Hey everyone! New video up: “Within the Walls,” originally published in Tales from the Blue Gonk Cafe III, with Thirteen o’Clock Press. Hope you enjoy it! Be sure to like and subscribe if you do, then head over to my Patreon page for more horror content.
New video up! Check it below, and if you like it, be sure to like and subscribe, and maybe even hit up my Patreon for more exclusive, patrons-only content!
Let’s get it out on the table: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the type of game I would’ve wanted Silent Hills to be. Not the exact game, mind you–I’d expect an SH installment to have more endings–but the degree to which Ninja Theory lovingly, carefully dropkicks the player into Senua’s broken mind is nothing short of majestic.
A significant degree of Hellblade’s marketing focused on capturing psychosis correctly (and, of course, the beautiful graphics). It’s great to see a game developer put so much care into the construction of a game’s plot, setting, and characterization that they consulted with psychologists and the mentally ill alike.
This care pays off quite well. Hellblade is full of both subtle moments of psychological tension, and direct freight-train-to-the-face moments of genuine horror, where the player doubts not only reality, but Senua herself.
Most are already aware of this, so I’ll address the most obvious element: the warning in the beginning of the game that repeated failure will result in permadeath, erasing the save file. Some were angered by this announcement, while others were angered by the fact that, apparently, no such system exists. You can die many times, but as far as anyone’s been able to figure out, nothing will permakill you.
That’s actually one of the most genius parts of this game. By terrorizing the player with such a deception, Ninja Theory instills the same existential dread Senua herself feels at all waking moments: that her failure will result in the destruction of Dillion’s soul, and her own being dragged down to Hel, her existence erased by the fact that there’s no one left to mourn or miss her.
Granted the savvy player might realize this very early on, because the warning says ‘failure,’ not death, will result in her destruction, and the black rot that symbolizes this failure grows during plot events, not so much after deaths. It took me roughly four deaths–all at the hands of the God of Illusion–to deconstruct this otherwise brilliant device and remove a significant amount of my own tension from the experience.
Hellblade, as a game, is broken into two parts: combat and puzzle solving. Ninja Theory is known for precise combat, but those who were a fan of their take on the Devil May Cry series will be a little disappointed. While the combat here is rendered well and feels very realistic to Senua’s characterization, those who fell in love with the fluidity of DMC’s action-packed, bass-thumping, mayhem-driven combat system will find Hellblade a bit formulaic and repetitive.
The puzzles are very interesting perspective-based events that fit well into the story, but unfortunately, the long puzzle-solving stretches, limited combat variance, and intensely narrative nature of this game limit the replay value. That first run through, though, is god damn amazing.
Ultimately, how much value you get out of subsequent playthroughs will depend on whether you want to turn the ‘auto’ combat difficulty to hard, if you have any collectibles to round up, and if you played with headphones on the first time (In the words of Shia LaBeouf: DO IT!).
However, this game’s first run through alone is worth the thirty dollars it currently costs. Between the graphics so beautiful you’ll literally stop playing just to look around, and the heart-stopping moments of Senua’s descent into madness, Hellblade is easily one of the most ambitious and well-executed games I’ve played in my entire life. While I’ll be waiting for a DMC 2 (unpopular opinion, I know), I sincerely hope they get license to make the next Silent Hill. They’d nail it. No doubt at all.
Here’s my latest YouTube short: Symbiosis.
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Massive monsters have always commanded our attention. Godzilla wasn’t the first beast to stomp its way into mainstream media, but since its arrival, the kaiju genre has flourished. While Hollywood has attempted to take on such stories through Pacific Rim and similar films, indie authors have brought the intensity of such huge creatures into very small perspectives.
In this case, Christofer Nigro explores the arrival of Dargolla, the kaiju for which the book is named, through the eyes of Colin Wilson, a young boy who’s grown up in the post-kaiju-arrival world. He lives in Metroville, a fictional city, with his family. Having grown up in a world where any given moment might be interrupted by a hundred-foot-tall monstrosity crushing the life out of everything that moves, he’s a little bit paranoid that one will show up and destroy his town.
