One Quick Tip For Writing Ultra-Gripping Action Scenes In Thriller Stories

Well, since I seem to be going through a phase of reading thriller novels at the moment, I thought that I’d talk about one of the ways that these stories sometimes make their action-based scenes especially gripping and/or compelling.

In short, a truly gripping action scene is like watching someone solve a challenging puzzle. Allow me to explain…

The best action scenes will often begin with the main character in a situation where they are outnumbered, outgunned and/or faced with seemingly inevitable doom. They then have to come up with a clever strategy or a cunning plan in order to even the odds and/or to survive. The important thing in these types of scenes is that the main character can only get out of the dangerous situation by using their brains, rather than just their fists or guns.

But, why are these types of scenes so gripping? There are several reasons for this. The first is the dramatic sense of suspense that comes from placing the main character in a seemingly “impossible” situation. The second is the audience’s curiosity about how they are going to survive. The third is the exhilarating feeling of satisfaction that comes from watching the main character outwit, outfox and outsmart whoever or whatever is threatening them.

This progression from suspense, to curiosity to satisfaction is one of the best ways to keep your audience gripped during action scenes.

A good cinematic example of this is probably the first “Die Hard” movie. In this film, a policeman is trapped inside a tower that has been seized by dangerous criminals – he’s outnumbered, outgunned and in serious danger (as shown in a scene where he injures his foot). This movie is utterly gripping because he has to use tactics, strategy and planning in order to fight and defeat the criminals. He can’t just mindlessly charge through the building shooting wildly at the bad guys, because he wouldn’t survive. So, he’s faced with a challenging puzzle and the audience get to watch him solve it.

By contrast, the fifth “Die Hard” film is considerably less thrilling because it doesn’t really contain these elements. The main character is clearly shown to be immune to danger (eg: he can fall through several layers of scaffolding, crouch next to explosions etc… with barely a scratch). Likewise, whenever he is faced with adversity, he often just mindlessly shoots his way out of it, with very little in the way of strategy or planning. It really isn’t a very gripping film, even though the action scenes are designed to look “spectacular”.

So, a truly gripping action scene in a thriller story needs to be like a dangerous, difficult puzzle. It needs to be a challenge that the main character can’t solve by just mindlessly shooting or punching their way out of it. They actually need to use their brain in order to escape a dangerous situation.

Although the action/thriller genre has a reputation for being “mindless” or “stupid”, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A truly compelling action scene is much more about intelligent puzzle solving than about explosions, car chases etc… It is about watching the main character find some clever way out of a dangerous situation that can’t be resolved with mindless brute force alone.

So, think of the action scenes in your thriller story as puzzles for your main character to solve, and you’ll end up with a much more gripping story.


Sorry for the short and repetitive article, but I hope that it was useful πŸ™‚

Review: “X-COM: Enforcer” (Retro Computer Game)

Well, although I had planned to review one of the “The Incredible Machine” games, I ended up being distracted by various other things.

But, before I could resume playing that game, I noticed that a vaguely interesting-looking game called “X-COM: Enforcer” was on special offer on GOG. And, since it had been reduced to Β£1.19 at the time (and the download was just a little under 300Mb), I thought that I’d check it out.

However, I should point out that I haven’t played any of the other “X-COM” games – so, I can’t compare this one to them. Still, from what I’ve read, the other “X-COM” games are very different to this one. So, if you’re an “X-COM” fan, your experience of this game may differ from mine.

I should also point out that at least one part of the game contains FLICKERING LIGHTS, although I don’t know if they’re intense and/or fast enough to cause problems.

So, let’s take a look at “X-COM: Enforcer”:

“X-COM: Enforcer” is a sci-fi third-person shooter game from 2001 (wow, that’s… 17 years.. ago!). The game begins with a scientist building a combat robot, called “Enforcer”, to defend Earth. However, before he can finish testing the robot, an alien invasion begins…..

It literally happens just after the robot has been brought online. What perfect timing!

One of the very first things that I will say about this game is that, although it is nothing groundbreaking, it is fun! I talked about this yesterday, but the entire game is designed to keep you playing it.

Everything from the short levels (which encourage you to play “just one more level”) to the way that the game handles combat, difficulty and mission objectives are designed to make you want to play more. So, yes, this is the kind of game which you plan to play for ten minutes, but end up playing for three hours.

This game is a time bandit, but in the best possible way πŸ™‚

Plus, despite being released in 2001, this game is very 1990s in terms of style and atmosphere. It isn’t a gritty, serious, realistic shooter or anything like that. It is a knowingly silly sci-fi action game about robots and aliens. It is bright, colourful, gameplay-focused and fun.

It also contains some vaguely imaginative weapons and some “Duke Nukem 3D“-style witty dialogue from the Enforcer too – mostly consisting of lines like “Don’t mess with Earth!” etc.. delivered in a Robocop-like voice. Which is hilarious!

It’s down to you and me, you one… oops! Wrong game!

As you would expect, the vast majority of the gameplay revolves around combat. In many ways, this game is slightly similar to games like “Alien Shooter” or “Serious Sam“. It is an intense and gloriously mindless “shoot-em-up” game with an emphasis on frantic, fast-paced combat against hordes of monsters.

The game’s combat is, in a word, streamlined. The aiming system has been simplified to a “Doom“-style horizontal-only aiming system, which reduces the need for accuracy. Your character can only hold one weapon at a time, which encourages you to search for better weapons and means that you don’t have to worry about choosing weapons in the middle of a fight. The monsters drop time-limited bonuses when defeated, which encourages you to play quickly and aggressively.

Yes, THIS is an action game!

