Tuesday, May 2, 2017

New story: TV-P

TV-P is now live.

I like how this one turned out. A rare thing for me, when I write something humorous...

Full story published here.


TV-P
By James L. Steele

Lisa shouldered the door open and walked inside, clutching three bags of groceries on two arms. The elderly woman closed the door with one foot and looked around the living room.

"Babies! Mommy's home! Babies, where are you?"

Lisa stood at the door for a moment. Uncertainty quickly changed to bewilderment. This wasn't normal. They always came to the door and welcomed her home, but her three dogs and four cats were nowhere in sight. She glanced at the fish tank against the far wall. She didn't see the fish in it, just empty water bubbling away. Next to the fish tank was Larry's tank. The plastic roof and sunlamp had fallen on the floor, and the gecko was gone.

The fish tank and the muffled drone of the refrigerator were the only sounds in the house. It was quiet. It even smelled different.

Lisa looked around one more time. She didn't see or hear any movement through the whole house. Shrugging off a slight chill, she stepped into the living room, grocery bags carefully balanced between both arms.

Suddenly a lone howl came from the bedroom. The howl was joined by two others and rose in pitch through the back hallway. Lisa's three shiba inus stormed into the living room and surrounded her on three sides. The ankle-high dogs snarled at her, teeth bared, curled tails held as high as they could be.

"Babies?" Lisa said, taking a step back.

She walked right into the jaws of the little dog behind her.

...


Read the whole thing here!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods. Wow... This is quite an experience in an indie game.

Mae has just dropped out of college, and she returns home to Possum Springs, an old mining town that has fallen on hard times.

Unlike most adventure games, Mae--the player--doesn't have amnesia. She knows everyone in town, and she wants to reconnect with them. She's only been away 2 years, but she discovers everything is different.



Nothing is quite as she remembers. The people are depressed, and everyone walks around with a chip on their shoulder because Possum Springs is drying up. Jobs are fleeing, people are out of work, and those who have a job can't make a decent living.

All Mae's old school friends are working crap jobs, and they seem to have grown up, and bitter. Everyone has matured except Mae. She is trapped between childhood and adulthood, and she doesn't know how to cross from one to the other.

Something strange is going on in Possum Springs. Something strange is happening to Mae...

The game is incredibly well-written. You get to know these people and their extensive histories so well you really do care about them. Even when they're doing mundane things, somehow they're interesting. Everyone has a defined personality, and their dialogue reads so fluid and natural.

Night in the Woods is pretty much an interactive cutscene. Think "To The Moon." Very little gaming to do, but the story it tells is so interesting, and the characters are so much fun to get to know, that I didn't care.

(There's always Demon Tower to satisfy the bloodlust after reading all that dialogue.)

The story thoroughly engrossed me, and I did not expect it to. It's engaging, funny, and more mature than I expected. Two of Mae's friends are openly gay! Mae was apparently a little criminal as a kid, and slipping into that role now was a strange experience. There are even political undertones in the story.

It's easy to get lost in this town for hours at a time. Not because the town is massive and interesting to explore. (It's actually quite small, and while there are some things to do apart from the current "mission," I wouldn't call it open-world. These side-tasks do affect the narrative in subtle ways though.) Rather, Mae's childhood friends are so much fun! I wanted to spend time with all of them! I even felt bad when I went with one and not the others because I wanted to get to know all of them!

My only complaints are... sprite slowdown?! Really?! More than a dozen polygons on screen at once, and the game slows down?! No excuse for that. And... loading screens... Lots of them... And some events are quicktime, but the buttons on screen do not match my controller. It told me to press button 8, or 9, or 6, but my gamepad is labeled A, B, X, Y. Never did fully memorize which was which. These are hardly game-breaking issues though.

It tells the story of this generation. Kids who aren't allowed to grow up as their parents did, and they don't know how. An economy that no longer seems to be working for anyone has made socialists out of an entire generation of young people, and even some of the older fellows. Surprising to see this in a game story, and it very clearly captures the times.

This is quite a story. Smart, nuanced, and even profound. It pulled me in and never let me go. If you can enjoy a novel disguised as a game, this is a must-play.