Category Archives: Storytime

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

 

 

 

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

Storytime : Dirty Mouth

No news this week whatsoever, hah hah hah! So let’s delve into the past. This wouldn’t be a real blog without desperate attempts to endear myself to you, after all. Here’s something that happened some fifteen years ago. Yay let’s do it!

 

* * *

 

We finally get to the hilltop. I did it before by myself, but it feels even more impressive an accomplishment with company. They don’t expect a guy of my girth to be first.

I’m spent, but of course I don’t show it, or I try not to show it. I’m the guide, the Guy That’s Done It Before. Such intricate, secret paths I have discovered! Such rich experiences I have accrued! The lure of the unknown was enough to convince my two best buds to come along.

“Shit man, that was steep,” Alex says between pants. “We should’ve taken the road instead.”

“I’m good,” says Daniel. He doesn’t even look winded, the bastard.

Okay, so there’s an actual dirt road a few paces off the path, and it didn’t take that long to get up here. These facts don’t diminish my accomplishments in the slightest. You have to start somewhere, right? I’ve been obsessed with hiking lately and there’s absolutely no chance I could ever lose interest in it. I feel pretty good about my early progress.

Besides, I don’t like dirt roads when it’s so dry. Your boots get filthy and the dust dries up your throat real fast.

I remember it longer, taller, tougher.  Erosion at work, no doubt.

I remember it longer, taller, tougher. Erosion at work, no doubt.

“Come on,” I say, “let’s keep going.”

“Naw, let’s take a break by the pole.” Alex starts walking toward it without caring whether anyone agrees. Of course we will agree. It’s a universal constant: nothing’s faster than the speed of light, opposing electrical charges attract, and other kids do what Alex says regardless of who’s officially in charge of the whole goddamn expedition.

The pole is a tall metal pipe embedded in a huge concrete cube—no idea what it’s for, won’t ever care. The concrete is wide enough to provide shade for two and a half teenagers. Three could squeeze together, but we wouldn’t do that because we’re Manly Dudes and physical contact is strictly forbidden. Alex sits straight in the middle, one-hundred-percent uncaring of my and Daniel’s sunbaked noggins.

Daniel squeezes in anyway. “Scoot, man, don’t hog the shade.”

Alex nonchalantly complies. Daniel pulls out his water bottle and takes a gulp. I stand, pacing a little. The wind is strong up here; I lean against it, enjoying the chill on my sweaty skin.

“This is pretty cool,” Alex says. “You can see the whole city.”

I follow his gaze, swelling with pride at his acknowledgment. “Yeah. I bet it’s better from the next hill.”

“Dude, you’re obsessed with the next hill.”

“Well, it’s the goal for today, I’ve never gone so far.”

“It’s still fine to take a break. Aren’t you tired?”

He gestures at me while he says it. At my body. He might not mean it that way, and I might be just a tad oversensitive about my weight, and he doesn’t ever tease me about being fat, really, but what he’s implying seems crystal clear to me at that moment. Luckily, the fluster from the climb covers my embarrassment.

“I’m doing fine, man. I could run down the hill right now. I’ll bet I’d beat you, too.”

My miffed tone seems to fly straight over his head. “Hahah, that’d be fun, running down the road.”

“You wanna do it?”

He blinks, then his smile broadens. “Hells yeah.”

Daniel is looking back and forth from one to the other. “That doesn’t sound so smart. Looks pretty damn steep.”

Alex sticks his tongue between his teeth and goes cross-eyed. ” ‘Lookth preddy damm thteep’ blurr durr durr ….”

“Pff, whatever man.” He gets up. “I’ll race you down and laugh when you’re tumbling behind me.”

I’ve already walked up to the point where the road starts sloping noticeably. It doesn’t look so bad. It’s, what, maybe a quarter mile until it levels out? Not even that. I’ve never dared run downhill, but how bad could it be? It’s just running. I’ll show them how fast the chubby kid can go.

still just a dirt road, looks like.

still just a dirt road, looks like.

They stand next to me. Alex doesn’t look so thrilled anymore—it looks as if his eyebrows are trying to climb into his forehead. “Oof, it does look pretty steep from here.”

Daniel snorts. “Told ya.”

I smile like they’re speaking nonsense and wave my hand dismissively. “Come on, don’t chicken out. I’m going to leave you in the dust.”

“Alright, fine,” Daniel says.

“Let’s do it,” says Alex.

“Ready?” says I. I don’t wait for a response. “Go!”

I take off. They startle into movement with me, but I easily leave their cautious trot behind, because there’s nothing cautious about my all-out sprint. I feel giddy as I pick up speed and realize they’re nowhere near me.