This simplified and streamlined combat works surprisingly well, and it helps to make the experience of playing the game a lot more intense and thrilling. Like in several other third-person shooters, you can also upgrade your character and the game’s weapons between levels (using “data points” you find in-game).

Yes, you actually have to collect the points in-game. Since this game is from 2001, there are absolutely no annoying micro-transactions here πŸ™‚

The only slight flaw with the game’s combat is that one of the weapons – the freeze gun – slows down the pace of the combat considerably, and trying to avoid picking it up can be a bit of an annoyance. Likewise, the camera angles in the game can sometimes be angled very slightly too steeply – most of the time, this isn’t an issue, but it can be annoying at times.

The game’s upgrade system is fairly good, and provides a great incentive for getting high scores in each level. However, new weapons and abilities are often only unlocked if you find “unresearched objects” scattered around certain levels. Whilst this (and another system that allows you to unlock bonus levels) provides an incentive for the player to look around and explore a bit, it also means that the player can finish the game without even seeing all of the weapons.

In terms of saving, this game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving. However, I can sort of understand this. Since it is mitigated somewhat by the short level length, the lack of a proper saving system lends each level an “all or nothing” quality which encourages you to play more and play in a more assertive fashion. However, this system annoyingly doesn’t let you revisit previous levels though.

Which is a shame since this is one of the few games where I’d actually want to revisit previous levels to grind for more points.

Thankfully, “X-COM: Enforcer” contains a proper health system – which helps to add suspense to each battle. However, a very slow and limited form of regenerating health can be unlocked as a special ability. Given the limits of this system and the fact that you actually have to earn it, it feels reasonably fair and can actually come in handy during some of the later levels.

The game’s difficulty is deliberately designed to make the player feel like an expert. Whilst I wouldn’t call this an “easy” game, I only died a few times when playing it (and at least half of those times involved accidentally falling off of ledges).

Although a couple of the boss battles are slightly challenging, the game’s difficulty curve is fairly gentle – and it is intense enough to make you feel like an expert player, whilst also being considerably more forgiving than a game like “Alien Shooter” or “Serious Sam”. Basically, this game contains the illusion of challenging difficulty – but this is done really well (eg: I really wouldn’t be surprised if the game spawned in extra health power-ups when your health is running low etc..)

Even so, the final boss battle is at least somewhat challenging πŸ™‚

Generally, most of the game’s mission objectives revolve around destroying a certain number of alien teleporters and/or rescuing a certain number of civilians. Occasionally, the game shakes things up by including a wave shooter-style level, a boss battle or a level where you have to protect a group of trapped civilians for a certain amount of time. Surprisingly though, these simplistic objectives work really well, since they keep the emphasis firmly on the thrilling fast-paced action.

Although the game contains a few non-linear levels, many of the levels are fairly linear. This actually works quite well in this context since, again, it keeps the action fairly streamlined. Plus, there’s even an optional hint function that helps to ensure that you don’t get stuck. If this was an FPS game, I’d consider the linear levels and hint function to be a major flaw. But, since it’s an arcade-like third-person shooter, then it actually fits in with the game surprisingly well.

Yes, this feature is actually useful rather than patronising.

In terms of visual design, this game has some reasonably good moments. Although a fair number of the levels consist of very slightly generic outdoor and urban areas, there are some visually-interesting and creative levels on offer here too. And, even the more visually-boring levels aren’t that much of a problem – since they just serve as a blank canvas for the much more exciting action within each level.

I absolutely love the architecture in this level πŸ™‚

Plus, there’s a very vaguely “Blade Runner”-style cyberpunk level too πŸ™‚

Then there’s this shopping centre that reminds me of “Silent Hill 3”.

In terms of length, this game took me about 6-8 hours to complete. But, thanks to the fact that it consists of lots of shorter levels, the game feels a lot more substantial when you are actually playing it. Still, given how compelling this game becomes, it’s the sort of game that would still feel “too short” even if it was twice as long.

Plus, thanks to being very gameplay-focused (rather than story or puzzle-based), this game has a lot of replay value. However, your only reward for completing the game seems to be a few extra unlockable skins for the Enforcer. Still, things like finding bonus levels etc.. help to increase the replay value too.

Early in the game, the bonus levels are very generic. But, later, you can find bonus levels like this “Pac Man”-style one…

The game’s sound design is reasonably good, with the best sound effects being the satisfying drilling sound when you pick up some health or the crunchy ice sound that accompanies the freeze gun. Likewise, the music is fast repetitive electronic music, which goes reasonably well with the style of the game. One stand-out musical moment is that one piece of background music features a sample of the famous “Houston, we have a problem” recording.

The voice acting, on the other hand, is “so bad that it’s good”. Throughout the game, there are voice-overs from the scientist who built the Enforcer. He sounds endearingly annoying – that’s the best way I can think to describe his dialogue. The Enforcer’s dialogue is.. well… robotic. Still, this adds a lot of comedy value to the game – since he delivers “badass” witticisms in a Robocop-style way.

Seriously, I miss the days when action games had sarcastic protagonists…

The voice acting for the final boss is hilariously terrible though. Seriously, the voice acting in this game is quite literally “so bad that it’s good”.

All in all, although this game isn’t perfect, it’s an overlooked gem. Yes, it’s a gleefully mindless shoot-em-up game that is relatively short and not too difficult – but it is fun. It is designed to be thrilling and to make you want to play more. If you’ve played “Alien Shooter”, “Alien Shooter 2”, “Zombie Shooter”, “Painkiller” and both classic “Serious Sam” games, and you want something vaguely similar (but a bit easier), then this game is worth playing.

