Author Archives: ericmikols

All the Books Show: Episode 112 – Spooky-lite

It’s a spOoOoOoOoOky episode! Because it’s Halloween month! Did you know I like Halloween? I do. You should know this by now.

We talk about this year’s additions to the horror genre, both Young Adult and regular Adult! You want scary teen adventures? How about There’s Someone Inside Your House? You want ghosts and evil spirits? Boom, here’s House of Furies, You want twins in danger and James Patterson’s name on a cover. Good news, we talk Crazy House.

jemc-cover-largeNic talks about three books and they’re possibly too scary. That The Grip of It sounds horrifying. Anything without skin is scary. Anything. Picture a duck. Do you have a clear image of a duck? Now, picture that duck without skin. And, yeah, it still has feathers. That’s terrible.

Even that cover is scary. WHY DOES IT KEEP SAYING, “A NOVEL”?!?

It’s also the one I might pick up if I had to choose. Crazy House too, maybe. I don’t love murder, so I doubt I’ll be reading There’s Someone Inside Your House, no matter how “subversive” it is. Everything’s subversive these days. Not this blog, though. It’s very traditional. Paragraphs and all, you know?

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Stream Recap – Alan Wake

61yl1rjcxsl-_sy679_In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Alan Wake was an interesting game, and one that felt like it was meant for the Playstation 2. Back on that console, a lot of games had one concept, sometimes two, and that was their main selling point. Prince of Persia had great combat and climbing mechanics, but it was sold on the concept of time manipulation. Final Fantasy X was a Final Fantasy game but it made a big deal about its voice acting. And Alan Wake is a third person action game with flashlight-based combat.

The core mechanics and concept would have fit right at home on the PS2 and I think the game might be looked upon more fondly if that was the case. But, the lighting and environmental effects needed the graphics of the Playstation 3 (or, in my case, a PC) to do it right. So, Alan Wake comes across as being part of two different generations. The PS2 qualities feel dated on newer machines, but it needs newer machines to work it’s mechanics.

alan_wake_f_01Playing the game today, I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride. I found the simple flashlight-based combat to be a fun variation on shooting a bad guy til he’s dead. I liked throwing flares around like grenades and blasting shadow monsters with shotguns. It wasn’t complicated but it was exciting.

I didn’t come across the public’s negative feelings about Alan Wake until after I played the game, so I was surprised to see how many complaints people had. While it sounds like the majority found the story to be a disappointing failure, I thought it was a silly roller coaster ride, just throwing twists and turns around for the fun of it. None of it made a tons of sense, but, in the moment, it was intriguing. The game never took me out of the story.

alan_wake_2Maybe that’s because it’s told in an episodic format. I’ve read how that bothered people back when it was first released, as a full game with recaps and end-of-episode breaks. Today, the concept of episodic gaming, and owning full seasons of Telltale’s series, is commonplace and didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it helped with streaming the game, because it gave me a great stopping place and, then, a fantastic recap to get me jazzed for another session.

I chose Alan Wake because I wanted to stream a spooky game for October and, while it wasn’t scary, it brought that Halloween vibe. It’s not survival horror, not really, but the setting and style help create an atmosphere that’s creepy without being scary, that’s off without being Silent Hill 2. I jumped but I didn’t hide under my bed. It’s got shadow monsters, Stephen King references and crows that want Alan’s eyeballs for dinner. I wouldn’t play it again, but I would happily buy a sequel.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – Day by Day Armageddon

510vg5q2bdilJ. L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon is written as journal entries. The whole book is journal entries. Reading the book is liking reading a journal, because the book is written in journal entries.

I hope I got across that this book is written as journal entries because that’s the one and only interesting thing about zombie-tale Day by Day Armageddon. I’m not being too harsh either, since most of the marketing and blurbs about the book are about how it’s written. But, where as Max Brooks’ modern classic, World War Z, used a unique format to tell enthralling zombie stories, Bourne uses his style to hide a dull, plodding book.

