Short Story: “Wave” By C. A. Brown

It had started at the car boot sale where Jack had spotted a box of old VHS tapes going cheap for a fiver. Rachel hadn’t planned to go along, but Roy and Sue were still on holiday and anything seemed better than sitting in her rented room, staring at a blank screen and wondering what the hell she was going to write her dissertation proposal about. There were two days left on the deadline and, so far, the only thing she’d been able to come up with was a recycle bin filled with stupid questions.

When they’d arrived, she’d turned to Jack and said: ‘I haven’t been to one of these in bloody ages.‘ Followed shortly by ‘Oh my god, is that a tube of POGs? No way!‘ Since the next student loan instalment didn’t arrive for three days, she knew that she’d have to ration herself. Even so, the translucent green tube of cardboard discs was only 25p. It even included a couple of gnarly-looking slammers too. As she handed over the coins, she told herself that the POGs would be worth hundreds in another decade’s time.

I knew we should have kept hold of that shopping trolley.‘ Jack grinned as he leaned against a tree and rolled a cigarette. Rachel put her bulging carrier bag down on the ground and leaned next to him. His lighter clicked. They stood in silence for a minute, until Rachel stared up at the grey sky and said: ‘Looks like it’s going to rain. We should probably head back.’

You’ve never been to one of these things before, have you?‘ Jack exhaled and flashed her another grin. She raised an eyebrow. He continued: ‘The rain is half the fun. Since everyone wants to get out of it, the prices usually go down quickly. It’s nature’s clearance sale.

For a second, Rachel had looked puzzled. Then the heavens opened. Under the shelter of the tree, she watched everyone begin to scatter. As she knotted the handles of her bag, Jack finished his roll-up and gestured towards the cars. ‘We’ve got maybe ten minutes until they leave. Let’s make it count.

When they stopped in front of a grimy grey Astra with an old guy in an even older trenchcoat standing next to it, Jack had pointed at a cardboard box. Rachel leaned over and stared at it. It was full of old video tapes. They were only a fiver. How could she refuse?

After they’d got back to the flat and changed into dry clothes, they sat around drinking coffee in the lounge for a few minutes until Rachel spotted the old video player below the TV. It had come with the flat. Jack smiled at her: ‘I’d always wondered if it actually works. Guess it’s time to find out.

So that’s why you spotted the videos.‘ Rachel could have been angry at him. After all, she was the one who had paid a fiver. She’d thought about taking the tapes home at the end of term and using them for quirky Christmas presents. She didn’t realise that Jack had an ulterior motive. Still, she was too curious to really feel angry.

Kneeling next to the damp cardboard box, she found the newest-looking tape. It was Terry Gilliam’s 1998 adaptation of “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”. And, to both of their surprise, the chunky tape not only worked – but the machine didn’t even think about chewing it up.

About halfway through the film, there was a scene where the stoned journalist sat at a typewriter in a dingy 1970s hotel room and gave this melancholy speech about the sixties. About how everything had seemed to be going well back then. How it seemed like the world could only get better. Of course, he lamented, it hadn’t lasted. The ’70s had shown up and hippies had gone out of fashion.

Oh my god, it’s just like the 1990s‘ Rachel muttered. Jack raised an eyebrow. She continued: ‘Think about it, everything was… brighter… in the ’90s. Everything was so cheerful back then. Surely you remember how… optimistic… it was. And then it all went to hell. Just like in the movie. It’s ahead of it’s time.

Jack had just looked puzzled. Rachel shrugged and walked into the kitchen to get a packet of crisps. They crunched through them in silence. When the credits rolled, Rachel pressed the rewind button. As the VCR rumbled and chuntered like a freight train, she said: ‘Another tape?

Nothing better to do.‘ Jack shrugged as he searched the kitchen for a can of cider. Rachel’s eyes settled on a blank tape. Holding it up, she laughed and said: ‘Mystery tape?

You know, more than one horror movie has started with something like that.‘ Jack cracked open a can and proffered one to Rachel. Sitting back, he said: ‘If a ghost pops out of the screen to snatch our souls, I’m telling her that it was your fault.

