Rule-Based Storytelling – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about rule-based storytelling today. I ended up thinking about this after watching Caroline LabrΓ¨che and Steeve LΓ©onard’s 2017 sci-fi horror thriller film “Radius” (mild SPOILERS ahead).

Anyway, one of the interesting things about this film is that it has a rule-based premise. People and animals within a certain distance of a man called Liam (Diego Klattenhoff) mysteriously die instantly – unless he is standing within a certain distance of another character called Jane (Charlotte Sullivan). The film sticks to these rules religiously and, although a lot of the film’s suspense is achieved through traditional thriller genre devices (eg: amnesia, characters wanted by the police, plot twists etc…) and is mildly contrived at times, the rule-based premise really makes it stand out from the crowd.

Rule-based storytelling is interesting because it creates an interesting tension between predictability and unpredictability. Since the audience are usually shown or told the rules, and because they are followed rigidly – the audience can usually tell how something will happen. Of course, this then means that whoever is writing the story has to find creative ways to use the rules that the audience won’t expect. Needless to say, this can result in a lot of creative storytelling – however, if not done well, it can make a story seem somewhat contrived.

A lot of this is to do with the “willing suspension of disbelief”. Since a rule has to be unusual enough to grab the audience’s interest, it is probably going to be unrealistic – so extra effort has to be put into making it seem “realistic”. One way to do this, like in “Radius”, is to leave some aspects of the source of the rule at least slightly mysterious and to treat it as such – with the characters knowing as little as the audience does. In this film, the audience does learn the source of the rule, but don’t learn everything about why or how it exists. This works well because the film is set in a realistic rural location.

Of course, fully explaining the source of a rule is another valid approach – but it requires much more extensive world-building and is probably best suited to more fantastical works, since the audience will be more likely to suspend their disbelief if they are also being introduced to a fantastical setting too.

A well-designed and well-applied rule also increases immersion in a story by making the “world” of the story feel a bit more solid and realistic. After all, the real world follows various rules (eg: gravity), so it can be a good way to add an element of this “solid” feeling of realism to a story.

Rule-based storytelling is also interesting because it has built-in intrigue. If a rule is interesting enough, the audience will probably feel curious about it and want to know more. For example, I ended up binge-reading Agatha Christie’s 1939 detective novel “And Then There Were None” in a single evening sometime in 2008-9 after someone spoiled part of the ending. My reaction to the spoiler was something like “How is that possible?” and it intrigued me enough to make me want to find out. A similar principle applies to an interesting enough “rule” or premise.

Of course, this style of storytelling isn’t suited to literally every story – and it tends to work best in genres that rely on things like suspense, mystery or fantastical elements – but, when done well it not only creates instant intrigue, but also allows for a fascinating tension between predictability and creative unpredictability too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Today’s Art (17th April 2021)

Well, it’s the 17th April and this means that it’s time to once again remake the same piece of art that I made on the 17th April 2012, the day I decided to start practicing art every day πŸ™‚ You can also see previous versions of this picture here: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

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

“The Important Question (X)” by C. A. Brown

Review: “The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles” (Expansion For “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion”) (PC Version)

Although I probably won’t review the fantasy role-playing game “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” (2006) itself – since, like “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” (2002), it is a very long game – I’ll be looking at one of it’s expansions today.

Whilst playing the DRM-free “Game Of The Year Deluxe” edition of “Oblivion” that I bought during the winter sale on GOG last year, I ended up stumbling across the “The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles” (2007) expansion whilst playing the game. It was a really awesome surprise πŸ™‚ So, I thought that I’d review it. I have a lot to say about this expansion πŸ™‚

And, yes, although it is set in a self-contained world and tells a self-contained story, “Shivering Isles” is a traditional expansion that requires a full copy of “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” to play – I think it was also released as *groan* DLC for console versions of “Oblivion” too. This is probably because the beginning of the expansion is integrated into the world of “Oblivion”. I’d also strongly recommend playing the main game for a while to build up your character before playing this expansion (I think I was level 7 or so when I started “Shivering Isles”).

