Saturday 24 September 2016

The REAL Barrow Hill - Following the Dark Path - Part 3 -Golitha Falls

The last stop of The Dark Path Tour...

We stopped off at one of my favourite spots, Golitha Falls, on the Southern edge of the mighty Bodmin Moor. It's a mossy, wet, green place, where you half expect to see Yoda harvesting mushrooms or the Green Man himself, playing with a fawn. The trees are old, bent and fuzzy, supporting ferns and lichens on every branch. It's Mirkwood and Sherwood,and all the fantasy forests, with a few lurking horrors too.

Throughout the wood there are ruins, mostly industrial, but of an impressive size and scale to remind us of elves and dwarves from fantasy, or the tombs plundered by Lara Croft in Cambodia. It's the moss that does it. It's a sign of little disturbance and an abundance of moisture. 

Elsewhere, frightful looking cages have been recently installed, to cover the old mine tunnels and pits. More of that, later, during Bracken Tor. ;-)

The forest as a place of magic and danger is found among folklore wherever the natural state of wild land is forest: a forest is a location beyond which people normally travel, where strange things might occur, and strange people might live, the home of monsters, witches and fairies.

The day had turned very damp and muggy by the time we hiked to the top of the hill above the falls. Earlier, Emma laughed at my claim that Cornwall was upgraded recently to a 'sub-tropical climate' (it never drops below 10 degrees Celsius in several places across the county). 

"Really?! Umm, no!" was Emma's theory on the matter, but things were different at Golitha. The rushing water, the abundance of prehistoric plant species and the Spanish moss gave Golitha a 'rain forest' vibe, where the witches and fairies take second place to weirdness of the wild.
Creating and capturing the locations has been a challenge, with some new techniques employed to bring a dash of genuine Cornish magic to a retro point-and-click adventure. 

3D scanning proved very useful for capturing stones and large monuments for use in-game, with lots used throughout the action as creepy Druid stones, cliff faces and ancient way markers. There's something very cool about taking a real world object and using it as set dressing, or even a  character, in the fictional world of Barrow Hill. The rocks are alive!

Texture has always been important too, especially when the world I am creating is right outside my door. This year has been a busy one, so far. Finishing off Bracken Tor, making The Dark Path, as well as taking part in several archaeological digs, from the stone circles at Minions, to unearthing the legendary castle of the King of Cornwall, at Tintagel. 

Archaeology is a passion and an interest, sometimes at odds with the New Age world, and pagan belief, but they are all represented in the new game. It's been a pleasure to create an anniversary sequel to Barrow Hill, exploring the themes of the first game in greater detail, with plenty of puzzles, crazy characters and a few 'BOO!' moments too.

See you in the woods...


Tuesday 20 September 2016

The REAL Barrow Hill - Following the Dark Path - Part 2 - St.Nectan's Kieve

Following the water course back to its source, through thick woods and waterside paths, you find St.Nectan's Kieve, an enchanted wood if ever we saw one.

Saint Nectan's Kieve (Cornish: Cuva Nathan, meaning Nathan's tub)

A saintly bath awaits…

The kieve was buzzing with life, watered constantly by the river, which erupts from the earth via a 60foot waterfall, a powerful force that has carved the valley over millions of years. Legend has it, that St.Nectan lived on the rocky island-like outcrop, in a cave to the side of the waterfall, around 600AD. There's also rumour that a Celtic Chapel once existed at the top of the falls, later becoming known as the Hermitage. It's easy to imagine why a chapel or important religious centre would be placed here. Yes, it's mightily treacherous during storms (St.Nectans if a few miles from Boscastle, see news video for the floods of 2004 - Floods ) but those early chapel builders liked a challenge and the impossible nature of the builds is often what made them so popular as a pilgrimage, very much like Looe Island, Glastonbury Tor, St.Michael's Mount or Rame Head. Those early pilgrims liked a bit of precarious jaunting, to test their faith, but there was also security and defence to consider, the Vikings and Saxons were a threat, even in the wilds of Cornwall.

