-themed “Madagascar” level is pretty cool, my favourite chapter was probably the bonus chapter (which is unlocked once you complete the main game).

Not only is it about twice the length of the other chapters, it’s also set in Viking times. Seriously, this is one of the few games I’ve ever played that has managed to include both pirates and vikings in the same game:

Arrr... there be pirates here!

Arrr… there be pirates here!

And, by thunder, Vikings too!

And, by thunder, Vikings too!

Another new feature which makes the game feel a bit shorter is that you now have a map screen which allows you to jump between locations.

Whilst this eliminates a lot of the back-and-forth gameplay which could sometimes get mildly tedious in the first game, it also means that you can get through this game a lot more quickly than the previous one. So, I kind of have fairly mixed views about this new feature.

Convenient streamlined gameplay or annoying game-shortening feature?

Convenient streamlined gameplay or annoying game-shortening feature?

As for the gameplay, it’s fairly similar to the previous game – you explore various locations and solve object-based puzzles, mini-games and hidden object scenes.

Like in the previous game, you have to find fifteen or sixteen hidden objects in each hidden object scene, but only eight are displayed at the bottom of the screen at any one time.

Yes, there are more things to find here than you might think.....

Yes, there are more things to find here than you might think…..

So, you have to memorise the location of notable objects because you might have to come back to them a few minutes later when they appear at the bottom of the screen. Likewise, most of the hidden object scenes also have another location (eg: inside an aeroplane, inside a chest etc…) that you also have to search too. What this means is that this is a game for more experienced Hidden Object gamers.

But, as always, if you get stuck in any part of the game, there is always the “hint” button in the bottom corner of the screen. One cool feature about this game (at least on the “casual” difficulty setting) is that the hint button only takes about thirty seconds to recharge. Plus, if you get really stuck, then the collector’s edition of the game also comes with a built-in walkthrough guide that you can consult in-game too.

One minor criticism I have of “The Palm Of Zoroaster” is that it’s less atmospheric than it’s predecessor. Whilst the first game was a rather gloomy and tragic gothic horror game, there’s a lot less horror and gloom here. Although there are a few ghosts, skeletons and mysterious historical accounts of people spontaneously combusting, it doesn’t really have the Victorian gloom that the first game did.

Alas, most of the game doesn't look like this....

Alas, most of the game doesn’t look like this….

Like with the previous game, the voice-acting in “The Palm Of Zoroaster” isn’t that amazing either. Ok, it isn’t completely terrible, but it’s not exactly brilliant either. Plus, it’s fairly obvious that at least one or two recurring characters are being voiced by different voice actors too.

Still, some of the dialogue is kind of random though.

Still, some of the dialogue is kind of random though.

All in all, although I slightly preferred the first game in the series to this one, “House Of 1000 Doors: The Palm Of Zoroaster” is still a surprisingly good hidden object game.

The difficulty level is hard enough to be challenging but never impossibly difficult (in the way that most “traditional” point and click games are), the art is absolutely spectacular and there’s a good variety of locations on offer. Yes, it isn’t a horror game, but if you’re a fan of hidden object games, then it is certainly worth checking out.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would get four and a half.

Basic Tips For Painting Silhouette Landscapes

2014 Artwork Silhouette Landscape Article sketch

As regular readers of my blog will probably know, I’ve recently been experimenting with painting silhouette landscapes (after seeing an excellent example of one in this Will Terell video). So, I thought that I’d talk briefly about this type of painting today.

In case you’ve never heard of silhouette landscapes before, then they’re pretty much what you expect them to be and they look a bit like this:

"Grimehaven Pier" By C. A. Brown

“Grimehaven Pier” By C. A. Brown

As well as being inspired by Will Terell’s video, I also got interested in silhouette landscapes because they seemed like a quick and easy way to paint an interesting landscape, since most of the details of the painting are left to the audience’s imaginations. And, yes, in some ways it’s an easier way of painting landscapes but in some ways it isn’t.

The first thing to remember with silhouette landscapes is that composition is even more important than ever. Since you’ll only be relying on the outlines of things in order to get visual information across to your audience, where everything is placed is slightly more important than it usually is in a “traditional” landscape painting.

The best approach I’ve found to making silhouette landscapes (I use watercolour pencils, although this should probably work for “ordinary” watercolours and other types of paint and/or pencils) is to start by sketching your picture in the same way as you would sketch an “ordinary” landscape.

