Tag Archives: horror

Self-Searching: An Introspective

“Know Thyself” is an ancient and well known aphorism, but it’s one that is often mistaken, or misinterpreted, with a rather broad meaning. While I could break down the Ancient Greek and dissect the term, I prefer to explore what it means to me in particular.

My studies in Plato and Continental Philosophy have driven me to a very particular interpretation of the aphorism “know thyself,” that which Plato ascribes to Socrates in several of his dialogues, particularly Phaedrus and Protagoras. This splits the meaning of the phrase between two rather similar definitions.

gnothi seautonPhaedrus: “Now I have no leisure for such enquiries; shall I tell you why? I must first know myself as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous.” The direct text refers to the “newly” found philosophy of mythology, which Socrates says he has no time for, because he must know himself before exploring such vague, or “crude” tales, which take a great deal of time to study. This in turn details a much deeper trait — that of seeking understanding of the self before that of outside things, because you cannot understand the objective without having an understand of the subjective.*

*This is, of course, my personal interpretation of Plato’s writings here. There are many other ways to dissect this dialog.

Protagoras: “All these were lovers and emulators and disciples of the culture of the culture of the Lacedaemonians, and any one may perceive that their wisdom was of this character; consisting of short memorable sentences, which they severally uttered. And they met together and dedicated in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, as the first-fruits of their wisdom, the far-famed inscriptions, which are in all men’s mouths,-‘Know thyself,’ and ‘Nothing too much.’ Why do I say all this? I am explaining that this Lacedaemonian brevity was the style of primitive philosophy.” Here, Plato focuses on the uselessness of such aphorisms in their common usage — sayings which are expected to have a self-evident definition, yet it is typically unclear how one would live life according to their meanings. These sayings are typical by their broad definitions, and their reliance on personal discover, self-reflection and self-referencing for understanding. The deeper focus here is once again, how the subjective takes focus above and beyond the objective — one must understand such aphorisms, “know thyself,” before being able to apply them outwardly, or attempt an understanding of the outside influences upon them.

So by now you’re probably thinking “okay, what’s your point?”

“Know thyself” is a statement which references the self. Me. I must understand myself before I am able to understand anything else. The aphorism was popularized in modern culture by the film The Matrix (1999), and despite some of the film’s other lackluster attempts at philosophy, it manages a fairly solid interpretation of the phrase: “It means know thyself. I wanna tell you a little secret, being ‘The One’ is just like being in love. No one needs to tell you you are in love, you just know it, through and through.” Take this line to a second level of interpretation, much like when reading Plato, and you’ll find a rather poignant moment of foreshadowing for the film — Neo doesn’t become “The One” until he accepts himself as the role, and isn’t able to fulfill his fate as the savior of Zion until he better understands the manufactured part he plays in the story.

Again, you’re probably thinking “okay, seriously, what’s your point?”

Well here’s the point — lately my own thoughts have strayed close to the aphorism “know thyself.” I’ve been putting some significant focus on discovering who I am so far in 2015. This has been a trying year to date and I have discovered that, in order to better adjust to the necessary changes I have had to make, I need to understand myself better and interpret these life events through the veil of self-reflection/knowledge.

While, I am sure, my personal need to better know myself before seeking understanding in the world around me is exactly that, a personal need, perhaps there is merit in the idea that self-understanding benefits understanding of the Other. Consider this: In his first volume of the Horror of Philosophy, “In The Dust Of This Planet,”* Eugene Thacker explores how the horror genre attempts to think about the world-without-us, a term which describes the complete removal of the human when discussing the Planet (Earth), philosophically, using non-philosophical conventions. For Thacker, the Planet (world-without-us) is a wholly “Other” thing, something which cannot be understood in human terms, making it impossible to even think about it. It is truly “unknown.” Perhaps Otherness can never be understand in these circumstances; however, it is impossible to even attempt an understanding without first knowing the person seeking such understanding — myself.

*As a side note, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is even vaguely interested in philosophy, genre horror, or similar topics. I eagerly await volume 2, which should be arriving any day now.

