Let Enjoyment Be Your Guide – A Ramble

Well, although today’s article won’t directly be about creating things, it will be about all of the culture and/or entertainment that inspire us and drive us to create things of our own. So, yes, this is another article that is mostly about being a member of the audience.

A while ago, I started to think (yet again) about how I’m completely and utterly “out of date” with modern computer and video gaming- or, rather, more out of date than I used to be when I was younger.

I started to think about how I prefer single-player gaming to modern online multiplayer, how all of my knowledge of gamer culture is either first-hand knowledge from the early-mid ’00s or second-hand knowledge from modern Youtube videos etc…. How virtually all of the computer games I play these days are older games or more low-budget modern games. How the “newest” game consoles I own come from the early 2000s. And… I love it!

Although this used to make me feel like I was losing touch with a key part of who I am and made me worry that I wasn’t “cool” any more, it doesn’t really do this any more. Because, I realised that the whole point of gaming is to have fun. It isn’t to show off or to be part of a “culture” or whatever. It’s just sitting in front of a computer (or a console) and relaxing for a few minutes to a few hours.

The same is true for so many other things too. For example, I’ve always just listened to the music that I enjoy, regardless of whether it is considered “cool” or not. Whether it’s various old and new heavy metal bands, various 1990s punk bands, various gothic rock songs, a few pieces of rap music, various acoustic musicians, various pieces of old 1980s/90s pop music, a few classical pieces etc.. I listen to music because I enjoy it rather than because it happens to be trendy at the moment.

So, why am I rambling about all of this stuff? Well, it’s because the best approach to modern culture is simply to let enjoyment be your guide. If you worry too much about being “up to date” or being what other people consider to be “cool”, then you’re missing the point. The whole point of entertainment and culture in general is fun and relaxation. It’s meant to make us feel positive emotions, to expand our imaginations and to make us relax.

If you’re a creative person, then this also has another cool side-effect too – originality. If you focus on the things that you enjoy, then you are probably going to end up with a more distinctive and unique mixture of creative inspirations. This will make your creative works look a bit different to those produced by people who are eager to be “up to date” with current trends.

But, most of all, you’ll have fun. And this sense of fun will remind you why culture and entertainment matter so much. There’s a famous quote from Alan Moore, where he talks about how “art is magic”, because of the way that it can affect how people think and feel. So, if you focus on the parts of culture that you enjoy, then you will get to experience this a lot more often. And, if you’re a creative person, then this can also be a great source of motivation too.

So, yes, let enjoyment be your guide.

——-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Today’s Art (27th March 2018)

Well, I was still in the mood for making music themed art when I made this digitally-edited painting and, although it was a little on the rushed side, I quite like how it turned out.

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

“Festival Crowd” By C. A. Brown

Review: “SiN” (Retro Computer Game)

Like with “Blood II: The Chosen” and “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division“, “SiN” is one of those games that I first discovered on a magazine demo disc when I was a lot younger – but only got round to actually getting the full version nearly two decades later. If I remember rightly, I thought that the demo was kind of cool, but didn’t really get into it that much. Then again, I was playing it on a Pentium 166 computer, so it was probably a bit slow…

Still, when I noticed that the “SiN Gold” collection (which also contains the expansion “Wages Of Sin” that I’ll review in early April) was on special offer on GOG last summer, I just had to get the full version of this half-remembered game. Although the extras for the GOG version of this game aren’t spectacular, the manual is definitely worth reading just for the hilariously immature 1990s style humour. Yes, even the manual contains comedy!

Plus, although I rarely directly recommend one game site over another, the version of this game that is available on GOG is closer to the original game than the version available on Steam. This is because the Steam version apparently contains some censorship (eg: the removal of suggestive content, marijuana references and/or pop culture references from some of the game’s textures), whereas the GOG version seems to be the original uncensored version.

Anyway, this review has been nearly two decades in the making. So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “SiN”:

“SiN” is a first-person shooter game from 1998 by Ritual Entertainment, which uses a modified version of the “Quake II” engine. Set in a dystopian cyberpunk future, you play as John Blade – an elite member of a private security organisation called HardCorps (pronounced “Hardcore”, because it’s from the 1990s).

