Imoen’s Tale

It dawned on me today that I never made a proper post about Baldur’s Gate II and the Imoen Romance mod I finished back in January of this year. Let’s correct that oversight!

It's a mod. It has romance in it.

It’s a mod. It has romance in it.

It wasn’t an oversight, to be honest with you. I just had conflicted feelings about it and in the end apathy won. Now, looking back from a six month distance, I see no good reason not to tell you about it. Also no reason to fix that clunky double negative you just read.

The story behind the creation of the Imoen Romance modification is the story of my adult life, which is kinda on the long side so let’s not do that right now. Here is some context, skip the following two paragraphs if you know what Baldur’s Gate II is all about.

Baldur’s Gate II is a huge computer role playing game, where a thorough playthrough could easily take you a good sixty to eighty hours. It has two parts: the base game, Shadows of Amn, and its expansion, Throne of Bhaal. The game allowed you to modify its files to insert your own content, anything from new equipment to brand new questlines and characters, or expanding existing ones. A big modding community sprung around it and is alive to this day, continuing to expand or change the game’s content forever and ever.

Among the game’s characters is Imoen, the protagonist’s childhood friend. The game allowed your player character to romance his or her choice of love interest inside the game as a cool side-story. I might be wrong about this, but I believe this was the first instance ever of Bioware Romances. Unfortunately, Imoen wasn’t one of them, and in fact she barely had any in-game dialogue because her not dying mid-game was a last minute decision. She was my favorite character, and so I set out to give her a voice.

Imoen of Candlekeep

Imoen of Candlekeep

I wrote and coded the mod for the base game in about three months, almost fifteen years ago now. It was godawful beyond description, among other reasons because I was a teenage boy in Spain that was only starting to learn how to write English. Much like a lot of aspiring writers start with fan-fiction, the Imoen Romance mod is where I cut my teeth. Actually, that’s not entirely true: an even worse piece of Final Fantasy VIII fanfiction lies unfinished in the ether. I don’t have it anymore and that’s a good thing, else I might hurl at the sight of it, ha ha!

And yet, just like a lot of bad fan-fiction, it tickled the fancy of a precious few individuals. I could go on for pages about all the stuff that happened because of this mod, because it led to meeting my best friend whom I haven’t talked to in quite a while, and meeting my now-wife whose butt I slapped not one hour ago, and led to me moving to a different country and writing novels and building a completely different life that would have never happened otherwise. There was also an insane amount of drama around the mod’s budding community, rife with mistakes and “hilarious” misunderstandings—but I’m just talking about writing here, gaddammat! Stick to the talking points!

I worked on content for the expansion for years and years, but it was never finished because I was 1) misguidedly ambitious about it and 2) really terrible. I abandoned it to work on other ideas burning in my head, but it would continue to gnaw at my insides because leaving things unfinished kinda does that to you.

Mirrabbo's dug-up forum avatar

Mirrabbo’s dug-up forum avatar

In fact, the whole thing was so terrible and infamous within the little modding bubble that last year, when I decided to go back and finish the damn thing so it could be something to be proud of, I didn’t even mention I was the same guy that wrote it in the first place. The legitimate reason is that I didn’t want anyone to judge the work prematurely, because dammit, I put forth the best writing I could come up with and I didn’t want anyone biased against it. The real reason for changing screen names is that the original version of the mod was the equivalent to myspace teenage poetry in my mind, and I didn’t want this Prestigious Auteur persona with which I have so carefully fooled you to be sullied by the stigma. Ten years of feedback and writing every single day does wonders for the kind of words you can mush together, as exemplified by this positively flawless-some sentence you’re reading right here.

