Category Archives: short stories

Biff “Graybox” Enum: Game Developer

Powerfrog Troopers Revolution Quest 2: The Croak Goes On (100 million units sold). Who wrote it? Me. Is my name on it? No… Tungsten Fortress Golf Romancer III Seventy-five million units. Eight months of my life, a nice chunk of change and another iPhone, but did I get any work because that? NO. Alekhine Defense of Immortal Soccer Regends. Twenty-three million units. Writing nonstop to meet that deadline nearly blinded me, but after launch was my inbox flooded with job offers? No, no and no.

Hi. My name is  Biff Enum and I’m a game designer. “Grayboox “is my middle name and scripting addictive interactive stories is my game.

I”ve contributed to projects that have sold over 585 million cross platform units and yet you’ve never heard of me? Why? Cause I’m a secret agent man. White labellissimo. Ghosty stylee. Incognito.That’s me.

Let’s pretend you are in Kyoto, visiting an “entertainment company” and you are escorted into a room to “have a cup of tea”. You are left alone in a room that looks like the  Videogame Hall of Fame. You correctly sense that if you take a photo, your broken camera and/or body part will remain in the room. Before you can memorize anything, a kawaii OL enters and says,” I am sorry. It is mistake of room, you can drink with tea upstairs. If you mention this room to anyone you will be disemboweled, regardless of your global location. Shall we go?”

My CV is something like that. Guys who are ethically challenged would like to “have a word with me” if I tell anyone about the complete list of projects I’ve worked on. I have been called a “game developer’s game developer” which means my ideas are uncredited and stolen .It’s not always a problem, this whitelabel business. When a clunker like Revenge of Epic of Bloopy Babies falls flat on its face, I’m  search engine safe.

Why do I work so hard for no recognition? Money! I am a narrative artist and since I was a child I wanted to write, with passion, stories that shake and explore the emotional blindspots of people. I want to fundamentally compel them to confront our modern world with all of its contradictions so as to engage better with their fractured lives. My novelistic work is disturbing.The only game I have worked on which references my literary sensibility is Quest of the Galaxy Dancemaster Ninjas.

With the money I’ve earned as a ghostwriter, I am self-publishing a cross-genre novel that combines elements of GTA with an Undine legend, Switezianka, which is about a hunter and a water nymph. Do subscribe to my blog for updates on this unforgettable postmodern tale of fickle love, European women wearing wet clothes, gunfire and ultrahighspeed Pegassi car chases.

Thank you for stopping by.

Biff

Borg 9 Flats Livestream

A woman my age sat down next to me. Her hands were wrapped in fresh white bandages. “What happened?” She stared at me with different emotions, hatred mostly. “You wouldn’t understand. You got 100 ringgit?” I was livestreaming Borg 9 Flats on Twitch. I wasn’t doing a marathon or anything.  Just seeing if anyone would show up. Maybe I could sell something. Only rosenervegas was watching. “You want one?” I pointed to the shrimp crackers by my keyboard. I wanted to see those bandaged hands  try to pick up a shrimp cracker. She reached in. I jiggled the camera so she was in the video. ”Smile, you’re on candid camera.” “What’s that for? You CIA or something?” “Can I buy you a Coke?” “lol,” rosenervegas wrote. She reached across to get a cracker, almost touched me. badcarmel: feed that walrus rosenervegas: lol The schoolgirls came in and logged on.     Monsterbaby:  you got emo one looks like creepy pasta princessbluesky12: like love hina ravertravel1: hand transplants Jordanthe2: she can juggle my balls Our bodies were in the little rectangle at the bottom of B9F, between the map and the skinlist.  We were grainy and green, like bad reality TV. The cameras here are crap. I watched myself watching her as she spilled Coke on her bandages. Everything on Twitch, every warrior and weapon in B9F, was glowing and vibrant. Especially the  castle. Everywhere around us were deep crashing sounds and little boy yelps and curses, Swordfight clangs and techno. Amongst all the kids thrashing in their chairs, me and the woman with the bandaged hands were like snails. Ugly clowns. “You’re alone, right?” She sighed and sat back. It was just me in the grainy green rectangle again. hawkfire: where mummy go? bleakshywire: wa happen 2 hr handz? Dontiana came in. No one was leaving. Rayviking: handburnbaby where’d she go? "Drink your Coke," I said. She asked where the toilet was. No one else watched her walk  to the back. When she returned, she was different. Like she’d put on makeup. She reached in for another cracker and the camera picked her up. rosenervegas: she’s baaackkk.
The woman gestured with her bandaged hands. “ I can't understand you,” she said. I found a pencil. She winced when I slid it into her bandages. I thought I was careful. This would be entertainment, two players on the same piano. Dontiana: is she gonna write or play B9? Frenchmeow: got bandage hand emotes? Monsterbaby: wat is hapn I gently moved her hand over the Q W E keys. I use D for Flash. I jumped into my smurf account and started driving.  She caught on, and started stabbin’ the keys. I was throwin’ stones. Five new people showed up. We started screaming.We were scoring. Not much, but we were scoring. (the background to this story is explained here.) and yes, WordPress destroys my formatting. Every time.