The beginning of the book starts out strong enough, with an account of how the zombie apocalypse comes about and how it escalates. The cause and effect of the early chapters works because there’s momentum in the dominoes of the modern world toppling over. But, even then, cracks begin to show.

Bourne reveals his amateurish writing from the beginning. I don’t want to call it lazy, because laziness doesn’t complete a book. But, you can write a novel without having much skill in the art. There’s an overemphasis on descriptions, from locations to activities. As we follow our main character, every step he takes is accounted for, even if he does the same things everyday. Now, that could be interesting, as it could be an examination of how monotony can ruin a person’s psyche, especially in survival situations. That’s what Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is all about and it’s fascinating.

Unfortunately for Day by Day Armageddon, Bourne isn’t up to the task. He rarely brings psychological ramifications to light and, when he does, they’re random and thrown away quickly. Thoughts like “Why am I still trying to live?” and “What’s the point of tomorrow?” are ignored as quickly as they arrive. Either Bourne isn’t interested in that type of story, or he thinks these quick snippets are enough.

Now, not focusing on the psychology of the character would be fine if that’s not the type of story Bourne wants to tell. But, I’m not sure what he is trying to say. Day by Day Armageddon isn’t an action story and it’s hard to feel tension when we know the character had to survive to tell the tale. It’s not a book about relationships falling apart or the evil nature of humanity. None of the characters have enough depth to invest in and there’s no dialog to learn from. There is a group of survivors who show up and cause trouble for the main group, but they’re taken care of without much fanfare.

Without any unique perspective or point of view, Day by Day Armageddon is just a daily account of someone taking the bus to the office. Except, even that type of story could be interesting if it had the right focus. Here, we’re reading about survival without purpose. The book doesn’t end with a cliffhanger or closure, it just ends. There’s no inertia given for the reader to want to continue the series. Bourne shows he has the commitment to write a book and get the technicality of it down, but he doesn’t have the skill to make it something worth reading.

If you’ve read more than the first book, maybe you can tell me if he gets any better as a writer. I doubt it, but I won’t be finding out for myself. Day by Day Armageddon is a book I wouldn’t recommend, even if you were desperate for zombie fiction. Maybe, when this book was written in 2010, we had less options and would read anything we could find. Today, you could spend years reading zombie apocalypses and never need to pick this up.

The Great Halloween Playlist – Volume 2

werewolvesWelcome to The Great Halloween Playlist – Volume Two! You can find the previous volume here!

Halloween is my favorite holiday and it’s the only other one besides Christmas that takes up the whole month. From October 1st to the 31st, it’s Halloween. And a month long holiday needs a soundtrack, it needs holiday music.

And I’ve been around the internet, I’ve seen the “best” lists for Halloween tunes. Some are good, some are bad and all include “Thriller”. But, I have my own list. My own Halloween playlist. And, yes, their true form is that of mix cds. I’m going to share this playlist, focusing on each cd, each volume, per post.

Two things to note before I start. There’s a good amount of instrumental music in each volume. Many of those tracks are video game remixes, mostly found from Overclocked Remix. There’s movie soundtracks too, but I just wanted you to know that music from Castlevania, Doom and Resident Evil shows up quite a bit.

Second, everything is personal and subjective. If you love these, great! If you don’t, make your own. Send me your list! Maybe you’ll inspire me to create another volume in this playlist of mine. Now, I’m done with disclaimers.

Fun fact about this volume, it was made at the same time as the first! It would be an annual undertaking afterwards, but I didn’t know that the first year. So, I went for broke with the first two and they act as companion pieces to each other.

Thus, we listen to Hallows’ Eve: Volume Two.

1. “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr.

The first song on each of these volumes is an important decision. If you’re listening to this playlist in cd form, the perfect form, it’s even more important. I’ve tried to keep each first song a fun one, because you don’t want a happy Halloween mood shut down with something more somber. But, a happy Halloween song can lift your somber mood! So…Ghostbusters”!

