Welcome to Midnight Oil Diary

I’m glad you dropped by!  This blog contains commentary on gaming, fantasy, and science fiction, along with some of my own stories.  If you’re here for the blog, please read on.  If you’d like to go right to the stories, follow the links below.  You can also find links to the stories on the sidebar at right.

The Stories

ChildhoodsReverberationsA Hand to Hold
The Harp’s Call What We Leave Behind

Exile!

The one or two readers who actually made it through the story “Reverberations” might remember that Lukas, the star of Adrian’s vivid, disturbing dreams, winds up being exiled by the Emperor himself. Now, I never said exactly where the poor fellow was exiled to, but it doesn’t take much imagination to conclude he wound up in Vvardenfell. That being the case, what would have happened to Lukas after he arrived? I suppose that would be a good topic for a story, but it also gave me an excuse to reinstall Morrowind, mod it up, and start taking some screenshots!

Since Lukas is supposed to be a teenager, the principle mods that made these screenshots work are Emma’s Children of Morrowind, along with her Playable Children add-on (which appears on the same page). After racking up a few hours of playing time, here are a few shots that came out halfway decent:

Arrival: Does Fargoth irritate absolutely everyone me meets? Is that his mission in life?
Nighttime in Seyda Neen: “I don’t think I’ve ever been so lonesome. I miss my Mama. I miss Larisa!”
Hitting the road: “Check out my sweet chitin armor!”
Stopover in Pelagiad: “What’s a nice Elven boy doing in a dump like this?”
Balmora: Making friends with a local youth.
With the Fighters’ Guild: Aww Rats!
With the Fighters’ Guild: Duking it out with some egg poachers near Balmora.

I suspect we’ll be adding to this little saga from time to time. Restarting Morrowind has reminded me how much I liked the game in the first place. While its successors made the expected advances in graphics and gameplay, neither Oblivion nor Skyrim has charmed me quite as much as Morrowind did. What do you think?

Edit: Inserted a shot I forgot to put in last night.

In which Cari Ayalu visits a museum, and loses her mind over the Elspeth Sigeweald display:

What are you waiting for?

Hey folks, you might remember a post I made a few months back where I talked about a great site called Skyrim: The Rise of House Sigeweald. Elspeth’s stories are great fun to read, and she gets a lot of fan art as well. I thought I’d try a little fan art of my own, via some screenshots and image editing. Well, over the weekend, she posted my contribution on her website, along with a quick Cari Ayalu story to go with it. Was I flattered? Oh yes, quite flattered! Elspeth’s post is here.

Bragging on myself aside, if you haven’t visited Elspeth’s site, you really should. She’s a great writer, and the interpretations of her characters made by numerous talented artists are fascinating. Get clicking — you’ll be glad you did!

Some Fallout 4 Screenshots

Hi Folks! Not a lot to report, as I’m still trying to figure out what the next story will be about, but in the meantime, I thought I might share a few screenies I made while playing Fallout 4. Some of these I posted originally at Emma’s Elder Scrolls Site, but not all. Now, these aren’t really dynamic action shots — for the moment, I just stuck with taking portraits of characters and companions, and editing them in Paint.net. So here goes:

First of all, I got what I thought was a fairly nice panorama of Diamond City, taken from the press box. Those familiar with what Diamond City represents will recognize the Green Monster out in left field.

Anyone who’s played any of the Fallout games knows how grim and grey the game environment is, and Fallout 4 is no exception. One of the things I noticed is that all the characters, player, companion, NPC, all seem gaunt and exhausted. I think the following shots illustrate that idea pretty well:

Catching a breather in Sanctuary Hills…
Ellen the Cartographer
On the left, we see a trio that really needs some rest. On the right is a shot of Piper, revealing a wrenching bit of her personal life. The camera angle was kind of odd when she started talking, but I thought it made for kind of an interesting shot.

Hope you enjoyed this little display, and if you have any screenies to share, please let me know. Oh, and before I go, the mods I used in these shots are as follows:

Stay safe, everybody!

What We Leave Behind, the Conclusion

Catching up with Cari and Max!