Although the outlines of everything are the only important part of the painting, sketching everything helps you to get a sense of what those outlines should look like and a chance to see whether your landscape will actually work well in silhouette or whether you should just turn this painting into an “ordinary” landscape instead.

Once you’ve made your sketch, it’s just a simple matter of filling in everything in the foreground with black paint and waiting for it to dry.

Whilst this might not be an issue with other types of paint, if you’re using watercolours or watercolour pencils then it’s especially important that you wait until the black paint has dried because two different colours of wet watercolour paint will blend into each other in all sorts of strange ways when they’re next to each other.

Whilst this is great for producing interesting “wet in wet” effects, it isn’t particularly great when you’re trying to paint sharp, crisp outlines of things. So, wait for the paint to dry before doing anything else.

Anyway, after the black paint has dried, it’s just a case of finding a good colour (or combination of colours) for the background and then adding it. It’s that simple.

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Sorry for the astonishingly short and ridiculously basic article, but I hope it was useful :)

Today’s Art (22nd October 2014)

Well, since I couldn’t think of a new idea for a painting for today, I planned to make a copy of this old Rembrandt painting called “Scholar At His Writing Table”. But, fairly soon after I started, I realised that the man in the painting looked a little bit like G. R. R. Martin. In case anyone is puzzled by the dialogue, G. R. R. Martin isn’t exactly famed for writing quickly

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Apologies To Rembrandt And Martin" By C. A. Brown

“Apologies To Rembrandt And Martin” By C. A. Brown

Writing Splatterpunk Horror Fiction

2014 Artwork Writing splatterpunk sketch

I can’t believe that this blog has been going for over a year and a half and I still haven’t written a proper article about writing splatterpunk horror fiction.

(Note: before I go any further, I should point out that whilst I’ll try to keep disturbing descriptions to a minimum in this article, this is an article about gruesome horror fiction – so reader discretion is advised.)

Although I don’t seem to have written much in the way of horror fiction over the past few years, my first writing-based ambition was to be a splatterpunk writer. In fact, if it wasn’t for rebelliously reading lots of second-hand splatterpunk novels when I was a young teenager, I’d have probably never really become interested in writing.

So, what is splatterpunk? Put simply, splatterpunk is a sub-genre of horror fiction that was at it’s most popular in the 80s and 90s. In general, splatterpunk fiction is horror fiction that focuses on being as gory, shocking and grotesque as possible.

Seriously, if your idea of a “shocking” horror novel is something by Stephen King, then splatterpunk isn’t for you. Likewise, if you were one of the people who fainted during a screening of “Saw III”, then it isn’t for you either.

Yes, because (in the UK and the US at least) there is thankfully little to no censorship of literature, a good splatterpunk novel from the 80s or 90s can easily be far more gruesome than most modern “extreme” horror movies are.

Seriously, a faithful film adaptation of the very first splatterpunk novel I ever read – Shaun Hutson’s “Assassin” – would probably still be banned even today.

If you’re totally new to splatterpunk fiction, here are a few other books which are worth checking out: “The Books Of Blood” by Clive Barker, “The Rats” by James Herbert, “Exquisite Corpse” by Poppy Z. Brite, “Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig and “Slicer” by Garth Marenghi.

So, how do you write it?

Well, first of all, you need to read enough of it in order to get a good sense of which description style that you like. Although splatterpunk novels thankfully aren’t literary fiction, the gory parts of these novels are usually described in a way that would put most literary novelists to shame.

Yes, writing splatterpunk is an art form – but with blood instead of paint. And, like any art form, different writers have slightly different descriptive “styles” when it comes to describing these scenes.

For example, Shaun Hutson tends to go for a slightly more “matter-of-fact” and “medical” descriptive style and he’ll sometimes use the Latin names for various parts of the body. The scapula bone and vitreous humour are his favourite parts of the body to describe, if I remember rightly.

Whereas, Clive Barker uses a slightly more metaphorical style in the gruesome parts of his splatterpunk stories, like this (fairly tame) example from volume one of “The Books Of Blood”: ‘Mahogany felt the blade in his neck as a choking sensation, almost as though he had caught a chicken bone in the throat. He made a ridiculous half-hearted coughing sound. Blood issued from his lips, painting them, like lipstick on a woman’s mouth‘.