Deal.‘ Rachel laughed as she put the tape into the machine. After a few seconds of static, an old BBC logo had appeared on the TV before a mid-1990s episode of “Lois & Clark” began. There were two episodes on the tape. By the end, Rachel just gawped at the screen. Jack finished his second can of cider and began rolling another cigarette.

Beside him, Rachel said: ‘Oh my god! Not only did this predict the ridiculous modern obsession with the superhero genre, but it predicted so much more too! That episode where the re-animated Nazis march through the streets of Metropolis and no-one sees it coming until it’s too late. It’s just like that scary thing in America last year.

Barely pausing for breath, she continued: ‘Then there was that other episode where that supervillain runs for president and he parrots Trump’s slogan about making America great. And, Lois and Clark make sarcastic comments about it. It’s a really topical joke…. that was made over twenty years ago.

Jack just looked at her blankly: ‘It’s a stupid superhero rom-com. Ninety minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Please tell me we’re picking a horror movie next.

Smiling, Rachel got to her feet. ‘There are a couple in there. You’ll have to start without me though. I’ve finally thought of an idea for my dissertation proposal!

Today’s Art (25th February 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the fourth comic in “Damania Refracted”, a new mini series of several (probably six) self-contained comics. Links to many more comics featuring these characters can be found on this page (with the exception of the first two comics in the “2015” segment of the page). Previous comics in this mini series can be read here: Comic one, Comic two, Comic three

Well, I first heard of Movile Cave (yes, it’s a real place) a few days before I started making this mini series and I’m surprised it took me this long to include it in a comic – even if I used a lot of artistic licence. But, yes, Harvey is somewhat behind on popular culture (it might have something to do with spending a lot of time visiting Victorian London).

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Refracted – Movile Cave” By C. A. Brown

The Test Of A Good Collaborative Project – A Ramble

Although I’m someone who takes a resolutely solitary attitude towards my own creative works, I ended up thinking about creativity and collaboration recently since I still seem to be going through a phase of listening to more Nightwish than usual at the moment. So, I’ll be using this band as an example for most of the article.

If you know anything about Nightwish, you’ll know that they’ve had three different lead singers (Tarja Turunen, Anette Olzon and, currently, Floor Jansen). Needless to say, there has been a lot of fierce online debate about which singer is “best”. This is further compounded by the fact that each singer has a different singing style. Tarja’s style is bold, serious and operatic. Anette’s style is a bit “lighter”, more cheerful and more energetic. And Floor’s style is somewhere between these two.

In this article, I’ll mostly be focusing on Tarja and Anette’s time with the band. This is mostly because, from what I’ve heard of Floor Jansen’s stuff, she seems to be something of a rare exception to some of the general rules that I’ll be talking about in this article. And since this is meant to be an illustrative article about collaborative projects, rather than a piece of music journalism, I thought it best to focus on the band’s history.

Anyway, during a moment of nostalgia for the two versions of Nightwish that I grew up with, I decided to take a look on Youtube for some of Tarja and Anette’s solo stuff. The thing that really surprised me was that neither singer’s “new” songs really had the same impact on me that Nightwish’s music does. It was then that I realised that I wasn’t specifically a fan of any one lead singer, I was a fan of Nightwish.

Because, regardless of the singer, the whole band is what makes their music so good. Whether it’s lyrics by Tuomas Holopainen and/or Marco Hietala or the rest of the band’s distinctive instrumental style, the band only really seems to “work” as a whole. This holistic thing can be seen by how the musical style of the band changed whenever the lead singer changed. For example, earlier Nightwish albums like “Once” or “Century Child” had a bold, ethereal, fantastical sound to them that went really well with Tarja’s singing style.

Yet, once Anette’s tenure with the band had really hit it’s stride (after the ok, but not brilliant, “Dark Passion Play” album), the band’s style became somewhat different. Many songs on their “Imaginaerium” album have a slightly faster, darker and more cinematic sound to them which jumps around in an impishly fascinating way and really complements Anette’s vocals.

Likewise, the “slow” songs on both “Dark Passion Play” and “Imaginaerium” sound very different to the kind of slow songs that worked well when Tarja was lead singer. Yet, all of these songs are still very recognisably “Nightwish” songs.

