Friday, December 28, 2018

Top 10 Audio Dramas of 2018

2018 was a great year for audio drama! We saw the conclusion of some really great shows, the creation of many more, and a wire array of ingenuity in the way that new stories are being told. It was very difficult narrowing this list down to just 10 shows, but hopefully this helps you find something new to listen to that you'll enjoy.

Before we begin, I'd like to add a disclaimer that shows like Creepy and The NoSleep Podcast, which are not always in an audio drama format, were not included on this list. Both are wonderful podcasts that I highly recommend if you enjoy horror. They are two of my favorite podcasts, and ones I listen to with more regularity than any other. Similarly, shows like The Lucky DieThe Adventure Zone, and Dumbgeons and Dragons, which are Actual Play podcasts were not included as people looking for audio drama would similarly find themselves confused while listening to (really well produced) Dungeons and Dragons games being played.

This list also omits improvised audio dramas (Mission to Zyxx, Hello From the Magic Tavern) and audio dramas that originated as roleplaying games (re-voicing NPC's with voice actors, adding intense sound effects, full music scores, etc) such as End of Time and Other Bothers, Dark Dice, and Liberty: Vigilance. Again, these are also great shows, but they can be a turn off for people looking for 'pure' audio dramas, despite being some of the best works of 2018 in terms of sound design over a very large volume of content. Finally, I ranked shows based on the content that released in 2018. I very much would have liked to have included other shows like one of my all time favorites -  A Scottish Podcast but they've only just begun their second season at the time of writing, and also We're Alive but we're still patiently waiting for the new season to start up. But seriously though, do yourself a favor and consider checking those shows out as well. We're Alive has the best production out of any show I've heard, and it's sustained over 40+ episodes of continuous story.
So, without further delay...

The White Vault Follow the collected records of a repair team sent to Outpost Fristed in the vast white wastes of the Arctic and unravel what lies waiting in the ice below.

Where season 1 of this story was the proverbial Act 1 of this horror story, season 2 picks up right from the high-intensity cliffhanger. The White Vault features a great international cast, top tier sound design, and a very intelligently written story that channels a mix of Lovecraft and M.R. James, with vibes from Carpenter's The Thing. It's really easy to close your eyes and be transported to the arctic with this show, and the horrors repeatedly invoke a sense of fear without resorting to jump scares. As I am involved in this production I felt it was unfair to give it a number within my top 10 list, but none-the-less felt it should be on the list.

10. The Walk - A thriller in which you, the listener, are the hero. The Walk begins in Scotland, and through a case of mistaken identity, you are given a vital package that must be couriered to Edinburgh.

You are the main character in this spy-thriller adventure, delivering a mysterious package to Edinburgh, all the while avoiding terrorists, explosions, and bullets. I've never seen this gimmick (making the listener the main character) pulled off nearly as well and for as long as The Walk. The acting is generally upstanding and it allows you to guess who you can trust, who might be a double (or even triple) agent, and who might be working for the terrorists. While the story meanders some toward the middle of the season, its best moments are interspersed throughout, and the series finishes strong. My favorite episodes are 'Seeing Things', 'Jumping at Shadows', 'Wolves', and the opening episode. For sound design, the show also starts off strong but oddly enough declines in quality as the series continues, suffering from a few low points toward the middle and end of the story, specifically as it pertains to how it communicates the action segments. This is also partly an issue with writing, but generally speaking, the dialogue is strong, regardless of your opinions on the overall plot. Even with these comments it remains one of my favorite shows of 2018 with it's unique charm and characters you can really love (and love to hate). The Walk will always stand out as a show that was different, bold, and quirky.

9. 2298 Years after an invasion nearly destroys Earth, a new society has coalesced around the only thing left: the internet. The Network makes sure Profiles eat right & stay focused but no. 24, thanks to the sudden appearance of a mysterious bird, is finding that difficult.

While I did not initially think much of the semi-abstract, single-voiced  7 minute episodes that were released on a weekly(!) basis, a larger picture slowly began to connect the dots that comprise this story, and it's the show in 2018 that had the biggest rewards for a careful listener. Right from the first episode, 2298 starts off with quality sound design and voice acting, and these elements are maintained all the way through the nail-biting intensity of the final episodes. This podcast contains a great story, partly hidden within mysteries that I personally feel I would have had a better grasp on if I'd been able to hear the entire show in a single sitting... Speaking of which: Listen to the super cut titled 'All Entries' as you can now enjoy the entire story in a single sitting, ad free. 2298 does so many things right that I can't explain in detail for fear of ruining the story elements I enjoyed. Finally, it's worth noting is that the brief nature of this podcast (just under 2 hours for the entire series) also makes it an easy commitment.

8. Girl in Space - The podcast about a girl in space, doing science stuff while her space ship slowly degrades around her. Then everything changes...

I was initially skeptical and even a bit underwhelmed by the first few episodes of Girl in Space. It suffered from some of the shortcomings of a new audio drama creator, with minimal sound design and a likable lead but secondary characters that were stiff. However, like its protagonist, Girl in Space has grown with each episode, the sound design getting more technical, the actors greatly improving, and the story going in directions I could have never predicted. Its sound design might not be as intense as shows like The Walk but the execution of the sounds it includes are functional, clear, and help to tell the story. Basically this is the purpose of sound design in a nutshell. The lead is a strong actress, and the story is solid. By the start of 2018 I found myself eagerly looking forward to its introduction theme as new episodes popped onto my feed. You might feel the same way, so don't judge this podcast by its first few episodes. Also, this is one of the only kid-friendly shows on my list.

