Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Smiling Man

This email got sent to me by accident. I don't know what the hell it is.

From: S.T. <>
Date: Fri, Mar 6, 2013 at 1:19 AM
Subject: I hate it here
To: C. Thompson <>

Dear Cindy,

You told me four years ago moving downtown was a bad idea. I've always been a night person, and the city is nothing but nightlife, so I figured it was perfect. But you knew how shy I've always been. I should have listened.

I would often find myself bored after my roommate, who was decidedly not a night person, went to sleep. To pass the time, I'd go for long walks and think about nothing.
I spent the past four years like that, walking alone at night, and never once had a reason to feel afraid. I always used to joke with my roommate that even the drug dealers in the city were polite. But all of that changed a month ago.

It was a Wednesday, somewhere between one and two in the morning, and I was walking near a police patrolled park quite a ways from my apartment. It was a quiet night, even for a week night, with very little traffic and almost no one on foot. As usual, the park was completely empty.

I turned down a side street in order to loop back to my apartment when I first noticed him. I could just make out the silhouette of a man dancing at the far end of the street. It was a strange dance, similar to a waltz, but he finished each "box" with an odd forward stride. I guess you could say he was dance-walking. And he was headed straight for me.

Deciding he was probably drunk, I stepped as close as I could to the road to give him the majority of the sidewalk to pass me by. The closer he got, the more I realized how gracefully he was moving. He was very tall and lanky, and wearing a suit stained gray by age. He danced closer still, until I could make out his face. His eyes were open wide and wild, head tilted back slightly, looking aimlessly into the sky. His mouth was formed in a painfully wide cartoon smile. Between the eyes and the smile, I decided it was best to cross the street before he danced any closer.

I took my eyes off of him to cross the empty street. As I reached the other side, I glanced back and then stopped dead in my tracks. He had ceased dancing and was standing with one foot in the street, perfectly parallel to me. He was facing me but still looking skyward. Smile still wide on his lips.

I was completely and utterly unnerved by this. I started walking again, but kept my eyes on the man. He didn't move. Once I had put about half a block between us, I turned away from him for a moment to watch the sidewalk in front of me. The street and sidewalk ahead of me were completely empty. Still unnerved, I looked back to where he had been standing to find him gone. I let out a relieved sigh that was cut short when I noticed he had followed me across the street. I was surprised at how quickly he managed to dance along my trail. I couldn't tell for sure due to the distance and the shadows, but I knew he was facing me.

I was so shocked that I stood there for some time, staring at him. And then he started moving toward me again. He took giant, exaggerated tip toed steps, as if he were a cartoon character sneaking up on someone. Except he was moving very, very quickly. His wide smile remained listlessly aimed at the sky.

I'd like to say at this point I ran away or pulled out my pepper spray or my cellphone or anything at all, but I didn't. I just stood there, completely frozen as the smiling man crept toward me.

And then he stopped again, about a car length away from me. Still smiling his smile, still looking to the sky.

When I finally found my voice, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. What I meant to ask was, "What the fuck do you want?!" in an angry, commanding tone. What came out was a whimper, "What the fuu…?"

Regardless of whether or not humans can smell fear, they can certainly hear it. I heard it in my own voice, and that only made me more afraid. But he didn't react to it at all. He just stood there, smiling.

And then, after what felt like forever, he turned around, very slowly, and started dance-walking away. Just like that. Not wanting to turn my back to him again, I just watched him go, until he was far enough away to almost be out of sight. I started to calm down, but then I realized he wasn't moving away anymore, nor was he dancing. I watched in horror as his face dropped its aim towards me. The distant shape of him grew larger and larger. He was coming back my way. And this time he was running.

I ran too.

I ran until I was off of the side road and back onto a road parallel to the park. Looking behind me then, he was nowhere to be found. The rest of the way home, I kept glancing over my shoulder, always expecting to see his stupid smile, but he was never there.

It's been a month since that night, and I haven’t been out for a walk since. My roommate thinks it's funny how much a drunk person fucked with my head. But there was something about his face that still haunts me. He didn't look drunk, he didn't look high. He looked completely and utterly insane.

My roommate is out tonight. I don’t even want to go out with her anymore. I do enjoy hearing stories of her revelry though, and I think I hear the doo:):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

Adapted from The Smiling Man. All credit should be given to reddit user blue_tidal.

Monday, December 29, 2014

John Blacksmear

“Where did you get that?” the aging man asked from his bed. “I had that locked up in storage.”

“I thought it was a fitting going away gift,” the intruder responded.

“Where am I going? And why would I need to take that with me?”

“Someone gave you this Bible after you felt the happiness of living another day. I give it to you again today, your last day in this world. It's your 'beginning and your end'.. or whatever it is.”

“What are you rambling on about? I am getting better; I've been reading and playing with my children. I planned on leaving the house soon.”

“How did you do it?”

