The Maltese Black Bird

Written by Jon Reed not Wendi Knape

The following was a writer’s exercise in developing a short story, especially for Bogart fans; one requirement is that it had to include a golden Roman coin of Caligula somewhere in the plot.

 “Oh, Sam. Sam. What can it mean? There’s a dapper little frog-faced man calling himself Joel Cairo waiting to see you outside right now. Should I let him in? By the way, the painter’s adding our new name Sam Spade Detective Agency on the door.” Sam’s secretary, Bridget, seemed worried, whether it was frog-face man or the smell of new paint, he wasn’t sure.

“Sure, doll-face. We need the business right now, anyway. By the way, why’s it so dark in here? We’re in the twenty-first century and it’s almost like early ‘40’s film noir. Let Mr. Cairo in.” Joel Cairo was the spitting image of Peter Lorre, along with his menacing lisp. He had a drip of black paint on one of his white gloves. Spade took his time lighting a cigarette, smoke softly curling up into his eyes, almost making him choke. But ace detectives don’t cough, so he waited.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Spade. Gee, why is it so dark in here? Almost like an early ‘40’s film noir.”

Spade took a long minute putting out the first and lighting another non-filter Camel, measuring Cairo, before answering. “I don’t know, Mr. Cairo, since I don’t know why it’s so dark, much less why I’m wearing a double-breasted suit at this time of day. What can I do for you, anyway?”

“Mr. Spade, I’m prepared to offer you $5,000 to find a black figure of a bird for me. But, before you accept, I must pull this gun on you and search your office.”

Spade raised his hands. “Heh, heh. You sure looked suspicious coming in here wearing a tuxedo and white gloves at this time of day. Go ahead and search, by all means. As if you’ll find anything.” But, quick as a flash, he knocked a lethal-appearing Beretta from Cairo’s hand and slugged him. Cairo went down like a stone, and Sam began going through his clothes. Inside a tuxedo jacket pocket, he found a Detroit Free Press clipping from only a few weeks before:

“The future of the 108-year-old SS Ste. Claire remains uncertain after a fire ravaged the iconic steamer known for ferrying generations of Detroiters to Boblo Island. The Ste. Claire was docked at Riverside Marina in Detroit, and workers with welding equipment were on board when the fire broke out Friday morning,” officials said. According to Detroit’s Deputy Fire Commissioner, “Workers tried extinguishing the flames before calling for help.” The Ste. Claire’s co-owners watched as firefighters fought the flames, and had planned to open a restaurant on the boat. “We know everybody loved it, and we’re going to do our best to bring it back. There’s nothing like the taste of zebra mussel-stuffed, mercury-laced Lake Erie perch.”

It had taken a long time reading the clipping because the Freep wasn’t known for quality writing, and Spade had never knowingly tasted zebra mussel-stuffed, mercury-laced perch. Cairo was showing signs of consciousness as Spade finished reading. Did Cairo’s interest in a “black figure of a bird” have any relation to the Boblo fire? Hmm. Cairo recovered remarkably quickly, so Spade returned the Berretta to him because he needed the business.

Joel Cairo pointed the gun at him again. “And now, Mr. Spade, it seems ridiculous after just hiring you for $5,000, but I must ask you again to allow me to search your person and office. If there’s the slightest chance of possessing the black bird, I must have it, and by the way, has anyone ever mentioned you’re the spitting image of Humphrey Bogart?”

Not for the first time, Spade laughed at himself. How stupid could he be? Cairo soon left, and it was only moments before Sam and Bridget heard a noise outside. Sam opened the door and a disheveled old Captain stumbled inside, obviously mortally-wounded what with all the bullet holes in him. The man dropped a heavy muslin-wrapped bundle on the carpet, before expiring, eyes wide open, on the couch, a grisly scene. Bridget screamed. Spade noticed the Captain’s hat read “SS Ste. Claire” as did the metal tag on his blood-coated breast, his shoulder epaulets, and sleeve patches. Sam wondered aloud, “Where do you think he came from? Maybe the Ste. Claire?”

“Oh, Sam. Sam. Is he dead!!” She looked as if she would faint, before asking for a non-filtered Camel to soothe her nerves. Camel ads from the ’50s said, “More Doctors Smoke Camels than Any Other Cigarette” and “Not One Single Case of Throat Irritation Due To Smoking Camels” so what was there to worry about, anyway?

“Get ahold of yourself, doll-face. And stop repeating my name. He sure looks toes up to me. Let’s see what’s in the package. It must have been hidden on the Boblo boat for a long time.” He sliced through the bindings, tearing at layers of ancient Free Press newspaper. “He sure packed a lot of Freep around whatever’s in here. Must have been more Kroger and Walmart clippings than usual. Have you noticed how many Menards ads there are lately, and no Sears Roebuck at all? And why is it so dark in here; almost ‘40’s film noir-ish, whatever that is?”