7. The Big Loop - Distinct stories highlighting the strange, wonderful, and often harrowing experiences of those living on the outer edges of the known world. 

As an anthology series, The Big Loop will give you a different experience with each episode, telling a unique story with at least one twist. While not every story is a masterpiece, the majority will keep you on the edge of your seat, achieving the NPR trademark experience where you don't want to leave your car or stop listening until the story concludes. I personally enjoyed the vast majority of what's been released, my favorite story being 'Goodbye Mr. Adams' in season 1. The biggest detractor on the Big Loop, at least in the initial episodes, is the audio quality, especially during FML (which is an otherwise great storytelling experience). Initially I thought that this was because all of the stories were nonfiction (the acting and stories are that good), but I've since learned that it had more to do with the learning curve of being a new production. It's worth mentioning that the sound quality continues to improve and that the show makes uses of little-to-no sound design beyond (very good) music, so it's more an issue of recording technique as opposed to poor sound design that damages the story.  The Big Loop plays to its strengths well and regularly achieves a level of enthralling storytelling without the need for a large cast or sound effects. It tells stories that feel so real and that is why it's frequently discussed as a great bridge between fiction and non-fiction podcasting, and a wonderful entry point for listeners who are new to audio drama.

6. The Phenomenon - When a supernatural threat drives mankind to the point of extinction, survivors around the globe struggle to endure in a world with just three rules: Do not look outside. Do not look at the sky. Do not make noise. 

The Phenomenon will fill you with nervous tension and clutch the darkest parts of your imagination in its first episode. Where many stories lose their luster after the mystique of the initial shock value subsides, the team behind this story do a fantastic job of keeping each new episode as entertaining as the previous one. Based on a book, the core plot itself has a very powerful progression and execution, the dialogue and shifting perspectives are phenomenally pulled off (serious kudos for having such a large and talented international cast!), and the sound design is easily some of the best out there. Where many horror podcasts this year have been criticized for overstaying their welcome and either perpetuating a story for too long or shifting gears in an extreme way, the Phenomenon continues to evolve and tell a very coherent story at the same time without feeling convoluted. It's very easy to get pulled into this podcast, and once you're there you won't want to leave until you've heard the end of season 3... Which they're working on for 2019.

5. The Amelia ProjectThe Amelia Project offers a very special service: Faking its clients' deaths! Its eccentric clientele includes cult leaders, politicians, and porn stars, all desperate to disappear and start over... For how long can the secrecy last?

A new production from a new team stole my heart and instantly became one of my favorite shows. It's very hard not to love the comical dialogue, the cast, the outrageous schemes, and the endless hot chocolate that seems to froth from each episode. This show does something peculiar, in that it never actually showcases the insane plans, heists, or events that the show is about, yet it remains just as entertaining. It instead focuses on the intake interviews for new clients of The Amelia Project. From their iconic (and very catchy) introduction theme and the audio design found in their crossover episode (don't miss it!) it's very clear that the team behind the show can pull off audio action sequences but simply chose not to, as the format of the show doesn't require it to effectively tell the story. That is all part of the magic that is The Amelia Project.

4. EOS 10 - The stories of two maladjusted doctors and their medical team aboard an intergalactic travel hub on the edges of deep space; along with a deposed prince who's claimed the foodcourt kitchen as his new throne. 

EOS 10 is a podcast that is one part comedy, one part drama. It went on a three year hiatus in 2015, and it was a total surprise when they announced a new season for 2018! The season opens by poking fun at itself for being absent for so long and then picks up where the action left off - with witty writing, strong acting, and generally good sound design. EOS 10 starts off as a carefree comedy that gradually delves into deeper issues, making you have feelings about the characters and what's happening. It also has a greater overall story arc that beautifully ties the adventures together. EOS 10 has very sharp writing, and I only recently realized that one of my favorite characters on the show (Dr. Asalong) never actually appears on the show, yet he somehow is a completely developed character who strikes me as part of the main cast and whose sense of humor I enjoy. It's moments like these that will leave you with a smile long after you've finished an episode or season... and thankfully they appear to already be working on Season 4.

3. MarsfallAssisted by the artificial intelligence unit ANDI, a team of colonists strive to make a home on the Red Planet while exploring its deeper mysteries in the year 2047. 

Another new show from a new team - Marsfall starts with a bang and keeps tensions high as the story progresses, as a team of colonists struggle to make Mars habitable. Marsfall has some of the best sound design in any podcast I've heard (even in its first episode), and they are one of the few shows that uses music throughout the show that I'm not bothered by. Also, it's a great soundtrack! Marsfall balances light humor with some very bleak situations and, in addition to an enjoyable plot, has very natural dialogue. You will not hear instance of "Hey, Jim, Pass me the blue space-wrench so I can continue to fix this object I'm hitting with a shovel" and you will still be able to understand everything that's taking place. It helps that Marsfall has a great cast and crew bringing all of these components together. Marsfall does what I wish more shows would do. It makes us feel like we are truly somewhere else. For maximum effect, listen to Marsfall with a headset when you're not operating a motor vehicle!

2. Alba Salix, Royal Physician - In a fantasy realm, the Royal Physician (aka the public healthcare of the realm) has her work cut out for her with an endless lineup of patients, magical illnesses, and problems caused by her assistants: an aspiring surgeon and an accident‐prone fairy.

After almost four years Alba Salix, the royal physician, has returned with a fantastic second season! This endlessly creative high-fantasy comedy is a joy to listen to, and it's one of the only shows I can think of that is regularly recommended for children (Think PG / PG-13). Alba Salix is the marriage of great storytelling, witty dialogue, and quality sound design. The story captures the spark of childish imagination mixed with adult practicality (do centaurs have spinal coverage under the healthcare plan?) while the cast do a great job of making each character culturally and tonally distinct. It is very clear that a lot of love went into the creation of each episode and the universe itself is also now expanded further through the creative team's other shows: The Axe and Crown and End of the Time and Other Bothers.