“Sir, again I say, what are you talking about? Who are you? How did you even get in here?”
“Let's just say I knew the secret knocks to get in,” the stranger disregarded the question with a flick of his wrist. “I'd hoped you would recognize your own character. I don't know how you did it. How long have you been following me? Decades? How did you do it from Siberia? How can you tell what I'm thinking? What am I thinking now?” the intruder sputtered out while staring emotionless from the foot of the bed.

“You speak in riddles. You wake me up to speak in riddles, how am I supposed to understand you? Get out of my house this instant!” the old man demanded from his bed, starting to raise his voice.

The stranger lunged forward and covered his prey's mouth with one hand while securing the back of the head with the other.

“No one can know I'm here,” (“if I am here”, he added flippantly), “so let’s stay calm, and I won't remove your tongue. I just want to talk, tell me how you did it, my lack of faith in humanity, my intelligence, my brain fever, even the phrase, 'dash the cup to the ground’, I never said that to anyone, I only wrote it in my note; a note I've had written for years, a note no one saw until I died two days ago, so how did you do it?”, the intruder spat out in one breath.

The author just stared at the stranger dumbstruck.

“You stole my life!” this time the stranger started to raise his voice.

As the echo of his voice died down, the sound of a door opening entered the hallway. The patter of small footsteps approached the bedroom, followed by the knock of a small hand.

“What's wrong dad? Are you OK?” asked a small inquisitive voice from the other side of the door.

“Tell him you are just having a bad dream,” the stranger whispered to his hostage.

The stranger removed one hand from the man's face while strengthening his grip on the back of his head with the other.

“It is only a nightmare Fyodor, go back to bed and I will do the same.” he said as calmly as he could.

The tiny feet shuffled back to bed.

“I don't know what you mean,” the scared man whispered, “How did I steal your life?”

“Ivan is me! I am Ivan, well John, John Blacksmear. Everyone says 'black smear' was a metaphor for the presence of sin, but I know the truth. I know you stole my life story to put in your novel. And everyone thinks you're so great! You're nothing but a stalker who steals lives.”

“Ivan? Ivan Karamazov?” the author thought out loud, puzzled by the apparent lunatic in the room.

“It doesn't matter how I guess. All that matters is that it's over. You stole my life, destroyed my sanity. You will not steal another life. You will not write your second novel on Alexei. You will die tonight.”

Anna started to stir on her side of the bed. John leapt off the bed and hurried around to Anna's side, pulling ether and a rag out of his pocket as he dashed. He soaked the rag and covered Anna's face with it. She slumped back down, knocked out again.
“Don't worry. Your family is fine. I just need to make sure no one else knows I'm here. I want you to wonder if I'm a dream. Maybe I'm not real. Maybe I'm just a manifestation of the knowledge of your impending doom.” John said, grinning behind soulless eyes. John got up and walked back to the foot of the bed, staring at Fyodor the whole time.

“But that's all a lie. No, no, your family is fine haha. That's not what the lie was. I propose I am real, and I am really going to cause your death. How? You will find out in time, or you already know,” John finally blinked. This shocked the author who was starting to believe John had no eyelids. “I want to emphasize that no one will believe you if you tell them I was here. Your family will not see me. Your house has no sign of forced entry. Those feats would be easy to accomplish for a dream. But for a person... it's going to be hard to convince others anyone visited you tonight.”

“It is easier than you think to convince people you are dead,” John continued. “I died two days ago. I jumped to my death, face first into the Gulf. I unfortunately must have landed on a rock, because my face was destroyed beyond all recognition.” John seemed to lose himself in his own story. His eyes drifted upwards with no clear target and he stopped talking. A minute passed. Still gazing upwards, John seemed to focus everything he had into speaking.

John finally started talking again. “I found I am of an average height and weight. Finding another 'me' was easy. I dressed 'myself' up in my clothes, nailed my note (which I had already written, but you knew that) to my door, and viola, I'm dead to everyone but you. I WAS SANE BEFORE!” John returned his glaring eyes to the bed.
“You destroyed my mind! But then could you...” John trailed off, and again gazed upwards aimlessly as he fell to his knees. His neck dropped his head as far as it could as his eyes started to leak tears.

“What are you rambling on about? If you plan on killing me get it over with,” the author insisted, doing his best to sound intimidating.

“Oh no, that's too easy. If I kill you right now, then that proves I am real,” John returned to his feet, his face and starting to get excited as he spoke, “You described him perfectly! Did he visit you too? Wasn't his ring mesmerizing? He was a little more flippant than I anticipated.”

John remained rambling and staring aimlessly as he started to pace back in forth at the front of the bed. “I wasn't sure he was real at the time, but when I read your description I knew he visited you too. You never answered my letters. You didn't care about the man whose life story you stole! No one believed I talked to him, even after your book.”

“Well do you know what he said to me the last time I saw him? He told me if I killed you, he would reveal himself to the world. He would reveal how much evil and insanity he can create in the world.” John said as he negotiated his gaze back to his victim, "I won’t be around to see me proven right. But I will watch and laugh from hell at all the people who called me crazy. Or maybe I won't because I don't exist in the first place! HAHA!”

