Path of Exile: Free to Play MMO Action RPG

#1

Developers: Grinding Gears Games

Released: October 23, 2013

Platform: Steam

Price: Free to Play

Rated: N/A

Contributed By: Matthew Wilson

Welcome to free Diablo! Path of Exile is an action RPG developed by Grinding Gears Games that will interest anyone who likes the classic dungeon crawler and the genre’s inherent repeated mouse clicking. This game is almost a Diablo clone, deviating only slightly from its predecessor.

Without a single player campaign option, the game is entirely multiplayer.  As such, it supports a partying systems that allow players to conquer monsters and complete dungeons together.  If you want to play Diablo and don’t have the money, this is your game.

#2

While the world has plenty of smaller story lines, the main plot centers around you being exiled to an island filled with others who have met a similar fate. While you are being transported to the island, your boat crashes and you wash up on the shore as the only survivor.

You are immediately thrown into combat and a short tutorial mission begins. Unfortunately, the beginning missions are slow.  I felt as though I had to trudge my way through the early stages of the game to reach a point where I felt free.

Choosing a class in Path of Exile simply serves as a starting point, after which there are virtually no limits on what direction you take your character. Like any RPG, your character progresses to gain new skills, but this game allows you to customize your abilities like no other.

The skill tree, containing an amazing 1325 skills to chose from,  is an overwhelming web of buffs and abilities that in no way limit you by character class. No other game offers the same level of skill customization as Path of Exile, making it one of the game’s main selling points.

As impressive as the skill system is, my favorite aspect of RPGs is not an option: character customization. Fortunately, the lack of character customization is a minimal downside as such features are a luxury.

#3

Graphically Path of Exile is average, but the game is free to play and almost two years old. Despite the title’s free to play packaging, the game features impressive voice acting, level design, monsters and boss battles. Simply put though, the game doesn’stand out in any particular way from other action RPGs aside from its expansive skill tree.

The story was bland, somewhat unoriginal and cliche. “blah blah monsters… blah blah blah war, death, violence…” you get the point.  And with the mundane story line came lackluster questing.

There’s not much to say about the questing system, it’s the same as every other classic dungeon run: kill so many monsters or retrieve an item. Nothing original was put into the questing system to help the dull monotony of your average grindy linear quests, an attribute that appropriately describes much of the game.

#4

Path of Exile’s combat system was equally medicore.  It involves an extreme amount of clicking and hotbar abilities. Grinding Gear Games did try to prevent exessive clicking by allowing players to click and hold on a single target instead of mashing your mouse incestantly, but even with this tactic the combat system felt like a chore.

 Furthermore, early in the game I wasn’t impressed by the weight of the attacks, which felt positively dainty. While it improved slightly as the game progressed, it never got to the point where I felt satisfied. Meanwhile I was looking forward to an impressive loot system, but instead Path of Exile’s only offers simple weapon types with a few modifiers that boost stats and not much else.

Thankfully, Path of Exile’s business model manages to avoid some of the controversy associated with pay-to-win microtransactions commonly seen in free-to-play titles. The market has been spammed with free to play games that can’t keep up with the cost of production and have to default to requiring players to fund the game using a pay-to-win system. In Path of Exile you’ll in no way  be forced into a position where you must use real money if you don’t want to. This game possesses one of the fairest business models for a free to play, and seriously deserves credit for it.

#5

This game is not for me, I’m just not looking for what it has to offer. If you want a solid free action RPG, well this game is for you. You can spend countless hours on this game at absolutely no expense. While the game doesn’t stand out from other titles in the genre, it still manages to  run with the best of them.

Path of Exile is definitely one of the better action RPGs out there and I highly recommend this game to anyone interested in the genre. Furthermore if you plan to play with friends the game delivers a decent party system, and features one of the best microtransaction systems that I have seen.

Advertisements

13 Reasons Why Your D&D Setting Sucks

This setting's dad can beat up your setting's dad.

This setting’s dad can beat up your setting’s dad.

