The True Horror of Vault 11

Anyone who has played a Fallout game knows of the dickish douchebaggery of Vault-Tec - the pre-Great War American company that was meant to protect people but ended up experimenting on them. Long time fans will also be aware of Vault 11, of Fallout New Vegas, which has arguably the most fucked up vault experiment ever conceived.

In Vault 11, the residents are told that they need to sacrifice one of their members each year in order to survive. When the first Overseer comes down at tells the first batch of people, who had just escaped a nuclear apocalypse, this, they get pissed and force him down into the sacrificial tunnel. From that point forward, whoever was elected Overseer was effectively being elected to make the sacrifice. So unlike in every other vault, and unlike in every other democratic society, you really did *not* want to get elected leader of the vault. 

 That’s… odd.

That’s… odd.

By the time your character gets down there, the vault is, as usual, in ruins and you see rotting election banners all over the place. Except, instead of people trying to get themselves elected they're trying to get the other guy elected. You make your way through the vault and see all the nasty tricks that people pulled to try and avoid being elected Overseer. Eventually, after going through the sacrificial chamber yourself and coming out alive, you find out that all the residents had to do to escape was to *not* sacrifice someone.

 They figured it out eventually, but arguably it was too little and far too late.

They figured it out eventually, but arguably it was too little and far too late.

By the time they'd figured this out though, there were only five residents left, and four couldn't live with the guilt so they killed themselves. It's peak Vault-Tec maliciousness and makes you wonder if the CEO of Vault-Tec was that proverbial kid that your parents stopped you playing with after all those pets on your street started showing up dead. It's horrific, and you can understand why four of the five that got out alive couldn't go on living with what they'd done.

But the thing that gets me, that sent literal shivers down my spine - is a coffee mug.

When you're walking down into the sacrificial tunnel, where countless people have gone to their deaths, you walk down some stairs and there's this door. There's a blood stain on the floor, which speaks to the less than voluntary nature of the sacrifice, but there's also a coffee mug.

 Rusty and forgotten, this tunnel hasn’t been opened in years… but what’s that?

Rusty and forgotten, this tunnel hasn’t been opened in years… but what’s that?

Now, to me, there's a whole story right there. While many of the Overseers were forced down there, one of them went down there on their own. Maybe they'd just finished their breakfast and then they set out to commit suicide so that all the people who’d elected them could live. However it happened, the person was still drinking their cup of coffee when they went down to die.... they got to the door and realized they wouldn't need the mug anymore, so they tossed it on the ground and went on to their face their end.

 But… why?!

But… why?!

Who the hell brings a coffee mug to their execution?! It reminds me of that story from the French Revolution, about that dude that was reading a book while he was being put into the guillotine. He's in the line waiting to have his head chopped off, but he's just reading a book, and when it's his turn he just calmly puts the book down and goes to get executed. 

This whole line of thinking was sparked from a single coffee mug that was laying in a place that by all rights it shouldn't be. It was just a coffee mug but it had me turning into Lady MacBeth screaming "Out, dammed spot! Out, I say!" for a long time after I left Vault 11. The journal entries and posters flat out tell the story, but the coffee mug makes you pause and wonder… and that’s the haunting horror of Vault 11.

It can't have been unintentional that the coffee mug was left there by the games developers, it had to have been left there on purpose. It's great storytelling like that which has people making the claim that Fallout New Vegas is still a better game than Fallout 4. Although I prefer the setting of 4 (I never really liked the Cowboy ascetic in New Vegas) I have to say that I definitely preferred the story of New Vegas over 4. 

One item can spark a whole story in the reader/viewer/gamer who is taking in your story, you don't even have to explain it. If you put some thought into what conclusion you want them to arrive at, you can work it so that they end up there without you explicitly directing them. It's a fantastic bit of storytelling and world-building, and for something so small it's amazing how long it's stayed with me.  

As the world ended outside Vault 11, countless people would’ve killed to get in. At the same time, everyone inside the vault would’ve killed to get out.

 Thank you, for your sacrifice…

Thank you, for your sacrifice…

Zombie Apocalypse

I've watched a few Zombie Apocalypse movies recently, which is something I wouldn't have done a few years back. Typically, historically, zombie films have been the same - a shambling homogeneous horde of unoriginality. But recently, there have been a few stand outs that have... sorry for this, breathed life into the genre. 

  The Girl with all the Gifts  - an original take on the zombie apocalypse, with only one real bit of narrative silliness.

The Girl with all the Gifts - an original take on the zombie apocalypse, with only one real bit of narrative silliness.