Most of the game’s design decisions work really well and, although it doesn’t sound like much on paper, the actual experience of playing this game is highly enjoyable. It is a thrilling, streamlined action game that will entertain you with robotic efficiency.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just about get a four.

Review: “John Carpenter’s Vampires” (Film)

Back when I was a young teenager, I tried to watch as many horror movies as I could. Since I didn’t really look old enough to buy them on VHS/DVD and since I could hardly ever convince anyone to buy them on my behalf, I often just ended up recording them off of the TV with my VCR. Amongst many of the rebellious late-night horror movies that Channel 4 had to offer back then, there was a film called “John Carpenter’s Vampires”.

Needless to say, when I was in a bit of a nostalgic mood recently, I vaguely remembered this film. After a quick look online, I noticed that second-hand DVDs of it were going ridiculously cheaply on Amazon. And, since my VCR doesn’t work any more (and the tape with “Vampires” on it seems to be lost to the mists of time), I decided to get it on DVD.

So, let’s take another look at “John Carpenter’s Vampires”:

Seriously, this cover art is really cool πŸ™‚

“John Carpenter’s Vampires” is an action/horror movie from 1998 (Wow! It’s 20 years old already!) starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee. As the title suggests, it is also directed by renowned horror director John Carpenter.

The film focuses on a group of rough, tough American vampire hunters, led by Jack Crow (Woods), who have been hired by the Catholic church to track down and kill the master vampire, Valek.

And, yes, they are that gloriously ’90s combination of “badass” and “silly”.

Initially, things seem to be going fairly well. After the hunters successfully battle a nest of vampires in New Mexico, they immediately rush to the nearest church to pray for… Ha! Only joking! In true ’90s action hero fashion, they travel to a nearby motel to have a wild party. However, as the party gets into full swing, an uninvited guest shows up….

You honestly weren’t going to have a decadent party without a vampire, were you?

After the ensuing bloodbath, only Jack Crow, his buddy Montoya (Baldwin) and a party guest called Katrina (Lee) manage to get out of the motel alive. Well, mostly.

Katrina has been bitten by Valek and is slowly turning into a vampire. Although Montoya wants to shoot her before she turns, Crow realises that she has a psychic link with Valek. A psychic link that will allow them to track down Valek and get their revenge…….

*sigh* If only the American government had invested in decent public transport for rural communities…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is probably more of a gritty action movie than a horror movie. However, this really isn’t a bad thing – since it seems to have a vaguely Robert Rodriguez-esque style, tone, setting and atmosphere. Although it was directed by John Carpenter, this film is at least vaguely reminiscent of some of Rodriguez’s greatest hits from the 90s (like “Desperado” and “From Dusk till Dawn).

In addition to this, this film is a vampire film from the 90s! This decade produced so many amazing things in the vampire genre, including films like “Bram Stoker’s Dracula“, “Blade“, “From Dusk till Dawn“, “Interview With The Vampire” and “Dracula: Dead And Loving It“, to novels like “Lost Souls” and TV series like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel“.

Back in the 90s, vampires weren’t sparkly romantics – they were usually either fearsome monsters or really handsome goth guys. In this film, the vampires mostly fall into the “fearsome monsters” category.

The only “Twilight” here is the time of the day when the vampires rise from their graves to feast upon the blood of the living.

Like with many vampire movies, this film has it’s own unique interpretation of the vampire genre too. Not only is the film’s main villain, Valek, given some backstory – but Crow and his team usually kill vampires by harpooning them with a crossbow bolt before dragging them out into the sunlight (where they burst into flames in the traditional fashion). Interestingly, the vampires in this film are also totally unaffected by things like garlic, crosses etc.. too .

Yes, these vampires are literally standing right next to a giant cross!

The film’s pacing is reasonably good too, alternating between blood-spattered action scenes and more suspenseful scenes. Likewise, the film’s lean 100 minute running time helps to ensure that the story moves along at a decent pace too.

The film’s writing is very much from the Quentin Tarantino-style school of writing too. But, although it lacks much of the wit that Tarantino’s films have, the dialogue here is suitably gritty and irreverent for a film of this type.

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Crow and Montoya are the kind of morally-ambiguous, rough characters who are only distinguishable from common criminals by the fact that they also fight vampires.

Katrina is something of an under-developed character though – and she spends a fair amount of the film having visions, trying to stop herself turning into a vampire and occasionally being treated roughly by Crow and Montoya.

Seriously, upon rewatching “Vampires” these days, I realised that I’d forgotten how misogynistic this old film can occasionally be. Although the vast majority of the film doesn’t really have this problem, there are at least a small number of scenes that will raise eyebrows. Still, given that Crow and Montoya are meant to be “unlikeable anti-heroes”, this might explain these elements of the film. Even so, a few moments of this film will be more “disturbingly dated” than anything else when seen these days.

Valek, on the other hand, is a really great villain. Not only does he have a suitably interesting backstory, but he’s able to be both menacingly sophisticated and fearsomely vicious.

Nooo! WHY won’t anyone join my Cradle Of Filth tribute band?!

The only real criticism I have of his character is that he really doesn’t turn up often enough. Still, given that he’s meant to be a mysteriously elusive villain, then his relatively few appearances probably add to the mystique.

Likewise, the Catholic priest who ends up joining Crow, Montoya and Katrina about a little under halfway through the film is a reasonably good character too. However, he does the usual silly Hollywood thing of suddenly turning from a slightly bookish archivist into a badass action hero within a relatively short amount of time.

Seriously, he goes from a nervous, nerdy guy who Crow dislikes so much that he actually violently bullies him at one point….

…. to being an expert member of the vampire-hunting team within the space of about a day or so!

