Alexandra Erin’s Fall Fundraising Fextravaganza

The plain and simple facts:

  • WorldCon was more expensive than I had budgeted for or foreseen, by several hundred dollars when all is said and done. I crowdfunded the budget I did have because our household in general and myself in particular did not have anywhere near the “wiggle room” to add another, even bigger convention to our schedule, so this left me in the hole.
  • August was a light month for me, work-wise, because of complications relating to WorldCon, including aggravated fatigue and leg injuries that had me on my back after it. This cost me a couple of hundred dollars at least in direct income.
  • One of my older family members is currently in the hospital, which takes time and energy, again affecting my ability to do my immediate paying work. (Tales of MU in particular suffers when my daily routine is not routine, and that’s just over a third of my Patreon income when it’s going according to plan.)

Before all this, I did have some financial padding. My goal with this fundraiser is to recoup those losses and start rebuilding that padding. I’m setting the goal at $1,000, which represents the additional costs plus the lost income plus a little bit extra to jump start savings.

I am currently supporting Ligature Works directly out of my own pocket, and this is not a complaint, mind you, because it was the plan. But as an incentive, I will say that 10% of contributions I get (up to my goal) will go towards expanding our first issue’s table of contents. That’s an additional piece we will purchase for every $250. If we go over $1,000, I’ll put aside a similar amount of the excess for future issues.

As a further incentive: yesterday: the story I wrote on Twitter yesterday about Trump’s infernal dealings backfiring is something I’m currently expanding into a longer, more traditional prose story, probably something of about novelette length. My plan is to release this as an ebook. If I hit my goal inside of a week, I will make that ebook free on Amazon and as a multiformat, DRM-free bundle on my own website for a period of no less than 24 hours.

You can contribute using either PayPal (address alexandra at alexandraerin dot com if PayPal.Me is not available in your country/region) or Square Cash.

And while direct cup-rattling, drum-beating, and general PBS-ing like this is just part of the crowdfunded life, ultimately I would really like to move past the point where it’s necessary. That means I need new blood on Patreon. While I enjoy performing for the crowd, this month already I’ve started releasing more works exclusively on Patreon, and this trend will continue. You can make sure you don’t miss anything and help me secure my present and future circumstances by joining me there.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support.

Announcing Ligature Works Issue 1 Contributors!

Having burned through the backlog in correspondence, we are now pleased to announce our contributors for our first ever issue of Ligature Works. In particular order, we are thrilled to be able to offer original poetry and prose from:

  • Mary Soon Lee, “Feng” (epic poetry fragment)
  • EM Beck, “By The Hand Of The Witch” (fantasy)
  • Ingrid Garcia, “Signs of Life” (poetic tryptich)
  • Toby MacNutt, “The Way You Say Good-Night” (contemporary fantasy)
  • Margarita Tenser, “The Second Law of Thermodynamics” (poem)
  • Sheryl R. Hayes, “The Twisted Princess” (fantasy)

I have to say, while the logistics of our system were not the best (not that we expected them to be, our first time out), the actual process and the end results of our anonymous reading cannot be beat. With just six slots to fill for our inaugural issue, we managed to assemble a very wide-ranging collection of works by women and non-binary writers from different countries, backgrounds, and races.

We discovered as we closed out our slush pile that in the process of assembling this issue, we had rejected works by award-winning authors and poets and some dear friends and people whom we admire. The latter hurt a bit, but all in all, the results convinced me this was for the best. We picked the pieces that spoke to us and that most fit with what we’re trying to do here.

Interestingly, while we invited potential contributors to include any information about their experience or identity they felt would be relevant to our evaluation, very few chose to do so. I say this is “interesting” because I can only imagine the clamor from Certain Quarters over our emerging table of contents is that it must be some kind of affirmative action. But quality (both in the sense of “level of goodness” and “that particular characteristic we’re looking for”) stands out.

You will be able to read these pieces for free in our first issue when it goes live (projected: September 30th) at http://www.ligatureworks.com.

STATUS: Friday, September 23rd

The Daily Report

Well, I’ve spent way more time this week on RealmLike than I had expected to, due to a confluence of two factors: some very promising nibbles of interest my first announcements received, and some interface-breaking/compatibility-impairing bugs with the BYOND engine that runs it that threatened to inhibit that interest. BYOND’s lead developer is very responsive, though, and has been working to clear up those bugs. The browser-embedded version of the game is already leaps and bounds better than it was, and I am confident it will soon be fully functional in every way.

