Posted: 8th May 2016 by Christian in Blog

I’ve gotten a bit interested in this. Regard last post.

Poe wrote a remarkable bit of criticism in 1848 called The Philosophy of Composition. Good piece and if you’re a writer or a critic, yes, even a game journo, you’d be well-served reading it.

But talking about aesthetics of game, there’s a few thing to focus on.

Firstly, the ending. Know it and work towards it. I live by this rule. Stories don’t need a point to them but if they do, the ending is the whole of one. In games, this means all art, all systems, all of that, needs to really hone in on those final minutes of gameplay. Something like Mass Effect 3 falls apart at the end because of a gimmicky finale. Something like KOTOR works because you’ll need skills to beat that jawless bastard. As a narrative, one pulls nonsense out of it’s arse, one is a showdown with a man who’s jealousy and fear of you turned him mental.

Which is more dramatic?

“the choice of impression” is another important one. What are you trying to do with this game? Is Darkest Dungeon, it’s about creating a game where the heroic tropes of a fantastic adventure are ignored for psychological realism. It’s hugely great so far. Dishonoured is a mediocre cover shooter but it’s also hugely fun because they didn’t let anything get in the way of being an old-fashioned Men’s Own adventure with escapes and chases.

Dragon Age II sells itself as being an emotional rollercoaster but… ‘my brother died!’ never really affects the lead. It’s just a… let me check Robert McKee, an Inciting Incident.

Finally, tone. Quake was a technical triumph but it’s tone is ‘here are horrifying monsters from beyond space and time. But they’re easy to kill, so don’t sweat it. But Half-Life, the first one, it positions you as a regular Joe. You don’t load up on space guns. You never feel awesomely powerful.

This is the reason Survival Horror is so good and Fatal Frame may be the scariest game ever. Any, any, break in tone in a game like that and it’s over. Movies break up scares with laughs because you simply can’t be tense for two whole hours. Games you move in and out. If it gets too scary you pop out for a smoke. Drop tension too long and you’re back at square one.

But something like Sunless Sea is tense because you don’t know what’s coming but you know it’ll be creepy. But at the same time it’s Gaiman-esque NeoVictoriana. Charm and quirk are built in.
Now, I didn’t rate Amenesia that highly because it breaks tone all the time. Trapped in a vast madhouse, haunted by creatures you can’t appreciably fight. And they scream lurid sexual threats at you.
It’s a totally different kind of fear. No one wants to be bummed by a jawless ghoul but that’s an entire set of fears. If you gave a Xenomorph a chainsaw, it would be stupid, not scary.

Monstrum is you locked in a ship with a beastie after you. The ship is a maze. You can’t fight the beastie. One of them can -lock doors- with it’s mind. It is terrifying and exactly the point I stopped playing Monstrum.


It’s not even a visually scary beast. It’s what it does.

Part of why games can be frustrating for a writer is because games go through dozens and dozens of revisions. Too many. And they can be constructed after the fact. ‘We liked the bit with the wolves, but we’ve changed the setting to an irradiated desert. But keep the wolves.’

But wolves are creatures of snow, of winter. The cultural myth is surrounded in the snow. Stalked through woods. The tone of the encounters is different.

And while SF and fantasy can blend seamlessly, I’m never one for robots and wizards on the same screen. They don’t complement each other. They raised too different sets of generic expectation.
So keeping in mind, endings with meaning, success that’s measured by how well a game hit it’s own bar, and tone, how do games you like look now?

Alls I know is, Planescape: Torment is still number 1!!!1!


Posted: 8th May 2016 by Christian in Blog

Aesthetics is, simply put, studying beauty. How do we make something affecting?

I am playing a game called Darkest Dungeons. It’s a roguelike game. This has many meanings but for now, it means a game you can lose. Most games investing in your being able to finish but not this. It’s hard and frustrating and I’m not even sure I’m liking it.

But I’m sticking around because it’s a tour de force of creepy aesthetics.
You are called in by a relative to examine your ancestral seat. The uncle dude, of a bored and ‘imperious’ family, dug beneath the house and found a door to somewhere terrible. All in a shifting, historical uncertain zone. Now, beneath the manor, gribblies lurk. That’s the set-up to a thousand games. Tellingly, this is communicated to you by the most Gothic literary technique of all: framing story.

And Gothic this is.

Contributing superior writing. For some, purple, but for any fan of Old Weird like Ashton-Smith, you’ll like it. If you’ve ever read any Gothic literature, either you prose that way or you’re putting the book down.

Game writing, my day job, is often to first thing to disintegrate in dev processes. Fair enough too, it’s easy to redo and cheap.
But writing is a primary method of generating an aesthetic.

‘Screw you, dickbag!’ screams one game.
‘Damn your eyes, you knave!’
Same meaning, the aesthetic difference is obvious.
‘The 3.22 mili pulse rifle shoots flechette mercury tipped tracer at a velocity of mach 2.’
‘This gun is rad!’