The fight scenes in this film are fairly well-choreographed and the special effects are also suitably splatterific too. Since this film is from just before the time when CGI effects began to become common, all of the special effects here are good old practical effects – which helps to lend the horror-based scenes a bit more realism. Not only that, the film even manages to squeeze in a (somewhat unrealistic in context) badass explosion too:

And, yes, James Woods walks away from it in the classic action movie fashion too.

In terms of the lighting and set design, it’s reasonably good too. Although most of the film takes place in abandoned parts of rural New Mexico, these run-down buildings and deserts are sometimes enhanced by some really cool lighting, which occasionally seems to involve some kind of red filter being placed on the top of the camera lens.

Seriously, the lighting is really cool in some parts of this film.

Plus, there are some really cool contrasts between light and darkness.

Not to mention that this location reminded me a little bit of the old “Silent Hill” games too.

All in all, this is a really good action/horror movie. Not only is it another great example of why the 1990s were the golden decade of the vampire genre, but it’s also thrilling, suspenseful and dramatic too. Yes, the dialogue could have been slightly wittier in some parts, and the film is occasionally somewhat misogynistic, but – despite these faults – it’s a great example of how awesome the vampire genre used to be.

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

Three Lazy Ways To Include Fight Scenes In Your Webcomic (If You Don’t Usually Include Them)


As regular readers probably know, I’m busy with making this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing. As such, I thought that I’d talk about making webcomics again. Today, I’ll be looking at lazy ways to include elements from the action genre in your (web)comics, if you haven’t had much practice at this.

Although action scenes in comics are designed to be read quickly, they are probably one of the most difficult things to draw well. After all, you’ve got to work out how to draw your characters standing in all sorts of dramatic-looking poses and you also have to clearly show a complex series of events using just a few panels.

Yes, technically, you should probably practice drawing anatomy. You should learn how to draw every type of perspective. You should probably carefully study lots of action scenes in other comics and learn techniques from them. But, you’re making a webcomic and you’re on a schedule. So, you could always, you know, cheat.

But, a word of warning, these “lazy” techniques will only work if you include action scenes infrequently in your comics. A small number of “lazy” action scenes, coupled with lots of funny dialogue, interesting artwork etc.. can be overlooked by readers. But, if you’re including lots of action in your comic, then you should probably study how to draw these scenes properly.

But, that said, here are some lazy ways to include action scenes in your comic:

1) Gunfights: If you are inexperienced with the action genre in comics, then you should probably try to stick to including gun-based combat in your comics if the story allows it.

Not only is it easier to learn how to draw someone holding or firing a gun (eg: a few poses, as opposed to the hundreds of possible poses needed to draw a realistic fist-fight, sword-fight etc..) but, due to the especially deadly nature of guns, it can mean that the fight scenes in your comics can plausibly be over within the space of a couple of panels at the most. In other words, there are fewer complicated combat-based panels to draw.

Of course, you shouldn’t include guns in comics where they would look somewhat out of context. So, this technique isn’t a cure-all for being inexperienced with drawing action scenes. But, if you have to include other weapons in your comic, then….

2) Posing: If you need a lazy way to give the impression that your comic contains lots of action, without actually including that much action, then one way to do this is to include as many (or more) scenes of characters holding or brandishing weapons than scenes where they actually use them. Just make sure that you only include this in contexts where your characters would realistically be expected to be brandishing weapons.

For example, my Halloween comic from last year is set during a zombie apocalypse (eg: a context where the characters should probably be armed) and it contains something like eleven or twelve panels where characters are holding or brandishing a variety of unusual weapons, but not using them. On the other hand, there are only something like five or six panels in the entire comic where the characters actually use those weapons.

In other words, although the characters are visibly armed for large parts of the comic, there are about twice as many panels showing the characters not using their weapons.

Doing this sort of thing gives the impression that the characters are in a dramatic and dangerous situation (why would they be armed if they weren’t?) whilst also allowing you to include a minimum of complex action scenes in your comic.

3) Implication: As ironic as it sounds, self-censorship can actually be your friend when it comes to drawing action scenes when you have little experience. Whilst a well-drawn action scene in a comic should show both an act of violence and it’s direct consequences (eg: someone swinging a punch and the punch connecting with whoever they are hitting), this requires a bit more planning and artistic knowledge to do well.

So, one lazy way to get around this is to use implication. For example, one panel of my upcoming Halloween comic shows the main characters being theatened. The next panel consists of nothing more than a melodramatic illustration of one of the main characters firing a machine gun (whilst saying a witty line of dialogue).

The “action” in the scene is conveyed entirely through “sound effects”, dialogue, dramatic lighting etc… But, it’s basically just a picture of the character standing still and firing a machine gun.

But, most critically, the panel after this one is just a dialogue-based panel. The “fight” is implied to be over through the more relaxed demeanour of the characters, and the more puzzling aspects of this scene (eg: where did the machine gun come from?) are addressed through dialogue.

Yes, it’s a lazy way to handle a scene like this but – because there won’t be that much violence in the comic (well, there will be more than usual, but less than in many more action-based comics) and because the comic is meant to be more of a comedy horror comic than a “serious” horror or thriller comic, then hopefully it won’t have too much of an adverse effect on the quality of the comic.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Review: “Zombie Shooter” (Computer Game)


Well, it’s been way too long since I last played a zombie game! So, when I saw that a game called “Zombie Shooter” was on special offer on GOG (it had been reduced from Β£4.99 to 79p) a few days before I originally wrote this review, I just had to check it out.

Plus, since this is a review of a zombie game, it almost goes without saying but I should probably warn you that this review will contain (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES / BLOODY IMAGES.

