My Video Games of 2018: Shooting Aliens and Collecting Strawberries

If you want to learn about a person, look through their video game library. What type of games do they enjoy? How many hours have they poured into sports games? What system do they prefer? Gaming has never been taken as seriously as film or literature, but I think the medium deserves its day in court. The stories and mechanics of games are some of the best ways to enjoy a multitude of worlds in a very active way. I, like more writers, love stories. 2018 was an excellent year for gaming. And the five (plus) games that are included on this list are some of the best stories you can enjoy with a controller in hand.


5. Destiny 2: Forsaken

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This is the only MMO I’ve ever loved. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. But it has its charms. This game universe is space opera at its best. It’s all about gun-toting space wizards at war with a Lovecraftian darkness. You go on quests, you battle four or five different alien races, each with a unique design and history. This soundtrack is epic and soaring, and each planet has its own suite of brilliant music. When you’re not questing alone, you’re doing it with friends. Many of the toughest environments in the game require a group to even get through. And when you get bored with killing aliens, you can always drop into the competitive Crucible mode and battle against other players.

I’ve put more hours into this game than any other in 2018. It’s endless loot and shoot gameplay is addicting, if a bit disrespectful of your time. But it’s Destiny 2: Forsaken’s flavor that keeps bringing me back.

For more on my thoughts on Destiny 2: Forsaken: Tim Burton Spook Music: An Ode to Destiny 2’s Halloween Event.


4. Celeste

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On the surface, this is the kind of throwback platformer that are a dime a dozen in any game system e-store. I heard the merits of this game screamed over every video game podcast and website for months after Celeste’s initial release. And then it happened again when this dropped on the Switch. So, after I found myself bored and sleepy on a Saturday morning, I snatched this up from the Holiday PS4 sale.

But Celeste is not just another recycled platformer. It’s a precise and brutally tough platformer, that happens to have a beautiful core. Celeste is the mountain. You play Madeline, who is climbing that mountain. You meet a variety of goofy characters, and get to watch Madeline grow as your skills grow. Celeste has a lot to say about depression and self-worth. It comes at those issues in a mature way that we don’t often see in games. This game is beyond sweet and worth the challenge.


3. Red Dead Redemption 2

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This had to be my most anticipated game of the year. And, as I’m sure you already know, Rockstar delivered. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a slow, momentous beast of a game. You fill the shoes of gruff everyman Arthur Morgan. You run with his gang and commit crimes. Things go good, things go bad and then they go even worse. The Dutch Van Der Linde gang is filled with characters that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. When you’re not riding through beautiful natural vistas or shooting everything, you’re hanging out in camp, drinking and listening to tales of the glory days.

This is not a happy game. But this is a story that everyone should experience. It’s beautiful and savage, and filled with more minutia in the moment to moment gameplay than you could ever want. But if you take a breath and get on the same wave length, you’ll feel like a cowboy.


2. Marvel’s Spider-Man

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HOLY CRAP I’M SPIDER-MAN AND I’M SWINGI–WAIT–DID YOU SEE THAT!?

That stream of Caps above is an approximate approximation of what was happening in my brain while I was playing this game. Marvel’s Spider-Man is a perfect Spider-Man game. The swinging is fast and the combat is simple to learn and a joy to master. Insomniac has crafted a New York City that is a joy to explore. Avengers Tower! The Sanctum Sanctorum!

But that’s not all. The story explores Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s relationships and his place in this world. Old rogue’s gallery villains are recreated in unique and brilliant ways. It can’t be ignored just how clean and fluid this entire game feels. The collectibles and side missions are fun to experience and collect. And the end couple of missions of this thing are *sighs* wonderful.


1. God Of War

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God of War is nearly perfect. Let’s break it down. A character piece for Kratos and his son. A combat system that is both visceral and beautiful. A world steeped in history and magic. Adventure on a scale rarely recreated in this generation of games. Probably the best looking PS4 exclusive!

But it’s not just that. Both Red Dead Redemption 2 and Spider-Man had those same qualities. But God Of War stands apart. This is a video game story of loss and of growing love. Kratos is a man with a horrible past. He has known loss both in his past and very much in his present. And to watch this wild demigod grow as a person and as a father felt momentous in every conceivable way. Come for the Leviathan axe and stay for the character growth.


Bonus Round….