They’re still recognisably “Nightwish” songs for the simple reason that the band adapted to the change in lead singer. They didn’t try to be exactly the same band as they were before, but they took all of the elements that made their music so distinctive and adjusted them to be a better fit with their new lead singer. Likewise, the change in lead singer also spurred the band to look for a few new musical inspirations too.

So, why have I spent several paragraphs talking about one band? Well, it’s because good collaborative projects can’t easily be separated into their individual parts. Often, they end up being greater than the sum of their parts. They’re a merging of several different imaginations and sets of talents during one particular moment in time.

To use another Nightwish-related example, when Anette was new to the band, there were relatively few songs written for her (eg: just the songs on “Dark Passion Play” and a couple of other songs), so she ended up singing a fair number of older songs that were originally written with Tarja’s voice in mind. Since Anette’s voice is extremely different, this led to a lot of criticism of both her and the band at the time. Yet, when she sang songs that were written specifically for her, it was nearly impossible to imagine Tarja ever singing the same songs.

Leaving aside Floor Jansen’s uncanny ability to sing both Tarja and Anette’s songs fairly well, a good collaborative project isn’t like a machine. You can’t just switch out one part of it with another and expect it to work in exactly the same way. No, every part of a good collaborative project has to be a good fit with the rest of it. Each element of a good collaborative project should be difficult or impossible to replace with something else, without other major changes.

So, yes, the test of a good collaborative project is often whether it works as a whole. Or, more accurately, whether it becomes less good if one part of it is changed without the rest of it also changing too.

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Short Story: “Alarm” By C. A. Brown

The alarm was silent. The space station’s mood lighting gently changed from green to red. On the upper deck, Captain Morgensen sighed and reached for a computer console. Ever since the latest updates to the station’s software, the alarm lights had gone red more often. She even found herself missing the old air raid howler. At least, she thought, it knew when to make a fuss.

On the desk next to her, Corporal Dra’aen let out a reptilian hiss and muttered: ‘Why don’t they have an amber one? A blocked sink is hardly worth going to full military alert over.

Is that what it is?‘ Morgensen said, trying to sound formal. Protocol dictated it. There had, she remembered, been studies into the most efficient ways to relay information in emergency situations. Fortunately though, her friends in the admiralty hadn’t seen fit to bless her with a scientific observation team. Yet.

Probably, cap’n.‘ Dra’aen’s beady eyes darted across a couple of screens, before settling on a tiny text box. Focusing it to full magnification, he sent it to Morgensen’s screen. She tried to glance at it nonchalantly, but even five years of rigourous training couldn’t disguise the look of utter fury that flashed in her eyes.

Another… update… is available?‘ She stuttered. ‘That’s what this alarm is all about? I dread to think what the software does when a battle-cruiser shows up.

I can look it up in the manual, cap’n.‘ Dra’aen hissed. He’d expected Morgensen to shake her head dismissively, but she just stared at him expectantly. Exhaling, he pulled up another text box and scanned it.

Finally, he croaked: ‘Saturn’s moons! I don’t believe it! There’s nothing but legalese here. All I can really tell you right now cap’n is that the Intergalactic Software Consolidation will probably win the inevitable compensation case after we’re blasted to smithereens by a pulse torpedo.

Suddenly, the soothing sound of wind chimes echoed through the air. A recorded voice said: ‘You have one new video message.

I’m not interested in buying anything right now!‘ Morgensen spat.

The recorded voice just repeated itself. Morgensen let it do this four times before finally saying: ‘Fine. Play message. But, if this is another adver…

The scowling, jowly face of Admiral Salter appeared on the monitor. Without even pausing, he bellowed. ‘Morgensen! What is the meaning of this?

Sir?

Not only did it take you thirty seconds to reply to a critical command message, but your station has been awaiting crucial software updates for the past seven point five minutes! I trust you have a good expanation for recklessly endangering your civilian crew in such a manner.

I set updates to manual, sir.‘ Morgensen said, feeling icy fear spread through her chest. ‘If.. If I may speak freely, sir, I can explain.

