Mar 05 2021

My Weirdly-Specific Skyrim Modding Wish

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The Akorithi Twins sell from a cluttered market.
The Akorithi Twins sell their wares from a market with two flying pennants and walls embedded in other walls. Just an ordinary day in modded Skyrim?

I, am a goofus.

I had Skyrim running, patched and modded all to heck, but running. It was fine. Everything was fine. But something kept annoying me.

Solitude is too damn small.

I mean, the cities in Skyrim have always been little more than a single neighborhood with delusions of grandeur. If you put ALL the Skyrim cities into one place, you’d have something roughly the size of the Village of Bree in Lord of the Rings Online, yes? Skyrim’s cities are stupidly small. I’m used to that.

But not Solitude. I can’t accept it. Solitude is the New York of Skyrim (or possibly the London would be a more apt comparison). It’s supposed to be a major seaport and one the biggest cities in the world, it has no business being one street smaller than some single historical castles. I live near a shopping mall that is literally bigger than Solitude. And since Solitude is where Shady will end up spending most of her time in my “ultimate wishlist playthrough” (long story), I decided to go ahead and mod it up right.

For a long time I ran with Great Cities: Solitude, which definitely beefs up the docks area, but lacks personality. Mostly it adds empty fronts and a few NPCs wandering around. This time I decided I wanted something that felt more alive for all of the cities generally, so I landed on the JK’s Skyrim + Dawn of Skyrim combo (with some additional mods for other towns), with Solitude Expansion to add some life to the docks. That helped, but it still wasn’t quite there, maybe 65-70%.

And then, I looked at Enhanced Solitude. This is a mod that basically takes a baker’s dozen of the modder’s favorite Solitude mods by disparate authors, rearranges them into something like a cohesive whole, and also adds a whole new neighborhood as well as expanding and redecorating the existing ones. In short, if you want Solitude to feel alive, Enhanced Solitude is the one you actually want.

Why don't more mods put advertisements in town?
Have you ever been to a city that DIDN’T have signs promoting shops? But I’ve never seen it in a fantasy RPG before. This one detail sold me on Enhanced Solitude.

(The same author has a docks mod intended to go with it, which includes elements of Solitude Expansion, and it’s nice but buggy and, well, the author is not exactly helpful about it.)

Unfortunately, Enhanced Solitude is not compatible with the JK/Dawn combo. Like, at all. As shown in the top image, combining them adds duplicate NPCs, artifacts all over the place, it’s a mess. Of course, this is only really a problem in the overlapping parts of the city (i.e., the market)—the new areas added by Enhanced Solitude are fine. The author provides a “patch” that essentially tears out the JK/Dawn stuff by the roots… but that also breaks Dawn of Skyrim’s changes to other cities (“Hmm, why are half the textures in Whiterun broken all of a sudden?”).

I don’t want that. I want the mods to play nice together. I could go through and manually delete offending items and clone NPCs in the game via console commands, but that could lead to instability and would be instantly negated if I ever ran an update. No, the only “right” way to merge these mods and have it stick, would be to create a patch. And so began my descent into modding tools. If I could just “suppress” or hide/undo the parts of Enhanced Solitude that conflicted with JK/Dawn, I’d have the best of both worlds! And what’s more, I could upload the patch to Nexus and let all the other people who want the best of both worlds to share in my handiwork.

A week later, I’ve dug into SSEedit, Creation Kit, even looked at editing models in Nifscope. I’ve watched tutorial videos on YouTube until my head spun… and at the end of the day nothing to show for it but a file called “Enhanced JK’s Dawn of Solitude” that… doesn’t actually do anything. It’s not that I couldn’t figure this out eventually if I was willing to keep banging my head against it, but the real question is… why am I doing this?

The western district of Solitude, that isn't there for 95% of players.
Is one more neighborhood for my digital catgirl to mostly never go to, really worth staying up until the wee hours night after night for?