So, let’s take a look at “The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles. I should probably warn you that this review may contain some SPOILERS (and this expansion is best played unspoiled):

Looks perfectly safe! I’m sure there’s nothing scary behind this giant glowing door…

The expansion begins when the player receives a message about a mysterious door appearing in the middle of Niben Bay. After swimming into the middle of the bay, they find a small island with a strange three-headed statue with a glowing door in the middle of it. Someone who entered the door leaves in a disturbed state and starts a fight with the Imperial guard who has been posted to the gate. The guard wins and, after the player talks to the guard a couple of times, the statue speaks and requests a champion. You can enter the door at this point.

The door leads to a small stone room with a table. A man called Haskill sits at the table and explains a few things to the player. They are about to enter the Shivering Isles, a “Realm Of Madness” ruled over by the god-prince Sheogorath. Sheogorath wants a champion for an upcoming battle and, although few emerge from this realm with their sanity intact, the player believes that they have a chance.

Curiouser and curiouser…

Seconds later, the room dissolves into butterflies and the player finds themselves in a strange place called “The Fringe” filled with giant plants and a small town called Passwall. The Fringe is a gated-off introductory area, which allows Sheogorath to select which adventurers or visitors are worthy to enter his realm. All you have to do is to get past the fearsome gatekeeper….

One of the first things that I will say about this expansion is that, although it might look like a fantasy role-playing game at first glance, it is actually one of the best psychological horror games that I’ve played in a while πŸ™‚

Seriously, if you’re a fan of “American McGee’s Alice” (2000) or maybe something like “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” (2004), then you’ll enjoy this one πŸ™‚ But, not only is this expansion exquisitely creepy, it is also a lot more creative and imaginative than the main game in many ways. Yes, it suffers from a few mild flaws, but it is still very much worth playing if you enjoy horror games and/or the dark fantasy genre πŸ™‚

I wasn’t exaggerating about this expansion’s horror elements – it is literally a horror game in disguise πŸ™‚ Not only is the landscape of the Shivering Isles strongly reminiscent of the more surreal location designs in “American McGee’s Alice” – expertly contrasting intriguingly beautiful locations with an unsettling feeling of “something isn’t right”- but there are so many brilliantly unsettling elements here.

Seriously, some parts really DO almost feel like another “American McGee’s Alice” game – and I whole-heartedly approve πŸ™‚

Whether it is the plethora of disturbing characters that you will encounter, various thematic elements, some gothic horror elements, the monsters, the atmosphere or even the way that the game will sometimes make the player character do evil things etc… this is a surprisingly dark, edgy and unsettling game. Yes, it won’t make you jump with fright – but it will instil a deeper and more subtle feeling of unease and dread.

Plus, in classic “Alice In Wonderland” fashion, the ruler of the Isles is both evil and eccentric too.

Plus, if you switch to a third-person perspective, the game briefly does a classic survival horror-style “close-up” camera angle when you enter the smithy in Crucible too πŸ™‚

Yet, after a couple of days, the atmosphere and mood of this expansion went from genuinely disturbing and unsettling to being something that I really loved. It grew on me a lot πŸ™‚ And perhaps this is the creepiest element of the game – the fact that, like the denizens of the Shivering Isles, the player will slowly adapt to and feel at home in this strange eccentric world.

Plus, I cannot praise the sheer level of creativity and originality in this expansion highly enough – although it was clearly inspired by “American McGee’s Alice”, it is still very much it’s own thing at the same time. Not only that, if you’re a fan of “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind”, then you’ll probably also enjoy the return of more creative location designs too – rather than the generic “medieval Europe” style of the main game. This expansion has a very distinctive atmosphere that really has to be experienced first-hand.

Yes, actual CREATIVITY with the location designs πŸ™‚ Just like in “Morrowind” πŸ™‚

The Shivering Isles themselves are a small-medium sized open world, filled with eerily beautiful giant plants. Although it is only one island, it is divided into two halves – Mania and Dementia – with the former being bright and verdant, and the latter being gloomier and more gothic. Yes, this adds some variation to the world – but, compared to the main game, there isn’t really as much to do on this island. Yes, there are dungeons/ruins/tunnels to explore and a few tiny hamlets, but there is only one large city to visit – New Sheoth.

