Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Near Horizon: February 2017

January is out of the way, which is great. I consider December & January to be the Heart of Darkness in the winter. February sucks, to be sure, but it's not as bad as those two months. (Hopefully). Let's get started.

The DOOM Chronicles
I managed to make some progress on this one, though not as much as I'd have liked, but I at least got them off of Phobos and onto Deimos. The reason for this, primarily, was because I've been having some bad reactions to some new psych meds I'm on to help with insomnia. (Hint: they didn't help.) So that sucks, but they've mostly subsided and I'm going to try and get off of them this month anyway.

My original hope had been to wrap up Episode One before the end of the month, but even if I had posted a chapter a day, that wouldn't have happened. There's simple too much to write, and I don't want to rush any of it. I want to take my time with this one.

Things are going to start diverging from the traditional 'plot' of the original DOOM game about halfway through this part. It won't be too different, but you'll notice some changes. I'm shooting for about forty chapters for Episode One. Once I've finished it up, I'll be taking a hiatus from it for maybe a month or two so I don't get burned out, then I'll get back to it with Episode Two.

If you haven't read it, you can get started either on WattPad or Fanfiction.

Gathering Darkness
So, I finally got to launch this! I came up with this idea back in December and I'm pretty excited to write it, as it's the first original, non-novelization, non-rewrite fan fiction I've tackled in a really, really long time.

It's a crossover of Slenderman and Halo, something I touched on once, very briefly, kind of by accident, when I was writing The Rookie Chronicles. I got the idea when I finally got my hands on Slender: The Arrival on my Xbox One in December. Originally, I was really inspired to novelize it, but one look into the tangled confusion that was Slender's mythos, I knew that wasn't happening. So then I figured, hey, what did I always used to do when I was in a situation like this?

Cross it over with Halo.

So I got to work on Gathering Darkness.

It's going to get pretty bleak, and I hope people like it. I'll be alternating between posting a chapter for this and a chapter for The DOOM Chronicles until they're done.

Not Alone 2
I had wanted to have this wrapped up by the end of January, but that didn't end up happening, because of the above-mentioned reasons. I'm pretty close, in the home stretch, so I'm really hoping to buckle down and get it wrapped up this month. Not much else to say.

Everything Else
On the S. A. Lusher front, I'll be beginning production on my still secret project. As it's very different from what I normally write, I'm not sure how long it will take. I'm hoping to have it done by April.

I'm also considering starting up a brand new profile for S. A. Lusher on WattPad. It wouldn't see much attention at first, I'd put up some older stuff that I don't plan to publish officially, stuff like Project Syn, and eventually I'd like to post all of The Shadow Wars again. I'll probably decide kind of soon on it.

I've settled on a pen-name for my second pseudonym, as well as a title and plot for my first project under that name. I'll be planning it out slowly over the next few months. I don't want to really get into it until the secret S. A. Lusher project is out of the way.

That's about it.

Thanks for the support!


Game Talk #4: ODST

Okay, I'll admit it: At first, I didn't like ODST. Or, at least, certain parts of it.

Let's get started.

I'm not sure how I first heard about ODST, but it was probably this trailer.

Not only is that the best video game trailer I've ever seen, it's one of the best trailers I've ever seen, period. When I saw that, I wanted ODST immediately. It didn't even bother me that the trailer technically had nothing to do with the game itself, it was really meant to more capture the overall feel of the game, of being an ODST.

I had been looking forward to something like ODST for years. My very first fan fiction was called Through the Eyes of Another and it featured a Marine named Alex Steele. It was basically just a survival story set during the original Halo. I wanted to showcase the struggle of someone who wasn't a Spartan, someone who was just a Marine in the world of Halo. It was a lot of fun, and my next big story was Owen Frost, Helljumper which was about...well, a Helljumper, or ODST, obviously.

Naturally, I was looking forward to ODST, especially when I heard reports from Bungie that it was going to be a shorter campaign, maybe five hours long, and they would be selling it for half price. 30$, or 35$ after taxes. Which sounded awesome. I thought it was perfect.

Then I actually bought the game...for sixty dollars. So at first I thought, "Oh...huh, I guess they must have extended the campaign long enough to make it full campaign?"

Only that wasn't what had happened at all. Although, I have to say, looking back on it now, ODST does have a full-length campaign, at least, that's what I think now. It's weird how perception screws with you.

So, here are the complaints I had at the time. Some of them are still valid, I think.

The campaign itself. Although I think it might actually be my favorite Halo campaign (I know, such fucking blasphemy), there are portions of it that don't make sense. Like, the main story for example. If you haven't played the game or it's been a while, let me give you a brief rundown.

You play The Rookie, an unnamed ODST, preparing to drop onto Earth as the Covenant invade it during the Halo 2 campaign. As you and your squad jump from orbit in single-man drop pods, suddenly, a colossal explosion devastates the city and sends your pod heavily off course. You crash into the side of a building and pass out for a solid ten hours. When you wake up, you are alone, the city is dark, rainy and overrun with enemy forces. You must search the desolate ruin of New Mombassa for clues as to what happened to your lost squad.

That sounds SO FUCKING AWESOME, doesn't it?