Admiral Salter frowned and nodded. Morgensen said: ‘Sir, the station actually used to… work. When there was an urgent message on the comms, it was actually an urgent message. When the alarms went off, it actually meant something. When my crew needed to use the computers, they could run finished programs that took up only three or four exabytes and didn’t crash every two hours. When…

Enough!‘ Salter’s fist slammed into his desk. Taking a second to compose himself, he said: ‘Count yourself lucky, captain. If I had my way, you’d be drummed out of the fleet for that treasonous outburst. But..‘ His voice oozed reluctance ‘… the Intergalactic Software Consolidation has been monitoring all station-to-ship communications for research purposes today.

They’ve been… spying… on us, sir?‘ Morgenson stuttered.

Market research, captain!‘ Salter barked. ‘They’ve assured us that no-one but a few student technicians will be listening in. They were even kind enough to keep in touch whilst doing it. And that is why…‘ He made an expression like he’d just swallowed some bad nutrition pills ‘… I have to promote you.

Promote me? Did I hear you correctly, sir?

Don’t make me repeat myself, captain! For the high-depth user data you have just submitted, you are hereby promoted to Battle Captain. The Fearless will be docking shortly to hand over command. Looks like you’ll be seeing some action again. Don’t screw it up this time. Salter out.‘ The screen went blank.

Morgensen just stared into space, a concerned frown on her face. Finally, Dra’aen whispered: ‘Aren’t you… happy… cap’n?

She let out a sigh: ‘No, I’m terrified. I’ve just remembered that our docking systems were fully automated after the… last… software update.

Today’s Art (24th February 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the third comic in “Damania Refracted”, a new mini series of several (probably six) self-contained comics. Links to many more comics featuring these characters can be found on this page (with the exception of the first two comics in the “2015” segment of the page). Previous comics in this mini series can be read here: Comic one, Comic two

Well, this comic was the product of both a brief moment of uninspiration and a brief moment of nostalgia. In other words, it’s a re-make of this old “Damania” comic from 2013 (inspired by a cheesy daytime TV show I was watching occasionally at the time, and during a phase where I experimented with digital art more).

Don’t worry, tomorrow’s comic will be an original comic though 🙂

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Refracted – Daytime TV (II)” By C. A. Brown

Mystery, Artistic Inspiration And Geekery – A Ramble

Well, at the time of writing, I still seem to be going through a bit of a Nightwish phase (again). This made me think about the difference between geeking out about a band, a single film or an artist, and geeking out about a long-running TV show, a computer game or any kind of series.

One of the interesting things about geeking out about a band is that most of their creative works obviously consist of songs and music videos/concert videos. Yes, you can detect things like over-arching themes and attitudes, but each song is it’s own separate thing. There isn’t really a single “story” or detailed “fictional world” to focus on in the way that there might be if you’re geeking out about a TV show or a game.

The same sort of thing is also true when you find another (visual) artist who interests you. They might have made lots of paintings or drawings, but there’s rarely a single “story” to connect all of these things. Yes, they might have a similar art style, sense of humour, set of themes etc… but each work of art is often it’s own self-contained thing. If these works of art are interesting enough, you can even sometimes find yourself attempting the impossible task of trying to understand another artist’s imagination.

You would think that this dispersed, atomised attitude towards creativity would make it more difficult for people to geek out about bands and artists, but the opposite can often be true. The mystery leaves a lot of room for your own imagination to “fill the gaps”. In addition to this, the lack of a single coherent “story” or highly-detailed “fictional world” also makes you feel a lot more curious, since everything isn’t explained to you.

And, if large parts of something cool are a mystery, then you’re probably going to want to create things that are a bit like it – just to see more of what has been hidden.

To give you an example, one of my largest creative influences is the film “Blade Runner” . Although this film tells a single coherent story, the film leaves a lot of details to the imagination. We only get to glimpse a relatively small amount of the film’s futuristic “world” and we get relatively little overt information about the history of this world or the society that lives in it.

So, before the sequel was released, if you wanted more “Blade Runner” you had to take inspiration from it (and anything similar to it that you could find) and then use lots of your own imagination. Like this…

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

“Coast Road” By C. A. Brown

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, if you want to get inspired, then look for fascinating things that don’t explain everything to you. Look for things that, by their very nature, are slightly mysterious. Then try to understand these things by using your imagination.