Still, this one city is more creative and well-designed than anything in the main game – basically being two cities in disguise. The half of the city in the realm of Mania is called “Bliss” and has a bright, twisted fairytale kind of look to it – complete with angel-like guards in bright golden armour. The Dementia half of the city is called “Crucible” and is an almost Victorian-like slum, full of filthy streets, scary statues, tall cramped houses and a general mood of desolation. The guards are, of course, a bit more gothic here πŸ™‚

And I cannot praise the character designs in this expansion well enough either. A lot of the horror comes from the many other characters you meet, almost all of whom have had their minds twisted in some way from residing on the Shivering Isles. My favourite character is probably Cutter, Crucible’s resident smith.

And, yes, she only sells bladed weapons and can also make gnarly-looking weapons from “Madness Ore” too. Seriously, she’s almost as edgy as The Edgesmith from Matthew Willis’ “Swords”

When you first meet Cutter, she is one of the most subtly terrifying characters in the game – talking in a low, yet unsettlingly cheerful and friendly voice, about how much she enjoys using blades. She also has a creepily wide-eyed stare and seemingly never sleeps. Yet, she’s also a fascinating character because of all of the intriguing implied storytelling – such as her antagonistic relationship with the smith in Bliss, or the disturbing way she tests her blades – and the fact that she almost seems like she could be the protagonist of an “edgy” gothic horror game or comic.

But this is just one character, and there are so many other intriguing, funny, quirky and/or downright terrifying characters in this expansion too. If you are a fan of horror fiction, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics, “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” or “American McGee’s Alice”, then you’ll absolutely love the characters and writing in this expansion.

It may not include vampires, but the quality of the writing and characters is very reminiscent of “VTM: Bloodlines” at times πŸ™‚

As for the main quest itself, it has lots of great moments and some “meh” moments. Although there’s a brilliant story and some really creative missions too, expect to spend some of it traipsing through almost identical underground ruins and annoying maze-like tunnels. Plus, there were at least a couple of times when I had to consult a walkthrough too – although it’s usually relatively easy to work out what you are supposed to do.

And, yes, you get to charge into battle with a small army during some of the less-fun levels. BUT beware of “friendly fire” – one stray slash or spell and your so-called “allies” can spend half of the level chasing you and trying to bash your brains out in revenge (and, no, I hadn’t learnt how to “yield” at that point…). It’s annoying, to put it mildly.

Still, the story surrounding the main quest is suitably dramatic – and there are quite a few genuinely creative missions, moments and set-pieces (eg: a decision regarding an assassination, getting addicted to a substance called “Felldew”, a dark comedy segment about becoming an inquisitor, helping a necromancer with a ritual, getting to run an evil dungeon for a couple of minutes, fighting a mirror image of yourself etc…) that stop the gameplay from becoming too monotonous. If every mission was of the level of the ones I’ve described, then it would be a truly great game. But some missions aren’t as interesting, so it’s more of a “really good” game.

Not only do you get to practice the forbidden art of NECROMANCY, but there’s also cool purple mood lighting too πŸ™‚

Plus, again, the story is really good too – in an evil “Alice In Wonderland” kind of way – too πŸ™‚

Plus, I have to praise the sheer amount of new stuff in this expansion too. In addition to several extra weapons (including a sword that changes depending on the time of day) and outfits (some of which have a gloriously gothic “vampire aristocrat” look to them) and a couple of hilariously melodramatic religious factions (called “Zealots” and “Heretics”) who will fight you on sight, there is also a bestiary of new monsters too πŸ™‚

Seriously, I love the sheer gothic extravagance of the outfits here πŸ™‚

And check out these gloriously melodramatic “Zealot” robes too! “Crudox Cruo!” indeed!