Now, I have to say, they fully delivered with the parts featuring The Rookie. Giving Halo a sort of open-world map to play with, an open world that is saturated in rainy gloom, was fucking awesome. This is my favorite part of any Halo game's campaign. However...well, let's first address the issue of how the plot advances.

As The Rookie, you are tasked with crossing the map several times, hunting down 'clues'. When I first heard this, I imagined that you would be finding like...I dunno, terminals? Consoles? Information or data of some kind that would help relay to you what had happened, fill in the blanks in bits and pieces. But that's not what happened at all. In fact, it flat out didn't make sense. Instead of finding actual information, you find random objects: a bent sniper rifle, a canister of BioFoam (a medical substance), a wrecked vehicle. And then, suddenly, whenever you located one of these things, you would get a flashback and see exactly what had happened. You would take control of one of your squadmates and play through a level, with that level ending with whatever random object the Rookie had come across.

Is it just me, or does that not make sense?

I get that this style of storytelling can be difficult to pull off, especially in a video game, but...I dunno, I feel like they could have at least done a little bit better of a job.

The good news from this, however, was that it spawned one of my coolest ideas ever for a fan fiction. One day, I was at work, thinking unhappily about ODST, turning it over in my head, and it suddenly hit me like a hammer: what if the campaign makes no sense because THERE IS NO SQUAD? What if the Rookie suffered brain damage in that crash and dreamed up four people to search for? That would explain why, whenever he finds some arbitrary piece of equipment, he suddenly knows what happened: he's making it all up without realizing it.

I quickly got to work on a novelization of ODST with this twist in mind. Personally, I think it came out really well and I loved it.

But, anyway, about the game. ODST saw the inception of Firefight. Now, I really like this concept. Essentially, it's you and up to three of your friends in a map fighting against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. That's a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the delivery in ODST was pretty basic. All of the maps are just copy/pasted from the campaign and it's just...boring.

Firefight was one of the things I believe they quickly shoved onto the disc to justify charging full price. Then, on top of that, they added in a second disc that featured all of the Halo 3 maps, including the DLC map packs. And, okay, I guess that technically that does make it worth more. Though, to be totally honest, I think most people who bought ODST were people who would already have all those maps so...maybe not?

At the time, I felt ripped off. I mean, this was touted as basically an expansion pack, and suddenly it costs as much as a full game. But, in time, like with Halo 2, after the initial anger had passed and I was able to judge the game on its own merits, I liked it. A lot. It has some interesting ideas and it was great to see the world of Halo through the eyes of someone who wasn't a Spartan. Although I think it was a little silly that they added in a 'stamina' bar, like, they couldn't not have some kind of secondary, replenishing form of health.

Honestly, I think that ODST has the greatest atmosphere and aesthetic of any of the Halo games, but I love dark, rainy, devastated settings. The soundtrack was also fantastic. All of the visuals and the audio design and the soundtrack, everything came together. The headshots in the game also felt extremely satisfying, more so than any other Halo game, and the silenced weapons were great additions to the Halo arsenal.

One thing I didn't like was the side-plot. The plot you unlock piece by piece by picking up the transmissions from all over the city. I finally actually listened to every single one of them and I have to say, I wasn't too impressed. Ultimately, the story just felt...unnecessary. Pointless. There was hardly a reason for it. I mean, yeah, the cop at the end is more relevant, but they could have cut out the cop and the story and nothing would have changed. I mean, I get that it's extra content, but I just wish it was better written, or maybe just a more interesting story.

All in all: ODST a solid game and entry into the franchise.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Machinima Talk #1: Slender Man (Halo 4 Horror Machinima)

So reviewing machinimas is one of the things I want to start getting into. Though I will feature mainly only Halo horror or mystery-themed machinimas, I'll occasionally talk about other things. (I plan to review Forecast, if anyone is familiar with that.)

This first review isn't so much a review as it is a cautionary tale of how not to make a machinima.

Yeah...doesn't bode well.

As kind of like an advisory to head off some angry comments (I hope), please note that I am writing this review as a viewer first and a maker of machinima second. Also, any criticism I offer is meant to be constructive. I don't like tearing people down, I just want to help.

Although...I gotta admit, this machinima kind of pissed me off. You'll see why.

So let's get started.

I found this video pretty much at random. Back when I started getting serious about making a machinima, I went to YouTube and typed in 'Halo horror machinima' to scope out the competition. This is one of the videos that came up.

I have a lot to say about this and I've decided the best way to do it is to just watch the video again and then write down everything I notice and some advice on it.

Okay, right off the bat, I notice the, uh, logo on the bottom right hand corner of the screen. It remains there the WHOLE time. This is pretty unprofessional. It's gotta go.

Also, as an aside here, Mike141500 is a TERRIBLE name for a machinima production group/channel. I'm seriously not trying to be a jerk here, but it just seems to me that if you're going to go to the trouble of putting yourself out there and providing people with content, you should at least try to come up with something that doesn't sound like it came out of a random name generator. I mean, even when he was 14, Jon Graham (Arby n' the Chief creator) came up with Digitalph33r and my online handle was Obsidian Thirteen when I was 15 years old.

The intro is pretty abrupt but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Abrupt beginnings can work well, but I would at least recommend a black screen and then a slow fade in.