That’s exactly what happens, but this is the basis for all good kaiju stories. From the ashes of society, a hero rises. More or less. Colin’s story is more about survival than heroism, a welcome change from the apparent mandate that the main character of such stories must become a super slayer of some kind. Dargolla, a burrowing, bellowing beast, makes short work of the many humans, buildings, military vehicles, and other signs of life that stand even remotely near its path of destruction.
Dargolla is a novella, meaning two things: it’s a quick, high-action read full of epic pulp violence, and each scene counts double. This makes the fact that the prologue is somewhat long stand out. While great for world building, the opening is packed full of details about the various types of kaiju that have torn up earth, where they’re believed to have come from, and what their arrival has done to the other earth species. In some respects, this is great foreshadowing, such as the mention of psionic/mutated humans, which sets up for two characters later on; in others, this feels unnecessary, such as the mention of “false kaiju” or mutated megafauna, neither of which show up. However, the ending does foreshadow a sequel, so it’s possible this was laying the groundwork for a larger story later on.
Perhaps one of the most effective elements of this story is how quickly destruction or death occurs. I don’t mean this as in, “Wow, it’s been an hour and the whole city is gone,” so much as that even major characters are wiped off the page in just a few sentences. In doing this, the writer uses form, rather than detail, to capture the shock and visceral gut-punch of sudden death. There’s no melodramatic lingering on someone’s final cry of pain, which happens in movies but not real life. The reader only fully registers the character’s death several sentences after the fact, perhaps even stopping to reread the passage just to be sure it actually happened.
This is balanced by a mechanical slowness in other areas. In some instances, the writing becomes clunky or even clinical in ways that don’t quite fit the scene. One instance refers to a woman’s eye as her “ocular organ,” which isn’t technically wrong, but provides an odd emotional distance consider the scene was told from the close third-person of a suburban housewife. Such technical details work really well in some areas, as it gives the story the feeling of a PTSD-ridden survivor’s account, where emotional distance is necessary to the teller’s ability to continue, but takes away from the action in other instances when it gets too detail oriented.
Along the path of destruction, this story provides a bevy of fun side characters, including several soldiers who call out to Odin and Thor rather than God, and a group of higher-ranked military men desperately attempting to play cards despite the constant kaiju-based interruptions. President Trump even makes an appearance, but as a reference—the fictitious version of #46 gets no actual dialogue, and the narration neither supports nor opposes his presidency, allowing the writer to lock the story in time while wisely staying away from political endorsement.
Overall, Dargolla: A Kaiju Nightmare is exactly what the title suggests. It’s a story of mayhem and carnage, where a young boy fights overwhelming odds to survive a kaiju attack and the generally fruitless military attempts to kill said kaiju. Plus, without spoiling it, I’ll say that there’s a twist in the ending that sets up for a very interesting new direction, should the writer continue the story.
Due to its length, Dargolla may feel like the introduction to a larger work, rather than a stand-alone piece, but fans of the kaiju genre—and anyone looking for a hundred and change stories of things exploding—is sure to enjoy this book.
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New video is live: Strung Up, originally published with Siren’s Call Publications, over at http://www.sirenscallpublications.com. They’re good times.
In the meantime, enjoy this tale of a conductor who finds out that he doesn’t have as much control as he believes…
One from the archives: “Frost Bite,” originally published five years ago in an issue of The Siren’s Call, the eZine put out by Siren’s Call Publications. That’s a free ‘zine, by the way, so go check it out.
This was back when I wrote under the name Alex Chase, so if you want to read it in the original eZine, be sure to look for the right name. …You’ll also notice I’ve changed the title slightly since then.
But in the meantime, here’s my story. It’s zombie themed, so anticipate violence, gunfire, and lots of angry chewing.
Ross Jackson stared out at the white-washed landscape; an icy gale screamed, hurling snow and ice at his team. He paid no notice. He was too preoccupied with the prestige that would come with their triumphant return home.