Let’s Spend the River Together

the writing spree begins now; in  Johor Bahru, Malaysia at 2AM... What a delight it is when unplanned events suddenly enrich our lives. A small example: I wanted to research the possibilities of short story/gaming mashups. This search led me to the work of Marc Laidlaw.  His words and ideas helped shape the legendary Half-Life.  His blog post about writing for games  is a burning  Panthunian crystal, set high on a hill; guidance  for the  hooded, tired traveler that was my question. However, what was delightful is this: I have been researching hands, especially all that is profundis , as well as writing about photography. Mr. Laidlaw had once been approached about doing a “cover version” of The Viewfinder by Raymond Carver.  Hats off to  Larry McCaffery for that idea. Fingers and a camera figure prominently in Carver’s story! My  “cover” of The Viewfinder is now in its second draft and will be in the JB book. I will do my best, but it will never be as good as this story about a musical cover: http://www.blacksteps.tv/the-greatest-music-of-all-time/   PS: Just discovered this, about the use of photography in The Viewfinder:  https://www.scribd.com/document/263990334/Raymond-Carver-in-the-Viewfinder   PSS Here is the latest draft of my cover of The Viewfinder.           Weaselspittism

I am a Cat

Last night, an old woman gently pushed my nose towards a  newspaper covered with fish bones and lemongrass. A rat ran over one of the sparkly shoes under the table full of women from The Golden Place and two of them screamed. The man who sells pens came by, so did the man with the folding rattan chair. Distracted by  the hissing of an intruder, I stepped on a hot cigarette butt. The man with the burnt face gave away perfume samples he pulled out of a new duffel bag. The monk looked into the eyes of everyone, offered his bronze bowl to a few.  I listened to happiness, drunkenness, boredom, and suspicion. Music played from little radios. Barefoot children stared at me. Now it is morning and I’m lying in the shadows of the red plastic chairs. Coins are being counted on a metal table and the man behind the Chinese newspaper is smoking and drinking coffee. When I used to live in the place with big windows I only worried about rainy days. I had no scars, no friends and both of my eyes.

Apophenia Near the Causeway

the following is being  rewritten and is very far from the most current version. the conversation I had with Alvin was great; this blog post is so-so...