If you’re a Dungeon Master who’s tired of killing your players with boredom or your friends are deserting you for a DM with better worldbuilding skills you’ve come to the right place. I have here for your viewing pleasure a multi-part post of some common problems with D&D settings.Today we’ll talk about the common problems found in D&D towns and cities, why they’re problems and what you can do fix them. Think you’re ready for this?

Strap on your battlegear, grab your weapons, grit your teeth, and put your warface on. We’re going to learn!

13 Reasons Why Your D&D Setting Sucks

  1. You Didn’t Do Any Research

internet-replacing-traditional-research

You think just because this is fantasy you don’t have to do research? By trying to make everything up you’ve lost all sense of validity in your setting. Nothing about it feels real. Even in a completely made up world, full of made up stuff you still need those little bits of reality to give it substance.

If you’d bothered to Google it, you’d know that swords aren’t made that way, that there were actually food preservation methods and that a crossbow doesn’t fire off bolts like a machine gun. Instead you’ve thrust your players into a world that has no backbone to it, it’s just floating globby translucent jellyfish fantasy.

Do your research, stop assuming you know stuff.

  1. You Don’t Understand How Awful Medieval Cities Were

    Belle_Singing
    Stop making your cities these medieval cultural utopias complete with mary singing men and women spending their days at the tavern. Medieval Communes, especially larger ones, were absolutely disgusting. Cities were horrifically overcroweded, had rampant disease and had families who were lucky to have a hard moldy piece of bread to eat let alone a huge succulent boar.

    These cities were rampant with air and water pollution to the point where people were literally living in their own filth and choking with the ever-present threat of death. Even if fantasy was at one time a romanticized version of medieval times, its your duty as a DM to make your cities as shitty as possible, both literally and metaphorically.

  1. All the Towns and Cities are the Same but with Different Names

I mean at least this town has a car.

I mean at least this town has a car.

Every city your party passes through should feel different. Maybe it’s similar in certain ways, maybe the layout borrows from one another but it should feel unique from all the others. Philadelphia looks and feels like a completely different city than Los Angeles. Even small towns have their own distinct nature that can’t be replicated. Put some thought into each town they pass through, or each city they enter. Every city should have a personality and a life pulse all its own. Using the same damn town and pasting different names over it is not acceptable.

  1. It Feels Like There are Only Six People in your Massive City

17th Century London. Population: 5

17th Century London. Population: 5

Your party enters what you’re calling a massive city, hell it might even be the kingdom’s capital. Even in medieval times these cities could house fifty, a hundred… even two hundred thousand people. I should feel claustrophobic from all the overpopulation. I should feel like there’s a hundred thousand people in this massive city not just the six that are somewhat relevant to the story.

A massive city is more than just the innkeeper, a blacksmith, a butcher, and the guy who works the docks. So please, take some time to populate your city otherwise stick to the small deserted towns on the outskirts of the kingdom and leave the urban areas to people who can plan it better.

  1. There are Only Inkeepers, Blacksmiths, Butchers and Bakers in your City

treadmillcrane

For added authenticity townspeople should be bad at ladders

And while your at it, populate it with some variety will ya. A bustling city is bound to have more than just those four professions, otherwise the entire place would crumble. Now these might be the only ones that are immediately relevant to the game but I’d better get the sense that your fantasy medieval city has jewelers, masons, ropemakers, fishmongers, woodcarvers, booksellers etc. etc.

And if you really wanted to go the extra mile you’d do some research into these professions during that time period. Learn how shoes were made, what jobs were done by the working class and what jobs were learned professions. Put yourself in the times, they didn’t know what you know and industries were often built around ignorance. Keep that in mind as you look through this list of medieval professions.

  1. Person-Who-Knows-Thing-That-The-Party-Needs-to-Know is Always Conveniently at the Tavern Whenever the Party Visits

STOP BEING SO HELPFUL CLYDE!

STOP BEING SO HELPFUL CLYDE!