As you’d expect from a horror game, many of the new monsters are surprisingly creepy – including giant insects, a humungous guardian, inhuman Knights Of Order, skinned undead hounds and torn/mangled flesh Atronachs – who reminded me a lot of the “Ed Hunter” version of Iron Maiden’s mascot πŸ™‚

Not only do you get to fight an evil mirror version of yourself but the atronachs (like the one in the background here) are really metal too \m/

All in all, whilst some of the dungeons in this game can feel a bit monotonous or confusing, this expansion is well worth playing for everything else about it. The characters! The location designs! The writing! The atmosphere! All of these things are absolutely superb πŸ™‚ If you’re a fan of “American McGee’s Alice”, if you miss the creativity of “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” or if you just want to play an unsettling psychological horror game that will grow on you after a while, then this expansion is well worth playing πŸ™‚

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

Review: “Let The Bad Times Roll” by The Offspring (Album)

2021 Artwork Let The Bad Times Roll album review sketch

Well, although I hadn’t planned to write an extra review, the Offspring released a new album today πŸ™‚

[Edit: Ooops! I mistakenly thought that “Days Gone By” (2012) came out a year later than it did. I’ve just corrected this mistake. Sorry about this. One of the problems with posting an article on the same day as I wrote it, I guess.]

Seriously, it has been nine years since the last one and, given that they were the very first “cool” band that I ever discovered, I just had to review this one too. And, yes, although I got the lead single/title track digitally, I ended up pre-ordering the actual album on CD because I never truly left the 2000s…

So, let’s take a look at “Let The Bad Times Roll” πŸ™‚

The Offspring ''Let The Bad Times Roll' album cover (2021)

One of the first things that I will say about this half-hour punk/pop-punk album is that it is even better than I had initially expected πŸ™‚

Although I’m not one of those “sound quality” snobs – seriously, I grew up on audio cassettes and FM radio – the tracks officially released on Youtube really don’t do this album justice. Listen to the whole thing – in order – on either CD or high-quality MP3 for the best experience. Songs that sound a little “weak” in a solitary Youtube video sound both richer and more energetic in the context of the entire album.

And, although this isn’t a concept album, it really needs to be listened to in order – since there’s a really good variety of traditional energetic punk songs, slower pieces and – of course – the obligatory joke song (“We Never Have Sex Anymore”) – and the track list is ordered surprisingly well, with some songs flowing into each other and others counterpointing/contrasting with each other in a way that makes the album feel greater than the sum of it’s parts.

And, yes, it is an album of many parts. This album went through a long eight-year production cycle and this definitely shows. Aside from a brief reference to “lockdown” and a general theme of isolation in “Breaking These Bones”, this is very much a satirical album about most of the 2010s disguised as a modern album. Seriously, I’d been really curious what the Offspring had to say about that decade.

Yes, some topics – unfortunately – still feel topical, such as in the songs “This Is Not Utopia” and “The Opioid Diaries”, but this album feels like it would have been more topical if it had come out 4-5 years ago. The title track, a criticism of the Trump administration, is thankfully no longer topical. Likewise, the song “Hassan Chop” seems to have been written during the height of the war against ISIL too – yet, saying this, large parts of it are worded ambiguously enough to be a general criticism of violence in the Middle East that could have been written any time within the past two decades or so.

Another interesting thing about this album’s drawn-out production schedule is that it was sort of possible to hear a small part of it over the past few years. Not only was “Coming For You” released as a single in 2015, but the Offspring also performed “The Opioid Diaries” in concert (often titled “It Won’t Get Better” in online footage) in about 2018-19. Likewise, one song is a re-recording of a song from 1997 and another one is a heavier cover version of a well-known classical piece too.

[Edit: I almost forgot, one other interesting thing is that the version of “Coming For You” on the album includes a couple of extra lines (eg: “Wolf pack’s tearing at you”) that aren’t mentioned in the lyrics booklet – and the song could possibly be a re-recording rather than just a copy of the 2015 single.]

