Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist: Short, Surreal, and Free to Play

Backstage

As I’ve said repeatedly on here, I enjoy the heck out of the art game genre. Of course, I like mainstream hits like Portal and various Star Wars games, but then there are gameplay deconstructions like The Stanley ParableAs it turns out, William Pugh was a designer for that game and went on to found his own company Crows Crows Crows. They’re the creative force behind their first and long-winded release, Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist.

Honestly, the title is longer than the game itself. I think that’s the point.

The premise runs like this. You, the player, are getting ready to begin a heist game. However, some other player is already starting said game, and the crew behind making the video game run in real-time is either incompetent or on strike. A disembodied narrator called the Stage Manager (voiced by Simon Amstell) apologizes for the confusion and has you “help” by pulling levers and pushing buttons to help keep the game moving. Of course, nothing works. You’re trying to save a doomed project without any clue what you’re doing.

And it’s hilarious.

I'd still play this game if it were real. Copyright © 2015 by Crows Crows Crows
I’d still play this game if it were real. Copyright © 2015 by Crows Crows Crows

It’s about as madcap as The Stanley Parable, but with far less replay value. Dr. Langeskov, etc., etc. is a pretty wild ride and a deconstruction of video games and game developers. However, it’s more of a setup to a game than an actual behind-the-scenes experience. I thought I’d be following the mysterious second player through the back corridors, with the Stage Manager trying to help me manage things and keep the player on track while everything went increasingly off-course.

Still, I recommend giving this game—this virtual art installation—a chance. There’s more than enough Easter eggs, cute little achievements, and mischief you can uncover even while you’re being railroaded through the whole thing.

Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist is free to play and available for download on Steam and itch.io.


Bibliography: Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist. Developed by Crows Crows Crows. Published by Crows Crows Crows. Unity (engine). Microsoft Windows; OS X. Original release date: December 4, 2015.

Flash Fiction: “The Man with the Broken Smile”

I’ve been catching up on episodes of Welcome to Night Vale this summer (and in case you missed it, I wrote a short meditation on the show). Enthralled as I am by its macabre style, I had to jot down this little haunting tale because it carries some of the dread and terror that I think most of us can appreciate.

Enjoy.


The Man with the Broken Smile, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 526

A newcomer enters the town. He’s a well-dressed young man, with wavy black hair and impeccable wingtip shoes. He’s been spotted eating pie at the diner, taking strolls along the town square, and even checking out a book at the public library. Children stop and stare whenever he passes. Grandmothers cross themselves and whisper in quiet horror at his approach. But no one’s learned his name yet. They just call him the Man with the Broken Smile.

His smile is… well, it’s broken. There’s no other way to explain it. But it doesn’t match his eyes. His gentle, loving, rapturous eyes. Looking into them, you feel your guard drop. Everything seems to be okay for once in your life. Nothing scares or confuses or upsets you anymore. It’s all, finally, okay.

But then the stranger speaks with his broken smile. His lips don’t fully open or close. You catch a glimpse of yellowed teeth behind those lips, and occasionally signs of a blood-red tongue marked with terrible spots. The Man with the Broken Smile speaks so softly, so very softly, and you never quite catch every word he says, but the longer he talks, the deeper he gets hold of you. The more you hear, the more your body refuses to obey. Why would you disobey? Why, when your new best friend is right here? Could you even imagine a time before this conversation with your best friend began?

Surely not.

The Man with the Broken Smile tells you things that can’t possibly be true. He talks casually about the weather and the storm of emeralds that will be coming next week. He lists off the names of football players who will meet with terrible accidents the night before the next big game on Sunday, and adds the names of their loved ones who will miss them the most.

He tells you a joke (at least, he says it’s a joke) about a man being dragged from his home in the middle of the night by faceless men in white. They strip him naked in an unmarked van, drive him out to an unlisted warehouse, and force him into a vat of dough and butter. The Man with the Broken Smile is positively giggling when he gets to the punchline about the man being “a little overcooked on the bottom” when he’s yanked out from the furnace, baked and burnt to a screaming crisp before a dreadful feast begins. You ask who this man was, and the Man with the Broken Smile shrugs and says, “It doesn’t matter. No one loved him anyway.”

That night, you return to your home. Your stomach churns at the sight of baked goods in your fridge and your pantry. Even as you dump them all into the garbage can outside, you can still hear the Man with the Broken Smile giggling to himself.

And it’s with a creeping sense of dread that you suddenly remember that you made plans to meet with the Broken Smiling Man. To meet him for dinner.

At his place.

As you look around your quiet, empty house, you wonder if anyone will miss you either.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Acknowledgements

Thanks to my supporters on Patreon for their contributions that make stories like this one possible. This story is dedicated to Links Drop.