The Girl with all the Gifts, The Cured, Cargo, & Maggie are all fresh takes on a tired genre. Although there are often action scenes in them, they are zombie movies after all, they're far more thoughtful and character driven narratives. While in older zombie films the story has often revolved around fighting against the undead hordes, in these latest films they're more rightly relegated to the background. 

 Ellen Page lives with a reformed Zombie... before life turn to shit, as life is want to do.

Ellen Page lives with a reformed Zombie... before life turn to shit, as life is want to do.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think The Walking Dead is to thank for this. Not the comic either, the TV show. While TWD isn't that great itself, at the very least it's kept zombies squarely in the public's gaze for coming up on eight years now. That is no small feat, especially considering that zombies were once considered a cult niche-interest at best. But with their increased popularity there are now creators, for film as well as for novels and games, who are able to use zombies for more in-dept narratives.

 I don't know why they couldn't have gotten an Australian lead, but the cast, setting and story were fantastic.

I don't know why they couldn't have gotten an Australian lead, but the cast, setting and story were fantastic.

Look at The Last of Us and the upcoming Days Gone, both a high budge story-driven games with zombies at their cores. That never would have happened over a decade ago. Before this, the best we got were action games like Dead Island or Dead Rising - asinine zombie slaughter simulators with bare bone stories... man, the zombie puns are running thick here. We're still getting sequels to those games, because they make money, but amid the turds we're finally getting some gold.

 It was good to see Arnold in a less macho, less hamfisted role. 

It was good to see Arnold in a less macho, less hamfisted role. 

My point is, as much as I loved TWD comics, I have to give credit to where credit is due and compliment the TV series on what it's done for the genre. Zombies are one of those creatures that are a fantastic at delivering subtle messages, and unlike Vampires or Werewolves they age really well. With each passing decade humanity faces new threats and develops new fears, and zombies are right there to help us explore those threats and fears.

 

Just one of many - A look at 'It Comes at Night' & 'Bushwick'

I've been watching a few films recently. I've finally got a decent streaming service (lol...) and so now it finally makes sense to catch up on all the films I've been missing out on. As the title of the post suggests, I'm going to be talking about two films in particular and why I believe they're more similar than one would initially think. Beyond the breakdown of society, both It Comes at Night and Bushwick forgo the greater events to focus on close personal stories.

 Humanity has only gotten this far through teamwork... but that doesn't mean that it always works out.

Humanity has only gotten this far through teamwork... but that doesn't mean that it always works out.

It Comes at Night deals with some sort of virus that kills people pretty quickly, and the story focuses on a family that invites another family to live with them. Share the work load, safety in numbers, all that good teamwork stuff. Isolation and preparation are keys to survival here, and there's a focus on trust and what happens when it breaks. People don't believe the backstories that others are telling them, they don't believe others when say they're not sick, and eventually it all falls apart in one of the most horrific endings you could possibly imagine. There're hints of some sort of monster out in the surrounding woodlands, but we never get to see it. Along with this, one of the characters is having some seriously trippy dreams about his dead grandfather throughout the film, so you're never quite sure what is real and what isn't. 

 They're actually a pretty good pair...

They're actually a pretty good pair...

Bushwick, on the other hand, is set in New York and deals with American separatists who do what separatists always do - try and separate themselves from the nation. The main story focuses on an ex-soldier/medic and a college student trying to make their way out of the city while the greater conflict rages on around them. It's actually one of those 'one continuous shot' films that, thanks to some nifty editing, follows the characters without ever cutting away. It's brutal, it's action packed and like It Comes at Night is has a downer ending.

Spoilers for both It Comes at Night and Bushwick.

Everyone dies in both of these films, every single main character. In It Comes at Night there's an eventual schism between the families and Joel Edgerton's character stabs the other father, accidentally shots the little boy and then kills the mother when she's hysterically screaming at him to do it. By this point though it's all useless, both families were already infected and the original family loses their son first and then the parents are left sitting at the dinner table just waiting to die. 

 Tensions were high to begin with, they didn't exactly get off to a great start. 

Tensions were high to begin with, they didn't exactly get off to a great start. 

Bushwick pulls something similar, where Dave Bautista's character finally opens up and gives this heart breaking speech about his troubled past... only to be shot in the face by some scared woman five seconds later. Just when you think Brittany Snow's character is going to push on alone... she gets hit in the leg and similarly capped in the head by one of the separatists.

 It was interesting to see the Alpha Male have a role as a care-giver, and it was great to see the female lead become more than a damsel in distress. 

It was interesting to see the Alpha Male have a role as a care-giver, and it was great to see the female lead become more than a damsel in distress. 

