Today’s Art (17th July 2018)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was an interesting one. Originally, I’d planned to make some “Silent Hill 3” fan art, but then I decided to make an original painting instead. This was originally going to be more of a 1980s/1990s-style film noir style painting that would allow me to experiment with perspective. However, it eventually ended up including a lot more sci-fi elements than I’d originally planned.

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

“The Robot’s Nest” By C. A. Brown

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Three Reasons Why Things In The Horror Genre Can Be Scarier Than You Remember

Shortly before I originally wrote this article, I had a rather surprising experience. My second-hand copy of the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” had finally arrived in the post and I was eager to re-live some nostalgic memories of playing the game on my old (and sadly no longer functional) Playstation 2 when I was a teenager.

Plus, when I found and played a demo of the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” a couple of years ago, I’d felt nothing but wonderful nostalgia. So, I was expecting a lot more of this from the full version of the game. But, after I’d finished the introductory segment from the demo…

…The game was about ten times scarier than I remembered! I’d always thought of “Silent Hill 3” as the least scariest of the classic “Silent Hill” games, yet I could feel adrenaline coursing through my veins and an icy shard of fear in my chest. Nervously, I found myself torn between the urge to explore more of the game’s nightmarish world and the urge to just find a monster-free area and hide there because I did not expect to feel actual fear whilst playing “Silent Hill 3”.

This is a screenshot from “Silent Hill 3” (2003). A game that is scarier than you might remember it being!

This naturally made me wonder about time, nostalgia, memory and the horror genre – since this experience just didn’t make any logical sense. I’d played the whole game before when I was younger. Surely, if I was going to be scared by it, it would have happened back then. Yet, my only memories of the game were nostalgic ones of how cool I thought it was and how it was associated with rose-tinted memories of my youth.

1) Perspective and maturity: One reason things in the horror genre can be scarier when you revisit them at an older age for the simple reason that you’re more likely to actually think about them deeply. You’ll have had more life experience and be at least marginally more mature, and this will influence how you think about horror games, movies, novels etc..

I mean, when I played “Silent Hill 3” at about the age of sixteen, I probably just thought “Cool! It’s a gruesome horror game with monsters. AND it isn’t as utterly terrifying as ‘Silent Hill 2’ 🙂 “.

But, when playing the shopping centre-based parts of the game a while before writing this article, I actually found myself thinking more deeply about the events of the game and wondering what actually being in a situation like that would be like. I started thinking about it less like a “game” and more like a story.

Likewise, I also started to wonder about the parts of the game’s nightmarish “world” that aren’t shown to the player. What lurked behind the myriad locked doors that are everywhere? How did that mysterious bloodstain end up in this room I’m hiding in? Why are there monsters lurking in the shopping centre, and how creepy would it be to go shopping and suddenly find that the shopping centre was abandoned?

So, gaining the capacity to think about things more deeply can be one reason why things in the horror genre can be scarier than you remember.

2) Practice: Another reason why things in the horror genre can be scarier when you are older is because your tastes tend to widen with age. I mean, when I was a teenager, I was absolutely fascinated by the horror genre. I used to love reading splatterpunk novels, watching late night horror movies etc…. It was a genre that was rebellious, emotionally cathartic and considerably more “cool” than anything else.

But, as time has gone on, I’ve found other genres that interest me. And, as a result, I’ve got somewhat “out of practice” with the horror genre.

So, a relative lack of exposure to “serious” things in the horror genre over the past few years can also explain why things in the horror genre can be scarier than you remember.

3) Fan culture: If you haven’t directly experienced a particular work in the horror genre for a long time, then you can sometimes end up remembering the affectionate fan culture that surrounds it than the actual film/game/story etc… itself.

It’s easy to get dazzled by nostalgic references on the internet and adoring odes to games/films/novels etc.. from fans on the internet.

Because fan culture often tends to include a lot of humour and a lot of focus on the more stylised elements of something (eg: Freddy Krueger’s glove, the crackly voice from the “Saw” films, the mask from the “Scream” films etc..) , then it can be easy to mistake this for the actual work in question. Since fan culture exists to celebrate things, then it is going to focus on instantly-recognisable things that provoke feelings of warm affection.