It’s a nice little neighborhood, it’s got a bath-house and a bookstore… but will my experience of playing Shade-Of-the-Candle really be that much better for it? I can delete the extra actors and random junk around town with the “disable” command and have a mostly-working town that just has a few bottlenecks of idle markers where they don’t belong. I could have done that three days ago and been actually playing the game. Why am I fighting with this? Or for that matter, I had my 65-70% without Enhanced Solitude at all, why not be content with that. I have art commissions, writing, job hunting to do… all of which are infinitely more important than making a fictional town that’s not even mine seem just a little less fictional.

Hyperfocus? Perfectionism? Pure mule-headedness? I dunno. Maybe part of me thought getting into modding might lead to some kind of creative outlet that wasn’t as frustrated as my writing and art have been of late, but that hope is forlorn I suspect.

But all that said, if there’s anyone out there who IS experienced at modding and knows what they’re doing, who’d like to walk me through the process of making these changes I want, please let me know! ‘cos I think I’ve hit a wall with my current understanding and have no idea what to do next.

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Jan 01 2021

Shady Assassinated 2020!?

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Shade-Of-the-Candle runs into (or away from) danger!

Thank goodness SOMEBODY did. >.>

Anyway! Welcome to 2021, and let the un-suckening begin!

I’m moved, and for the time being at least I’m going back to full-time on my art and writing, which means that things should start picking up around here again! Thanks to all of you for being patient while I was digging out from the hole I’d fallen in.

My first order of business will be to clean up the commission queue! I still owe a few people commissions from October OR their Winter 2020 SUPPORT TIER OF CANGREJO DIABLO Patreon image, and January is going to be spent making sure all of those get done before I take on any new business.

For STofCD-level subscribers, Spring 2020 slots will open up as soon as I finish that, so probably February. :)

(And if you’d like to get in on some of that Patreon action, here: https://www.patreon.com/the_gneech )

My next priority will be to get Reclamation Project: Year Two edited and off to FurPlanet. Submissions are still coming in, so if you are in-progress or near completion, go ahead and finish off your story and send it. I don’t know how much I’ve got yet, but there’s probably room for at least one or two more good stories!

Following that we’ll see where we are, but I have two big projects I’d like to take on this year:

1) FINISH ROUGH HOUSING FINALLY, GEEZE, and

2) A SUPER-SECRET PROJECT WITH SHADE-OF-THE-CANDLE.

I realize that shouting in all caps about a super-secret project seems a little weird, but that’s just how I roll, babe.

So here’s looking forward to a year that doesn’t suck! We might even (gasp) be able to go to conventions again! C’mon, vaccine! :D

And thanks for coming along with me, friends. You rock!

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Dec 25 2020

Fahoo Fores, Dahoo Dores

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Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand to hand.

As I post from the basement of my sister’s house, looking at boxes containing my books and trying for the umpteenth time to figure out SOMEWHERE to put the rest of my desk, I feel more than a little like the Whos of Whoville, waking up to discover that the Grinch had stolen Christmas.

With all funds allocated to the move, we have zero presents to give anyone this time around, which feels even worse when I think about how generous so many people have been to us. Dasher’s absence still jumps out from behind the couch and makes us sad when we’re trying to do other things. Having spent the past month in a marathon of long hours at dayjob and then movingMovingMOVINGMOVING!!! I am exhausted, lonely, and burned out.

But today, I am going to stop, and breathe, and refocus, and think about things I love.

Welcome Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.

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Dec 12 2020

Farewell, Dasher

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Dasher in his prime

A year or so after we adopted Buddha, we randomly received a call from a cat rescue org we worked with: “You have an FIV+ cat, right? Would you be willing to adopt another one? He’s the next in line to be euthanized at the shelter where he is, and they’ve put it off so many times because everybody there loves him so much, but they just can’t keep doing that. I think he’s a himalayan, too…”

Well, for the record, Dasher was not a himalayan. What he was, was an energetic, curious clown with impulse control issues but an amazing capacity for love. From “romping around on the newly-changed sheets” (his favorite game) to “eat ALL the food” (his other favorite game) to “claim Laurie’s lap FOREVERRR” (his other other favorite game), Dasher brought light, energy, profound goofiness, and occasional yelling to our lives every day.