So the first part consists of a character walking around a dark, outdoors area planting the pages from the Slender Man game. It switches between a first person perspective and more traditional third person shots. I'm undecided on this, because part of me thinks that you should choose one perspective and stick with it, unless you can make it fit into the narrative of the film, but I think that if the overall film was handled a lot better, this wouldn't have been a problem, a nitpick at most.

The visual effect of planting the pages against surfaces comes off pretty well in this part.

When the Slender Man shows up, the camera-work and sound actually come together really well, which, ultimately, makes me even more frustrated, because as much as a train wreck as this machinima is (you'll see) it started out pretty decent.

At one point, the character jumps off of something and there's this very unnecessary, weird sound effect. It very much breaks the atmosphere and immersion.

Now we get to the giant failure on the part of Mike141500.

The intro is basically this guy who's going around, planting pages and running from the Slender Man. Then the Slender Man captures him, the classic footage of the Slender Man (recreated in Halo 4 with a big, smooth, bulbous helmet and a large set of dark armor, it's a very good recreation actually), very up close to the first person camera, static washes over the screen and it blinks out accompanied by the classic sound effects from the game. The word SLENDER comes up and fades out and...that would have been a great prologue.

And then this video crashes and burns.

After several seconds of darkness, at exact one minute fifty seconds in, a generic 'scary' image of a girl with like scratches on her face or something pops up, accompanied by a VERY loud scream, repeated several times. This goes for about five seconds and then the 'lol' scrolls up over the image.

Actual screenshot.

I'm not kidding. This actually happens.

This was a shockingly terrible decision for several reasons.

The biggest reason is that it completely breaks the tension, the atmosphere and the narrative of the video.

This sudden pointless jump scare that has literally nothing to do with anything else in the video, before or after, is one of the most immature, unprofessional things I've ever seen in machinima. In a way, it signals to your viewers that you don't take your own work seriously, that you don't respect them enough to put your best, or even half-assed trying, honestly, into your work. And if you don't take it seriously, why should they?

One other thing. Jump scares. They're almost always bullshit. For some reason, I'm guessing laziness, everyone seems to think that jump scares are scary. They aren't. When you utilize a jump scare, you are startling your audience. You aren't scaring them.

Being startled and being scared are two very different things. And startling someone is very easy. It's a very lazy way out. (Side note: Not all jump scares are bad, it's just that most people don't do them very well.)

Oh yeah, also, gore. Not the same thing. James Cameron has a great quote on this. I can't find it exactly, but it goes something like this: When you're creating a gory, bloody, gross scene, that provokes a reaction of disgust. Not fear. Disgust and fear are two very different emotions.

I'll probably do a much more in-depth explanation on this subject later but for now, please watch THIS VIDEO by Chris Stuckmann. It is an excellent, in-depth, easily understandable examination of what's wrong with horror films today, with a long piece on 'The Curse of the Jump Scare'. Seriously, watch it, it's fantastic.

So, the first time I watched Slender Man I turned it off when I reached the jump scare because it was so stupid and cheap, I didn't honestly think the video could be good after that.

And...I was right.

I went back and watched it in full for this review.

Let's continue.

So, a title card stating '5 MINS LATER' pops up and we cut to a soldier receiving a briefing. The voice acting here isn't actually terrible. It could use some work, but it's passable.

Cue another '5 MINS LATER' card. Honestly, these need to be dropped. Besides breaking up the tension and the atmosphere, it's a little ridiculous to assume that everything takes only five minutes to occur. Like, just fade to black. People will get that time has passed.

Next, we've got three soldiers driving to the area. They get out and head inside and two of the nameless soldiers are told to stay behind and the new protagonist goes into the facility. Who is this man? Who are the other two soldiers? There's no explanation and I get it, we don't need a novel's worth of back story, but a name and some personality would be nice.

Also, a small aside, some of the puppeteering here is kind of shoddy. It's a little too obvious that these are character models in a video game being manipulated. I'll grant that this is a little more tough to get just right and it's a nuanced thing. I know how hard it is to do this just right and ultimately you can never fully escape the knowledge that these are video game characters who can only move in certain ways due to the game engine. And that is why immersion is so important. That's why creating an atmosphere is so important.

Let's take a moment to talk about the sound balancing. Everything is too quiet. Or...no wait, it's not too quiet, it's just that I've now had to turn the sound down because another '5 MINS LATER' card popped up and it was accompanied by another one of those screams that is MUCH louder than everything else. And this isn't the last time it happens. Again, major fuck up.

Now, the rest of the film is basically the main character wandering around the same area as the character from the beginning. He finds a few of the pages that were put up and, for some reason, the effect is terrible now. I'm guessing that the reason for this is because, in first shots, the camera was stationary, so the effect required to make a page appear in the shot didn't require quite so much work. The shots in this portion of the film are moving shots, as in, the camera has to move forward, so it looks like a very bad, cheap effect. My recommendation: change up the camera work, make these shots stationary.

Also, for some reason, this solider (I'm guessing? The other two guys had assault rifles,) is going into this situation UNARMED. At least, it seems like it's unarmed. It's kind of hard to tell, but it looks like he isn't holding even a pistol.

