A piece of mine, entitled  Headway,  has been longlisted for the Online Writing Tips Short Fiction Prize. "...we’re thrilled with the...

Longlisted for the 2017 Online Writing Tips Short Fiction Prize

A piece of mine, entitled Headway, has been longlisted for the Online Writing Tips Short Fiction Prize.

"...we’re thrilled with the quality of work we have left. The list features experienced, many-times published and prize-winning authors, but also includes many exciting new voices. We have stories from almost every continent in the world."

Further information, as well as the names of the other authors on the longlist, can be found here.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR PLEASE DON'T FEED THE TROLLS Armada  and  Mango , two of the "Five Gods of Melee" and, arguabl...

Super Smash Bros. Melee: Fifteen Years and Counting

Armada and Mango, two of the "Five Gods of Melee" and, arguably, the two greatest players of all time.
Super Smash Bros. Melee was first released in Japan on November 21st 2001. Just over fifteen years later, on January 22nd 2017, the Smash Melee singles event at Genesis 4 peaked at approximately 118,000 viewers. At Evo 2016, just under 233,00 people watched Juan 'HungryBox' Debiedma of Team Liquid take first place, winning $14,232. Compared to the mind blowing $20,000,000 prize-pool of Dota 2's The International 6, or the 36 million unique viewer count of League of Legends' Worlds finals in 2015, Melee's numbers may seem insignificant in comparison. They're not. Melee is special. There's nothing else quite like it in the world of eSports.  A party game, released fifteen years ago, is more popular than ever; Melee is only just hitting its stride.

When comparing Melee to other successful eSports titles it is clearly an anomaly; it has no online capabilities, there aren't continual balance patches, it's not updated, there have been two additional Smash Bros. titles since Melee was released. Gameplay wise, apart from a few regional differences, Melee hasn't changed since the day it was released. Fifteen years ago. To put that into perspective, the original Dota was released in 2003, two years after Melee. Imagine if people were still playing that version, with no updates today. Or another example: Imagine a scenario where 2015 was Quake 3 Arena's biggest year.

Even after fifteen years, Melee hasn't become stale. It's the opposite, new techniques and styles are constantly developing.
PPMD does the famous "Ken Combo" on Plup at Evo 2015.

The King, Five Gods, and a God-Slayer

The success of any video-game as an eSport is usually down to its fans and Melee is no different, but what sets it apart from its contemporaries is the social aspect of the competition. Melee isn't played online against someone you don't know and will probably never meet, it's played against the person sitting directly next to you and if they beat you, you'll be seeing them again at the next tournament. Melee didn't just have competition; it had beefs and disputes where titles were hotly contested; it had an East Coast v West Coast rivalry complete with diss-tracks; it had money matches and smack talk. Those fierce rivalries led to incredible story-lines, those story lines were documented by the community, written on smash boards and recorded on tape. Through those rivalries, story-lines, and documentation, the legends of the game were born.

The incredible The Smash Brothers documentary series is essential viewing:

First, there was Ken Hoang: The King of Smash. No one since has had as dominant a reign. He was the undisputed best player in the world between 2003-2007, from his first tournament until his retirement. He returned in 2014 and still attends tournaments, placing respectably a decade later. 

Ken retiring made way for the "Five Gods of Melee", Jason 'Mew2King' ZimmermanJoeseph 'Mango' MarquezJuan 'HungryBox' DebidemaKevin 'PPMD' Nanney, and Adam 'Armada' Lindgren. No tournament has ever been won by a "Non-God" where all five gods have been in attendance, and they make up more than 90% of all major tournament victories in the modern era.

During the "Golden Age of Smash" where Ken dominated the scene, there were other great players such as Daniel 'ChuDat' Rodriguez, Joel 'Isai' Alvarado, and Azen. The "Reign of the Five Gods" was different. The "Gods" were untouchable, beating one in tournament was a huge accomplishment; only a handful of players have beaten multiple gods, but no one had beaten all five. That all changed at Apex 2015.

William 'Leffen' Hjelte became the first player to beat all five gods, becoming known as the "God-Slayer". Although seen as a villain by much of the community, Leffen's rise combined with PPMD's health issues has marked an end to the era of the "Five-Gods". How relevant the various names and titles are is questionable but the legacy of certain players, and the eras the game has gone through, are a testament to the strength of the game and the dedication of its fans.

The Modern Age and the Future of Melee

It's almost incomprehensible that 2016 or 2017 could turn out to be Melee's biggest year. The prize-pools are slowly increasing, as well as the interest from major eSports teams and other sponsors.
Third party sponsorship is taking Melee to new heights. 
Even with the increase in third party sponsorship, Melee still feels like it's in its infancy; even the super-majors have a DIY charm and warmth that sharply contrasts the sterile and suited presentation of other popular eSports. It may be preference, but there is something refreshing about seeing The Summit 3 being sponsored by Weedmaps, having a crew named TEAM BEER, or the tongue-in-cheek shout outs to sponsors.