Both It Comes at Night and Bushwick give us these close and intimate stories set amid grand sweeping events. Society is breaking down all around these characters, people are dying left and right... but the story we're getting is about them in particular. The world may be falling apart but that's too big to deal with, so we're seeing how that happens on a much smaller scale. A few people is enough, we can get to know them and get attached to them and then when they finally die they're not just a number. The point behind this post, is that I think that Bushwick did this better than It Comes at Night.

 Yes, we followed their stories to their end... but all of NYC is under attack and that attack is still going.

Yes, we followed their stories to their end... but all of NYC is under attack and that attack is still going.

It Comes at Night gives us hints about the greater world but we never really see past the character's small section of it, so we're never really certain. We hear about cities falling and people fleeing, but that's about it. It never really goes past hearsay. After that, when everyone dies at the end, that's the end of the story. We're not given any context for it within the greater story as a whole. We don't know if similar stories are happening all over, we don't know if there's talk of a cure on the horizon. The view of the world is so focused, and isolated, that when it ends our investment in the world ends. Why did we see this story? What was the point of it all?

Bushwick, on the other hand, solves all this with its final scene. As soon as Brittany Snow's character drops dead the camera pans upward and we see that all of New York city is ablaze and there's conflict all over. The story we've seen is no less important after the character's deaths but we're also shown that the film has been just one of many such stories. People are fighting and dying all over. That final shot puts it all into context. Simply because we've been following these characters in particular, that doesn't make their story any more important than any other.

In a round about way the final shot of Bushwick made the character's deaths more palatable. We got to know these characters but many such people are going through similar events across the city. In It Comes at Night, however, everyone we know has died and we're still given no clue about the outside world. Is there even an outside world? It's sometimes hard to tell with the surreal dream sequences, and the whole thing could just be a dream. By the end of It Comes at Night, you're left asking yourself if the story even matters.   

Bushwick and It Comes at Night are both solid films and I'd recommend watching both if you've got a spare evening. What I've taken from viewing both films in quick succession, however, is that if you're going to tell a personal story where everyone dies then be sure to give us some context of the greater world. It doesn't have to be a lot, just let us know what's out there. The characters we follow might not make it but humanity as a whole still can. Wondering if the characters were the last humans alive or if they were just one group of many scattered about the globe, trying to survive whatever apocalypse you cooked up, can leave people a little unsatisfied. Small isolated stories about failure to survive are great, they just need to be put into some context. 

 Movie Logic 101 - Never break down and reveal your demons... because the second you do, you're going to die. 

Movie Logic 101 - Never break down and reveal your demons... because the second you do, you're going to die. 

The Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide

This is the secret project that I've been working on since the end of last year - The Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide. I sent out a few Advanced Reader Copies last week via Twitter, and so far I'm really happy with how the book has been received. I plan to release on 09/09/18.

 The hallowed cover reveal!

The hallowed cover reveal!

There are obviously going to be some who question the legitimacy of me putting out this book when I've only got a single published post apocalyptic work under my belt. Which is, I must admit, a fair claim. To anyone who has any concerns though, I would offer that you should go read Days Too Dark and then decide if this whole venture is appropriate. 

I haven't just written one book and used that as validation for writing a guide on how to create post apocalyptic stories however. I have studied the post apocalyptic genre for years. Decades, even. You know those nerds who abandon society to go down some obscure rabbit hole and become experts on some arcane subject? Yeah - that's me. Before you freak the fuck out and shriek "he think's he's an expert!" just read the following sentence. I don't know everything there is to know about the post apocalyptic genre. I would hate it if I knew everything, because that'd mean that there's nothing new to learn.

I've read a lot, but there are a lot of people who've read far more than I have. I've played and watched a lot too, but just as before - there are those who have consumed way more post apocalyptic content than I have. This guide isn't me trying to lord it over anyone else, especially other authors. The thing is that I'm not interested in being better than anyone else, I'm only interested in being better than who I was yesterday. One of the best ways for me to do that is to be surrounded by, and learn from, people who are better than me. 

 I feel old...

I feel old...

This guide is the culmination of everything that I have learned across the years about the post apocalyptic genre, from *many* disparate sources, condensed into a single volume. Whoever comes next, and there will always be someone next because humanity is always freaking out about its demise, won't have to do the leg work that I've done because I've done it for them. The Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide is an effort to bring as many people up to speed as quickly possible. If a newbie Indie Author reads the guide they will know everything I knew about the post apocalyptic genre at the time of writing it. They're still going to have to go read the original texts, obviously, but they're going to be able to find, deconstruct and use them much more efficiently.