To see more content like this, please visit my Patreon page and become a proud donor today.

To The Moon: Charming Roleplay Toward a Lonely Star

Steam is a pretty wonderful platform for finding new games, and that goes double for the site’s Summer and Winter Sales. This year’s Summer Sale gave me a few lovely new titles, including an RPG adventure game from 2011 called To The Moon.

Two scientists from the Sigmund Agency of Life Generation—Neil Watts and Eva Rosalene—arrive at the mansion of a dying old man, Johnny. They specialize in creating new memories for the dying, to help them achieve their missed dreams literally on their deathbed. Johnny wanted to go to the moon, so they delve into his mind with their advanced tech. However, they find that Johnny’s past trauma has more layers than anyone expected, from exploring Johnny’s marriage to his deceased wife River, their courtship, and whatever dark secret lay in their shared childhood.

Copyright © 2011 by Freebird Games
Copyright © 2011 by Freebird Games

Kan Gao, the game’s developer, writer, and music composer, did a fantastic job on every level. Not only did he makes the point-and-click gameplay easy to master, but he also wrote some very likable characters.

To give you an idea of what our protagonists are like, our two scientists are one point are discussing the TARDIS from Doctor Who and the logistics of trying to get a piano past its small doors. They make their arguments but then decide that they’d both love to watch such an episode of that ever happening. Neil and Eva’s pop culture-fueled banter is a nice break from the more tearful or dramatic moments they dig up when uncovering more of Johnny and River’s past. It’s never said outright, but River seems to have a disability like Asperger’s Syndrome. Johnny’s reactions to her condition only add more pathos to it, but it does raise a few issues that he himself struggles with in his youth, as we see in Neil and Eva’s journey.

This game is charming in every sense of the word. Its atmosphere is lighthearted with appropriate dips into more somber territory when dealing with Johnny’s past. What helps most is the amazing soundtrack composed by Kan Gao and Laura Shigihara. Combined with visual cues and appropriate camera shifts, the game knows how to mine every bit of emotional weight and bounce in its story, from one of the scientists having to deal with two irrepressible kids to the long journey toward achieving Johnny’s childhood dream.

I also have to commend To The Moon for its DLC content. At the time of this writing, there are 2 minisodes available to play through Steam. They take place after the events of the entire game, looking at Neil and Eva’s life and work at the Sigmund Agency. Specifically, the episodes are based on an office holiday party, wherein we see Neil’s unusual interests played out against Eva’s attempts to balance work with life outside the office. There’s even a fun minigame in the first DLC episode that plays like something out of Nintendo’s golden age.

Be warned that, if you get into To The Moon, you’ll come away with more than a bit of heartbreak by the end. That said, it’s a wonderful game that’s inventive, engaging, and incredibly sweet.

Copyright © 2011 by Freebird Games
Copyright © 2011 by Freebird Games

To The Moon is available for purchase and download through retailers like Steam, GOG.comand the Humble StoreLearn more about the game on the Freebird Games website.

Bibliography: To The Moon. Developed by Freebird Games. Published by Freebird Games. Written by Kan Gao. Designed by Kan Gao. RPG Maker (engine). Microsoft Windows; OS X; Linux. Original release date: November 1, 2011.

Welcome to Night Vale and The New Storyteller’s Style

night-vale

Podcasts are to radio what modern streaming sites are to TV: the next step forward in the medium’s evolution. And just like with Netflix and Amazon Prime, the ability to string together stories for binge cycles or in bite-sized pieces is a key selling point for anyone looking to jump into a podcast. They’re perfect for when you’re on-the-go or when you’re looking for something to fill the background while you work.

And few podcasts have grabbed the Internet’s attention quite like Welcome to Night Vale. Set in a fictional desert town in the American Southwest, Night Vale is a comedic radio show about the bizarre events that transpire in that region, where every myth, monster, and conspiracy theory is not only true but competing with one another for total dominance (if not something worse than that). It is a terrifying yet familiar blend that resembles, as blogger Eileen Maksym puts itLake Wobegon meets H.P. Lovecraft.”

With that said, what is it about Night Vale that speaks so profoundly to its audience?

A collection of our greatest fears and dreads.

Night Vale is home to a vast and unyielding cornucopia of terrors, from the visceral to the existential. It’s the perfect breeding ground for your classic Cosmic Horror Story, where humanity is nothing more than a witless mutation gibbering in the dark of an uncaring and alien universe. The best parts are where everything is more unsettling than gory in its description, like a face that isn’t quite right or anything said by Cecil to make you question your memories and your significance in the world.

Black comedy at its finest.