So with this silly roundabout way all I’m trying to tell you is that the Imoen Romance Mod is now finished and mostly bug-free. The content for Shadows of Amn was spruced up nicely, though it isn’t entirely mine because HERE IS THE STORY, and so I didn’t feel entitled to go back and rewrite everything—but the Throne of Bhaal stuff is my effort from the ground up and I’m pretty damn proud of it, even though I had to work within the confines of what was already established so it’s not entirely without contrivance…

Gaming's finest

Gaming’s finest

I’d encourage you to install it if you fancy some good ole Baldur’s Gate 2 adventuring. The game is a staple of PC gaming and an all-time classic and all sorts of other buzzwords, and playing Baldur’s Gate 1 isn’t required to know what’s going on. There’s an ENHANCED EDITION of the game available now and everything, and in fact I recommend you play that version, it’s way more stable and easy on the eyes. The mod itself deals with Imoen’s traumatic experiences in Amn and her struggle with being your fellow child of Bhaal (oops, spoilers!) among a ton of other serious / fluffy conversations that amount to a stupid amount of words, somewhere around 80,000. She’ll often remember a lot of the things you say and comment on a lot of the things you do, culminating in 46 different variations to her ending epilogue. Even if you don’t fancy her romantically, there is a lot of additional content that doesn’t depend on that kind of relationship. Give it a bash, I exhort you!

Even now I’m leery of posting this, as silly as it sounds. Lord Mirrabbo casts a long, mortifying shadow. Yet somehow I doubt I’m the only one out there shamed by their teenage years…

Oddly unconcerned,

– Israel

 

 

 

Artsy Chill

I’ve been dedicating a ton of time to the Youtube thing lately. The more I do it the more I want to do it, and because I talk about everything under the sun while commentating, all of the rants are depleted by the time I get to the blog, and so the blog falls to the wayside. All the thought-making and news-giving gets out of my brain and doesn’t make it to this neglected little corner of mah life.

Perhaps especially because I’ve been doing a lot more than talking while playing videogames. How about this pretty damn great Spelunky tutorial? And this new-ish ending for Life is Strange? How about these 36 Fun Questions to Ask on your First Date? Only a few of the wonderful marvels being produced, la!

 

In the meantime, I’ve been slowly plugging away at Meredith, Last of the Wicked. That’s a working title that will probably stick? I toggle back and forth between Wicked and Witches. Don’t know which one will win in the end, if any.

In a completely unrelated note, have I told you about the artsy chill? I feel silly and pretentious talking about it, but it’s a weird brain chill I get when I realize I finally figured out a story problem. Whenever I get the chill, I know I can finally move on. It’s a weird and very addicting feeling, and perhaps the most satisfying part of the creative process. I bet there’s a lot of other people out there that get it in some form or another.

Anyway, when I started Meredith’s novel I set out to write a lighthearted fun story featuring wicked witches, enslaved wizards and child-devouring monsters. It was part joke, part challenge. It became an actual Serious Project and now, 300 pages in, I believe it would have been a damn fine novel if I’d kept going the way I was going until recently.

But I didn’t. As I wrote it, a nagging voice in the back of my head kept saying that I wasn’t taking chances. I wasn’t pushing things as far as they could go. I wasn’t taking advantage of what I could really do with this world.

So I made a change. A plot twist, I guess you could call it. And when I changed it, it felt like this is where the story was going all along. There’s a crap ton of foreshadowing leading to it. Everything points toward it in subtle ways, and also in the right way—it’s the kind of foreshadowing that is only obvious after the fact. The artsy chill was more like a sinking sensation in my chest. It was bizarre.

Sorry about being so vague, but obviously I don’t want to spoil any of it. In fact, I wrote a lot more about this that I deleted, because it was going too far. The reason I’m writing about it at all is that I’m a bit scared of the new story. It makes me weird in the gut and throws me out of my comfort zone. I’m dreary and mournful and generally not okay…

This fear makes me want to change it back. I don’t get emotionally affected overmuch when writing—I appreciate the sentiment that I’m trying to convey, but watching the sausage get made usually takes away some of the flavor. And yet, this…

This feels different. And that can’t be a bad thing.

That’s all I’ve got. I spent some time figuring out Meredith’s face a while back, by the way. This one looks a bit young, maybe. Let’s call it preliminary concept art. There ya go.

Emphasis on preliminary

Emphasis on preliminary

Drinking profusely,

– Israel.

Perfectly Harmless Little Girl

Magnifico-man Patrick Rothfuss is running a T-shirt design contest on his blog over yonder, for the noble purposes of his mid-year fundraiser. Go over there and have a vote, damn you all!

I submitted a design but it didn’t make the cut, woe is me. Behold!