Before we got to that point, I spent (wasted) a lot of times assuming that the bugs were just gaps in my own understanding and trying to fix them on my own. Having the bugs I report verified and fixed is doing a lot to restore my confidence in my programming skills, and the game is shaping up into something I’m proud of. There aren’t enough people playing at a time yet for the social aspects of a MUD to start to crop up, but it really does scratch the retro dungeon-crawler itch that occasionally causes me to fire up a DOS emulator so I can play Nethack or DND.exe.

Absent spending whole days wrestling with a thing that should work but isn’t, I expect the game to progress by leaps and bounds even with just a couple hours a day devoted to it. BYOND’s programming language is easy, I’ve made the game’s basic system fairly extensible. I already extended the Cleric, the third one of the four core classes out to level 5, leaving only the Wizard as a sort of skeletal outline to be filled in.

The dungeon itself gained a bunch of features to make it less of a non-descript maze; some doorways now have doors. Random debris can litter the hallways. Statues appear in certain places. Most of it is just set-dressing, but it does help you figure out when you’re going around in circles. Now there are landmarks. Along the same lines, each level of the dungeon has a randomly assigned brick color to help you tell them apart, and the dungeon is physically lighter in the region around the up exit and darker around the down one.

In non-RealmLike news: even with the setbacks of the previous weeks, Ligature Works is still on track to publish its first issue next Friday, September 30th. I’d like to make a post announcing our table of contents/contributors, once I’m back at my desktop and can make sure I’m getting everybody’s bylines exactly right. And my Word hack of making a document template that is more comfortable for me to write in is yielding interesting dividends, writing-wise. More on that later.

Financial Status

Mostly unchanged. My attempts earlier in the month to do some ad hoc “reminder I need money to live” crowdfunding went mostly nowhere, but I am sanguine. If RealmLike’s browser interface can be made fully functional, it could well become another ongoing revenue stream. Again, there have been only a few intrepid playtesters so far, but once the browser issues are resolved I think it will easily grow some legs.

The State of the Me

Physically pretty great. Mentally a little more absentminded than I like to be. Usually when I’m as forgetful as I have been the past few days, it corresponds to high levels of cognitive fog. I have been clearheaded, but scatterbrained.

Plans For Today

Well, I have a domain for RealmLike, so I’m in the process of setting up a blog there so I have a central place to post updates without flooding this one. I’m going to be doing Tales of MU, and probably that Ligature Works post.

Play #RealmLike in your browser!

So, I didn’t mean to spend the whole day bashing around with #RealmLike, but enough potential players told me they wanted in but didn’t want to have to mess around with downloading an external program that I moved making it web-accessible up a few notches on the priority table. I was due a free web domain from my host, so I snagged RealmLike.com and threw it up.

A couple of caveats: the “off-the-shelf” web interface ignores a lot of my in-game text formatting, so a lot of things look clunky and weird (and not in the deliberate style of the game). It also includes a lot of extraneous bits (like sound controls). The next iteration of the browser interface will not have those, but I’m running into a few tricky issues with building it. The [T] to Talk command does not function in the browser; you have to manually click the cursor into the chat box. I really want to fix that because it is my intention that this game be 100% playable with keyboard.

So the game is in early development, and the browser interface is in even earlier development. It is, however, playable. Upsides: making the game compatible with it also involved streamlining the training menus, and since I was redoing them anyway, I went ahead and added some things I’d wanted to. Now when you choose something, it gives you a description of what you’ve selected and asks for confirmation, and loops back to the main training menu if you still have selections to make.

Basically, every day the game gets a little more intuitive in response to player feedback.

You can now play #RealmLike on your own computer!

Caveat: single player only so far. The dungeon dimensions and other parameters that will eventually be customizable from within the game are currently hard coded in; during this early phase of testing, I’d like to limit the amount of x-factors involved when I can’t see what’s happening, in order to keep the testing useful.

Downloading the game requires a BYOND account (still free!) and a $5 purchase of RealmLike through BYOND. It’s called a subscription because that’s what the platform uses as its model, but it’s lifetime. Think of it as similar to buying a game on an Early Access model. Your one-time purchase nets you any and all future updates, and you will get notifications through BYOND when a new version is uploaded.

