Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House: An Annoying Reminder to Listen to Your Damn Kids…

…when they tell you there’s creepy stuff happening.

Image Credit: Netflix

Haunting of Hill House is unequal parts creepy and annoying.

Yes, I’m late. I know this movie came out last Halloween season but I take my time watching stuff and I finally binged Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House which is, you guessed it, about a family that moves into a house (a house that could NOT look more haunted) only to discover that it’s haunted!

Ghosts! Ghosts! Ghosts! No, there’s no shortage of ghosts in this one, and the cinematography and mood of the film is chilling to say the least. Pale, azure tinted spirits float in the periphery throughout the entire series allowing viewers to play “Where’s Waldo” with their TV screens and sometimes, ghost jump straight out at people but then they just shake their heads and go “that was weird, I must have eaten some bad shellfish last night.”

Ahhh…here were are again, another barely creepy ghost story shot with a blue filter and rife with plenty of jump scares and a bunch of gaslighting nonbelievers who have no reason to be nonbelievers. What do I mean by this? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a big part of all horror films is this layer of what I call groundless denial where Person A lives in a creepy, clearly haunted place but they are COMPLETELY against believing Person B when they try to warn Person A that something scary is going on.

We’ve all seen it before. A child is crying about the monster in the closet on a dark and stormy night. Mom rushes into the child’s bedroom when she hears her child’s chilling scream. The kid is as pale as sheet and tells their mom that there’s a man with rotten flesh dancing a jig in the closet. Mom gets up and checks the closet. There’s a cheap jump scare where a stuffed bear topples down from the top shelf. Oh son, it wasn’t a monster, but Mr. Stuffies! See son? You’re just a dumb kid who can’t tell the difference between a stuffed animal and a man sized ghoul! Mom tucks child back in and tells them everything’s fine. Mom leaves, the jig dancing starts again, child is scarred for life.

Why?

Why must we go through this dog and pony show in these movies? And The Haunting of Hill House is, alas, no exception. In fact, it might be the MVP of this groundless denial thing.

The five kids are a mixed bag: a pseudo-psychic, a precocious budding photographer, adorable boy and girl twins, and an older brother who gets off easy in the whole spotting ghosts on a daily basis thing. With the exception of the older boy, Steven, the rest of the kids experience a literal buttload of ghost sightings, and save for the twins, none of them articulate exactly what happens to their parents. They just scream and have a generic fearful reaction to things like kittens coming back from the dead and opening their mouths to let huge blue bugs crawl out (“those kittens were sick, honey”, says the clueless dullard of a parent). The parents literally smile and nod and when Luke, the super cute bespectacled and sensitive darling of the show and his uber adorable twin sister Nell literally tell their parents that they’re being dogged by ferocious ghosts, the parents write it off as silly childish imaginings.

What in the entire fuck? Why don’t parents listen when their kids tell them that something scary is terrorizing them so badly that they can’t function? I’m beginning to think these clueless parents should get in trouble for child endangerment, and I definitely don’t enjoy watching kids’ concerns be ignored by the very people who are supposed to protect them. I was completely preoccupied throughout the entire series by my annoyance with the fact that no one ever listens to their kids in these movies!

Otherwise, the show was a snore, mostly. It’s filled with lots of drawn out melodramatic monologues and time jumps that expose us to the lame self-involved lives of the adults who are still reeling from what amounts to about two months that they spent in Hill House as children. These horror movie writers need to get better at creating an engaging, engrossing plot rather than writing unrealistic characters who are literally so stupid and unobservant that you’re rooting for the ghost to put them out of their misery. What’s worse, people raved about this show, I literally read that people were “so scared they vomited”. Those people are the types who have never watched a scary movie in their lives, and those types of people should never be listened to when gauging the efficacy of a horror series.

So what I took from The Haunting of Hill House is that you should listen to your kid. If they say there’s a ghost under their bed, if they say that there’s a strange girl in the woods–believe them–don’t tell them it’s an imaginary friend. If it turns out that they really were imagining things, oh well, better safe than sorry. If these movie parents listened to their movie kids the first time they tell them something’s up, if they would move out of the creepy as fuck house immediately on the off chance their kid knows a ghost when they see one, there’d be a lot less ghost related deaths.

…And a lot fewer frustratingly bad, pseudo-scary movies.

The Hottest Male Video Game Characters of All Time!

It’s no secret that many female game characters are designed for the male gaze. Unpopular opinion alert: I don’t mind that. I like playing with hot female characters as much as the next person, but my true tastes lie elsewhere.

I don’t often salivate over the male characters in games–for one thing, they don’t quite fill out short shorts and a tank top quite like Lara Croft does, for instance, but every once in a while I play a game and become as enamored with the character’s looks as I am with the way he wields his broadsword.

Here, I’ve made a list of the hottest male video game characters of all time–in no particular order.