Okay, now, for the next couple of minutes, the video starts actually getting kind of good again. The camera is first person again and we follow this character in a dark, creepy environment, investigating the mystery of what's happening.

And then...the director makes another very bizarre mistake.

He cuts back to those two soldiers standing guard. They get bored and...decide to listen to some really weird, stupid parody song? It's clearly meant to be a funny moment and it might have been...if this was a comedy.

Now, stay with me, I'm not saying that there's no room for comedy in a horror film or an action film or any film really. Mixing and matching is fine and sometimes it can come out great. But this is obviously meant to be a slow, tension-building horror and the scene had absolutely no place in it. Yet again, immersion-breaking.

Okay, so, after some more wandering, the character turns a corner and sees the Slender Man standing there. He immediately turns and starts running away. Besides some shoddy camera-work, (the Slender Man barely even appears in the shot before he turns away), it seems like an odd reaction from a solider (? Still not sure who this guy is but again, that briefing seemed to suggest some branch of the military). You'd think he would at least attempt to communicate. A simple 'Identify yourself!' would have sufficed. There's about a dozen other ways this scene could have played out better.

And then, to make this even worse, about 20 seconds later, he encounters the Slender Man again at a bit of a distance and...he just turns around and casually starts walking away!

After a bit more wandering around, the character is again confronted by the Slender Man and flees the facility.

This is where the machinima completely, utterly dissolves into probably the worst machinima I've ever seen.

We cut back to the two soldiers, wondering where their boss is, and then he comes running down the corridor. Cue an over the top, yelling shout, clearly lifted from, like...an old silly cartoon from the '60s or something? He runs away, the soldiers are confronted by the Slender Man, they try to kill him, he kills them.

Cue more footage of the protagonist running and then driving away, with a repeat of the ridiculous screaming sound effect over and over again, and he drives over a cliff and blows up.

And then, like rubbing salt in the wound, after some short credits, another shot of the clich├ęd horror girl and the screaming.


So, this is where I differ from apparently a lot of other people. I think after such a review, a lot of other people would tell the guy to give up and quit. But I don't want that. Clearly, there's some skill here, and he got it done, and he's apparently still making machinima, so he didn't give up. I want people to get better and keep going. Everyone sucks in the beginning, I'm sure there's a lot of ways Not Alone could have been better and I've still got a long way to go in learning how to make great or even good machinima, if I ever even can.

Probably what frustrated me the most about this is that it could have been good, and that there were parts of it that were actually decent. In fact, if the comedy and the jump-scares were cut out, I would have called this an at least average attempt at making machinima.

I'm giving this a 2 out of 10, and I can't recommend it. Normally, I'll be providing direct links to the videos in review so you can watch them, but not this time. You can pretty easily just go look it up though, based on the information I've given.

However, if only there was a recut of it without the jump-scares and the failed comedic moments, I'd say this would be at least a 5 out of 10.

I guess the best way to describe this machinima is this: imagine someone is making you a pizza. It isn't the best pizza in the world, but it looks decent, it looks like it'd be at least enjoyable. And then, in the middle of making it, they hawk a huge loogie into the pizza, and then they look you in the eye and laugh about it, and then they resume making this pizza for you like nothing happened.

Now, like I've said, this guy has made more machinima since then and this was one of the earliest released, (at least on that channel), filmed back in early 2013. There's even a sequel to it now.

So, I'll try watching and reviewing more, and see if he got better.

Again, just as a final point, while I was very disappointed with the machinima, none of this is meant as a personal attack, or any kind of attack really. It's more frustration than anything else, and it's frustration that grows out of the fact that this could have easily been a lot better, and I hope for the best and hope to see great machinima.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Game Talk #3: Halo 3

In case you might have missed it, Halo 3 was a big deal.

Like, a seriously fucking huge deal.

You know how everyone seems to have 'that' Halo? If you don't know, basically, it means that it's the Halo that really sticks in their mind, the big one, the one they remember the most fondly. For me, 'that' Halo was Halo 3. Doesn't make sense, right? I obviously fell in love with Halo: CE, so what's the deal? Well, I hate to admit it, but it's the multiplayer. I'll get into this in a moment, for now, let's go back to the beginning.

I knew Halo 3 was going to be a big fucking deal. The live-action TV spots clued me in. At that point, I don't think I had ever seen an actual live-action commercial for a video game on actual television before. And then there was Landfall. Have you seen Halo: Landfall? If you haven't please stop what you're doing and just watch this. Seriously, right now. It's basically a short Halo movie.

It was released in segments and I about shit my pants watching it. To this day, that is still ridiculously impressive. Although, on a side note, I have to admit, every time I watch it, I sit there and wonder, "Okay, WHY can't we have a full length Halo movie?" or "Okay, WHY in the FUCK can't they make a good video game movie?"

So, I got my hands on Halo 3 and pretty much played it into oblivion. I remember playing that first level and just knowing that it was going to be everything I had hoped for, knowing that it was well worth the three year wait. And it was.

I like to refer to Halo 3 as Halo fully realized. No other game, besides the first one arguably, has managed to perfectly capture the feeling of Halo and manage to perfectly deliver on it. Everything from the shooting mechanics to the visual aesthetic to the soundtrack to the enemy AI to the storytelling, it was all almost perfectly in balance. At least, for me it was.