“Now I'm sure you're still wondering, 'why not just kill me?” John went on. “'Why tell me your reason for murder?'. But, I already answered that. You destroyed my sanity. You must suffer. Or maybe your delayed death is a gift, one last day with your family. Or maybe it isn't even murder. I mean, I'm dead, and dead people cant do anything. Who knows? Not me, I do know that. HAHAHAHAHA!”
John walked to the man's side of the bed. “he gave me a ring for you,” John said as he took a ring from his pocket, “It's just like his”. John slipped the ring onto the man's unwilling hand slowly. The massive gold ring had a cheap black opal stone embedded in it. John then sat in a nearby lounge chair.

“What nonsense is this?” he asked as he stared at the ring, too scared of John to remove it right away.

“Just think of me as Alfonso XII, and you’re Mercedes.” John replied
“What?” He managed to conquer his fear and remove the ring.

“Seriously? Did you research anything about your own book? My God, thieves are so lazy. Oh well, he said you wouldn't like it anyway.”

“Stop talking nonsense and get out of my house!” the man said as he threw the opal ring at John. John snapped out of the chair, avoiding the ring while pulling the ether and rag out of his pocket again. He leapt onto the bed and pinned the man's arms under his knees.

“You missed. But how can you hit a ghost? HAHAHAHHA! Now, that hemorrhage you had two days ago (that was his doing, don't blame me for that). I'll just add a little something and your neck will swell until it bursts. Bursting things in your neck are usually fatal Fyodor, I'm sorry. HAHAHA! No doctor will be able to save you, especially if I am not real. I recommend you spend your last day with your family. As for me, I'll either float away, or I'll head to meat plant downtown. Their grinders can turn a person into just another hamburger. HAHAHAHA! Then you will have no way to know for sure if I've been alive the past two days. Oh, it is so glorious. Even he was impressed. But it's time. I leave you to wonder if I was here. Am I even real? Spend your last hours doubting your sanity!” John almost shouted as he brought the ether soaked rag down on Fyodor’s face.

Fyodor woke a few hours later, just before dawn. There was no sign of any intruder. The opal ring was not on the lounge chair where he had thrown it. He just lay in bed, eyes stuck open in shock and disbelief until Anna woke up.

“I slept horribly,” Anna said as she stretched out her arms and legs.

She sat up and saw her husband's distraught face. “What's wrong honey?” she asked.

“I'm going to die today.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Study of Alan Wake: Source Citations

  1. Babbitt, Ellen C. "The Banyan Deer." Jataka Tales. New York: Century, 1912. N. pag.Jataka Tales: XII. The Banyan Deer., Mar. 2004. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.
  2. Clark, Ella E. "The Origin of Crater Lake." Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest. Berkeley: University of California, 1953. 53-55. Print.
  3. Darcproductions. “Deer Woman: What the Elders Say”. Youtube 7 Feb. 2009. Web. <>. 19 Sept. 2013.
  4. Dunn, Carolyn. "Deer Woman And the Living Myth of the Dreamtime." (2003.): n. pag. The Journal of Mythic Arts. Web. 9 Sept. 2013. <>.
  5. Feliks, Yehuda. Nature and Man in the Bible: Chapters in Biblical Ecology. London: Soncino, 1981. Print.
  6. Guest, Charlotte. "Pwyll Prince of Dyved." The Mabinogion. Web. 27 Dec. 2013. <>.
  7. Hakkinen, Oskari. "Alan Wake: Interview." Interview by Strategy Informer. Strategy Informer, 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <>.
  8. Lake, Sam. "I'm Sam Lake, the Creator/writer of Max Payne and Alan Wake, AMAA!" Reddit Inc, June 2013. Web. 08 Nov. 2013. <>.
  9. Lake, Sam. This House of Dreams. Google, Spring 2012. Web. 08 Nov. 2013. <>.
  10. Lewis, C.S. "The Hunting of the White Stag." The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York: First Harper Trophy Edition, 1994. 195-206. Print. The Chronicles of Narnia.
  11. Lovecraft, H. P. The Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath. New York: Ballantine, 1970. Print.
  12. National Park Service. "The World's Deepest Lakes." Crater Lake. U.S. Department of the Interior, 1 Dec. 2009. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <>.
  13. Ransome, Arthur. "Baba Yaga." Old Peter's Russian Tales: Baba Yaga. London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1916. 88-105. July 2008. Web. 18 Sept. 2013. <>.
  14. Redish, Laura, and Orrin, Lewis. "Native Languages of the Americas: Nanaboozhoo Stories and Other Potawatomi Legends." Nanaboozhoo Stories and Other Potawatomi Legends. Native Languages of the Americas, 2009. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <>.
  15. Skinner, Charles M. "Storied Waters, Cliffs and Mountains: Monsters And Sea-serpents. "Myths and Legends of Our Own Land. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <>.
  16. Steward, Clay, comp. The Alan Wake Files. Ed. Microsoft Corp. New York: Roundabout, 2010. Print.
  17. Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine, 1982. Print.
  18. TV-Novosti. "Of Russian Origin: Baba Yaga." Baba Yaga – Russiapedia Of Russian Origin. Autonomous Nonprofit Organization, 2005. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. <>.
  19. U.S. Geological Survey. "VHP Photo Glossary: Caldera." USGS: Volcano Hazards Program. U.S. Department of the Interior, 28 Dec. 2010. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. <>.
  1. Alan Wake. Remedy Entertainment. Microsoft Game Studios. 2010. Video Game.
  2. Alan Wake: American Nightmare. Remedy Entertainment. Microsoft Studios, Nordic Games Publishing. 2012. Video Game
  3. Cabela’s Big Game Hunting Series. Activision. 1998-Present. <>. Video Game.
  4. Deer Hunter: Interactive Hunting Experience. Sunstorm Interactive. Wizardworks Software. 1997. Video Game.
  5. Kingdom Hearts Series. Square Enix. 2002-present. <>. Video Game
  6. Lego Marvel Super Heroes. TT Games. Warn Bros. Interactive Entertainment.2013. Video Game.
  7. Luigi’s Mansion. Nintendo Entertainment. 2001. Video Game,
  8. Obscure. Hydravision Entertainment. DreamCatcher Interactive, MC2-Microïds. 2005. Video Game
  9. Roc’n Rope. Tokuro Fujiwara. Konami. 1983. Video Game
  1. Landis, John, and Max Landis. "Deer Woman." Masters of Horror. Showtime. 9 Dec. 2005. Television.