1. Geralt from Witcher 3

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You have no clue how many naked and/or scantily clad pictures of Ciri, Yennefer, and Triss that I had to wade through to find this.

Anyway, Geralt is the perfect mix of beauty, brains, gruffness, and compassion. I prefer the video game version of this exotic hunk to Henry Cavill’s portrayal in Netflix’s Witcher (though I wouldn’t throw Cavill out of my boudoir).

I even find him hot once he gets all veiny and crazy looking after drinking potions and Decoctions.

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Yup, I got it bad!

 2. Barret from Final Fantasy VII Remake

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Once I got past Barret’s comically “black” dialogue (it’s like his dialogue was written by a non-black person who got their reference material from a rap video–but I’ve made peace with it), I was able to enjoy him for the multi-dimensional character that he is! Also, I realized that he’s hot!

He’s tall, barrel-chested, tatted, covered in muscle, and super duper manly. I like a bad-boy, and Barret’s the baddest; he has a gun for an arm for crying out loud.

Barret is passionate, intimidating, and arguably a lot more effective with his arm artillery than Cloud’s close range hack and slash. He believes in something, and I believe in something, too: that he’s a total hunk!

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Barret Wallace can speak to me louder than he needs to any day!

3. William J. Blazkowicz, Wolfenstein Series

The only thing harder than Wolfenstein gameplay is BJ Blazkowicz’s body.

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He’s got a jawline to die for, he’s fearless, and can take a beating. Also, he hates Nazis, and that makes him hot on its own.

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Since Wolfenstein games are First Person Shooters, you don’t get to see BJ often, so whenever I was blessed with a cut scene I made sure to get my fill of him–and I was never disappointed.

 

4. Niko Bellic from GTA 4

Nico isn’t traditionally handsome, but he has a heart of gold and knows how to handle himself in a gunfight.

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Image courtesy of D3nte from DeviantArt.com

Nico has a sexy Yugoslavian accent and doesn’t take any shit from anyone. He’s one of my favorite GTA protagonists, and I loved dressing him up to my satisfaction since his default style left much to be desired. I don’t mind a fixer upper.

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Image courtesy of Voggens from DeviantArt.com

See? He’s got that bum-chic thing going on. Yum.

**

There’s no doubt that gaming is about so much more than the attractiveness of the character you get to live through for a few hours. However, I’m sure any seasoned gamer can agree, a little eye candy never hurt anyone; in fact, it makes playing your favorite game all the sweeter.

 

The Importance of Outlining Your Fiction

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Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

I’ve been writing fiction for a long, long time. My mother says that I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil. I have boxes of stapled together printer paper–the books that I wrote and illustrated from a very young age. I have floppy disks of half finished chapter books that I wrote in elementary, junior high, and high school and hoped to share with the world one day.

As I continued to write through college and beyond, I didn’t really have much in the way of “writing process”. My process was thinking up something cool and then sitting down and writing about it. I would often run out of steam and lose direction and motivation–hence all the half finished chapter books.

As I’ve gotten older and realized that I could actually make a career out of writing, I’ve become more dedicated to following a writing process and it’s made all the difference in the world.

The biggest change I made was outlining. 

I know there are a few schools of thought on outlining–Stephen King, for example, doesn’t outline. He sits down and writes from his ridiculous brain, formulating stories that amaze, stun, and chill, but I’m no Stephen King. Not many of us are. Hell, I’m not even one of those folks with a million reads on Wattpad (to date, I have about 29 reads of my story Fighting Chance most of them, I suspect are mine as Wattpad counts author views for some reason).

However, I recently finished a 70k word manuscript in three months. How did I do it, you ask? Outlining. There were some other methods at play, but the biggest change I made was outlining.

I was never a fan of outlining. I wanted to “write organically” which is Prosepunk speak for “fly by the seat of my pants” or “produce with the smallest amount of effort necessary” but it wasn’t working out that well for me. My stories, pre-outlining, took me years to finish. The stories were often badly executed. I don’t mean that my 5-year manuscript is bad, just that the story isn’t as taut as the one I wrote, using an outline, in three months.

Outlining Helps You Focus Your Thoughts

Maybe you have a general idea of what you want to write. You know what characters you want to include, and you have a good inciting event that propels the story, you have a vague idea of the conflict that will motivate the characters, a fuzzy idea of the ending, etc. That’s all well and good if you’re writing only for pleasure and for your eyes only.

Otherwise, you need an outline.

Outlining allows you to bullet out all of those ideas in order to see what components are weak, and which ones aren’t character defining or moving the story forward in a meaningful way.

Having fully realized characters and a taut story is the mark of a good book. If you don’t take that fact seriously you’re probably writing the same drivel that I was.

Outlining allows you to create a chain from beginning to end, each event linking to the one before it until you reach the ending, which if done right, will have been set up perfectly by the multiple events that happened earlier in the story. To have impact, your ending must be the culmination of a thread you’ve woven through the beginning and middle of your story.