“Oh, Sam. Sam. What can it be? Can it be the black bird? Yes, I’ve seen Menard’s ads, but I’ve never shopped there.” Their eyes glowed with anticipation. And greed. The wrappings parted, revealing a black, sculptured and painted bird constructed of tiny stacks of gold coins.

“Yes, doll-face. That’s what dreams are made of. Hmmm. Did someone else once say that? Oh, well. Get some string. I have to re-wrap this and store it in a local bus station locker before mailing the key to myself. I’ll have trouble getting rid of all this extra newspaper ‘cause my trash can is full. Wait a minute. Don’t you have a birdcage that needs re-lining”?

Doll-face glanced at Spade, confused. “Are you kidding? We haven’t had bus station storage lockers in the States since 9-11, what with the ease of terrorists storing bombs. You’ll have to check it at Metro Airport’s Westin and ask them to hold a piece of luggage. That way, you’ll have a claim ticket to retrieve later.”

“Oh, yeah. I wonder where I’ve been all these years. It used to be so simple. What does the Westin cost for a night?”

After disposing of the black bird for safekeeping, and mailing the Westin claim ticket to himself, he received a text on his cell phone from Joel Cairo. “Meet an associate, Casper Gutman, in room 342 re black bird.”

Spade knocked and entered, finding Cairo, a gunsel triggerman, and a huge Gutman who looked appalling like Sydney Greenstreet. Gutman extended a welcoming hand. “Well, sir. If I may say so, don’t mind the film noir appearance in this room. The lighting seems to be under stress at the moment in this rather stark airport hotel. Well, sir, I understand you have access to the black bird, and I am willing to pay a lot of money for it. It was hidden for years on the recently demised SS Ste. Claire, and it appears you may have knowledge of it. If that is correct, would you like some indifferent hotel whiskey I found in the refrigerator? It may taste a little odd, but that’s hotel whiskey for you.”

Spade took his time lighting another non-filtered Camel, smoke softly curling into his eyes, almost making him choke. But ace detectives don’t cough so, instead, he wondered where he could find another carton. Camels were in short supply unless one drove to Indiana and smuggled them across the state line without paying Michigan’s sales tax, which was outrageous anyway. “Of course, Gutman. As long as you haven’t added any drugs. Heh, heh. But, let’s get down to business. Tell me about the bird.” He downed a half glass of Old Ironsides, making a face. “This stuff sure tastes funny.”

“Well, sir. If I don’t mind saying so, the bird as you call it is made of gold Roman coins stuck together in the shape of a falcon, or a chipmunk if you will, by 16th-century Knights of Malta; a gift to the King of Spain. But it was captured by pirates. They could never figure out how to get the coins apart. Something to do with Caligula’s heads interfering with each other. After passing from owner to owner, at some time the sculpture was coated with black enamel to conceal its value. It then led to a General Kemidov, a Russian exile in Constantinople, and I hired Cairo to retrieve it. But it found its way to Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Toledo, Ohio before being hidden on the SS. Ste. Claire. Have you ever been to Toledo, Ohio? I spent a week there one day.”

While Spade was mulling over the clever Bon Mot “spent a week in Toledo one day,” he not only wondered what “Ste.” stood for in the ship’s name but what Bon Mot meant, since he didn’t speak French. That was before he fell over unconscious.

Gutman heaved himself to his feet. “Gentlemen, let us continue our adventure by first departing this darkened Westin room and its rotten hotel whisky. I didn’t even put anything in his drink, and it knocked him out anyway. I think Mr. Spade has hidden the “bird” in his room at the decrepit Hotel Fordson in downtown Dearborn. It would be just like him.” As they left, the triggerman, who had had a bad morning, kicked Spade in the head just for luck.

When Sam came to his senses, the room was even more dark than usual. He vainly searched his pockets for another non-filtered Camel to sooth his nerves. It would be another long drive to Michigan City, Indiana for more. But he could always send doll-face Bridget. He pocketed a pistol the triggerman had stupidly dropped, before texting doll-face, “meet me at the Fordson” and set out. He didn’t need a car this time, since he could get a Uber, or take the FAST bus downtown if he pointed the gun at the driver and was dropped off in Dearborn.

He got to the Hotel Fordson before Gutman, Cairo, and the dirty son-of-a-bitch stupid triggerman arrived, and met doll-face. Once in the room, he sat her down and said, “I won’t play the sap for you.”

“Oh, Sam. Sam. What are you talking about?

