Today’s Art (26th September 2016)

Well, here’s the next digitally-edited painting in my series of 1980s-style cyberpunk paintings that are based on real places. This one is based on my memories of Portsdown Hill at night (it always looks wonderfully futuristic and cinematic at night), although I’m not sure if I got the name of the burger van right. This painting also required a last-minute edit to the background, mainly since I worried that it looked too similar to part of “Blade Runner“.

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

"Portsdown Hill Cyberpunk" By C. A. Brown

“Portsdown Hill Cyberpunk” By C. A. Brown

The Joy Of… Informal Storytelling

2016 Artwork The Joy Of Informal Storytelling

A while before I wrote this article, I was watching a somewhat left-leaning American news discussion channel on Youtube called “The Young Turks“. One of the things that I suddenly realised was “I wish that the news was more like the format of this show”. It’s true, the dry and formal style of the usual BBC or ITV News broadcast couldn’t be further away from the much more informal style of “The Young Turks”.

Even comedy news discussion shows on British TV only sometimes come close to the style used on this Youtube show. The presenters express emotions, they use realistic expressions, there’s hilariously crude humour, there are impassioned comments and all sorts of other things that you just wouldn’t see in a formal news broadcast or debate.

This made me think about the power of informality and how it can be applied to storytelling. The fact is that, from an early age, we’re usually told that formal is best when expressing information. Despite trying to be more informal, my writing style on this blog is still heavily influenced by the essays that I used to write during my formal education and the more formal online articles that I’ve read over the years.

There’s a lot to be said for a more formal style when it comes to non-fiction but, I thought that I’d look at fiction. The fact is that I’ve read relatively few novels and comics that use a proudly informal style and do it well. Most of these things can probably be found in the punk genre – in fact, the work of one writer in particular springs to mind. I am, of course, talking about Warren Ellis.

Whether it’s in his brilliantly hilarious film noir novel “Crooked Little Vein” or in his “Transmetropolitan” comics, he’s able to tell brilliantly complex stories that never really feel like they’re formal in any way. They’re anti-formal. Everything is taken as seriously as everything else and this is used for comedic effect, dramatic effect and all other kinds of effect.

They’re stories that take place in a world where a news article about bad political news can consist of nothing more than a single four-letter word repeated 8000 times, mirroring the thoughts of the characters (and the thoughts of the audience whenever they read bad political news). They’re set in a brilliantly informal world where this kind of thing is just another part of life.

Some examples of more informal styles can also be found in the cyberpunk genre (when first-person narration is used) or in the punk genre itself. However, when it is taken to extremes, it can often be more confusing than anything else. Both Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting” and Russell Hoban’s “Riddley Walker” both fall victim to this problem, since they’re both written in a phonetic style that tries to mirror the narrator speaking to the reader. But, since they use a lot of phonetic spellings and/or dialects, both books confused me so much that I didn’t finish either.

The same is true with Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange”. Although the notorious film adaptation is more well-known than the book, the book itself is written entirely in the “futuristic” slang that the characters use. It’s informal but, because of all of the linguistic experiments, it can get slightly confusing.

A good informal style feels like free speech. It feels like a compelling story that has emerged organically from someone’s thoughts. It feels like you’re being told a story by a friend or by an interesting person that you met in a pub. It’s almost like a window into someone’s thoughts. It’s a highly subjective style of writing that lets the serious parts of the story show themselves to be serious, rather than telling the audience that they’re serious by the way that they’re described.

In addition to this, a good informal style leaves it up to the reader how seriously they want to take the story. An informal story can treat trivial things with deference and serious things with indifference. It reflects how many people actually see the world, rather than how people “should” see the world.

In a way, informal storytelling goes back to the very beginnings of storytelling. It hearkens back to the days when a storyteller was someone literally telling a story to an audience, rather than someone writing a story for people to read later. This, I think, is the main reason why informal storytelling styles can be so much more powerful than formal ones.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting🙂

Today’s Art (25th September 2016)

Well, I’m still in the mood for making digitally-edited 1980s-style cyberpunk paintings that are based on real places (although I’m not sure how many more of them I’ll make). This one is based on a photo of the coast near Sandown on the Isle Of Wight that I took in 2007. This photo was also the basis for this heavily digitally-edited painting from 2014 too.