Outlining Creates the Soul of Your Story

Before I became “an outliner” I thought that I was sapping my story of its soul by outlining it first. When I wrote my earlier stuff, I thought it was important that I write like I was the reader, being surprised by what came next with no thought given to how I was building my plot, communicating thematic elements, or constructing my characters.

After writing a bunch of story-less manuscripts that were interesting if not meandering, I realized that I had to make a soul, it wasn’t just going to appear through the randomness of my stream of consciousness.

Speaking of stream of consciousness, Jack Kerouac, one of the my favorite writers, hindered me from utilizing an outline as well. In his essay “The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” he romanticizes his method of simply writing without thinking or planning, which created all of his poignant yet meandering work. I say that to say, unless you can meander like Kerouac, use an outline.

Once I realized that I was incapable of creating engaging spontaneous prose, I got serious about charting out my stories, and giving my work the elusive soul that they deserved.

Soul is: impeccable character development, increasingly high stakes that progress the story, vivid settings, vibrant subplots, a kick-ass ending, taut prose.

Soul-less: Loose plot, static, one-dimensional characters, flat environments, nebulous settings, stilted dialogue, I could go on but I’m sure you see what I’m getting at.

Outlining Releases the Pressure of Writing A Novel

This is the most important thing I learned about outlining. Before, when I’d start work on a manuscript, there was this pocket of overwhelm sitting in the back of my mind. I felt in over my head the entire time and unsure of where things were going. There was always this hope that, by chance, my ending would be good and connect well to the words preceding it.

This didn’t work for me. Hence the subpar manuscript that took me five years to complete and my “Writing” file folders floating on my desktop, bloated with unfinished work.

Outlining allows you to tell your story without telling it. You know how everything is going to happen before it happens and so you’re properly prepared to put it down on the page. Then, all of your concentration can go into creating great dialogue and spinning engaging prose rather than having to formulate the story as you write.

It was freeing, really.

Outline However You Want To

When you hear the phrase “outline” you’re thinking of some exhaustive document with bullet points and sub bullet points and numbering and blah blah blah, but you’re a creator, and your brain works different from mine, and every other creator out there, so make an outline that works for you.

Write it out in paragraphs. Use snatches of dialogue. Create an abstract of the setting. Think of it as an awful first draft devoid of the bells and whistles that make beautiful prose. Get your ideas out there in black and white and then write from there.

I use bullet point points because it allows me to get key events down on paper in a clean way. I use Microsoft One Note because it’s easy to use, no frills, and has cute bullet points, check marks, etc. that I can use. It allows me to be messy without adhering to the maddening constraints of a Microsoft Word document.

Outline in a stress free way, get your key ideas and your ending on the page, read through it a few times and make sure you see a thread that goes from beginning to end, and then start writing.

Remember, You Aren’t Chained to Your Outline

Your outline is a guide, a group of goal posts. If you’re writing and something in your outline doesn’t feel right, change it. If you want to change your outline, you can, it’s yours.

Your outline will contain succinct ideas of the big ideas that you’ll allow to grow in your work. You can fill in those spaces between bullet points with whatever you want, but the entire time, you’ll be following a path that you built out for yourself.

Use your outline as a tool, not as a tether.


Reflecting on all of the writing advice I’ve read and heard over the years, I wish I would’ve paid more attention to the pro-outline advice, because it’s the one thing that was missing from my process. Try it out for one of your stories, I promise you’ll wonder why it took you so long to do so.

Misunderstanding Yourself.

Sometime between when I started this website and when I started blogging about video games a lot on here, I began to think that could only post when I had something to say about video games, or movies.

How silly of me to have misunderstood my own purpose. Let this be proof that you can misguide yourself pretty easily and misunderstanding your own goals is possible, believe it or not. I didn’t start this website to blog about video games, so why was my inability to create new video game articles (because I’m still playing Final Fantasy VII Remake and I have nothing to add at the moment) keeping me from adding content?

So now that I’ve gotten my head on straight and remembered that I also wanted to use this platform to talk about my fiction writing career, I’m going to do just that.

Stay tuned to read articles on my writing process, progress updates on my new work, or, just to learn what makes me (and you if I make it relatable enough) tick.

…I remember writing stay tuned on a blog years ago and I didn’t post again for 10 years….

 

Which Platforms Are Next for Final Fantasy VII Remake?

Now that Final Fantasy VII Remake has finally hit PS4 player’s screens, fans that play other platforms are wondering where it might go next.

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“FF7R” by datcravat from Deviantart.com

Not all remakes of iconic games get it right (we’re looking at you, Goldeneye 007 Reloaded) but Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake has impressed even the most diehard fans of the original. It was the bestselling video game of April 2020, edging out chart mainstays like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and is so far the third best-selling game of 2020 overall. With that much commercial success, it’s no surprise that fans are wondering if the critically lauded game will be available on their preferred system after its PS4 exclusivity ends on March 3, 2021.