Need to locate a gem that’s been lost for thousands of years? There’s a guy at the Tavern who has a map to it. Is there an ancient dragon guarded by a mystical spell? There’s a guy at the Tavern who can make a weapon that will destroy the spell. Need an ancient tome that no mortal has ever lied eyes on? There’s a guy at the Tavern who has a copy of it. Need directions to a mad wizard’s cave? There’s a guy at the Tavern who knows the way there. Foot rub? Guy at the Tavern. Taxes? Guy at the Tavern. Marital problems? Guy at the Tavern.

Stop it. Stop conveniently placing NPCs that have exactly what the party needs. Leave convenience to the grocery stores and give your players a real challenge.

  1. Everyone is a Template

cardboard

You know the drill. The party goes to talk to “The Innkeeper” or they happen upon “The Blacksmith”. Seriously, they’re people too. The Innkeeper is more than just their job and I’m sure they’re offended by being called “The Innkeeper”. These are people who have unique interests, motivations, passions and personalities.

Trying to use template archetypes in place of real character development is just lazy. Want a better setting? Put some thought into every NPC the party comes across, no two blacksmiths are alike. Learn to appreciate the subtle differences and nuances that make your NPCs unique from all the others.

  1. Your Small Towns and Massive Cities Function Exactly the Same

Nuremberg_chronicles_-_Nuremberga

If you have a massive city it should feel fundamentally different than if the party is passing through a small town. People are going to behave different, layout is going to be different, available technology, protection, resources, and knowledge is going to be different. Pay attention to where you’re taking your party. If your million person floating elven city feels exactly the same as the five person town in the middle of WhoTheHellKnowsWhere then there’s some problems.

  1. Everybody Sounds like an NPC

Some of us lucky enough to have a writing department at our disposal

Some of us are lucky enough to have a writing department at our disposal.

I get it, dialogue is hard. Improvised dialogue is extra hard. Seriously, though please put some more effort into how your NPCs sound. If they sound canned, rehearsed or pretty much like a group of first graders doing a play about thanksgiving then there’s just all kind of problems here. Also, stop being so blatantly obvious about the clues you give your party. Try to be a bit more natural with your speech.

  1. Your Infrastructure Makes No Sense

p1010024

This is a way more complex topic than I want to get into for this article but basically there should be some logic to the facilities that help run your towns and cities. How does the town get water? How do they grow crops? Basically how in the world does the city survive given the technology available to them? Speaking of which…

  1. Your Technology is Inconsistent

water

By now you should realize that fantasy isn’t completely devoid of reality. Technology is a common problem especially with games that try to blur the line of different era’s technology. That saying, “pfft it’s fantasy and there’s magic I don’t need to explain anything” is childish and lazy on your part.

Think about how the introduction of different technologies completely change our way of life and how we’ve tended to adapt around them. Technological innovation has complex, and far reaching consequences. Think about that before you start mixing technology from completely different eras.

  1. You Ignored How Climate and Geography Influence Industry

dead-crops

Since most D&D settings take place in a pseudo-medieval era it makes sense that your town or city is going to be limited to their locations geography and climate. If your climate is mountainous and frigid year-round your party isn’t going to be trying to stop the rampant strawberry thief. (Unless they’re magial berries or this is an especially awful strawberry thief in which case you should probably just pity him and at least pretend to try).

If I’m entering a small town nestled in midst of a massive forest I shouldn’t be seeing a fish Mongerer trying to sell me fish that only survive in the ocean. Chances are if a guy in the middle of the forest is trying to sell you great white shark meat he’s a con artist, has rancid great white shark meat or is magic. Your city’s geography and climate are going to influence what industries are going to flourish there, keep that in mind.

13. You Forgot that Europe Wasn’t The Only Place in the World 

GEO_Globe

There are soooo many eurocentric fantasy settings out there and D&D is no exception. Everyone who is even remotely aware of the fantasy genre has seen, read, heard, written or played in a fantasy setting that was based heavily off of medieval europe. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) This may come as a shock to you but there are other places in the world. Learn history. Learn about the people, the lands, the changes and the mindsets that shaped different time periods and different places. Then gobble them up for inspiration.