And then, when I was finished with the campaign, for the first time in my entire life, I had access to Xbox Live, and to an online massively multiplayer FPS experience. It was like nothing else I had ever experienced before. When I started playing Halo 3 online, I suddenly understood what all the fuss over Halo 2's multiplayer had been. It was immediately intoxicating and addicting. It was something that most of my friends got into very heavily.

I racked up more hours playing Halo 3 than any other video game in my entire life.

There was so much to love about the multiplayer. The maps all felt perfect, (for the most part). They all felt complete, like they had actually been meticulously crafted by experts with a deep love and respect for the game. And the little descriptions that came with them were just awesome. They inspired me deeply.

To make matters even more badass, you could design your own Spartan. Given the level of detail we've gotten used to now, the selection might seem pretty limited. But at the time? It was like a gift from God. Being able to select your armor color (in free for all or custom games), your helmet, shoulder pads (individually) and your chest plate? It was all awesome.

So, about that multiplayer thing I said at the beginning. I've come to realize that although the campaigns are extremely important, (to me, they're the most important feature of the game), multiplayer is often what determines how attached people become to certain games. There are the old vets who remember system linking and playing countless hours of Halo: CE slayer. Then there was the next generation who found themselves in the vast world of online play with tens of thousands of others.

For me, that was Halo 3. That's where I got started on the multiplayer. When people reflect on Halo games, they tend to talk about their experiences playing with other people.

And then, of course, there was the fan fiction. I wrote so much Halo 3 inspired fan fiction. I even liked the multiplayer levels so much that, like three separate times, I decided to tackle the ridiculously massive project called The Mutliplayer Chronicles. Essentially, I wanted to write stories for every single multiplayer level. If I remember correctly, I got through: High Ground, Standoff, Lockout (which was actually Halo 2), Sandtrap, Valhalla and Snowbound. I had the intention, at first, to do all the Halo 3 maps, but then I decided to encompass EVERY HALO MAP EVER.

Obviously, I failed. But, while it had its time in the sun, The Multiplayer Chronicles garnered a lot of attention in the Halo section of fanfiction.net. So much so that I had several people asking if they could do a story for a map. Some of them are actually still up. You can check them out.
Halo 3, I think, ended on a great note and, in a way, it signaled the end of Halo. I know that sounds really weird, considering the fact that the Halo franchise has continued along for almost another decade after Halo 3, but I think this was the last truly great Halo game. It had a kind of sad ending, but it felt like closure. The Covenant was broken. The Flood were defeated. The galaxy was safe. And it felt like it had come full circle, too. Halo: CE began with the Master Chief being woken from a cryo tube. Halo 3 ended with him climbing back into one.

For me, Halo 3 was the peak of the franchise. Although technically it was downhill from here, that doesn't necessarily mean it was all crap.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Game Talk #2: Halo 2

Holy shit look at that image.

THAT is Halo 2. Or, at least, that's what we were led to believe. I mean, with a poster like that, how could Halo 2 NOT be amazing? How could it not be everything that Halo was and more?

Well, let's get started.

In a way, I was lucky. While there were some people who had been dying for Halo 2 since late 2001, I had only really entered into the game in early 2004. I only had to wait about ten months. I remember losing my shit wondering about just what it was going to be about. Slowly, bits and pieces were released, and it only fueled the hype even more.

It was going to be set on Earth. There were new Covenant, new weapons, new vehicles. New everything. And visually it looked great.

I remember watching that E3 video with Master Chief fighting on Earth and all the crazy shit that was going on...and being pretty disappointed that clearly a lot of it had gotten cut from the game. The day I went up to Blockbuster to purchase a copy, I managed to get my hands on the silver, two-disc case by trading in several other games. I raced home and immediately started playing the game.

And it was amazing.

I maintained that feeling of amazed wonderful for about...two days. That's how long it took me to beat the campaign. And it probably wouldn't have stung so bad when the credits started rolling if it hadn't ended on such a fucking cliffhanger.

That's when things began to turn sour for me. I remember thinking "Now I have to wait another three years to find out what happens next?" One thing you have to understand is that, for me, at the time, there was only the campaign. Yes, there's a lot to do in the campaign and yes there's co-op, but even while I was playing the first game, I couldn't help but think, "Where are the computer controlled enemies for multiplayer? For the people who don't the ability to system link? Perfect Dark did it...why the fuck can't Halo?"

I used to play Perfect Dark like crazy. I racked up days on my multiplayer profile. And it seemed to me that Perfect Dark was old, like, Nintendo 64 old, and clearly technologically inferior to Halo. So why, I found myself wondering in growing resentment, in the fucking hell didn't Halo 2, a clearly superior game with dozens of people working on it for years not have simulants for multiplayer? I forgave Halo: CE for it, for some reason certain that this oversight would be rectified in the big-budget sequel.

But I was wrong, and I was left in the dust. I didn't have money for fucking Xbox Live, let alone a good enough internet connection to seriously support it. The only times I got to play online were when I went to go visit a friend. It seemed extremely unfair, especially coupled with the abrupt ending.