Whether or not I am able, or even seek, to understand the Other, it is crucial for happiness and living a fulfilled life, that I understand myself. Knowing myself will allow me to know life, and that is an under appreciated skill…


A treatise on game design – Part 1

About two years ago I wrote about an RPG project I was working on at the time. While I still haven’t completed that project, I have put considerable more thought into it and I feel like it’s time to revisit the subject. My efforts in designing a game system from the ground up, and consequently a game world and story, have changed greatly, and now I’m working toward a slightly different goal.

The golden arches of a new age.Ultimately, developing an entirely new game system proved pointless in my efforts. I was trying to develop a system that would incorporate several new factors into it, but when all was said and done it was significantly easier to take another system – BRP, or Basic Role-Playing – and adapt it to my needs. My original idea was to create a system that used a broader range of options for combat, magic use and skills, and expand upon a percentage-based roll, much like BRP does. After working through several theories and trying to fine-tune a few ideas, I realized that it was much easier to just use BRP for the system, as all the other ideas I tried were more complicated – a direction I definitely didn’t want to go in. There is no reason for a game system to be more complicated than BRP, and the games that are are just too hard to get into because of it.

Following the decision to use BRP rather than develop my own system, however, I decided that I needed to create some customized rules to go along with it, mostly regarding the use of magic. BRP has a very basic magic system that works like any other skill within the game – roll a percentile dice and get below a skill number. Magic systems tend to become oversimplified if you follow this approach, with little room for specialization or growth.

In order to avoid this problem I decided to create a separate skill chart based on BRP‘s skill system, but focus on in depth customization. Players can select from different schools of magic and then select choose spells that then act as the skill.

Example: Player 1 selects the Pyromancy school of magic. He or she then has a certain number of skill points to assign here at character creation based on a formula – which is still being developed, sorry. Player 1 has 60 points to assign, which he or she decides to sink into two different spells – Fireball and Heat Manipulation. This allows Player 1 to create a sizeable ball of flame that can be launched at a target, such as a fire to light it or an enemy to damage it, while also manipulating already existing fire’s temperature – cooling a fire in order to keep it from spreading, perhaps, or increasing its heat in order to melt steel. Player 1 puts 40 points into Fireball, allowing him or her a moderate chance to create one of whatever size is preferred, and high accuracy when throwing of it. This leaves 20 points for Heat Manipulation, allowing for a low margin of success, but one that can be cultivated later.

This type of system allows for complete customization by the player while still keeping it simple and controllable by the game master.

However, there are so many other considerations that go into creating a game that is unique that I had to dabble a bit more with the BRP system and customize a few other factors. For one, certain skills didn’t work for the world I was creating, while a few new ones were necessary. The BRP rule set is designed for mostly real-world, modern settings. By adapting this, I can easily customize it for a post-apocalyptic horror game. I removed skills like Accounting, Anthropology, Drive, Pilot and Psychology and replace them with Barter, Ride (Horse), Magic, Scavenge and other skills more appropriately suited for survival in a harsh wilderness. This allows me to focus the ideas of the game more and set a better mood.

The final touch was in creating a system to control health. Not hit points, but rather disease, starvation, dehydration and other factors that would be more likely to affect the players. I decided to steal a page from Call of Cthulhu for this one. Much like Power affects Sanity, and the new rule set for CoC includes Luck – I could incorporate Hunger, Hydration and other attributes. This would allow me to create a pressing need for players to conserve water and food, and set a threshold for when their hunger began to negatively affect their ability to perform actions.

To be continued…


To the land of Lovecraft

The stars align once every so often, and when that occurs hundreds, nay thousands, gather in a mecca of sorts – Providence, R.I. – to discuss and celebrate the life and writings of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Less poetically put, tomorrow marks the unofficial start of the NecronomiCon-Providence, which officially begins the following day on Friday. Crista and I will be traveling down by train to spend the weekend basking in the glory of my favorite American writer and the otherworldly horror of which he studied.