So, fan culture isn’t going to reflect that moment in a horror game when you’re walking down another gloomy corridor and can hear something lurking nearby. Fan culture isn’t going to focus on that really bleak moment in a horror movie when a character realises that all hope is lost etc….

So, yes, confusing fan culture with the actual work in question can be another reason why something in the horror genre might be a lot scarier than you remember.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (16th July 2018)

Well, although today’s digitally-edited painting required more editing than I had expected (mostly because I messed up the original painting and had to salvage it digitally after I’d scanned it), I really like how it turned out 🙂

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

“The Abandoned Palace” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Dimension Of The Past” (Levels For “Quake”)

Well, since I was still in a “Quake” kind of mood, I thought that I’d check out a set of unofficial levels from 2016 called “Dimension Of The Past” that were made by a company called Machine Games to celebrate Quake’s 20th anniversary.

As usual, I used the “Darkplaces” source port whilst playing these levels. However, due to issues with either the source port and/or my computer, I had to lower the graphics settings to 16 bits per pixel in order to get a playable framerate. So, the quality of the graphics/textures in the screenshots in this review is probably slightly lower than the ones you’ll see if you play the game on normal (32 bit) settings.

So, let’s take a look at “Dimension Of The Past”:

“Dimension Of The Past” contains eleven levels for “Quake” – including an introductory level, a secret level (that I didn’t find) and a deathmatch level. These levels are “vanilla” levels that just contain the standard textures, monsters etc.. from the original game. Since the level set presents itself as a ‘fifth episode’ for the original game, then this decision makes a lot of sense.

One of the very first things that I will say about “Dimension Of The Past” is that it quickly goes from being ‘enjoyably challenging’ to ‘borderline unfair’ very quickly – even on normal difficulty! If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve built up an attitude of dogged determination from playing quite a few ultra-challenging modern “Doom II” WADs over the past few years, then I’d have probably abandoned this level set out of frustration fairly early on.

Seriously, even this part of the second level will give you quite a challenge… and it’s easy compared to the later levels!

Seriously, don’t let the easy first level lull you into a false sense of security! Even though this level set has been made by a modern games company, it is anything but easy!

These levels do the usual “Doom II” WAD trick of throwing lots of mid-high level monsters at you regularly. But, whilst much stronger forms of this sort of creative unfairness can work really well in “Doom II”, it doesn’t always translate that well to “Quake” for a number of reasons.

The first reason is the “Quake” contains a much gloomier aesthetic than “Doom II” – as such, it can sometimes be difficult to see where to run to when you are besieged by monsters. The second reason is that “Quake” and “Doom II” have different weapons that handle differently. The third reason is that the movement speed in “Quake” is at least slightly different to that in “Doom II”. The fourth reason is that both games have different monsters that act (and attack) differently.

For example, there isn’t a proper “Doom II” equivalent of the fast-moving Fiends in “Quake” (the closest thing is possibly the weaker and slower pink “demon” creatures).

The borderline unfair difficulty in “Dimension Of The Past” is further compounded by the fact that many of the levels are at least slightly stingy when it comes to health and ammo. Whilst there is often just enough to get through each level, there are at least a few segments of “Dimension Of The Past” that feel more like an old survival horror game than a thrilling action game. In other words, you’ll probably have to flee from monsters sometimes.

Seriously, this part of the fourth level even looks a bit like something from a “Silent Hill” game!

Again, there are some amazing modern “Doom II” WADs out there that rely on the player not being able to fight literally every monster in order to create thrillingly fast-paced gameplay that almost seems more like a type of puzzle game than anything else. But, due to the age and visual style of the game, this sort of gameplay works better in “Doom II”. The cute cartoonish graphics, ludicrous movement speed, perfect weapon progression, simple monster AI and more well-balanced gameplay mechanics in “Doom II” mean that this type of gameplay becomes an thrilling abstract puzzle.

But, in a grimly gothic game like “Quake” – with very slightly more intelligent monsters and with different weapons, then even a relatively mild example of this type of gameplay just doesn’t feel as fun.