I began to notice other things that were odd. Halo 2's aesthetic just didn't sit right with me. Yeah, it all looked better, it had a higher fidelity, better shading, better lighting effects, everything looked better...and yet, it seemed to have lost some of that beautiful, wide-open appeal that Halo: CE had. At first I chalked this up to the Earth levels, but then I realized that Delta Halo didn't look much better either. It just didn't have the same...ambient wonder.

Then there was the boss battle. At first I thought it was great, but then I began to wonder about it. I remember being impressed with Halo's ending, the fact that it didn't rely on a climatic traditional boss battle, and it somehow seemed like a failing that they didn't manage to think of something else. Not to mention...I still don't understand why Tartarus suddenly became invincible...unless you shot him with a beam rifle? That doesn't make any sense.

And the weapons. Don't get me started on them. Do you know how long I spent looking for an MA5B Assault Rifle? An M6D Pistol? I shouldn't have bothered, they weren't there. The Battle Rifle was cool, but damn were those SMGs were shit substitutes for the Assault Rifle. Same with the new pistol. It was horrible. Still is. And that was kind of the biggest problem with the weapons. Even playing through the game again today, the weapons lack the same power that they had in the first Halo, or in Halo 3. They felt weaker, and the way the bullets hit the enemies just didn't feel as satisfying.

These are just some of the things I was thinking back then, and some of the reasons I think that Halo 2 stands oddly apart from the rest of the games. It just feels different. Halo 3 felt like a sequel to Halo 1. For the most part, Halo: ODST and Reach felt like they belonged in the Halo universe. But Halo 2 felt out of place. I still feel this way to a certain degree. It kind of feels like it was made by someone else.

Now, I have since learned that Bungie went through a LOT of shit during the making of Halo 2. I've heard all sorts of things but it seems clear that something went wrong during production. Mainly it seems like they overextended themselves, biting off way, way, way more than they could chew. Which I know is a Bungie tradition, they always want to see how far they can push themselves, but this time the game clearly suffered for it. Honestly, these two videos, The Making of Halo 2 & O Brave New World, both of them sort of documentaries about Bungie and how they made games, really helped illuminate a lot of the problems with the production of Halo 2. Honestly, I don't blame them for their mistakes, and given everything that happened, it's amazing that Halo 2 is as good a game as it is.

A lot of my frustrations with Halo 2 have faded away. I still have a certain fondness for it. Playing it created a new era in my Halo fan fiction and I've come to accept it as part of the true Halo Trilogy. And I might as well throw out some positives, some things that I did like about the game, so this post isn't entirely dreary.

I loved playing as the Arbiter. That was cool...although the fact that it never happened again is just another thing that makes Halo 2 really stick out like a sore thumb.

I particularly loved the Elite Rebellion and how all that shook out.

Delta Halo did look really cool. I liked the strange stone temples, the underwater sections and how it looked distinctly different from the first Halo without going too far and just feeling different for the sake of being different.

The Fight Club reference was cool.

Getting to finally use that energy sword: big plus.

Dual-wielding was kickass.

The battle with the Scarab was pretty great, and I remember being excited when I realized that Marine NCPs could actually drive the Warthog. (Even if they weren't very good at it.) Also, that one part in the beginning of Sacred Icon where you find and gather the scattered remnants of the Covenant forces that survived, and they help you fight. That was really fun. I also like how the Flood evolved. They from being able to use guns in Halo: CE to being able to drive vehicles in Halo 2.

Honestly, looking back on it now that I've had over a decade to play it, let it sink in, ruminate on it, I have to say it's fairly solid. It still does kind of stick out, but it's a great game, and now that the passage of time is no longer a factor, the cliffhanger ending is actually pretty good. But only because I don't have to wait three damned years to find out what happens next.

Halo 2 was nice, but Halo 3 was an entire other level of amazing.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Game Talk #1: Halo - Combat Evolved

Holy crap. Halo. The original Halo.

It's time to talk about it.

The Halo franchise had a massive impact on me and I've talked about it a lot. So why not one more time? I doubt any of the other times I've tried to talk about it any 'official' capacity can be found anywhere on the internet anymore. As usual, this won't be a review, since I don't really know how to write reviews, nor do I really want to. This will just be my perspective on the game and what my thoughts on it were back then and nowadays.

The very first time I encountered Halo in any form, I was at my friend's house. He was definitely more well off than I was, so he had an Xbox and a lot of the latest titles. I found this case that said HALO on it, and I think it looked pretty cool. When I suggested playing it, he said, "Nah, let's play Timesplitters 2, it's like a lot better." Yes, this actually happened. I was THAT close to playing Halo. I suppose, in retrospect, it was a lot better that it didn't happen because then I'd have had a taste of Halo and been forced to wait YEARS before I got my hands on it.

Still...fucking Timesplitters 2. It was boring.

The very first time I saw Halo gameplay was probably in late 2001 or early 2002. I don't know for sure. The only thing I know is that I was walking by a Game Stop in a mall somewhere, someday, and I stopped in front of their glass-fronted walls, staring at a big TV on the other side with an Xbox hooked up to it and a Halo: Combat Evolved demo running on it. What was on the screen was the Silent Cartographer, the beach battle in the beginning.