Alvin Tan, photographed by Stephen Black at Art 52 Gallery, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

  Our greatest challenge may be learning to bear incoherence. “The officer pulled me into the search area. Went through my car, my wallet, my personal letters,” Alvin says without emotion. The incident took place about thirty years ago. ”A friend had handwritten the Chinese characters for ‘democracy’ on a flyer. The officer asked me about it and I said it was related to an artwork I had done.’ Don’t distribute this,’ he said, and he let me go.” Tiananmen Square,1989: we had been talking about it. At the time, I was living in Tokyo and working at ABC News. All of our cameramen and sound guys were over in Beijing. One had hidden an 8mm video camera in a box and documented the demonstration. One afternoon during that time I was at home with our baby. On TV a student demonstrator was asked a question; her carefully pronounced answer made a reference to Abraham Lincoln. I was moved to tears. Fragility, innocence and youth amidst an unplanned massive demonstration in the most influential historical area in Asian history. During Tiananmen Alvin had been involved at The Artists Village(TAV), the first artists commune in Singapore. He made an installation in an unused chicken coop, entitled Personal Views, China’s Democracy and there was Blood. Tang Da Wu did a performance within the installation. Tang Da Wu founded TAV and is regarded as the founder of contemporary art in Singapore. At the time, the influence of TAV was felt throughout Southeast Asia. Even now, TAV members like Lee Wen, Amanda Heng , Zai Kuning, Koh Nguang How, Vincent Leow and others are exhibiting work in Singapore and internationally; their works usually reflect the activism and sense of social responsibility that were part of the TAV experience. Koh Nguang How is a documentary artist now; he was working in a museum at the time and visited TAV whenever he could. In preparation for my interview with Alvin, I sent Koh a Facebook message, asking if he had any questions. Koh’s attention to detail is impressive; he told me Alvin’s wife is from Taiwan and that Alvin did not speak Mandarin. Koh wanted to ask me if Alvin had any problems teaching in English. Mandarin was the language being used at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, where Alvin taught Western Art History, Aesthetics of Art and Psychology of Art.”Nanyang” is a Chinese phrase that translates as  “Southern Seas”, though it often refers to all of Southeast Asia. During the years that Alvin was teaching, Singapore was continuing to define itself.English became the language of instruction. Koh’s question highlights the complexities of language in Singapore, especially in regards to Chinese dialects. Mandarin is the one of the four official languages of Singapore and the official language of China. The word translates as “speech of officials”. “No, I didn’t have any problems, as English was so widely spoken. My classes became so popular we kept adding more. Even students who only spoke Mandarin wanted to attend. I told them they could, but that they would still have to write a term paper, even if they wrote it in Mandarin. Students were very hungry to learn about art then.” Alvin has studied in Oakland California, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur and Rome. In Rome he became involved with a community and an exhibition, that made the most of an abandoned building owned by the Vatican. Those experiences prepared him for the possibilities of TAV. The Artists Village: in our conversation, silence often follow the phrase. Like the Impressionists in Paris, Andy Warhol in New York or Damien Hirst in London’s world of advertising, TAV is associated with a specific time and place. TAV is, perhaps, most noteworthy because it was a pioneering achievement. The internet, numerous art schools, globalization, the commodification of art and changes in government policy now make the Singaporean art world very different than it was in the Eighties. “We should not encourage escapism” is a phrase I wrote down years ago,  upon viewing an exhibition about Singaporean art in the Sixties. It felt like the Singaporean art world then was lost. Alvin mentioned the West’s first art critic, Giorgio Vasari and his book, Lives of the