A Study of Alan Wake

II)Alan Wake Plot and Gameplay Synopsis
III) Blog Synopsis and Analysis
1) Cauldron Lake
2) The Dark Presence
3) Deer Symbolism and Motifs
4) Light vs Darkness Motif in Media

This is free to reproduce or recreate. Knowledge is to be shared.
Written by: Chris Strott

I) Introduction

            This is not a review. The point of this paper is to look at literary and gameplay motifs as well as symbolism in the Alan Wake universe. For this paper, I consider that universe to encompass: the six episodes that make up the game itself, the two special episodes that occur after the main campaign, the expansion Alan Wake: American Nightmare, the blog This House of Dreams, the mini-series Bright Falls and The Alan Wake Case Files short book that came with the collector’s edition of the game. The novel has a similar plot to the game, but it differs in some places from the other media in the Alan Wake universe, so I am not going to consider it for this paper.

            I am a believer in the death of the author, but I do believe that the author can help provide insight. The final word however goes to the reader (or player in this case). Writer Sam Lake did an AMA (or a Q&A) on in which he partly discusses the meaning behind the ending of the game, as well as some other elements of the game. In addition, a Remedy (the developer of the game) employee responded to forum posts regarding Alan Wake on the Remedy Games message boards. I have read these, but I do not believe either to be a direct part of the universe.

II) Alan Wake Plot and Gameplay Synopsis20

Alan Wake is a third person shooter in which you play as writer Alan Wake. The game was released on May 28,2010, and is broken down into six episodes. Two epilogue episodes were released on July 27,2010 and October 12, 2010. The gameplay mainly consists of shining a flashlight on “Taken” (seemingly feral humans who have been corrupted by the Dark Presence) in order to make them vulnerable to bullets. Inanimate objects also get possessed and hurl themselves at Alan; a theme also found in many Stephen King novels. The story of Alan Wake could sit alongside King’s other novels, and King is quoted in the opening cutscene. Shining light on inanimate objects that become ‘Taken’ is the only thing necessary to eliminate them. Light posts serve as both checkpoints and safe points.

The game takes place in the year 2010 in the fictional town of Bright Falls. The story follows Alan Wake who encounters an evil called the Dark Presence which can turn fiction into reality. Alan receives aid along the way from Thomas Zane, a poet who encountered the Dark Presence in the in the 70’s.

In the game, writer Alan Wake visits the town of Bright Falls in the hopes of taking a break from his city life. After struggling to begin his next book, Alan hopes to clear his mind with a break from writing. His wife Alice has different intentions however, and has brought Alan to Bright Falls to see Dr. Hartman, a doctor specializing in helping artists.

The Wake’s rent a cabin on Bird’s Leg Isle which lies at the center of Cauldron Lake. The lake has a rich history of oddities and Native American Lore surrounding it. Shortly after arrival, the Dark Presence drags Alice into Cauldron Lake. The Dark Presence is an evil being that dwells in Cauldron Lake. It has always existed, and it has the power to make fiction into reality. Real world Native American culture seems to have largely influenced the lore behind the Dark Presence. “… [I]n… Native [American’s] (Cherokee/Creek/Seminole/Choctaw) world view, any way of speaking, be it in speech or in writing, becomes a living, breathing entity that once spoken, cannot be taken back”.5

Alan mistakenly believes at first that Alice has drowned in the lake, but instead the Dark Presence is holding her captive at the bottom of Cauldron Lake. Alan tries to wield the Dark Presence’s power to make fiction into reality to revive Alice. Instead the Dark Presence takes control of Alan, trapping him in what appears to be the Cabin on Bird’s Leg Isle. The Dark Presence tries to use Alan to help release its true power from Cauldron Lake. While under its control, Alan has no contact with the outside world. After a few days, Alan’s agent and long time friend Barry Wheeler becomes worried; prompting him to go to Bright Falls to make sure Alan is okay.