So, read a lot of splatterpunk novels to get a sense of which descriptive style (or which combination of styles) seems best to you and then use it.

Secondly, you need to have a good understanding of pacing. Although the main feature of splatterpunk fiction is the gory descriptions, you can’t just fill literally every page of your story with blood and guts and say that you’ve written a good splatterpunk novel.

Like with using profanity in fiction, every time you show something gruesome in your story, subsequent gruesome scenes will lose a little bit of their dramatic impact. So, place the gruesome scenes in your story carefully.

If you want a great example of masterful splatterpunk pacing, then check out a novel called “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami. It only contains one gory scene – which is probably slightly tame by splatterpunk standards.

But it feels about ten times more shocking than similar scenes in other splatterpunk novels because Murakami spends almost the entire novel building up to this one scene.

Finally, you need to have a good imagination. Or rather, you need to have a fairly twisted imagination that can create new horrors that will shock even the most cynical and jaded splatterpunk fans.

Yes, splatterpunk fiction might not seem like a hotbed of originality and creative thought, but it takes more effort than you might think to shock fans of the genre. And, yes, these will be the people who will be reading your splatterpunk story.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

Today’s Art (21st October 2014)

Well, I’m still trying out this new watercolour paper at the moment. So, I thought that I’d try to make something a bit more “traditional” today. Originally, this was just going to be an “ordinary” vase, but that seemed kind of boring, so I decided to give it more of an ancient Greek/Egyptian kind of look instead.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Souvenier" By C. A. Brown

“Souvenier” By C. A. Brown

Humour As A Perspective

2014 Artwork humour as a perspective

Although this is a short article (because I’ve got to watch something on TV in about fifty minutes) that is meant to help you write comedy fiction, make funny comics etc… I’ll probably be spending a fair amount of it talking about my own writing and art.

No, I’m not – to use one of Rowan Atkinson’s brilliant rhymes- being a “trucking banker” here, it’s just that this is the best way to explain what I mean by “humour as a perspective”.

Anyway, I haven’t written any comedy fiction in quite a while and I haven’t even made a regular humourous webcomic since last year, it isn’t like I haven’t made anything funny. It’s just that the comedy in my work tends to be a bit more subtle and spontaneous. Even when I don’t really think about writing comedy, it just kind of appears.

It’s in the sarcastic comments I make below the screenshots in my computer game reviews, it’s in some of the little sketches at the beginnings of these articles, it appears occasionally when I try to write something “serious” and it can sometimes appear when I’m practicing my art by trying to copy an old painting:

Stay tuned for the colour version of this picture tomorrow evening....

Stay tuned for the colour version of this picture tomorrow evening….

And, well, all of this has made me see writing comedy in a slightly different way to how I used to. In many ways, I’ve come to see humour (or subtle humour at least) as a perspective more than anything else.

Although laugh-out-loud comedy usually has to be carefully planned in advance, subtle comedy is an entirely different beast altogether. You can’t really “plan” subtle comedy in advance, it’s just something that emerges from you if you have a cynical enough mind and/or a strange enough perspective on the world.

So, if you want to add a bit of humour to something, then just look at your own opinions about everything. Chances are, if you’re the kind of person who is dissatisfied enough with the world to want to create something better with words and/or pictures on a regular basis, then you’re probably going to have some interesting opinions about things.

And, let’s face it, some of those cynical opinions are probably going to be at least slightly funny. Of course, some of them probably aren’t (eg: they might come across as depressing, miserable controversial and/or just bitter) – so be careful. In fact, if you want to keep your cynicism funny then mostly restrict it to more trivial topics, like this:

"Why Do Musicians Do This?" By C. A. Brown

“Why Do Musicians Do This?” By C. A. Brown

Even if you just create things purely for the fun of it and you aren’t a bitter and twisted cynic like myself, then you still have a slightly different perspective on the world to non-creative people.

No, I’m not being a pompous elitist here, I’m just stating a fact. If you re-create the world on paper and/or on a computer screen on a regular basis, then you’ll have to think about it a lot more and/or observe it a lot more.

As such, you’re more likely to notice funny things, inconsistencies, little hypocrisies, strange things etc… than most people probably won’t. And, yes, you can get a lot of good comedy out of these things.

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Sorry for such a short article (what? I’m writing this two months in the past and the first episode of the new series of “Doctor Who” is about to begin), but I hope that it was useful :)