1. Wooden OvercoatsRudyard Funn and his equally miserable sister Antigone run a funeral home on the Island of Piffling. It used to be the only one. It isn't anymore...

Who knew that death could be the start of something so fun? Wooden Overcoats is the best English comedy in audio drama. Top notch acting, functional sound design, great music, razor sharp dialogue, witty writing, laugh out loud jokes in every episode, and something very magical hidden within (no, it's not Antigone's special scented embalming fluid... but that's nice too!). It has true character depth. Somewhere mid-way through the first season I found that I truly connected with the characters and their plights. In season two this came up again as they were placed in a potentially dangerous situation and my mood for the entire day drastically changed (it ended on a cliffhanger). Then somewhere in Season 3 something magical happened... The show made me actually cry. I'm not alone in this, and those who have found themselves enjoying Wooden Overcoats will attest that it contends with network television and corporate-backed podcast in every regard. This show will make you laugh and cry, and puts the FUN in Funeral.

Don't know how to download a podcast? Go to the 'App Store' on your phone and download 'Himalaya' for free. It's a great podcast app you can use to 'Search' for these shows. Be sure to 'Subscribe' to them too, so you can get all the latest episodes as they're released!

Didn't see a show you love on this list? Make your own list! 

Monday, July 30, 2018


Yesterday a new hashtag was born, #SelfConfidenceSaturday. Thank those who inspire you. Podcasting is, for many of us, a semi-solitary thing, where you have a LOT of time to yourself to be creative. If you're a remote voice actor that might be your recording time or your prep time for a recording. If you're a writer, it could be all the time. If you're an editor it's while you wait for the export bar to hit 100%, or the moments where you finally hit listener's fatigue and have to take the headphones off. If you're a producer or sole-creator it's very likely the before/during/after of your emails, messages, and social media posts, and the deafening silence after you post an episode. These quiet times often jump between relaxation, pride, or stressful anxiety depending on your mental state in that exact moment. While it's easy to chuckle at something like a hashtag for self-confidence and dismiss it, the reality is that there's a great deal of self-doubt and uncertainty in all of us, and sometimes banding together with other people who feel the same way is reassuring.

It's been over a year since I've written anything, and I'd like Sean Howard (Alba Salix) for inspiring me to do so again with his own post on the topic.

I'd like to thank K.A. Statz for introducing me to podcast and being my co-creator. Everything I've ever done in podcasting is because of her. She suggested that we listen to the NoSleep podcast one day and it's been our favorite show ever since. We've listened to 9 seasons together, through chores, multiple cross-country car rides, and adventures, and I'm also thankful to the creators of NoSleep, David Cummings, Jeff Clement, Brandon Boone, Peter Lewis, David Ault, Nikolle Doolin, Jessica Sanderson, Jessic McEvoy, Erica Sanderson, Jesse Cornette, Mike Delgaudio, Nichole Goodnight, and the many many more voices and people involved (Kristin). The above people are household names to us (those are literally just the names I could remember in under 30 seconds) and that show has been an endless source of entertainment and inspiration for us. It's insane that a few of the above people have actually talked with me, and that two or three have even been party to my scheming. Mr. Cummings has also been extremely generous to us in lending his voice and voicing his endorsement of our shows on a few occasions, even going so far as to allow us to join NoSleep on a stop on their tour in New York City... a show we already had tickets to see prior to our involvement. Cummings has consistently been a champion of horror and helped quite a few other shows as well. The NoSleep folks - Cummings, Lewis, and Ault are also responsible for our current move to Portland, Oregon, because had it not been for their live tour in 2016 we would have never made time to fly to the pacific northwest and fall in love with it... but I'm getting chronologically ahead of myself.

Two additional thanks to David Ault and Peter Lewis in particular. Now, some part of me knows that they're not actually as famous and well-know to everyone on the same level as say, Stalone, but my brain still can't register the difference. Peter agreed to be a voice on our very first show in the very first season and somehow we interacted more and more until we became friends... Ault on the other hand was a fan of Liberty well before I even knew that he was THE David Ault. Once I made that connection my world was forever sundered and after a very long time I got the courage to email him. Somehow we also became friends. I could not be more thankful for them both and their support in specific has really motivated me to keep going.

Statz and I were podcasting for about 4 months from our Oxford flat when we got a weird message from an 'Audio Drama' aficionado named Steve Schneider, who had a similar message to Morpheus from the Matrix... I could either continue living inside a bubble (similarly to Laurence Fishburne we were unaware of other audio dramas when we were working on our first season), or talk to him and learn more about the greater world of audio drama. Steve is a very discerning listener of audio drama (he was the first person to introduce me to the term) and in addition to some pretty brutal feedback which helped me grow as a producer/editor, he introduced us to the Audio Drama Production Podcast facebook group, which has served as a sort of internet home for me ever since. He gave me lists of shows that I had to listen to: Edict Zero, Audioblivious Productions, and later shows like Blood Culture and The Walk, and despite being a Level 99 conversation starter and boarderline troll (with the interest of sparking positive ideas and change) at times, he's been an amazing help for my personal journey.