After a week under its control, Alan is able to write just enough to allow him to escape the clutches of the Dark Presence. After Alan frees himself with some help from his ‘mentor’ Thomas. Once free, Alan follows a trail of manuscript pages left by Thomas containing clues on how to stop the Dark Presence. The manuscript pages detail Alan's time in Bright Falls, including things he has yet to encounter. Alan wrote the manuscript while under the control of the Dark Presence. In the end, the compiled pages of the manuscript make up Alan’s new novel Departure. The paranormal events in Departure are coming true, and the Dark Presence is growing stronger by the day.

Seemingly, out of nowhere, Agent Nightingale of the FBI shows up. It is revealed in the Alan Wake Case Files16 that Nightingale is not on official FBI business, but is there of his own accord to try to capture Alan. Nightengale's served in New York with his partner Finn. Finn died under odd circumstances similar to what is happening to Alan in Bright Falls. Nightingale didn't believe Finn's crazy stories at the time, and he feels guilty he didn't help his partner. He isn't sure how Alan is connected, but he knows Alan is involved with the whatever killed Finn.16

The Dark Presense seems to have been active for decades. At least since 1970. In 1970 Thomas Zane lost his wife Barbara Jagger when she disappeared in Cauldron Lake while scuba diving. Thomas also tried to use the Dark Presence to write Barbara back through his poems. Thomas grew fearful of using the Dark Presence, but the Alan Wake Case Files reveals that his assistant Emil Hartman encouraged him to continue to write and see the extent of the Dark Presence’s powers.16 Thomas suffered the same fate as Alan however, and the Dark Presence took the form of Barbara and tried to force Thomas into releasing its true power from the lake through his poems.
Cauldron Lake Lodge Sun Dial

Dr. Hartman later opened a health center to (he says) treat people who came into contact with the Dark Presence in The Cauldron Lake Lodge. At the Lodge, there is a sundial that reads In Tenebras Cadere (“Fall into Darkness” in Latin). I believe this illustrates the idea that Dr. Hartman believed that artists who are able to channel the Dark Presence should ‘fall’ into the Dark Presence and try to use its power to its full potential.

Just before being completely taken over by the Dark Presence, Thomas was able to write a poem which stopped the Dark Presence by writing everything he had ever done out of existence (including bringing the Dark Presence into the world). In the Poem him and Barbara’s souls end up together in happiness, while their human forms, possessed by Light and Dark, continue their endless struggle.9 Writing everything about him, Barbara, and the Dark Presence out of existence in 1970 also destroyed Bird Leg Isle; the same place that Alan and Alice stayed in 2010.

Knowing the Dark Presence might resurface, Thomas left a backup plan to help anyone else the Dark Presence might use. Thomas ensured that the contents of any shoebox he leaves in the real world would remain intact and unaffected by his writing himself out of existence.9 Thomas employed Cynthia Weaver, a fan girl of Zane back in the 70’s, to guard the shoebox containing a special light switch, called the Clicker.

Alan’s mother gave him the Clicker during his childhood to help him deal with nightmares. Alan had given the same Clicker to Alice before they came to Bright Falls. This second Clicker in Thomas Zane's shoebox forms a kind of paradox; it is impossible to know if Alan wrote that Thomas would leave a Clicker in the shoebox, or if Thomas wrote that Alan would find a clicker in the shoebox. In the DLC expansion Alan Wake: American Nightmare, a manuscript page reads, “… reality is too complex. Ordinary questions become meaningless. [Like], ‘Who created who?’ and ‘What is really real?’”21. It seems when dealing with the magical evil that is the Dark Presence natural laws and logic don’t apply.

          Regardless, Alan follows a trail of pages and clues left by Thomas to reach the Clicker, housed in the power plant of Bright Springs and guarded by Cynthia Weaver. Once armed with the Clicker, Alan makes his way to Cauldron Lake in hopes of destroying the Dark Presence and saving Alice. When Alan emerges from the power plant, it is daytime, even though Alan believed it should have been night. It is implied that the Clicker had something to do with it. However, by the time Alan reaches the Dark Presence at Cauldron Lake it is dark again.

