Sunday, December 18, 2016

Indigo Hollow

-A very remote place-

Sleep came easily to the people of Indigo Hollow, to all but one. While most would look up to the dark blue sky, reflect upon the gentle glow of candles against their homes of soft metal and stone, and perhaps offer a prayer to their Father Moon, Owen would stay awake throughout the night.

Owen never prayed to Father Moon, and in return was never granted rest. So he would sit on the steep hills that overlooked Indigo Hollow and sing to the flame of his fire by day, and by night he would stalk the grassy streets of town.

There he laid to feel the cool breeze against him, or listen to the croaking of the night-frogs. He would sneak into the older homes that did not have people sleeping within, or candles lighting their walls, and he would disappear through trap doors into the world below.

Tunnels ran all beneath Indigo Hollow, and beyond, connected from the old homes. The elders of the town refused to speak of the tunnels, and only Owen had the bravery to prowl them, particularly after dark.

And they were wondrous to him; their ceilings always high and arched, decorated with soft metals and studded with huge red gems. Intersections were polished to a shine and his shoes would not scuff them, and often dead ends were great domed rooms lit faintly by pools of curious blue water from which white pillars rose.

Windows too were a common sight, though for all their elaborate frames and smoothed wooden shutters none looked upon anything more than walls of dirt.

Something rare, that Owen had only encountered a single time, was a staircase. It spiraled so high that it must have loomed far above the surface, and higher still, though to his disappointment it ended only in a small empty room. A crack in the wall afforded him a glimpse outside; a rolling landscape devoid of anything but hills or grass, and he knew that he must have been in a tower far from Indigo Hollow. This alone was a small wonder – no one had ever been known to venture far from town.

And yet, Owen had never been able to explore as freely as he wished. It felt sometimes as though the tunnels grew longer the longer he stayed. Sometimes a shadow would drift slowly in the corner of his eye, but he would find himself unable to turn his head until it was gone.

Once he tried to sleep in one of the blue water rooms, thinking that its relaxing glow would permit him a chance to rest for once. It worked, briefly, before he heard the echo of a voice.

It came from further down the tunnel, monotone, emotionless:

I tried so hard to be good.

Owen never tried to rest in the tunnels after that.



Another old-shorty; the idea of a place inhabited by surrounded for as far as anyone knows by absolute desolation is an appealing one to me, as is that of such a huge mystery so close to home (just beneath it, in this case).

This might sound cheesy; but the idea for the town itself came to me shortly after replaying the original Spyro -- something about the Dark Hollow level stuck with me, so if you're familiar with that you'll see some similarities.  The picture above is from that level's skybox.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ultima Underworld's Biggest Flaw

A Stone Cold Classic

I love Ultima Underworld; it's one of my favorite dungeon crawlers and to this day I prefer it over many of the first person RPGs that succeeded it, even the ones with huge outdoor environments.  What it lacks in towns it makes up for in an extremely detailed, meticulously designed levels that have only been surpassed by a few games since (Arx Fatalis, System Shock, and Deus Ex come to mind, though others probably exist).

So why am I writing this article?  Simple; the game has a huge flaw that keeps me from replaying it as often as I would like -- the character customization, or rather the lack thereof.

First you pick one of eight classes, are randomly assigned three main stats, and may choose from a large selection of skills (20!), ranging from thievery to negotiation to swordplay and magic, and finally what your character looks like.  You can even select your dominant hand!  So far so good.

Unfortunately there's only two real ways to play the game; either a straight warrior, or a warrior who uses magic sometimes.  The thief-like skills such as stealth, picking locks, or disarming traps are all completely worthless.  Stealth only works if you turn your lights off, making everything nearly pitch black, doors and chests can be smashed much more easily than their locks can be picked, and traps don't even really start appearing until the second to last dungeon level and are never a real threat.

 Forget about sneaking past this guy -- unless you want to try it in the dark

Don't bother being an archer; ammo is so rare, weak, and heavy that you'll be better off using your bare hands instead.  You can't even shoot if an enemy is within striking distance, which they almost invariably will be.

Being a straight mage is probably more possible, but would be unbelievably tedious.  You simply aren't given enough mana to make spellcasting worth anything more than a utility most of the time.  Fireball spells are certainly powerful, but a mage with a maxed out mana skills will only be able to sling a handful before running dry on mana and having to resort to his melee weapon.  Not only that, but it takes quite a long time to even find the necessary runes to create a decent attack spell -- in my last playthrough I raised all of my magic stats to their maximum before I even reached the area where your second attack spell can be found!