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Short Story: “Wake” By C. A. Brown

It had all started at the kind of student house party where rambling discussions about the nature of time and the universe don’t usually start until after the pubs have slammed their doors and the brightly-coloured pipes have finished bubbling. If anything, the party hadn’t even really got started yet.

Despite the shining array of bottles on the table, there were only three people there. John was sitting back on the sofa with a can of lager, his leather trenchcoat carefully folded over the armrest. Fran was fiddling with the iPod dock and muttering something about a battery. Laura was sneakily inspecting the house’s DVD collection – which was, to put it politely, just there for show. For starters, there wasn’t even anything remotely resembling a DVD player connected to the TV.

As Laura nervously cracked open a pristine new bottle of blue alcopop and poured some of it into a bright orange plastic cocktail glass that had obviously been left over from a Halloween party, she thought that this party reminded her of a horror movie office block a few seconds after closing time. A theatre at three AM. A….

This party is dead.‘ Fran said, between jabs at her iPod. It remained resolutely silent.

Yeah.‘ Was all that Laura could think to say, the swirling mass of metaphors in her mind refusing to settle on just one description. She took a sip of the blue liquid, it tasted like a comic book artist’s impression of a stick of bubblegum.

On the sofa, John took another swig of lager before nodding solemnly. The party was, indeed, dead. Laura giggled: ‘So, is this a wake or something?

It would be if I could get this …. ing thing to work properly.‘ Fran’s sentence was interrupted by a loud crackle of static from the dock. ‘What the hell? It’s switched itself to radio mode. Anyway, Steve burned me a CD of these MP3s from the 80s. Proper goth club stuff. Would be perfect for a wake.

And..‘ John took another swig ‘.. where the bloody hell is Steve anyway? Last time he texted me, he said he’d be here.‘ Carefully setting the can down on the wine-stained carpet, he rustled through the trenchcoat for his phone. It had one of those flame pattern shells that was all the rage five years earlier. The Game Boy-yellow LCD screen showed that there were no new messages, just a pixellated background picture of a skull. Best four quid I ever spent, John thought as he looked at it.

Fran jabbed at the iPod again. The loud radio static was like something from one of those grim TV dramas about military interrogations. Finally, with a shrug, she pulled it out of the dock. The room was, fittingly, as silent as a tomb once more. Laura took another couple of sips of the sickly blue fluid and gazed regretfully at the industrial-sized bottle of vodka next to the curtains.

With a series of quiet bleeps, John flicked through his contacts and then held his finger up. The sound of ringing echoed through the room. Ten seconds later, a prim voice said: ‘The number you have tried to dial is not currently connected. Do you wish to leave a message?‘. John hung up. Does anyone ever want to leave a message?

Fran walked over to the table and picked up the vodka bottle. Pouring some into a faded promotional coffee mug that must have been one of those unwanted heirlooms that never gets taken away when students leave, she said : ‘If a party happens and no-one shows up, does it make a sound?

Laura smiled: ‘Probably not, but it’s probably more fun than clapping with one hand.

Silently, John held his arm out and clenched his fist quickly. A faint clapping sound echoed. Fran raised her eyebrows. Laura rolled her eyes and said: ‘We’ve all seen that episode of “The Simpsons”.’

I haven’t.‘ Fran said, taking a swig of vodka. John grinned and clapped with one hand again. Laura tried to join in, but couldn’t quite get the hang of it. John tried not to laugh as he muttered: ‘Takes practice, you know. I’ve been training for five…

Bet you have.‘ Laura laughed politely, before an uncontrollable torrent of laughter rushed forth. ‘It’s probably your… strong arm… too.

Everyone’s laughter rose like a flurry of violins and then faded away gracefully. For a few seconds, the only sound was the sloshing of vodka and the slurping of lager. It was, Laura thought, like waves crashing on a stony beach. Like the gentle sound of a fisherman….

Before she could come up with the perfect metaphor, John raised his can and said solemnly: ‘A toast. To the party that has died. Let us drink to it’s memory.