Likewise, the fact that it’s harder to dodge projectiles in “Quake” doesn’t help either.

This also has something to do with emotional tone too – in “Doom II” WADs, completing a brightly-coloured level containing 300+ cartoon monsters makes you feel like an expert gamer. Yet, thanks to it’s bleak emotional tone (that evokes feelings of vulnerability), completing one of these 20-75 monster “Quake” levels just feels like you’ve survived some kind of grim ordeal.

If this was “Doom II”, then this scene would involve gleefully fighting Hell Knights in a cartoonish corridor. But, it’s a bit more frantic and grim in “Quake”.

But, even just running away from monsters doesn’t work all of the time in “Dimension Of The Past”. The final level contains no less than six shamblers – all of whom have to be defeated in order to complete the level (four block your path, and a barrier in front of the exit won’t lower until the final two are defeated).

This wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the level also contains death knights, yores, scrags…. and barely enough health and ammo pickups! Seriously, unless you find a hidden quad damage early in the level and use it in the most efficient way possible, then you won’t even get to the final part of the level. And, when you get there, you’ll need to play very tactically until you finally, eventually get lucky and defeat the final two shamblers with whatever scant ammunition you have left.

Seriously, even though it is possible to get them to fight each other… don’t rely on it!

Again, this sort of hilariously extreme difficulty can work really well in “Doom II” WADs, but even relatively mild examples of it just don’t translate well to “Quake”.

The fact that ammo is so scarce that you occasionally have to resort to using the axe doesn’t help either!

Although “Dimension Of The Past” begins with a couple of sci-fi style levels, the majority of the level set is taken up with gloomy, gothic medieval-style levels. This creates a grim and foreboding atmosphere that is reinforced with a few fiendishly evil set pieces throughout the game – such as a fast-paced puzzle segment where you have to stop yourself from being crushed by finding two hidden switches within about 10-20 seconds.

Seriously, I even tried rocket jumping out of here a couple of times, before I finally realised you have to shoot two hidden switches!

The actual technical design of the levels is really good. Most of the levels are the kind of creative, non-linear levels that used to be standard in FPS games. You’ll be searching for keys, backtracking, opening doors elsewhere with switches etc.. As much as I might criticise the difficulty in these levels, I cannot really criticise the level design too much.

In fact, the only major criticism I have is that a hidden platform you need to jump onto in order to get to the ending of one level is quite literally shrouded in shadows and next to impossible to find (seriously, I was stuck for at least an hour before I discovered it!). Then again, this might be a byproduct of the 16 bit graphics setting I mentioned at the beginning of the review (since it tends to make the shadows a lot more solid).

Seriously, it took me at least an hour to work out that I was supposed to jump here!

However, one minor design quibble I have is that there’s no “ending” to this game – not even a small text screen. Once you finally, eventually beat the punishingly difficult final level, then you are… just taken straight back to the introductory level. In fact, since I hadn’t seen this level for a few days, I initially mistook it for a ninth level – before noticing the difficulty selection portals.

All in all, “Dimension Of The Past” is a set of technically well-made levels whose borderline unfair difficulty will heavily challenge even the most experienced retro FPS gamers. However, I just wish that this had been a “Doom II” WAD instead. A lot of the design tactics here would work really, really well in “Doom II” – but are somewhat ill-suited to “Quake”.

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

Three Basic Tips For Making Lovecraftian Art

First of all, if you’ve never heard the word “Lovecraftian” before, it simply refers to things in the horror genre that have been influenced by the fiction of an early-mid 20th century author called H.P.Lovecraft.

Although Lovecraft himself held some fairly terrible opinions, his influence on the horror genre is undoubtable and he pioneered a distinctive style of sci-fi influenced horror fiction that focuses more on things like atmosphere, implied horror, mysterious cosmic events beyond the comprehension of humanity, the limits and misuse of science, unreliable first-person narration etc…

However, since Lovecraft was a writer rather than an artist (although he did make this sketch), knowing how to translate Lovecraftian horror into art can be somewhat confusing for novice artists. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips.