Melee may feel like it's in its infancy because it still is, when considering the age of the game that seems like an insane thing to say, but eSports as a whole are still relatively young. I've attended local tournaments and met players who are younger than the game itself. With the introduction of NetPlay, emulation, and the (unlikely possibly) of a HD remake, it's likely that Melee can continue to grow, and there's no telling the heights the game could reach.

The year is 20XX...

ORIGINAL ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR PLEASE DON'T FEED THE TROLLS Warning: Minor plot spoilers ahead. "This is the choice of Steins G...

Steins;Gate and Ludonarrative Harmony

"This is the choice of Steins Gate."
While playing through Steins;Gate for the first time, I wondered when I would have to make my first binary choice, as is often the case with even the best visual novels. I waited and waited for that dialogue option to pop up. Do you want to go to the maid cafe or the electronics store? Will you comfort Kurisu Makise or Mayuri Shiina? I waited and waited for that interaction, for that choice, but it never came. Then, in a moment of fridge brilliance, it clicked. I'd been making those choices all along without realizing it.

For a visual novel, Steins;Gate has the perfect gameplay system for its narrative. I'm not going to preach about ludonarrative dissonance or mechanics as metaphor, but Steins;Gate is worth a special mention. The central plot point is a simple one: What if you could send a message through time?
The 'Phone Trigger' System.
The 'Phone Trigger' system is at the core of Steins;Gate. Throughout the game you receive messages, e-mails and phone calls, and it is up to the player to decide how to respond. Or maybe you don't respond? Maybe you don't answer the phone? The interaction from the player is minimal but those small interactions have big narrative consequences, just like how a butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the world can cause hurricanes.

Time travel is a difficult literary device to implement and even some of the best examples, like the films Twelve Monkeys and Groundhog Day, do little to explain the phenomenon. Steins;Gate goes above and beyond in its approach, dedicating a large amount of time to explain multiple time travel theories. It is presented so well that a phone stuck onto the side of a microwave seems like a perfectly feasible time machine.
"99% science (reality), 1% fantasy."
The offbeat cast of characters is what gives Steins;Gate its emotional core, and at the center of that is self proclaimed mad scientist Okabe Rintaro. As the plot progresses, Rintaro transforms from an arrogant, and slightly useless, goofball into a responsible and mature adult. It is one of the best examples of character development in a videogame. Rintaro experienes horrific things as he leaps through time, over and over and over, trying to save the people he cares about, trying to undo all his mistakes. Rintaro, and the other Future Lab members, aren't perfect, they make mistakes. None of us are perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. If you could send a message to the past and undo those mistakes, would you? If you did, would you learn from those mistakes? Or is sending that message just another mistake you wish you could undo?

That is the choice of Steins;Gate.

I wrote an article on Crank/Crank: High Voltage  for Issue C of Shelf Heroes. It is available HERE .

Shelf Heroes: Issue C

I wrote an article on Crank/Crank: High Voltage for Issue C of Shelf Heroes. It is available HERE.

Edited a film documenting Team Secret's progression through Dota 2's Shanghai Major. It's almost certainly too long, but wa...

The Shanghai Major: Team Secret's Journey

Edited a film documenting Team Secret's progression through Dota 2's Shanghai Major.

It's almost certainly too long, but was a fun project nonetheless.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR PLEASE DON'T FEED THE TROLLS Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - One of the first truly 'Gothic&#...

The Gothic in Games

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - One of the first truly 'Gothic' games.
The term ‘Gothic’ conjures up many images; some think Dracula or Frankenstein, gargoyles and spired buildings; for others it may mean spider’s webbing, long black coats, and heavy eye shadow. Either way there are countless examples of ‘The Gothic’ in various cultures.

Now many games often have a gothic themed level, usually set in a church or castle; many will have elements of the gothic in character or costume design. Very few titles, however, revolve entirely around a gothic theme, but a few strikingly similar titles stand out. In this article we will be looking at Castlevania: Symphony of the NightLegacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, and Bloodborne.

Apart from the obvious artistic similarities, all three Gothic titles share eerily identical gameplay elements. Exploration is a key element in Gothic games; the player is required to search around an unfamiliar and fear-inducing landscape, finding areas they can see but not fully explore. Often, as the player progresses, they will find a shortcut back to a previous area by opening a gate (locked from one side) or pushing down a ladder/climbable object. This exploration leads to puzzle solving to progress further, until the player comes across a boss room. Once the boss is defeated, the RPG-like elements become apparent; the player will receive an item, or experience, allowing them to progress further. All three titles considered follow this rough outline of: exploration - puzzle solving - boss fight - progression to new area - repeat. Most Gothic games can attribute this to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Kojima often uses molding paste, Conté Crayon, acrylics, India ink, gloss polymer medium, stumps and finger smudging in her paintings to achieve their unique look and depth.
Although it wasn't the first in the series, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was revolutionary in terms of game design; it added role-playing and exploration elements to the traditional platforming genre. It was also the first Castlevania game to feature the art of Ayami Kojima. Symphony of the Night is the first truly Gothic game, it serves as the benchmark for what is considered Gothic in videogames.