They toasted. With a mischievous smile, Fran said: ‘Ah, but can a party actually die if it never actually started in the first place?

As Laura gnawed on this complex conundrum and found that it tasted slightly better than the blue alcopop, John leaned over and rifled through his trenchcoat for a small plastic bag. Fran raised an expectant eyebrow. John sighed: ‘It’s way too early for this stuff, I know. But, if we’re going to start talking philosophy…

Today’s Art (23rd February 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the second comic in “Damania Refracted”, a new mini series of several (probably six) self-contained comics. Links to many more comics featuring these characters can be found on this page (with the exception of the first two comics in the “2015” segment of the page). Previous comics in this mini series can be read here: Comic one

This comic update was kind of random and it’s probably closer in tone to the previous mini series. Still, it turned out better than I had originally expected.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Refracted – Greatest Hits” By C. A. Brown

Mini Review: “Woodburn” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”)

Well, although I’d vaguely planned to play and review a strategy game called “Eador: Genesis”, I seem to be more in the mood for FPS gaming at the moment.

So, since it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD, I decided to use the ‘random file’ feature on the “/idgames Archive” again and, after a couple of goes, I found a rather interesting-looking level from 1997 or 1999 called “Woodburn“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port [v 2.7.9999.0 ] whilst playing this WAD. The notation that comes with the WAD seems to suggest that it might have problems if you use “Legacy”. However, it will probably work on most modern limit-removing source ports.

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

“Woodburn” is a single short “vanilla” level (eg: no new textures, monsters etc…) for “Doom II” and “Final Doom”. But, what it lacks in length, it certainly makes up for with fast-paced and challenging gameplay.

Ok, it’s mostly “challenging by late 1990s standards” challenging, but still….

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it contains a lot of imps. Whilst large numbers of monsters are nothing new in “Doom II” WADs, “Woodburn” is somewhat different to more modern “slaughtermap“-style levels for the simple reason that it consists of lots of claustrophobic corridors and balconies, many of which are within view of other imps and/or other projectile-firing monsters (in fact, there isn’t a single hitscan monster in this level!).

Yay! Projectile dodging!

What this means is that the difficulty in this level is less “strategy-based slaughtermap gameplay” and more “difficult, and occasionally cheap, traditional-style ‘Doom II’ gameplay“. Because you often don’t have a lot of room to move or dodge, this forces you to play in a much more aggressive way than in many other monster-filled levels (which often favour strategy, retreating, circlestrafing etc..).

Although this would be an interesting change of pace, it is let down slightly by the ammo distribution throughout the level. Although you’ll have enough shotgun and plasma rifle ammo to deal with the many imps (and one arachnotron) in the first half of the level, expect to start running a bit low later in the level. This is especially annoying since it is at this point that the level begins to introduce more mid-level monsters.

Yes, good ammo management matters more than you might think. Running away can also work too…

Even though you get a chaingun and several large boxes of bullets during this part of the level, it is too little too late. This is especially true considering that you’ll also be facing narrow walkways filled with revenants. Luckily, all of these segments of the level can be dodged in various ways.

Yes, you probably don’t want to stay on this walkway for very long…

As for the level design itself, it’s surprisingly good. The level is a small, but complicated, multi-layered maze that is well within the tradition of classic non-linear “Doom II” levels.

The claustrophobic corridors and platforms also help to add extra challenge to the level too (even though this can veer into “cheap difficulty” territory sometimes). Likewise, there is one clever segment where you have to cross a large slime-covered area, whilst avoiding teleporters that will transport you into an inescapable tower that is surrounded by monsters.

However, if you have jumping enabled, then it’s more escapable. Which brings me on to…

… I am not sure if this level is meant to be played with jumping enabled (if your source port allows jumping). Theoretically, this level can probably be completed without jumping. But, the level is somewhat more forgiving if you use jumping occasionally. So, choosing whether to jump or not probably allows you to vary the difficulty slightly.

For example, to get the yellow key, you have to stand in the middle of a large area of radioactive sludge and wait for a platform to descend. Whilst this normally wouldn’t be an issue, it’s very likely that you’ll only have a few health points remaining at that point. So, jumping onto the platform as early as you can might not be a bad decision.