Being from 1998, Blade only looks THIS realistic during the game’s few pre-rendered cutscenes though!

After a report of a robbery at the local bank, Blade goes to investigate – with a sarcastic ex-computer hacker called JC providing remote support for him. Of course, what begins as a routine “shoot the bad guys” mission quickly turns into something much larger and much more menacing…..

One of the first things I will say about this game is that it contains some of the best and some of the worst elements of 1990s FPS gaming. It is a game that you will hate to love, or love to hate or both.

For everything it gets right, it also gets something wrong. For every moment of gameplay that is brilliantly fun, there will be another one that will frustrate the hell out of you. Let’s just say that I’m glad I got another two decades of FPS gaming experience before playing the full version of this game!

Seriously, don’t let the easy on-rails turret segment at the beginning of the first level fool you, this is a challenging game!

Yes, this isn’t an easy modern FPS game! Even on “standard” difficulty, this game is hard. HardCorps, even! Sometimes, this challenging difficulty is achieved in enjoyable and fair ways (which fans of other challenging old FPS games like “Final Doom”, “Blood”, “Duke 3D” etc.. will love). When it is at it’s best, the combat in this game is thrillingly challenging, and well within the traditions of 1990s FPS gaming.

Yay! Late 1990s FPS gaming πŸ™‚ Seriously, there will be very few combat-based screenshots in this review because the game’s combat requires your full attention and reflexes!

Plus, this game contains a proper saving system – with none of that annoying modern “checkpoint saving” rubbish either! So, remember to save regularly! Seriously, save your game once every minute at least! I’m not joking here…

Seriously, you’ll be seeing this death animation (and hearing the accompanying voice-over from JC) a LOT! So, save often!

But, for all of the “good” difficulty, a fair amount of the game’s difficulty is also achieved in all sorts of cheap, borderline unfair and/or annoying ways.

This can include things like placing long-distance snipers directly behind the beginning of a level (and it’ll take you several deaths before you work out where they’re shooting from), sending infinitely respawning waves of henchmen at you during one level, extremely gloomy areas with few to no light sources, a *ugh* stealth level, a (thankfully optional) vehicle segment, occasionally stingy ammo/health/weapon distribution etc…

Yes, a stealth level! One of those boring, frustrating, slow-paced levels that has no place within a thrilling FPS game!

The game’s difficulty curve is also a little bit uneven too – with earlier boss battles being considerably more difficult than the final boss battle at the end of the game, to give one example. Likewise, some of the game’s more difficult levels occur earlier or during the middle of the game, rather than consistently towards the end.

So, yes, you will need the kind of perseverance and determination that can only be gained by playing other fiendishly difficult retro FPS games and/or modern fan-made levels for “Doom II” in order to complete this game. And, yes, it can be completed! Just don’t expect to do it in a single weekend though!

Like a lot of old FPS games, “SiN” is a full-length game! It’s up to you whether you consider this to be either “good value for money” or “Oh my god! This game is so long! I’ll never finish it!“, but it contains something like 20-30 challenging levels – with some larger levels being split into two halves.

However, the quality of the level design is extremely variable. For every great, interesting-looking, thrillingly fun and/or inventively non-linear level – there’s also a level that you will probably get completely and utterly stuck on.

Often, you’ll be able to work out what to do after you’ve spent 10-80 minutes wandering around in circles. But, occasionally, you’ll find yourself so stuck that you’ll actually have to look online for a walkthrough – only to find that the solution is seemingly “obvious”, but implemented in a way that doesn’t make it obvious to the player.

For example, all you need to do to lower this lift is to press a little button. Yes, that tiny little thing shrouded in shadows that is really, really easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it! *shakes fist angrily*

I almost had to check a walkthrough for this bit. Fortunately, I eventually happened to look upwards and notice a crane on top of a tall building nearby that I was supposed to shoot.

Still, that said, some areas of this game look really cool. Yes, there are a lot of generic-looking levels, but this game can get really creative sometimes – including locations such as an oilrig, a vaguely “Goldeneye”-style jungle segment, a surprisingly good underwater segment, futuristic areas with cool lighting, a creepy mansion etc..

Seriously, more of the game should look like this!

Finally! An underwater level that I DON’T hate!

