This being the Halloween time of year it's only fitting that I talk about spooky stuff.
I was sitting in a local coffee shop earlier this week and jumped in a conversation with the bartender (Stardust Coffee also serves beer and wine) and a fellow patron. The subject du jour, spooky houses. The guy next to me spoke of a creepy old house near where he lives. The bartender talked about a basement that frightened her. When it was my turn I took a cue from the bartender and told them about the cellar in the house where I lived as a child.
In my early childhood my family lived in a row house in Baltimore. Row houses are everywhere and are as iconic to the city as Edgar Allen Poe and The Orioles. Some are more than 200 years old.
As typical for many row houses, the house where I lived had what used to be a coal cellar. In the front of the cellar were two windows, one used to have a chute through which a truck would dump a load of coal into a large bin. From there the fuel would be shoveled into the gated maw of a huge furnace which stood like a metal octopus frozen in some feeding frenzied moment. The bin and chute had been replaced by a large fuel oil tank and the furnace fitted with an automatic burner that you could start from your living room. No one ever had to go into the cellar anymore except to check the fuel level, and the space became a neglected part of the house.
During the day the two windows in the front of the cellar provided the only light the space often had. There were ceiling fixture, of course, but they were seldom used. Even on the brightest days light from those two small windows pushed back the gloom only as far as the furnace, beyond it was a place of perpetual darkness. That place was where something lived.
What lived back there I never knew. It could have been just my wild imagination fueled by unexplained sounds and indistinct shadows that seemed to move whenever I was brave enough to look back there directly. It could have been the lair to some grotesque creature that felt at home in the dark, like vampires. It could have been a gateway to some hellhole where soul eating demons would occasionally emerge in search of a meal. I never really knew for sure, but I believed something was back there and it was malevolent, and hungry.
There's more to that story, but I won't go into it here. Even as I'm writing this the hairs on the back of my neck are standing on end.
Now that we are suitably creeped out I'll turn your attention to two apps that could continue the creepiness and if the focus of this week's Free on iTunes. So lets get to them.
The Drowning [628 MB, all iOS devices iOS 6.0 or later, Maker: Mobage Inc]
In the 50's and early 60's the fear of a nuclear mishap that might create radioactive monsters were the staple of horror movies. Today environmental accidents caused by a burgeoning population with a thirst for petroleum are where our hollywood monster are born. The Drowning carries on that tradition by putting you in the middle of a post-disaster world where drowned people emerge from toxic waters as hideous creatures bent on your demise.
The game opens with a suitably creepy and nausea inducing scene where you are a lone surviver on a small boat that is moving wildly through a gloomy seascape. You boat is suddenly overrun by nasty looking creatures. The next thing you know you are waking on a beach with a gun in your hand. There's a brief tutorial and some wonderfully drawn pictures accompany narration meant to serve as a background plot.
One of the Drowned rising from toxic waters
The gist of the game is to get as high a score as possible by shooting as many horribly mutated people as you can in a certain amount of time. The higher your score the more stuff you'll likely find. Find enough stuff and you can move on the next chapter. The absolute highest score for a chapter is tough to get, but you can make it easier if you use in-app purchases to power-up your weapons. Each chapter contains several locations where you can explore while running from creatures, but don't spend too much time looking. Remember time is crucial to getting a high score.
Advance to different locations with the aid of power-ups
Yes, this is a freemium game, but as these games go it's one of the better ones. The console quality graphics in powered by the Unity Engine, it's been put to good use. The creatures are sufficiently creepy to make shooting them not a moral dilemma. The controls take a bit of getting used to, but mastering them is key to getting decent scores.
There are other perks to keep you playing, but basically, The Drowning is creepy and fun.
Be warned that, at 599 MB, this is a sizable download, and it requires an Internet connection to run.
Haunting Melissa [7.3 MB, all iOS devices iOS 3.1.3 or later, Maker: Natural Guides, LLC]
When describing Haunting Melissa it is likely best to tell you what it is not.
It's not a movie, at least not in the traditional sense. It is not a book or action comic, though it does offer chapters. It is not a puzzle, though you are encouraged to interact with it. It is not a game though there are game-like controls.
Haunting Melissa actually is a mash-up of all these elements and more, and its presented in serial fashion.
The app includes the first chapter, which may not be enough to get you entirely hooked because there's what I'm calling a lot of black space: stretched of video where little or nothing on the screen. There are sounds however, so sitting in a darkened room with the headset on and watching this might send more than a few goosebumps down your spine.
Things get creepy in Haunting Melissa
You can move forward and backwards via the on-screen controls. You can even do so incrementally and send the video to AppleTV or other AirPlay compatible device. There's even an in-app screen capture function that lets you share what you've captured.
But is all of this functionality worth the effort? Is Haunting Melissa any good?
I think so. It takes a while, but once the story gets going it becomes interesting in an eerie way.
I sincerely hope that this is the first of many pay-as-go media. I'm becoming a huge fan of this type of media. Here again, this is a big app. 687 MB.
Ok, that's wrap for this week.