I want better post apocalyptic content, that's what this is all about. The genre is having its day at the moment and while that means we're getting a lot of fantastic stories we're also getting a lot of formulaic and mundane shit that's muddying the genre as a whole. I can't learn anything from a cookie-cutter story and I sure as hell can't enjoy it. By putting this guide out, I'm letting everyone know what I know, and that will increase the likelihood that others can/will surpass me. I'll get more to learn from and I'll have more to enjoy. I'm not just a creator of post apocalyptic fiction, I'm also a massive fan. I want to have access to more stories that are of a better quality. So I made the Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide, and I hope that it helps people make better stories.

 It's all about passing the reins... and making sure they know everything you do.

It's all about passing the reins... and making sure they know everything you do.

If I've gotten anything wrong in the guide, or if you disagree with anything I've written, then feel free to hit me up. Let's hash it out and make the guide better, because I honestly don't want it out there if it's going to make things harder for people by leading them in the wrong direction. Not everyone is going to agree with everything I've written, I get that, but hopefully something good can come out of the discussion. 

I didn't create the guide on my own, either. If you look in the front you'll see a list of names of people who helped me put the content together, hash out concepts and ideas and just generally told me when I got something stupidly wrong. So, just like in the book, I'd like to thank those who helped me put the guide together.

 You may stand alone at the end, but you never got there on your own.

You may stand alone at the end, but you never got there on your own.

If you're wondering about the cover of the book - they're a group of models called the Demolition Dolls who dress up in post apocalyptic attire and attend events. There's this whole other side of the post apocalyptic community that focuses on clothing and props and generally LARP'ing (sort of like cosplay, but with some role playing involved) the post apocalyptic life. There's this weird divide in the community, with some people focusing on the books/movies/games while others do the festivals. Getting the Demolition Dolls on the cover was sort of an olive branch between the two halves of the community. Also, they're all pretty hot and tempting, so there's that aspect to. 

So that's that, there's still a week or two until the planned launch but everything looks to be progressing according to plan. Currently it's going to be an eBook only, but print may become available down the line. It will be available on Amazon, here, and I'm looking at a $2.99 price tag.

If you have any questions or concerns, hit me up or Twitter. 

Cheers

 

Music Inspiration - Part 5

This is the fifth and final collection of Trailer Music songs that I use for inspiration while writing. Take a listen and see if anything strikes you. If you like what you hear, delve into Trailer Music and see if it helps with your own creative efforts. 

And that's my list of Top 25 Trailer Music songs!

Like I said way back at the start, I've got a list that's a lot longer than this and I just let it play as I write. Hopefully you've heard a tune here that's made you feel something, or sparked an idea for a scene that's been bugging you.

Just chuck on auto-play and see where the music takes you, there's something out there for everyone and every story they're working on. It may not be right for your current story, but it could be right for the next. 

Gears of War - Lancer Continuity

One of the key aspects of Gears of War is how horrific the Locust Horde is. The Locust are monstrous, in every sense of the word. They're bigger and stronger than the average human, and can take as much punishment as a human in full body armor. They've got claws and scales and two hearts and they live underground, it's all deliciously horrific.

 There's a reason they're referred to as a "horde" of "Locusts" - they're numerous and horrificly monsterous. 

There's a reason they're referred to as a "horde" of "Locusts" - they're numerous and horrificly monsterous. 

Humanity's fight against the Locust is one of desperation, where humanity is constantly selling parts of its soul just to survive. The enemy is that tough, and brutal, that humanity has to match them just to make it through the day. And that's one of the darkest aspects of the Locust - it's not what they do to humanity, it's what they make humanity do to themselves. 

The humans in Gears of War have breeding camps, just so they can have enough soldiers to continue to fight the war. If a woman can have healthy children, she's lured into the breeding camps with the promise of extra rations. If it turns out she can't have kids, she's booted out and made to join the military. This process, while arguably necessary for survival, left a mark on humanity to the point where they had to generate a lie about the Locust reproducing via rape. Never mind that no human had ever seen where the Locust lived by this point, oh no, we may have breeding farms but the Locust rape so at least we're not *that* bad.  

 There's also the fact that the Locust are clearly genetically linked to humans... but that's a story for another day. 

There's also the fact that the Locust are clearly genetically linked to humans... but that's a story for another day. 

Humanity sold a part of it's soul to survive, and generated a lie about the enemy to live with the guilt. It changed who they were as well, because even in Gears of War 4, 25 years after the Locust War has ended, they're still at it. They telling women to have babies and using gene therapy to help design those babies to better aid in repopulating the planet. Humanity sold its soul in a time of desperation and they've been paying the price ever since. 