Details remain sparse, but if the cross-platform pedigree of other Final Fantasy titles are any indication, well, any system has a shot. Gameplay footage that was apparently captured via PC made rounds online for the last few months and suggest that it will eventually land on Windows, but Square Enix has yet to confirm or deny this possibility.

While Xbox One and PC seem the most likely next stops for Final Fantasy VII Remake, there’s a slim chance that Switch-ers will see this title as Nintendo Switch doesn’t consistently land Final Fantasy titles outside of older releases or game remasters, the most recent being 2017’s Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. It doesn’t bode well that Final Fantasy XV has yet to make it to Nintendo’s crown jewel—so it could very well take a while for Final Fantasy VII Remake to do so—if ever.

Fear of missing out is real with this one as Final Fantasy VII Remake is the perfect tribute to the Final Fantasy heavyweight it was modeled after–with some amazing updates thrown in. The battle system, for example, has shifted from turn-based to real-time without sacrificing any of the original’s charm thanks to Unreal Engine 4 and Lead Battle Designer Tomotaka Shiroichi’s four-frame manga approach to boss battles. Lead writer Kazushige Nojima and team also breathe new life in the “love triangle” between Cloud, Aerith and Tifa giving it depth and meaning unachieved in the original version, while Barret is still, well, Barret—to fan’s delight.

Final Fantasy VII Remake’s Midgar deep-dive has certainly wet the public’s appetite for the next installment of the series, Final Fantasy VII Remake 2 (working title), which is in development—though the release date is a mystery—and it’s anyone’s guess if it will be a multi-platform release or if it will share the same exclusivity as its predecessor.

For now, the only surefire way to play the Final Fantasy VII Remake is to get your hands on a PS4, or, if that’s not a option, the Final Fantasy VII Remake soundtrack is out now, and it only requires an internet connection.

Why I Probably Won’t Finish Wolfenstein: The New Order

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Image created by  Trycon1980 from Deviant Art

The completionist in me weeps to face that reality. But let’s start from the beginning. 

This week I decided to opt-in for Playstation Now — which is a good investment for the gamer who isn’t hung up on playing the newest and shiniest releases. PS Now has a pretty good selection–including both Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein: The New Colossus among a number of other (oldish) games across genres.

The first thing I chose to download was Wolfenstein: TNO as I’ve been circling the series for a few years without taking the leap before now.

Why?

I’m not a huge fan of First-Person Shooters. This is strange only because Goldeneye is one of my all time favorites (it is an N64 staple and revolutionized the FPS as we all know it) but I haven’t been all that impressed with modern FPS offerings because I’m not interested in running around in fatigues and getting shot down by uber talented 8 year-olds in multi-player. 

But, as usual, I digress. 

I have a very real love/hate relationship with Wolfenstein: TNO, and I realize that much of my aversion is due to its unfamiliarity. I’ve never played a game that pits me against menacing super-Nazi’s, I’ve never before jumped out of my real world skin when a large robot dog from hell, or Panzerhund as they’re called, leapt out at me and tore me to bits. I’ve never watched a guy I was talking to get blown to pieces seconds later by the car bomb he put in his trunk.

However, after playing through the first few hours, I got a hang of things and could see the appeal, and that appeal–like with most FPS games–is full-on immersion. 

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Enter the Panzerhund. Image by  jQueary1991 from Deviant Art.

I should add that I started playing this game on “I AM DEATH INCARNATE” difficulty level because I’m a sadomasochist. “I AM DEATH INCARNATE” is only one level below the hardest difficulty level, “UBER”. After playing at “IADC”, I cannot imagine what sort of sicko can even play one level of this game on “UBER”, but I know I never want to meet them and that they are probably a 12 year-old killing machine. 

Anyway, after being killed like 1,000 times and yelling at my fiance in frustration, I moved the difficulty level down one peg to “BRING ‘EM ON”. This level is still really hard, but it gives you a fighting chance which means the world in a game chock full of deadly surprises. 

I should mention that the Wolfenstein franchise is known to be difficult,  so after checking my ego, I quit my belly-aching and locked in for an extremely exciting ride, and boy is it exciting, but I’m still not sure that I’ll see things through.

Don’t get me wrong, this game offers an experience that I’ve never quite had before. I was invested in this game in a way I haven’t been in a long time, and I can only attribute this to how the act of fighting murderous Nazi’s in an alternate reality really got under my skin. 

I’m a wimp, so the realistic violence is a bit much for me. The immersion is impressive, but it will be a large part of why I don’t finish the game. For example, when the main character, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, was being tortured early on in the game, the first-person perspective made me feel like I was in the hot seat, and dammit, with the way the world is now I can’t play a game that stresses me out so much. 