If I had to compare it to their other albums, it sounds a bit like a cross between “Splinter” (2003) and “Ixnay On The Hombre” (1997). There’s a good mixture of more serious, heavy and moody “Splinter”-like songs (seriously, “Army Of One” and “Behind Your Walls” are almost like lost tracks from that album) and faster “Ixnay” style punk songs too, albeit with a somewhat more serious emotional tone. Yet, far from just being a “greatest hits” album – which isn’t a criticism, if it ain’t broke… – there’s also a bit of experimentation and evolution here too.

Interestingly, the first track – “This Is Not Utopia” – takes a lot of influence from Bad Religion and caught me by surprise a bit when I first heard it. Like in several of their previous albums, there are also a few slower and/or more atmospheric songs on this album too, such as a one-minute cover of Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”, a more sombre piano-based recording of “Gone Away” (from “Ixnay On The Hombre”) and a slow, distorted outro track called “Lullaby” that repeats some lines from the title track.

The writing in this album is classic Offspring. It is cynical and satirical enough to feel punk, but also often general and ambiguous enough to feel pretty much timeless at the same time too. There are lots of serious and surprisingly earnest emotional moments, but traces of the band’s traditional cynical irreverence thankfully still remain to balance out the mood (such as Dexter’s dystopian parody of Oprah’s “You get a car!” in the title track, the references to Lincoln rolling in his grave in “Let The Bad Times Roll” etc...)

The best tracks on the album are probably… well, it’s difficult to say. If I had to choose three – I’d say “The Opioid Diaries”, “Hassan Chop” and “This Is Not Utopia”. But, I mentioned earlier, this album is best when listened to as a whole. Yes, it’s a more “serious” album than some of their older stuff but, thankfully, it is more like another “Splinter” (with very strong hints of “Ixnay On The Hombre” ), rather than another “Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace” (2008) πŸ™‚ Like their previous album – “Days Gone By” (2012) – it also sounds like a mixture of classic Offspring and something more modern too πŸ™‚

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

A “Work In Progress” Art Preview

2020 Artwork Work in progress art preview July article sketch

Well, about three days before posting the article I’d planned to post today, I realised that I wasn’t really satisfied with it. So, instead, here are some “work in progress” previews of art that should hopefully be posted here sometime next year.

2022 LESS FX 5th May Artwork Monorail

“Monorail (Work In Progress Version)” by C. A. Brown

2022 LESS FX 27th April Artwork Villa Room 1995

“Villa Room 1995 (Work In Progress Version)” by C. A. Brown


2022 LESS FX 26th April Artwork Tech Dome 1995

“Tech Dome 1995 (Work In Progress Version)” by C. A. Brown


2022 LESS FX 9th May Artwork Blue Trace

“Blue Trace (Work In Progress Version)” by C. A. Brown


2022 LESS FX 10th May Artwork Static

“Static (Work In Progress Version)” by C. A. Brown

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚Β 

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Psychological Horror And Settings – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about one of the more easily-overlooked elements of the psychological horror genre today. I am, of course, talking about settings and/or location designs. This was something that I initially ended up thinking about whilst playing the Game Of The Year Deluxe edition of “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” (2006) and stumbling across the 2007 expansion “Shivering Isles”.

To my surprise, far from just being another fantasy adventure, this expansion is actually a surprisingly creepy psychological horror game in disguise. Although a fair amount of the unsettling horror comes from the creepy characters, from giant insect monsters and from some moments where the game pushes your character to do evil things – one of the main sources of psychological horror is the setting itself. The game set on an island in the “Realm Of Madness” and – if you’ve ever played “American McGee’s Alice” (2000) – then you might feel a very familiar sense of creeping unease here.

This is a screenshot from “The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles” (2007)”. For context, the room previously surrounding the table has dissolved into butterflies and there are a lot of strange giant plants in the world beyond….

This is a screenshot from “American McGee’s Alice” (2000), also showing a location with lots of strange giant plants.

Giant plants aside, the reasons why the locations in both of these psychological horror games are so creepy are because of contrast, symbolism and unreliable reality. For starters, both games use “beautiful” surreal location designs in order to contrast a feeling of magic and wonder with the unsettling horrors that lie within these locations. This contrast creates a brilliant tension between curiosity and cautious dread in the audience.