2. “Shikashi’s Dream” by anterroir

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a creepy game. That giant moon just keeps looking at you…watching. The characters in the game aren’t that much better and there’s always something a bit off about them. This song could be the theme for any of them. Apart from the game, it’s the song you hear when you find a lone cottage in the woods, where you shouldn’t be. There’s something off about it too. Leave.

3. “Mitternacht” by E Nomine

Mitternacht means Midnight! What’s scarier than midnight during Halloween! And checkout that beat. I don’t know about your experiences with German techno, so Happy Halloween, I give you the treat that is E Nomine!

4. “Panic of the Undead” by Noppz

“Panic of the Undead”, a remix from the game Zombies Ate My Neighbors, is a fun tune that has that uneasy carnival vibe we find so much during October. There might be zombies, sure, but there’s a Ferris wheel that’s moving on it’s own and a clown that’s just laughing for no reason. Even the giant teddy bears seem to have teeth. This song is the tilt-a-whirl.

5. “Flame” by Bell X1

I like an October song that feels like Autumn as well. “Flame” paints that picture. Dark nights after it’s been raining, toasting marshmallows in a haunting light. It’s romantic too, with that deep sense of unrequited longing and sometimes that can get a bit unnerving too. It might not be about ghosts and ghouls but it creates a scene that leaves room for them.

6. “Clairvoyant Eulogy” by The Orichalcon

The creepiest Pokémon track from the creepiest Pokémon town. Lavender Town knows it has ghosts and the villagers just live with it! This source tune will come back in a later volume because it’s just so haunting. That repetitive opening, that sorrowful chorus, it fits the spirits that are still living in our house so well. Grab a flashlight before you go to bed.

7. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson

Hey, look, it’s “Thriller” on a Halloween playlist! Guess I’m a freaking sheep! Why else would I put this funky, rocking, so dance-able-it-makes-the-dead-groove song on my list? It’s probably the biggest and most obvious Halloween song out there, and even if you don’t like it, it has to be here. It’s earned it.

8. “The Accursed Seal” by Juan Medrano

A remix of “Bloody Tears” from Castlevania II was always going to end up on this playlist. It just so happens that Juan Medrano’s mix rocks too hard to ignore. It’s one of the harder songs throughout all the volumes, with that crying guitar just looking for someone to set it free. There’s that carousel-like bridge but it gets right back to business. This song chooses action over chills when it comes to vampires.

9. “The Twilight Zone” by Rush

The Twilight Zone is one of the best shows I never watch enough. Rush captures the sense of eeriness and otherworldliness that the show did so effortlessly. They wrap references and images in an already fantastic song, with that trotting bass and those almost teasing “nananas”. If a show like The Twilight Zone doesn’t deserve a song during Halloween, then nothing does. Also, 2112 is a fantastic album.

10. “Deadside Dance” by Alexander Previert

I’m such a sucker for voice samples in songs. “Deadside Dance” is full of moody and corny pieces of dialog, but, combined with the relentless beat of this mix, they create a spooky atmosphere of shadow and magic. We’re dealing with the end of the world and crossing over to the land of the dead here. You, like myself, don’t even need to have played the Nintendo 64 game to appreciate this song during those overcast evenings.

11. “Fatal” by RZA

The only good thing to come out of Blade: Trinity and I’m sure RZA could have put this out without that toothless vampire film. This song is the complete opposite of the movie, it’s all bite. Have vampires ever sounded this BA before? RZA makes them sound so frustrated, so ready to take back the night. It might be about Dracula, it might be about you. The important thing to remember is to not cross (get it?) a vampire in the night. (Also, I made that video more than ten years ago).

12. “My Loved Ones Are Gone” by Psycho Crusher

There hasn’t been a lot of sorrow on this volume but,  when it does shows up, it works. “Shikashi’s Dream” and “Clairvoyant Eulogy” had it and so does this song. It’s brutal, yes, like the moment you bust into that evil house and start cutting your way through the undead. But, you’ve lost many to get here and you’re not sure you’re going to make it out alive. How can you trust a guitar that sounds so heartbroken? That’s when it’s the most desperate!