It looked fucking amazing.

But me owning an Xbox? It was a fantasy at the time.

Fast-forward to December 2003. It was my sophomore year and Christmas Vacation was right around the corner. Almost three weeks of no school. The day before we got out, however, the school pretty much said, "We're gonna have a fuck off day! Do whatever you want!" I have no idea how this happened, let alone how these kids managed to bring in two Xbox consoles, eight controllers and two copies of Halo, then system link them up to two school TVs.

But it happened.

I managed to come in and play exactly one ten minute slayer match in Blood Gulch. And nothing was ever the same after that. I knew, right away, that I needed to have Halo. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too long.

February 2004 rolled around. My mom bought me an Xbox and a copy of Halo as a late Christmas present. I played the fuck out of it and within weeks I was off and writing Halo fan fiction. I wrote a story about a Marine trying to survive the horrors of Halo and it made a lot of people happy.

One of the my clearest memories is starting up the game and, after the logos in the beginning, seeing that initial menu screen. And hearing that chanting. It was like...nothing I had ever experience before. I knew that this was going to be something different. This was going to be something special.

I spent a lot of time playing the hell out of that game. Multiplayer wasn't even a thing for me, though. Not for a long time. Not just because there was no online capability at the time but also because I didn't know anyone else with an Xbox. However, the split-screen co-op capabilities meant that me and my friends, (mainly M. Knepper), could play the shit out of the campaign.

One of the things I absolutely loved about Halo is how often they reference Aliens. From the extremely obvious Sergeant Johnson, who is clearly a homage to Sergeant Apone, to the basic shape of the Pillar of Autumn to the dropship pilots. It was all so awesome. Probably the greatest one for me personally was this: 

In case it's too crappy quality to read, the third from the left sign reads LOST: CALICO CAT ANSWERS TO: JONESY. The only survivor of the original Alien film besides Ripley.

Another thing that totally blew me away was the Flood. I had no idea it was coming, and that was probably the best part of the game. The build-up was great: the mystery, the Covenant fleeing from unknown combatants, the glimpses of something totally different in the mist around you, the grizzly remains and the obvious clues that something had gone very, very wrong. In a way, it was kind of like Predator. The movie starts out like this badass action movie. Arnold and the guys are mowing down the bad guys, shooting the place up, having a laugh and delivering one-liners...and then, holy shit, they're getting picked off one by one by an unseen foe like they're nothing. An alien creature with far advanced technology that hunts man. I love the idea of the genre twist.

I also loved the non-traditional ending. Pretty much every game I'd ever played up to that point ended in a boss battle. Halo ended in a long, desperate drive while everything around you exploded. It was so intense and so well crafted.

Then, of course, there's the level design. It's beautiful. I personally loved the immense outdoors atmosphere. It was something that I've felt only Halo 3 has appropriately recaptured. None of the other games managed to get that feel.

What else is there to say about Halo? It's all been said before, a million times over. The visual aesthetic is brilliant, the soundtrack of breathtaking and the gameplay raised the bar and set the standard for a new era of First Person Shooters.

What Halo did for me personally was probably serve as a massive stepping stone on my way to writing novels. I wrote more fan fiction for Halo than any other IP, by far.

As for how it stands up today? It's still pretty awesome. I mean, I've played the game into oblivion, so I can't really play it for fun anymore, I'm far too familiar with it. But it's aged extremely well. It still looks and handles great.

Halo: Combat Evolved was awesome. If you haven't played it but you like First Person Shooters...that's kind of impressive. And depressing. Go play it!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Near Horizon: January 2017

So The Near Horizon is going to be my monthly newsletter that I'll normally update at the beginning of each month to kind of give everyone an idea of where I'm at on my projects and what can be expected over the next month or so. These will be pretty short.

Here at the beginning of a new year, I've begun working hard on The DOOM Chronicles. After taking like a two month break from it to wrap up my original novel series, The Shadow Wars, I've decided that it needs to get some serious work done on it. What I intend to do is to keep working hard on it through the whole month and hopefully finish off Episode One, or the novelization of the first DOOM game. Once that happens, I will be putting The Doom Chronicles on hiatus and start work on another project. The reason for this is because I don't want to get burned out, which has been a frequent problem for me.

That other project that I'm going to be working on is, for the moment, top secret. The few clues that I'm willing to drop about it are that it's Halo, it's horror and it's a crossover. It's also a completely new idea, something I've come up with just in the past few months, which is really exciting for me. I've already begun planning it and I'm about a third of the way done with the planning. I feel pretty good about this one and I'm excited.

Once that secret project is done, I will either get back to work on The DOOM Chronicles, write the first part of another HUGE series I'm planning, or do another single fan fiction. I'll make that decision when I get there.

Now, on the machinima front with Slow Boil Studios, I'm beginning to make progress on finishing Not Alone 2. The plan right now is to finish it up this month and then move right on into production of Not Alone 3, which will cap the trilogy off. At present, I have about half of the video assembled or roughly seven minutes of footage that's edited and ready to go. All the voice acting has been recorded, the plot planned, the music selected. (I really like the soundtrack for this one.) As a final note, I've got a lot of ideas for future machinima content.