The waterfall is spectacular, pouring from the cave-like crack in the earth, leaving a series of 'bell bowl' basins in it's wake, or 'tubs', hence 'Nathan's Tub'. These are naturally round pools, formed by the crashing water. Eventually, the water erodes enough to continue on, free of the pool, pouring over the side to form another 'bell bowl', and another, all the way down the hill, to Rocky Valley, and the old mill. The same flow of water once powered Trewethet Mill, via an ingenious series of stones tunnels and canals, built into the natural shapes of the valley. It's an ancient spot, the abundance of clear, beautifully fresh water would have been like electricity is today; we can't do much without it, neither can our machines. 

Water is god here, it is the force that made the valley, and provides essential moisture to everything that lives here.

It has created a microcosm, a green place teeming with life… and pagans. The rituals and signs of wiccan worship are obvious, with stone cairns, offerings and ribbons everywhere to see. Some are prayers, good will wishes, sad memorials and reminders to others, of their visit. A bit like a pagan pilgrimage. 

Everywhere you look, there are stones piles (very obvious), hidden in cracks and crevices, or perched precariously in the stream, or on high rock ledges. In such a wild place, these little signs of mans presence reminded us all of the tribal 'trackers' of old, highly skilled hunters who orientated the wild world by observing signs and markers. Piles of cairns, like the ones observed, could have been a boundary warning, or maybe a place of worship? The fact that the stones get tumbled by water or weather, also reminds me of the ethnic sand drawings, where much effort  is made in the construction, a cathartic and calming process, only to then 'destroy' the creation to finish the meditation. 

Coppers and coins in an old tree trunk, St.Nectans Glen

There's also an old tree trunk, embedded with coins (copper and tin, often taken from the Cornish landscape in times gone by), creating what can only be described as Dragon Skin, a scaly metallic surface. We added our own coins, obviously! How does something like this start? After knocking in our pennies, we came to the conclusion that it would take a couple of coins to encourage more, and more, till the whole thing is neatly and evenly covered in metal. We are a funny species!

Next up, we made one last stop: My favourite, Golitha Falls

Monday 19 September 2016

The REAL Barrow Hill - Following the Dark Path - Part 1 of 3 - Trewethet Mill & Rocky Valley

Barrow Hill - The Dark Path, is set in Cornwall, back in the original setting, the now abandoned Service Station and Motel. The new buildings have started to decay, as nature starts to reclaim what was taken. The woods are growing, spreading their dominion. Was Barrow Hill cursed? Perhaps digging up the barrows (the ancient graves) was the start, or perhaps the 2006 archaeological dig, by Conrad Morse, stirred things up? 

Or, do the supernatural events at Barrow Hill stem from a disturbance long ago? What's the real difference between archaeology and grave-robbing, especially when a body is involved? A body surrounded by priceless treasures! It's science: A trinket for a museum, something stunning for my mantle, or perhaps a gold cup for my cufflinks (See Rillaton Cup).

The very real 'Rillaton Cup' makes an appearance in The Dark Path

In true adventure spirit, Barrow Hill - The Dark Path suggests those 'borrowed' items are missed by the original owner, a 4000 year old Bronze Age shaman. Perhaps 'missed' is too subtle a word. If the precious objects were left as grave goods, they should have stayed in the grave. Or else they might come looking!

Thankfully, the bodies are safely under the earth, where they belong, not lumbering mummies hell bent on revenge. But someone may be about to change all that, someone who has started to dabble in the Dark Arts, the old ways, the lore of the land in all its natural power, subverted and used for dark purposes. Someone has disturbed the dead. Necromancy! Something that started off with good intentions has gone horribly wrong, on the Equinox no less. Something has been waiting, under the earth, waiting for a chance to seek revenge. A young girl, Mia Kendell, has been experimenting with magic, by following the Dark Path. Little does she know her actions are misguided, misjudged and potentially lethal!

In Cornwall, you don't have to look far to find signs of pagan worship, from the decorations around the ancient sacred wells, to the slightly creepy cairns that you'll find in the wild places where slate rock juts from the hills. Cornwall is one of the original 'Celtic Nations', made up of Scotland, Wales, Brittany and Ireland, and the Isle on Man.

The old language of Cornwall, while not spoken as much as it could/should, is still evident in place names, surnames and the descriptions of the natural world. Standing stones, the ancient circles of the Bronze Age people, have been named, misnamed, renamed many times over. 

I took DJ Emma Harry and fellow game developer, Jonathan Boakes, on a trip to North Cornwall, to visit some of the sites that have influenced The Dark Path. First up, Trewethet Mill and Rocky Valley, then St.Nectan's Kieve and finally  the druid woods at Golitha Falls.