A year or two ago he was diagnosed with kidney disease, so we started him on a regimen of fluid injections three times a week. Unfortunately, that wrecked his heart (kidney problems and heart problems are each treated in ways that exacerbate the other, unfortunately). This past summer, he had an episode of congestive heart failure (basically, his heart was full of fluids that weren’t supposed to be there). To treat that we took him off the fluids and started a regimen of pills/diet to treat his heart and be as easy on his kidneys as possible, but we knew then that it was only a matter of time.

And so for the past six months, we have tried to treat every day with Dasher as a gift from the Universe, a little extra time… even more than the twelve extra years he’d already had from his rescue from the shelter. But yesterday, his breathing was rapid and labored. We took him to the Hope Center, where the vet basically confirmed the worst: it was a second round of congestive heart failure, and while it would be possible to keep him alive, he might very well be on oxygen for the remainder of his life and the muscle atrophy and other problems he’d been suffering for the past year would rapidly get worse.

Asking the vet to gently end his life was difficult and painful; even in the hospital, having trouble breathing, he was vital and curious and loving. Just being alive made Dasher happy, even with a blind eye, all of his teeth rotted away from FIV, a grape-sized lump growing under the skin on the side of his head, and everything else. If there was some way to keep his body as alive as his spirit, we would have gladly jumped at it.

It’s been harder on Laurie—she was his favorite, and she held him closely until he was gone. But it hasn’t been easy on either of us.

Farewell, Dasher. We love you, and we’ll miss you. Thank you for spending your time with us, and all you taught us. We’ll see you again.

Don’t harass Buddha in the afterlife, okay? He’ll kick your spectral ass.

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Nov 26 2020

On Being Thankful

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It would be easy to be glib today. “I am thankful that 2020 is almost over!” is a joke that writes itself, while also being an objectively true statement. Yes, the numbers on a calendar are purely arbitrary designations created by a consensual shared illusion, but they have psychological power, and 2020 has been fucking awful for me personally as well as on a national and global stage. So yeah, it’s there.

But I want to be grateful. This year of all years, “thanksgiving” as a concept is one that almost feels like a radical rebellion. The world wants to go out of its way to be awful? Well I’m going to work just as hard to remember what’s good, and to look towards a tomorrow that will be better.

Mrs. Gneech and I have to move. Despite everything we’ve tried, all the hoops we’ve jumped through and how bone-grindingly hard we’ve worked, we simply cannot afford to live the way we have. To describe us as “unhappy” about this is the kind of understatement that Brits used to use when describing the Blitz as “a bit of a nuisance.” We are quite frankly devastated at seeing decades of savings wiped out, at having to lose our home again, at years-in-a-row of constant rejection and unemployment despite both being educated, experienced, hard-working, and talented. But even among this, there is room for gratitude: we are supremely fortunate to have somewhere we can go. We have friends and relatives both who have offered us places to land, somewhere to live besides “out of our car” or “on the street.” These offers aren’t made lightly—in some cases they would make someone else’s already-cramped arrangements even more so. That’s a profound act of kindness towards us, and I’m keenly aware of that and grateful for it.

A pandemic is ravaging the country. Fueled by the antirationalism of a bone-stupid nation, it’s killed hundreds of thousands and done long-term physical and psychological damage to so many more. But I’m grateful that in my own personal circle, only one person has contracted it so far. It was agonizing for her, and at one point she quite literally believed she wasn’t going to survive to the end of the day, but she pulled through. The experience has impacted her—it would be hard for it not to—but she is all right. I am grateful for that, and I am grateful to have friends and family who understand that science is real and protect themselves; I am also grateful to live in a region of the country where “science is real” is the prevailing attitude. I miss restaurants and conventions and all that jazz, but I am grateful to be among people who understand that to have those things back, we have to take precautions now.

I am grateful that the fascist is on his way out. I am grateful for seeing people dancing in the streets, for fireworks in London and bells ringing over Paris, because it shows that most people really do understand what’s been happening and what was at stake. The fight goes on, but this was an important victory and I’m grateful for it.