The weapon and enemy designs in this game are acceptable, but not quite as creative as many FPS games from the mid-late 1990s. Although the later levels give you some slightly more interesting weapons and include a greater variety of enemies to fight, many of the early levels mostly involve just fighting almost identical henchmen (who are very vaguely similar to the Strogg from “Quake II” but with different graphics) with the standard pistol, shotgun and assault rifle. *yawn*

Still, there is a certain element of skill to the combat, since this game allows for headshots (which you’re going to have to use regularly, since the henchmen are bullet sponges otherwise). Likewise, in the earlier parts the game, enemies will occasionally shoot your weapon out of your hands.

However, you have to manually pick up any ammo etc.. that enemies drop by pressing the “use” button. Yes, you’ll get used to doing this after a while, but it can be confusing at first.

Even so, the later parts of the game are certainly better, and the monsters on offer include robot spiders, robotic zombies (the Strogg again?), large muscular mutants and even a monster who reminded me a bit of the Bandersnatch mutants from an early 2000s Playstation 2 game called “Resident Evil: Code Veronica X“:

Yay! Survival horror πŸ™‚

“SiN” also comes from an age where FPS games weren’t dreary, “realistic”, ultra-serious things. In other words, this game actually contains some creativity and humour! Whether it’s the numerous sarcastic conversations that Blade and JC have over their radio or lots of silly background details, this game doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously.

For example, the bad guys in the first level quite literally kiss their asses goodbye when they die.

Yes, this humour might not be to everyone’s taste, but it really helps to add some light-hearted fun to the game, not to mention that it also keeps the player’s spirits up during some of the more frustrating and/or annoying parts of the game. For example, whenever Blade kills one of the monsters, robots, mutants or identical henchmen you’ll face throughout the game, he’ll sometimes say a vaguely “badass” line such as “Ha! Schooled ya!” etc… Seriously, this is wonderfully 90s πŸ™‚

However, I should probably also point out that this game is a bit “politically incorrect” by modern standards. I have mixed views about this.

On the one hand, the game’s immature humour can still be absolutely hilarious at times. However, some other parts of the game do seem a little uncomfortable by modern standards – such as the game’s “men vs women” theme (eg: Elexis’ speeches, Blade’s frequent use of the word “bitch” etc..). So, yes, this game can be somewhat eyebrow-raising when played these days.

In terms of music, this game is reasonably good. Although some of the music is kind of forgettable, some of the music – especially in the later levels – is fairly good, and it really helps to add some atmosphere to the game. Seriously, I’m kind of annoyed that GOG didn’t get the rights to include a MP3 copy of the soundtrack for this game as a bonus (like they’ve done with some other games).

The voice-acting in this game is absolutely brilliant too. Whether it’s Blade’s gloriously cheesy “tought grizzled action hero” dialogue, or JC’s constant sarcasm over the radio or Elexis’ melodramatic “sophisticated villain” dialogue, the voice acting is wonderfully fun πŸ™‚

All in all, this is both a great and a terrible game. If you’re looking for 1990s nostalgia, you’ll find it in abundance here. But, don’t even think about playing this game unless you’ve had a couple of decades’ worth of FPS gaming experience! This is a game that demands perseverance, and which will barely play fair with you sometimes. Likewise, the level design is of varying quality too. Still, it’s imaginative and silly and creative and… well… FPS games don’t really do this kind of thing any more.

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

Today’s Art (26th March 2018)

Well, this digitally-edited painting was kind of an interesting one. Originally, I felt somewhat uninspired until I remembered a really cool music video/concert video I’d discovered a while earlier and had been watching on repeat. So, I suddenly had the idea to make a music-themed painting.

But, fairly soon after I started sketching, the picture went in much more of a stylised 1980s/90s direction (what a surprise..). Interestingly, this painting originally had a much more detailed background (with a keyboardist and lots of vaguely industrial-looking machinery – you can still see part of it above the green light in the background) but this kind of made the picture look a lot less dramatic or focused, so I ended up using a more minimalist background in the end.