Trewethet Mill is a wonderfully weird place, and a big influence on the new game - Barrow Hill - The Dark Path. It's an old mill, in utter ruins, perched alongside the stream at Rocky Valley, North Cornwall. 

Cornish: Glynn Duwy, meaning deep valley of the river Duwy.

High outcrops of slate and volcanic rock loom overhead, creating a microclimate below. The valley is home to 174 types of moss, a few cool ruins and a cave or two. The ruins are in a crumbling, romantic state. The web states that Trewethet was a wool mill, but we saw evidence of broken mill stones, snapped in two, amongst the ever increasing bracken and brambles. A sign on the mill, see slideshow below, states that it is owned by 'The Celtic Trust', but I could find no mention online, except for football clubs(!).

It's a pretty spot, with most signs of the original use now covered with ivy, brambles and bind weed. Passing through, on our ramble, we started to notice signs: little slates with messages, a few cairns in the stream, coins poked in holes and ribbons tied to trees. There was no-one else about, just us and the babbling brook, and it felt genuinely quite eerie, like a scene from one of the creepier JHorror Shinto films. The fact that the trees, bushes and rocky ledges are decorated by people, a lot of people, it's weird to find no-one there; All the signs of pagan activity but no actual pagans, unless you count the moss men and invisible druids.

Celtic Mazes at Trewethet Mill
It is interesting to note that the mill, and nearby Rocky Valley, is a haven for pagans, wicca and nature people. Why? I think the setting, mostly, but there's also the 'Celtic labyrinths ', a pair of detailed mazes, carved into the cliff face. These are proper curios, which attract both archaeologists and New Age folk. Not always the best of friends, as seen in my previous Barrow Hill game ("Stop the Dig!").

Carvings, like Rocky Valley's, are found across the Celtic and ancient world, from Cornwall to the Alps, Ireland to Spain, and beyond. It is possible to 'play' the games, carved into the rock, by tracing your finger along the ridges. The maze was no match for our group of seasoned gamers. Are the carvings a map, rather than a maze? Does some huge labyrinth of caves exist in the craggy cliffs of Rocky Valley?

Next time: St.Nectan's Kieve and Glen, only a mile up the hill.

The Equinox - Surprise! It's time to return to Barrow Hill!

It's the 10 year anniversary of Barrow Hill, my first game, so I thought it was time for a dedicated sequel, back in the original setting for this year's Autumn Equinox. The old Service Station and Motel have been slowly dragged back into the woods, as nature reclaims the old site. No-one dares visit Barrow Hill since the original 'event', or do they? There has been talk of 'rituals' and ceremonies at the derelict motor garage, but the locals are afraid to look further.

Maybe you are up for the task?

It's been a very nostalgic journey, making another Barrow Hill game. Returning to the old locations, to write the new story, was a trip down memory lane. Some locations, especially the ancient sites like standing stones and megaliths, barely change with the passing millennia; they are a stark reminder of their immortality and power. Other locations, such as woods and wild places, have become even more wooded and wild, a neo-pagan or white wiccan playground.

Fans of the original game will find the game very familiar, if all new, as I've tried to capture the spirit of the first Barrow Hill. It's a classic, retro point-and-click adventure, with lots of returning characters, as well as the actors who played them. It was brilliant to get everyone back, to reprise their roles, no matter how small. So, expect DJ Emma Harry to keep you company, through the night, as well as a whole host of characters on the airwaves.

Celtic myth meets modern day rationalisation in The Dark Path, as an ancient Bronze Age deity is released upon the Cornish landscape. Baibin, a shamanic creature from folklore, is angry. The  grave-robbers (archaeologists) have stolen precious items from her tomb. The Equinox is upon us, when day and night are equal, and Baibin won't rest until she finds what is rightfully hers, no matter what the cost. Lives are at stake, as is your own, during an endless night of pagan ritual and Celtic ceremony.

Will you survive the Equinox?
Barrow Hill - The Dark Path is available on STEAM on the 22nd

Barrow Hill and The Dark Path - Location Tour

2016: Taking DJ Emma Harry on a location tour for Barrow Hill: The Dark Path, before recording game dialogues later that night. Golitha Fall...