The main reason why this painting looks more dystopian than usual is because it’s surprisingly difficult to create cyberpunk versions of natural landscapes.

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

"The Sandown Wastelands" By C. A. Brown

“The Sandown Wastelands” By C. A. Brown

Mini Review: “Derceto (V.3)” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom” etc..)

2016 Artwork Derceto WAD review sketch

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’ve been a fan of the first (and only the first) “Alone In The Dark” game ever since I discovered it earlier this year. So, imagine my delight when I found a WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom” that is based on this game.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, but it will probably work with most other modern source ports (except “Doom Retro”). However, it probably won’t work with the original versions of “Doom II” or “Final Doom”, since one part of this WAD requires jumping.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Derceto”:

Hmm... The attic has certainly seen better days...

Hmm… The attic has certainly seen better days…

“Derceto” is a single-level WAD that attempts to recreate the whole of the first “Alone In The Dark” game using the “Doom” engine. One of the first things that I will say here is that whilst this is a very good re-creation of “Alone In The Dark”, you shouldn’t expect a perfect re-creation.

Due to the use of the default textures and the limitations of the “Doom” engine, some slight changes have had to be made to the level. For example, it isn’t possible to have floors on top of each other – so the three floors of the house are still separated by staircases, but these are spread out more horizontally.

Still, as staircases go, this one is fairly impressive.

Still, as staircases go, this one is fairly impressive.

The famous hole in the floor is a lot less deadly than it was in the original game though.

The famous hole in the floor is a lot less deadly than it was in the original game though.

Even so, all of the familiar parts of the Derceto mansion are still here. There’s the gloomy library (complete with a puzzle), there’s the zombie-filled dining room and, yes, there’s even the underground maze too.

Yay! I remember this corridor! Best of all, the haunted paintings have been replaced by friendly cacodemons.

Yay! I remember this corridor! Best of all, the haunted paintings have been replaced by friendly cacodemons.

I'd just forgotten about THIS maze... only to be reminded of it again by this WAD. Oh joy!

I’d just forgotten about THIS maze… only to be reminded of it again by this WAD. Oh joy!

Although this area looks cooler in the original game, I'm still amazed that someone has been able to re-create it in "Doom II" :)

Although this area looks cooler in the original game, I’m still amazed that someone has been able to re-create it in “Doom II”🙂

Although some of the recreated locations aren’t perfect, this WAD does a great job of recreating the atmosphere of the original “Alone In The Dark”. There are a couple of of creepy darkened rooms, a couple of slightly tricky puzzles and quite a few ominously gloomy corridors that help to add a bit of suspense to the level.

One problem I had initially when playing this level for the first time was that I couldn’t seem to find a way to complete it. However, after talking with the creator of the WAD (in the comments on another review) and re-playing the level (with “Pirate Doom), I discovered that there is actually a way to complete the level – however, it takes a bit of experimentation and observation to find it.

In terms of the difficulty, “Derceto” is a slightly more challenging WAD than I had originally expected. Whilst it isn’t too difficult, don’t expect it to be easy either. A lot of the difficulty comes from the fact that you won’t get any weapons other than the basic pistol and basic shotgun during the earlier parts of the level. In addition to this, there are also plenty of cramped corridors (some of which contain revenants) and at least two arch-viles in this level:

Well, it's still a "Doom II" level. So, including at least one of these creatures is pretty much mandatory.

Well, it’s still a “Doom II” level. So, including at least one of these creatures is pretty much mandatory.

In terms ot the music, I’m not sure if the background music is part of the “Alone In The Dark” soundtrack, but it’s the kind of ominously creepy music that you would expect to find when playing a level set in a haunted mansion.

All in all, although “Derceto” isn’t a “100% perfect” recreation of “Alone In The Dark”, it’s still a really cool level that certainly captures at least some of the atmosphere of the original game.