I regularly shiver with anxiety while navigating whatever cold Nazi stronghold I’ve broken into, performing impeccable stealth kills or mowing down a gaggle of Nazi scum with whatever heavy weapon I’ve picked up along the way. I bite my nails during cut scenes as I prepare for whatever fresh hell Wolfenstein: TNO has in store for me. I pump my fist in maniacal glee after leveling an entire army of Nazis. 

All of these visceral reactions show just how amazing Wolfenstein: TNO order is, but, alas, this old gamer’s heart can’t take it. 

So as I power up my PS4 to inhabit Blazkowicz’s handsome body one more time, I realize that while I may be over the repetition of shooting, diving for cover, and being gunned down–brutally–over and over, I can enjoy it for as long as I desire without the added pressure of needing to see it through to the end. 

While the completionist in me isn’t quite happy knowing I’m playing a game I won’t finish, I can fully appreciate the masterpiece that is the Wolfenstein series. And you never know, I might post here one day and reveal that I completed the game after all. But I won’t beat myself up if I don’t. I’ll leave that to the Nazis. 

Darkest Dungeon: Tips for Surviving the Best Turn-Based RPG You’ve Never Heard Of

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…Darkest Dungeon!! I don’t know about you (it would be creepy if I did) but I love a good turn-based RPG, especially since they are a dying breed among mainstream offerings and I consider turn-based mechanics to be the mark of a “true” RPG.

During my formative years, I cut my teeth on true RPGs like Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy VII (I have to include that one or you’d just click off the page right now, I’m sure) Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII, Legends of Dragoon, and Valkyrie Profile, just to name a few.

Short attention spans, the rise of the “casual gamer”, and the tendency for game developers to stick to action-RPGs has caused the true RPG’s star to dim in recent years. However, I’ve never given up the search for the type of turn-based fun that offers the addictive challenge and novel theme that characterizes an entertaining, memorable, RPG experience.

One such memorable, true RPG offering is Darkest Dungeon from Red Hook Games. It is a brutal turn-based RPG that is so difficult that it makes you throw your remote to the ground in….pleasure? Yes, pleasure, because Darkest Dungeon makes no bones about how challenging it is, but still manages to be a smashing good time.

As you play this game, you will, inevitably, make peace with the reality that without meticulous preparation (and sometimes in spite of meticulous preparation) your party members will die, and it will be all your fault, you spineless worm! Just kidding, you’re not spineless.

Surviving DD’s extended dungeon crawls is no picnic. With your party of four tortured heroes, you’re charged to free your ancestor’s crumbling estate from the clutches of dark entities that his bad behavior unleashed upon the lands, and paying for your family’s sins has never been so entertaining.

You’ll venture out on Skirmish missions where you have to complete 100% of room battles, Scouting missions where you have to explore 90% of the rooms, and boss battles — where you’re killed immediately — all the while going up against the likes of bipedal rotting fish, rancid corpses (here’s looking at you, Drowned Thrall), skeleton soldiers, hags with cauldrons that aren’t just for show, and blobs of melted flesh that dole out attacks that can level your party in fewer than three turns.

You can attempt escape–and most likely your attempt will fail. If that happens, prepare to lose all of your turns and suffer murder with extreme prejudice, because there are few rewards for cowardice in the twisted DD universe.

Darkest Dungeon is an addictive exercise in perseverance and problem solving. As a seasoned gamer, I tend to glean real life-applicable impressions from the games I play. For example, if I choose a combination of heroes that are not able to get the job done (translation: die immediately) on a Scouting mission through the Cove, I reevaluate my choices, implement some strategic thinking, and go guns blazing with another approach. If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again.

DD teaches hard lessons, such as “preparedness guarantees nothing, but preparedness guarantees a chance at something”. I made that one up, but it’s applicable, kinda!

Some of your party combinations will get a cool title if you arrange them just right.

The object of this game–which is to complete a long list of “Caretaker Goals” that include everything from leveling up a hero to defeating a boss. Achieving these tasks is based on determining the proper party combo and resource stockpile that will get you through a mere Skirmish mission unscathed, or better yet, help you withstand the relentless onslaught of a boss battle.

Boss battles are insane, by the way, mostly because you must endure room after room of resource depleting, life-sapping, stress inducing battles before you happen upon the room that contains said boss, who is ALWAYS harder than you think they’ll be. Every. Single. Time.

One game-changing distinction that makes Darkest Dungeon so sexy is your heroes’ two-fold vulnerability gauge–one that determines Stress level (the Affliction System), and one that determines HP. Certain creature attacks deplete your HP while others will add to your Stress gauge — as will certain conditions in the environment or random missteps you make during your crawl.

Reach 100 in stress, you gain a Stress quirk that can manifest in any number of ways. These Stress quirks, or Afflictionscan cause the affected party member to literally stress-out their war-worn peers, pass their turn, self-harm, or attack enemies without your command. Reach 200 in stress and you’ll have a heart attack, and there’s no coming back from that. In DD, stress, like in life, is a killer.