All in all, this is a fun, furious and challenging level that will probably provide you with 15-30 minutes of entertainment. Yes, the difficulty can sometimes feel a little cheap and the ammo distribution isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun and reasonably well-designed little level.

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

Short Story: “ESP” By C. A. Brown

Some psychics claim to have a connection to the Earth, I have one to the internet. I suppose that it all began when I realised that I could tell whether the wi-fi was down or not. I didn’t even have to look at my phone or my computer, I just knew.

Of course, it was really useful at first. Whilst all of my friends waved their phones around like magic wands or tapped away at menus, I could just sit there with a smug grin. The instant the wi-fi went live again, I’d just casually pull my phone out and send a text or whatever. Not to mention that I could have a few funny moments with the tech support guy at the office too. Good times.

But then, the adverts started appearing. At first, I didn’t even notice. For the first time in weeks, I’d had a good dream. It was one about a tropical beach somewhere. The perfect blue sea smelled of chlorine and the white sand smelled of styrofoam. It looked brilliant though. In fact, I didn’t even notice that it wasn’t exactly my dream until I happened to notice that there weren’t any men on the beach. Not even a single cute surfer dude or anything like that.

When I woke up, I had a strong urge to Google a travel company I’d never heard of before. Seeing your own dream in a Youtube video is both the coolest and creepiest thing in the world. Of course, I thought, there had to be a logical explanation for it. Maybe I’d seen a banner ad on my phone before I’d drifted off? Maybe I’d seen the ad before a video two days ago and it had got stuck in my memory? But, as much as I put on my Dana Scully act, I knew the truth. I’d never seen the advert before in my life.

Once adverts start appearing in your dreams, you suddenly develop a whole new appreciation for the Advertising Standards Agency. Back when I was younger, I’d always laugh at the silly news stories about miserable old people who had nothing better to do than scrawl angry complaints about the ads they’d seen in the middle of Celebrity Ice Skating. But, now, I love them. The eerily wholesome world of the adverts isn’t exactly the worst place to spend time. My bank manager probably disagrees though.

But, then, I started to notice the comments. I’d be sitting in the middle of a trendy London garden party filled with perfectly-dressed sober twentysomethings drinking dyed water from wine glasses when I’d glance down at the table and see something scratched into the wood. Or I’d be sitting in a futuristic lawyer’s office and, when she held up her shiny new Ulta Mega Pro Edge tablet, I’d notice something embossed on the back of it.

For a couple of days, it really freaked me out until I remembered that they were just comments. And, the first rule of the internet is never read the comments. Even when they’re seared onto designer sunglasses or printed in gold on the spines of antique books.

Then, after a particularly exhausting day, the advert finished. For a while, I floated in a dark void. Then a swirling green ouroboros appeared before my eyes for a few seconds. Before I could get too used to it, I found myself in a dingy bedsit somewhere listening to a middle-aged guy ramble enthusiastically about WW2 tanks. At first, it seemed vaguely interesting, like a documentary that appears on TV when you can’t be bothered to change the channel. But then I realised that he hadn’t even mentioned the Allied tanks once. Needless to say, it got creepier from that point onwards.

Over the next couple of weeks, the adverts got shorter and I was on first name terms with the ouroboros. But, apart from finding myself in the middle of a few rock concerts, learning some random trivia or quite literally being a videogame, most of the videos were either boring or creepy. Needless to say, the results of local and general elections no longer seemed quite as mysterious to me.

Then, one day, the videos stopped. Instead, I found myself in the middle of a crowd. Every few seconds, one of the people would shout out a short sentence. Then another one would. Then another. Most of them were really really angry. When you hear some lanky teenager bark out a death threat because the costumes in a superhero movie aren’t perfectly accurate, you’re never quite sure whether to laugh or scream.

Back at the office, Joan from accounts was telling me about some old ’90s sci-fi movie she’d caught on the telly. When she started talking enthusiastically about how the leather-clad computer hackers had connected their brains to the computer and quite literally entered another world and how cool it would be if we could actually do this in real life, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh quietly or loudly.