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

Today’s Art (24th September 2016)

Well, today’s painting is another 1980s-style cyberpunk painting of a real place. This digitally-edited painting was based on a photo I took when I visited Berlin in 2004. This photo was also used as the inspiration for a drawing I made in late 2014 (has it really been that long?!), so this painting is also a partial remake of that drawing too.

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

"Cyberpunk Berlin" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk Berlin” By C. A. Brown

Some More Thoughts On Adding Creator Cameos To Comics, Stories etc..

2016 Artwork Creator Cameos Article sketch

The day before I wrote this article, I was reminded of the whole subject of creator cameos by this hilariously cynical “Cracked” article about terrible director cameos in films. Although some of them didn’t seem that bad (I mean, I certainly didn’t notice George Lucas lurking in the background of one of the “Star Wars” films, or Peter Jackson doing the same in one of the “Lord Of The Rings” movies), it certainly made me think about the subject again.

Creator cameos are probably the classic example of an in-joke. A good creator cameo is usually either only noticed by the creator or by people who are serious fans of the thing in question. A good example from one of my favourite computer games is probably John Romero’s cameo in “Doom II”.

During the final boss battle, there’s an ominous backwards message in the background (recorded by Romero) that says something like “To win the game, you must kill me, John Romero!“. This was placed into the game after Romero had learnt that one of the other programmers had secretly added a photo of his head to a hidden room behind the final boss (which can only be seen if you use cheat codes). To win the game, you literally have to fire rockets into this hidden room via a small gap in the wall.

One reason why people like to add themselves to the things that they make is because they’ve spent such a long time with a group of characters or a fictional world that they literally feel like they’re a small part of it. Either that, or they’re curious about how they would fit into the fictional “world” that they’ve created. Or they do it just for a laugh.

The general rule with creator cameos is that the less prominent they are, the better. Going back to films, a good example can be found in the original “Evil Dead” movie. If you don’t listen to the director’s commentary, then there’s no real way to know that two hitchhikers who are seen for a couple of seconds at the beginning of the film are actually none other than Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert.

In other words, a good creator cameo should be a carefully-hidden thing that gives fans an additional surprise but which goes unnoticed by casual members of the audience. If in doubt, then leave it out.

Surprisingly, I only really worked this out through trial and error. Even thinking about a couple of the more blatant cameos I added to my old webcomics from 2010-2013 kind of makes me cringe slightly. In fact, it wasn’t until this year that I added another cameo to one of my webcomics (where I played a trendy modern artist, both for laughs and as a reference to this year’s April Fools Day article).

"Damania Returns - Fraud" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Returns – Fraud” By C. A. Brown

This webcomic update also illustrates another good rule to remember if you decide to give yourself a cameo in your comics or fiction. Your cameo shouldn’t be essential to anyone’s enjoyment or understanding of your comic. For example, the comic I just showed you would probably still be funny even if the second panel was missing.

Keeping creator cameos brief and slightly hidden also helps to avoid one of the other pitfalls that can appear when a writer or comic creator decides to become a character in their own works. I am, of course, talking about the dreaded “Mary Sue” character. This is where a character who represents the writer ends up being a ridiculously idealised character.

A good way to avoid this is to add some self-parody to your cameo appearance or, as I’ve said before, to keep your cameo fairly brief.

So, yes, creator cameos can be fun. Just don’t make them too prominent or add them too often.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful🙂

Today’s Art (23rd September 2016)

Well, I’m still making 1980s-style cyberpunk paintings of real places. Today’s painting is a cyberpunk painting of the shopping centre in Milton Keynes, based on my memories of it from sometime around 2001. Long-term readers of this blog might also notice that this painting is at least a partial remake of this old painting from last April.

Although today’s painting is probably the most detailed painting in the series, it required quite a bit of digital editing after I scanned it.

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

"Cyberpunk 2001 (Milton Keynes)" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk 2001 (Milton Keynes)” By C. A. Brown