Tentatively, we will attend panels on Forbidden Knowledge in 19th & 20th Century Modernism; Religion, Philosophy and Cosmic Horror in HPL and other discussions of The Cthulhu Mythos and Lovecraft’s work, as well as gaming and attending other various events around the city.

Should you be in Providence for this forsaken weekend, check out the festivities, and if not… Wish you were here.

I will be posting upon our return, and perhaps during the events, if the mood strikes me.

Till then.


RPG Project

Post-Apocalyptic World

Something like this would be a Post-Apocalyptic survivor junky's wet dream...

I’ve got the general makings for a pseudo-Post-Apocalyptic RPG setting running around in my head and I haven’t decided what to do with it yet (including whether I should scrap it or not).

The basic idea is a serious world, as most PA tabletop RPGs are a bit tongue-in-cheek, and that’s about it. Other than that I’m still torn between quite a few options, some of which I am going to lay out here.

Setting – The setting of an RPG can sometimes be the most important thing. Most Post-Apocalyptic worlds or either Realistic, Horror, or Sci-Fi. But there are many other options as well – High Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Western, Victorian-era, even Steampunk (haha no). So what time of world would I want to play in? Idealistically the game that comes out of this project would be adaptable to whatever setting the players want. If the rules allow for slight variation or customization, then you can transplant them from Horror straight into a Victorina-era Post-Apocalypse complete with vampires (or some such nonsense). So my thoughts are to design for a vaguely Realistic, maybe Low Fantasy-style world, but with complete adaptability.

Rules – Ah the rules. If the setting is the flesh of a game, the Rules are the bones of it. For creation testing, I will probably keep this in a D20 rule setting. Everyone I know that might be interested in playtesting knows it already, it’s easy to adapt, and most importantly I know it like the back of my hand… Wait, where’d that scar come from? Anyway. Ultimately I’d like to adapt whatever rule set that I use to come similar enough to feel comfortable to the players, but unique enough that… um… it’s unique.

Characters (Classes and Races) – Ah yes… to continue the terrible analogy, if setting is the flesh and rules are the bones, the characters are the blood of a game – the life force. Every game as characters, that’s the point. So what do I do with the character options? Well in part that depends on the setting. If this is a High, or even Low Fantasy setting, could players pick Elves and Dwarves for their classes? Ehhhh… yes. But what about Victorian, Horror, Western, etc.? What are the options there, just Human? Ideally, I would like to create a… rough outline of races based more on location. Think Midnight or Elder Scrolls: Oblivion/Skyrim for those more familiar with video games. The Northerners are a tall, stocky group with these natural skill sets… while Southerners are lithe and agile with these natural skills… That sort of thing. And if those goes well, addendum rules for Fantasy races are always an option. But at that point shouldn’t you just go play Eberron?

Finally, we come to the most important aspect… what makes a game Post-Apocalyptic? Well, that’s actually quite easy (to me).

Any PA-style game must have four basic elements to it, other than a ruined landscape (which, honestly, it doesn’t have to have).

  • A feeling of survival.
  • You must scavenge to survive.
  • Scavenging includes finding items to repair or replace current equipment… and health (you can’t just go to a shop and buy a new gun or some penicillin).
  • And a feeling of fear.

These may be the most important points for me in this game. If I capture those perfectly (or at least well) then I will be happy.

Any thoughts, ideas, suggestions or comments, feel free to leave them.

~Ian


NaNo – Day 1

TypewriterDay 1 of NaNoWriMo is officially over, and I have to say, went very well.

Most of the people I know met their word counts, and those that didn’t are planning on catching up at the first official Boston write-in tonight. My word count? Not as high as a few of the fellow Boston WriMo’s that I know, but 2002 isn’t too shabby I think. I’m happy at any rate.

Brandon informed me that I should have a quote of the day from each day of writing, so here was last nights. And I will preface it by saying yes, I am writing a horror novel.

I don’t bother telling her that my dream that night had centered around a man wearing her face as a mask slicing slivers of my skin off and feeding them to dogs with the heads of infants.