1) Read the original stories: This is pretty obvious, but it’s important to take a look at the original source material in order to get a deeper understanding of what sets Lovecraftian horror apart from other genres of horror. Luckily, this isn’t as much of a time-consuming or costly task as you might think.

First of all, due to the state of the publishing industry at the time Lovecraft was writing, he mostly wrote short stories (in addition to one novella). Although some of his short stories contain an over-arching mythology and/or a few common features, they can be read in any order. As such, you also don’t need to read literally all of them if you don’t want to.

Likewise, all of Lovecraft’s works are out of copyright in both the UK and mainland Europe (since 2008). So, if you live here, you can legally read them all for free on the internet or find inexpensive “classics” reprints of them. However, if you live in America, then things are a bit more complicated.

From what I understand (and I’m not a copyright lawyer), any of Lovecraft’s stories that were published before 1923 are out of copyright in the US – in addition to several post-1923 stories whose copyright was not renewed properly under the system in place at the time.

But as easy as it is to get hold of the works of H.P.Lovecraft, it can take a while to used to his narrative style – which deliberately imitates the more formal, complicated and verbose styles of 19th century fiction. Even so, after you’ve read a few stories, you’ll probably get used to his slightly old-fashioned writing style.

2) Visual style: Generally speaking, most things that take visual influence from H.P.Lovecraft tend to have a few common visual features. These include things like gloomy lighting, old buildings, tentacles, slimy monsters, old books, bleak landscapes, rural and/or coastal locations etc…

Although Lovecraftian horror-themed artwork can include gruesome elements, these should be kept relatively subtle (eg: trickles of blood, bloodstains/ pools of blood etc..) and should focus more on blood than on gore. Still, if you are going to include gore in Lovecraftian horror artwork, then it must also have some other underlying element that makes it disturbing (eg: the gore itself shouldn’t be the main source of horror).

The general emotional tone that you want to go for in “proper” Lovecraftian horror artwork is one of gothic bleakness, infused with a foreboding sense of mystery. As such, your colour palettes should include things like muted browns/reds, cold blues and eerie greens.

Although Lovecraftian horror art has traditionally favoured a more realistic style, there’s certainly something to be said for fun, cartoonish art that uses the main features of this style. Not only is the juxtaposition of cartoonish art with “gloomy” horror inherently amusing, but there’s also a certain knowing geekiness to making Lovecraftian art in this style. Like in this upcoming painting of mine:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 18th July.

3) Add other stuff: One of the best and most creative ways to make Lovecraftian art is simply to blend it with another genre. For example, the picture I showed you earlier also includes elements from the film noir genre too.

Although blends of Lovecraft and film noir are quite common, Lovecraftian horror can be blended with pretty much any type of art. The only real limit is your own imagination and creativity. But, a good way to learn more about this is to see things that include some elements of Lovecraftian horror whilst also fitting into another genre.

For example, the movie “The Thing” includes some Lovecraftian elements (eg: unknown horrors, desolate arctic locations etc..) whilst also including relatively more modern-style science fiction and horror elements.

Likewise, the movie “Alien” is a blend of Lovecraftian-style horror (eg: mysterious alien civilisations, unearthly monsters etc..), futuristic science fiction and traditional gory horror. Then there’s “The Evil Dead” which blends ludicrously gruesome dark comedy and some vague elements from the zombie genre with more traditional style Lovecraftian horror.

In terms of games, the classic computer game “Quake” uses some vaguely Lovecraftian-style settings, monster designs etc… whilst avoiding the slow, implied, psychological horror of Lovecraft’s stories in favour of thrilling, fast-paced gory combat-based gameplay. Another good gaming-based example is “The Last Door” which adds some surrealist and Edgar Allen Poe-style elements (in addition to a few modern-style jump scares) and 1980s/90s-style pixel art to it’s Lovecraft-influenced story.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (14th July 2018)

Thanks to feeling a bit more inspired and a bit less rushed, today’s digitally-edited painting (which also comes in a non-rainy version) turned out at least slightly better than some of my more recent paintings 🙂

As usual, this painting (and the non-rainy version too) is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Devices” By C. A. Brown