Can I talk about some runner-ups? Kind of. I played a few other games that aren’t quite Top 5 material, but deserve your attention in some other way. The only other game that belonged this high up was Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’s another rip-roaring adventure game where you get to jump off stuff and have awesome sword fights. And, if you play as Kassandra, it’s kind of like you’re playing as Wonder Woman. Which is cool.

The other game I wanted to talk about is Call of Cthulhu. This game is…not anything that I wanted it to be. It’s essentially a walking simulator with some very diet-light environmental puzzles. But being able to spend some slow time in a quaint little Lovecraftian world is kind of fun. If you can snag this game up for cheap (or maybe a rental?) I think you should do it. Especially if you’re a Lovecraft horror nut.

This was the year I discovered the joys of the PS4 Platinum trophy system. I’m by no means a trophy hunter, but I enjoy the added value of hunting them down. Earning the Platinum likely means you’ve seen most of what the game has to offer. I earned five Platinum trophies this year: The Order: 1886,  God of War, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Marvel’s Spider-Man and Fallout 4. My Fallout 4 platinum was the most well-earned. I love the Fallout franchise, even if Fallout 76 may be the worst game I played all year. Scratch that, worst game I’ve played in the last five.


That is my version of the gaming year that was 2018. This year was abnormally strong, but it wasn’t without its disapointments. This was the year that made me glad to own a PS4. This was the year where I was inspired and strengthened by the games that I played.

 

2019, the Year of the Fungi Monsters

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Despite my best efforts to freeze time, 2019 has arrived. With the New Year comes 12 months worth of opportunities. As a writer, that means a lot. This industry takes time, so it’s good to get out ahead of it and lay out some goals. I wanted to keep them relatively simple this year.

Write a Story a Month!

I absolutely destroyed my backlog of stories this year for submission. It’s a good thing, but also kind of a bad thing… I only have two stories in the coffers to send out. That is unacceptable. I focused on writing stories specifically for theme anthologies, which doesn’t make them easy to send out to other places. If they weren’t accepted, I had to stash them away. I have a pizza-horror themed story that I now have nothing to do with.

So I need to refill the coffers! One story a month, edited and waiting to find a home. It is an easy goal, especially considering I have 4 or 5 stories that are half way done and just ready for me to pick them back up again. I would like to eventually have enough quality stories to put into a collection.

Reading Challenge! 30 Books!

I slayed my Reading Challenge for 2017 and 2018, and I’m back for another round. I had trouble hitting my number this year, and I don’t have any excuses for it. I have a momentous TBR pile lurking in the shadows of my guest room. I will be battling that beast over the next twelve months. Follow me on Goodreads, and stick around here to read some reviews. And speaking of reviews…

Do More Freelance Work!

I’ll be writing reviews for a newly stood up website! I’ll be partnering with horror author Michael Patrick Hicks for his new site High Fever Books. I’ll be posting any pieces I do over there on here for your reading pleasure. I’ve got some interesting ARCs coming my way to review, and I couldn’t be more excited.

But I want to do more freelance work outside of that! Time between short story publications can take awhile, so it helps to try and get my name out on various websites. I want to do some film pieces, and maybe a video game piece or two as well.

Submit 25 Times in 2019

I hit the very strange number of 24 for my submissions in 2018. I would like to submit 25 different times in 2019, and I’ll be tracking the numbers right here on my site. To hit this number, I’ll have to write a lot more stories, which thankfully ties into number 1 on this list!

I’ve designated 2019 as the year of the fungi monsters. Why? I don’t know. It sounds cool. And maybe I’m working on a story about fungi monsters. Just maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview: Trevor Henderson

It’s January 2019 and that means it’s time for another interview! Every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. This month’s interview is with artist and cryptid king Trevor Henderson!  

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For my first question, I like to keep things simple. Tell us a little bit about yourself! What made you want to be an artist and a writer? What other hobbies do you enjoy in your free time?

Okay! So I’m an illustrator who lives in Toronto! I love horror in all it’s varied forms. I’ve been an artist who is interested in drawing monsters and scary things since I was very, very young, and this is entirely my Dad’s fault, him being a big horror fan who introduced me to horror films at a very young age. Both of my parents have always encouraged my art. I wouldn’t say I’m a writer, the little snippets I post with my art are more just me exploring a little bit. I was moved to start including them when I ran a tabletop horror game this past year and had to come up with a developing horror plot on the fly. It was so much fun, I started incorporating the written word into my art.

As for other hobbies, I listen to podcasts, play video games, board games, read horror fiction, and see a lot of movies. I was on a couple podcasts this year and it was a lot of fun. I’d love to do it again.

