What is Lumen? Fake Video Game Manuals and The Dorks Who Love Them

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What if it was always night?

What if the sun never came up again? How could the world continue without sunlight? Life needs it to survive but what if there was an alternative?

More importantly: How could I make Green Lantern actually cool? Because Green Lantern sucks.

Not sorry.

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I’ve never liked the guy or his mythos. And out of all these questions that’s the one that really started all this.

Lumen began as a creative challenge to myself, if I was given the job of retooling Green Lantern and making that character interesting to me how would I do it? What would I keep, what would I throw out?

Turns out I’d throw out everything but the lantern.

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Because a hero or an explorer with a lantern, for me, that works. That’s primal. Hell, that’s the tarot.

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But before this story and its hero started coming together in my mind there was one other idea that I’ve had percolating for a long time: I’ve always thought that illustrated video game instructional manuals were an undervalued art form.

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I remember being a kid and pawing through my cousin Ben’s Zelda manual and be totally taken in by the artwork and storytelling therein. I was 7 or 8 and had never heard of The Hobbit so to me Zelda was my first big introduction to fantasy storytelling; at least beyond the Greek Myths I’d read and heard about in school. The format of the manual stuck to me. I have a love for it like I love my album artwork and liner notes for my favorite albums. And as a kid some of the first stories I’d create were video games in my mind. I’d draw out the levels and the characters and keep all the pictures together in big stacks. Those were my manuals.

Well, I got a little better at drawing since then and I have written a couple novels, so maybe it was time to try creating another make believe video game?

Which brings me to Lumen. This project is still far out but I’m really excited to start the conversation about it. I don’t wanna reveal too much of the story as I think it’s better to learn that from the manual itself but here’s the basics:

Lumen is the story of Esteban Vela. A young man living in a world of perpetual and unnatural darkness. The world has been this way for a millennium, the sun is now a myth. All after a falling star called “The Burning Beast” collided with the planet, destroying the empires of man and changing the atmosphere with a mysterious new layer known as “The Shroud.” The Shroud is what keeps the world permanently in the dark. But in addition to throwing the world into shadows the  Burning Beast also provided the new source of light and life for those lost in the dark. Lumen, a sort of land algae that emits a powerful glow begins to grow from the deeply imbedded core of the Burning Beast and into the rest of the world. This “Heart of Lumen” becomes the source of all light and life in the Shroud covered world which comes to be known as the “Nocterra.” Lumen is a living, harvestable substance with many uses and many of its characteristics and workings still not fully understood. Under its new light the world changes, new things grow. Some of them dangerous to the remaining humans…

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Under The Shroud with the light of Lumen evolution becomes rapid and humanity finds itself rivals with new races better suited to live in the Nocterra. Anglermen, feral and carnivorous beasts who use the spindly glowing lures growing from their backs to entice foolish humans hunting for Lumen in the wild,  wait in the shadows. And while they are fearsome the anglers are only the most well known of the dangers as so much of the Nocterra remains unexplored by what remains of humanity.

And what remains has changed… To better survive the Nocterra people have evolved to possess night eyes which shine in the night like the eyes of other nocturnal mammals.

Civilization has changed as well, survival has become key and most of the human world lives under the protection of the Nocterra Kingdom and its Lumen lit walls. But there are others who live outside the safety of castle walls. Hermits and madmen, ravagers and rebels. And of course the poor. Esteban Vela is sixteen years old and living outside the wall of the castle when he hears whispers that the Lumen is dying. Everywhere the glow is leaving. Panic hits and humanity rushes out into the dark to gather all the Lumen they can carry while it still lasts and the anglers lick their lips and wait to devour them all.

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One night Esteban sees a falling star, a small burning star of Lumen and he runs after it. Whether to use it for himself, to keep him alive in his cave or maybe to barter with to get him access inside the kingdom walls? He doesn’t have much time to think, he simply runs after the star. And when he finds it he also finds a strange suit of armor and a lantern. And that’s when the game begins…

Lumen is going to be illustrated instructional manual for an 8-Bit video game on the Alucinari Game System released in 1987. It’s going to be full color, have tons of awesome character designs, action scenes, item catalogs, maps, lists of bosses, allies, levels, dungeons (calling ‘em calabozos in this game) and tons of other stuff. They’ll be tons of crazy weird art and two stories: The first, the story of Lumen that unfolds as you play the game. The second, the story of Lumen the game and its console The Alucinari Game System and its sordid, controversial and possibly occult history.