And that, ladies and gents, was my first day of NaNoWriMo. Expect more soon!


Sunday Reviews: Suspiria

SuspiriaMany of you may know that George A. Romero’s “…Of The Dead” series of movies are my favorites. Not just my favorite horror films, but of all movie genres. Many of you may not know however, that Romero worked quite a bit with Dario Argento, an Italian movie writer/director/producer, who made/worked on such wonderful films like Opera, Once Upon a Time in the West, and of course the two Masters of Horror shorts Jenifer and Pelts. But one of Argento’s earlier directorial works is Suspiria, a horror film about witches at a prestigious ballet school.

Suspiria starts off fairly strong. Good music plays through the credits, then a voice explains the opening plot (remember, ‘70s movie)… then you see a girl leaving an airport to flag down a taxi, and the cinematography masterwork begins. This is one of the finest areas of the movie actually. The camera work is just astonishing throughout, it’s not all fancy (Inception) nonsense, but rather simple yet effective beauty. Argento uses angles and a focus on simple actions (an automatic door’s mechanism opening and closing) to break the flow of movement in a way that actually seems to enhance it. It’s quite impressive, and really adds to the film rather than distracts from it, unlike poorer attempts in other films.

So the movie develops, and you see the girl arrive at her new ballet school. You see a girl get murdered. You see strange things happening! And as all this happens you are drawn in by the soundtrack quite nicely. At times I found myself paying less attention to the screen and more to my ears. The soundtrack of this movie, which was written and performed by Goblin, flows phenomenally, really drawing you in at the right times, setting the mood perfectly. Sadly, the dubbing does not. We were watching the English dubbed version, and I hate to say they did a really poor job with the movie. I need to acquire a subtitled copy. But besides that, the sound editing is amazing and, overall, of extremely high quality. Onward!

One thing I do have say about this movie is that some of the plot points are extraordinarily weak. Primarily the main “twist.” The entire witches idea comes out of nowhere, and could have been easily replaced with any sort of “horror” ideal, like demons, vampires, etc. It was not a well thought out plot point, but it worked. Although, the interpretation of witchcraft is so off base and misinforming that it’s almost offensive… but it was the ’70s. It just seems like they had this great idea for creepy things happening around this school… but thought up a reason for those things to be happening at the last second. An afterthought.

Also, the room full of razor wire? Really? Where did that come from? Why would that even be in there!? Silliness…

Room o' Razorwire

Those bales of wire you ordered? Yup! Loosely piled in that storeroom like you asked!

Throughout the film we started noticing certain things. “Why are they using watered-down paint for blood?” Or… “Wow, the movement in the pool scene was very graceful, well in keeping with the ‘dancer’ motif.” Both good and negative. Though we really developed a dislike of the dubbing. The English dialogue does not flow well in this movie… as I mentioned. At parts it makes the movie almost unbearable. So trust me, if you’re going to watch it try to find the subtitled version. But enough repeating… there are certain points of this film that really do stick out, both good and bad. The pool scene, the razor wire scene, the fact that every female basically has the exact same hair type and style… The fact that a young Udo Kier is playing a nice, intelligent psychiatrist (weird!)… Not so much distractions from the movie, but amusing things that we noticed while watching. Or things that add an entirely new level of excellence. It really seems that Argento’s success in this film is entirely in the technical work, leaving a little to be desired on the creative side. Although it’s hard to tell if the actors were good or not… DAMN ENGLISH DUBBING!

Overall, I personally really enjoyed this movie, as an example of excellent storytelling and cinematography in ’70s film. I wish I had the subtitled version, but things being what they were, it’s a good movie. Just keep in mind that its over 30 years old… Also, if you’re not into good horror, but more the slasher-Scream/Jason type, you may not enjoy it. It’s more of a subtle horror.

Creative: 3/5
Technical: 4/5


Changes!

Movie ReviewsI expect there to be a few changes around here! I expect this place to be kept tidy! I expect you to stop jumping on the bed! I… wait… no.. wrong context. Sorry… Sorry everyone.