When was the last time you played a D&D game where the setting was influenced by the Yuan empire? the Umayyad Caliphate? the early Ottoman Empire? the Mongol Empire? Hell you could even be especially innovative and draw inspiration for your setting from your own hometown. I’m just saying there are more inspirations for a setting than 12th century Europe. Expand your horizons goddammit.

So now you know some things that will make your D&D towns and cities really click with players. Your cities will have more substance to them, more authenticity and the fantastical aspects in turn will feel that much more fantastic because they’re grounded in a slightly more logical, and your game now has a sophisticated aspect to it. Go ahead and give these a try for your next D&D game and see if the setting doesn’t come alive for you.

Songs Nobody Can Hear

237525_d32a_625x1000


Describing a song nobody can hear is one of the oddest challenges a writer can face. Usually when a writer is tasked with describing something they can tackle our basic senses. They can describe how wet leaves smell, how a burger tasted, how a blast of snow felt on your face, or the bang of a gun. So where’s the difficulty when it comes to music? Isn’t it just a matter of appealing to a reader’s senses? Not exactly.

The previous examples reveal an interesting point about descriptions in general. They all deal with direct reference to our senses. With the wet leaves example, it triggers our memories of what wet leaves smell like. An author can basically instill the memory of wet leaves and so as you’re reading you get some indication of the smell. It really boils down to a matter of triggering a memory.

11-26_canal_wet_leaves_5_PS_rz

Inhale Deeply

But what about if the reader hasn’t experienced the thing the author is talking about?

Take a sword fight for instance. Two characters are in a furious battle and at one point one of the character slashes the other across the chest. Chances are the reader has never been slashed by a sword themselves so the author can’t really rely on a reader’s memories of being slashed by a sword. Instead he relies on comparisons, associations that don’t necessarily rely on direct links, but rather what being cut by a sword is similar to. We’ve all been cut, and we’ve all felt the sting that accompanies it, writers can draw on that experience even if the reader has never been sliced by a sword specifically.

hqdefault

Yes, like that

With these two things, memory triggers and association, writers have quite an arsenal at their disposal when it comes to describing things. We can describe incredibly complex and even intangible things in this manner and it’s really impressive at times. Through the power of words we can have a reader feel, smell, taste, and touch things that may not even exist at all.

Still though, this doesn’t seem to cover writing music scenes. There’s something missing there from our formula. So what’s the problem?

The trouble with writing about music is that it can’t rely on memory or association. Unless the writing mentions a specific song or an artist, chances are we can’t really rely on a reader’s memory to know what the music is supposed to sound like. After all if the song is from the author’s own imagination it’s hard to draw on the reader’s memory since, unless you’re a skilled telepath, you’re the only person who knows what the song is supposed to sound like.

What about association though? Surely we can say it sounds like something right? Can’t we just say that it sounds like a cross between the Beatles’ “Let it Be” and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”? Sure… If a comparison like that would make sense in your story. After all it’d be weird for a writer to describe the music at a king’s court to sound like a “ Bob Dylan tune with a touch of Judas Priest.” Because making analogies to things that don’t exist in the setting of the story is just… strange. Hilarious sure, but really awkward.

Okay, if not for direct comparison maybe we can rely on more basic sound description? We can describe what a heavy metal song sounds like; screeching and grinding guitars, growling vocals, beating thunderous drums etc. etc. But the trick here is that no matter how well I describe the song we’re all going to have drastically different interpretations of what that sounds like.

But isn’t that just a matter of human perspective in general? You know that whole, “there’s no way of communicating what red is and there’s no way of knowing if the red we see is the same as what others see” deal? Its interesting for sure but somehow civilization hasn’t collapsed into a frenzied madness whenever we say, “that’s a red balloon”

The End of Civilization

The End of Civilization

With colors especially even if our perceptions of the color differ slightly there’s enough overlap in our perspectives that we’ve come to an agreement that the balloon is red.  Basically, there’s enough agreement on what “red” is that we’re willing to accept that red is what red is. Music on the other hand is a bit more complex.