Along with this, the planet of Gears of War, Sera, was actually destroyed by humans themselves. Just like in the Matrix, humanity was faced with an enemy so powerful that they destroyed their own world in an attempt to halt their advance. It failed, obviously, but the planet was still ruined. This time, it was done with orbital lasers. To deprive the Locust of any motivation for coming to the surface, humanity used orbital lasers to destroy their own land and resources. To ensure the plan went off without a hitch, the humans only announced the attack three days before it was launched. 

 The Locust didn't do this... humans did.

The Locust didn't do this... humans did.

All of humanity had just three days to reach the safety of the one city that would be spared, obviously in a time of war it's hard to get anywhere in three days so billions of humans were killed in this attack that didn't even stop the Locust. Humanity literally killed billions of their own species, and destroyed their planet, in a failed attempt to stop the Locust from invading. There's selling your soul in a Faustian bargain and then there's tossing your soul at the shop clerk like it's little more than loose change. But this is all to show just how desperate humans were, the lengths that they were willing to go to in order to survive.

 hahahaha I can't believe someone had already made this meme... 

hahahaha I can't believe someone had already made this meme... 

This brings me to the Lancer, the iconic "chainsaw gun" of the Gears of War Franchise. Before the Locust showed up, the Mark 1 Lancer was a beefy weapon that had a simple, but large, bayonet at it's end. It was used to fight other humans and it did it's job with stabby abandon.  

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But when the Locust showed up, their thick hides often caused the bayonets to either be deflected or snap on contact. This was a problem for the soldiers trying to fight the Locust, on account of them not wanting to die. In one such Locust attack, Tai Kaliso managed to kill one of the Locust Drones with a circular saw. He commented on the fact that it would make for a reliable method of killing the Locust... and the higher ups actually listened to him!

 This is the Mk-1 "Retro" Lancer...

This is the Mk-1 "Retro" Lancer...

That's how desperate things were. Not only did the high-ups listen to someone down on the ground, which is absurd enough already, they also thought it was a good idea to attach a chainsaw to a gun. They got their scientists to work on the idea and they actually made it happen - thus was born the Mark 2 Lancer. 

 ...and this is the MK-2 Lancer!

...and this is the MK-2 Lancer!

It's an absurd idea, a chainsaw on a gun is just ridiculous. But when taken with all the other elements of the Gears of War story, it speaks to just how dire the situation is and how desperate those who remain are. "Desperate times call for desperate measures," and all that. It was a great addition to the series because it actually helped build it up instead of feeling as though it was simply tacked on to look cool.

But then we come to Gears of War Judgment, and the actual reason behind this whole post. Judgment was a prequel game, made between Gears 3 and 4, and it was set before the canon invention of the Mark 2 Lancer. But for some reason, all the characters in Judgment have the Mark 2 Lancer... despite it not being invented yet!

 Why?!

Why?!

The writers said that it was present because Judgment focused on Special Forces and they access to better tech than the other soldiers. But this totally undercuts the importance of the weapon's point of inception, an act of savage desperation. I get the real reason why it's there though, the writers figured that they couldn't have a Gears of War game without the damn chainsaw gun... 

A long time ago, the Mark 2 Lancer was compared to the Lightsaber - it's an iconic weapon now. But the Lightsaber obviously had a point of creation within the Star Wars canon, a point where it was initially thought of and the first one was created as a prototype. Can you imagine the outrage that would ensue if someone wrote an official Star Wars novel, movie or game that was set before this point but it still somehow had Lightsabers in it? The nerdrage would destroy our planet!

 Is it really a Gears of War game if it doesn't have the chainsaw gun? Yes... yes it is. 

Is it really a Gears of War game if it doesn't have the chainsaw gun? Yes... yes it is. 

I love Gears of War, and even Judgment was more good than bad, but this was just one decision that I cannot get behind. Having to fight the Locust in the early days of the war with inferior technology would have ramped up the intensity to an insane degree. That was the point of the game, having it set in a period where the Locust were a new and unknown entity made them all the more terrifying.

The Locust were the reason for the Mark 2 Lancers invention, and the writers fucked it all up by having the effect appear before the cause had a chance to instigate it in the first place! First and foremost, a story has to be true to the world it's set in. Forget what might or might not appeal to the audience; if you absolutely have to include an element then set the story at a point in time where the element exists. The suspension of disbelief required for us to enjoy stories demands that worlds be consistent, and that means doing your homework and not taking shortcuts simply to appeal to the lowest common denominator. 

Van Helsing - Not That Bad

Back in January I made a post that was pretty much just me ripping into Van Helsing. Looking back now, after having watched the first two seasons, I think I may have been just a little too harsh. Just a bit. So this is my recant, the show's not perfect but neither is it as bad as I initially speculated. 