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


“Zombie Shooter” is a low budget third-person perspective shooting game from 2007. It takes a fairly old-school approach to both the graphics and the gameplay, and is the kind of timeless 2D game that could easily have been released any time from the mid-late 1990s onwards.

Seriously, the minimum processor you need for this game is a Pentium III (unlike some modern 2D games that can require a dual-core!) and the download is only a slender 56mb in size (again, why are modern 2D games sometimes over 1gb in size?). Modern indie developers take note, this is how “retro-style” games should be made!

In many ways, the gameplay in “Zombie Shooter” is a little bit like a cross between “Serious Sam” and modern-style “Doom II” WADs. In other words, it’s the kind of game where you will be faced with ludicrously large hordes of monsters on a regular basis. Yes, there are also some mild RPG-like elements, but these never get in the way of the gameplay.

These RPG elements take the form of a limited character selection option at the beginning of the game, and the ability to use bonus items you find in the game (there’s none of this modern “pay to win” rubbish here πŸ™‚ ) to buy new weapons , buy more ammo, upgrade your weapons, buy extra lives and/or upgrade your character’s stats between levels.

Yes, this screen matters a LOT more than you might think. And, unlike in modern games, it ISN'T trying to swindle you out of real life cash either :)

Yes, this screen matters a LOT more than you might think. And, unlike in some modern games, it ISN’T trying to swindle you out of real life cash either πŸ™‚

Often, the best option isn’t to buy a shiny new gun, but to upgrade a few key weapons (pistols, rocket launcher and flamethrower) repeatedly. Likewise, max out your health stats first- you’ll need all the extra health points you can get!

For example, there’s a disc gun that can slice through lines of zombies. But, you’re still better off focusing on a few weapons rather than trying out novelty weapons like this one.

Since this game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving (albeit with a lives system), this also means that if you fail a level then you can try again using a different combination of weapons and/or upgrades. This helps to introduce an extra level of strategy to what would otherwise be a fairly standard action game.

And, yes, you'll be failing levels quite a bit. This isn't one of those ultra-easy modern games!

And, yes, you’ll be failing levels quite a bit. This isn’t one of those ultra-easy modern games!

This, of course, brings me on to the gameplay. One of the first things that I will say is that the controls take a bit of getting used to. Although the game uses modern-style keyboard/mouse controls, the character movement isn’t always as predictable as it might initially seem – due to the isometric perspective that the game uses. Plus, the mouse aiming can take a while to get used to too.

This isometric perspective can also mean that your view is occasionally blocked by walls too. So, expect a bit of frustration during about the first hour or so of gameplay whilst you get used to the perspective. It would have been better if this game had used a top-down perspective, but I can see why they went with the isometric perspective, since it allows the graphics to contain a lot more detail.

Not only can your character be obscured by walls, so can the zombies!

Not only can your character be obscured by walls, so can the zombies!

Likewise, due to the high number of monsters and the game’s zoomed-out perspective, it’s possible to lose track of where your character is during gameplay. Some kind of glowing outline would have really helped to make certain parts of the game a lot less confusing. Still, like with the controls, this is something that you’ll probably get used to after a while.

Problems aside, this game is fun! It’s fast, action-packed and thrilling. It’s kind of like a third-person version of all the great classic FPS games. You can find secret areas, you have to explore levels that are at least slightly non-linear (though much more linear than old FPS games) and you’ll need to use strategy sometimes.

As you would expect from a 1990s-style zombie game, this game is gruesome! In fact, this is probably one of the goriest games that I’ve ever played – with the levels literally being awash with blood at various points in the game. Seriously, it’s up there with “Brutal Doom” and “Left 4 Dead 2”! But, if you’re squeamish, then you can apparently change the blood colour in the options menu.

Although the gameplay can get slightly repetitive sometimes, the game helps to keep things interesting by introducing multiple monster types. The most inventive of these is probably a type of enemy who looks like a soldier at first glance but, when killed, will transform into a fast-moving mutant creature that resembles the “Tyrant” bosses from the old “Resident Evil” games. Although this game isn’t particularly scary, this certainly caught me by surprise the first time I saw it…

Yes, there's actual CREATIVITY with some of the monster designs!

Yes, there’s actual CREATIVITY with some of the monster designs!

The game’s difficulty curve is a little bit inconsistent too. The early levels will be surprisingly challenging, due to your character’s weak weapons. However, when you’ve upgraded the pistols to the point where they’re basically dual uzis, the game gets easier for a while….

Yes, the upgraded pistols are actually BETTER than the shotgun! Heresy!!!

Yes, the upgraded pistols are actually BETTER than the shotgun! Heresy!!!

And, just when you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, you’ll find yourself playing a level which would be considered “excessive”, even by the standards of the modern “Doom II” modding community. But, like a challenging “Doom II” WAD, the game isn’t quite “unfair” though (eg: the levels are hard, but winnable).

Despite it’s relatively short length (it took me about 4-6 hours, spread over two days, to beat the main campaign), “Zombie Shooter” makes up for this by giving you an enjoyable, but occasionally frustrating, challenge on a regular basis. This also means that it never really feels like a “short” game either.

Yes, even THIS level can be beaten with enough perseverence.

Yes, even THIS level can be beaten with enough perseverence.

In addition to this, the game also includes a few cool set-pieces, like allowing you to control an automated gun turret in a nearby room.

Although this might seem a little bit boring at first, this segment is made more interesting by the fact that – if you don’t protect two doors near the turret’s controls, the monsters can actually attack you. If you stop using the turret to fight them, then the number of monsters surging towards the doors will began to increase…

Yes, this part is a bit more complex than it initially seems.