The front:

Dinner is over. The fort is built. It's now time for tea.

Dinner is over. The fort is built. It’s now time for tea.

The back:

What's for dinner, Mr. Whiffle?

What’s for dinner, Mr. Whiffle?

I should probably make perfectly clear that these characters are of course property of Patrick Rothfuss and originally illustrated by Nate Taylor, and I make no claim to them whatsoever. You should read the Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle if you have even a passing interest on comic books, clever art, or books that pretend to be for children but instead will scar your childhood forever.

While the drawings didn’t make the cut (I was really hoping to see at least one Mr. Whiffle-centric design, even if it wasn’t mine. Wah wah) the experience of drawing these to make the Sunday deadline was really edifying and I don’t regret it in the slightest. Art is a long-neglected hobby for me. I didn’t think I had the ability. I didn’t think I had the focus to go from blank white page to that in a few days. But I did.

I did.

Can you imagine how much I could have accomplished in all this time, if I’d stopped procrastinating already on that damn death ray?

Laputa, Lilliput and Eternal

Newsflashes, while efficient, are so sterile. Let me tell you a story instead, clarity be damned.

The first ever Real Adult Book I read was Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage II. It was a massive thing to my twelve-year-old eyes, a gargantuan undertaking that took all summer to get through. My very first Sci-fi doorstopper.

viaje-alucinante-ii-destino-cerebro-isaac-asimov-leer-12696-MLA20064364207_032014-F

A cover I could never forget.

I fell in love early on. Albert Morrison was my scientist avatar, awkward, love-starved, a bit desperate. Natalya Boranova a compelling and stable companion, the one I rooted for as love interest. Sophia Kaliinin a tempting sylph, but quite clearly out of Morrison’s league. And Yuri Whatsisname an apt, ultimately too-powerful rival. There was another guy in there, the pilot or whatnot, but apparently I didn’t care that much for him because I can’t remember his name. I can’t explain to you right now how proud I am of remembering those names, by the way.

The Science-fiction and plot points were awesome too, but they kind of took a back-seat to the relationships in there. I’ve always been a very character-focused type of reader, or I guess media-consumer. Be it novel, TV show or CRPG, it’s the character interactions that really do it for me.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Fantastic Voyage II opened my eyes to what books could really do for you. It was my first obsession in written form, and I’d re-read it at least five times in the course of my teenage years—whenever I couldn’t remember the name of one of the cast. That poor paperback was lovingly beaten and downtrodden by the time I was done with it.

Some time after that first read, my brother picked up from the library the first volume of Chronicles of the Dragonlance. I remember being greatly intrigued by its cover, Tanis and Goldmoon and Sturm all posing in front of a forest or a meadow or something like that, super badass and attractive. It was another massive book, too—to my eyes, at least.

I wouldn’t have dared open it up if it weren’t for my Fantastic Voyage II venture, but I was a seasoned doorstopper reader by then, you see. What would have been daunting before was only a mild challenge now. And so I started reading it. And so my true teenage obsession began.

Return of the Dragons. Better title, if you ask me.

Return of the Dragons. Better title, if you ask me.

The Dragonlance series, flawed and cliché and hit-you-over-the-head pro-Christian as they might appear to a more adult or experienced readership, was my Lord of the Rings, my Star Wars, my Star Trek. I had no idea what a fantasy trope was at the time, so everything was just fresh and mind-blowing. The religious undertones flew completely under my radar—it was just a fantastic story with Gods and mortals and life lessons and whatnot. The most awesome tale ever told, and I do mean awesome in the biblical sense. I would pay real money to have that sense of wonder again, to be able to relive that discovery. It takes so much more nowadays to buy into things….

I consumed Dragons of Autumn Twilight like it was my first heroin high, then felt sad when it was over, then overjoyed when my brother said that this was, in fact, the first volume of a trilogy. Oh, how I buggered him to find the next installment, which he did, and the third installment, which he didn’t. They didn’t have at the library, you understand.

So I had to go hunting. This was the late nineties, with the internet in its infancy and online ordering nothing but a distant chimera (It still kinda is, in Spain.) So that meant going to a local bookstore.

What do you know, it's still there, right next to college campus.