Some time after I met quite a few really great individuals through the ADPP, Sarah G., Fiona, Sarah who's last name I'm still ambiguous on which I should use in this context, Matt, Pete, Pacific, Austin, Paul, and Kessi. They've been sounding boards, volunteers, victims, advisers, and people who's journeys are very similar to our own. I also met Jon Grilz, who is another one of those people with such a huge heart for the community, who has always made the time for me when I've needed it, and who inspires me through everything he does. This sounds weird to say but with a lot of people in the ADPP their victories are my victories. Sure that's not the case with everyone (and I probably don't get along with everyone out there), but if Jon or Kessi or Matt or Pacific S. Obadiah (who gets the award for friend with the coolest name) win an award or get featured in a blog or get signed to a network I feel like i'm right there with them. I'm proud with them. I'm celebrating with them.
I don't always have a reason to celebrate the things I'm up to and seeing that my peers can be successful gives me something to smile about and has shown me what to dream for in my own future.

One of the people I also really need to thank the most is my buddy @TerminallyNerdy, whose mortal name I'm never sure if I should use or keep secret. He's been a long time friend who's guided me through some of the darkest times in my life, and he is always posting something genuinely fascinating and motivating and absolutely super-nerdy-niche to the point where I have no idea what he's talking about (and I'm a pretty deep-end level nerd) every single day. Terminally's endless positivity, guidance, and friendship in podcasting, social media, and life in general, (and some pretty sweet video game recommendations) help me overcome myself in the really dark moments of crippling self-doubt. Surrounding yourself with things you enjoy, and people who are beacons of motivation like @TerminallyNerdy are also really helpful toward avoiding those really dark moments for longer and longer stretches of time.... Seriously though, follow him on twitter. You'll see what I mean... and no joke, he's even nicer in person.

Last year, at Podcon, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting someone who's had a huge impact on my wife, and who I was personally a fan of, Sarah Werner. It's sort of weird to say that you can become instant friends with someone you've never technically met before but who's podcast you listen to, but it happened. Sarah (and James!) unknowingly helped me get through a fairly difficult weekend, and have done so multiple times. I have a few social issues, most people do, and having a friend at the event next to me the whole time was a big deal for me. I feel like it was how I got through it. But it's more than just three days (or six if you include other events), I'm really thankful because Sarah is the person in the AD community whom is the perfect peer. I feel like we're on the exact same level, working through the exact same issues. If life were an MMO she'd be the Warlock and Statz and I are the Rogue/Pally friendship combo. We can chat about life, travels, things that are frustrating, things that are amazing, new things that work, things that we try that don't, etc, and we all get better all the time because we talk about it and we brainstorm plans to take over the world. It's a heck of a lot of fun because in my day-to-day real world I have no one else who really relates. Thank you Sarah. I really value our friendship and hope that this doesn't belittle it to strictly 'peer'... I know it won't, but still feel the need to clarify.

Finally, I'd like to jump ahead to Hem and Eyþór, who have somehow become dear friends (despite what the TSA might have to say), and who have really pushed me to do more in the TTRPG world in a good way. Eyþór has really helped make our shows possible, at least from my perspective, and I am so very grateful for his help, support, mead, and friendship. That show is the most successful thing I've ever been a part of, and it has opened up many doors for all of us. Hem (who I see as Eyþór's sister despite them being born to different parents on different islands) has given me guidance on how to make TTRPG podcasts I work on not suck, and her optimism and support has counterbalanced the negativity I've received from many other places in that regard. Quite simply, there are days I have really considered giving up on such projects and each time she's talked me down from the ledge. Confidence isn't an all or nothing victory, and each time I'm able to build it back up and get back to creating is a great day for me. Thank you for that, guys.

Sorry this wound up being so long.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Making of Lost Frequency

The Making of Lost Frequency

Coat of Arms - By Adam Cartwright

In 2010 I had an idea. I wanted to create a crossover between my two passions: Music and Comics. I had been working on a sci-fi comic for a few years and the idea of bringing music to the world and art to my music was really exhilarating. My band was on the rise, working on our first album (Self Titled), and I was eager to create some original music. In short, Adam, Miguel and I wrote a few songs, the band disbanded, I bought the rights to the music, and reformed the band with a completely new membership.

The new band recorded/released Unavenged as a matter of necessity, because we desperately needed recordings that were reflective of our new sound, however, I hadn’t stopped working on this ‘Space Album’ idea I had. In fact, I was already in talks with Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy) about cover art, and swapping emails with a Japanese translator who could help me communicate with my future collaborators.

The original sketch from June 16, 2012

The intent was to write a series of songs that all tied together to form a story that would tie into the comic book world. I would attempt to collaborate with a few key composers and musicians whom I greatly admired, and who had inspired me to become a musician. As a kid, I specifically started listening to music so I could hear the catchy tunes from video games, and as a teenager I learned to play the accordion so I could play those tunes. The idea of possibly talking to and working with the very same people who unknowingly introduced me to music still gives me goosebumps, but I made it my goal.

Big Dreams for Vinyl
Since the band was a democracy, and the others didn’t fully understand my vision (I was notoriously bad at explaining things back then), my Space Album kept getting pushed further and further back in favor of learning more video game covers for live shows. Being a live band, there’s a pressure to always bring new music to the stage and it’s not as easy as you might think to learn too much new material at once while maintaining a regular set of songs people have come to expect from you. However, I was able to forego more sleep than the others and by 2012, I’d already written outlines for 20+ songs. I was arranging these songs into sequel stories/albums. I actually had a release schedule too, which outlined proposed releases for the next few years, leading to a meeting of the characters from the comic with those of the Space Album in 2018. It all seems sort of silly in retrospect, but I was really passionate and organized about it. I also must have been annoying because on more than one occasion the band basically said that I was forbidden from mentioning the Space Album or anything to do with it for three to six months.