Yes, this part is a bit more complex than it initially seems.

The game’s final boss battle is worth a mention too. It’s as punishingly difficult as you might think (a fully-upgraded flamethrower is a must!) but, like in old-school FPS games, the boss can also be damaged by parts of the environment too.

In other words, if you turn on two generators and then lure the boss between two large tesla coils, then you can demolish about a fifth of his health bar in a few seconds.

Yes! This is gloriously retro :)

Yes! This is gloriously retro πŸ™‚

However, every time you do this, the game spawns in another horde of low-mid level monsters. So, as I said, make sure that your flamethrower is fully upgraded before you start playing this level.

From what I gather from the menus, this game also includes a couple of other gameplay modes (“Survive” and “Gun Stand”). I haven’t really checked these out at the time of writing – but, given the game’s short length, I guess that they add some replay value to the game.

In terms of stability, this game can be a little bit unstable. Basically, if you hit the “Windows” key whilst playing, then (on older PCs like mine at least) there’s a chance that you’ll need to restart your computer. But, apart from this (and a couple of temporary sound problems when I started the game for the very first time), it seems to be fairly stable and reliable. Even on my computer, which is a little over a decade old, the game only ever slowed down very briefly during the most intense sections.

In terms of music, the best track in the game is probably the main menu theme (which is suitably dramatic). However, the rest of the music isn’t really that memorable.

All in all, this game isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a low-budget action game which is resolutely old-school, and it is a joy to play. Yes, the controls and perspective can be awkward. Yes, it’s a little bit short (but it never really feels “short” when you’re playing). And, yes, you’re likely to ragequit a few times whilst playing. But, if you can get this game when it is on special offer, then you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Plus, it’s one of those games that “does what it says on the tin” too.

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would probably get somewhere between three and four. It’s really fun, if somewhat imperfect.

Today’s Art (2nd September 2016)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting is something a bit different and it may well be the beginnings of a new art series. Basically, after seeing some examples of old horror/action movie VHS cover art from the 1980s, I was absolutely fascinated and I wanted to create some of my own art in this style.

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

"Fake '80s Movies - Fossils" By C. A. Brown

“Fake ’80s Movies – Fossils” By C. A. Brown

Adding Some Action To Your Art – A Ramble (With An Art Preview too)

2016 Artwork Adding action to your art  Article sketch

A while back, I had began to make the painting/drawing that will be posted here on Sunday. I’d had the idea to make a Sherlock Holmes-themed picture and I was eager to get started.

However, after I’d started making the original ink drawing, something just didn’t feel quite right. So, after a few failed attempts at making changes to the picture, I abandoned it:

 It was going to be a "Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper" picture, but it didn't really seem dramatic enough.

It was going to be a “Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper” picture, but it didn’t really seem dramatic enough.

The problem was that I’d come up with a really dramatic idea for a painting, but it just didn’t look dramatic. The reason for this was, of course, that Sherlock Holmes was just standing there and not really doing anything more than smoking his pipe and looking over his shoulder. The painting was missing one crucial component – action.

So, I started a totally new painting. Originally, this was going to be a “serious” painting/drawing based on a scene from “The Adventure Of Black Peter” from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Return Of Sherlock Holmes”, but I eventually turned it into a parody cartoon because of the hilarious expression on Holmes’ face in my final digitally-edited painting.

"Holmes And Watson Parody" By C. A. Brown

“Holmes And Watson Parody” By C. A. Brown

The main difference between this picture, of course, is that there’s more action in this picture. Watson is reclining on a chair and reading a magazine and Holmes is hunched over and holding a large harpoon. Even though the events of this picture are far less dramatic than those in my abandoned picture, this picture looks a lot more interesting for the simple reason that there are a lot more things happening in it.

One of the problems that I’ve had with my art for quite a while is that it sometimes looks kind of “static”. Although it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be back in 2013-2013 where virtually every one of my drawings was just a picture of someone standing still on one side of the picture, I still sometimes don’t really add enough action to my artwork and I’m sure that I’m not the only artist who has this problem.

The fact is that, relatively speaking, it’s fairly easy to draw someone standing still. Actions, on the other hand, require a lot more planning in order to draw well. Although I’ve learnt a few basic techniques that have helped (like drawing stick figure-like “skeletons” in order to plan out what people will look like in different poses and to get the proportions vaguely close to right), I’m still sometimes reluctant to draw people in more than a few stock poses for the foolish reason that there’s a high risk of failure.

But, at the same time, this is how all artists learn. I mean, the only reason I know how to draw people doing anything other than standing still is through practice and failure. Learning anything new usually requires quite a bit of failure.

Of course, there are are lots of ways to reduce the risk of failure when working out how to draw people in new poses – you can look at reference pictures, make planning sketches, draw stick figures first and all of that. But, still, the risk of failure is there and – although it’s an essential learning tool- it’s not always something that I’m willing to risk.

Still, if you want to add more action to your artwork, then be prepared to fail a few times before you get it right. But, when it goes right, it’s totally worth it.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Review: “Dredd” (Film)

2015 Artwork Dredd Review sketch

Judge Dredd. As comic book action heroes go, he’s certainly one of the best. Unlike traditional American “superhero” characters, who emerged from the rigid censorship of the comics code – Judge Dredd emerged from the brilliantly cynical and subversive British comics scene of the 1970s and 80s (the same scene that gave us other cool characters like Tank Girl). Judge Dredd doesn’t have super-powers, he doesn’t need them. He’s the law.