13. “X-Files (UNKLE Variation On a Theme Surrender Sounds Session #10)” by Mark Snow

I really do mean to get back into the The X-Files. I think I’m in the middle of the third season? I remember an episode with Jack Black. For the purpose of this playlist, it doesn’t matter because the main theme from the show is strong enough to stand alone. It’s so eerie and evocative that’s it’s easier to understand why this was the one of the most recognizable tunes of the 90s. Even if you didn’t watch the show, you knew to be creeped out by this song. And this version from the last movie is a great variation that might even improve on the original.

14. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult

And classic rock is the gift that keeps on giving. I’d say it’s not as woodsy and Lovecraftian as Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” but this song is haunting in it’s own way. The images of blue candles, ghosts and lost loved ones fit the holiday well and the bridge is right out of The Twilight Zone. It helps that it’s one of the best rock songs of it’s time.

15. “Neighburgers” by Protricity

Zombies Ate My Neighbors are back! And on the same volume! What might have been a glaring mistake made by yours truly has turned into a happy accident as this mix is darker and a lot more teasing. It rocks a little more, feels less like a carnival and more like a chase you can’t escape. It’s rainy and suburbia is dark.

16. “Halloween (Speedy Mix)” by Aqua

We return to Aqua’s helium-induced singing for the StepMania version of their song “Halloween”. It’s quicker, shorter and would work well on Dance Dance Revolution. Not much to add, other than I like the song so much, I found a way to get it on this playlist twice.

17. “Blood Bath” by Mazedude

I told you we would return to Doom II‘s Into Sandy’s City” and so we have. The other mix, “31 Seconds”, was a somber piece of cheese wiz. “Blood Bath” is lactose intolerant and sets out to be horror show. The title seems all too appropriate. It’s heavy, it’s scary, it feels like the dark Halloween nights we don’t want to be part of. But, with a soundtrack this good, maybe it’s worth the risk. And the axe in the back.

18. “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon

After “Blood Bath”. we needed to end on a lighter note. And sure, the werewolves have taken over, but it seems so fashionable. They’re hanging out with the Queen, for pumpkin’s sake! There’s still elements of danger, such as lungs being ripped out, but, mostly, Warren Zevon is more interested in their perfect hair. I’d rank this alongside “Thriller” in being required Halloween listening.

All the Books Show: Episode 111 – The Sexiest of New Books

This week, it’s all about new books! Well, so is every week. Books release weekly. That’s how books work.

I always feel bad because I never sound super excited for the books I bring to the table, but that’s because I present the young adult releases! I’ve mentioned before that the YA bracket doesn’t always click with me. It’s a very high concept field, which I like, but the execution never sticks the landing.

ya-ms-stork-disppearedBut Disappeared, by Francisco X. Stork, sounds pretty good. It looks like it would be a quick read too, and that helps when I’m reading young adult. I don’t understand why so many of these books are five hundred page tomes. Books like Adrift by Paul Griffin or Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys are much more enjoyable because they move at a reasonable pace, know how to grip the reader and don’t overstay their welcome. Disappeared sounds like it gets it.

And Hunting Prince Dracula doesn’t sound terrible either! Kerri Maniscalco‘s first book, Stalking Jack the Ripper, was one of the more popular books at the library when it was released. But, that darn James Patterson had to put his name on the cover, keeping me from picking it up. I’d love to know if that actually helps with young adult book sales, but, then again, I’m talking about it!

Also, how cool did that Bond-not-Bond sound? I’m gonna have to check out Forever and a Death.

You can follow us on SoundcloudYoutube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Stream Recap: Dishonored

dishonored-coverIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Dishonored wasn’t even on my radar until the sequel was released. That game got so much press and high review scores, it was hard to ignore. Considering, I’ve yet to find something to scratch that Bioshock itch, I made sure to pick up the first Dishonored when it went on sale.

Now, I chose Dishonored as the game to follow up The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky because, holy cow, that game was a long one. Being a JRPG without any voice acting, there was lots of reading aloud, diving into combat systems and stretches of story where I sat and watched with the controller on the pillow next to me. I needed a game that would provide a little bit more of an adrenaline rush. I wanted ACTION, I wanted ADVENTURE!