I think that your fame in the horror community comes from your absolutely jaw-dropping found-footage art. The power of your art certainly comes from seeing the supernatural lurking among the mundane. Can you talk about your Sirenhead.jpgart? 

Thank you so much! The supernatural co-mingling with the every day word in subtle and horrible ways is one of my favourite ideas in horror. The whole thing started as an idea to see if I could replicate a found footage horror film and boil it down to a single image and a couple sentences. The response has been so amazing that it has really encouraged me to continue playing around with the format, and it’s lead to me creating continuity between certain images, with a couple specific monsters popping up more than once, and some basic lore being developed. I’ve always loved found footage horror, and think that at it’s best, it provides a unique film-going experience.

You’ve released two books so far featuring your art and your fiction. The first, ‘Odd Noises in Empty Rooms’, is a collection of short horror stories and ghost drawings. The other is a book of short horror comics called ‘Bad Things Coming’. Greats titles! What can you tell us about those two books?

The first book, “Bad Things Coming” is a collection of four short (really short!) horror stories done entirely in pencil, with a risograph printed cover. The idea was to pay homage to the format of one of my favourite horror manga, “Fuan No Tane (Seeds of Anxiety)“, which manages to be terrifying in only a couple pages per story. I don’t think a lot of the book holds up, but there are a few drawings in it that I still love.

Odd Noises in Empty Rooms” is my newer book, and it’s a collection of scratchy black and white ghost drawings, with little one-page accompanying ghost stories. It was inspired by the work of Stephen Gammell, who is most famous for doing the terrifying art for the “Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark” books. They were hugely formative for me as a little kid, so I wanted to pay homage!

As I think most creative types can attest, it’s not always easy to stay on that treadmill. Life gets in the way, and sometimes the words and the art don’t want to flow. Have you ever experienced that? And what tactics do you use to keep it at bay?

It can be a real struggle. I work a full-time day job, and sometimes it’s nearly impossible. When I paint ghosts into photos in my found footage art, I find I can manage when I’m tired and don’t feel like drawing, because the background image is already there. I can look at the photo and be inspired to imagine what kind of creep is lurking in the background. In this way, I’ve been able to be productive and produce one or two found footage images a day, more or less, for the last couple months. It can be so hard, though. As long as you’re making SOMETHING every couple of days, you are improving. But at the same time, don’t push yourself. It’s understandable to be too tired to be creative after working a job all day.

Time for a dream job scenario: You’re given an unlimited budget and the ability to work for any company, with any characters. What is your dream project? (For me, It’s writing a Batman novel or five.)

Oh man, that’s an exciting question. I’d love to be hired on as a concept designer for the television show “Channel Zero“, in my opinion the best horror show on the air. It’s constantly showing off these fantastically designed and executed monsters, and I’d love to have a hand in helping to develop their next iconic entity.

Last question! Where can people find you and your works?

Hands in the Forest

Oh yeah! You can find me on most social media, but I use Twitter the most. You can follow me at https://twitter.com/slimyswampghost. I’m also on tumblr at http://slimyswampghost.tumblr.com/ and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/trevorhenderson/!

Annual Review (2018)

2018 was kind of a big year for me. I started 2018 in kind of a rut. I was feeling crappy about my skills as a writer. Not to mention my progress in my still very early career. It’s a silly feeling, but it’s a tough one to crack. Thankfully, I feel a little better now. I certainly made some good progress. I came out on the other side UNSCATHED.

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This Monthly Review will be a little bit different. I’ve tabulated the numbers and dotted the T’s to come out with this special edition of the Monthly Review. The last for the year (*cue dramatic music*). 

What am I proud of this year?

This blog!

I revamped and redesigned it. I started my Monthly Interview feature back in July, and I couldn’t be more excited about all the people I’ve interviewed so far. Writers and creators that I respect and look up too. Lovecraftian master Pete Rawlik. Dark horror maverick Kristi DeMeester. Michael Wehunt. Orrin Grey! Kelly (Nebula Winner!) Robson! I’ll continue to conduct these interviews, and learn about how the writing sausage gets made. It’s fantastic.

Three posts a month. That was my goal! I hit that every month, sometimes more. I wrote some pieces this year that I’m extremely proud of. If I had to pick a couple of favorites? I made-up a horror film festival and gave Richard Upton Pickman his very own profile. I also urge that you read every interview I posted. There is a lot to learn as a writer.