As an added cherry, subscribers get more character slots on the public test server and may occasionally have access to a separate private test server where newer things are being tested out. Future character classes and races will likely see the light of day there first.

The stable build that’s up for download now includes all the innovations added as a result of today and yesterday’s testing, including:

  • Longer period before scarring sets in from vicious wounds and burns.
  • Consumable items to remove vicious wounds, burns, and scars (bandages, aloe salve, and miracle cream).
  • Consumable items for navigating the dungeon.
  • Some basic color signposting and random cosmetic dungeon features to help you navigate from a level entrance to a level exit.

There is also a vastly improved communication/social system, though it’s a bit superfluous in the offline only version of the game.

#RealmLike: Minor updates

Well, a few intrepid souls have logged on and tried RealmLike out during the day. These folks will have made things a little easier for everyone who tries it out tonight, as through their feedback and my own observations I have identified a few troublesome areas that didn’t give me any problems but which weren’t exactly intuitive to outside eyes.

Stairs were previously labeled “v stairs v” and “^ stairs ^”, to indicate directions. Since the first stairs you encounter are pointing downward, this means the first thing you see is stairs surrounded by a letter v. Two of the three people I witnessed playing the game did the logical thing and pressed V to use the stairs. This is doubly confusing, as the Climb command (Z) is the only one whose key shortcut is not directly derived from its name. I’ve now relabeled the stairs as “Stairs [Up/Down] Press Z”.

The trainer in town is currently separate from the training menu you can bring up by pressing +. This is because the trainer can teach you new classes, but as this was the only intended function of the trainer when I implemented it, talking to one while you’re not ready to gain a level gave a message saying to come back when you were ready to train, even if you had other training to do. I’ve now adjusted the trainer to bring up the normal training interface when you’re not leveling. Long-term, I’ll merge the two interfaces and just give you the extra options when you access it through a trainer.

These two things created a potentially frustrating ping-pong experience for players, as you could spend precious new game energy time trying to figure out the arcane secrets of the stairs only to be told to finish your training, and then go talk to the trainer and be told you’re not ready to train. I’ve now ironed out those wrinkles.

I also made secret passages show up more distinctly; the subtle color shift when your perception is high enough to notice them wasn’t really very noticeable, and since there’s an internal “perception check” being made, a real-life one isn’t called for.

A couple of more vicious monsters had their levels labeled incorrectly so were spawning too frequently on the first level. This has been fixed.

Finally, I made a sort of “initiative roll”/delay when a monster moves adjacent to you so that it doesn’t immediately attack the same tick if its attack is cooled down. There’s no visible wind-up, but if you have auto defend on (it is on by default), your character may score the first strike, depending on their attack speed and reflexes.

#RealmLike

So you all know I dabble in game design at an almost constant background level.

Computer. Tabletop. Whatever.

I do it most often when I’m overwhelmed by anxiety or can’t sleep in the middle of the night. It’s like meditating on an orderly world, and it somehow uses fewer processing cycles at its most intricate than creative writing or almost anything else does.

So I started a game design experiment the night before flying out to WorldCon, a bit over a month ago. And then I ignored it, only to pick it back up and poke at it during the last few of the long nights we were visiting the hospital. And then during the week after that or so that I was bombed out of my mind on cough syrup and allergy meds, I really threw myself into it.

And so now I have created RealmLike, a retro-dungeon crawler and minimally multiplayer online RPG. The name “RealmLike” derives from RLML, for “Rogue-Like/MUD-Like”, naming its two most immediate influences. It’s a functional game engine that is capable of generating a dungeon 250-some tiles across and 255 levels deep in a matter of seconds (though it’s currently set to a slightly more reasonable size, five levels deep), which can then be explored in classic dungeon-crawl style with some modern sensibilities (like skill trees, multiclass, and hotkeys for spells and abilities).

This kind of game is the sort of thing I’m always tinkering with. My projects usually stall out or fall apart because even working in a retro palette with low resolution pixel graphics, my needs fast outstrip my abilities. RealmLike gets around this by fully embracing the abstraction embodied by its oldest progenitors, though with a 21st century twist enabled by higher screen resolution:

realmlike-2

21st century text-based graphics don’t have to stick with “d” for “dog” and “g” for goblin. We have enough space to spell things out.