The thing with sound association is that there’s so much room to move around in. Sound descriptions when it comes to music can invoke radically different interpretations between readers much more than just than just a red balloon. Sure we all have some agreed upon notion of what “bang” “pop” “fizzle” “crack” and “splat” sound like, but music can’t be accurately described just by sprouting off onomatopoeia. With that in mind it’s easy to see that writing music scenes is more than just getting the description of the sound right.

Music scenes have to make the reader imagine a song they’ve never heard before. Go ahead and try to describe a song that doesn’t exist to a friend without making a comparison, singing, dancing, playing an instrument or doing anything else except talking about it. Chances are they’ll stare at you confused and bewildered as they slowly inch their way towards the door.

So what’s a writer to do? After all music is important, otherwise it wouldn’t be included in the first place. The important thing here is to realize that the point of music is to set a mood, to invoke a feeling. In the end it doesn’t really matter if six different readers imagine the song different ways. What matters is that they set a similar mood, aid in establishing a scene and invoke a similar feeling.

MoreThanAFeeling(Boston)

…or maybe it’s more than that

At times its best to let your reader decide how to feel about a particular piece, since leaving it up to your reader can give your scene flexibility. Other times its best to directly state how it should make them feel by describing a character’s reaction to it. Maybe they dance wildly, maybe they gasp in awe, or maybe they hold their hands over their ears and pray for the end of their torture.

Turn off that non-existent sound right this minute!

Turn off that non-existent sound right this minute!

Sometimes music can be used as a cruel tool of misdirection. Maybe there’s a light, classical even whimsical melody being played at a dinner party while the murdered slips behind the duchess and slits her throat. In this case, the music can make the murder feel that much more uncomfortable. Because a vicious act is now associated with a rather light feeling. Uncomfortable yet?

Music is often seen as the tool of television, video and er… music. Rarely is it seen as a weapon for print mediums. No other medium can establish subtext, invoke a feeling or portray thought as effectively as the written word can. That doesn’t stop with writing a scene with music. Music isn’t a weakness for writers, its just another tool in their arsenal.

And then there's the rest of the arsenal

And then there’s the rest of the arsenal

So what do you think? What makes a scene with music effective? Who does it well? How can we do it better? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Stasis: A Sci-Fi Horror Adventure

Stasis_Title

Developers: The Brotherhood

Released: August 31, 2015

Platform: Steam

Price: $24.99

Rated: M

Contributed by: Matthew Wilson

Stasis is a relatively new title from indie game developers, The Brotherhood.  A breath of fresh air in the horror genre, Stasis has done well for itself  thanks to its unique use of isometric point-and-click gameplay.  At first I had doubts as to the compatibility of a horror adventure with isometric visuals, but Stasis delivered and delivered big. The game absolutely blew me away with its original storyline and captivating visuals. 

The Story

The premise of the game is that you have awoken in a laboratory as John Maracheck. You have no idea where you are and the spaceship is completely abandoned. The ship is ruined; equipment is broken, tables have been overturned, and streaks of blood cover the floors and walls. As you stumble through the ship in search of a way to escape to return to your wife and daughter, you’ll find that something unusual happened on the ship.

Stasis_1

The storyline truly is Stasis’ best feature. The game does an absolutely amazing job of bringing immersion to the player. As you explore the ship you’ll find many journal entries and clues as to the history of the ship and what caused the ravage. If you like to read I highly recommend this game, as you will find yourself with a lot of content.  The game is riddled with clues hidden among the writings you come across, so they’re definitely worth the read.

The Good Stuff

 Although I doubted the horror elements of the game at first, it didn’t take long before I was terrified, screaming and leaving my computer  to calm down. The amazing visuals add to the horror experience as the game’s atmosphere has you on guard at all times. Stasis is most assuredly a horror game, so if you’re a fan of the genre this is a must have.