Hey everybody, I’ve finally, FINALLY wrapped up what I had hoped to be a fairly quick little tale. It turned out a little harder to write than I thought, and real life had a habit of intervening at the least convenient times. But no matter; it looks like Simon and Lucia will have a wonderful future together. As for Max and Cari, many centuries later, who knows? That, as they say, is another story!

For the conclusion of “What We Leave Behind,” click here!

For Part I, click here!

What We Leave Behind

What can we leave behind? What can’t we bear to be without?

Hi Folks! At long last, I’ve posted the beginning of a new Skyrim fan fiction. Actually, I wanted to get this one up weeks ago, in time for the new year, but I found myself surprisingly busy over the interval, and I had lots of false starts on the tale I just posted.

“What We Leave Behind” uses Tamriel’s Old Life and New Life festivals as a setting, and gives us an update on Jot and Lucia from “A Hand to Hold.” I expanded the idea of Old Life and New Life to include some traditions that, as far as I know, don’t actually exist in Elder Scrolls canon, but I don’t think they really violate it, either. These traditions put Jot, now an adult, into a very difficult position as he must now make some tough decisions about his future, and the future of those he cares about most.

To frame the story, I thought it might be fun to catch up with Cari Ayalu, star of “The Harp’s Call,” and see how she’s getting along with Max, who’s mentioned briefly in that story.

To read Part I of “What We Leave Behind,” click here!

The Ravenscourt Tragedies

The worst part was not being allowed to scream.

So begins Anastasia Kirke’s wonderfully atmospheric web series, The Ravenscourt Tragedies..  The fourth installment of the tale just went live a few days ago, and for me it’s a must-read.  From the introduction:  “In 1890s Brytainnia, corsets are in vogue, magic is illegal, and an ancient threat is rising in the shadows. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Abigail Crowe is drawn into a web of family secrets and murderous mysteries.”  What are these secrets and mysteries?  I’ll be learning a little more every couple of weeks, but every chapter so far is filled with ominous fog and rain, mysterious strangers, and palpable foreboding.  Needless to say, I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment, and if you haven’t checked out this story, you need to get started! 

Some More Also-Rans & How’d-He Do Thats

Hey, Everybody! Since we’re kind of in between stories right now (yes, I’m stalling), I thought I’d share a few more examples of pictures that didn’t quite make it into the tales I’ve published on this site. In addition, I thought I’d talk a little about how different illustrations were put together. This time, we’re going to be looking at “A Hand to Hold,” which was that long, long story about the orphan Jot and the In-Between-Elf Miki.

As in previous stories, I based the illustrations on screenshots. This time, I went with Skyrim, Special Edition (SSE),  and added an ENB preset called PRT – PhotoRealistic Tamriel by L00 to add a little mood to the pictures . The photo editor I used was Paint.net, which I’ve found fairly easy to work with.

Building Miki and Jot

When I started the story, I already had a pretty good idea what kind of people Jot and Miki were going to be. I knew they were going to be poor, and maybe a bit ragged-looking. So I started playing around a little bit. Here’s an early attempt at our main characters:

I think I managed poor and ragged-looking, but I wanted Miki to look a little younger, and Jot a little less like a mountain trapper. After a little more work, I came up with the versions of Miki and Jot I used in the story:

The Firefly Motif

People who read the story (you know who you are!) will remember fireflies figuring into two or three scenes. Getting the fireflies to look right proved to be a lot harder than it needed to be. At first, I thought I’d try to use a Skyrim creature called a torchbug to play the fireflies’ part. Using console commands, I tried to insert a number of torchbugs around Miki. The results, at left, were rather unsatisfactory.

I spend a lot of time on this, looking up how to place torchbugs at specific places, wondering if there was a script I could write to make a bunch of torchbugs appear in a particular pattern, and so on. Then, suddenly, it hit me: Why don’t I just draw the fireflies directly into the picture? That, finally, was what I did. Using Paint.net, I opened up a screenshot of Miki casting a spell (which also provided a kind of spotlight on Miki’s face), added a layer, and drew in some fireflies. The result was something like the picture below:

I didn’t use this particular picture in the story, but I did make it the wallpaper on my phone!