Spoilers. Obviously.

It's actually not that bad, it's certainly not groundbreaking but it's good enough to watch if you've got nothing else. They did away with a lot of the issues I'd raised in my initial post, and it actually got me interested in seeing where things were going. I had an issue with an everyday chick being more of a badass than a trained solider... but eventually we got to see what that trained soldier can do and it was an absolute bloodbath. By season 2 the actress who plays Vanessa Van Helsing had become pregnant and while they didn't incorporate it into the story they managed to hide it well enough and she continued to do actions scenes.

 Mohamad is just a normal kid for most of the series, but he's holding his own just as well as the rest.

Mohamad is just a normal kid for most of the series, but he's holding his own just as well as the rest.

I was watching the final season of Zoo at the same time as watching Van Helsing. It had this stupid twist where it was revealed (in goddamn season 3) that the protagonist had had a wife and son who were killed when he was 19. But then the son is randomly revealed to be a character he's been interacting with all season. Dumbest, most ham-fisted, story move I've ever seen. But then it's a show about animals attacking humans, so I don't know why I expected anything else.

Anyway, back to Van Helsing. When Vanessa's long lost sister, as well as her long lost mother, popped up in the show I sort of just groaned and my eyes rolled out of my head. Dead family members should stay dead. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one before, any time this happens in a show you instantly get a bad taste in your mouth. It happened in Gears of War as well, and I love that series, so you know I'm not just picking on Van Helsing and Zoo here. We'd all love for a dead loved ones to just randomly walk through the door with a slight case of amnesia but life just doesn't work that way. 

 They came up with some vague magical reason why the sister who lived a normal life before the world ended is still stronger than the sister who was raised as a survivalist ninja.

They came up with some vague magical reason why the sister who lived a normal life before the world ended is still stronger than the sister who was raised as a survivalist ninja.

My only real gripe with the show, beyond all that, is what they ended up using Christopher Heyerdahl for. That guy is a fantastic actor and he has taken on some amazing roles in his career, but here it was nothing new. He started out as Sam the deaf guy, and that was a cool character, not only for Heyerdahl but for a post-apocalyptic story. Having a handicapped character always makes things interesting, and this guy was kicking arse despite his handicap. 

 He went from this...

He went from this...

But then it turns out he's a serial killer and he turns into a crazy vampire, which was basically just the same character he played in Hell on Wheels - the Swede. We had a great character that was an original role for the actor but then they pulled the rug out from under us and turned him into something cliche. It was a shame, because I really like Heyerdahl and I really liked Sam. 

 ...to this.

...to this.

Besides that, the world of Van Helsing is consistent and we've got characters who are all various shades of grey. Vanessa and her sister are basically "Daywalkers" like Marvel's own half-vampire character, Blade, so there's all the usual superhuman fight scenes and moral struggles that go along with that. They killed off Vanessa's daughter pretty quickly after they saved her, which was a good call. It's never nice to see a child killed (unless it's Zach Goodweather from The Strain) but the story would have stalled if the protagonist suddenly had to look after a kid. A side character finds out he's going to be a dad mere moments before his newly pregnant partner is forced to frag herself alongside some vampires. The main group find another group of survivors who are surviving by eating the vampires, which was actually a pretty fun episode. And there's the typical "Elder Vampire" character who appears at the end of season 2, but they manage to spin it around and do something original with it.

 This all-female clan of vampires is pretty damn awesome too!

This all-female clan of vampires is pretty damn awesome too!

It's a dumb, fun show that's probably written for high school girls. It's Buffy 2.0., and that's fine. It's not groundbreaking, it's not going to revolutionize the post apocalyptic genre, but it is good enough to keep me entertained between the occasional eye roll. I'll happily watch the recently announced season 3, but I'm not exactly waiting with baited breath for it to arrive.

Wynonna Earp is still a fucking travesty though... 

Mad Max and the Eternal Return

Mad Max was a fantastic video game that was released in 2015, and it's one of the few games where I took the time and effort to do everything and earn the Platinum Trophy. I loved the setting and the characters because everything had this strange dreamlike quality to it, like the world was comprised of disparate parts that had been pulled together. The gameplay was great too; the fighting was fluid and brutal and the car to car combat was intense. My only negative with Mad Max was the end game experience.

Max starts the game seeking this mystical place called "the Plains of Silence", a place where he can find peace from the world at large. He's got the car and the gas and he's out looking for the Plains of Silence when he's attacked by Scabrous Scrotus - the first son of Immortan Joe. Although Scotus gets away with your car, you steal his dog and implant his chainsaw glaive into his skull. Not exactly a win for Scotus.