Although there has already been a film adaptation of Judge Dredd in the 1990s (starring Sylvester Stallone), there was another adaptation released in 2012. Since this new adaptation was shown on Film Four recently (well, at the time of writing this review anyway), I thought that I’d check it out.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that this review will contain some SPOILERS.

“Dredd” is set in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk future where humanity lives in a giant William Gibson-esque “sprawl” called Mega City One. Judge Dredd is a member of the city’s authoritarian police force, with the power to issue sentences (including death) to criminals on the spot. If you haven’t read any of the comics, then all of this is sort of explained during a dramatic car chase and gunfight near the beginning of the film.

After solving this case, Dredd is called back to headquarters and he is assigned to assess a rookie judge called Cassandra Anderson. Although she failed several of the entry tests, she has psychic abilities as a result of a genetic mutation. As such, the Halls Of Justice want her on the force, provided that she can do her job well for a single day, under the supervision of Judge Dredd.

Dredd and Anderson are called out to one of the city’s gigantic 1960s/70s-style concrete skyscrapers (called ” The Peach Tree”) after reports of the brutal murder of three men.

Whilst investigating the case, the Judges stumble across several people who are dealing in “slow mo” – a potent (but relatively harmless) drug that allows users to briefly perceive time at one percent of it’s normal speed. Of course, Dredd’s rigid adherence to the letter of the law means that he must stamp out the trade in this joy-inducing substance with no mercy!

During the drug bust, Anderson arrests a man (called “Kay”) who – through her psychic abilities – she learns is not only responsible for the murders, but is also part of a large criminal gang occupying the top third of the tower block. This gang is an amalgamation of several of the city’s gangs, brought together by the ruthless leadership of Madeline Madrigal (or “Ma-Ma” for short).

Of course, as soon as Ma-Ma realises that the judges have arrested a key member of her gang – she takes control of the block and activates an emergency lockdown procedure. The rest of the film can be described as “Die Hard” meets “Blade Runner”.

And, yes, there’s a very good reason why I’ve likened this film to two great cinematic classics. For a comic book adaptation, it’s actually a really good and brilliantly unique film.

I was surprised by this until I learnt that the script was written by none other than Alex Garland – the guy who wrote “The Beach“. If you haven’t read this book, you should read it, it’s brilliant!

So, if you go into this film expecting it to be yet another generic, multi-million dollar special effects tech demo American comic book movie, then you are going to be very disappointed. And I will laugh at you.

“Dredd” is actually a proper old-school action movie. Not only are the two main characters trapped in a building with hundreds of armed criminals out to get them, but everything about this film is a little bit more like an old 1980s Paul Verhoeven movie (eg: “Total Recall”, “Robocop”) than a modern Michael Bay movie.

For starters, this film takes an unapologetically cynical view of the future. The inside of the tower block where most of the film takes place looks almost exactly like something from a British version of “Blade Runner” – with it’s neon signs, brutalist 1960s concrete architecture and worn-down futuristic technology. Seriously, this film contains some of the best set design that I’ve seen in a long time.

Not only that, since the plot of this film revolves around a drug that allows people to experience time in slow motion, there are lots of absolutely beautiful (or sometimes extremely gruesome) slow motion scenes in this film.

Although there’s one clichΓ©d “bullet time” style scene, most of these scenes are surprisingly inventive. For starters, unlike “ordinary” slow motion, these scenes have a strangely luminous quality to them which can occasionally even make some scenes later in the film look like something from “Blade Runner”.

In addition to this, “Dredd” also contains the kind of brilliantly cynical dark humour that used to be a hallmark of classic 1980s and 90s action movies, like “Robocop”.

For example, when Dredd is faced with a criminal who has taken someone hostage, he tries to negotiate with him. But, when this fails and the criminal laughs at him, Dredd just says “yeah, I heard you hot shot“. Of course, the phrase “hot shot” also activates the incendiary ammunition in Dredd’s futuristic pistol…

The cyberpunk genre has been famously described as “high technology and low lives” and this film captures this perfectly. It’s an old-school cyberpunk action movie and there aren’t many of these being made these days. So, yes, this film has a lot more atmosphere and “personality” than you might expect.

Like any good action movie, this film is fast-paced and absolutely crammed with dramatic fight scenes. But, unlike many modern comic book action films, these fights never really quite feel contrived or unrealistic. Not only do the characters in “Dredd” actually bleed realistically when they are injured (unlike in virtually every modern comic book blockbuster), but Dredd and Anderson aren’t invincible superheroes.

Yes, they have body armour and advanced medical technology but they’re still shown to be very much human, unlike the invincible superheroes in most modern comic book movies. This is a good thing because it actually adds a lot of suspense and drama to the film – since it really emphasises that they are two people alone against an entire army of villains. In other words, they have to rely on their intelligence and training, rather than just their weaponry.

Not only that, this film has absolutely perfect pacing. Although about half of the film is taken up with fighting of various kinds, it never really feels like it’s been shoehorned into the film for cheap drama (like in, say, the fifth “Die Hard” movie). Dredd and Anderson only fight when they feel that they absolutely have to and they’re just as likely to avoid or outsmart the villains as they are to just charge in with guns blazing. In other words, this film is more like an extremely violent thriller novel than a simple action movie.

Not only that, like the great movies of the 1980s and the 1990s, “Dredd” is only about ninety minutes long. In other words, unlike many bloated modern movies, there’s no room whatsoever for filler here. Everything that happens is directly relevant to the story in some way or another.

As for the acting and characters, they’re reasonably good. Karl Urban portrays Judge Dredd in a slightly more “realistic” and “serious” way than Stallone did in the 1990s. In fact, Dredd’s famous “I am the law” line actually comes across as rather subtle and understated in this film.