Little Things

Finally, I thought I’d talk about a few subtle things that I thought helped make a couple illustrations a little more effective:

  • Below left is a picture of Miki toward the end of the story attacking the frostbite spider. Not much is changed from the original screenshot, but I made two minor edits. First, I touched up the dagger’s blade to make it a little brighter and more prominent. Second, I added some sparks falling from Miki’s left fist, as if she’s going to burn something up (spoiler: she does). I thought those edits made the shot a little more powerful.
  • The picture on the right is from the final part of the story, as an older Jot finds himself surrounded once again by Miki’s fireflies. As before, I wound up drawing the fireflies in by hand, but I needed to show them illuminating Jot’s face. My solution was to drop a torch on the ground just to Jot’s right. The illumination from the torch created enough of a glow to make it look like the fireflies were really there.

I hope you enjoyed this brief foray into how I created the illustrations for “A Hand to Hold.” I can’t really call myself an expert, but I’ve learned quite a bit about image manipulation of the past year or two. If you have anything to add, or have some shots of your own to link to, please feel free — I’d enjoy hearing from you!

Also-Rans, Part II

Recently, I shared some of the illustrations I’d prepared for the story “Childhoods,” but wound up not using. This time, I thought I’d show you a few “outtakes” from the story “Reverberations.”

As before, I based the illustrations on Skyrim screenshots, which I edited using various different applications, such as Picasa, Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), or Paint.net. However, since much of “Reverberations” takes place in a setting roughly contemporary to our own, I had to look to other sources for some of the imagery, and some new manipulation techniques, which I’ll talk about shortly.

An early attempt at Marisi

The first thing I had to do was imagine what the Dunmer maiden in the main character’s dreams looked like. I tried creating Marisi using the Dunmer template in RaceMenu. I wasn’t entirely satisfied; I never really liked the Elven brow ridge in Skyrim; it reminded me of Klingons. As a result, I wound up using another template for Marisi and her contemporary counterpart, Teri. Really experienced RaceMenu users might have been able to create something really spectacular using the sculpting and other tools available in the mod, but sadly, those skills are beyond me, at least right now.


It’s a Disco Duck!

People who’ve read “Reverberations” will remember a wedding scene right at the end of the story. That required finding a wedding venue and some fancy clothes for Adrian and Teri to wear to the ceremony. For the venue, I considered going with Eldergleam Sanctuary, and wound up taking quite a few screenshots in that sylvan setting. Regarding the clothing, wedding dress mods are surprisingly common but contemporary fancy clothes for men were harder to find. The following shot of Adrian never made it into the story, since I wasn’t really looking for a 1970s vibe (And that’s a good thing. Trust me, I lived through that era!).


“No, this isn’t the look I want,” said Teri.

As I said, I didn’t have much trouble finding a wedding dress for Teri, but it took a little while to get the rest of her to look right. Here she is with long hair and a flowery crown. I eventually decided to put her hair up and give her a jeweled tiara.


Getting rid of the green leaves you with a transparent background, if you save in .PNG format.

Since much of “Reverberations” takes place in an era like our own, I needed to come up with some modern imagery. Some of that I took care of using photos from my personal collection, while other shots came from a great stock photo site called Pexels. But I realized I’d also have to show Adrian and Teri in a modern setting. To do that, I used a mod called Green Screen Chroma Key Room. I took shots of Adrian and Teri, and using GIMP, cleared away the green backgrounds, leaving me with pictures I could easily paste into a nice picture of a carousel taken by dr jelibon at Pexels. An example of a green screen shot is at left:


And here’s the finished product, with Adrian and Teri pasted in:

Ain’t it sweet?

Writing this blog has been great fun, and so has been producing the illustrations. Hopefully, I’ve gotten better at both as I’ve gone along. Maybe a little later on, we’ll look at shots from some other stories. And hey, if you’ve got any screen shots to share, I’d be happy to see them!