“Sorry, doll-face. It must be the rotten no-good Old Ironsides Westin whisky that’s still affecting me. That, and the look on the bus driver’s face when I had him drop me over here in Dearborn. I told him I voted to support the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation bus system otherwise known as SMART, so I didn’t think he’d mind. Of course, holding the gun that stupid no-good triggerman dropped didn’t hurt, and he thanked me for supporting SMART.”

“Oh, Sam. Sam. Why do you still have a room in East Dearborn, anyway? And why’d you mail the claim ticket to me? And I never heard the full name of our local regional transit system before, so thank you. And why is it so dark in here? Did you pay the rent?”

“Don’t mention it, doll-face. Come back here in an hour with the bird and we’ll get it all settled.”

“But I have to get an Uber to go back out, because the latest regional transit system millage was defeated.  And you and I don’t look like each other, so the Westin clerk will be suspicious.”

“All right, doll-face, here’s some car fare. And you shouldn’t begin all your sentences with the word “And.”  Just remember, I won’t play the sap for you. If I can get you off with a long prison term, I’ll wait for you. But, if you hang, so be it. And don’t hold your breath. Times, they are a-changin.”

“Oh, Sam. Sam. That’s not original. And I still don’t know what you’re talking about. Michigan no longer has the death penalty, but whoever started the Boblo Boat fire should be hanged, anyway, because I was looking forward to zebra-mussel stuffed perch.”

Bridget was out and back from Metro Airport in a jiffy, just before the doorbell rang. “Oh, Sam. Sam. Here’s the package. The men have arrived.”

Portly Casper Gutman, Joel Cairo, and the dirty son-of-a-bitch stupid triggerman entered Spade’s strangely darkened, almost ‘40’s film noir-ish apartment. A tiny bit of Spade’s forehead stuck to the latter’s shoe.

The forgetful triggerman spoke first. “Have you seen an extra pistol laying around by any chance? I seem to have mislaid one somewhere.”

Gutman interrupted, “Well, sir. Have you the bird? I am prepared to pay a half-million.” He handed over a wad of bills, and he and his cronies tore at the wrappings. “There doesn’t seem to be as much newspaper this time” he intoned, suspiciously. “It must not have been a holiday issue, or people aren’t buying the Freep as much as they used to. They really don’t have much news to report these days, do they?” He palmed a knife and began scraping the black coating off the bird, which actually looked more like a chipmunk than a falcon. Gutman was sweating, eyes ablaze with greed.

“Yes, Gutman. That’s what dreams are made of. Hmmm. Did someone else once say that? Oh, well.”

Gutman began scraping faster, before blurting, “These are actually WWII U.S. one-cent, zinc-coated steel coins.  I like the term “steelie” as it takes me back to my childhood. Well, sir, after my erudite soliloquy, I must ask for my money back. We will return to Constantinople to pursue better avenues, besides departing this wretchedly dark room, almost ‘40’s film noir-ish in its own way.”

After they left, Spade texted the local police where they could pick up Gutman and his men for smuggling Indiana cigarettes into Michigan, wearing tuxedos in the middle of the day, and not paying for Westin Hotel airport whiskey. But local law enforcement couldn’t find an Uber driver to take them to Istanbul, so they hung up.

He turned to his somewhat distraught secretary. “Oh, all right, doll-face. I won’t turn you in, but remember I won’t play the sap for you. Instead of Camels from Indiana, can you pick up some gin at Windsor’s Duty Free Shop next time you’re over there? Here, take this coin with you. I think it’s actually a gold Roman coin that fell off the bottom of the chipmunk, since it’s a Caligula with a wreath on his head. The coin, not the chipmunk. It may come in handy. All the time we were fooling around, who knew?”


Resident Evil Characters that Deserve a Comeback

As a fanfiction writer, I love any series that offers a wealth of characters that stories could be built around. In that regard, the Resident Evil video game series is one of the best mediums out there—at least a hundred unique characters have been introduced since the franchise started in 1996. But out of the many personas that have been seen over the years, only a small fraction were deemed worthy of recurring appearances—dozens of characters were only seen on-screen once before fading from the limelight.

Below is my list of fourteen Resident Evil one-shot characters, in no particular order, who could easily return to the series in some form.

1) Billy Coen (first appearance in 2002) – In the first Resident Evil, fans were introduced to the STARS Alpha team, a paramilitary unit who were fighting for their lives within a monster-laden mansion while investigating the disappearance of the secondary Bravo team. Given how popular the game series became in its early years, it was inevitable that a prequel would be produced that focused on the sole survivor of the Bravo team—Rebecca Chambers. She could easily have been paired with one of her doomed teammates for this new adventure, but the game’s developers had other ideas. Enter Billy Coen, an ex-marine wrongfully accused of mass murder and sentenced to death row. He escaped from his prison transport during its ill-fated trip through the woods populated by recently-escaped genetically-engineered creatures. Billy and Rebecca soon crossed paths and were forced to team up to survive the night and discover how the outbreak happened. By the end of their story, Rebecca was convinced of his innocence and helped him fake his death—Billy is never seen or mentioned again after they part ways. While he presumably went into hiding to escape his fate, there are multiple ways in which he could have come back into the over-arcing story. Whether he managed to prove his innocence or assumed a new identity, Billy would have fit in nicely in later entries for the series.