         At Cauldron Lake, Alan is able to get close enough to the embodiment of the Dark Presence, Barbara Yaggar, to shove the Clicker into a hole in its chest. This severely weakened the Dark Presence, and greatly inhibited its ability to manipulate anything outside of the Lake.
During his adventure, Alan figured out the reason Zane’s attempt to save Barbara failed. He realized when dealing with the Dark Presence everything must even out; or that there cannot be a plot hole. To save someone who the Dark Presence has killed or captured, someone else must take their place. Alan switches places with Alice, trapping himself in the Dark Presence’s home at the bottom of Cauldron Lake. At the end of the original six episodes, Alice safely emerges from the Lake, as the Dark Presence traps Alan in the embodiment of its home; the cabin that was on Bird’s Leg Isle. At the end of episode six, Alan’s last words are, “It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean.”. I believe this is referring to the fact that the Dark Presence is more powerful than what occurred during Alan Wake at Cauldron Lake. This interpretation is the same held by the writer, Sam Lake.9

         There are two special episodes which deal with Alan trying to escape his imprisonment by the Dark Presence. These episodes are set entirely inside of Alan’s mind. They revolve around Alan fighting to free himself while trying to retain what sanity remains after his eventful two weeks in Bright Falls. At the end of the second episode, Alan begins typing the apparent sequel to his recently completed novel Departure, entitled Return.

          Return tells the story of Alan trying to escape the Dark Place, this time by writing himself into a Night Springs Episode. These events are played out in the expansion DLC entitled Alan Wake: American Nightmare. By the end of the DLC, it is still not clear whether Alan has escaped the Dark Place at the bottom of Cauldron Lake. It is evident he has weakened it though.

III) Blog Synopsis and Analysis9

          The blog “This House of Dreams,” elaborates on the history of Thomas, Barbara, and Emil and their time at Cauldron Lake. Fictional character Samantha Lake from the town of Ordinary buys a new house which she intends on turning into her dream home. While renovating she finds a shoebox full of knick-knacks, photos, and a batch of poems. The photos are of a man and women scuba diving in a lake. What appears to be black ink has blacked out the couple’s faces in the photos.

Curious about who wrote the poems, Samantha contacts the house’s previous owner’s family. The former owner of the house suffers from Alzheimer’s, and the daughter isn’t sure how her mother came into possession of the shoebox. Her best guess is that her mother probably bought the shoe box at a yard sale. The poems only attribution is a few initials. T. appears to be the author, while B. is his significant other, and E. seems to be a friend/editor. It is safe to assume that T is Thomas Zane, B is Barbara Yagger, and E is Emil Hartman.

Shortly after finding the shoebox, Samantha has a nightmare in which an FBI agent visits her house asking about the shoebox. The agents face, “was leaking inky smoke so that [Samantha] couldn’t see what he looked like.” After the dream, the shoebox, including the poems, went missing. I assert that the FBI agent was Nightingale under the control of the Dark Presence, trying to find anything else Thomas left behind that might hinder its quest for freedom from Cauldron Lake, and the power that comes with that freedom.

Alan Wake's Jacket
Samantha soon has another dream in which she intends to visit the previous owner of the house in order to learn where the shoebox came from. Instead, Samantha ends up visiting a man who was, “…wearing a funny jacket with old-fashioned elbow patches.” This sounds very similar to Alan Wake’s jacket in the game. I think it is safe to assume this character is Alan Wake. In the dream, Alan frantically and continually asks Samantha to turn on the lights. Right before she wakes up, Alan is shouting at her to turn on the lights. Awoken and distraught from the dream, she goes to get a glass of water and sees a man’s black silhouette outside. Alan knows the Dark Presence can't enter any kind of light, so the dream seems to be some kind of warning from Alan against an incoming attack. In the end, she calls a neighbor to check the yard for her, and he finds nothing.

Shortly after the dream, one night while listening to music at home, Samantha sees black silhouettes outside of her house. Upon seeing the silhouettes, the power in the house goes out and Samantha hears a window break. She runs to hide in the closet and calls 911. The closet bursts open before “…all went black.” The last thing she saw before she lost consciousness was the shoebox on a shelf in the closet. Samantha insists, “There was no way I could not have seen it before if it had been there since it went missing.” When the police arrived, they said that there were no signs of a break-in. After later investigating the newly found shoebox, Samantha finds six new poems inside of it, a title page, and an old light switch.

            The first time Samantha tried flicking the light switch, the power went out in the whole neighborhood. She said a thunderstorm going on outside caused the power outage, but it is possible the switch has a supernatural power to control light similar to the Clicker in the video game. (The first time Alan used the Clicker in the game it became warm and sunny in Bright Falls, and he questioned whether the it had changed night into day.

Shortly after finding the shoebox and the new items, Samantha receives a phone call from an anonymous person warning her that she should stop writing about the shoebox and its contents in her blog. The caller says that the shoebox must remain a secret because there are people who might want to do terrible things in order to obtain it. Samantha says, “…in a way it felt a lot like my nightmare about the agent who came asking about the shoebox.”

Samantha again has a strange dream, in which she encounters the diver from the photographs. She says, “He looked nothing like in the photos, but it was the same man. He was the poet who wrote the poems as well.” The diver is described as, “…wearing a strange, heavy diving suit… shining with a bright light”9; the same way Thomas is depicted in Alan Wake.