Disregarding horror in relation to graphics, the graphics still do the game justice. The lighting, the colors and the environment make for a very pleasing game to look at. It is incredible how much attention to detail the developers put into Stasis. Also, I have to give credit to the nice voice acting that accompanies you throughout the game. The art of the game is true excellence.

Gameplay

Stasis_2

The game’s controls should be familiar to those who played other isometric games such as Baldur’s Gate. The only difference is that the game is completely mouse driven, including the menu. The entire game is point-and-click with a helpful HUD that allows the player to identify the object they are clicking on or mousing over. However, this didn’t  always allow for smooth gameplay. 

 The nature of  most point-and-clicks is to solve puzzles, and Stasis is no different. This requires the player to activate certain things in a certain order, use a specific tool on another object… so on and so forth. However, the game’s lack of assistance in this area can be frustrating

The Not Good Stuff

It could be that I’m simply bad at point-and-click games, but annoyance turned to frustration as I scoured the environment for a clue or item for hours without any help from the game. This is where one of the bigger problems with the game’s  HUD comes into play. The game will only tell the player when he or she has their mouse over an object. As with most point-and-clicks,  objects can be hidden and can be very small with the intention of making them difficult to find. The isometric nature of the game makes this even more difficult. A system that helps reveal objects would have been greatly appreciated.

Another problem with Stasis, was that the game’s lack of help sometimes completely halted progress. While the game has a set amount of responses when solving a puzzle, these messages simply state that whatever you are trying to do is incorrect.  

What it Needs

One suggestion I had to solve this could be unique dialogues for each situation that suggest a correct tool, or  action. Additionally, a timed dialogue could appear if you’re in an area for a prolonged amount of time without progress. I’m definitely not asking for answers,  but helpful hints can prevent frustration when a player is stumped.  Again I may not be very good at games like these, but those who can empathize with me may experience similar issues.

The Final Verdict 

Stasis_3

Despite the difficulty of the puzzle mechanics in the game, Stasis is a game that stands out among others. It has solid graphics, a great storyline, and for horror fans, a good amount of fear inducing elements. The game is not demanding on graphics or processing, so almost any machine can run this game no problem. The price is fair for the average gameplay length of 10-12 hours. I would recommend this game to anyone looking for a single player game that will give them hours of excitement.

Comic Book Supervillains: Victims of Consequence

Joker-Comic

Villains are notoriously hard to write, and perhaps none more so than comic book Supervillains. Suffering from the larger problem of consequence negation, villains have gone from threatening antagonist to monthly punching bags. Even world-shakers and cosmic level threats lose their luster after getting their butt’s kicked for almost 50 years. 

This is one of the biggest pitfalls comic book writers are forced to navigate around. How do you establish any real sense of danger or urgency without breaking the cardinal rule of the comic book industry: Don’t Kill the Money. After all, who’s going to make the villain that kills Spider-Man?

Nobody

Nobody

Nobody at Marvel is going to kill Spider-Man and yes I mean actually kill him. No going back in time, no alternate time lines, no dreams, no warped reality, no “this is just one possible future”, no clones, no “dude pretending to be spider-man”. I’m talking straight up, Peter Parker, Spider-Man Earth 616 completely and utterly and permanently dead. The villain who pulls that off is going to hold a  place in every comic fan’s heart as… The villain that ended their favorite series. That writer would need to be able to justify killing off Marvel’s poster-boy, and flagship character that has in turn generated billions of dollars for the company. It’s just a stupid move from a business stand-point.

Protected by consequence-immunity and legacy, it’s really not fair for super-villains. How are they supposed to stand a chance against an enemy who is completely immune to death? How do you create a sense of danger and panic in your foes when your latest world conquest is brushed aside so effortlessly? We have villains who have been around for over 40 years who have a track record of being defeated for just as long and we’re still looking to our writers to create danger for our protagonist.