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

“Stage Lighting” By C. A. Brown

Yet Another “Alternate Versions” Art Preview :)

Well, since I wasn’t quite satisfied with the article I’d planned to post today, I thought that I’d show off some alternate versions of next year’s upcoming paintings instead (with fewer visual FX than the finished paintings will have).

These are part of an extended series of realistic landscapes (based on photos I’ve taken) that will start appearing here in January/February next year. Basically, due to time reasons, there will be a lot of these landscapes next year since – ironically – they’re actually quicker to paint than sci-fi etc… art is. Don’t worry, monthly comics will continue this year and next year though (although the mini series will become shorter earlier next year).

Anyway, enjoy πŸ™‚

“Hambledon – Pyramid [Version without fog effects]” By C. A. Brown

“Cowplain – Forest Of Weird [Version without fog effects or clouds]” By C. A. Brown

“Westbrook – Haunted Mansion [Version without clouds or rain]” By C. A. Brown

“Southwick – Brewery [Version with fewer shading/lighting effects]” By C. A. Brown

Short Stories – March 2018

Well, although I’ve decided to take a break, possibly an extended one, from writing daily short stories (don’t worry, normal daily articles and art posts will continue πŸ™‚), I thought that I’d collect links to all 24 of the short stories I posted here this month in case you missed any of them (like I did with the nine stories I wrote in February). You can also find links to lots of other short stories on this page too.

I’m still amazed that I managed to write a total 33 short stories in a row (the most I’ve managed before is fourteen stories) and the highlights of this month’s collection include: ‘Floor Seven‘, ‘Stage Fright‘, ‘Rusty‘, ‘Expo‘, ‘Haunt Of The Horror Comics‘, ‘A MΓ€rchen In March‘, ‘Village‘, ‘Demo‘ and ‘Last Refuge Of The Splatterpunks‘.

Anyway, here are the stories πŸ™‚ Enjoy πŸ™‚

Haunt Of The Horror Comics“: This is a short story, set in mid-1950s Britain, about a couple who visit a corner shop shortly before horror comics are banned.

Culture: This is a random character study – set during the ’00s – which follows a goth who visits a goth club for the first time. Originally, this story was supposed to be a sarcastic comedy, but it ended up going in a slightly more serious/literary/poignant direction instead.

Floor Seven“: This is a creepy horror story, set in 1990s America, that I wrote because I wanted to try writing something that evoked the grungy claustrophobic gloom of many classic mid-late 1990s Hollywood horror movies, TV show episodes and videogames.

Expo“: This is a random story, set in 2000/2001, about a games journalist who visits a videogame trade show/exhibition in London.

A MΓ€rchen In March: This is a vaguely Lovecraftian horror/fantasy story (with some very mild thriller elements too) that was inspired by the recent snowy weather. It’s a little bit more of a descriptive and “serious” story than usual, but it was interesting to write.

Background Music: This is a somewhat rambling, semi-autobiographical “stream of consciousness” style piece that I wrote about having random daydreams during heavy metal concerts. It probably isn’t my best story, but it was kind of fun to write.

Food Court ’95“: This is a slightly random and mildly comedic vignette, set in mid-1990s America, that I wrote when I was tired (so, it’s probably filled with historical errors, Briticisms etc..). It basically just involves a punk and a frat guy sitting in the food court of a shopping centre and trading sarcastic and/or cynical dialogue with each other. Still, for something I wrote when I was tired, it turned out relatively well, I guess.

Heist: In the distant future, two criminals are trying to hack their way into the vault of a storage facility. But, there’s a problem! The security robots are closing in on them and they’ve only got one plasma pistol between them.

Frat House Blues ’95: Here’s the long-awaited sequel to “Food Court ’95“. Ok, I actually wrote this because one line in “Food Court” made me wonder what Roy and Lucy’s Friday night would actually be like. Needless to say, it includes lots of sarcastic dialogue and a couple of ’90s pop culture references (including a potentally anachronistic one).

Plain Sight: This is a descriptive urban fantasy/magic realism story that I had a lot of fun writing πŸ™‚ But, even after trimming something like four paragraphs from it, it’s still marginally longer (at 1000-1100 words) than many of my other stories. Then again, this might be because of the genre – I mean, fantasy fiction isn’t exactly known for brevity…

Common Factor“: This bizarre cyberpunk story was the result of both spending too much time reading “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson* and watching multiple Youtube videos about obscure musical instruments. (*due to major scheduling differences between these short stories and my daily articles, my review of this novel won’t appear until next February. Even so, there will be a review of Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” in December ).