2) Oswell Spencer (first appearance in 2009) – As the mastermind behind the development of illegal viral and genetic research, it’s surprising that Oswell Spencer only appeared on-screen once during the entire run of the Resident Evil franchise. While it’s fitting that he was killed by one of the monsters he helped create—the super-powered villain Albert Wesker—Spencer is a character that deserves more than a one-shot appearance. If Capcom—the production company—ever decides to produce a game that delves into the thirty-years-worth of history prior to the series’ first title, Spencer could easily make a comeback.

3) Sheva Alomar (first appearance in 2009) – Later entries of the Resident Evil series introduced a global military organization called the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance that was founded in response to Umbrella’s illegal research making its way onto the black market. While the B.S.A.A. has headquarters on every major continent, very few of its soldiers have gotten any screen time. One exception is Sheva Alomar, an African operative assigned to assist series veteran Chris Redfield on one of his missions. Sheva has proven a very capable fighter in her own right by simply surviving several run-ins with the super-powered Wesker. Should she return in a future game, she has more than earned the right to stand alongside the veteran soldiers of the series. As an added plus, Sheva is young enough that she could easily come to the forefront should the older B.S.A.A. members either perish or retire.

4) Carlos Oliviera (first appearance in 1999) – Though he was employed by Umbrella Corporation as a security officer when first introduced, Carlos was initially completely in the dark about how shady the company was. His run-in with the first game’s survivor, Jill Valentine, opened his eyes and he easily could have joined the fight to take down the corrupt pharmaceutical company. With the many directions that Carlos’ story arc could have taken, it’s a shame that he never returned in the succeeding entries of the series.

5) Manuela Hidalgo (first appearance in 2009) – Given how rare it is for someone exposed to a genetically-altering virus to maintain their humanity, those that fall under this category could be the subject of some interesting storylines within the franchise. Manuela is one of the lucky few to avoid mutating into a bloodthirsty monster. Her story began when she contracted a fatal illness and her wealthy drug-lord father procured the T-Veronica virus from the black market in a desperate bid to save her. To keep Manuela from mutating, her father kidnapped many young women from the neighboring villages for routine organ transplants. Upon discovering what her father had done, Manuela ran from him and subsequently aided a pair of government-trained operatives in taking him out. Though she remained human, she was taken into custody by the US government since she possessed the unique attribute of making her blood spontaneously combust when exposed to oxygen. In spite of the avenues that could have been explored with her character, she hasn’t been seen since her introductory story.

6) Jake Muller (first appearance in 2012) – In spite of the broad character roster and potential for romantic pairings, children are a rarity within the series. Only three of the mainstream characters are known to have kids, all of whom were born prior to the first title of the franchise. The most interesting member of the next generation, Jake, wasn’t even introduced until three years after his supervillain father was killed. While it’s unclear if Wesker even knew he had an illegitimate son, Jake had grown up to despise his dad for never being there. What little is known of Jake’s background is that he and his mother were barely getting by; he became a soldier of fortune in a failed attempt to secure proper medical treatment for her when she got sick. Despite being on a path to becoming a bad guy in his own right, Jake turned his life around upon discovering who and what his father was. When last seen, Jake was operating as an independent fighter against bioterrorism free of charge.

7) Excella Gionne (first appearance in 2009) – Every supervillain, no matter how powerful, still must rely on others to carry out their orders and help build an empire. And Wesker found an influential and very loyal follower in Excella, a wealthy ambitious woman in charge of her own pharmaceutical company. Though she was quite intelligent, Excella was still blind to the fact that he was using her for his own gain—she even fancied herself as a suitable romantic partner worthy of his attention. While she was ultimately betrayed and killed by Wesker, there is still room for her to return in a game set earlier in the overall chronology.

8 & 9) Bruce McGivern & Fong Ling (first appearance for both in 2003) – When a former Umbrella employee called Morpheus threatened attacks against the U.S. and China for ransom, each country sent in a single operative to neutralize the situation. In spite of the fact that they were working toward the same goal and could benefit from each other’s help, Fong frequently undermined Bruce to serve her own ends. That all changed when her country gave in to Morpheus’ demands and sold her out. At the end of their story, Fong and Bruce were on their way to becoming a couple. It would have been nice to see them working as a team combating another threat, but they never came back for a second game.