Okay, technically, I wanted to play a Tomb Raider game but I didn’t own the next title in my run. So, Dishonored it was! Did the game provide the kick that I was looking for? The ADVENTURE?

boyle_2First, I’ll admit, I didn’t realize how much of a stealth game it was going to be and that set off some warning signs. I’m no good at stealth games. I lose patience with Hitman, fail at Splinter Cell and often fell off the sides of walls during Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. But, Dishonored handled stealth in a way that matched my type of play style. Heck, the game  even referred to it as the High Chaos it was. Yes, you can play the game as a ghost and never be seen, and never use your blade in combat. Or, you can play like me and kill anyone blocking your path, turning them into dust and feeding them to rats.

Now, doing such a chaotic run made for some disappointed looks and judgemental remarks from NPCS. But, the way I saw it, I was role playing the character Corvo was, not who people wanted him to be. I was an assassin who was framed for the murder of his queen and lover, who’s goal was rescuing and protecting the heir to the throne (not to mention, my daughter, probably). I wasn’t looking to play nice. Nice went out the window when I went to prison for a crime I didn’t commit. So, when people shook their heads in shame because I eliminated a threat with my knives and not my words, I just smiled and pitied them for not understanding how the world really works.

dishonored-guide-rune-location-guide

I liked that Dishonored is a stealth game that knows that some people don’t like or are no good at stealth. I could choose to go through each level however I pleased, and it was entertaining in way that the Hitman games have never been for me. And, like Bioshock, I could dig into the world as much I wanted, choosing to read the lore through books or just picking up tidbits as I went about my merry way.

It didn’t necessarily satisfy the craving for action I had, but it was a rather brisk romp through a cool looking world as a teleporting back stabber. In reality, I probably only played it so I could get to the much hyped sequel. But, Dishonored 2 still costs pretty penny so it might be a while. I wouldn’t say it was the most absorbing game in the world, and Corvo had to make some pretty dumb decisions for the plot twists to work, but it was a fun game and got me through the rest of September. Now, it’s time for something spooky.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – The Three Body Problem

20518872The Three Body Problem took me forever to finish but I always enjoyed my time reading it. Because it’s hard science fiction, long and translated from Chinese, the book itself is dense. Every page takes time to get through and skimming will only hinder any understanding or enjoyment the book provides.

The first chapter starts in China during the sixties and I realized how little of China’s history I know. We follow cultural revolutions, scientific movements and political restrictions, most of which were new to me. I think I might have to pick up a history book next. The rest of the story is told in the modern day, as we follow scientist Wang Miao as he tries to understand visions that keep appearing as a countdown in his photographs.

The Three Body Problem takes its time getting to the main plot of the story. By that, I mean, it takes until the last fourth of the book to reveal what’s really happening. If the back of the cover didn’t tell me what this series was, I would have been fairly surprised by the change in direction.

For a long time, the book seems focused on these visions Wang Miao keeps seeing. Then, it’s more focused on this weird video game that shares its title with the book. The game, which doesn’t seem like something I would ever want to play, deals with players trying to solve an alien planet’s predicament of having three suns. See, you can’t really predict seasons, and most seasons are either freezing or scorching, so civilization can’t really grow. It’s a game that only a few brilliant players invest time into and there might be a bit of The Last Starfighter going on behind the scenes.

And that’s the book. Reading about Wang Miao’s gaming sessions, his visions and the scientific history of 1960s China. The mystery isn’t really handled like a mystery, the plot doesn’t really move along at a quick pace. By the time the reader and the characters know what’s really going on, there’s more behind us than ahead.

But, as I said at the beginning, I always enjoyed myself while reading the book. It’s dense, yes, but it’s never dry. I didn’t understand everything, especially near the end when the books got into particle physics. Michael Crichton always wrote in a way that made me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much helium in a balloon!” Liu Cixin writes in a way that makes me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much…wait, no. How many protons are in that much helium? What’s the quantum integrity of a common balloon? Wait, what exactly is particle physics? I dont…I don’t get it!”