So yeah, I know I mentioned changes, and obviously one of them was revealed yesterday, and you’ll get more information on that later. The next change is much less impressive. I’m going to do a little format changing on Aberro Specus here. This includes getting some more regularity in post topics, as well as a higher standard of material. Which hopefully you’ll see less posts with Colbert facedesking, and more posts with lengthy editorials on the Google+ nym wars. I have intentionally had little real content in my posts this week, because A: I’ve been busy, and B: I was working up to this post. Not that this one has much real content in it either, but it’s an announcement for real content coming soon. I guess that counts, right?

So – this is this the first change you’ll see coming to Aberro Specus – movie reviews.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to review a movie every Sunday. I love watching movies, usually horror, and I might as well put that to good use. Lately I haven’t been watching many movies, so I figure now is as good a time to start as any. There are no specifics in this, they might not be new movies. I like watching old movies. But, for example, I’ve never even seen Citizen Kane. Some would consider that blasphemy. I just haven’t gotten around to it… Hell, if you look at Time Magazine’s list of the All-Time 100 Movies, I’ve only seen… 27 of them. That number goes up on most other lists of “Greatest Movies of All Time” so… Time magazine probably just likes boring movies… but you get my point. I watch a lot of B-Horror, a lot of crappy action movies. I also watch a lot of classics and a lot of thought-provoking films. I also watch a lot of trippy stuff… So it’s not that I don’t watch a lot of movies, I just don’t watch a lot of what most people consider to be “the best.”

So what does this mean for you, the reader (all five of you)? Well, you get to read potentially entertaining reviews. You get to learn about a movie you might never have heard of. And you even get to give input! That’s right. Every Sunday, I’ll be taking recommendations/requests for the next week’s movie. So tomorrow, when I post my review (I haven’t even decided what movie yet), you can make recommendations in the comments as to what you’d like to see my review for next week. This comment thread will be open until the following Saturday, when I’ll make my decision, and watch that weekend’s movie. And hey, maybe I’ll watch Citizen Kane for tomorrow.

Clapping

I approve! Watch me!

So! Get to thinking. I’ll get to watching, and writing. And let the games begin.


World War Z – No Longer an Oral History…

World War ZIn 2007, Plan B Entertainment (the production company owned by Brad Pitt) acquired the rights make a movie of (the sequel to) the book that one could argue ably say returned zombie to popularity in 2003. World War Z. Long time fans were excited. New zombie minions groaned with anticipation. And then we heard very little. For a while. Then we heard about early leaks of the script, which all looked promising. Faithful to the book. Starring Brad Pitt, which is never usually a bad thing. Excitement abounds! Then Paramount brought another writer in to rework the script. And that’s when things started going downhill.

Paramount, in a press release earlier this month laid down the plot outline for the World War Z movie, slated to be released in December, 2012. And it’s not the book. It’s barely related to the book. Infact, I’m not even sure I recognize any of the character names from the announced characters. Any many, many fans are unhappy about this. I have yet to hear rumors of boycotts, but I’m sure it will happen. You see, fanatics are a fickle group of people. They like things to be exactly the way they want them to be. It’s a slippery slope movie companies have to climb when making an adaptation. On one hand they want to remain faithful (hopefully) to the source material. This makes the fans of the original work happy, as well as the creator of the original work. On the other hand, they want to make money. This is kind of the point of backing a movie (sadly). And when you a cater a movie to the people who were fans of the idea in the first place, you tend to alienate everyone else. So they have to change things to try and make a movie with broader appeal. Sadly – this is difficult to balance, and most production companies lean more towards money making than remaining faithful. So we get movies like World War Z, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which I still like), and… anything by Uwe Boll based off a video game

Bloodrayne Movie

Really? Ben Kingsley, you should be ashamed. Actually... you all should...