For some great cinematic examples of this sort of thing, I’d recommend watching art-horror films like Tarsem Singh’s 2000 film “The Cell” or Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece “Suspiria“.

This is a screenshot from one of the many visually-sumptuous, yet unsettling, modern art-inspired scenes in Tarsem Singh’s 2000 film “The Cell”.

This is a screenshot from Dario Argento’s 1977 film “Suspiria”. In this film, beautiful location designs and visually-spectacular lighting are contrasted with large amounts of suspense and several horrific/brutal events.

Going back to the two games I mentioned earlier, symbolic location design is also a major part of both games – with the locations symbolising a disturbed mind. In “American McGee’s Alice”, this symbolism usually takes the form of background details related to the main character or the fact that many locations are “evil” versions of places Alice has visited before (eg: in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland”), reflecting her tragic past and inner turmoil. In “Shivering Isles”, the island in the expansion is divided into the bright and verdant realm of “Mania” and the gloomy, grim world of “Dementia” – emphasising the game’s psychological themes.

The concept of “unreliable reality” is also a great way to use a location to evoke psychological horror. This is where the world itself cannot be trusted and/or doesn’t quite follow the “ordinary” rules of reality. Although this type of location design does have to follow some “rules” in order for the story/setting to feel coherent, this can take the form of dream logic or something like that.

The very best example of this type of location design can actually be found in the first four “Silent Hill” games – where the game’s cold, abandoned and/or fog-shrouded locations will sometimes suddenly change into a nightmarish rusty “otherworld” version of themselves. This also reflects Freud’s concept of “The Uncanny” – where something is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, and therefore disturbing.

And, talking of the older “Silent Hill” games, they also serve as a great example of another way to use locations to evoke psychological horror. I am, of course, talking about bleakness, desolation and loneliness. Typically cold and utilitarian locations and/or abandoned places are good for this – but the goal is to create an eerie feeling of a dead, uncaring world that is bereft of warmth or joy.

This is a screenshot from “Silent Hill 3” (2003), showing an abandoned, gloomy and junk-strewn subway station tunnel. Creepy.

On a side-note, this screenshot also shows yet another way to use locations to create psychological horror. I am – of course – talking about claustrophobia. If a location feels cramped, windowless etc… or a character is trapped somewhere scary, then this can create a subtle feeling of suspense and oppressive unease. This works especially well in the sci-fi horror genre, where characters can end up being trapped on spaceships – such as in Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 film “Alien” or the – much scarier – 1997 film “Event Horizon“.

But, most of all, the very best way to use settings to evoke psychological horror is to make the setting a character in it’s own right. Whether this involves a plot-critical location that appears regularly, a location that reflects the life of an unseen character, a location with a disturbing history or even a location that has paranormal elements, the best way to use settings in the psychological horror genre is to make them a character in their own right.

The very best examples of this can be found in ghost stories – such as in Shirley Jackson’s 1959 classic “The Haunting Of Hill House“, James Herbert’s overlooked 1988 masterpiece “Haunted”  or – to a lesser extent – Susan Hill’s excellent 1983 gothic novel “The Woman In Black“.

So, yes, if you are creating something in the psychological horror genre, be sure to think about the settings you are going to use.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Why The Arch-Vile Is The Best Monster In “Doom II” (1994)

Well, if you’ve read a few of my reviews of fan-made levels for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” (also called “WADs”), you’ve probably noticed that I’m a fan of Arch-viles. I’ve certainly mentioned how no fan-made level is complete without at least one of them a few times. And, since I’m going through a bit more of a gaming phase than usual (and can’t think of a better idea for an article), I thought that I’d talk about why this is such a well-designed monster.

Ok, for any of you who didn’t understand the previous paragraph, some background: “Doom II: Hell On Earth” was a sci-fi first-person shooter computer game released in 1994 as a sequel to the influential classic game “Doom” (1993), which really helped to popularise the first-person shooter genre as a whole.