It crosses my mind that maybe I’m going a little too fast now, so I slow down a bit. Or I try, at least, to no avail. Gravity adds way too much momentum to the run, and soon all I can do is concentrate on keeping my legs under me. I realize I’ve lost control altogether when my strides become long enough to qualify as jumps.

Another stomp, another jump, and it feels like forever until my foot lands again—flat, hard, heavy. My entire leg wobbles upon impact in a terrifying way, and I’m just amazed that it didn’t simply break and give out.

As I begin to tip forward in mid-flight, I become certain that I’ve run out of strides.

Now, there’s this way overplayed cliché in books and action movies where at the grand climax things seem to stand still for the hero, and they have time to think of a way out of their problem as everything moves in super-slow-motion around them.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not really true. I looked it up: we simply remember it better after it’s over. The amygdala goes into overdrive and whatnot, laying down memory after memory of your stressful situation and giving you the impression that it took longer than it really did. It happens in high-risk situations, when true survival instinct kicks in … no matter whether you’re the mega-spy held at gunpoint by Doctor Villanos, or you are a dumb-ass teenager at the brink of breaking every bone in his body.

Thus the memories form for posterity in rapid succession. My center of gravity becomes horizontal and tilts even further. My backpack nudges the back of my neck. I think of how I’ll never, ever live this down, and maybe I can pretend I did it on purpose somehow, if I survive it. The ground soars under me, and it seems possible that if I spread my arms and begin flapping, I’ll start going up instead of down. Possibilities race through my head faster than the road draws near my face.

In truth I only have time to raise my arms in an attempt to cushion the fall. It’s not even a choice I make—it simply happens. I suspect it’s an instinctual response to understanding that I’m fucked.

Arms hit first and immediately go out of control, spreading to the sides and skidding in the dirt. Face goes next, and I slide, slide, slide forward for eternity and beyond. Dust gets in my eyes, my nose, my mouth; it goes between gums and lips, between tongue and teeth, down my throat. It gets everywhere, down my collar, through my sleeves, down my pants, into my underwear, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt.

There must have been pain. There must have. But all I’ll ever remember is how the world went brown. The taste will never leave my memory.

The trip downhill doesn’t become a tumble. I simply slide on my face until I stop, much, much later. I spend some time there, reflecting upon pride’s folly. Or trying to breathe, maybe.

My friends are soon by my side, breaking the Manly Dudes rule by helping me up. They’re saying things but I’m far too busy spitting and coughing to respond. I do notice they’re not laughing. There’s fear in their voice.

“Dude! Are you okay?”

“Are you okay?”

Am I okay? I didn’t break my neck, as far as I can tell. That’s a solid victory right there. I keep spitting while checking every spot that hurts.

Nothing seems to be broken, actually. In fact, there’s not even wounds to speak of, just scrapes along my arms.

And dirt.

“Holy shit, you’re filthy, man.”

There it is, the first hint of amusement in Daniel’s voice. Ah well. I definitely earned this one.

“I win,” I choke-wheeze-chuckle.

Alex laughs. “You’re nuts!” They’re already swatting and slapping my clothes, clouds of dust puffing out with every stroke. It catches on Alex’s throat and he coughs for a bit.

Daniel keeps swatting. “We were like, alright, let’s take it easy, this is really steep. And then we look up and we’re like, what the fuck is he doing!”

Alex resumes patting. “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen!”

I give him a fool’s smile. “I thought I could get to the bottom before losing control. Nnnnope.”

Daniel starts laughing. “Look at your teeth! It’s like you were chewing on shit!”

“Nice.” I redouble my efforts to get all the dirt out of my mouth.

Alex pulls out his water bottle and a roll of toilet paper. “Let’s see if we can clean you up, man.”

I couldn’t agree more with the proposal. The joint effort takes up the next twenty minutes and most of our water. We don’t get anywhere close to cleaning me up, but at least I no longer look like an unwashed hobo—only a slightly unkempt one.

We trade glances. I’m achy and still covered in filth, water is almost gone, and there’s two thousand jokes to be made at my expense. After a full five seconds of deliberation we reach a consensus: the next summit will have to wait for another time. Let’s go home.

The road ahead forks toward the city, and all the dirt inside my clothes is already telling me that it’s going to be an extremely uncomfortable walk to the bus station—yet somehow it doesn’t bother me that much. I know Alex and Daniel will tease me about it for years to come, but for now they seem to be more in awe than anything else. I’m crazy, they say. I’ve got balls the size of pumpkins, they say. I find myself in an excellent mood.

And hey.

I did beat them to the bottom of the hill.

 

* * *

 

Throw enough words at it and the mundane becomes momentous.

I can see Russia from my house,

– Israel