But, returning to World War Z… You take a book that is originally a “Oral History” of the zombie wars… with a interviewer meeting with various people discussing the actions they took and things they witnessed during this zombie war… and you collect these stories into a narrative. Excellent premise, great result. Now take World War Z the movie – A UN representative racing against the clock to stop the zombie pandemic from destroying the world. Stereotypical zombie movie. Guaranteed to fill the box office (if people aren’t sick of zombie movies by now). And also a stereotypical action/thriller. Nothing new, nothing innovative. Boring premise, great result (if the only result you’re looking for in ticket sales). So the original fans get screwed.

RedNow… obviously this doesn’t mean the movie will be bad. Many great movies are based off of other media and make drastic changes to the source material. Just look at Red, a movie based off Warren Ellis’ short comic. They had to make changes and add material because the comic was a oneshot… there wasn’t enough material to base an entire movie off of. But they did a fantastic job and made a good, enjoyable movie, that remained faithful to the feel of the comic. And of course there are others. But with a book like World War Z, which is a best-selling novel and has garnered thousands, if not millions, of fans – why deviate? The book is already an amazing tale with a strong fan base, why change things? Well – movies are of course a drastically different animal than books. It’s easy to be entertained by a book about someone interviewing people. In a movie though… that’s about an hour and a half of two guys sitting in a chair talking. I wouldn’t really mind that… but a lot of people would.

So on one hand there’s an action/suspense movie of a man racing around the world trying to stop a zombie apocalypse from happening. And on the other hand… a bunch of phenomenal actors sitting around being interviewed about a zombie apocalypse that was diverted… Personally… I’d like to see both made. But I wouldn’t call the first one World War Z.


So you want to make a movie…

Some friends and I are finally getting underway with our movie – Lazarus. We were actually supposed to start filming back in February, but money problems, schedules… and having most of our equipment stolen set that back. Finally we’re about to get underway again, with casting in a week (July 17th), and it’s pretty damn exciting. Lazarus is a short horror film featuring, you guessed it, zombies. We’ve gone through a few changes with the overall plot, but now we’ve finally got something solid we can back, and between the three of us we’re psyched. So what is Lazarus you might ask? Here’s our “official” synopsis.

A group of gaming geeks go out to a cabin in the woods to play their horror campaign in a more fitting setting, only to discover something far more real, but just as horrible, waiting for them.

But of course the plot is a bit more intricate than that. Basically, there are a group of gamers playing their horror D&D (or Call of Cthulhu – we’re not sure what game yet) at their local game store, when the clerk tells them about a cabin they can rent for a better setting for their game. Taking him up on the offer, they head out to the woods, only to be attacked. The rest of the film takes place primarily in said cabin. Of course that doesn’t sound all that interesting in and of itself, but there are twists, trust me. I just don’t want to give them away yet :D.

So why should you care? Well, if you’re reading this, you probably know me… and should care based solely on that fact ;-). But in all seriousness, it should be fun. We’re using all local talent, and locations in Delaware. We’re using as small of a budget as possible, although yes, we are still trying to raise money (more on that later). More or less, it’s going to be ridiculous fun, and hopefully a foot in the door of the film industry for everyone involved (not just the three of us who created the project).

So you want more information? Certainly. I hope you do, it means I’ve peaked your interest! The “official” page of the movie is currently it’s facebook page, which you can view here – Lazarus – Facebook. We also have a twitter account you can follow – LazarusFilm. You can also e-mail us with any question at LazarusFilm2011@gmail.com

So you want to support us? Awesome! We need all the help we can get, trust me… haha. If you’d like to spread the word about Lazarus either share this post, or the facebook page with your friends. If you’d like to back us, check out our Kickstarter page. Kickstarter is a project site where anyone can go on and pledge money to help out a project. The site is great because we offer rewards for different investment amounts, AND if we don’t raise enough pledges to meet our goal in the allotted time? We don’t get any money, and you don’t get charged. It’s an all-or-nothing system. So if you’re interested, go check that out, you can donate as little as a dollar.

Well, that’s all the information I have to share for now. Once we’ve gotten our cast together, and more underway I’ll have more to post, but for now check out the links, and enjoy.

~Ian