And it’s still enjoyable! I don’t understand it all, but it’s not necessary to have a physicis degree to follow the plot. It’s also interesting to be reading this type of book written from a completely different perspective than I’m used to finding. Views on culture, science and extraterrestrial life never totally line up with what I’m used to, even if it’s just a different way of experience the same facts. It really is fascinating to see how different American science fiction can be from other countries, but also how strong the similarities can end up. Science is science in any language but it’s how we interact with it that create such different cultures. The Three Body Problem, which won Best Novel in the 2015 Hugo Awards, is a heavy read, but a fascinating one.

The Great Halloween Playlist – Volume 1

79901561-image_561eb20db805fWelcome to The Great Halloween Playlist – Volume One! You can find the volume two here!

Halloween is my favorite holiday and it’s the only other one besides Christmas that takes up the whole month. From October 1st to the 31st, it’s Halloween. And a month long holiday needs a soundtrack, it needs holiday music.

And I’ve been around the internet, I’ve seen the “best” lists for Halloween tunes. Some are good, some are bad and all include “Thriller”. But, I have my own list. My own Halloween playlist. And, yes, their true form is that of mix cds. I’m going to share this playlist, focusing on each cd, each volume, per post.

Two things to note before I start. There’s a good amount of instrumental music in each volume. Many of those tracks are video game remixes, mostly found from Overclocked Remix. There’s movie soundtracks too, but I just wanted you to know that music from Castlevania, Doom and Resident Evil shows up quite a bit.

Second, everything is personal and subjective. If you love these, great! If you don’t, make your own. Send me your list! Maybe you’ll inspire me to create another volume in this playlist of mine. Now, I’m done with disclaimers.

Thus, we begin with Hallows’ Eve: Volume One.

1. “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers

Cheese and Halloween are best friends and this song is a no-brainer. I’m almost embarrassed to have this on the playlist, it’s so obvious. But, it represents an era that brought about the first monster movies and B-movie pleasures.  It’s a required addition, yes, but it’s a fun way to start of the holiday season.

2. “Castlemania” by AmIEviL

I love the energy in this one. It’s an old mix from the site but it still has life. It’s not a creepy song, at least not until the end, but the original tracks from the NES game have a gothic funk to them.

3. “White Claudia” by K. Praslowicz

I’ll be the first to admit that I like “spooky” not “horror”. So, no, I haven’t played the Silent Hill games. I’ve seen them played, I’ve read about them and even started the second one for about two hours. But, they’re too much for me. Luckily, I can handle the music and this song remixes the track in a grungy, creepy fashion that feels like an old Japanese horror film from the 80s.

4. “Halloween” by Aqua

I know enough about Aqua to tell you that their second album, Aquarius, is the superior one. It’s also the album that gave us this silly song that still has a way of building up anxiety. No, it’s not “Thriller”, even with a silly narration but it represents the comedy of the season and an ode to slasher films.

5. “31 Seconds” by John Revoredo

This is the first track on this playlist that mixes creepy with that sad, lonely feeling you get during October. Those voice samples recall 50s B-movies but the piano pulls the original’s metal qualities back to something more human. This isn’t the last time we’ll see “Into Sandy’s City” remixed, as the original is a killer and has a lot to play around with. But, this mix fits nicely here to add a somber mood to what’s has been some frontloaded silliness.

6. “Somebody’s Watching Me (Single Version)” by Rockwell

What I like about “Somebody’s Watching Me” is that, yes, it’s silly, but it’s still makes you look around to make sure you’re not being followed. I think a good, cheesy Halloween song can still bring the goosebumps. Halloween is us having fun at death’s expense, but death is still watching us as we laugh. Maybe “Somebody’s Watching Me” isn’t that deep, but it might make you check under your bed before you go to sleep.