10) Moira Burton (first appearance in 2015) – In a franchise filled with skilled fighters, it’s refreshing to see a character with a strong aversion to firearms. Moira—daughter of STARS\B.S.A.A. veteran Barry Burton—is one such person. As a child, she hurt her sister in an accidental shooting involving one of their dad’s guns. When abducted years later alongside several other employees of the NGO company Terra Save and dropped into a nightmarish scenario, Moira relies heavily on a crowbar or partner Claire Redfield to survive. Though she was forced to overcome her fear of guns to save Claire’s life, Moira still stands out for being a very headstrong character with a foul mouth. It would be nice to see her again in a future title.

11 & 12) Raymond Vester & Jessica Sherawat (first appearance for both in 2012) – The Resident Evil series has its share of two-faced characters, but most who fall under that category at least earned recurring status. Raymond and Jessica—who started out under the employ of the Federal Bioterrorism Commission—are extremely good when it comes to subterfuge. Both of them were exposed as double agents during their story who were seemingly working against each other. However, it was revealed at the end of their story that they were triple agents under Excella Gionne’s employ and had been playing an elaborate charade simply to steal a new virus strain. Though both Raymond and Jessica are guns-for-hire, it would be interesting to see them in action again.

13) Joe Baker (first appearance in 2017) – Like Billy Coen, Joe Baker is an ex-marine but from a completely different walk of life. A Lousiana native, Joe both looks and talks the part of a hillbilly who enjoys life in the swamplands. He first came onto the scene after a virus had consumed his brother Jack and Jack’s family. Joe aims to cure his niece, Zoe, by any means necessary, only he relies primarily on his fists to subdue any bad guys or creatures he sees roaming about the bayou. If Capcom follows the same route with Joe as they have with many other characters, he will likely only have the one appearance in the games. But it would be nice to be proven wrong.

14) Nicholai Ginovaef (first appearance in 1999) – Most of the bigwigs from the Umbrella Corporation have been systemically eliminated over the years since the company went under. But there are several who remain unaccounted for. Nicholai is a corrupt Umbrella officer—and team leader of Carlos’ unit—who managed to escape intact but who has never been seen since. He could easily return as a formidable opponent for the heroes of the franchise, but time will tell.

With such a diverse set of fictional characters—there has to be somewhere around 150 that have been dreamed up in the twenty-plus years the franchise has been around—it’s no wonder that the Resident Evil game series inspires so many fanfiction stories. And maybe someday there will be a game or two that gives some of the “forgotten” characters another chance to stand in the spotlight. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the future stories that the franchise’s development company could come up with. And if some old familiar faces turn up in the process, all the better.

Our Book (Part 1 of 3)

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine


My husband, Roger, and I embarked on Holland America’s Panama Cruise after a short Sunday flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Our first day was spent relaxing, eating, and playing Scrabble. On Monday, we docked at the cruise line’s private island, Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, where we were treated to a delicious buffet lunch. They served ribs, grilled chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, mac and cheese, a variety of salads, fruit, lemonade, and cookies. We could also purchase soft drinks and liquor.


While at sea on Tuesday and Wednesday, we socialized with many fellow travelers playing trivia in groups of six people, listening to music, and line dancing. Playing games with the passengers was a fun way to meet new people. At dinner, we met a delightful couple with whom we spent time telling stories about our various travel experiences, our children, and our grandchildren. They enjoy long biking trips as well as cruises. Roger also started teaching me how to play cribbage.


Thursday, we took our first excursion to the National Aviary on Isla Baru about 45 minutes from Cartagena, Colombia. We saw some of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen. More than 138 species represented the thousands of birds including the Harpy Eagle, the toucan Caribbean, the Pink Flamingos, and the Crane Corona. The Aviary supports three systemic eco environments – rainforest, coast, and desert – to accommodate the wide variety of permanent exhibits.


The next morning, we arose early to see an awesome man-made wonder of the world. We transited the Panama Canal, sometimes referred to as “The Ditch.” The engineering marvel of this canal can’t be overstated. As we went through the canal heading west on the right, we passed a huge cargo ship crossing the canal going east on the left. We marveled at the coordination of the raising and lowering of the water, the movement of the ships, and the “mules” which guide ships through the lock chambers. Mules are locomotives so named because they replaced the many mules which originally helped guide the ships. While many marveled at the engineering, I marveled at who first thought of this process.


After dinner, I attended an intriguing 2001 Irish-American spy thriller. The movie, The Tailor of Panama, starred Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, and Jamie Lee Curtis.


Saturday was spent at sea. Roger played pickleball. I participated in a line dance class. We both played games, socialized, and enjoyed the delicious cuisine.