In the dream, the diver explains how the Dark Presence has taken over his girlfriend, and that he has figured out how to stop it. The dream then shifts to Samantha being underwater with the diver, going into the center of the Dark Place, where anything spoken or written comes true. As they are descending, things start to surge up from below; Things of darkness, but bright things of light as well”.9 The diver tells Samantha “…that these things, or these presences, were forever fighting a war between the forces of light and darkness”. This presents the idea that the Dark Presence has always existed. Thomas talks of one last poem about a safe haven from the darkness, “a ‘baby’ universe”9 where his and Barbara’s essence's, or souls, or whatever you want to call it can be together. Creating this universe would allow Thomas and Barbara's souls to rest in peace while leaving their bodies behind to be inhabited and used in the eternal war of light versus dark.

After the dream, Samantha has a feeling of hope; an expectation that, “…something amazing is coming.”9 (Perhaps setting up Alan Wake 2?)

1) Cauldron Lake

Cauldron Lake is the epicenter of the Dark Presence. It is where Thomas Zane lost his love Barbara Yagger, it is where Alan lost Alice, and it is where the Dark Presence is the strongest.

The real world’s Crater Lake inspired the design of Cauldron Lake.7 Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed in on itself almost 7,700 years ago to form the foundation for Crater Lake.
 Geologically, the name for the foundation of Crater Lake is caldera, Spanish for cauldron.19 Over time the caldera filled with rainwater and snowmelt to become the deepest lake in the U.S., and the seventh deepest in the world at 592 feet.12

There are many myths surrounding Crater Lake. Just as Cauldron Lake houses the Dark Presence which dragged Alice and Barbara into its depths, Crater Lake is said to be, “…a haunt of water-devils who [drag] into it and [drown] all who [venture] near.”15

Native American myths about Crater Lake seem to have helped to inspire the Dark Presence. According to Clark’s “The Origin of Crater Lake,”2 the Klamath Indian tribe believed the entrance to the Below World, (more commonly known as the Underworld), is below Mt. Mazama. The myth says that the Chief of the Below World, or Llao, got spurned by a beautiful maiden and to get revenge he starts spewing fire from atop Mt. Mazama. This destroyed the mountain much in the same way a volcano might. After a few sacrifices from the village medicine men, the Chief of the Above World, or Skell, agreed to help the villagers and collapsed Mt. Mazama in on top of the Chief of the Below World, ideally trapping him there forever. This also formed the caldera where Crate Lake is in present day. The bottom of Cauldron Lake in Alan Wake may not be the underworld, but it defiantly houses a terrible evil.

2) The Dark Presence

            The Dark Presence is the antagonist in Alan Wake. It seems to have no form of its own; it can appear in any form it wants. The Dark Presence draws influence from a few different cultures’ folktales about “witches,” or women with special powers. The Dark Presence shares similarities to the Klamath Indians’ legend of Llao, as well as with Slavic myths of Baba Yaga, and also to the Deer Woman of Oklahoma Native American lore.

The Anderson twins, siblings living under the care of Dr. Hartman at Cauldron Lake Lodge, refer to the Dark Presence as Baba Yaga, which is very close to Barbara Jagger. The name Baba Yaga is of Slavic origin. In Russian folklore, Baba Yaga is, “… usually shown as a…old woman”18. In most Slavic languages, Baba means “old woman.” Yaga is generally a feminine name, but it is also possible that it, “… comes from the old Russian verb yagat which means to abuse, to find fault.”18

In some folklore, Baba Yagga lives on a house that stands on chicken legs.13,18 This could be an allusion to Bird’s Leg Cabin, the cabin on Diver’s Isle at the center of Cauldron Lake. Diver’s Isle even looks like a chicken foot.

Diver's Isle

          The Dark Presence also shares similarities to Native American legends surrounding the ‘Deer Woman’. The deer is one of the most prominent symbols that appear in Alan Wake, with banners and floats for the town’s ‘Deerfest’ scattered throughout Bright Falls.

Among contemporary Native American people of Oklahoma, the Deer Woman often plays a “’…bogeyman’ sort of role...”14; someone who seduces people into doing evil things.3 The Oklahoma Tribal council believes she has always been around, and that she is a door between life and death. According to lore, it is a bad omen to see her. In Carolyn Dunn’s “Deer Woman and the Living Myth of the Dreamtime” she says, “The only way to save you from the magic of the Deer Woman is to… recognize her for what she is.”4 This idea is also in Alan Wake. In order to defeat the Dark Presence Alan, just as Thomas did before him, must look past Barbara’s appearance, and recognize the Dark Presence for what it truly is.

The Deer Woman also has the ability to shape shift in some legends.29,4 In the Bright Falls mini-series, after Jake becomes scared of his black outs, he handcuffs himself to his refrigerator and sets up a camera to record himself. When Jake wakes up, he finds his room torn apart. Due to the jagged edges of the damage in the room, the investigating police officer infers that a deer did the damage. This damage might be the result of the Dark Presence, or Deer Woman, possessing Jake and then shape shifting his body into a deer.