“Look, all I’m saying is that I’m glad to live in a world where we don’t need to carry guns around anymore. Walking around without a weapon… it’s liberating, you know?” said Joshua Newman from the backseat of their all-terrain Humvee. He seemed to be too large for their vehicle- at six foot four and nearly three-hundred pounds, he dominated any space he found himself in. That’s ignoring the fact that he almost always had a shotgun, assault rifle or other such heavy weapons at all times.
“What are you talking about? We’re all heavily armed. And not five minutes ago you said, ‘I love my shotgun almost as much as life itself’.” James Wake smirked, staring at Joshua. James, conversely, was a wiry man who barely scraped five foot ten. He had his legs crossed beneath him and a belt of assorted grenades strapped to his chest.
“I said we don’t need guns. I didn’t say they aren’t fun to have,” he grinned, resting his hand along the barrel of his custom VT-19 combat shotgun.
The Humvee sputtered to a halt outside of a small metal tube that led to the International Antarctic Geological Survey Center. The frigid gray walls towered over them. Lisa killed the engine as Ross threw open the door, blasting the interior with snow. They clambered out and trudged carefully through the snow to the shelter of the enclosed entryway.
James looked over at Karen; her eyes showed fierce determination, but they also glistened with repressed anguish. They were a few feet behind the other five members of the squad.
“Are you ok?” He asked softly.
“Yeah, why? You wanna lecture me too?” She snapped. He drew back. “Save it, James. I don’t wanna hear it. Don’t give me that, ‘You’ll be ok, everyone lost family to ‘em’ crap, got it?”
Karen Jensen was the small arms technician; they hadn’t found a single gun that she couldn’t take apart and reassemble in less than a minute. She lost her temper just as quickly.
James glared at her, “Actually, no. I was going to say that it is ok if you’re not ok. I was going to say that I’m here for you if you need to talk- though some of us didn’t have family to lose. But you know what? Fuck you, Karen.”
He stomped off towards Ross, who was working to cut down the door to the facility. She wanted to go after him and apologize but knew it wouldn’t help. James had been an orphan up until the Newman family had taken him in while he was in fifth grade. He had no real family, and the only remaining member of his adopted family was right there by his side.
She covered her eyes. Guilt was the last thing she needed. “Pricilla… you were always so much better at this touchy-feely crap… I really should’ve listened when you gave me advice,” she whispered. Pricilla Jensen had been bitten during a reconnaissance mission in the Swiss Alps and put down immediately thereafter.
“Almost got it- the power’s been cut off, but there should be backup power to the research and residential wings. James, you and Joshua are going to escort Shadow to the data facilities to see what can be recovered. I’m going with Karen to the residential suite while Marcus and Denver are going to get the main power on.”
“Got it,” James growled, shoving his hands into his pockets.
“Hey, James,” Denver’s high-pitched voice barely carried over the wind. “Is it true that you had the highest kill count out of any soldier?”
“He has the highest,” Joshua clapped a hand over his back. “This little weasel came close to killing me more than a few times, but he’s sent thousands of those god damned zombies straight back to Hell.”
“And that’s precisely why close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” James patted the canisters on his chest.
“So you’re the one who blew up the Golden Gate Bridge?” Marcus looked over.
James matched his stare. “Yup, that was me.”
“Nice.” His face couldn’t be seen through his mask, but it was clear that he was grinning. James smiled back.
“How many did you kill in doing that?” Denver prodded.
“I don’t know, honestly. At least ten, twenty thousand. Maybe more. We hovered over the center of the bridge in a helicopter. They were climbing all over each other trying to get to us, so it was hard to get a read on the body count.”
Ross kicked down the remnants of the front door and motioned for the team to follow. They fell silent and drew their guns. They crept inside; the building was dark and cold. The screech of the wind through the open door echoed throughout the hallway.
“Ok, we’re splitting up here. Keep your radios on and if there’s any sign of trouble-”
“Come on, dude, we’ve been fighting this war for almost a decade. We know how to handle this. Besides, zombies are slow and stupid. All you have to do is point and click- as long as they’re an arm’s length away, we’ll be fine. Let’s just get this over with,” Karen growled. She noticed James looking at her; she looked away, unable to make eye contact.