 He had a nice weapon and a great canine companion... and you took it all from him. 

He had a nice weapon and a great canine companion... and you took it all from him. 

Throughout the rest of the game you're dismantling the empire of Scabrous Scrotus, taking out his lieutenants and ripping down his icons, all in an attempt to get your car back. Scrotus is in no small amount of pain after you shoved a chainsaw through his skull, so he's got an equally turgid hard-on for you too. 

 The dude literally has a chainsaw stuck in his brain... he's got some anger regulating issues. 

The dude literally has a chainsaw stuck in his brain... he's got some anger regulating issues. 

You drive around the map in a typical open world fashion, doing lots of fetch quests and helping out the locals make a stand against Scrotus. Everything you do reduces the influence of the psychotic warlord and eventually you're able to confront him directly in one of the most brutal car fight scenes I've ever played through. You actually end up building a better car than your original, but Scrotus does something to push Max over the edge and so you go after him despite this. At a certain point in the game, it stops being about the car and starts being about revenge. You end up ripping the chainsaw out of his head, killing him, and then driving off into the sunset in your original car.

 I can't find the video... but it's suitably badass. 

I can't find the video... but it's suitably badass. 

The game itself is great, I'd still give it a 10/10, my only problem is the lost opportunity with the post campaign experience. After you defeat Scrotus you're thrown back into the world with some iconic Mad Max gear, but everything is already done. The amount of enemies in an area depends on the amount of influence that Scrotus has there, but if you've already done everything then the chances for conflict post game are few and far between. 

Now, you could start again from scratch but there's nothing special about that because it's just a new game. But what if the developers had included an NG+ (New Game Plus) experience? You'd start the game again but Max would be fully leveled. You loose your gear and car at the start as part of the story, so that's no issue, and Scabrous Scrotus is back at full power. You could play through the whole game again, whittling down Scrotus' empire from full power without having to level Max all over again.

The thing is, NG+ is already built into the narrative of Mad Max without it actually being present.  All throughout the game you're running into this character called Griffa, this sort of desert-mystic who is trying to nudge Max along a spiritual journey while he traverses his physical one. He pokes holes in Max's world view, and questions his search for the Plains of Silence. And he knows things, about Max, things he shouldn't be able to know.

 The sounds of a wasteland fade away and a strange humming takes their place, as though the fabric of reality were tearing apart. Strange artworks line the stones that surround you, and no one seems to be able to see Griffa but you. 

The sounds of a wasteland fade away and a strange humming takes their place, as though the fabric of reality were tearing apart. Strange artworks line the stones that surround you, and no one seems to be able to see Griffa but you. 

All throughout the game Griffa teases out the good-side in Max, the parts of himself that he's buried deep and tried to forget. Love, friendship and trust - all that Care Bear stuff. Because of this, Max starts getting close to a woman and her daughter, Hope and Glory respectively. And right when it looks like he might have a family again - they're taken from him. 

Max flips the fuck out and goes after Scrotus, he's tripping balls and hearing the voices of Hope and Glory screaming for bloody vengeance. You lose your new car in the fight against Scrotus but you get your old one back. You drive off into the sunset, without looking back, in the search of the Plains of Silence. 

 The Black-on-Black is all Max ever needs. It's his chariot, but also his prison?

The Black-on-Black is all Max ever needs. It's his chariot, but also his prison?

Exactly how the game started. 

You're fleeing a traumatic past, you've got a car and you're looking for the Plains of Silence. Scotus steals the car. You build a new car to get the old one back, along the way you heal and build a new family. Scrotus kills your family, undoing the healing. You kill Scrotus and lose your new car. With your old car back, you flee your traumatic past in search of the Plains of Silence. 

The whole thing is a cycle, Griffa even says as much to you in the game. Max is stuck in a sort of purgatory, emotionally within himself as well as physically within the wasteland. The world makes no sense, not in terms of game design but in terms of the narrative. People have accents from all over the world, just like there are landmarks from distant lands within eye shot of one another. Max is far too young to remember the world from before, and there's the inclusion of this one particular History Relic.

 An advertisement for the Mad Max Buggy Tour... one of the many "History Relics" found throughout the game. Max even has a little comment upon finding this oddity...

An advertisement for the Mad Max Buggy Tour... one of the many "History Relics" found throughout the game. Max even has a little comment upon finding this oddity...

Mad Max is about a physical and spiritual journey, one of healing, that ultimately fails. Max ends up right where he started, with a car and a desire to escape. The game is Max's purgatory, and he's stuck there until he can find a way out. A fantastic way to express this would have been the NG+ option, to show the literal loops he's stuck in. It would have made sense from a narrative perspective and it would have given the game some much needed longevity.    