National League Pennant!

Photo by Steshka Willems from Pexels

I was seven years old when I saw my first baseball game — I still remember: the Cincinnati Reds versus the San Diego Padres. My Dad, my older brother, and I went down to Cincinnati on an old school bus with a YMCA group. As we passed through town on the way to the brand-new Riverfront Stadium, my Dad pointed out some ruins. Crosley Field, the old Reds ball park, was in the process of demolition. Seeing that made me sad somehow. However, the melancholy vanished as soon as I glimpsed the new stadium — how huge! How beautiful! I think the Reds won the game, though it would be hard to prove it.

That would have been 1972. I’ve been a baseball fan ever since.

My family and I moved to Virginia in the late 1990s. The closest major league baseball team was in Baltimore, although we had a minor league team close by. But in 2005, the National League’s Montreal Expos moved to Washington, D.C., renaming themselves the Washington Nationals. The first three years in town, they played in the old Robert F. Kennedy stadium while their new park was built. Since 2008, they’ve played in Nationals Park near the Navy Yard. I’ve attended games in both places, and try to catch a game or two every year.

Anyway, this turned out to be the Nats’ year! Although their season started off badly, they’ve made it all the way to the World Series, beating the St. Louis Cardinals last night for the National League Pennant! The video below covers game highlights, to which I’ll add a few observations:

  • The Nats scored all seven of their runs in the bottom of the first inning, not long after the game started.
  • The voices in the video come from the television broadcast and from the team’s radio announcers. The voice at the end of the video is Nationals radio announcer Charlie Slowes, who’s known for extremely effusive game calling. His broadcast partner, Dave Jageler, is much calmer.
  • At around the 5:30 point in the video, a Nationals player named Gerardo Parra comes to bat. He became famous for using the “Baby Shark” song for his walkup music. In the video, you can see people in the audience doing the Baby Shark dance!
  • During the celebration footage at the end of the video, take a close look at the player wearing number 11. That’s Ryan Zimmerman, who’s been with the team since 2006, during years when the team was, frankly, lousy. His joyous expression is well-earned!

Also-Rans

Hi Folks! As you’ve noticed, we’re kind of between stories right now. I’ve been developing some ideas in my head for a couple of tales, but I’m not ready to commit anything to the blog just yet. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of the illustrations I made for the stories that I wound up not using for one reason or another.

As you’ve seen, I base my illustrations on screenshots, which I process using a photo editor. I started out using Picasa, which I don’t think is supported any more, but you still might be able to find. But for the last few months, I’ve been using Paint.net, and I’ve been very happy with the results it gives for someone like me with rather limited skills. In any case, I take a lot more screenshots than I actually use, so here are a few also-rans for the story “Childhoods.”

The shot at left shows young Frida learning to read. It’s not a bad picture, really, but the one I wound up using was a little cuter.

In Part III of “Childhoods,” a teenaged Frida tries to line up an arrow shot at a wolf that’s trying to get into the abbey’s hen house. The shot at right shows Frida with her bow drawn, ready to fire. I wound up not using it because I couldn’t get the colors as rich as I wanted them. Also, if you look closely, her bow is drawn, but the arrow isn’t really nocked, is it? Blame that on Skyrim, not me!

Toward the end of Part IV of the story, Frida must defend herself from a lecherous and cruel Baron, so I needed some pictures of Frida handling an ax. The shot below (which I also posted at Emma’s Elders Scrolls Forum) uses Picasa’s CinemaScope effect, which came out kind of interesting, although it would have to show the Baron in front of Frida for it to make much sense.

Finally, at the conclusion of the story, we meet the main character as an elderly woman recounting her adventures with the Dragonborn and her life’s work thereafter. I wanted her to look distinguished and somewhat regal, so I took a lot of shots of her sitting on a large chair. This one might have worked, but the perspective was a little bit off (her hands look huge!):

For me, creating the illustrations is a significant part of the fun of creating my fan fiction, and as I wrote more, I got a little better at putting the illustrations together. Next time, we’ll look at some also-rans from my other stories!