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Stress can make you Hopeless. (Image from DarkestDungeon.com)

Outside of hours spent traipsing through dank ruins, fishy coves, overgrown warrens, teeming wealds, or the titular Darkest Dungeon (you have to use Level 6 party members to play the Darkest Dungeon—I’ve played this game for over a year and despite having Level 6 heroes, have never even considered darkening the threshold of the Darkest Dungeon, this game is that hard) you spend a lot of your time patching your party up back at the Hamlet. 

The Hamlet is home to places like the Tavern and Abbey where your heroes can engage in a variety of anti-Stress activities, like drinking (always the best and cheapest choice unless your party member has an aversion to drinking) flagellation (really), enjoying carnal company in the brothel, meditation, or prayer, just to name a few. Stress can also be mitigated through random events that occur during the dungeon crawls, or by using stress relievers around the campfire during longer missions. (Be warned that you can sometimes leave the campfire more stressed than when you went in. Damn you, Darkest Dungeon!!)

This game has no shortage of unique challenges, including your need to equip provisions before your dungeon crawl that relieve status effects and interact with certain items you’ll find during your travels. For example, a Bandage relieves the status effect “Bleed” and can also be used to protect your hands while you rummage through a pile of rusty blades for useful items that will help you on your journey. You have to choose–and use–your provisions wisely, or, well, you’ll die.

Death, like in real life, is final for any of your heroes who succumb on your journey. My advice is to hold off on naming or becoming attached to any of your heroes until you get your bearings, because most likely, they’re going to die.

Darkest Dungeon is detailed, intricate, dark, and engaging. It is a game that you can play alongside your other more lengthy and in-depth gaming endeavors. For example, I’ve played Darkest Dungeon alongside my Mass Effect re-play-through, Red Dead Redemption 2, Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human, Horizon Zero Dawn and any other long-ish game that strikes my fancy.

Once you get a hang of things, it’s easy to come back to it over and over again without a steep relearning curve, and, if you think this is a game you can beat in a week, you’ve got another thing coming. No one fucking beats this game. (I will let you know as soon as I do, which will probably be around my 50th birthday.)

To help you put your best foot forward, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to help you prepare to face the Darkest Dungeon. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

TIPS:

  • It’s imperative that you use status effect attacks on your enemies; Bleed, Blight, and Stun are lifesavers in clutch moments, use them wisely. These effects also stack–meaning if you afflict an enemy with Bleed three times — they get three times the damage each turn. Lay it on thick!
  • Party member position is key. Make sure you place your heroes in the spots that work to their strengths. Not all of their activated attacks work in every position, and if an enemy shuffles up your order with a Move attack, you could be royally fucked.
  • Use a good mix of Buffs, Debuffs, and melee attacks. Of course melee is going to get the killing job done, but sometimes buffing your party toward being speedier or more evasive is as important as stabbing a baddie in the face. Debuff your baddies where you can, make them slow, make them inaccurate–make them pay! Be strategic.
  • When choosing provisions BUY ALL THE FOOD available. I cannot stress this enough. During your trek through the dungeons, a prompt will sometimes pop up at random requiring you to disperse food to your party. If you don’t have enough, they suffer massive Stress.
  • Another note on provisions, you have limited space in your inventory, so choose wisely–sometimes I leave things behind–either during the crawl or while choosing provisions beforehand. Never leave a shovel or food behind, but you can forego things like Luadanum–it’s good for removing Horror, but I don’t find that I need it that often and I can get through most crawls with out it. Here’s my recommended Provision pack:
      • 9 torches
      • All the food I can buy (if you can’t afford all of it, sell some trinkets or something, then come back and buy all the food, I mean it!)
      • 3-4 shovels
      • 2 medicinal herbs
      • 2 holy waters
      • 1-2 keys (keep in mind that not having a key will never kill you or Stress you, you just might miss out on some treasure or a secret room.)
      • 2 anti-venoms
      • 2-3 bandages
  • When you get enough cash, remove some of your party’s quirks at the Sanitarium.
  • When choosing what to drop and what to keep as you deal with limited inventory space, always choose heirlooms over cash when you can as the heirlooms allow you to upgrade your heroes and the services available in the Hamlet. If you get the Crimson Court DLC, the heirlooms allow you to upgrade your Hamlet with new buildings that give you additional boons.
  • DO NOT go into a boss battle until you’ve practiced besting Skirmish and Scouting missions. Boss battles are no fucking joke. I once leveled up a party to 5 and lost them all on a (Level 4) mission, which brings me to the fact that…
  • Level designations mean nothing–just because a level says it’s for level 1 heroes, doesn’t mean all of your level 1 heroes are fit for the battle, be strategic.
  • ALWAYS brings shovels. Not having one when you need it can cause Stress and injury. On the few times I forgot a shovel, I just saw myself out immediately.