The music, which was fully original, drew inspiration from video games to give many of its songs context in a story sense. A careful ear can discern subtle nods to the Mass Effect, Diablo, Silent Hill, Wizards & Warriors, Metroid and more.

Character Concept - Adin
As we passed the end of the world into 2013 and released the Dead Labs single (from Space Album II) I began talking with the collaborators I’d mentioned. In addition to working with friends and local musicians like Adam, Miguel, and Michael (and my cousin Johnny), a chance encounter at MAGFest led to talks of a collaboration with Kinuyo Yamashita (Castlevania)! I had also begun to hunt down the original mod (WAD) team & composer from Doom II's HRII, a process that took something like 18 months (and used a LOT of old email extensions). I had also begun talks with Terri Brosius, the voice of SHODAN, about reprising the role for a song I’d written! Somewhere in 2013 the band voted to release a new album consisting of 50% original and 50% cover songs, basically so we didn’t upset our fans with a 100% original album too soon. I, banned from talking about the Space Album for six months, used the extra time to refine the songs I was writing, and ultimately gave up one of my ‘Space Album’ songs to finish the album (LMTYAS) on time... without telling them that it had anything to do with the Space Album and the emptiness of being alone with your thoughts for too long.

Recording with Eric
Between 2013 and 2014 many amazing things happened. The stars aligned and Amano was able to find time in his very busy schedule to create not only the cover art, but 9 additional pieces for the album, I also finally made contact with the right person on the DOOM II HRII team, and I also flew to Boston to create the System Shock inspired ballad with Terri and Eric (who composed System Shock and created the effects for the SHODAN voice)! A series of extremely fortunate events (and two amazing tours across Florida and the EU) also led to us working with Tommy Tallarico on a track! On the side, I also started working with Wily and Bruce (of the NESkimos) to create 15 rough songs for a new story within the Space Album/Liberty setting. I also somehow got to hang out with Brian Johnson (AC/DC) a few times (just us! It was insane!) and he said quote “I love that Hacked song!” Mind. Blown.

I cannot express how great these two years were from a writing/creative perspective.

Concepts for Grey and Arkhain by Casey Bailey
However, on the band front, Moose’s job became increasingly demanding and he had less and less time to practice or learn new material. The two times we arranged for him to go to a recording studio were both cancelled by freak accidents (he nearly drowned himself after hitting his head on a rock, and after recovering from that he was hit by a car while riding his bike and briefly hospitalized). Moose and I had Phil (Careless Juja), Michael (Star Lake), Adam (RE), and Wily (NESkimos) record live drums for the entire album, while Juja, Michael, and Johnny recorded live guitars and bass for 1/3rd of the album to help speed along the recording process, unknown to the rest of the band. The others, who were now out of college, had less and less time to learn the songs outside of our limited and very busy practice schedule. Since many of the songs would probably not be performed live, having close friends record parts for the album, with Moose’s blessing, seemed logical from my perspective. However, when revealed, the others were not as enthusiastic and expressed that they wanted to contribute musically to the album (which is understandable). So, all of these tracks, about six months of work, were completely scrapped. Around this time it was also put to a vote that I would not be singing on the album, as I have a fairly limited vocal range.

Powerless without the others, progress on the album slowed and eventually ceased. We set up deadlines multiple times that we consistently missed due to legitimately great opportunities like shows, tours, and the chance to write our own video game soundtrack. The band created/released the Big Blue EP and started talks of a completely new full length cover album that would be recorded before the Space Album but by that point my own ability to spend the entirety of every weekend in Orlando had also diminished as met my future wife and I got started on my career path.

Lone Survivor by Casey Bailey
While I was leaving the band, and at their request I didn’t mention the Space Album for about nine months until after they were squared away with the incredibly talented Jackson. They actually had a joke inspired by a Fight Club line: “What’s the first rule about the Space Album”. By this point I was fairly disheartened, and basically took the best tracks from the various Space Albums I’d written that could fit the story of Lost Frequency and cut everything else that even felt vaguely weak to me or that didn’t directly push the story forward. Clearly the one album would be it, if it would ever happen at all. I was fortunate to be working with the incredibly composer and musician Steven Melin on two of the last “missing” tracks I needed to complete the story after the cuts were made. I was now able to effectively use my own experiences in creating the album to write better lyrics too. While I’d started the album superficially writing about the emotional journey of the protagonist, to me the creation of the music itself now represented a very personal journey of loneliness, bitterness, silent victories, anger, euphoria, and depression, which I was able to use to write better lyrics. In many ways the album’s very tone is a reflection of its creative process.

Sometime after I left the band we started talking about the Space Album again and it was agreed that it would make the most sense to release it as Random Encounter, as the art strongly reflected the membership of the band, I had approached all of the guest artists as the band Random Encounter, and because Kit & Konami had both invested time in learning the music. Somewhere around late 2015 we had a meeting where Kit promised to create the drums for the album, Konami & Kit would both work to create the guitars and bass for what was left, and I’d work on accordion, violin (did I mention I took two years of violin lessons?), and keys. It was fairly hard work and Konami & Kit vastly improved upon my creations and added their own songs to the mix as well, which I swapped out for more cut songs.

Anyone recognize those guns?

At some point, when I used my comic’s social media to mention the Space Album, the band expressed that most of them were unaware of my plan to set the album’s story in my comic book universe. It had been years since we’d had any formal discussions about the album (I’d only just been ‘un-banned’ from talking about the album… again) and they’d felt blindsided by this idea. The short version is that the Space Album would no longer be a part of my comic world.