 

 

Life Update

I've been off the radar for a few weeks, but there's a half decent reason for that. I quit one job, moved country and then started a new job. It's been fairly hectic, but then stepping outside your comfort zone always will be. I'm in a whole new world, and it's proven to be a challenging and exciting adventure... for the most part. 

For those who don't know, I used to live in Australia where I worked in a bottle'o (for you Seppos, that's Aussie slang for "Liquor Store"). It was a decent enough gig but I was always going to move onto something else once Days Too Dark had been published. While originally I had planned on joining the Australian Army as an officer, part way through my application I busted my back and ruined any chance of that happening. So, to steal a line from Fallout: Tactics - I squared my shoulders and set myself to the task ahead. 

I arrived at TESOL! An ex-girlfriend had suggested I charge her friends money for conversing with them because they'd be willing to pay stupid amounts of money to improve their language skills. While my relationship with her didn't last (wonder why?) the idea for a career path did grow into something more concrete and lasting. I started a teaching course and after several months, and another girlfriend-turned-ex, I have found myself in Taiwan.

 Just your typical cityscape here in Taiwan.

Just your typical cityscape here in Taiwan.

The initial two weeks of training was interesting. 53 people from a bunch of different English-speaking countries all thrown together and forced to be with one another 24/7 proved to be... a little volatile at times. Not to mention the massive age difference between the different applicants. Being someone in their early 30's, I found myself having to rouse on some of the younger and more reckless applicants. They may have resented me for taking on the role of big brother, but if you're going to be in a country where you don't look like 97% of the population it really doesn't pay to get shit faced and run around the streets, humping inanimate objects and screaming the name of the company that just hired you. College is over, grow the fuck up.

 Life... finds a way.

Life... finds a way.

I was also forced to room with a guy who should have been quarantined because he had Strep-Throat. Luckily I didn't get it, but I did get some crazy cold that felt like nothing I've ever had before. Foreign land, foreign bugs. 

It's all good though, most of us got through the training and we've all been scattered about the island to our various branches. Most of us made some friends from the original group, but I suspect that for the most part the majority of the group will fade into memory. Some of us are here to explore the island and culture of Taiwan, others are here for teaching experience. Some will stay for just a year, if that, while others will likely stay for longer. 

Taiwan is great, the food is to die for and the people here are pretty damn awesome. For me, the thing that stands out the most is that fact that the whole island has this amazing dystopian/post-apocalyptic aesthetic to it. I know, I know - what're the chances that a guy who has a blog about post-apocalyptic fiction would end up in a place that totally meshes with his tastes? Well, if you've seen some of the pictures I've been sharing you'll see that it's not joke.

 Look at this shit! How awesome is this?!

Look at this shit! How awesome is this?!

Because Taiwan is in the tropics/sub-tropics, the buildings are going to get damaged by the environment no matter what the locals do. So, from what I've heard they just decided to abandon all hope of maintaining the exterior of buildings and instead focus on the interior. So you get these building that look really run down and dilapidated on the outside, but you walk inside and they're clean, fully functional and modern. It's a total mindfuck. 

Along with this, in an effort to reduce the effects of the heat and humidity, there are trees and plants all over the place. People have trees on their roofs and little bushes growing where ever they can squeeze them in. The drop in temperature you get when you walk under the shade of a tree here is amazing and as a guy who is both large and covered in hair, I will take advantage of the shade whenever I get the chance.

 How awesome is that? Ah, I haven't felt like this since I wandered the earthquake ruins of Christchurch... 

How awesome is that? Ah, I haven't felt like this since I wandered the earthquake ruins of Christchurch... 

Oh yeah, speaking of body hair. On my first day I was walking around this memorial shrine when some random Taiwanese woman walked up to me and called me a monkey several times. Considering both previously mentioned ex's had called me a monkey at one point or another, I didn't think much of it. Kind of funny though.

Anyway, I'm here for the next year (at least) and I'll be teaching English to little kids as a day job. I'm still going to be writing, it's what I was born to do, it's just that the day job that I use to facilitate that writing is in the northern hemisphere. And honestly, teaching English is more in line with writing anyway, at least I'm working with the language as opposed to selling alcohol to people. 

Fuuuuuuck I am so glad to be out of that job, you have no idea.

I've laid out an intense writing schedule for the next year, I hope to get a few projects done. I don't know if I'll make it or not, but I'll give it my best. I've got one book that's about to be announced, more on that later, and then a stand alone followed by a 5 part series. I'm pretty excited to bring all of these projects to life.  

But enough of that, a whole new world awaits!