Artists. “A book about TAV is a good idea,” he says. I let the topic drift away. I could throw myself into creating a reading experience based upon the Artists Village, but I would not want to write a book about the Artists Village. A movie script, maybe, though where would the drama lie? Perhaps there were personal dramas at TAV: romances, scandals of some sort, infighting, egotism, probably betrayals: but if so, they are unrecorded. An unimaginative movie script would follow a three act structure: Act One: Tang Da Wu revolutionizes and modernizes Singapore’s contemporary art scene by establishing TAV and attracting the island-nation’s youngest, best and brightest. Act Two: Utopia at the end of a coconut tree-lined kampung dirt road; Pure Art, but with weekly visits by the police. Act Three; Exile and Loss. On our table is the catalogue of Alvin’s paintings, in which he wrote: I hope my paintings trigger an original sensation within the viewer; natural and freely formed  without history or preconditioning. And so it is with this writing; I hope to give you, the reader a sense of our conversation, a sense of the topics we touched upon. Alvin, TAV and the quiet street in Johor Bahru where we talked are all worthy of narrative writing. But I haven’t been inspired to write logically, just as Alvin is not inspired to paint realistic landscapes. Perhaps I am like an Expressionistic painter, using sentences and ideas instead of brushstrokes and pigments. Hijikata’s widow told me that her husband, the co-founder of butoh, and the writer Mishima and had fistfights over differences in aesthetics. Now...eyes glued to “smart”phones, plastic souls bury themselves in low-level radiation screen displays. Facebook comments pass for heated debate. Articles I want to read: TK Sabapathy. “No way out” The Strait Times, Singapore Art & Entertainment May 20, 1993 Jennifer Tan. “Art that faces up to problems of the world” City Weekly, Singapore. May 13, 1993 “No Bed of Roses For Alvin” New Straits Times, Malaysia October 28,1987. I learned the word “apophenia while researching the phenomenon of seeing faces in clouds, a concept I wanted to compare to the act of viewing Alvin’s paintings. I also discovered  molybdomany, shadow people, pareidolia, patternicity  and the work of Chonosuke Okamura , who won an Ig Noble Prize for his reports of finding tiny, tiny humans in ancient limestone. "There have been no changes in the bodies of mankind since the Silurian period,” Okamura wrote, ”except for a growth in stature from 3.5 mm to 1,700 mm." My word research also found this phrase; "a specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness". Finally, this fact: a person withschizophrenia initially experiences delusion as revelation. If there are patterns in this text, I must find them, for discovering patterns where there seem to be none is a very good thing.  My life, my meeting with Alvin, the historical events that occurred within our lifetimes; there must be patterns. Banksy. The Beatles. The kway teow I’ve just eaten, the breeze and the frangipanis above us, the patterns of the tiles below. This is a Sunday afternoon, March 12, 2017. I met Alvin a week ago; our lives share some of the same patterns. Visas, passports and turnarounds. The last painting in Alvin’s catalogue, is called Late Arrival. I cannot judge his brushstrokes, nor if there is actually detail in the completely black areas. On the upper left of the painting, is a soft-edged raggedy flag-like shape of blue and blueish-white. Close to, and parallel with, the left edge of the painting is a warm brown horizontal shape like a tree branch or rifle. On the bottom right, a spike, the same tonality asthe brown on the left. Untitled Indigo is the name of first painting in the catalogue. It is a remaking of the yin yang symbol in soft fractions. A whirlpool. A map studied at twilight or dawn. Related post: http://www.blacksteps.tv/amanda-heng- performance-art- in-context- a-singaporean-perspective-by- lee-wen/ The italicized sentence which begins this essay is from an article which appeared on the Psychology Today website on July 31, 2012. Being Amused by Apophenia, waswritten by  Bruce Poulsen Ph.D. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reality-play/201207/being- amused-apophenia Thank you very much Koh, and Eric/Art 52.