A full year and a half or so later, the final tracks were submitted and much to my delight, probably due to time constraints, my original vocals for one of the songs was passable enough to be left in! I will say that while Konami is a much better vocalist than I am in most ranges and styles, and brought a dept I couldn't have hoped to on pretty much everything he touched, there's something about singing the words to your own song that feels nice. Brandon Strader worked his magic over the next few months to make the album sound great while Kit and I revised the story booklet. Hearing the final mixed songs brought a smile to my face. Strader, Kit, and Konami did a fantastic job.

Though I had deviated some from my original intent, I’d accomplished something far greater and grown up somewhere during the process.

So, inspired by the very people who helped bring it to life, fueled and lovingly crafted with real and very raw emotions, Lost Frequency is finally complete! I hope you’ll take the time to check it out now that you know the story behind the music:

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Game Review: Call of Cthulhu - Dark Corners of the Earth

The Welcoming Party
I'm extremely passionate about video games, and over the last few months I invested ~15 hours in one that I thought I'd really love. Here are my thoughts..

I wanted to like Dark Corners of the Earth but unimaginable horrors awaited me every time I returned to it... Horrors of poor programming to be specific. All of these crashes took place on a Fallout-4 Grade PC, and while there is a certain romance to retro horror games, unless you're a die-hard Dagon cultist who self-flagellates daily while waiting for darkness to overtake the world this game is not for you.

Cool Box Art!
Dark Corners of the Earth crashed on me every hour of gameplay, generally right as I was about to reach a save point. It left me with a new compulsive twitch and a feeling of dread every time I realized that I'd been playing for longer than 15 minutes and hadn't saved. It forced me into a sense of urgency which the game itself doesn't give (evidenced by the lack of a "run" button).

Despite a great story and premise set by Lovecraft, expanded on by a team that set off with good intentions, the writing was a sub-par. The voice acting was a mix of delightful talent paired with detestably unimaginative writing. Alas, I could not even experience all of this to its fullest as a glitch (which no amount of patching could counteract) cut off half the dialogue mid sentence! I swear at one point they said "We need to get to ---" (silence)

The varying volume level of the voices is easily overpowered by music or sound effects rather frequently, basically forcing you to use subtitles anyway. HOWEVER they forgot to subtitle large segments of the game involving more than 2 sentences of exposition. The game also crashed on almost every cinema (thankfully after the auto-save) and frequently froze. Alas, but if I could have only either READ or HEARD the plot-points while playing the game, as opposed to looking up what I missed online, would I have liked it more?

If only we knew where we were supposed to go

The game's detailed story is poorly executed in all of its dialogues, though its 'journal entries' are enjoyable, and even still it somehow robs you of a real ending or sense of accomplishment. This abomination leaves you feeling entirely unresolved! It's like a sinister detached voice told the game's writers "explain the plot of the entire game in 5 minutes... Okay, that's the ending, roll credits... Oh, and don't give players the explanatory ending unless they win with 100% completion within a certain time limit; otherwise just skip to the credits after playing the intro video again."

Stealth is hit or miss... but generally miss, even if you know what you're doing.
The gameplay seemed vastly enjoyable at first, introducing exciting gameplay mechanics like insanity and addiction to pain killers, neither of which ever seemed to truly come into play. "Hallucinations, panic attacks, vertigo, paranoia, and more!" it reads on the box... Well yes, now that you mention it, the game did give me panic attacks and paranoia with all of its glitches, and vertigo the countless times that the motion-blur effect got stuck. The game's creators go really far out of their way to tell you how tenuous your grip on reality will be, and how it will unhinge your sanity... Only to heedlessly ignore their own warnings in favor of throwing a blur-filter over your field of vision, or slightly swaying the screen from side to side when something disturbing happens. These effects also frequently get stuck in the "on" position until you inevitably turn off the game, die, or a critical error causes the game to fail.

Dark Corners of the Earth could not be more linear, despite advertising investigative and exploration elements. Yet despite this there are a few ways to miss the 100% completion rate and be cheated of a "true" ending... Or (as in the case of various people I spoke to) you will like just get cheated of the "true" ending anyway because the game is a nightmarish abomination that seeks to unhinge the vestiges of your sanity. I suppose that much was advertised.

If you see this screen in your game... The enemies are invisible...
The glitches and bugs in this game are CRIPPLING. There's a moment where you need to use a scope to shoot at enemies (see above, no it's not a spoiler, it's a thing you NEED TO KNOW in order to complete the game)... However, due to a VERY COMMON PC glitch (look it up), which is still unresolved/unpatched despite the game being out for a decade, the enemies you need to shoot are completely invisible and impossible to see or interact with unless you know exactly where they are. You literally have to look up this segment of the game online to win. There are also numerous instances of poor level design AND poor lighting where a rational sane individual will not know what to do next without consulting a guide (like randomly jumping off a cliff to progress the story)... But I digress...

Other glitches include being unable to walk, falling through the floor (literally falling far through the level and getting stuck in the space where great Cthulhu dwells: Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!), suddenly flying (and thus unable to open doors), having enemies aware of your presence because when you died and loaded the game they didn't reset their awareness of your presence. That one in particular is infuriating during the game's many "stealth" segments. Also having enemies glitch into the wrong locations or stopping their patrol patterns randomly and indefinitely due to glitching into something, making traveling past them impossible without detection. These are just a few of the many issues I can remember, and reloading your game will not fix half of them, so you're forced to save often, and create multiple save files. I won't even get into the stupidity how of its supposedly "friendly" AI will go out of its way to make stealth segments impossible to stealth.

