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

Another Story, Another Soundtrack

“Tra-la-la! Sorry, I can’t sing!”

Hi Folks! Been a while hasn’t it? I haven’t figured out what the next story is going to be yet, but in the mean time, I’ve been tinkering with a new soundtrack. About a year ago, inspired by Ellspeth using music to represent her characters, I imagined what the soundtrack to “A Hand To Hold” would be like if the story were made into a film. For that project, I used cinematic music from a number of different films, from composers ranging from John Williams to Jonny Greenwood. I had so much fun, I wanted to do the same thing for a different story, and spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of music might work with “The Harp’s Call.” Those who’ve read the story will remember it’s about a young girl in modern-day Solitude who must solve a ghostly mystery dating back to the Dragonborn era.

This time around, however, I thought that instead of drawing from other soundtracks, I would use music from the classical world. That made the exercise tougher in some ways, but easier in others. The tough part was finding pieces that could pass as cinematic and represent a scene in the story. While some (but by no means all) cinematic score composers might borrow from classical themes, it doesn’t follow that classical pieces, particularly the longer ones, are easy to fit to a story. On the other hand, one might find some very short pieces, such as preludes and etudes, that might match up fairly neatly with a particular scene. Having said all that, I present the soundtrack to “The Harp’s Call:”

Let’s talk about the selections and where they fit in the story.

  • Part I of the story opens with Cari and her girlfriends, Leyda and Anisa, visiting historic Solitude on a class field trip. I wanted a pleasant piano piece to represent the somewhat idyllic setting, and the Kabalevsky prelude I selected felt like a pretty good fit. The somewhat dissonant tone could be taken to represent Cari’s immersive enthusiasm for history versus her girlfriends’ more casual attitude.
  • Part I concludes with Cari becoming lost in time, finding herself in a Solitude she no longer recognizes, and coming face-to-face with the beautiful but terrifying harpist. You can’t miss with Chopin for an intense, brief work, and the prelude I selected illustrates her fear pretty well.
  • Part II opens with an ailing Cari at home under her favorite Aunt Teri’s care. Cari’s mood brightens considerably as her aunt suggests going for a long walk followed by lunch in town. Sibelius’ “Valse Triste” sets the mood for this scene, starting very softly and gently, as a pleasant theme takes shape. Eventually, the pair reach the ruins of the old Thalmor embassy, and Cari realizes that the harpist, whoever she is, isn’t quite done with her. The music picks up its tempo and reaches an almost frenzied crescendo as Cari once again has the wits scared out of her!
  • In Part III, Cari has had enough. She’s going to find out who this ghostly harpist is, and why she’s been haunting her. Over a weekend, Cari plods her way through library books and even interviews the scholarly director of the Blue Palace Museum, accompanied by Fauré’s “Pavane.” I’d settled on this piece pretty early, as it has a gentle, deliberate tempo, not too fast, with an occasional crescendo, which might mark Cari gaining a particular insight.
  • Even though Cari has concluded she’s being haunted by Näktergal, a legendary harpist from the Dragonborn era, she still can’t escape her. Part III concludes with Cari returning to school and being called upon to recite some ancient poetry at the head of the classroom. Once again, she finds herself lost in time as ancient passions boil over once again around her. Chopin’s “Revolutionary Étude” gives us the musical backdrop for this scene, and it’s an intense, almost wild piece.
  • The experience in the classroom is enough to send Cari to the hospital! Part IV of the story starts with Cari convalescing while her beloved Aunt Teri, the only one who really knows what’s happening, comforts her. For this scene, I selected Grieg’s “Solveig’s Cradle Song,” from Peer Gynt, a calming, gentle piece. Though Cari drifts off to sleep, her sense of peace is short-lived, as Näktergal beckons her once more, and Cari is compelled to escape the hospital and follow her into the night. Now, almost fully possessed by Näktergal, Cari sneaks through the darkened streets of Solitude, finally making her way to the sub-basement in the Bard’s college. For this scene, I went back to another Chopin prelude, whose three heavy bass notes at the end might signify Cari’s apprehension by the Solitude police!
  • Confronted by bewildered family, impatient police, and incredulous academics, Cari has to explain herself, and fast! In the conclusion of the story, Cari finally solves the mystery, astonishing everyone and earning Näktergal’s gratitude, even after a thousand years. I thought the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana worked here; the minor crescendo at the end representing Cari’s final meeting with the spirit, which vanishes and leaves Cari in peace. The remaining threads of the story, including Aunt Teri’s big surprise, are accompanied by another pleasant Grieg piece, “The Last Spring.” At this point, one could almost imagine the end credits starting their crawl down the screen!

Okay so far? You might have noticed one glaring gap in the explanation above: Näktergal is an ancient harpist, isn’t she? She sang, didn’t she? Well, what did her song sound like? To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. While I included several verses of her song in the story, I never really had a tune to go with the words. Maybe she sounded a little like Inger Dam-Jensen performing Grieg’s “Solveig’s Song” from Peer Gynt, included as the final piece on this playlist. Do the words in the story fit the tune? Sadly, they don’t. Maybe I should rewrite them. Maybe I should write a tune, or commission someone to do it for me!

I hope you enjoyed this little soundtrack. It was a lot of fun to do, and if you have any suggestions for additional music for this story, or for my other stories, I’d be glad to hear it. And if you want to build soundtracks for your own stories, definitely let me know so I can link to them!

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!