846327

Do writers need to keep rehashing Dr. Doom’s master plans for readers who have the full knowledge and certainty that whatever Victor does it’s just going to fail anyways? Even if we’re going to introduce an entirely new villain (note that all of your favorite supervillains are at least 30 years old)  and invest in them as a recurrent characters, they’re eventually going to go through the same cycle and ultimately face the same fate. Even if their debut does something heart-stopping and incredibly wicked they all meet the same destiny of being used over and over again until their appearance generates little more than a sarcastic, “oh no, what are they going to do now…”

Don’t get me wrong. Certain writers have taken this restriction and have done incredibly innovative takes on the villain. They recognize that super-villains are much more than just “the bad guy” They have written them with a level of sympathy and have blurred the fine line of morality far more than anyone gives them credit for.

Furthermore, writers know that mortality is a jagged mountain face that no one can really climb but simply hope to hang there for a few moments. With that in mind, they’ve had to substitute “death” for other forms of danger; other ways to invoke urgency and fear in their readers. Some have done this by killing off family members, friends, and innocent bystanders. Others have done this by attacking the hero’s mental state or appealing to their vices. In many ways the restrictive nature of the medium has prompted writers to push the genre to incredible depths. There’s no denying that over the years comic writers have managed to maintain our fear, and our sense of danger in super-villains despite all this.

Loki_Laufeyson_(Heroes_Reborn)

No other form of writing calls on its creators to write compelling canonical storylines for anywhere near the amount of time, or consistency. While there have been series in other mediums that have run for decades, none of them are held to the same standards of established story arc, strict character guidelines, frequency and fan backlash like comics. We’re looking for that never-ending story.

I think that’s part of what makes comic books so compelling. They appeal to a childlike reassurance that “everything is going to be okay, your hero will be there for you.” Questions of quality and craft aside, could we really stomach removing the “immortal and invincible” complex that protects our heroes? That’s precisely what writers need to do if they want villains that don’t eventually become a diminishing and irrelevant threat.

Writers have the monumental and often times paradoxical job of making everything new but staying exactly the same. And that’s one of the issues with villains. Honestly, I want to keep seeing Magneto, the Joker, Lex Luthor etc. etc. for years and years to come but I’m also bored to death of them. I want to see new villains, but at the same time I’d much rather read a comic with Magneto doing his thing than “New Super Badguy” that I’ve never heard of or really care about. I want there to be lasting consequence… but I don’t want there to be lasting consequence. Good luck trying to make me happy comic writers.

Magneto_Ultimatum

What do you think? How do you feel about comic book villains today? Do writers need to step up their game in writing compelling, interesting and threatening villains or do they have it right? What are some examples of villains that you believe have transcended this problem? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Horror is Hard

the_walking_dead_67562

With Halloween right around the corner, I find myself wondering a bit about horror. For all the movies, television series and games that have come out in recent years I’ve noticed that the horror genre in its written form is falling behind. As a piece of the speculative fiction trio, why has horror fallen to the wayside? Everyday science fiction and fantasy novels are finding spots on best sellers list and have rapidly growing fan bases, while more visual mediums have dominated horror. So what’s the deal here?

Writing horror for any medium is a challenge but the difficulty with printed mediums is primarily rooted in our culture. Television, films and even video games have cemented their superiority in a visual context and when it comes to bloody, gore-fest jump-scares, novels can’t really provide that kind of “instant-horror” we’ve grown accustomed to. Without the benefit of a visual component print mediums have to make up for it by appealing to a creeping psychological terror and warped perspective that is a challenge to keep up with for hundreds of pages. It doesn’t help that instant gratification turns modern day society’s gears.

steamworkshop_webupload_previewfile_161636982_preview

Think about the tempo of a horror film for instance. We set the mood, things get a little uncomfortable, then they get scary, then they get terrifying and then they end. All within the scope of two hours. Within those two hours so much of the story is padded by sinister music, violently graphic imagery and screaming that we forget what we’re even watching, we just know that this is scary and we love it.