There were many game mechanics that serve no true purpose. For instance, the STEALTH button doesn't actually do anything except fog up your screen... There's also a rail-grabbing mechanic that the game uses twice toward the end of the game that it never tells you about, and never uses again. No literally, it's a random segment of the game where you can extend your hand and grab onto a railing that no one tells you about. One time it's absolutely vital to your survival (and they don't tell you about it), and the other time it's actually just a useless aesthetic choice you can ignore. The supposedly "intelligent" puzzle mechanics were enjoyable half the time and mindbogglingly infuriating in the instances where they were unclear. There was one puzzle in specific, involving identifying and interacting with glyph pieces... only the game's creators drew one of the glyphs incorrectly. That could almost be a sort of in-game parallel to what happened to the production of this game. The creators had some really cool ideas but ultimately deviated from their intent.

Save your sanity, don't play this game...
TL;DR: AVOID THIS GAME. Great start, the first hour or two is very enjoyable. Everything after that is unforgivably glitchy, disjointed, and horrific in the bad way. Stop playing right the moment where you first get a gun and if you're still interested in the story just watch someone else play through it and save yourself the frustration. You can not beat this game unless you wish to sacrifice your sanity and make use of at least one walkthrough/guide to navigate the 'invisible enemy' section. It's literally impossible.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

10 Reasons You Should Support My Kickstarter (you won't believe #3!)

Here are 10 reasons why you should support my Kickstarter and help bring my dream to life! Though written tongue in cheek, I hope that these arguments will make you consider becoming a Backer of Liberty: Deception Volume 1.

#10. It's New - Maybe you don't typically read comic books, maybe you don't like long-winded and confusing stories. You're in luck! As my first graphic novel you don't need to have any previous knowledge of the characters, story, or world. There isn't a better point of entry than it's initial release!

#9. It Has Pretty Pictures - Maybe you don't care about the story, maybe you don't like reading, or (like me) you're a slow reader. The beauty of the graphic novels is that you have something tangible to look at on every page! So even without reading anything you can get an understanding of what's happening.

#8. Quality - Liberty: Deception is being created by a team of extremely talented artists across 6 continents and we've invested months of work to make sure that every page will look just as good as the last. We've crafted our own fonts, we make sure that every character has the same scars and tattoos on every page, and we will maintain this level of quality across the entire series.

#7. A Solid Story - Every person who's reviewed my book (each word is a link to a different review) has has had something positive to say about the story and how excited they are to see more of it. We have many unique characters and many different elements of our story to tell.

#6. Passion - Every person who's working on Liberty: Deception is passionate about it. Many of us are putting in upwards of 20 hours a week (or more) to create the best possible experience for our readers. You can see how that passion translates into every panel we create.

#5. Generosity (or "Supporting the Economy!") - By supporting the Liberty: Deception Kickstarter you're helping create jobs. No, really! This project regularly gives paying jobs (at fair rates) to a team of over 10 artists. The money from our Kickstarter goes directly into printing our book, so you're creating the vehicle through which we can succeed, which will allow us to create more content! It's sort of like the circle of life.

#4. You're Rooting For The Underdog - We are self-published, self-funded, and creator owned. In terms of simply trying to raise awareness for our comic book online or in a comic book shop we're competing with the Walking Dead, Batman, and the Avengers! Just like Rocky Balboa, all we're looking for is a fair shot!

#3. You've Spent Money on Sillier Things - Search your feelings, you know it to be true. Perhaps it's insurance for a starship in a video game, or a massive 40k army, foolishly expensive drinks at the bar (or the airport), or a blue ray copy of the Lord of the Rings movies you purchased knowing full-well that they'd release the extended editions a month or two later... Whatever the case this wouldn't be the strangest thing you've spent money on.

#2. It's Actually Pretty Good - Don't believe me? Check out the first 20 pages for free right now!

#1. You can "Pre Order" it NOW for less $$ and get more things - While you're probably thinking that you can buy it later for less money, you're incorrect. For $25 you're getting the physical book, signed and shipped to your door, plus a digital copy, your name will appear in our special thanks, and you'll also get to influence future elements of the story! By ordering our book at a later date you're losing out on bonus goodies and there's a stronger chance that our book won't be printed. For a bit more you can even make a cameo and be a part of the story you're bringing to life!
In short, thank you for taking the time to read this list and for thank you supporting my project.

Here's the link to the Kickstater page

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Comic Book Creator’s Struggle

The Comic Book Creator’s Struggle

(The Road Less Taken)
[Written for the magazine Mir Fantastiki, copied here with permission]

Comic Page for Liberty: Deception.
Art by Raymund Bermudez & Joana Lafuente
Anyone thinking about creating a comic book should know that it is a difficult road. Many abandon the path after the first few paces, petrified after catching only a glimpse of what lies ahead. You will almost certainly not make money. You will almost certainly spend far too much of your own time and money. At every possible turn of the creation process you will battle against a hoard of invisible pitfalls, trials, and psychological struggles that will make Frodo’s adventures in the Lord of the Rings look like a holiday picnic. You will encounter problems you did not think could even exist! You will lose days, months, and probably years off your life (if you take yourself too seriously), like in the machine from the Princess Bride, learning about distribution chains, ISBN numbers,  grammar, file formats, fonts, and the differences between RGB vs CMYK. You will gain experience, learn to multi-class, become a jack of all trades, or you will undoubtedly give up.

Even Vulcans have bad days...
In the miraculous event that you are able to complete your first book, you will experience firsthand what H.P. Lovecraft meant when he spoke of depression, as you try to find individuals who might simply read your book. You will embrace rejection time and time again with a smile. You will likely spy on your critics, become close with the harsh criticisms that you’ll receive, and possibly grow from them. You must suppress your emotions using the ancient Vulcan rituals as the potential readers insist that five dollars US is too much to pay for your book, the sum of years of your life. However, above all else you must remember that you are only in this situation because you truly care about what you are creating.

