Rooms with a paranormal view

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The Room: the cosmic tabletop.

A few words of praise for the Room series from Fireproof Games. I don’t play many computer games, and I think this may be my first post dedicated to such a thing, but I maintain an interest in the medium. The Room and its sequels only came to my attention a couple of weeks ago when I was wondering if there was anything Myst-like available for the tablet. I never got to play the original Myst but enjoyed its follow up, Riven, although the enjoyment was mostly for the graphics, the music and the island environments. The game itself was less satisfying, requiring pen and paper to keep track of its complexities, and involving a great deal of fruitless journeying from one location to another in the search for new clues.

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The Room 2: the camera.

The Room follows the template established by Myst in presenting you with a number of mechanical artefacts, all of which have to be examined and opened or operated before you can proceed to the next stage. The dominant aesthetic is 19th-century-mechanical—there’s a lot of wood and brass to these devices—but to call it steampunk would be a mistake; there’s little steam involved, and most of the cogs are kept inside their cases. There is a hint of Jules Verne, however, in the notes from an absent inventor whose initials, “A.S.”, may be a nod to Journey to the Centre of the Earth. As the title suggests, the location is a single room, while in the sequels, The Room 2 and The Room 3, you’re presented with a series of connected spaces. The third installment is the closest to the original Myst with a central hub that leads to other areas of a rambling complex of buildings, not all of which are revealed at the outset. The main structure is based on William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey which pushes things into Gothic territory even without the developments outlined below.

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The Room 3: the oscilloscope is one of several which need to be powered up and manipulated in order to open the Null portals.

The MacGuffin for all the games is a new element, the Null, whose discovery and potential obsesses the creators of the games’ devices, and whose manipulation of space creates many of the portals that lead to new rooms. As the series progresses, the Null becomes a growing menace that leads to full-on cosmic horror, with oil-slick Tentacles From Beyond writhing around the interdimensional portals you have to travel through. This development was surprising and, for this player, very welcome, turning the games from a series of eleborate puzzles into something much more sinister. The aesthetic evolves accordingly, with an increasing profusion of occult sigils and pentacles, and, in The Room 2, Tarot cards and séance devices. (Fireproof have a set of their Tarot designs available as a free download.) In the second game there’s a further requirement to piece together mundane machines—a camera or a typewriter, say—before they will function properly. This process reaches a peak in The Room 3 where you’re faced with a succession of increasingly complex tasks, from woodworking and metal forging to electro-mechanical engineering and astronomy. As with the Myst universe, there are no monsters here (although there is the occasional ghost), nothing needs to be fought with weapons, it’s just you, a room full of objects and a continual background murmur of unnerving whispers and distant sounds. The gameplay in The Room 3 is sufficiently non-linear to lead to a variety of different endings, not all of which may be survivable. I managed to escape the Tentacles From Beyond when they finally destroyed the house but I also missed finding an important artefact. I’ll be returning, wiser and, I hope, more attentive to the half-hidden details.

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The Room—Old Sins: the haunted doll’s house as seen at the beginning of the game.

I’m currently playing the fourth game in the series, Old Sins, which returns you to a single room but plays with scale via a large doll’s house. The exterior of the building is all detailed model work, while the interiors—accessed through Null physics—are scaled-down replicas of the rooms in a house where another Null investigator and his wife have gone missing. It’s not clear yet whether the attic where the toy house is stored is also the attic of the real house the model is based upon but having dealt with a similar model in The Room 3 this seems likely.

While I enjoyed the surface details of Riven I was never very interested in the fantasy background of the Myst universe. The Room series is much closer to my own core preoccupations, a beguiling blend of antique technology with borderline occultism and those Tentacles From Beyond, a scenario that wouldn’t be out of place in an issue of Weird Tales. Just the thing for the darkening days of October.

Topsychopor by Roland Topor

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Published in Paris in 1964, “a game in the form of a psychological test produced by Topor with the help of Jean Suyeux”. A red box measuring 41 x 32 cm, containing 6 “decor boards” or stages which depict a street, a region of rocks, a cemetery, a bedroom, a plain and an island; plus two sheets of pre-cut characters: a fire, a clock, an eye, a shell, two Citroën autmobiles (a 2CV and a DS), a wolfman, a blind man, a baby, a naked man, Death, a sleeping woman, and a truncated man.