The castle of Symphony of the Night is an intimidating, sprawling, nightmare that, as you familiarize yourself with your surroundings, eventually feels like home; it serves as a textbook example of conquering fear. Exploration and understanding are key. As the player discovers more and more of the map, the world makes more and more sense. The unreachable areas eventually become accessible, and the sense of being overwhelmed dissipates. All these things relate to real life and that is the appeal of the Gothic in games.

Elements of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night can be seen in both Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and Bloodborne. Both titles take the Gothic formula, set out by Symphony of the Night, but focus on slightly different elements of it.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver - The game that brought the Gothic into three dimensions.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver focuses on a narrative experience, but not at the expense of its puzzles or combat. It retains all the elements of a 'Gothic' game (gaining skills/items as you progress, boss rooms, puzzle solving) whilst also keeping the platforming based exploration style of Symphony of the Night.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver's combat acts as a midway point between Symphony of the Night and Bloodborne. Soul Reaver takes the idea of different weapons having distinct styles pioneered in Symphony of the Night and translates it to three dimensions. The main difference, to Symphony of the Night and Bloodborne, is the temporary nature of Soul Reaver's arsenal. The way the combat in Soul Reaver and Bloodborne plays is eerily similar; both have dual-like quality, relying on dodging and timing, that pits the player against a small number of enemies in an environment that they must use to their advantage.

Although Soul Reaver's gameplay is extremely strong, its story and dialogue are exceptional. It takes the Gothic storytelling tradition and seamlessly integrates it with the videogame medium, with what is possibly still the greatest voice acting in a videogame. Here's an example of dialogue:

"Eternity is relentless, Raziel. When I first stole into this chamber centuries ago, I did not fathom the true power of knowledge. To know the future, Raziel. To see its paths and streams tracing out into the infinite. As a man, I could never have contained such forbidden truths. But each of us is so much more than we once were. Gazing out across the plains of possibility, do you not feel with all your soul, how we have become like gods? And as such, are we not indivisible? As long as a single one of us stands, we are legion! That is why, when I must sacrifice my children to the void, I can do so with a clear heart." - Kain
Bloodborne - The Gothic game today.
Bloodborne brings the Gothic formula to the current gaming generation.While there were Gothic elements to the other Souls games, Bloodborne takes the concept and runs with it. Where Symphony of the Night and Soul Reaver take vampires as their main monstrous inspiration, Bloodborne uses another classicly Gothic creature: the werewolf.

Vampires and werewolves both reflect the fears of the time. Bram Stoker's Dracula, for example, reflected the fears of sexuality with the obvious exchanges of bodily fluids. Both vampires and werewolves are represented as natural predators, driven by their urges, opposed to the rationality of man. As times have changed, these readings have become more complex. Soul Reaver questions morality at every turn, dealing with the idea of manipulation and free will. There are very few clear cut 'monsters' but, instead, many shades of grey. Avoiding spoilers, both Symphony of the Night and Bloodborne  also deal with similar themes, continuing the Gothic tradition.

'Gothic' as a term is almost impossible to define due to its constantly changing meaning and relevance to different mediums and sections of society. The Gothic is more like a collection of ideas and shared aesthetics crossing through literature, film and popular culture, constantly relevant to each generation. Now, with the addition of videogames to the cultural landscape, the Gothic has a new collection of ideas and aesthetics.

Geoff topped up his mug with coffee. He took a sip. Scratched his head. And stubble. He shut the laptop and lit a cigarette. Looked around a...

A Novel Extract

Geoff topped up his mug with coffee. He took a sip. Scratched his head. And stubble. He shut the laptop and lit a cigarette. Looked around at his flat. Everything with a flat surface was covered in a layer of dust or ash. The kitchen’s laminated floor stuck to your feet with every step; the living room was littered with empty cans, packets, wrappers, and pizza boxes. Geoff took a long drag on his cigarette. Picked up the packet: ‘TOBACCO USE CAN MAKE YOU IMPOTENT – Cigarettes may cause sexual impotence due to decreased blood flow to the penis. This can prevent you from having an erection.’ He sighed out a stream of smoke. Looked down at his vest and pants. “Fuck. This. Shit.” He put out the cigarette. Stood up. Put on the radio.

“…listen, there just aren’t the resources to deal with the amount of immigr…”

Geoff changed the station. He was lucky enough to own a digital radio with the capability to listen to any ‘radio’ station streaming on the internet at that time. Anywhere in the world. Geoff went for a Californian station. Looked out at grey and weary Tyne and Wear. Sunshine pop played.

Skip forward. Geoff is dressed. Vacuuming. Fuzzy, dreamy, delay-driven surf rock plays. The surfaces are spotless, there isn’t a beer can or pizza box in sight. The flat sparkles and shines. Geoff turns off the hoover, smiles. “Mother. Fucking. Dyson.”