Ross glared at her. “Be careful- we’re still not sure as to how many bogeys we might find here.”
“Hold up,” James called. He gave a package of remote explosives to Marcus and another to Ross. “Leave one in your respective bays… just in case.” They nodded.
Marcus started off towards the maintenance bay. “Do you have any idea how to work a generator?” He whispered to Denver.
“Don’t worry, I think I’ve got us covered,” she laughed. Her voice still bore the light-hearted melody of one who hadn’t seen bloodshed. Though she’d been at the forefront of the war, her role was always within the bases she was stationed at. She never ventured beyond their walls. Her few friends were all kept safely within those confines as well.
Marcus had been a field “medic”- which meant it was his solemn duty to execute any and every bitten soldier he came across.
Ross and Karen tromped down to the residential suites. She spared a glance back towards James. He looked away, his countenance twisted by contempt.
“Let’s go,” James muttered. He led Joshua and Shadow towards the research labs.
“So, why do they call you Shadow?” Joshua looked over at the girl beside him.
“Why do you ask?” She said hesitantly; her low voice was barely audible.
He chuckled. “Look, I don’t care about what you’ve done; in times like these, only what you do matters. First we clear the world of the undead, then we rebuild it; it doesn’t matter what you did before. I’m just curious.”
She shrugged. “I’m quiet and can get in and out of anywhere without detection. If something needs breaking into, I can guarantee I’ll get you in, whether it’s a building or a computer.”
Joshua smirked, “Humble.”
“Fact,” she countered.
“Interesting,” James grinned. “So what brought you to the war zone?”
She rolled her eyes, “I got sloppy. Someone caught me rerouting troops from within the D.O.D. mainframe. They said I could be a soldier or be bait. My choice should seem obvious.”
“Why were you…?” Joshua squinted at her.
“Probably to ensure the zombies got distracted and went somewhere else, right?” James looked back. She nodded.
The group turned and walked into the main lab, where the computers were located. James and Joshua secured the room as Shadow took a seat in front of the glowing screens.
“We’re lucky the backup power kept these working,” James jutted his thumb towards her. She’d taken off her scarf and mask, exposing her angular chin, thin lips and pale neck.
Her fingers danced across the keys, the rat-tat-tat of her typing mimicking the constant gunfire that marred the better part of their lives. Sure enough, she’d broken through the facility firewalls within a few minutes. She thrust a flash drive into the USB port and began siphoning the data that had been collected, but froze.
“Hold on… there’s a file marked ‘URGENT’ on the desktop. Doesn’t look relevant, but you want me to examine?” she turned to the men.
James nodded. She opened it up to a series of video logs. She selected the earliest entry and hit play. It was dated from nearly seven years ago, towards the beginning of the zombie outbreak.
The screen buzzed, displaying the image of a well-groomed man with dark brown hair and a white coat. “Dr. Spaulding here; we recovered a few bodies from the ice. They appear to have once been zombified, but perished in the cold. The molecules in their brain burst as the water within froze. To be safe, we destroyed the heads.” The video ended.
The second showed the same man, looking notably more disheveled. It was taken roughly three days later. “I’ve just been informed that our evacuation has been delayed by an ice storm. Not sure if we have the supplies to make it until the end,” his eyes darted about. He was scratching his neck profusely. “In case we don’t… I understand. Whoever’s out there, calling the shots… I forgive you… there are more important things to deal with than rescuing us. Just tell my family that I love them.”
James stared at the ground. Joshua watched him. Shadow clicked the third video, taken later in the same day.
Dr. Spaulding was wild-eyed and shaking. “We were wrong to bring them here, so wrong, so very wrong! It wasn’t just the water that froze- the virus froze too! It went into a dormant state, or something, became spore-like, and finally… it… it… evolved. The freezing made the virus more powerful, somehow.
“We breathed it in when we smashed the skulls. We’re all infected now. One already turned… We shut down the power, he’s locked in. The regular virus can live for a few weeks outside of a host, not sure about this version. It takes you over, you don’t have to get bit to turn, you just itch, itch, itch… then stop being human. The new strain… keeps the flesh from decomposing. These zombies are faster… Stronger… Deadlier… Please… if you’re watching this… run.”