What about the tempo of a horror novel? There is a sort of constant rise and fall of calm, and terror. Horror novels have to really dig their hooks in because they’re competing with a culture that insists that nothing frightens it. Horror novelist must transcend our goldfish level attention span and keep their reader hooked for what could be fifty pages of calm before anything really “scary” happens. That’s one of the real difficulties with horror, there’s not really a way to capture the “in your face, gut wrenching” feeling that we associate with the genre.

Instant culture, and our obsession with the visual can’t carry the full weight of the blame however. A lot of the challenge in horror is that supernatural monsters just aren’t scary anymore. It’s more difficult to scare people with the fantastical, the imagined or the supernatural than it was years ago. We’ve come to terms with the fact that reality and humanity are scarier than any vampire, mummy, werewolf or zombie.

scary-movie_1

It’s come to a point where we’ve exhausted vampires and zombies from so many different angles that we approach them with what amounts to satirical riffing; a tell-tale sign that we’ve conquered our fear of “classic” monsters. As a society we’ve done something similar to what Harry Potter and Co. did with the boggart: We’ve been exposed to monsters of every variety and then learned to make them laughable. We’ve made such things amusing and ridiculous. The challenge of horror writing is pushing past that.

PRofessor-Boggart-Snape

Horror novelist need to rely on subtle psychological overtones that don’t necessarily “frighten” the reader but makes them uncomfortable. Way back when, authors like Edgar Allan Poe or even if we go back a bit further to Christopher Marlowe were masters at this sort of thing. But they were of a very different time, and in many respects a completely different world. It’s hard to capture that  feeling of terror that grows more after the fact as opposed to movies which seek to scare “in the moment”. Writing horror becomes a challenge of who can be the most disturbing; who can keep the reader up at night wondering.

Still though, literature isn’t completely defenseless. It has the benefit of subtext, inner thoughts and a more intimate portrayal of psychological terror than any other mediums. And to be fair because the medium can be so restrictive at times it’s made being a strong writer an absolute necessity with horror. Furthermore, if we look at short stories we see a way for horror writing to find its place in instant-culture. I think writers recognize that horror needs to be jump-started again, and in many respects the literary landscape is ripe with the opportunity to push those boundaries.

What do you think? Where does horror need to go from here? What is the genre missing? Why has horror lost ground while the other two pillars of speculative fiction have seen a surge of popularity and constant evolution? Why is it more compelling to push the boundaries of sci-fi and fantasy than in the horror genre? Let me know what you think in the comment section below and tell me your favorite horror novel from the last 10 years.

D&D Acting: A 12 Step Guide to a Better Game Night

Often times Dungeons and Dragons sessions can feel stale and boring if players don’t feel engaged with the story. Without some kind of player-story investment the game loses the effect of its more profound moments. As a DM you may have spent weeks planning out a final epic battle between the players and an ancient black dragon but if the players don’t become invested in the story, killing the dragon might produce little more than a “whelp… that happened.” While of course some of this burden falls on the DM’s ability to create an engaging, interactive world for his players in the first place, often times players can improve a session simply by improving their role-playing or more to the point their acting skills.

This doesn’t mean that players are required to take the game more seriously or that the game can no longer be fun or comedic, it simply means that players with better acting skills can submerge themselves into the story for a more rewarding playing experience. Think about your last D&D session. Did it feel like you were going on an adventure? Or did it feel like you were sitting around a kitchen table rolling dice without any real connection to what those rolls meant?

Improving your acting skills will help the role-playing (read:  the collaborative storytelling part) of the game feel much much better. As a DM you’ll appreciate your players engaging in the world you spent so much time creating and it’s much easier to lead a story if you feel like a player is involved and as a player you’ll reap the benefits of playing in a game you actually give a shit about.

Just like anything though, improving your acting skills may take some time. It’s not about getting it right or giving an Oscar winning performance every Thursday it’s more about dipping your toes and testing out the waters. So if you’re looking to have a more engaging and rewarding Dungeons & Dragons experience I present to you 12 starter tips to improve your acting skills:
Continue reading