Our Sunday excursion at Puntarenas, Costa Rica was a Tropical Mangrove River Cruise where we saw crocodiles, macaws, herons, and egrets. Sadly, we also saw numerous tires, debris, and building materials that covered part of the landscape due to severe flooding a few years ago. It was interesting to learn that Costa Rica’s major export is technology. In the evening, we participated in Barry from Boston’s sing along.

Gamer’s Year in Review — 2018

For all of my years playing video games, I’ve never kept a record of when I started playing a particular title. In retrospect, it would be nice to have some documentation of my first impression of whatever game I’ve played, as well as keep track of which titles I’ve played. I’m certain that there are some games I’ve forgotten I tried myself.

For this blogpost, I thought I’d tackle a new, interesting topic. That is, to go over the new games I’ve delved into over the course of a year. When I say new, that generally means a title I’ve never played before regardless of when it was released. I hope you all enjoy this article and that you may find a title that intrigues you.

1) Subnautica (January) – I first heard about Subnautica when my older brother recommended I check out a YouTube video of someone else’s playthrough. I instantly fell in love with it enough to want to buy it for myself. The game starts with you using an escape pod to abandon a damaged space freighter before it crashes. This leaves you stranded in the ocean on an alien planet that is almost all water.  What I love about Subnautica the most is that you’re able to explore and gather resources at your leisure, though there are some time constraints and mandatory objectives to complete for your long-term survival. The main point of the game is to escape the planet, but you also have the option of remaining there indefinitely and building a home for yourself once you pass a certain part of the storyline. And no two playthroughs are the same—the environment changes when you start a new game. As far as open world games go, Subnautica has a beautiful underwater environment to explore and tells an excellent sci-fi mystery story. I would highly recommend it.

2) Octogeddon (February) – A fun and addictive cartoony game made by the producers of the first Plants vs. Zombies, Octogeddon is a title I discovered through the YouTube channel of ZackScottGames. Octogeddon is a game that offers a far departure from reality with its tale of a mutant octopus out to destroy the world after seeing a video of a sushi chef preparing calamari. The opposition to this quest consists of submarines and mechanized fish in the ocean levels, then airplanes, tanks, and flying mechanized fish in the land levels. To help defeat enemies, the octopus can be given mutated limbs in place of its tentacles that are more effective against enemy units. To make the game even more challenging, you are forced to start over from the beginning if you lose all your lives—though you can buy powerups with in-game currency to help you muscle through to the end. Though the controls for Octogeddon are simple and consist of using the mouse buttons to move left or right, the waves of enemies make it a challenge to complete the game. I give it two thumbs up. And I hope to see an expansion pack that will add to the replayability factor.

3) Outlast (March) – Outlast is a psychological survival horror game I’d heard a lot about since its release in 2013, but had never actually played. I wasn’t sure I ever would until I won it in a giveaway on the Twitch channel of Folia_Rock. Having been given codes to download both Outlast and its DLC, Whistleblower for free, I began to delve into the game a couple days later. In Outlast, you are playing as a reporter investigating rumors of illegal experiments at a seemingly-abandoned asylum. I knew in advance that the game was particularly violent and contained gratuitous nudity, but that still didn’t prepare me for the experience. Upon gaining entry to the asylum, I was consistently on edge and jumping at every little noise. Simple things such as a door closing or a TV switching on to a “snow” channel added to my fear. About ten minutes in, I had to quit when I encountered the first instance of something popping out at me unexpectedly. While I jumped out of my skin when that happened, at least I didn’t scream. If this intro is a precursor to what Outlast is like, I am in for quite the ride.

4) Players Unknown Battlegrounds AKA PUBG (April) – After months of watching other people play the online multiplayer deathmatch game called PUBG, I developed enough of an interest to want to try it for myself. I instantly discovered upon booting it up that I didn’t have a good enough Internet connection to waste time collecting weapons to combat other players. My general tactic—at least until I can get a better computer—is to just sneak my way through the match, avoiding drawing attention to myself for as long as I can. I got lucky enough to make it to the top 10 out of ninety players during one match, though I did come close in another one. I don’t know how many matches I’ve played, but I’m having fun with PUBG so far. Even the random glitches make it interesting—I somehow got stuck in a wall during one match and had to flat out quit.