Coccoon by Alvin Tan and craftsmen from the Orang Asli community. Iskandar Puteri, Johor Malaysia  (2016) photo by Stephen Black

Touching Johor Bahru 1

I've plenty of notes about this place, as well the nights I've spent with the present owner at the 123 Cafe... http://johorkaki.blogspot.com/2012/01/indian-curry-puffs-salahuddin-bakery-in.html?m=1 https://m.facebook.com/pages/Salahuddin-Bakery-Jalan-Dhoby/151382781582630 https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g298278-d7139589-Reviews-Salahuddin_Bakery-Johor_Bahru_Johor_Bahru_District_Johor.html

Are You In a Film or In Reality?

We’re on one of the few picturesque streets in the old quarter of Johor Bahru. We see three Malaysians loading a truck with furniture that they are carrying out of a big red colonial house. Now we see a man quickly walking; he is late: BIFF DANKLE, an American with long hair that may or may not be fashionable. He pulls at it constantly; BIFF’s nervousness is obvious. He's carrying a manila envelope. BIFF approaches SIMON MURRAY and smiles respectfully. SIMON crushes his cigarette and puts his hand out. He is in his early sixties, in excellent shape, and with movie star good looks. BIFF immediately gives SIMON the envelope and sits down. The two are on a black wrought iron bench in the shade of a frangipani tree in full bloom. The weather is unpleasantly hot and humid, the sky is blue and filled with big white clouds. Strings of round Chinese lanterns hang over the street like strands of red paper pearls. SIMON reads quickly. BIFF pretends not to study SIMON’s face. BIFF again recites to himself some of the films that SIMON worked on: The Last Emperor, Life of Brian, Titanic, Distant Voices Still Lives, La Vie de Boheme, Indiana Jones... He’d seen photos on SIMON’s website; his pals like Madonna, Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr.. SIMON is humble, but not afraid to mention those with whom he’d enjoyed himself, famous or not. One moment SIMON might mention Sir Laurence Olivier, the next moment, nearly in tears, he'd describe the cheerful, sweet innocent face of Jimmy Wu, the bespectacled little boy with Backlington Syndrome who had hobbled six miles through a minefield in the snow in the dead of night to gaze upon the glasses that SIMON had made for Harry Potter. One moment SIMON might explain the influence his mother had upon British postwar playground design; the next he'd be describing an Oscar party he’d attended with both Playboy’s Miss January 1983 and a former Miss Texas who had “worked with Elvis”. BIFF remembered wistfully how SIMON once had effortlessly segued from a naughty casting couch story set in a Viennese penthouse to a description of his father’s meeting with Gandhi, to tips on how to get building permits in Los Angeles. SIMON knows both the dark secrets surrounding the present location of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper costumes and the simple joy of sharing 
sewage pipe in the middle of the road “This is surreal,” SIMON says. BIFF’s heart leaps. He hadn’t thought that the script he’d risked his health and sanity for would be considered “surreal”. But if SIMON MURRAY thought it was surreal, then his script was surreal, goshdarnit! Great! Actually, BIFF’s aim was to write a mashup; something like Waiting for Godot meets Mission Impossible. One draft had been titled Waiting for the Pink Panther. “Absolutely surreal” SIMON repeats. Eventually, BIFF understands, sadly. His script is not surreal; SIMON's mind is preoccupied with Something Else....The  Meaning of Life. The Undefinable Power Which Pervades Everything Yet Cannot Be Proved. Malaysia. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.The fact that Life is unscripted, yet filled with countless scenes containing countless varieties of brutality, no matter how much we think otherwise. SIMON lights another cigarette. We hear only the sound of diners in the cafe across the little street. BIFF becomes aware of  the aroma of herbal soup. ”OK… No bulldust”, SIMON says. “Your script. Some good ideas, but... don't do  two things at once. You can’t be both opera and MTV. Ballet or gangsta rap. You must decide. Hemingway or The Bard. Whattsap. Commitment. Your  Mr. Yellow character is unbelievable; I am unclear as to whether he has Parkinson's or just a silly walk. Your script should be a ticket away from reality. It's not." SIMON looks at the truck. "I had hopes..." Suddenly SIMON  starts barking like a big basset hound; the loudness he makes is the sound of being upset and surprised yet happy. The men packing the truck stop. SIMON is amongst them immediately. He shows them how to pack properly.

Tiong Bahru Mouth

This post documents progress on Tiong Bahru Mouth, which is a collection of short stories and a visual art project, both by Stephen Black. Visual art, in this case, means photographs, videos and 360 videos. There is also a haiku component which is hidden on the internet. PHOTOGRAPHS http://www.blacksteps.tv/tiong-bahru-mouth-images/ VIDEOS Coffee and Light Tiong Bahru Mouth Wakes Up Jian Boh Shui Kueh at Sunrise Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh glutinous rice packing Galicier Counter at CNY Two Friends in a Hardware Shop A Couple Descending  