7. “The 2nd Law – Isolated System” by Muse

I’m not a Muse fan, even though I keep finding Muse tracks that I like. This song was part of the opening credits of World War Z, and it’s now connected with zombies for me. That makes this the first zombie track of the playlist! Like “31 Seconds”, this song is sad and creepy. If I’ve had too much caffeine,  it’s probably stressing me out. It paints the picture of gray skies, falling leaves and not being able to trust anyone.

8. “This Is Halloween” by Danny Elfman

Maybe the closest Halloween has to a “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” for music. Danny Elfman is able to create a piece of music that might creep out younger listeners, but it’s all in good fun. If Christmas music is about reminding us of snowflakes and cookies, this song is about wolfmen and bog monsters. It’s a tour, if you will, through what makes Halloween so much fun. It’s also, surprisingly, the only real, full Halloween song in a Nightmare Before Christmas. 

9. “Lost Sanctuary” by Daknit and Eric Dude

I’ll show throughout this playlist that a repetitive, creepy riff will freak me right out. There’s nothing technically impressive with this song, it doesn’t change much throughout it’s four and a half minutes, but it gives me the willies. It’s persistent and lackadaisical, like a stalker in the woods with all the time in the world. Gah, just typing that while listening to this song creeped me out! You’re a chicken! YOU!

10. “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” by Johnny Cash

An old song that hasn’t been bettered since Johnny Cash got his hand’s on it. He’s able to take this song that’s part country living, part morality warning and turn it into something that fits a leaf-covered cemetery. Is it his voice, that already has a haunting rasp? Is it that Cash even seems a bit unnerved by the sight of these ghost riders? I mean, if Johnny Cash is shook up, who am I to pretend to be brave?

11. “The Predator” by E-Type

I mean, this about vampires, right? It has to be! I never saw the movie but it feels like this would have fit for Jennifer’s Body. That was vampire film, right? Also, who says we can’t dance during Halloween? And, yes, I have a whole story for this song laid out, about a boy in college watching all his friends get taken out by this girl, and he’s the only who believes she’s a vampire, so he hunts her down and they have a big fight in the school’s chem lab which catches on fire and they end up out the window into a busy freeway and she gets away but he was right, dammit! He was RIGHT!

12. “In the House – In a Heartbeat” by John Murphy

As unnerving as they get, really. The track is from one of the most intense scenes of the excellent 28 Days Later but that guitar carries the song out of the movie and into every October. You can just feel your blood pressure go up as that unrelenting piano gives the sense of escalation without ever picking up speed. Axes in doors, window’s breaking, something on the roof. It’s Halloween!

13. “Season of the Witch” by Donovan

Donovan is one of the greats and here he creates a trippy, twangy creepshow. Is he losing his mind or is something really after him? All he knows is it must be the Season of the Witch. This is a song that works during anytime of day, making mornings just as eerie as nights. That organ doesn’t help matters. You know who plays organs? Witches.

14. “Wet Grass Inspired” by AmIEvil

Diablo is another game that freaked me out when I was younger so I’ve never played it all the way through. AmIEvil (he’s back, baby!) takes the creepy, atmospheric tune that is “Tristam” and folks it up a bit. There’s a chill in the air and it still feels at home with a forest-cloaked village. I wouldn’t want to get lost in these woods.

15. “Disturbia” by Rihanna

Let’s take a moment and be thankful for Rihanna. Not every generation gets a Rihanna. Which means not every generation gets a “Disturbia”. Still one of her best, it’s also the perfect track for any Halloween party. The song is celebrating the chaos, all while lamenting being trapped in this upside down world. It’s a haunted house of a song that spills out into to the neighborhood. It keeps us dancing while we’re trying to remember if all the knives are put safely away.

16. “Grindhouse (Main Titles) by Robert Rodriguez

The last track of the first volume of this playlist and we close out with filth and debauchery. The music is from the opening titles of the only good film from the double feature Grindhouse. Planet Terror is a silly, schlocky zombie film but it knows it. Likewise, this sax-guitar sleezefest knows what it’s about. Zombies, blood, burnt out cars and empty hospitals. Halloween can be silly but it can also bring out the punk in all of us and while that might be a little funny, it can be dangerous as well.