3) Deer Symbolism and Motifs

The Deer is an oft repeated symbol throughout Alan Wake. The towns annual Deerfest occurred one week after Alan Wake arrived in Bright Falls. Banners, floats, and billboards of deer are littered everywhere throughout the town for the celebration. In the web miniseries, Jake’s first encounter with the Dark Presence is when he strikes a deer possessed by the Dark Presence with his car. Even though the deer seemed to suffer fatal injuries, it screeched and crawled into the woods. In the blog “This House of Dreams,”9 one of the first decorations that Samantha hangs in her house is antlers. There are many popular deer motifs found in both Alan Wake and literature

Legends often portray deer as victims; as hunted, “…persecuted animals.”5 In the old Buddhist story, “King Banyan Deer1 the King of Benares has all the nearby deer rounded up and imprisoned in his park. He has one deer slaughtered per day for his dinner. There are copious amounts of video games which have the player hunting deer. In both Deer Hunter: Interactive Hunting Experience23 and in the Cabela’s Hunting Games video game series22 players hunt deer. People in trouble, like Alan during his week in Bright Falls, can often identify with persecuted and hunted animals.

           Another very popular motif is the idea of the deer as a guide to other worlds. In the real world, hunter’s follow deer into a world very different from human life, or city life, into the wilderness. In the Welsh story Pwyll Prince of Dyved6; Pwyll follows a stag deep into the woods. Once he is able to catch up to the deer, he finds strange looking dogs have downed it. He drives off the dogs, and claims the deer as his own. Unfortunately for Pwyll, the dogs belonged to Arwan, King of the Otherworld (or Underworld) from Welsh mythology. As punishment, Pwyll takes Arwan’s place as King of the Otherworld. Following the deer guided Pwyll into an encounter with another world.

In The Hobbit17, white doe’s mark the borders of elven territory, an entirely different world to that of the protagonist Bilbo. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe10, the child-protagonists enter a supernatural wardrobe that transports them to Narnia, a magical land unlike anything they have ever encountered. After a few years in Narnia, the now grown protagonists follow a white stag into a forest which transports them in space and time; back to their drastically different lives at their normal home and back to the time that they first found the wardrobe.

Biblical stories often tell of deer leading people to heaven, or to put it another way, to another world. Christianity has a much more cheery outlook on why the deer is luring people into the forest than the deer in Alan Wake.

4) Light vs. Darkness Motif in Media

A common gameplay element is using light to weaken enemies. Rock-n-Rope28 is the first game which has the player use a flashlight to daze enemies. Similar to Alan Wake, in ObsCure27 shining a flashlight on enemies weakens them. In Luigi’s Mansion26, flashlights weaken poltergeists so that Luigi can capture them with his Ghost Vacuum. Similarly, during a boss fight in the game Lego: Marvel Super Heroes25, a spotlight weakens the otherwise invincible boss so that he can be hurt. In the Kingdom Hearts24 series, exposing enemies known as the Heartless to light weakens or outright kills them.

In literature, the idea of light weakening or destroying enemies is also widespread. It is a very common motif throughout the Bible. In addition, in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath11 bright light kills creatures known as ghasts. Many tales involving Trolls state that sunlight turns them to stone, such as in The Hobbit.17

Monday, August 26, 2013

Saints Row IV Pop-Culture References

My full review of Saints Row IV is being worked on, but I thought it might be interesting to list the references to pop-culture that I found.

Note: Some of these references are spoilers for both Saints Row IV and the media it is referencing.  I have put the name of the referenced media first, to help try to avoid unwanted spoilers.

-From Mass Effect- Your presidential advisor Keith David is voiced by Keith David, who was also the voice of Colonel David Anderson in Mass Effect.  I guess that’s not so much a reference as a fun fact, but I digress.  The setup of the ship in SRIV is very similar to the Normandy. Also,  each ally in both games has a “loyalty mission” that can be completed to power them up.  Finally, the scene at the end of Mass Effect 2 where Shepard leaps to the ship is very reminiscent of the leap of the Protagonist in SRIV when he escapes.

-From Star Fox 64- an ally recommends you “Do a Barrel Roll”

-From Harry Potter - The unnamed protagonist asks if catching a glowing yellow ball gives him points.

-From multiple stories of Edgar Allen Poe - A text adventure game has a section meant to depict "terror as personified by [Earth's] literary culture" containing a raven, a pendulum, a heart in the floor, and a walled off skeleton. 

-From Metal Gear Solid- There is a stealth mission where the protagonist wears an outfit very similar to Solid Snake.  Also, during the mission cardboard boxes are used to hide from guards. Finally, during the mission one guard says “This snake is 100% solid!”, except in this instance he is referring to his junk.

-From Dragon Ball Z – When Genki goes Super-Genki, he starts glowing yellow in a Super Saiyan-esque matter.  There is also a Super Saiyan hair option.

-From Mortal Kombat – Once ally Pierce’s super powers are unlocked, he is outfitted with gear that looks similar to Kung Lao's.

-From The Matrix – Once ally Ben King gets his super powers, he is outfitted in Morpheus’ outfit from The Matrix

Gamefront made a video of another 50 references to pop-culture found in Saints Row IV. I'm sure between us we have still missed a bunch of references though. Have you noticed any references we missed? Leave a comment.