Frodo knows a thing or two about struggles
The life of a comic book creator is one of passion and struggles. You are passionate about your story, but it takes time to create. The little victories each week will one day lead to a moment of personal triumph where you’ve fought the world, fought nature, and fought against your very psyche and won! No one is obligated to like your work, or even give it glance, and as a project of passion you have to be accepting of this and not take personal offense. There are many many mistakes to make as a comic book creator. I know because I’ve made most of them over the last decade. The creation of a comic book is a very slow and time consuming process and it is always important to remember that you should not expect fame, success, or money. Create something because you find it enjoyable.

Stabbity Bunny: A delightful
independent comic book series!
I am an American comic book writer/creator who has attended over 50 fan conventions, expos, and festivals. I was always intimidated by the amount of information needed to really understand the plots of the X-Men, The Green Lantern, or many other mainstream comic books, and as a result I’ve always been drawn to independent comics. I’ve supported and read dozens of books ranging from extremely low quality (in both art and story), to the most captivating of adventures and I found that I’m personally drawn to dynamic interior artwork, pretty cover art, and stories that seem genuinely interesting. I have a habit of taking notes on what I like about the things I read, and when you switch hats and suddenly become a “comic book creator” the first thing many people forget is to focus on creating something that they themselves would appreciate.

A panel from my first comic book
My first venture into comics sought to explain a comic book world I’d created in 18 pages or less. However, it didn’t really have that much of a story, and I honestly didn’t put too much effort into truly developing the world. The art was created by the first artist I bumped into, and the cover was as dull as an 18th century legal document. It took me almost a year to realize that I wouldn’t be selling the other 5000 copies I’d printed, and it took a few more years to realize that perhaps I’d created the very type of exposition-heavy comic that I myself didn’t enjoy.

The same character, now in my newest book.
Illustrated by Casey Bailey!
The lesson to be learned in this is the most important reminder a comic book creator, or a creative mind in any other field, can have: To create what you enjoy and to enjoy what you create. Otherwise you might as well be getting paid for your time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Exhibitor's Guide: Animate Miami

An Exhibitor's Guide

Animate Miami!

In wake of a shooting at a Zombie-themed convention in south Florida the previous weekend it could be expected that there would be some reluctance for people to attend a convention the following weekend. However all the vendors I spoke with agreed that Animate Miami felt even more sparse than expected. While some insisted that attendance numbers had risen with each subsequent year, I'd place attendance closer to 3,000 (a generous estimation) than the 10,000 reported. Numbers aside, here's what I experienced.

Accommodations:  (Four Stars)
The staff at the convention, and the hotel staff were both top notch. Professional, courteous, literally checking in with every vendor to make sure everything was okay a few times a day, helping vendors with any minor inconvenience. Well staffed and offering free lemonade and donuts each morning, this was among the best customer service I've ever seen at a convention. I feel bad for having anything negative to say about the weekend because it was easy to feel that the people working the convention really put their hearts into making it a success. Internet was free, phone reception was fair (though I saw some booths struggling my immediate neighbors had no issues with Square), and a few free power drops were even provided to help us recharge phones. They also enforced their convention bylaws and booted a vendor nearby that was selling vaping products and having customers ride segway-like boards, which was fairly dangerous given the proximity to their neighbors, that also took up the bulk of the aisle space in front of any booth around them. (the enforcement was a very good thing) Being a Hilton Honors member also really paid off for a hotel which was literally connected to the convention. Parking was easy, loading in and out was extremely easy, and beyond one egotistical artist who told my booth that we were in the wrong venue, everyone (artists, exhibitors, staff, volunteers) I spoke with was extremely friendly.

Attendance: (One Star)
Animate Miami was well under capacity. I would describe my row, a corner booth near the middle edge of the dealer's room, as being very sparse 60% of the time, half-full 8% of the time, full 2% of the time (generally due to a cosplay group), and completely barren 30% of the time. It was disheartening, and one of my immediately neighbors left mid-Saturday... A fair number of other artists and vendors also abandoned their booths on Saturday I was told, which I'm led to believe was true based on what I saw. Cosplayers at Animate Miami were generally good, with a few dozen really outstanding costumes. It's worth noting that being able to speak even a little bit of Spanish was extremely helpful for maybe 5% of the people I interacted with. There were a lot of families, but I'd say the bulk of the people there were teens and early 20's, 50/50 male female ratio, generally anime and gamer enthusiasts. Various VIP's and Special Guests also roamed the halls, and the original visual reference for Disney's Tinkerbell stopped by briefly to chat with us. She is exactly as friendly as you might imagine, and still looks very recognizable as Tinkerbell's body reference. Though generally new faces I hadn't met at previous conventions, perhaps 5% of people I spoke with were people I'd met before, and one older gentleman knew me as "the 72 Hours guy", which brought a huge smile to my face. Most attendees seemed interested in retail wares over art, and sales were generally low for everyone I spoke with.

All in all I felt like Animate Miami was enjoyable, but not worth the booth price. While the service was truly top tier and the pricing reflected this, the attendance and fanbase were more on par with a 1k-1.5k attendance convention, with most of the attendees on a tight budget. If you sell anime, manga, or general retail goods this is probably a fair venture, but if you're an artist or unique goods vendor it's a rough gamble. If the prices lower I'll return, otherwise I'll probably sit Animate out for a few years because it's too difficult to make back your money.