The trio looked at each other. James’s hand flew to his radio and slammed down on the talk button. “Marcus, whatever you do, don’t-”
The lights flicked on and the ventilation system gave a dull hum. Stale air washed over them.
“What?” Marcus radioed.
“Shit,” James hissed.
“I don’t understand,” he radioed back.
“Let’s get out of here,” Shadow leapt up and started for the door when a figure blocked her path. It looked human enough- except for the blank, white, telltale eyes.
Joshua whipped out his shotgun, but the figure had already lunged forward, tearing out Shadow’s windpipe in an instant. It threw her to the ground, snarling as it ran at Joshua.
He fired, blowing off its right arm. It stumbled and fell, but lashed out with its remaining arm and caught his ankle. James fired, putting a round through the front of its skull, but the bullet missed its hindbrain. It sank its teeth into Joshua’s ankle before he could pull away. He screamed, aimed down and smashed it’s skull with the butt of his gun.
Joshua dropped to his knees, slamming his fist into the ground. James knelt beside him. Joshua was sure it was just the trickery of a frightened mind, but he could already feel the burning, festering sensation of the virus taking over.
The words “Man Down!” came through over the radio- someone else had been bitten too. James put out the same call.
“I knew I should’ve gone with semi-auto,” Joshua tried to smile.
Marcus rushed in. “You too?” He looked down; Marcus had fresh blood on his jacket.
James nodded, biting his lip.
“Hey,” Joshua thumped James on the shoulder. “We had a good run, right? Besides, I kinda always knew I’d die during this war… Killing zombies was the only thing I was ever good at. There’s no place for me out there. Get out there and live.”
James gaped, “But the video…”
“I know, but I don’t believe that. I won’t believe that. Just go… alright?” He looked at Marcus, then handed over his VT-19. “Do it with this, will ya’?”
Marcus nodded. James threw his arms around Joshua and squeezed him tight. “Wait for me up there… got it?”
Joshua nodded, “I’ll have fresh coffee ready.”
James choked back a cry and retreated to the doorway. “I’ll miss you, bro.”
“I’ll miss you too.” Joshua shut his eyes; so did James.
The roar of Joshua’s shotgun echoed down the hall. James clung to the wall as he was wracked by sobs, hot tears spilling down his cheeks. Marcus laid the gun beside its fallen maker, grabbed James and ran to the entryway.
Ross and Karen met them there. They didn’t need to ask what had happened.
“We’re leaving,” Ross growled. He started for the door.
“No,” James’s cracking voice stopped him. “You’re leaving.” He held up the remote detonator.
“James, come on… don’t do this,” Karen whispered.
“I have to. I’m ending this war in the only way I know how… I’m not letting some other team come back here and risk more deaths.”
“You can come with us, blow it up as we go!” She yelled a bit too desperately.
“No… I can’t… the signal wouldn’t reach in these conditions,” he waved his hand at the snow-strewn gale, “and either way… I won’t.”
“Come on… he’s made his choice,” Ross said, gently taking her by the elbow and leading her back to the vehicle.
Marcus turned to James. “I’m sorry.” His eyes shimmered.
“You didn’t kill him,” James gave a weak smile.
Marcus nodded and walked off. The three remaining members climbed in and began driving away. Karen pressed her face to the window, taking one last look at him before the snow blocked her vision.
Nothing could prevent her from seeing the wave of fire tearing across the ice. A tear slid down the side of her nose.
It only took them a few minutes to reach the military transport plane. They drove inside, shed their snow-gear and tried to relax as the plane took off.
“That… sucked,” said Marcus.
Karen sniffed and nodded, falling silent for a few minutes.
Marcus scratched at his neck. “Is it just me, or is it itchy in here?”
“I’m itchy too,” Karen nodded.
“Probably just from the cold,” Ross said. “Slight frostbite, you know? It’s probably nothing. Besides, a little itchiness never killed anyone, right?”