How about them numbers…

Submissions: 23

Acceptances: 3

Rejections: 18

Still Out in The Wild: 2

Those are some fun numbers! Look at that ratio! Three acceptances is lower than previous years, but I have gotten a bit more picky on where I send stories.

That was 2018! Thank you to everyone who chatted with me on Twitter or Instagram. Thanks to everyone who bought a book with one of my stories in it, or read any of my articles I posted here. We’re headed into 2019 right. Expect a writing goals article sometime in January.

My Favorite Things of 2018

2018 has been a wild year for entertainment. I watched a lot of brilliant movies, read some outstanding books/comics, and saw some TV shows that will stick with me for awhile. One of my favorite features that blogs do is talk about their favorite media from the year. The content that stood out above the rest! Instead of doing an individual article listing my favorites for each section of entertainment, I decided to just do a big article highlighting my favorites from each! I hope you enjoy this list and seek out some of these on here that you may not have heard of. Let’s start with a big one…

My Favorite Movie of the Year

Avengers: Infinity War

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Much like Thanos’ grand plan, my pick for my favorite movie of the year feels inevitable. Avengers: Infinity War is a massive beast of a film, cram packed with heart, humor and action. Marvel has been building to this movie for ten years and it shows. Thanos is the big villain we needed. He feels terrifying in a way no other MCU bad guy has before. This is some of the best work that this franchise has produced, and I can’t wait to see the next chapter.

Honorable Mentions: Hereditary, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Bad Times At the El Royale, Halloween

Some great horror, and the utterly break-taking new Mission: Impossible. Bad Times At the El Royale is the Tarantinoesque crime piece that I didn’t know that I needed.

My Favorite Video Game of the Year

God Of War

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This was the hardest decision I made for this list. We had several masterpieces that came out this year, and I did my best to play them all. Red Dead Redemption 2 is an utterly engrossing Cowboy Simulator with some of the characters of the year. Marvel’s Spider-Man is the best superhero game since Arkham City. Celeste is beautiful and stupidly tough.

But God of War beats them out. While it doesn’t have a massive open world or the ability to fly through New York City, it has a pitch perfect story and combat mechanics that have to be played to be believed. Kratos’ axe is the best video game weapon of the generation. Nailing a skeleton in the chest and then recalling your axe so the skeleton explodes had me grinning. Added bonus: my wife and I said, “Boy!” in a Kratos voice for months after I finished God of War.

Honorable Mentions: Red Dead Redemption 2, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Celeste, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

My Favorite Book of the Year

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

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While I didn’t hit my lofty reading goal from last year, I still got a chance to read some FANTASTIC books this year. I got two new books by my two of my favorite authors (Orrin Grey AND Laird Barron) and enough novellas to fill up a potentially haunted house.

Speaking of which… What was my favorite book this year? It’s easily Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It. Jemc finds a whole new dimension to the haunted house story. It’s as much about the house as it is about the characters. The married couple of this story are destroyed by the terrors of their lives. Maybe? It’s not clear but that’s where the power comes from.

Honorable Mentions: Guignol and Other Sardonic Tales by Orrin Grey, The Human Alchemy by Michael Griffin, Blood Standard by Laird Barron

Happy 2018 everybody.

 

Author Interview: Gemma Amor

Chestnuts roasting over a horror fire…

Or something. It’s December, and that means it’s time for my final interview of the year! In case you’re new to the blog, every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. This month’s interview is with horror podcast maverick Gemma Amor!

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I’m very excited to be doing this interview with you today! I like to start my interviews off with an easy question: tell us a little bit about yourself! Why did you decide to become a writer? What other hobbies do you have in your spare time?

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. It was never really a conscious decision for me, but simply something I always did. I spent a lot of time by myself as a child, and writing was a natural byproduct of that and being a ferocious reader from a young age. Over the years I began to take it more and more seriously, and then, eventually, I realized I couldn’t live very comfortably without writing, and would feel anxious, frustrated and upset the longer I went without putting pen to paper. So it became my way of life, and is now my main source of income (which is why I only eat every other week).  All of this means I don’t really have many other hobbies, because I don’t get a huge amount of spare time. I am also a parent, which is tantamount to pouring any free time that remains into a vast, black hole. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You seem to have an affinity for spooky podcasts! I first discovered your work on a recent episode of the stellar No Sleep Podcast (the Halloween episode). I saw you’ve got pieces slated for several new podcasts in 2019! What can you tell us about your podcast work?

