Category Archives: navel-gazing

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.

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 Chronicle of Woe

Writing news: Eternal is ready. It’s time. It’s the moment of truth, the inflection point in my writing career, the fateful extra long sentence with lots of repetition to illustrate an overly simple fact: self-publication time!

The Wife constantly pesters me about it. I buy all these books, she says. They’re selling well and the authors are making careers by themselves, they don’t need no stinkin’ publisher. Your book is so much better, she says. Go make me some money so I can live off you, she says.

So, yes dear, I say. Everything is almost ready, files are good to go, art is in place for the most part BUT WAIT.

Beat up from dozens of trips in a crowded backpack

Beat up from dozens of trips in a crowded backpack. I should’ve used better lighting, you can’t see the cool cover design!

The very same day the last touch is done on the print version, Dearest Pro Bono Editor of Eternal (did I ever post her name here? It seems rude to say names so I won’t) calls me.

I sold my soul for you, she says over a terrible connection. I know so-and-so and told them you’re brilliant (aaaaaw!) They’ll take a look at your book, she says.

I’ve had two glasses of wine, she says.

I’m flabbergasted she goes to such lengths for me, but some semblance of due diligence must be done! I check them out online and Booktrope sounds like a grand lot of fellers. Hell yea, I say, let’s give it a go. And so, here I am.

I won’t lie to you, I’m wary of going into this process again, but I would be a fool to pass up such an amazing opportunity. If nothing comes out of it career-wise, I’m sure Eternal will be better for it in the end, and that’s what matters most really. One way or another, Alexandra and Aaron Gretchen will see the light of day–but yeah, I’d rather see it happen this way. So…wish me luck I guess?

 

scenesepS2

 

Non-writing news: no donuts for you! It turns out that Fairbanks, Alaska is a huge dick to new business of little means. Why, let me tell you of our adventures!

We (the wife and I, that is) tell our franchise rep from Paradise Donuts that we’ve saved $90k for this business. The man says, hot diggity damn, that’s more than enough to spare. I’m paraphrasing here.

We scout a location (what a pain in the ass in itself) and get some estimates. Nope, can’t do it for less than $100,000, the high-balling goes on-location. Dick tits, we say. So alright, we secure some financing then. After months of wheedling, $50,000 from the bank in business loan form, plus some extra from the outbuilding allowance in the lease. That should be plenty, we are excited!

The general contractor says, you know, I’ve been putting a lot of hours getting everybody to give me some serious numbers, and it looks like it won’t be less than $200,000. I might be able to negotiate down to about $150,000 if you give some specific blueprints for the whole thing.

That’s outrageous! We say. Get more estimates, quick! Surely there’s some company in this town that will do this project for less. Go with the lowest bidder, that always works out great!

The lowest is $240,000.

So, okay. My parents want to loan us $50,000. I feel like dirt for taking their money after everything they’ve done for me, but if we haggle hard enough, we can still do this. That’s…good, right?

Risk every penny we have? Get majorly in debt, with family no less? Deal with this town’s prices forever? Yoke ourselves to Alaska’s unforgiving EVERYTHING for at least the next 5 years? Hmm. Determination is starting to fray by this point, truth be told.

Alright, so let’s get some blueprints. Architect prices are crazy I’m sure, but it can’t be more than a few grand. That sounds insane already, but we can do that, and we need them anyway because both the location owner and the City require them. It’s for the Greater Good.

The first proposal comes in, after waaaaaaay too long of a wait. We open the email with some trepidation. It’s hard to decide what I’m hoping for by this point.

We started laughing at this point

BLARGH.

Here’s the bottomline: we’re moving. We could maybe make it work with a lot more effort and determination and quite a bit of luck. But no, no thanks. We’re both tired of this town and this is an excellent time to pack up and go. We’ll take our cash elsewhere and see ya never, moose and beaver! Wow, that was weak, sorry about that.

It’s regrettable I won’t be able to say anymore “oh yeah, I live in North Pole Alaska, I’m so cool” but that’s the price I must pay.

It’ll happen next year probably, since it takes a while to transfer job and sell house and procrastinate as much as possible. But ten years in Alaska feels like more than enough 40-below weather to last me for a lifetime.

 

scenesepS2

 

LASTLY! Playing games while blathering over them is the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I was going to say that I’ve let my inner nerd run rampant with this, but that would imply that the guy is not in display at all times. So let me try that one again: I’m a huge nerd and I’ve run rampant with this.

Yes, that’s more appropriate. I’ve even done a bunch of tutorials, I’m so damn good. Spelunky 101 is 1337, yo.

Let us unravel it together

Click it and let us unravel it together

I’m aware how silly it looks to anyone not “in the scene.” I’m okay with that. After literally hundreds of hours talking non-stop while concentrating on gameplay at the same time, words seem to come easier to me throughout daily life. Who could have thought, right? I used to dread the mere sight of a microphone, but now it’s so natural. I find myself speaking out more at work, asking questions out loud that I wouldn’t have voiced before, coming up with witty retorts that would have taken several minutes before. This entire endeavor has been and continues to be a huge time investment, but I feel it’s been worth every second.

Besides, I would have gamed my life away anyway; addiction is a powerful thing. Might as well entertain while doing it.

So that’s life in Israel so far. Be good to one another, space cowboys.

 

Too Much Information

My Dearest Brother suggested that I’m being too sincere in this blog—sincere to a counterproductive degree.

Now, I like to think I’m pretty good at taking criticism, just like there’s people out there that are really good at taking a punch to the gut. So after the inevitable, rapidly suppressed first thought of “no I disagree shut up,” I gave what I’ve written here a long, narrow-eyed look, trying to see what he’d seen.

And you know, it’s totally true. I probably shouldn’t say that my first draft was bloated and meandering, especially when I failed to mention that it was also pretty damn great, with snappy dialogue, spot-on emotions (mostly) and characters as deep as yo mamma’s—dammit, there I go I again. With many deep, well developed characters, is what I wanted to say. I probably should have stressed that Ms. Awesome Editor loved it, or at least many parts of it, in italics, yes indeed. It had enough potential and good writing to become the excellent book that it is now, and that doesn’t exactly come across in all my previous posts.

It’s hard to tell where’s the line between promoting yourself and being an obnoxious braggart. Done wrong or too often, humorous self-deprecation becomes stale or just fishing for compliments, and a positive-but-with-low-expectations attitude becomes depressing fatalism. Irreverence is my default state of mind, which might disguise the fact that I take making it as a writer Very Seriously.

Statements like the last one above make me cringe a little. Self-importance is such a plague on the internet—so unwarranted, so worthy of much eyebrow quirking and head shaking. I’m self-centered and self-important like everyone else, and I guess sincerity is what I use to fight it. If you are up-front with the flaws and the awful thoughts, I don’t know, maybe then it balances out the big-headed nonsense a little?

In an age when you can’t swing a cybercat without hitting anonymous acerbic sneers, jaded nonchalance, teethy malice hidden beneath saccharine politeness … sincerity is kind of scarce. And I have it, I have all of it, bahahaha!

Besides, I’m going to make a fool of myself anyway. I might as well own it.

Safe journeys, space fans.