Rusty: …And this cyberpunk comedy story is what happens when I play “Doom II” for the first time in about two weeks (how did I get that out of practice so fast?) and then find an absolutely hilarious pirate-themed music video [Explicit lyrics] on Youtube. This short story is also something of a spiritual successor to this cyberpunk story I wrote in 2016 too.

Trance“: This is a cyberpunk story that includes no electronic technology whatsoever. And, although I tried to write something like this in 2016, this one actually technically fits into the criteria of “cyberpunk without electronic technology“.

Chess: Somehow, this ended up being a story about… chess.. of all things. It’s kind of a mildly “literary” story, with some comedy elements.

Stage Fright: At a heavy metal concert, something evil is lurking in the audience! This gloriously cheesy 1980s-style comedy horror story was sooo much fun to write πŸ™‚ I wrote the first draft of it on the day that the new Judas Priest album came out, so no prizes for guessing what I was listening to when I wrote it.

Order: In a dystopian future, someone is questioned about membership of a mysterious secret society. And, yes, I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to write any dystopian fiction. And, if anyone is curious, the meme mentioned in the story also makes a secret appearance in this article I posted in February.

Last Refuge Of The Splatterpunks: An old 1980s horror author discovers something terrible about one of his old books and decides to drown his sorrows at the pub with a fellow ’80s horror author. And, yes, this story was inspired by something I saw when looking online for modern splatterpunk fiction that brought out my inner grumpy old cynic and literally made me say something like “In my day…“. And, well, I only discovered splatterpunk fiction during the 2000s!

Village: A couple get lost in the countryside and find themselves in a small village – but, the village isn’t on the map! This gothic horror story, set in the late 1980s/early 1990s, was inspired by a recent visit to a small village called Southwick.

Grim: A man is shopping in a run-down shopping centre when he notices that a certain robed, scythe-wielding fellow is following him.. This story, set in the 2000s, was kind of fun to write (and I’m seriously surprised that it’s taken me this long to use the Grim Reaper as a character) although it was a little bit rushed, and it probably shows.

Demo: Ok, I mostly wrote this cynical nostalgia-themed comedy story so that I could include an “extract” from one of the fictitious 1980s splatterpunk horror novels mentioned in this story. And, yes, it was really fun to write πŸ™‚

Letters: Sometimes, the local paper is accidentally delivered to Joanne’s house. Normally, she doesn’t mind, but she has noticed something happening with the “letters” page…. Although this story was a little rambling, I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to write something in this genre πŸ™‚

Deadline: This random Lovecraftian/magic realism/2000s nostalgia story was something I wrote when I was in an uninspired mood. It probably isn’t my best work, but I’m still surprised that I managed to write something.

Snow Beast: Wow! I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to write a monster story πŸ™‚ This story was inspired by the recent “mini beast” snowstorm here in the UK, and it can also be read as something of a prequel and/or companion piece to this story from 2-3 weeks ago.

Blank: I had writer’s block, so this story is the ultimate lazy cop-out (a story about a writer getting writer’s block). It’s a bit like the story a couple of days ago (“Deadline“), but with more comedy and commentary about the horror genre. The final two paragraphs of this story turned out vaguely ok, but the rest of it isn’t brilliant.

Today’s Art (25th March 2018)

Well, today’s (heavily) digitally-edited painting is something a bit different. Since I was feeling somewhat uninspired, I ended up making this painting based on a memory of a car journey through Cowplain a couple of days earlier. Although I’ve seen the town quite a few times before, this time seemed dramatic enough to stick in my memory since, in the early evening, it kind of reminded me slightly of both a 1980s movie-style small American town and something from a hyper-realistic Studio Ghibli film.

Surprisingly, a quick look on Google Images after I made the painting seems to show that there don’t really seem to be any paintings of Cowplain out there. Plus, it also showed me that at least one of the buildings in my memory painting wasn’t as accurate as it should be.

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

“Cowplain From The Passenger Seat” By C. A. Brown