I’m grateful for Shade-Of-the-Candle. Life without my creative spark is gray, formless, and depressing. If I have to choose between being obsessed with something, or being dead inside, I’ll take the obsession every time. While I’m frustrated that I don’t have much ability to steer my artistic drive in directions I would prefer, I am still grateful that they exist. Around the new year or so this past year, when my despair at seeing there was no way for us to get out of our financial hole was at its worst, being able to draw Shady, to play Shady in D&D, and to come up with stories about my fuzzy problem child, was literally what enabled me to get out of bed some mornings.

Catra, eating a dumpling and being adorable.On a related note, I’m grateful for season five of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and Catra’s messy healing arc. I’ve written elsewhere about what I owe this series, so I won’t rehash it here. But it was important to me, and I’m grateful for it. And honestly, just look at Catra, eating a dumpling. Look! Isn’t that something to be grateful for? I’m grateful for Good Omens, I’m grateful for the Animaniacs reboot (of which I’ve only seen clips), I’m grateful the Twitterponies still exist, even if they’re quieter than they used to be.

As of the time of this writing, Mrs. Gneech and I still haven’t worked out where we’re going. We’ve dragged our feet so long that we ended up having to pay an extra month’s rent that we absolutely can’t afford in our current place, and we’ve got to get over it and move. Which means facing hard decisions where the only answers are various levels of “We don’t want that.” But at the same time, under all that, I feel a weird little flicker of hope, that I haven’t felt for a long time. I put Symphony of Science at the top of this essay because WitchieBunny reminded me of it last night. The past few years have felt like the world was collapsing in on itself (and my life was collapsing in on me), but there are bigger things and better things. I really do think things are going to start getting better soon, and I’m holding on to that thought.

I’m looking forward to a brighter tomorrow. And I’m grateful that it’s coming.

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Jun 10 2020

Pirate Mooncat, Plus Audience Building!

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Pirate Mooncat D&D Portrait
D&D Portrait Commission for Mooncat! Speaking of, commissions are open: https://www.furaffinity.net/view/36111580/

Following up on Monday’s post, I’ve been taking stock of where I am in my art and writing career, and it’s clear that I need to attend to some things. Not the least of which is re-building my audience! I have a small-but-tight core of people who have been following my work forever through thick and thin (❤️ Jungloids!) and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. That doesn’t alter the fact that in terms of treating my work as a proper business, there are times when I need to look at it as a numbers game. Even with the crazy high ratio of followers-to-financial supporters that I have, the actual number of followers is tiny.

So, for an example, another artist I follow on Twitter posted a rough little sketch of a character they were noodling around with. It was a cute little drawing, nothing that exciting, but it still got something like 800 likes. I looked at that and blinked for several seconds—I get excited when a post of any kind, much less a doodle, gets over 20 likes. So I looked at their follower count, and discovered it was something like 12,000—compared to mine, which is currently hovering around 1,600.

Well, I mean, no friggin’ wonder.

Before people hop in with “Followers aren’t everything!” I want to make it clear that I don’t attach a personal meaning to have a low follower count on Twitter (or any other platform for that matter), I’m diagnosing a business problem here. :) Even if every one of those Twitter followers was converted to a $1 Patreon subscriber for instance (which isn’t going to happen, but bear with me), that still wouldn’t be enough for me to put food on the table.

I must grow my audience in order to succeed.

So my priority for a while is going to be doing that—but the truth is I have no idea how. O.o

I’m open to suggestions, and I’d love any help I can get. I’ve started posting art to Instagram to expand my horizons, and I am making it a priority to post at least twice a week there and other places, even if it’s just a little sketch-a-day piece. I also started up a fanart sketch request Ko-Fi, although I haven’t had any takers there yet.

So I’m curious! If you follow my work and don’t mind telling me, why do you? What attracted you and made you want to stick around? Do you have suggestions on how I can grow my audience? How do you do promotion? I’m eager to learn!

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