Ight

No shovel? Get out of dodge.

  • Leave the dungeon if you can’t cut it. You’ll live to fight another day, even if you leave with a few more quirks than you came in with.
  • Leave your ego at the door.

So, there you have it, a write up on one of my favorite games of all time. Play Darkest Dungeon with the understanding that you’re supposed to suck at it, but with airtight strategy and persistence, you’ll suck less and less over time. Whether you prevail and become a DD master, or flounder and experience a full party wipe out, you’re sure to have a barrel of rotten, decaying fun.

Beyond: Two Souls Was Beyond My Skill

beyond

Or that’s how I felt, at least, when I failed–repeatedly–to input the right commands during the fight sequences. But we’ll get to that–let’s start from the beginning.

Beyond: Two Souls is another interactive drama and action-adventure game for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (I played it on PS4) and Microsoft Windows from David Cage and Quantic Dream. This dynamic team brought us other immersive, interactive drama and action adventure games like Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit), Heavy Rain, and Detroit: Become Human  all of which are very good (if you enjoy this genre of game) and worth checking out of you’ve got a lot of time on your hands because of, well, COVID-19.

Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie Holmes, (adult/teen Jodie is played by Ellen Page who does a kick-ass job) a woman who is literally linked to a mysterious spirit named Aiden. The story follows her from childhood to womanhood as she deals with the weirdness of having a (very capable) spirit companion with whom she shares a  complicated relationship.

Jodie grows up under the watchful eye of the United States Department of Paranormal activity under the tutelage Dr. Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) and Cole Freeman (Kadeem Hardison). During this chapter of her life, she learns the bounds of her amazing powers while struggling with the horrors of young adulthood. She then goes to work for the CIA, using Aiden to aid them in their quest to create a link to the “other side”.

The CIA, of course, is full of douches that use her for their own devices with little regard for her safety, sanity, or the viability of opening up a portal to the spirit world (spoiler alert, their attempts go awry) and Jodie, with Aiden’s help, is constantly working to clean up their ghostly messes.

Despite some reviews I read that said different, Beyond: Two Souls has an appropriately intricate and interesting plot and it is every bit a cinematic juggernaut on par with the rest of Cage and Quantic Dream’s work. The game play here is a bit more complex than that of Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain, though you can adjust difficulty according to your comfort level.

I chose the “experienced” level and felt pretty confident about my choice–and then came the fighting mechanics. It’s set up like this: Jodie’s body or body part moves, in slow motion, in any given direction on the screen and you’re supposed to move the right joystick in that direction. I sucked at this.

During the 10-second or so slow motion moments it’s up to you to determine which direction Jodie’s swinging, ducking, or kicking. This literally kicked my ass. I kept rolling into punches, ducking when I should have been jumping to the side, punching to the right when I should’ve been punching to the left. Overall I got my ass kicked in about 75% of the fights. Lucky for me, I was still able to get through the grueling action sequences even though Jodie was always worse for wear. I sported a lot of bloody noses, busted lips, and limped while holding my arm a lot.

Needless to say, I performed below par and as a very seasoned gamer, I’m ashamed to admit it.

As is typical when I suck at some component of a game, I looked up reviews on the game to see if other people had this same problem with the fight mechanics. Phew! They did.

So the moral of this story is, check out Beyond: Two Souls, because I was able to love it despite its relentless mission to take me down in peg in my gaming prowess. I mean, you get to possess people (Aiden’s abilities essentially make you a bad ass–with Aiden’s help, you can fly and heal people, for example) fight smoky evil entities, kiss men (or not if you so choose) and kick ass — but be warned that the fighting mechanics kind of suck. Don’t agree? Think I’ve got a mouthful of sour grapes? Try the game and let me know if you had the same experience I had–which was a good one, overall.

The Absolute Ecstasy of Mass Effect

Mass Effect

As an ardent Bioware fan, I play through the entire Mass Effect series once a year and I’m in the middle of my 2020 play-through as we speak.

Mass Effect tells the story of Commander Shepherd, an Alliance fleet hero who is charged with (of course) saving the Earth from a species of “old-machines” called the Reapers who exist to eliminate organics.

Each installment centers around Shepherd fighting the Reapers and whatever agent they’ve recruited to do their bidding. In the first installment, it was the rogue Spectre, Saren (with a special appearance by the Geth), in Mass Effect 2, it was the Collectors (and, of course, the Geth), and in Mass Effect 3, it was the Reapers and their favorite mindless slaves, the Geth. Really, the Geth are always around causing trouble and being completely vulnerable to tech attacks (yay!).

Currently, I’m admiring the crown glory of the series, Mass Effect 3, which signifies the complete evolution of the series up to that point in its improvement on less than stellar elements of the first two installments.