What do you know, it’s still there, right next to college campus.

Now, you must understand what this means for an awkward, shy, overweight-and-self-conscious-about-it teenage boy. It means tentatively walking into a somewhat secluded, mildly busy place, trying to look like I knew where I was going. It means surreptitiously reading aisle signs in a frantic search for the suitable section. It means working up the inhuman courage to talk to a pretty and helpful staff member because I just couldn’t find what I was looking for.

Truly an epic ordeal for the ages.

Anyway, they didn’t have it in stock. I could’ve tried in half a dozen other stores, but that would have meant repeating this whole process all over again, which was a fate worse than death. They happily offered to order it for me.  “You can do that?” I remember saying. It never occurred to me that you could choose which books the store would get. It was magical.

I bought the book from them a week later. It was the best in the series. I loved every tiny bit. And at the end, there were ads. In stunned silence I leaned that there were more Dragonlance books out there. A LOT more. So I returned to the store.

That bookstore, the name of which I’ve unfortunately forgotten, became my drug dealer. I’d come in with a list of wonderful highs I wanted to try, and a week later they’d have a pile of the stuff waiting for me. I just needed to cough up the cash, which my parents were gracious enough to provide. My mother loved it, was so glad I was spending time away from the ubiquitous videogames. My father would just shake his head in amusement. Not much of a fantasy guy. They still have my giant collection on their shelves, providing a much appreciated and probably well-calculated sting of nostalgia whenever I lay eyes upon them through the webcam.

What the hell am I getting at with all this, you might ask? I have a great fondness for local bookstores, that’s what I’m getting at. They were a strange, mystical, nigh foreboding place that later became a direct gateway to some of the best experiences of my teens, which was getting lost in Krynn and daydreaming about being a badass Red Robe. Wait, is that sad? That’s pretty sad, isn’t it. Just replace “bookstore” with “brothel” and “Krynn” with “titties.” Yeah, much better.

So hopefully this story begins to explain just how special it feels to see this at Gulliver’s Books, the bookstore to which I deliver mail every day:

Among all the other local author stuff. Conspicuously non-Alaskan-themed...

Among all the other local author stuff. Conspicuously non-Alaskan-themed…

 

Gulliver’s Books is currently stocking Eternal. Hooray!

It’s only relatively recently that I went in there as a customer, which I regret dearly. I grew older, moved away from home, had no transportation of my own for a while so I was swept into the convenience of ordering books online. Shame, shame, everlasting shame.

After going back into an actual building to buy books, it became clear how far I’d strayed. How much magic is lost through the sterile causeways of the internet. There’s something about standing in the middle of wall-to-wall shelves full of books waiting to be discovered, something that simply cannot be described. Countless covers and spines clamoring for your attention or quietly awaiting their turn. Perhaps it’s the density of work-hours condensed into one place: hundreds upon hundreds of hours per linear inch, all neatly stacked and presented as somebody’s best efforts to take you somewhere they thought was worthy of the time.

Have you done it of late? Have you ever done it? Well, now is as good a time as any. And if you live anywhere close to Fairbanks, Alaska… you know where to find my stack of hopeful hours.

Happily frothing,

– Israel

The Art of Eternal

I was going to title the post “Eternal Art” but the pun is probably wearing thin by now.

It’s no secret that I like to doodle. Eternal is full of neat art that gets manhandled like a Nigerian prostitute ratty hand-me-down during the publishing process. The physical version gets a bit pixely, while the digital version needs to be shrunk for it to nicely fit in readers of all sizes. And so I now point you toward the Art Gallery bellow. SHAZAM! Click on the images to make them HUGE.

infinitileB The Infinitile

This motif is used throughout the book and is all over the floor of the Census chamber, among other places. It symbolizes that the passage of time is a load of bullshit the twisty whims of time.


 

 

scenesepB2

Alexandra’s stylized staff

This is a stylized rendition of Alex’s staff. It’s used to separate scenes.


 

 

Sunburst2

 The Silver Sunburst

This is one of Humanity’s symbols. It represents the everlasting, far-reaching light of the Silver Sun.