On the S. A. Lusher front, which I know isn't technically Obsidian Productions but whatever, I'm taking a break for January to kind of recharge my batteries, and then I'm going to start working on a short story anthology that's going to be (hopefully) really cool. It's a semi-collaborative effort between myself and some really cool people. All I can say about is that it's vaguely cyberpunk-ish and definitely unlike anything else I've written before, which makes me both nervous and excited. I hope to have it done by like...April? Hopefully.

The last thing I want to say, which is sadly vague, is that I'll be slowly figuring out my new pen name and the first project for it. I feel like that's still kind of a ways off. Not like really far out there, like, I should have it all figured out and the first project started before June of this year. Sooner the better, honestly, but right now I'm still kind of in recovery from working five months straight. All I really want to say now is that I'll be attempting to seek publication through a small publisher to help me with the workload and that my first project will certainly be Sci-Fi/Horror. Basically, if you've read the Shadow Wars, imagine that, only the works are longer, the plots are better and the writing is more high quality. You know...hopefully.

That's about it. Honestly...I have like so many ideas. And a lot of them I'm super excited about. Unfortunately, I have to deal with the reality that if I'm going to get anything done, I have to parse down my focus to just a couple of projects and work hard as hell to finish them off. Otherwise I just keep starting new projects and never finishing anything. And I've been stuck in that hell before. I'm not going back.

Thanks for the support!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Welcome To Obsidian Productions

Hello and welcome to Obsidian Productions. I'm pretty thrilled to have you here.

I imagine the first question you have is: what the hell is Obsidian Productions?

I'll give you the short answer first: Obsidian Productions is basically the blanket name I use to encompass all of my fan fiction and machinima related works. This blog serves as a central hub of information and a catalogue for all such works.

Next question, I imagine, is, who am I? In short, my name is S. A. Lusher. I'm a self-published author who has been writing with a decent amount of consistency since January 2004, though I only recent came into any kind of success with my Shadow Wars novels, which are a series of Sci-Fi/Action novels with a horror bent basically featuring futuristic soldiers and mercenaries uniting to combat a galactic threat, a shadowy government agency and all sorts of crazy monsters.

But that's not what this blog is about, nor what I'm here to talk about.

So that answers those questions. But what kind of content do I actually provide?

Well, primarily I write fan fiction. I tend towards action stories with lots of horror elements. I tend to write fan fiction for video games, typically shooters, but sometimes other genres. I'd say at least half of my projects, probably more, are novelizations. So hey, you might find a rare or forgotten game that you used to like back in the day being novelized with a questionable quality by me!

Occasionally I write something totally different.

The other primary source of content I'll be releasing is machinima. Slow Boil Studios is my machinima...subsidiary, I guess? Like the name suggests, I'll be released horror machinima, though some of it will have, you guessed it, an action bent. I have other ideas for machinima that won't fall under either of these, but that's for later.

In order to not be keeping track of several different blogs and Twitters and Facebooks, any more than I already am, I've combined all my unofficial side projects under the blanket of Obsidian Productions. So all fan fiction and machinima-related news will be released through here.

Finally, the last of what could be considered the important stuff: my Patreon. I don't expect people to throw money at a Patreon account for me, but hey, even if only brings in like fifty bucks a month, that's still fifty bucks a month. And I could honestly use it. I won't say that I'm struggling, cause I'm not. But my financial stability is due more to luck than anything else. And luck can change. So, I figured it'd be stupid not to ask and make the option available. If you feel like donating something to me, even a dollar a month, I'd really appreciate it.

So, that's all of the pertinent stuff. Now I'm going to ramble on about the actual history of Obsidian Productions. If you don't care, you can stop reading here.

Okay, if you're still reading, then...cool. Let's get started.

I think that I first became familiar with the word obsidian either from the Deathstalker novels by Simon R. Green, or one of the Alien books. Not the novelizations, but the expanded universe ones. This was back in middle school. I immediately liked the way the word looked and then, after I actually figured out what it meant, I fell in love with it.

So, naturally, when I got signed up with fanfiction.net, I chose to call myself Obsidian Thirteen. Although originally it was Obsidian 13. That was in January of 2004. I wrote on that site with a fair amount of consistency under this moniker until January of 2009, when I decided to do a hard reset and I burned my profile to the ground, deleting every single story and renaming myself Obsidian Productions, with the intent at far more consistency in both quality and regularity of releases.

Over the course of the next few years I tried out a few different side accounts: Obsidian Enterprises, Obsidian Studios, stuff like that. They all had their own temporary reasons that ended up not lasting and ultimately I just went back to Obsidian Productions. In 2013, I began seriously pursuing a career as an author and fan fiction fell by the wayside.

Now that I am entering 2017 and I have finally wrapped up my fifteen novel series that I began back in 2013, I'm free to try other things. While I can't dedicate all of my time to fan fiction and machinima, obviously, as I'm still in need of money to pay the bills (I'm honestly not a very successful writer, monetarily), I've been seriously feeling the urge to write fan fiction and make machinima growing steadily more powerful over the past year, and I've decided to set aside some time to pursue it more seriously.

So, uh, yeah. That's it. Welcome to Obsidian Productions. I hope you enjoy what I have to offer. Thanks for being here!