If you're playing without cheating, it won't be until level 6 until you can even begin specifically raising your mana skill.  Before that you'd have to rely on random level-ups that frequently gave you useless skills instead.

I recommend everyone cheat and look up the skill mantras before even starting the game.  Seriously; unless waiting 'till 1/3rd of the way through the game before being able to raise your axe skill sounds fun to you.

Underworld 2 fixed the leveling problem, but I'm not sure if the magic is any better
Don't by any means let this deter you from playing either Underworld game, the level design is nothing short of legendary and the gameplay holds up remarkably well.

Just don't try anything cute while you're making your character, at least not until you've learned to break the game six ways from Sunday.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

To The Last

-The last seconds of a war-torn planet-

This was it; the day the end would come.  It came as no surprise to Kane, couldn't have, if anything the surprise was that it hadn't come sooner.  He dropped his sword in the grass that stretched out like a purple sea around him, and walked.  He didn't know why, it seemed like the only thing to do for now.

Soon he came to where the land broke, where jagged clumps of dirt and rock stretched down to the still waters below.  Kane sat, swung his legs over the drop. Out there, over the sea, were dozens of broken islands suspended over cloudy water. On some of them were distant figures he couldn't quite make out, but it seemed as though they were staring up toward the sun.  What else was there to do?  Kane looked upward as well, where a half dark star crackled in the heavens, bits and pieces of it going out like so many candles.

He took this sight in, the last sight he expected to see, when he heard a rustling beside him -- a woman.  She wore the heavy silver armor of one of his enemies, colored a light lavender in the reflection of the grass.  There was a splash when her boots hit the waters below, two more as she dropped her sword and shield, then she turned to face him, revealing a worn and battered face.

He looked away for a moment and then looked back; she was smiling, and missing a front tooth.  He smiled back though his smile was rough, forced.  How many of her kind had he killed in the past few years?  Twenty?  Thirty?  How many lives did she end?  In this time only warriors lived; she had to have been just as savage as he was.

It didn't matter any more; now he could barely see her face and the sun was almost gone.  For the first time in years tears welled in his eyes, and without thinking he slid his gauntlet off and took her hand in his.  Years of killing, and this was the only one of his enemies he had ever touched.  The thought of her pulling away was terrifying but she didn't, instead she squeezed hard, so hard it hurt.

Now the air was cold, the sun only a glowing ember.  He couldn't see her anymore, there were only seconds left.

“My name is Kane.”  He said.

A pause.


Her reply was a wheeze, forced due to what he could only assume were injuries one of his fellows had caused her, but to him it was the sweetest – and the last – sound in the whole world.

And then it was dark.



To The Last is a very short story I wrote last year.  It's basic as hell, but I'm proud of it for some reason. Some people who've reviewed it in the past have seen it as a love story, though that wasn't my intention.  But hey; people can interpret things as they want.

I have an obsession with dying fantasy worlds.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Ever Wonder Why We're Here?

Hi; my name is Zarek.

I'm a pretty cool dude, possibly the coolest, but that's up for you to decide.  I do a lot of creative work -- writing, game design, wacky conspiracy theories, tabletop roleplaying -- and when I'm not working on those things I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about them.

What you're looking at is my outlet for all of this.  There's really no set plan, but I have to get my work out there somehow and maybe this'll create the illusion that I'm doing more with my life than I actually am.  Hopefully.

So yeah this'll mostly be short stories, although some novelettes will probably pop up here and there in episodic order.  I'm a lover of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and ridiculous trippy 60s/70s imagery, normally all at once; so expect things to get weird.

I'll also be doing reviews and analysis of various obscure books, movies, and video games that I think deserve more attention.

Man I don't like talking about myself.

Everyone needs to do something creative.  If you haven't created something lately, go out and do it.  Read this nonsense later.  Write, film, program, sing, craft, cook, burn, paint, draw, play, rant, anything that makes you happy and the world a less boring place.

Anyway tell me how you came here, link me to your stuff, whatever.  I'm sociable enough, and very opinionated.  Also I'm very qualified to review things, trust me.  So how are you doing today?