Stream Recap: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

288560-the-legend-of-heroes-trails-in-the-sky-windows-front-coverIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

How long has it been since I played a JRPG? If I can stretch the genre definition, it might have been Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, and that would be 2007. If not that, I guess it would be the first Kingdom Hearts game? I’ve played the first ten Final Fantasy games, Xenosaga, Dark Cloud 2 and few others, but I haven’t picked up the genre in a long time. It used to be one of my favorites, one that was a defining feature of my gaming and that I found very cozy.

The point is that I haven’t played a legitimate JRPG in over ten years. Obviously, I had to get back into the genre with one of the most critically acclaimed titles. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a full-blown Japanese Role Playing Game. Long play time, tons of world building and novel-length levels of text. It was a deep dive back into the genre.

I prefer these recaps to be more experience related than technical reviews, which is why I’m going to start with a negative comment, because it effects my full enjoyment of the game. When it comes to JRPGs, I prefer the “epic” quality that comes with a Final Fantasy game. I like fighting against the end of the world, against empires and gods. I like intense back stories that make the X-Men jealous.

the-legend-of-heroes-trails-in-the-sky-pc-screenshot-1-www-ovagames-comTrails of the Sky is much more…pleasant. The gist of the story is that the two main characters are traveling to see the world and get promoted to full time protectors of the nation. The world isn’t ending, many problems are local and deal with mayors and sewer adventures. Near the last few hours of the game, Trails in the Sky becomes something more akin to what I like in the genre. The stakes feel bigger, the dungeon is grander and there’s an epic atmosphere about the whole thing.

Now, a pleasant game isn’t bad at all. Pokemon Sun and Stardew Valley are pleasant games. But there’s so much reading involved with Trails in the Sky that it felt exhausting to move forward, especially since the story wasn’t really tugging at my interest. Since I was streaming the game, I was reading all the dialogue out loud and that got tiring as well. There’s a lot of repetitive dialogue, a lot of stating the obvious that becomes clear when your actually saying it. There were times where I was craving action, even the ability to just move around. Compared to Final Fantasy VIII or Xenosaga, where I was compelled to follow the story, Trails in the Sky could feel like a chore.

159009-legend_of_heroes_-_trails_in_the_sky_the_usa-5I also learned that if you’re going to give a gravely voice to a character, make sure they’re not going to be in the game for thirty hours. I think my voice is finally recovered from that mistake.

For the most part, the game was fun. I liked the battle system, the retro graphics and plenty of the characters. The music was hit or miss but when it hit, it packed a punch. I hated the monster designs but loved the avatar expressions. It also stuck the ending. Even with the issues I had while playing, I still want to get to the sequel someday, if only on the strength of the first game’s climax. However, I won’t be starting it anytime soon. I need more action at the moment, whether that’s a platformer or shooter. October is on it’s way, so I’ll have some Halloween games planned as well. The next JRPG I play will probably be Valkyria Chronicles, and Final Fantasy XV is on it’s way to the PC…

I think what Trails in the Sky did for me was get me back into and interested in JRPGs. It’s a classical take on the genre and reminded me of what I like about those type of games. If it’s the launching pad for my renewed interest, then that’s a pretty great legacy.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

All the Books Show: Episode 107 – Summer Reading, Having a Blast

This week’s episode of the show is like the killer app you’ve been missing from your life. It’s like the summer love you didn’t pursue. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. And isn’t it ironic…don’t you think. A little too ironic…and, yeah, I really do think…

9781472911254This summer was not great for my reading. Nothing was a real, great read. I read a bit too many books I had to for work, ventured out once or twice and didn’t find any fertile new ground. When the best book I read was The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, something might be up.

Last summer, I had a lot of great books I was reading. I devoured Masters of Doom and Lord of Light. I read and started some great comic series. I let other things distract me this summer so I’m going to try and do better this autumn. I’m going to focus on topics I’m interested in and read books I want to read. Plus, my Halloween reading is right around the corner…

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See you next week, podcats!