 

 

ring2

Alexandra’s ring

The gems are amethysts. The body is white gold vines with obsidian background. The inside of the shank is white gold. It is expensive and she’s ashamed of liking that.

 


 

nexus gateS

Gate to the nexus

A tiny Alexandra steps through the gate, with Carved Barrow’s Mount in the background.

 


 

 

SORD

Ming Xiu’s sword

Get a good look at it while you can. It might vanish into shimmering billows any moment.

 


 

The Spire2The Spire

If you squint hard enough, you can spot Aaron in there.

Nah, you really can’t.


 

The BEacon

The Beacon

This one didn’t make it into the book because it looked weird on a page. It’s still kind of a sketch.


 

I’ve also drawn a few banners to post as ads. I’m pretty fond of them! Here are the originals—most of the time I have to edit these down to a manageable size so they’ll fit the ad criteria.

 

ETERNAL-LEADERBOARD

A certain someone (left) has a depressing conversation with Alexandra (right).


 

template_skyscraper

Ming Xiu dives into the writhen tide like a boss.


 

ETERNAL-SQUARE

And a little button I haven’t even used yet.


 

I wish I had more time to pour into this kind of stuff. I’m one of those people that googles rule 34 fanart of any book / game I enjoy—or rather, any book / game / what have you that I connect with. I think it’s the one thing I’ve fantasized about the most, actually: people out there liking my stuff enough to make raunchy doujinshi fancy fanart of it. That’d be cool as hell, brahs!

Anyway, I feel compelled to illustrate all these images in my head. Hope you like ‘em.

Swaying uncontrollably,

– Israel.

Worldbuilders 2014

You know, I never expected to see my name alongside the likes of Amber Benson, aside from that pesky 2011 restraining order. (I don’t know why you won’t love me, Amber. I still have your locks of hair.) But behold:

2014-12-04 23_46_03-An Abundance of Signed Books

The Rothfussian Blog

I don’t know if I made an impression, or they simply feature every single donation they get. It’s with all probability the latter, though my desperate ego chooses to firmly believe the former. Either way, it was the weirdest, most awesome thing to see little Eternal up there, scrolling alongside excellence in Patrick Rothfuss’s blog.

Which leads me to Worldbuilders! You must support Worldbuilders, you see. I would give you the longwinded spiel, but I don’t have to, because I already made a video for it, hooray!

For context, it was written for unilateralUlulations, my Youtube gaming channel. Embedding, commence:

The fundraiser runs until the 15th of December. Even if you don’t give a crap about charity, there is so much good stuff you can get. Go for it, I say!

Dancing with bears,

– Israel.

Bedazzling Bounty of Book Beauty

Alliteration, that trusty ol’ friend for obnoxious headlines, strikes again! It didn’t occur to me until now that I haven’t shown pictures of the final print version of the book, so here’s a pile of them. Click them for glorious four dimensional viewing, IN SPACE.

Hmm, this picture is missing something.

Hmm, this picture is missing something.

Ah, yes, cats are excellent props.

Ah, yes, cats are excellent props.

Case in point

Case in point

It's such an enticing snippet, you must open up the book and read more!

It’s such an enticing snippet, you must open up the book and read more!

Scene breaks in style.

Scene breaks in style.

Alexandra's ring sure is pretty.

Alexandra’s ring sure is pretty.

Let me tell ya, getting the art to display decently in the electronic versions was a royal pain in my anus. I seriously felt like Queen Elizabeth with a bad case of hemorrhoids, I kid you not. If you like the book and have the funds, though, I’d wholeheartedly recommend getting the print version, and I don’t say it because of profits, because the print version gives me the least profits–I’d just rather you you experienced Eternal the best way possible. HOORAY.

Coasting down a perilous highway,

– Israel

 

 

Eternal for Sale

Eternal is released. BEHOLD.

main-wordstrings-SM

You must enter Eternal. Click to make it really big.

Go right here and use your money to buy it!

It’s out and I feel zen. I’m all too aware of the downsides to self-publishing: more expense, more work, much more legwork marketing-wise, no establishment validation, no support system behind you, and the uphill battle that is Self-published Stigma. I do it myself, you see—I think of self-published books as less than. Probably because, sadly, most of the time I’ll be right to think that way.