That’s the idea at least.

Here’s some more rough sketches and idea fuel:

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Here’s some inspiration behind Esteban’s armor:

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Oh, and:

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And back to some more weird stuff of mine:

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better-5

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Obsessed with Obsession

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I get obsessed rather easily with pop culture stuff; I’ll get into month long funks where I will only listen to one musician’s stuff or watch one director’s films or read one author’s books.

Let me tell you, future wife (I’m getting married in October, crazy, right? I’m excited but no one, myself included, ever thought I was ever gonna get married) almost left my ass when it was Van Halen month. Especially when I started spinning deep cuts from David Lee Roth’s solo repertoire.

The word repertoire and the word Reptar sound alike when you repeat them rapidly as I am doing now. Reptar, in case you’re not hip is the Godzilla analogue from the cartoon Rugrats, he was voiced by Busta Rhymes in the Rugrats flick.

I’ve never gone through a Busta month, but that could be cool. Although I think he lost a lot of flavor when the apocalypse he kept hinting at in his records never occurred and he was like…welp, guess I’ll have to have to find a new unifying theme for all my albums.

I.C.P. went through a similar thing I’m told.

I got out at “Halls of Illusions” in 7th grade.

…right, I was talking about obsessions, which are really sort of heavy distractions which take over your entire life. Here are some of the latest I’ve had, let’s try and see if we can breadcrumb one to another to see if a pattern emerges?

Dune

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I got way into the Dune books earlier this year. Like I was quoting the litany and shit before I had to kill spiders in my apartment. I read the first 3 books in about a month. And yes, the first book is easily the best; and yes, they seem to get progressively less good from then on from what I read. But the first 3 still have all kinds of great stuff in them.

How did I come to Dune after knowing about it all this time and not drinking the spice laced kool-aid?

I had seen Lynch’s Dune as a kid, at least most of it and wasn’t super impressed. I liked a lot of the set design and costume stuff but it was really hammy and staged and it turned me off. So a couple years ago the excellent documentary Jodorowsky Dune arrives and it gets me to thinking about how cool elements of the Dune world sound. After reading the book and rewatching the documentary I think that while the film Jodorowsky wanted to make would have been extraordinary (even if only half of what he wanted to do was what we ended up seeing) it would have also been very, very different than Herbert’s book. And I’m guessing a lot Dune heads would have hated it. Me, I love Holy Mountain and I love Dune; not sure where I’d fall on such a radical reworking of the book.

So a documentary about a never made movie lead me to the Dune book, am I a Jodorowsky devotee? Not really, I like what he’s done but I can’t watch his films to the exclusion of all else for a month. What I can do that for are filmmaking documentaries.

Filmmaking Documentaries  

Actually any creative person behind the scenes type of documentary. They get me geared up for creating stuff myself. Even if I’m not a giant fan of the subject, I like watching artists’ stories and how they make stuff happen. I like to snub my nose at reality TV whenever I get the chance but I am a sucker for the documentary format and am especially susceptible to the “making of” format.

-And a lot of these docs are just as fabricated and false as reality TV.

In particular the on set interviews where actors and directors are telling the camera about what the film they’re currently filming is like. Unless they preface what they say with, “I think it’s going to be” or “What we’re trying for” every word they’re saying is a fucking lie. Because they haven’t seen the movie yet.

So I prefer the retrospective docs which revisit topics like why did John Carpenter’s The Thing tank at the box office and how that fucked up the trajectory of Carpenter’s career but the film is now a beloved classic and widely regarded as the man’s best film. I love the hardscrabble story, love the fallen hero. Because I’m fucked up, I loved dog-eared heroes. But I also love hearing about these once mighty types who the world forgets and then they get their shit together and go out for glory in one last supernova imploding final ride. The Doors’ L.A. Woman style. There’s a good doc on that too.

So I’m into docs about creative types because that’s what I am, and that’s who I care about; Zalinsky Auto Parts. I gravitate towards that stuff so I can commiserate with the greats when they’ve fallen and of course dream about what it would be like to play ball at their level. But sometimes being a writer and doing research for something leads directly to my latest obsession.