Olivia Thirlby also puts in a really great performance as Judge Anderson and she’s able to come across as being inexperienced, without being an idiot. If this makes any sense.

Wood Harris’s performance as Kay is fairly good and he comes across as a fairly realistic, but villainous, character. Even though he sometimes comes across as something of a generic henchman/villain kind of character, he has more of a personality than most of the other henchmen in the film do.

But, by far, the best performance in the film is Lena Headey’s performance as the ruthless Madeline Madrigal. She is, quite simply, one of the coolest movie villains that I’ve seen for a while. Imagine Lena Headey’s portrayal of Sarah Connor, but with the machiavellian mind of Cersei Lannister, and you’ll get a good idea of her character in this film.

All in all, “Dredd” is a much better film than I expected. It takes everything good about modern film-making and uses it to make something as good as many of the great sci-fi and action classics of the 1980s and 90s.

In an age of santised, three-hour long generic “PG-13” blockbuster movies – Dredd is a breath of fresh air. It’s a modern reminder of how great the sci-fi and action genres used to be.

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

Three Basic Tips For Adding Mindless Violence To Action Comics And Stories

2015 Artwork Mindless Violence In Action stories article sketch

Let me start by saying that, although the two genres are similar, you should never confuse the action genre with the thriller genre. Although thriller stories might feature scenes of thrilling action, they’re more about the protagonist outsmarting the antagonists than about the protagonist fighting the antagonists. In fact, a good protagonist in a thriller story should avoid violence as much as possible.

The action genre, on the other hand, is a little bit more mindless. It consists of mindlessly violent stories, comics, films and games that are designed to tap into the most primitive parts of our minds and make us vicariously feel like we’re badasses.

As long as you possess a vaguely functional moral compass and can distinguish between fantasy and reality, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these types of stories. They’re cathartic, they make us feel confident for a while and they don’t require much complex thought

But, although things in the action genre might be mindless to read, play or watch, actually creating interesting fictional scenes of mindless violence can be surprisingly difficult. So, here are a few tips:

1) Context And Morality: Even if your story consists of your main character doing nothing but fighting people, you still have to think very carefully about context and morality.

We’ve all seen action movies which feature absolutely bizarre fight scenes. No, I’m not talking about characters fighting with unusual weapons, I’m talking about characters fighting in situations where a fight wouldn’t realistically happen.

In other words, if you’re going to include a scene of mindless violence in your story, it has to happen in a situation where your audience would expect a fight to happen. Yes, you can show your main character battling hordes of henchmen when he or she is sneaking into the villain’s headquarters, but showing your main character randomly starting a martial arts fight in- say- a swimming pool is probably going to confuse your readers rather than thrill them.

Likewise, the moral context of the mindless violence in your action story can be the difference between something that will thrill your audience and something that will horrify them. Yes, in real life, violence is rarely (if ever) morally good in any way. But, in fiction, it’s a totally different story. To give you an example of what I’m talking about, I refer you to the first-person shooter genre of computer games.

Notice how, in virtually all of these games, you fight against equally-matched enemies or against enemies that are more powerful or more numerous than you. This is because making the audience identify with someone powerful who attacks someone weaker quite rightly makes the audience feel like they’re bullies, rather than badasses.

Likewise, notice how the characters that you fight in almost every FPS game generally tend to be evil characters (I mean, there’s a good reason why the very first popular FPS game was set during the second world war. There’s absolutely no moral ambiguity whatsoever when it comes to fighting against nazis).

Also, be sure to notice how these evil characters will often attack you first, usually as soon as they see you. Showing the main character fighting someone without a “good reason” to do so in an action story just makes them look evil, rather than heroic.

2) Fairness: Although it might be tempting to make the protagonist of your action story or comic an invulnerable god or goddess with superhuman abilities, this is a bad idea.

Even though your protagonist may be an expert in combat, it’s important to remember that they’re still human. This doesn’t mean that you should show them actually experiencing the realistic effects of violence (eg: serious injuries, death etc…), but you should at least pay lip service to this.

Why? Because showing that your main characters aren’t invulnerable actually makes your audience think that they’re more impressive. If your main character emerges victorious from a dramatic fight with three heavily-armed opponents with a few cuts and bruises, this shows the audience that there’s a chance that the main character could have lost but didn’t because of his or her expertise at combat.

However, if your main character emerges completely unscathed, then it’s less impressive because your audience knows that your character wasn’t really in any danger at all.

For a good example of this, I’ll mention something that I mentioned in my review of the fifth “Die Hard” movie. In the first “Die Hard” movie, John McClane suffers a serious injury after treading on some broken glass. Not only does this reinforce the fact that he’s only human, it also makes the fact that he still manages to defeat the villains despite these injuries, even more impressive.

Now, watch the fifth “Die Hard” film. At no point in this film does it seem like John McClane is actually in any danger. He can stand next to explosions and not even be knocked over. He can fall spectacular distances and get up, like nothing has happened to him. He’s invincible and, as such, anything he achieves is less impressive as a result.

3) Pacing: Yes, the action genre is considerably more violent than most other genres, but have you ever noticed how even the cheesiest action movie consists of more than just ninety minutes of constant fighting. There’s usually at least a couple of non-violent scenes in there. There’s a good reason for this.

Watching or reading about literally nothing but constant fighting gets boring after a while. Even game designers in the heyday of the FPS genre (eg: most of the 1990s) recognised this fact and often included things like puzzles and explorable areas to break up the action slightly.

In other words, if you’re making something in the action genre, you need to give your audience a break from mindless violence every now and then. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’ll actually make them more interested rather than less interested.

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