Game has been coming along well, I’d like to bring it along further, but it could really use more hands and eyeballs on it to make sure everything in it works as well as I think it does. If you’re interested in checking it out, I am going to be leaving a server running.

This game is made with the BYOND programming suite and currently requires BYOND’s client program to connect to it and play. You can download and install the suite here (it’s free!), after which you will be able to join the game from its hub page.

Controls are entirely keyboard based: arrow keys to move, keyboard keys are single-letter commands such as U for Use or G for Get. There’s a help page that is displayed when you first login (F1 can bring it up again) that lists all of them. Character options are a bit limited right now; four character class and four fantasy races (if you automatically and immediately know what those four are, you are probably right in the target audience) and they are capped at level 5 for the non-spellcasters and 3 for the spellcasters. But there’s some variety within them, with a minimum of two skill sets/sub-classes for each and some additional customization options for Clerics.

The game is online, so if you join the server, you may theoretically be playing with other people. You can even form a party with ‘P’ and share experience (automatically) and other resources (voluntarily). Feel free to drag your friends along. There is no PvP right now, and while permadeath is an option, it’s currently turned off.

I plan on including a full level progression, more character classes, more environments (and more details for the existing one), magic items, crafting, all the wells and bhistles, save for graphics more sophisticated than stick-on labels. But one woman can’t playtest a game herself, particularly a multiplayer one. Think of this as open alpha testing, like a Steam early access game.

You can leave feedback on the game’s hub forum, or by using the GM Chat (hit F10). I’ll be “AFK” from the game most of the day but messages sent there are logged.

STATUS: Wednesday, September 14th

The Daily Report

Well, it took me three tries to get the date right in the title of this post. I got whammied over the weekend with a respiratory illness that I’m pretty sure I picked up hanging around the hospital, and came out of the fog enough to just barely get the chapter for yesterday in under the wire. Heck, I just typed “for tomorrow” twice trying to write that sentence. I think I’m physically fine now, but a couple quarts under on my sleep schedule and that’s leaving me a bit loopy.

On the subject of brain stuff, I discovered a weird hack for my own brain by accident. I was designing a document in Word that was meant to have a sort of retro look, so I turned the page color to black, the text color to white, and the font to a big fixed width one. Immediately I felt 200% more comfortable looking at and writing in Word.

I’ve long had this strong preference for old-style interfaces when I’m writing, probably because of the computers I grew up with, learned to type on, and learned to write with. It’s part of why I like ILYS and JDarkroom, even apart from their productivity flow-encouraging features. It’s just calming.

Word is the opposite of calming, when it comes to creative writing. I love it for structuring documents. I like its interface and its (now!) reliable autosaving across multiple platforms. But actually writing fiction in it has been a hurdle I haven’t been able to pass in a long time.

With this tweak to its presentation, though, I sat down and immediately wrote 800 words in 20 minutes, and a whole chapter in 90 minutes. It’s pretty great. The one downside is that I can’t figure out how to make a document from a custom template in Word 2016. I can save a blank black page as a template file, but I can’t see how to select it when I go to make a new document. Opening it and then saving it as my new document works, but less fluidly than I’d like. For this to really be handy, I need to be able to just open and go. If I can set it as my default template in Word, I’ll be golden.

…that just gave me the brainwave to search for “set default template” and “change default template”. I did, and the first results were from Microsoft… for Mac 2011 versions of Office. Nice. Scrolling down, though, I think I have figured out that I need to save my template to the right folder, and that opening and saving the “Normal” template will make changes to it. Something to try when I’m a little more clear-headed.

Financial Status

Not great. My ad-hoc fundraising efforts last week didn’t net much, so we’re still in the hole a bit. Writing Tales of MU again should help, but only at the end of the month. On that note, I noticed finally yesterday that when I changed my tip jar links on Tales of MU, I got the PayPal link wrong. Oops.

The State of the Me

See above.

Plans For Today

I’d hoped to make some more progress on my backlogged to-do list, but my attempts to-actually-do things keep running into absent-minded errors of the sort that make me suspect I should spend the remainder of the afternoon on more light creative things, where I can have “happy little accidents”.