The horror novella I just finished a 3rd draft on is written from the perspective of a bass player for a fictional seminal heavy metal band called Frivolous Black and the character hails from Birmingham England. Essentially he’s a bizarro version of Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath. Naturally I named him Codger Burton. This led me on two concurrent obsessions:

One, before writing the book and when the idea of it was really coming to the surface I intentionally dived headlong into a Sabbath pit.

It was sludge rock heaven.

It also didn’t require much coaxing.

But after soaking up so much early metal I still wanted more which brought me to stuff like Blue Cheer, and then newer bands that are directly inspired by what Sab produced in those early days. Try Uncle Acid, it sounds like John Lennon fronting Sab with lyrics exclusively about killing people and worshipping Black Phillip.

This went over better than my Van Halen lost month by the way.

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But the other rabbit hole I fell down doing research for my book had to do with the Birmingham accent and dialect. Brummies are what folks call people who hail from that part of England and they have a very distinct way of speaking and what comes with that is a colorful way of describing things. My character Codger Burton is the narrator of my book so I had to figure out how he would talk. Part of that was just listening to Geezer Butler and his bandmates and other notable Brummies like Robert Plant and hearing the sing-song sort of way they had of speaking. But the really fun part was getting into the slang from the area. Words like yampy, fittle, cack-handed or caggy-handed, or calling someone half-soaked when they’re being an idiot. I like the Brummiespeak so much I’m actually including some of it in another novel I’m writing the first draft of now, where it’s a futuristic primitive society and their slang is an amalgam of a bunch of different linguistic stews.

So this search for interesting subcultures with their own cant got me to read stuff up on A Clockwork Orange and reread Huckleberry Finn. And this got me to thinking how different it was to hear these kinds of voices as opposed to just read them. So I tried a Huckleberry Finn audiobook and I loved it. I had never tried an audiobook before, I figured my eyes are still good why bother my ears?

Well, dog my cats if I didn’t find something new to take over my life. The Finn book reading had Elijah Wood narrating and let me tell you, not for nothing, picturing Frodo Baggins saying some of that hardcore racist shit was incredibly entertaining and hackle-raising. Which it should be. Wood’s Missouri accent sounded pretty good to me but then, who knows? I don’t got the ear for it.(Yeah, I know he starred in a movie version too when he was a kid but I think that was a pretty censored version?)

After that I listened to a bunch of audiobook samples, sometimes while I worked out or ran, other times on the train. A Clockwork Orange and Trainspotting for the language. Then Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five for the hell of it. And then I tried Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. And I found my current latest obsession.

After listening to some samples of the audiobook (which are staggeringly well done performances that’ll latch on to your throat and drag you into their campfire world) I got the book itself and took the trip.

It did not disappoint. I’ve always been a little hesitant to give McCarthy a chance due to his habit of skipping quotation marks on his dialogue. This gave me pause not because of how difficult it would make any reading (it was actually an easy adjustment that I took to quickly) but more the mindset that would employ this technique. Namely I was afraid the dude would be way too pretentious for my tastes.

I was wrong.

The book is mythic and fucked up and beautiful. Judge Holden has joined the ranks of my all time favorite villains. I’m so obsessed currently with the book I go to various message boards just to hear new batshit theories about the book’s conclusion. I even nodded along with the dude who prescribes to the notion that Judge Holden is of the same alien race that the engineers from Prometheus were. Because, you know, he’s 7 feet tall, hairless and white as a ghost’s ass.

All of these are just the examples that I can remember the connective tissue for. I remember getting into a serious Tom Petty thing recently, now I’m Into Al Hirt Dixieland jazz, somewhere around there I wanted to know everything I could about Street Fighter 2, and before or after that the history of the gramophone.

I don’t know all the links in the chain but I know something connects Monster Squad, the female Russian pilots of WW2, Studio Ghibli and Octavia Butler. I know because none of my obsessions are random, one thing leads to the next. And when it does I want to learn everything I can until all of a sudden I’m done with it inexplicably or something new calls to me.

Maybe that’s why I’m a novelist, I get obsessed enough with a story to see it through. And then I see it through again and again through a bunch of drafts until it’s presentable.

Of course, like all my obsessions, I never really drop them permanently. They wait around for their turn to haunt me like I got some sort of spectre dance card.