5) Fortnite (May) – I had been playing PUBG so exclusively that I didn’t think there would be an entry for May. I’d really gotten into the game I started playing in April – to the point that I started teaming up with other players. I didn’t think I would bother with its competition—another multiplayer deathmatch game called Fortnite. The primary difference between PUBG and Fortnite is that the latter allows you to collect building materials to construct a shelter or elevated platform for defensive or offensive purposes. I’d been hearing so much about Fortnite that it roused my curiosity and I thought I’d give it a try. Fortnite is a game that is free to download, but it doesn’t really allow you to customize your character. I haven’t gotten too far into it, but I believe you have to spend real money to acquire a different costume to use. And unlike PUBG, Fortnite doesn’t really allow you to be stealthy to get through the match. Regardless, I did make it to #4 (out of about 90-some players) by hiding in a custom-built aluminum shack. I might not like this game as much as PUBG, but I aim to see how long I can survive in each match.

6) State of Decay (June) – My interest in State of Decay was generated when I watched a fellow gamer playing the sequel. It is very similar to other zombie-based games I’ve played such as Dead Island and Dead Rising. What sets State of Decay apart is that you must focus on collecting resources, fortifying a base, and keeping up the morale and wellbeing of your fellow survivors. I delved into the game thinking it would be a breeze, and it was for the first hour. I think what hurt me is that I stepped away from State of Decay for a few weeks after my initial test drive. When I got back to it near the end of June, I was blindly stumbling through the zombie-infested town in search of resources. This led to my playable character, Maya, getting killed by a random zombie in one blow. Instead of a game over, I was given control of someone else back at the base camp. The problem there is that my alternate character is injured and in poor shape because I haven’t yet constructed a med bay. I don’t know if there’s any way to salvage my first playthrough, but at least it gives me an idea of what not to do next time.

7) 60 Seconds (July) – I almost thought there wouldn’t be an entry for July until I got inspired to try a game I’d purchased some time ago but never played. On the 24th, I started up 60 Seconds for the first time. It is a very simplistic but still difficult game where you’re given a minute to stockpile items into a bomb shelter before a nuclear fallout. The basic goal of the game is to survive until rescue comes. I haven’t yet mastered resource gathering, so both my playthroughs ended with the family perishing due to lack of food or water. What makes 60 Seconds so enjoyable is there are multiple ways it can play out. No two playthroughs are the same—choices, events, and chances of survival are dependent on what your shelter is stocked with. I look forward to seeing everything that this game has to offer. I’m just sorry it took me so long to give it a test drive.

8) Clue\Cluedo (August) – Late in August, I tuned in to watch a streamer I’d been following for some time—Protonjon—when I saw him playing Clue, a long-time favorite game of mine adapted as a 2018 video game. I liked what I saw so much that it prompted me to purchase the game and all its additional content right away. I thoroughly loved this take on the classic sleuthing board game. In addition to the standard six suspects, the Clue PC game adds several more suspects to the roster, such as Madame Rose and Miss Peach. The additional content greatly changes things up—the murder mystery to solve can be set at a ski lodge, vampire’s castle, the wild west, and even the Orient Express. The character costumes and weapons have also been altered to match each setting. I very much like this version of a board game I loved playing as a child. And if I can hone my mystery-solving skills while I’m at it, all the better.

9a) Graveyard Keeper (September) – Over time, I’ve added around 200 games to my personal wish list on Steam. These generally consist of video games recommended to me by the gaming hub based on what I’ve purchased and played. Generally, I wait until something gets discounted before I buy it—the lucky winner this time was a lesser-known title called Graveyard Keeper. It is basically a building simulation\role-playing game where you play as a modern-day character mysteriously thrown into the role of medieval graveyard owner following a car accident. The general goal is to find a way back to your own time, but there is a long road to travel first. In addition to maintaining the cemetery, you must build relations with the villagers, construct workspaces to generate resources—such as wood and metal—and complete quests. Graveyard Keeper, despite being an interesting game, can be frustrating. The game doesn’t have the best tutorial—there have been several things I’ve had to figure out on my own such as where to spend your research points for better workspaces. I don’t know how long it will take to get through Graveyard Keeper as a whole, but I am slowly making my way toward an ending.

9b) Fortnite: Save the World (September) – After some time spent with the Player-vs-Player mode—or Battle Royale—of Fortnite (my May entry), I decided to invest in the single player role-playing game under the same title. Fortnite: Save the World has you slowly eradicating a radioactive storm that has come to cover 95% of the Earth and turned the population into rampaging zombie-esque creatures. Save the World is a very customizable game that allows you to pick from hundreds of different characters and weapons on your quest to take back the planet. So far, I find it equally as fun as the multiplayer mode. And I look forward the many hours or days it would take to play the game through to its conclusion.

10a) Dying Light (October) – Dying Light is a game that looked right up my alley from the moment I saw someone streaming it on Twitch. A zombie survival horror game that combines the best elements of Dead Island and the Far Cry series, Dying Light sees you assume the role of a soldier sent into a quarantined city to prevent a terrorist from releasing info about the zombie virus to the world. As eager as I was to delve into the game, I unfortunately ran into an unusual problem when I started playing. The best I can describe it is that part of the environment was having trouble keeping up with the camera shifts while the rest was behaving normally. I didn’t know how this “stuttering” would affect the combat portions of the game, so I never made it that far. I’d say I need a better computer if I want to continue playing Dying Light.