STATUS: Friday, September 9th

The Daily Report

Well, the hospital situation is over for now. Our family member was actually released Wednesday, which was a profound relief for all of us. My initial plan for yesterday had been to jump back into things with both feet, but the week+ of exhaustion caught up to me and I spent most of the day asleep or napping. I think I might have caught a respiratory bug from hanging out in the hospital, as I have a sore and cruddy throat and an ache in my limbs. We’ll have to see how that develops.

Financial Status

Well, my attempts at ad hoc fall fundraising have brought in a little, but I’ve had more luck beating the drum for Patreon. Topped $400/month and I would really like to build on that, as that’s where my future security lies.

The State of the Me

See above.

Plans For Today

I’m spending the day in light duty/wait-and-see mode. I’d rather go through the weekend well-rested and start next week firing on all pistons than prolong the period of fatigue and stress.

STATUS: Wednesday, September 7th

The Daily Report

The hospital situation is very likely to be resolved this week, if at the end of it. Because things are still up in the air, I’ll be restarting Tales of MU on its regular schedule next week. Until then, I’m going to be doing what writing I can, probably mostly short things and experimental things, and working on the first issue of Ligature Works.

Financial Status

I made enough money yesterday to pay my webhosting for the month, thank goodness. I still need more to pay my phone bill for the month. Any contributions appreciated. Anything past the phone bill will go towards repaying our overruns for WorldCon expenses, then building savings. If we get that much, a fraction of it will go towards expanding our first issue of Ligature Works. More details in yesterday’s post.

I also crossed an important milestone yesterday on Patreon: the big four-oh-oh. Next I work on the big five-oh-oh. Onward and upward.

The State of the Me

Been doing better these past two days. Part of that was taking a long nap in the afternoon, though.

Plans For Today

Playing around with formatting for Ligature Works, writing, figuring out where to go with this twitter writing thing.

STATUS: Tuesday, September 6th

The Daily Report

Tales of MU will probably resume on Friday, and then pick back up with its regular schedule. I can’t make promises; there is an ongoing external situation here that is going to take up an unpredictable amount of my time and energy. I would love to keep everyone posted but it’s really hard to gauge these things as they’re ongoing.

I have joined the site Curious Cat, a social sub-medium that I’ve seen a few people on Twitter using. It’s like a way of bringing a Tumblr-style “ask box” to Twitter, and I joined because (as I said at the time) I apparently don’t have enough regrets in my life? I don’t know. I actually joined it while waiting in the hospital looking for distraction, and I think that’s probably it’s main virtue. My profile there is up at http://curiouscat.me/alexandraerin.

I’d like to keep it light. Please do not use it for work-related inquiries. You can ask about my works (i.e., story or character questions). But anything about work, please direct to my official contact email address of blueauthor@alexandraerin.com.

If it gets weird, if it gets boundary-crossing, if it gets creepy, I might just shut it down.

Another thing I did while waiting to go to the hospital and then waiting there is write the horror story on Twitter that I referenced in my post earlier. I think this is something I’m going to do more of: write fiction directly on Twitter, for the Twitter market. I did actually start a writing account at one point when I realized how much Twitter’s format appeals to my writer-brain, but it didn’t go very far, I think because what I tried to do is use Twitter’s constraints to write a traditional novel. The Trump horror story is written within the constraints of Twitter, and it uses them. It’s closer to an oral storytelling tradition than a written one, which is not surprising since my general approach to Twitter is oratorical in style. I’m going to be experimenting more with that.

Financial Status

Well, I just launched a fundraiser for September with the specific goal of $1,000, and the more general goal of recouping some losses of the past couple months and repairing the lost padding. Hoping that takes off.

The State of the Me

Sleep schedule = way off. Nutritional and supplemental regimen = slightly off. The lingering remnants of my foot injuries (chafing and blisters) have been reasserting themselves since I’ve been putting shoes on and going out every day, something which has also been taking a fatigue toll given the lingering summer heat. I have been in a state of fog and befuddlement so far this morning.

Plans For Today

I’m going to be writing some of what I’m currently calling Hell To Pay: The Strange Facts of the Sad Case of Donald J. Trump, being the longer form version of my Twitter story. I don’t expect to finish that day, though I do expect to finish it soon. I am also planning on expanding another of my hospital-waiting-related Twitter threads into a longer form, an essay or prose poem of sorts called “We Made A Song Our King”.