Writing will take you partway. But this game has a clever, insidious design technique that absolutely reinforces the fine writing.
Your hired squad of plague doctors, highwaymen, religious zealots, knights and occultists… they can’t always shake off what they’ve seen. Caught in darkness, you can go mad. Take too much damage, become afraid. Healing isn’t so simple as other games and you’ll find yourself hard pressed to keep up with damage.

It doesn’t feel like an adventure. It feels like what it’s supposed to be, dangerous. And it feels like how your characters would experience it*. Harrowing, stressful, sometimes even oppressively grim. Now and again, your characters are simply beyond saving and you feel dread as death ticks ever closer.

It’s… quite a remarkable achievement for an indie game made for 300K. Which is ok, but still budget. The art assets and lack of music are noticeable and I’d have chose a slightly less cartoony style.

If you are interested in how to create an emotional, -artist-, experience in gaming, if you are interested in unity of effect** and how to create an aesthetic… play this.

Enclicken to purchase and enrich indie confraternity!

*The gulf between what your experience and your character experiences is something games seem to be getting interested in.
** Unity of effect is something Poe talked about, significantly.

Posted: 3rd May 2016 by Christian in Blog



Posted: 17th March 2016 by Christian in Blog

GC promo 1

I’m your pusher

Posted: 1st March 2016 by Christian in Blog

When I was a kid, a little kid, there was a lady called Tipper Gore. She said that if I liked Heavy Metal and Dungeons and Dragons, I was going to become a murderer Satanist. Well, she was only half-right.
Later, after Ice-T was on the Colours soundtrack and I became obsessed with him, she said I would become a crack-smoking gangster.

A few years after that, bored, the moral guardians looked at video games and said that these would turn me in to a violent amoral sociopath. They would fuse out my feelings the way copper crystal burns through infections. A robot, who only wanted to game and murder.

Looking around my friends, who really just wanted to be elfs and sometimes, a small transforming plane robot thing, I suspected this was exaggerated.

What I would learn later is that these were what we call moral panics.

I grew up with Grim Reapers on telly bowling people down and AIDS! written over the top of the screen. It made us all a bit homophobic and afraid.

I got suspicious of them age 10.

Before I was born, it was street crime and drugs. Teddy Boys slashing up cops with razors and black guys on Angel Dust and more every day. No statistic said this was true. In the 1910s, it was White Slavery. Which did indeed exist, sorry identitarians, but was largely absent for decades by that point in history. Now, sex trafficking is discussed with few statistics invoked.

Moral panics. Each and all.

Then, around 2000 or so, there was a new one.

The pedo-priest.

Now, you have to remember, the press, the British Press specifically, loved the Pedo. Our Kids were under constant threat of molestification. Which is doubly ironic as 20 years ago, when real sex abuse cases were coming to light, it had been ignored as vile fancy.

Suddenly priests became the new molestor-raven figure. We heard of nothing but priests swallowing up boys by the bushel-full. It seems that no matter what, a priest would take your son and do terrible things to him.

And, you know, some priests did. Yes they did. And yes, the Church did indeed act abhorrently. At about the same time, other scandals were coming to light. The Magdalene Laundries. The extent to which safe-sex practices had been sabotaged. Loads. I’m in no position to defend the Church and have no interest in it. Don’t get it twisted, here.

The entire criminology of the scandals, however, were twisted as tourbillions. In Austria, a hotline for all victims of sexual abuse announced 60% of it’s calls concerned “the Clergy”. There was no mention of which clergy. There was no mention of how many had been investigated. There was no follow-up on any of it. 60% was meaningless.

Belgium illegally sent cops in. The John Jay Report wasn’t criticised much by the people who’s job it was to stress-test it.

And on it goes.

Now, it became very clear that this was an ongoing problem in the Church, especially in how it had hidden this abuse and protected abusers, and that it desperately needed to be investigated all across the world. But the press was pouring… not even gasoline on a fire. Hand grenades.

Anyone who knows the faintest thing about human psychology was not shocked when the Church got seriously defensive. When you make it us vs them, don’t be surprised when Them doesn’t play nice with Us.

And yesterday, a new attrocity. A film that celebrated, no, lionised, a group of muck-racking journalists. Spotlight is a nightmare of bullshit politics and should be sneered at, not celebrated. Not by anyone who values justice anyway.

Read this.

Moral panics are always going to be with us. But we like to think ourselves getting more rational, more savvy to media ways. I’m not sure this is true. Typing FAKE on a youtube video is hardly critical thinking, after all.

But let’s not be party to celebrating a group of crooks and panickers who made great copy out of destroying people before they stepped foot into court.


Posted: 26th February 2016 by Christian in Blog

I’ve been a bit worried as I’ve been really disliking a lot of the work of women comic creators recently, especially writers. Made an effort and found some teams I liked. All women.

Flesh of White – Albino baby born in Tanzania. Art is a bit poxy, terrible colouring, but the story is bold and interesting. Worried it’s going to get a bit magical realist.