Podcasts are my addiction, and I found the podcast community to be an instantly welcoming and warm place full of like-minded people. I realized that although I love writing fiction, I also love hearing audio adaptations of my work. Once my first story was accepted by NoSleep, I was no sleep podcasthooked, and began writing more and more stories for audio. Writing for audio demands a lot of a writer in different ways to straight fiction, so I learned a lot as I continued to submit stories and reach out to other, similar shows such as Shadows at the Door, and the Grey Rooms. Most importantly, however, getting involved in podcasting meant that I built connections with actors, producers and mentors who possessed so much knowledge and expertise that I’m now producing two of my own shows, both of which are out in 2019. Calling Darkness is a horror-comedy show that I’ve co-written with NoSleep stalwart S.H. Cooper. It stars Kate Siegel, from Netflix smash-hit The Haunting of Hill House, as our narrator, and a whole host of other great voice talent from the world of audio-drama, including David Cummings, Graham Rowat, Dan Zappula, and many more. It’s an irreverent, female-led audio drama co-created by myself, Cooper and so many other talented people. Kate is just wonderful in it- I’ve listened to her raw audio for the first four episodes, and can’t stop smiling.

I’m also writing, producing and acting in forthcoming audio drama Whisper Ridge, which is again slated for release in 2019. It’s a serious audio-fiction series set in the post-gold-rush era of the American frontier, and follows the journey of a young Sheriff who comes to the town of Whisper Ridge only to encounter strange phenomena. It’s quite different to my other work, and I’m really excited to record the pilot, which will be out soon.

I saw your first collection, Cruel Works of Nature, releases in December of this year! I signed up for your newsletter so I can get eyes on it when it releases! How did this collection come about? What can we expect from the stories within?

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After buckets of blood, sweat and tears, it’s finally out! Which is so surreal, and it’s delightful to finally have something tangible and published that I can hold in my hands. I’ll be updating my mailing list very shortly with links to the book on Amazon. Cruel Works of Nature is a hand illustrated collection of short stories, some of which have been adapted by the NoSleep podcast, others which are exclusive to the book. Each story deals with some aspect of nature or the natural world that has gone horribly awry. I have a thing about the great outdoors, animals, flora and fauna, and skewed realities. I also have a thing about monsters, and so this book is a love-letter to the upside-down, as it were. Its been really well received so far, which is lovely, and has spurred me on to write the next collection, which I’ll release in 2019.

Let’s talk about books for a moment. What’s in your To Be Read pile right now? Any books you’re looking forward to in the future?

I’m reading so many books at the same time that I need to stop, and catch up. I have a collection of short stories by H.G.Wells to get through, and then I might revisit Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, which I try and read once a year simply because I love it so much.

A lot of young writers I talk to get discouraged with the grind (sending stories out on submission, etc.) and the constant struggle that is the publishing world. Do you have any advice for any writers looking to get published?

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 My advice would be not to give up. Even if you send one story to a thousand people, and it gets rejected each time, don’t give up. Do consider, however, getting beta-readers involved for constructive criticism, or a writing mentor who can help you learn and shape your words more effectively. There is nothing that cannot be re-written and improved upon.

And always, always, ALWAYS follow the submission guidelines, no matter who or what you are submitting to. Guidelines are there for a reason, and ignoring them will piss editors off no end.

You’re enjoying a cup of coffee in a crowded café when the door dings. Your favorite author walks in and asks if he/she can take a seat in the empty chair at your little table. You nod your head and they sit down. Who is that author? And what will you talk about? No subject is off limits.

Dear God, I could never choose one author, and I’m so socially defunct that I would never invite them to sit with me and make awkward conversation! But if I had to, at gun point, I would talk to the following:

Angela Carter, about female characters rooted in magic realism, about fairy stories, and about Bristol, where I live and she studied.

Stephen King, about anything he wanted, but primarily writing horror as a means of coping with your own personal demons,

Stephen Hall, about grief and allegory,

Hanif Kureshi, about short stories and love affairs,

Mary Shelley, about her utterly bonkers life,

Robert Jordan, about world building in the Wheel of Time series.

But it’s far more likely I would turn a deep shade of red, sweat a lot and mumble something incoherently about the weather!

 

Thank you Gemma! To find out more about her work, check out her website at gemmaamorauthor.com. This interview is the 6th I’ve done for my site, and I hope to continue going strong into 2019. Every writer/creator I interview offers a new perspective and excellent advice about their craft and lessons writers like me (or you) can truly learn from. Stay awesome everybody, and tune in next week for my end of year review.