Cecil Palmer has the perfect voice for casually dropping hints about mass casualties at the latest PTA meeting or packs of rabid dogs attacking schoolchildren (who defend themselves with shadow government-issued assault weapons and nerve gas). Something about Night Vale taps into that part of our brains where we’re not always sure whether to laugh or shudder in terror. So we usually do both (or at least, dear reader, I do).

A magnificent sense of continuity.

If there’s one thing I enjoy as a writer, it’s seeing other writers follow up on their previously established jokes or characters. Hearing Cecil come up with something new and vicious to say about Steve Carlsberg, or filling us in on the fate of the barber who once dared to cut Carlos the Scientist’s “perfect hair,” never gets old. It’s not just mining for jokes, but the way that they give the audience a sense of the passage of time. And in a story where eldritch abominations and ancient conspiracies lurk in plain sight, Time weighs heavily on the small town.

A real sense of community.

The writers and producers of the show have done their job when it comes to creating a fully fleshed-out, All-American small town. Cecil’s descriptions of the various residents, both human and horrific, are oddly charming. Not to mention the fact that he has several in-depth relationships himself, including with Carlos the Scientist, Dana the Intern, Khoshekh the Cat, and the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your House.

Is Night Vale for everyone? Not necessarily. Some people enjoy a more suspenseful or grittier kind of horror, with lots of gory details, so this wouldn’t be their cup of tea. However, I find this kind of colorful lore engaging and I recommend it for anyone who wants some good listening material. It’ll make you laugh, cry, cringe, shiver, and think deeply about things you probably never wanted to consider.

Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast available on iTunes and for streaming on Libsyn. Learn more about the series at its official website.

Flash Fiction: “Surrounded By Stardom”

One of these days, I’ll make it to Paris. However, that’s never stopped me from writing many a story set in some Parisian neighborhood. There’s something magical to the city (or at least my visions of it).

This story also comes courtesy of the prompts I received from my friends at Write It Up! Burbank. Enjoy.


Surrounded by Stardom, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 462

It was supposed to have been Jean-Philippe’s big day. It wasn’t every day that an American celebrity waltzed into his small fashion boutique in the heart of Paris. The streets of Montmartre were lined from one intersection to the next with dozens of paparazzi and fans, both foreign and domestic.

And all poor Jean-Philippe could do was try not to cry.

“How could this have happened?” his assistant Odette shrieked. She cowered behind the row of mannequins in the store’s main window. “We were so careful!”

Jean-Philippe put his hand to his cheek. “Honestly,” he murmured, “how could we not, ma chérie?

The world-famous Kardashians had arrived only three hours late, and Jean-Philippe hadn’t worried. The sisters had bickered over his spring season outfits, and he’d been fine with that. One of their boyfriends had toppled over a window display, and the boutique owner had bitten down hard on his lip, but still he’d said nothing.

He had been so genteel, right up until the point where Mademoiselle Khloe had slapped a now-intoxicated Kim, who was presently recovering in the back room.

Jean-Philippe had offered his condolences over the phone to Kim’s manager. The manager, however, had demanded a paparazzi-free exit—“or else,” he’d added.

The implications were clear. Jean-Philippe could not afford to fail. Literally.

“Maurice!” he called out to the room behind the silk curtains. “How’s it coming back there!”

“Almost finished!” the tailor cried in his rough dock worker’s voice.

“Really?”

“Well, she passed out, monsieur. She’s more cooperative now.”

Mon Dieu,” Jean-Philippe whispered.

His mind whirred into action while his eyes drifted over the wreckage of his boutique and his nervous wreck of an assistant. Outside, the sea of cameramen and young ladies in obnoxious black wigs grew restless. They made waves, brushing up against the shore of his tiny storefront.

And then, he leapt. Inspiration struck hard and fast.

“Odette!” Jean-Philippe called out. “Go into the back. Get the prop box for our summer season.”

“What on Earth for?” she asked, her eyes peeking up from her new position behind the counter.

The proprietor smiled. “Only the finest performance of my life.”


Everywhere one looked, the crowds laughed. Cameras flashed. The sun blazed down on the cobblestone avenues. And Jean-Philippe ignored them all.

He just kept dancing with his beach ball.

His face was painted white, and he’d dug up a black-striped shirt for himself. On top of his beach ball, he’d glued a simple black wig. With his ensemble complete, he lost himself to the dance.

Only when his cell phone buzzed, and Odette texted him that Miss Kardashian’s entourage had smuggled her away, did Jean-Philippe drop his beach ball onto the street.

The crowds gasped.

And when he bowed, the whole street burst into applause.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Acknowledgements

Thanks to my supporters on Patreon for their contributions that make stories like this one possible. This story is dedicated to Links Drop.

To see more content like this, please visit my Patreon page and become a proud donor today.