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“Sans prétendre atteindre à la rigueur d’un vrai test psychologique, TOPSYCHOPOR en utilise les principes. Il comprend six planches-décors et treize personnages ou objets. Le jeu consiste à choisir un décor et à y placer un ou plusieurs éléments découpés. ll suffit alors de se reporter au tableau des interprétations pour découvrir—avec horreur ou ravissement—ce que ce choix signifie. Le personnage ou l’objet choisi en premier lieu indique la tendance dominante du caractère du joueur, les éléments choisis ensuite viendront nuancer et compléter la première interprétation, selon un ordre d’importance décroissant. Certains objets ou personnages paraîtront peut-êtrc étranges; cela ne doit pas étonner, ils ont été voulus tels afin de faciliter les interprétations. Vous verrez d’ailleurs que vous vous familiariserez vite avec TOPSYCHOPOR et bientôt vous ressentirez la tentation de jouer avec lcs personnages sans plus vous soucier de leur signification. Car ce jeu cache son jeu, un jeu auquel vous vous prendrez. Pour l’interprétation des récits que vous ferez alors, vous pourrez toujours consulter votre psychiatre habituel.”

Rules of the game (autotranslated): “Without claiming to achieve the rigor of a real psychological test, TOPSYCHOPOR uses its principles. It includes six decor boards and thirteen characters or objects. The game consists of choosing a decor and placing one or more cut elements in it. It is then enough to refer to the table of interpretations to discover—with horror or delight—what this choice means. The character or object chosen in the first place indicates the dominant tendency of the player’s character, the elements then chosen will come to qualify and complete the first interpretation, in order of decreasing importance. Some objects or characters may appear strange; that should not surprise, they were wanted such in order to facilitate the interpretations. You will see that you will quickly become familiar with TOPSYCHOPOR and soon you will feel the temptation to play with the characters without worrying about their meaning. Because this game hides its game, a game that you will take. For the interpretation of the stories that you will then make, you can always consult your usual psychiatrist.”

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I don’t have a copy of this, unfortunately (and please don’t tell me you have one to sell). Picture searches kept turning up links to film festivals which was a little confusing until I realised that there’s a short film by Antonin Peretjatko, Mandico et le TOpsychoPOR, about a man encountering the game.

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Cthulhu playing cards

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You know, there was a time when HP Lovecraft’s dreaming monster was a rare entity known only to aficionados. Cthulhu may not have achieved Hello Kitty-style ubiquity yet but it’s only a matter of time (or strange aeons).

Adding some new products to my CafePress pages recently I noticed that the ever-expanding product line there now includes playing cards, so here’s a new addition to the growing mountain of Cthulhuiana. I was going to add a playing card option to some of my recent designs (the Summerisle one in particular) but there seems to be a fault in the processing at the moment so the ones I’ve tried haven’t shown up. This design seems to have worked because it was a png rather than the usual jpg. If I can persuade the software to behave I’ll add more in future. As usual the price is relatively steep, a consequence of the high base price rather than my rapacity.

Update: After another CafePress malfunction (or something) my shop vanished. But you can now get a similar set of cards at Zazzle.

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Alas Vegas Tarot cards

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Back in February I bought a Wacom drawing tablet and said I’d show some proper results from its use later. For the past few months I’ve been working on this project using a combination of Wacom drawing and vector graphics. The initial brief from games designer James Wallis was for six Tarot-style card designs for his Alas Vegas role-playing game which has as its theme a fantasy extrapolation from Las Vegas and its gaudy mythology. The Kickstarter funding for the game turned out to be more successful than was anticipated so James asked me to expand the six cards idea into a full set of black-and-white Major Arcana designs.

This has been a fun series to work on although a number of the cards presented problems at first, the antique nature of the Tarot symbolism being a difficult thing to map across a very commercial American city. The symbolism from the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck was used as a rough guide although we deviated in a few places from the more traditional attributes. Las Vegas has changed over the years so rather than represent a single period of the city’s history there are references to different eras, from the huge casinos of today back to the buildings of the 50s and 60s with their distinctive “Googie” architecture. Notes for the cards follow below. The artwork can be seen at larger size here.

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The Fool is usually a young man about to step off a cliff edge with a dog barking a warning at his heels, hence the dog on the sign.

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Several of the cards convert the Tarot characters into cabaret acts. This one was pretty inevitable, and I’m sure it’s not the first time a stage conjuror has appeared on this card.

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The chair is based on the 1965 “Ball Chair” design by Eero Aarnio (as seen in The Prisoner TV series), adapted here to resemble the Priestess’s crescent moon.

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The style on this one is more 70s than 60s: patterned wallpaper (the hearts derive from the symbolism of The Empress, and from playing cards, of course), white rug, Kung Fu pyjamas.

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