10b) Party Hard 2 (October) – As an avid fan of the first Party Hard game, I looked forward to the sequel from the moment I heard of it. The first game is purely casual – the sole objective is to murder the participants of a loud after-hours party without getting caught by the police or killed yourself. Despite being an expert, my know-how flew out the window for my first test drive of Party Hard 2. It differed from the first game with its 3D environment, objectives to target just a few people rather than the entire party, and escaping to an “extraction point” once all objectives are complete. I failed the opening level on my first try largely because I wasn’t used to the new interface and because I forgot there were traps I could implement to take out large groups of people. With time and experience, I can see myself getting hours of enjoyment and replaying levels just as much as I did with the first Party Hard.

11a) Tasty Planet Forever (November) – The Tasty Planet series is another franchise I really love. It is a very casual game where the general goal is to devour objects that are smaller than your avatar until you reach a pre-determined size on each level. The first two Tasty Planet games give you control of an experimental toilet bowl cleaner made with nanotechnology—called the Grey Goo—that steadily gets bigger the more it consumes. The third game—Tasty Blue—changes it to several forms of marine animals (dolphin, shark, etc.) who are largely restricted to an ocean setting but will devour everything around them. Tasty Planet Forever collects all previous avatars in one game and adds some new ones—such as a cat, bee, and dingo—each with their own origin story. For this new game, you have to beat each level in a certain time while taking as little damage as possible to earn stars that unlock different characters or bonus levels. I haven’t earned many stars on my first playthrough, but I aim to try and collect more. Practice makes perfect.

11b) Don’t Starve: Hamlet (November) – After months of waiting for this game’s release, I eagerly delved into it upon purchase. Hamlet is the latest expansion pack for Don’t Starve, but functions as a standalone game. You’re transported to a self-contained world with all-new environments to explore and a humanoid-pig town where goods can be bought and sold. I got a notification on my first playthrough that Hamlet is more difficult than previous versions of the game and I loved the idea of a learning curve. I didn’t last long in my first run though—I survived two days before I wandered into an area where I was exposed to a fast-acting poison. I have much to learn before I actually master the world of Hamlet, but I love a good challenge.

12) Renowned Explorers: International Society (December) – To round out the year, I decided to purchase one last casual game—Renowned Explorers. I’m not sure exactly what made me add this particular title to my wish list, but it is proving to be worth the investment so far. The game starts by having you assemble a three-person team of explorers\treasure-seekers whose ultimate goal is worldwide prestige. I am playing the game on its easiest mode, but I can see where it would prove quite the challenge on harder difficulties. You would need to carefully consider every move and battle tactic to beat the game at its hardest setting—miscalculation can be very costly and force you to start over from the beginning. Your team of explorers starts out with a finite pool of resolve points, which can be lost by failing at a battle—lose all your points and it’s game over. Even on easy mode, I ran the risk of losing at one point. That aside, Renowned Explorers is a very layered video game with a lot of avenues to explore. Your team selection, the path taken on each expedition and choices to be made can provide a different experience with each playthrough. I look forward to discovering all the routes this game has to offer.

2018 has definitely been an interesting year for trying out new video games. Whether they were titles recommended to me, given to me for free or just looked interesting, I had something new to delve into on a monthly basis. I don’t know if 2019 will be the same, especially when I thought that some months this year would pass by with no entry. The only story-driven games I’ve played through in their entirety have been Octogeddon and Tasty Planet Forever—perhaps the new year will see me actually completing some of the other games on the list. And there is at least two games I see myself delving into in the near future – Life is Strange 2 and the Resident Evil 2 remake.

My 2019 To Do List

“When at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” — Frederick Maryat


In 2018, I resolved to read one book each month, but I came up short reading only nine. I accomplished my second resolution of entering a writing contest. I didn’t win, but it was worth the effort to prove I could complete a story by the deadline.


My most ambitious resolution of writing a minimum of 5,000 words each week for three months to complete my 65,000-word manuscript also came up short. I wasn’t even close. I realized my problem is that I tend to edit as I go. This prevents me from getting my rough draft completed.


This year I’m writing a To Do List instead of a List of Resolutions.

1) Read a minimum of one book a month.

2) Write 600 words a day without editing.

3) Organize my clothes closet by the second week of January.

4) Organize my linen closet by the end of January.

5) Organize the pictures on my computer and delete the unwanted ones.


What is your New Year’s list of things you wish to accomplish?