So let’s be positive and enthusiastic and talk about the wonderful upsides! There’s plenty, but I’m most fond of two of them:

1) Complete control means no ultra-lame cover and/or formatting.

Most new authors don’t get a say on how the book they wrote will look. Actually, I just pulled that out of my ass, I don’t know if it’s most. But many don’t. Depends on the contract you sign, I guess. Have you seen some of the putrid turds of a cover that some books get? And not just the dime-a-dozen, fire-kindling-worthy garbage you might find in the bargain bin, but really good stuff as well. Need I cite the old Wheel of Time covers? Some editions of Asimov’s best work? The copy of Dune I got in the mail only a week ago? Hell, even the first editions of Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind were cringe-inducing. I’m not saying the cover I designed is the be-all end-all of fancy book fronts, but at least I can rest assured it won’t be in any “top ten worst covers of all time” lists. Which one would you choose at the book store?

bookcoverAWFULI think I'd pick the Hitler book, actually
I think I’d pick the Hitler book, actually

I also get to put in a bunch of cool art and illustrations in the book itself. I’ve always appreciated stuff like that when reading a novel, and I wanted mine to have them as well. There’s no-one to stop me!

2) No release pressure. (THIS IS THE GREATEST PUN OF ALL TIME.)

“My book didn’t sell well when it came out, so it got un-stocked from most stores and no-one even lists it anymore.”

“My publisher let me go. They didn’t care for the sequel because sales in the first year were poor.”

“Nobody will look at me twice because my debut novel was a flop and I made a bunch of people lose money because of it.”

These words will never haunt my sleep. It’s a different game with self-publishing, a slow and steady game. The release date doesn’t really matter. There’s no “grand opening” event. It will be released, and sales will start trickling in (hopefully.) I’ll be marketing and promoting steadily and somewhat quietly, and with luck and the help of friends and family and good word of mouth, it’ll slowly spread. I have no idea how far, but my expectations are realistically low, as the chances of it spreading like the next bird flu pandemic that will kill us all are lottery-worthy. It’ll be more like the recent Ebola outbreak: relatively small, slow to proliferate, but boy will it be virulent and hard to eradicate. Yes, Eternal shall take hold of some people out there and consume them until there is only a feverish husk left, and all who come in contact with them will become irrevocably infected.

Hm. This metaphor kind of ran away from me.

All this positivity is exhausting! I must now retire, it’s just too much. At least my quota for the year is covered; I can go back to being a cynical piece of garbage with nothing good to say about anything. Cheers!

Turds, turds everywhere,

– Israel

The ETERNAL Wait Is Over

Eternal will be published on September 16th, 2014. It will indeed be self-published.

Eternal Print

Back | Spine | Front

Talks with Booktrope looked promising until there was sudden and complete silence. It was in the middle of a conversation with zero indication that they weren’t interested. My liaison simply stopped replying to emails. I waited for a month, then prodded again. Still nothing. It made me think that the man maybe had had an accident or something, so I felt a bit hurt seeing that he was still tweeting banalities day in and day out while my hopes withered. He could have had the decency of falling off a cliff to spare me the heartache of rejection. Oh, how I despaired.

Tangentially: Isn’t it such a weird and tentative dance, the whole emails-with-a-stranger-in-a-position-of-power thing? You never want to say too much, or too little; you want to be obsequious without being needy, you want to be cool without being aloof. You want to be sincere without coming across as a complete dumb-ass. It’s high school non-dating all over again.

Anyway, Eternal will be for sale soon, both in physical and electronic form, but exclusively online. Well, maybe I can convince the local bookshop to give it a read, awkward as the conversation might be. I deliver the mail to them, they owe me!

The eBook won’t cost more than a fancy cup of coffee. The print version will be as cheap as I can make it to cover production expenses—it’ll probably hover around fourteen to fifteen measly dollars. Is that the price of a movie ticket these days? It’s been a while.

I’ll be posting many more details on where to get it and what I’m doing to prepare. Though I might procrastinate on everything and then work around the clock to make this self-imposed deadline. Somehow I see that as the more likely scenario.

Exciting and/or soul-crushing times are afoot. Rejoice!

Friends always and forever,

– Israel