Tiong Bahru Time by Stephen Black

  1. This will be a book of photographs, facts, history and stories about  the people, food and community of Tiong Bahru and the surrounding area.
  2. Please note that  Tiong Bahru Time is  a working title that may or may not be used. However, the idea of time is definitely the foundation of the book. Examples: breakfast time, lunch time, Hungry Ghost Month, the Monkey God's Birthday, the pre-war flats, the post-war flats, daytime, nighttime, the seasons, 24 hours in Tiong Bahru, childhood, adulthood, The Sixties,etc.
  3.  The photographs and text will be mainly by Stephen Black, whose previous book on Tiong Bahru, i ate tiong bahru, is a national bestseller. Stephen Black holds Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology and his works have been shown in galleries and museums worldwide. He has worked at various roles for companies such as CNN, Cartoon Network, Fuji TV, Fox and France 2. His 360 short film entitled Beach Road was featured at the 2015 Brisbane Film Festival and nominated for Best Experimental Film at the 2016 Las Vegas VR Fest. Elsewhere on this blog are posts about his involvement with music, CG-generated environments and other artists.
  4. At this time the total number of pages will likely be about 200 pages; size not yet determined.

THANKS! Crowdfunding success= free ebooks by Stephen Black and Cyril Wong

Parts of this post are  outdated, but the information about the books is current.Itwas first written to celebratee a crowdfunding success on Zingohub.... The i ate tiong bahru glassware  crowdfunding campaign went 30% over target in the first three days... and  ended at 175%- well over target! i ate tiong bahru  A national bestseller in Singapore, iatb is a collection of short stories about Tiong Bahru, a community living in an estate composed of uniquely styled Art Deco buildings. "Unlike anything else I've read.""Black's love letter is one of the best introductions to a country and a state  that you might read" Art Review Asia. More reviews here. I Ate Tiong Bahru book cover Free download from Amazon on November 13,2016.
If you are an art collector, an adventurous reader and a drinker of caffeinated beverages, YOUR DREAM HAS COME TRUE...(click to join the club)
Obama Search Words Stephen Black's first book; dynamic, it captures Barack Obama in a style like no other. Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016. osw-cover Obama Search Words was once enrolled in an Unglue campaign. Here is the video produced for that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo-4cmUQubA Furikake Japanese rice seasonings, love and a look at life in Clementi, a small town in Singapore. Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016
photography as part of book cover design

a photograph of a dancer on a farm, the title and the author's name

Bali Wave Ghost "a mad work of genius", Richard E. Lewis, author of the bestseller Bones of the Dark Moon, a novel set amidst the horrific killings in Bali during the Sixties. Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016
black and white book covers

Proposed cover for Bali Wave Ghost, the latest book by Stephen Black

Fires by Cyril Wong, who is a Singapore Literature Prize-winning poet, fictionist and critic.Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016
Red chairs, cyril wong and FIRES

George Parel's design is clean and eye-catching

Flame Magnet- Do not download this book unless you are adventurous. This isn't something you read, it's the start of a lifelong journey. Free download from Amazon on November 13, 2016
lance from Secret Donut World

Flame magnet is go!
Art by David Severn

Contact With Shadow....not free, but becoming unglued! Check out the video as well as a photo exhibition. CWS is an undiscovered classic, full of melancholic swirling laments about lost love. amidst exquisite descriptions of Singapore. Also includes plenty of references to history and little-known baked goods. Contact With Shadow bookmerahatgmaildotcom
Book Merah titles in a free ebook giveaway

Book Merah titles in a free ebook giveaway

..the end... here, however, is an email which I am sending, in various forms, to everyone on my email mailing list... HELLO
Just letting you know that I am starting a new book about Tiong Bahru, this one emphasizing photography. The working title is Tiong Bahru Time.... Here is a brief blog post about it.
And... the i ate tiong bahru glassware crowdfunding project is in the final countdown...less than 24 hours to go!
Finally, there will be another free giveaway of Book Merah ebooks....check here.
As you may know, I Ate Tiong Bahru has sold 2000 copies. It is a bestseller!
All the best and see you in Tiong Bahru!
Onward,
Stephen Black