Monstress – I was ambivalent with the writing on the first issue but with 2 and 3, this is settling in. No more monstrous lesbians. More sexy monsters. But the art is the winner here. Amazing.

Sword of Glass – Fantasy that’s consciously drawing on non-European sources. Not sure about the story yet but it’s beautiful and strange and they ride around on cool leopards. One to watch.
Then I read Injection and Ellis is still struggling against his worst impulses and it remains his strongest work in years.


Posted: 22nd January 2016 by Christian in Blog

Let’s get weird.
The isolated brain is a concept many, many scientists and sorcerers have tried on since the beginning. Can you take a brain out of the body and keep it alive?
Not really, no. But people give it a go. If you’re feeling ghoulish, here’s Sergei Brukhonenko and Boris Levinskovsky and their dog head experiments.

Obviously, the below video has some dog grotesqueness.

They were hardly the first.

In the 1880s, a French doctor by the name of Jean Baptiste Vincent Laborde got a bit clever with it. Thirty years earlier, an Englishman claimed he revived a dog head after ten minutes. Laborde was a bit more ambitious.

Also, there was a debate going on in France about which was more humane. Traditionally, the guillotine was considered more merciful, but people claimed to have seen severed heads gnashing teeth, crying, all sort of horrible things. State-sponsored murder is supposed to be swift, merciless but not cruel (hi, Clayton Lockett) so this had to be investigated.

Provided with several executed criminal’s heads, he took one and attached it to a dog’s carotid. Another was injected with oxygenated cow’s blood. In each case, things happened. Eyes opened, jaws twitched, faces moved. But none of the experiments yielded much valuable data and so it was a while until science types would get stuck in to severed heads for a while.


In 1883, a man “powerfully muscled, movements of extraordinary agility, the ascetic and hard features, to acute small eyes, tormented fierce…” entered the home of Monsieur Ducros-Sixt and killed him and his sister with a stonemason’s hammer.

Arrested, the murderer refused to give a name, or even a profession. He did not deny the crime. So they called him Campi, just a name for the books, and found him guilty.

“Gentlemen judges want to take my head. They will take it without a label!”
His last words. They cut off his head and gave it to Laborde.

The crime writer Leon noted “tried to revive with the blood of a dog for a few minutes, to talk about the bloody head. The experiment did not succeed…”

Now, that should be the end of Campi.

But here’s where things get weird.

Black Magic!

People have always been attracted to death. Found a power in the corpse. Even today in Africa, the limbs of an albino are worth real money because of their spiritual properties. But this isn’t new. Gladiator heads, teeth, hair, blood, were healing to the ancient Romans. Hands of Glory were a well-known folk magic, the severed hands of hanged criminals had magical powers. Nooses that had claimed lives were popular talismans. The infamous witches flying ointment, the fat of an unbaptised child you’d drink. Sandy Childs, teenage child-murderer, stabbed and 8 year old to death and tried to get his fat. In 1995.

Someone removed Campi’s skin. With the purpose of using it as binding the medical reports that would be made on him. This was 1883.

Now, as an aside, in 1883, the world was three years away from having a car. Bacteriology was getting up and running. You could iron your clothes. This was not a primitive age.

Nevertheless, someone took Campi’s skin and transformed it into an amulet.

Most amulets are prophylactic. They protect. They prevent. But being near a death, an execution, was sometimes considered healing.

Who knows what the amulet was for, coins and the human skin of a murder, who’s brain was fed dog’s blood.

I think we make a mistake hiding our dead and our death. I think we error when we suggest the price of public hygiene is worth cutting away our morbid fascinations with our own ends.

Can you honestly say you’ve no use for something like this?

Getting a hold

Posted: 21st January 2016 by Christian in Blog

Because everything stopped working here, I’m on facebook as me, and twitter, as mrchristianread

Might be easier to talk to me that way.

In a vain attempt

Posted: 8th January 2016 by Christian in Blog

To be a modern, cool writer, I’m blogging over at goodreads.

A bit.

First up, a book I’m very much enjoying.

World Fantasy

Posted: 12th November 2015 by Christian in Blog

Hugo Gernsback argued that “chemi-geneticists” could allow black parents to have white children. The Hugo Awards are named after him.
Bram Stoker was an anti-Semite, Dracula is unarguably a ‘racist’ novel, and in some readings is an analogy for Disraeli, England’s Jewish Prime Minister. The Bram Stoker awards are named after him.

John W. Campbell argued for slavery. In the 60s. He thought the Watts Riots happened because some people were naturally slaves and were simply expressing unhappiness at not having masters.

King Kong is unarguably a racist and sexist -movie-. There’s a King Kong Award.

Taking Lovecraft, the most important fantastist of the 20th century off some awards because he’s a ‘vicious racist – is nothing. It means nothing. It is, at best, a politically empty gesture. At worst, it is an Orwellian rewriting of the past and grotesque hypocrisy.