I played the series out of order as the inaugural installment of Mass Effect wasn’t readily available on PS3 when I learned about the series. My first introduction to this space-age opus was Mass Effect 2, which was a vast improvement on the first in the series–mostly because you didn’t have to drive around in the awkward M35 Mako on every mission. No, in MS2 you just had to spend countless hours scanning planets for mineral deposits that didn’t really tip the scale in the game that much after a certain point–yet I did this a lot because I’m a rabid completionist.

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M35 Mako: Mass Effect

Overall, I cannot tout the absolute perfection of this series enough–and without reservation–I consider the entire series to be an impeccable epic of space kick-assery — let me make that clear for those who have numerous complaints about the ending, or about this, or about that. Many fanboys crucified the game’s final installment, Mass Effect: Andromeda, effectively torpedoing the series based on their claims that it didn’t live up to their standards. I’d like to see these same fanboys deliver on-point gaming caviar after four installments. At that point, I’m sure we can all agree that anything can jump the shark.

What I love about Mass Effect is that its setting goes beyond the well-worn depiction of a pseudo-medieval/renaissance environment, which I am entirely tired of. I play a lot of RPGs, and since turn-based RPGs have, from a mainstream standpoint, gone the way of the Dodo, I tend to play a lot of Action RPGs that are mired in dreary castle-dom and armor and scabbards and the like. Don’t get me wrong, I love Skyrim, Witcher 3, Dragon Age (another AMAZING Action-RPG series by Bioware), Fable, Dragon’s Dogma, etc. but I’m a little tired of  seeing dragons, elves, castles, kings, etc. as the overarching theme of  RPGs/Action RPGs.

To put it simply, I’m a bitch that loves space.

There’s a lot to love about this game, but the Simmer in me (I’m playing the Sims 4 right now as well) particularly enjoys the in depth customization options available for you to create your unique hero in Shepherd. It’s no secret that being able to personalize your main character allows for deeper immersion in a game, and Mass Effect has that in spades. Check out some video of my kick-ass purple-haired maven, Prism Shepherd, below.

Otherwise, the game is gritty and more than sates my shooter appetites (it’s a great third person shooter). Like Dragon Age and the two installments before it, Mass Effect 3 has a relationship development engine (though it’s a bit less in depth in MS3) and includes lots of cursing, skimpy clothing, sexy aliens, and depending on what difficulty you choose, some very deadly, asshole-ish baddies. I mean what more  could you want?

So this is an ode to one of my favorite RPG/Action RPG series. Mass Effect is keeping me entertained during this quarantine horror show, and I’ve dropped some game play footage below for your enjoyment.

Check out Mass Effect, it’s good for you.

Prism Shepard and “ally” geth Legion discuss the current state of things during a cut scene.

Wonder what it would be like to shoot cubes in a Tron-like Geth mainframe? Well, you’ll wonder no more after playing Mass Effect 3!

 

 

 

Movies: Netflix’s Death Note

There could be spoilers here about Netflix’s stab at the popular manga/anime series, Death Note. I write these things via stream of consciousness so I don’t check for loose lips, only glaring errors. So, perhaps, SPOILER ALERT.

I’m not going to pretend I read the Death Note manga, nor have I seen the anime series, so my opinion is based on watching it without knowing anything about it.

In summary, without giving too much away, the main character, Light Turner, finds a way to dole out just deserts with the flick of a wrist–with horrific results.

I read a review calling it the “worst movie” the reviewer had ever seen, so needless to say, I was intrigued.

Now I’m sure we all know by now that for every binge-able most-watched Netflix series, there are like ten awful ones that you wish you could erase from your viewing history. I knew this had potential to be pretty bad, so I dove right in.

I pick movies apart for a living. Or, I live to pick movies apart, either way, I was waiting to do this and I missed my chance because I became interested in the movie. Willem Dafoe’s Ryuk is both frightening and funny–and Willem’s voice was made for this guy.

Nat Wolff’s Light Turner grew on me. At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to stomach his emo hair and his overall affect, but that grew on me quickly. Add in a deliciously evil Margaret Qualley as Mia Sutton/Kira, and you’ve got a pair of homicidal teens with hearts of gold.

It wasn’t something you write home about, but it was entertaining, a little bit scary, and very interesting–in no small part thanks to the ubiquitous Lakeith Stanfield who is the perfect eccentric super-detective with a troubled past and razor sharp instincts.

Now, I’m tempted to go watch the Death Note anime to see what the fanboys (I’m guessing the people who hate the Netflix rendering are fanboys, or fanpeople?) are talking about. It’s probably same old same old: “they left [insert character] out of the Netflix version! Burn their houses!” Or, “in the manga/anime, the detective character was white!” Yawn.

As a standalone quickie don’t think too much movie, it was perfect. Also, it kind of had a Heathers feel, and I love that movie, don’t you?