Anyway, given it’s shorter production schedule, “Doom II” was more of a large expansion than a full sequel. It contained 32 new levels, several new monsters and a new weapon – but still looked a lot like the original “Doom”. A stand-alone expansion to “Doom II”, containing about 64 levels, called “Final Doom” was also released in 1996 (and is my favourite “official” Doom game).

Anyway, one of the new monsters introduced in “Doom II” was the Arch-vile. This is a tall, tough and emaciated skeletal humanoid creature who has the ability to resurrect dead monsters and to attack the player with a very powerful line-of-sight explosion attack (which, in a game without a “jump” button, still throws the player in the air!). This attack has a 1-3 second warning period, where the screen is partially covered with flames, in order to give the player a chance to get out of sight.

This is a screenshot of an Arch-vile preparing to attack the player, with flames appearing on screen as a warning (If anyone is curious about the level, it is a fan-made one called “The Fortress Of Lucifer)

And, although most players absolutely hate this particular monster, I’d argue that it’s literally the best monster in the entire game for a host of reasons.

The main reason is that this monster forces the player to play a bit more strategically, adding some variety and tactics to the game’s combat. Bosses aside, it is the most powerful “ordinary” monster in the game – who can not only halve or wipe out your health points within seconds but, if left unattended, can bring back all of the other monsters that you’ve just defeated. In other words, as soon as you see one of these creatures, defeating it should be your immediate number one priority – regardless of what other monsters are nearby.

But, in a genius move, not only is this a surprisingly tough creature (taking either about 40 plasma cells, 3-4 point blank super shotgun blasts, one point blank BFG blast or several rockets to defeat) but the time delay and sheer strength of it’s line-of-sight explosion attack means that you also have to juggle fighting it and frantically ducking behind cover as soon as flames appear on the screen.

Likewise, because of the resurrection mechanic and the way that the game has been programmed, a lot of “traditional” first-person shooter tactics (eg: circle-strafing, monster infighting etc…) just won’t work on an Arch-vile. It is a truly ORIGINAL monster that requires the player to learn it’s attack patterns and formulate different strategies to defeating it. So, it stands out from the crowd quite a bit.

In other words, instead of just being a mindless “Shoot at the monster” type thing, a battle with an Arch-vile is a slightly more complex puzzle that rewards strategy, skill and knowledge about how the game works.

Another good thing about this monster is, ironically, the main reason why many players hate it. Even if you are a confident, experienced and skilled “Doom II” player – an Arch-vile encounter can still catch you by surprise.

If you’re experienced enough that all of the other mid-level monsters don’t really seem like that much of a threat to you, an Arch-vile encounter can still be a bit of a difficulty spike. Needless to say, this adds an interesting element of challenge and variety to any level that includes one or more of these monsters. It stops players from getting too complacent and, if you’re a fan of “challenging for the sake of challenging” games, then you’ll see the appeal of this.

Finally, another great thing about Arch-viles is all of the emergent gameplay mechanics they create. Yes, modern source ports have added jumping mechanics to “Doom II”/”Final Doom” but, before them, brave players could use the “thrown into the air” side-effect of the Arch-vile’s attack as a way to jump over things. Yes, like the traditional “rocket jump” (a classic FPS game technique for jumping higher, by firing a rocket launcher into the ground during a jump), you need to have a lot of health points – but it still allowed players to “jump” in a game that didn’t allow jumping.

Not only that, the Arch-vile’s resurrection mechanic can also be very useful if the player is running low on ammo too – given how all of the game’s “zombie” monsters drop weapons or ammunition whenever they are killed. This happens almost every time they are killed, even if they have been resurrected by an Arch-vile. So, a skilled player with a good hiding place can use this mechanic to re-stock on ammo if they encounter an Arch-vile surrounded by zombies.

All in all, the Arch-vile is the best monster in “Doom II” because of the sheer complexity and originality of its design. It is a monster that requires different tactics than any other monster in the game, it can also add a well-timed difficulty spike to a level and it’s abilities allow for some absolutely brilliant emergent gameplay too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