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A synthwave horror romance.

Currently on hiatus! See blog for updates!


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SPREY Log #26 – Ingame Books and Fan Dragons

Welcome back, everyone!

My life is moving so fast right now. Currently, „Your Land“ has it’s first anniversary. Organizing the subevents and celebrating with the community is keeping me busy, as well as a few smaller commissions. And yes, there is pressure, but I’m learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as they say.

I’ve mentioned last blog post already how I let go and went programming for a while, let go of everything (that is not the same as giving up) then realized „less is more“. I have then also tested this new paradime already by writing several ingame books in Your Land. Our game has this amazing feature where players can copy and paste a text up to 10.000 signs into an ingame book. My husband had even collected most of the past books written by players into a library. It was in an okay state when I took it over, but now with me as a driving force behind caring for the library and encouraging players to write new fun books at all occassions, the amount of books is skyrocketing, and so is the number of readers and writers, and the library is thriving. We have an organically grown literature scene now. I have heard from others again and again what I have learned ingame as well. „I had no idea how fun writing can be!“ We have all just forgotten how fun it is.

These ingame books are my playground, my experimental ground to finally stretch and strengthen my writing muscles far enough to get to a state where I can write a finished anything. You can do a lot with 10.000 signs it turns out. I don’t think any of my ingame books even scratch at that limit, I’m rather comfortable at 1.000 signs. Everytime I finish an ingame book though, something magical happens. Something in me listens up, realizing me and storytelling is not a lost cause, adding more curiosity, confidence and just a bit more ambition to the next work.

The next benefit of practising my writing in a videogame is that I get to experience a whole pipeline from idea of the book to finding the book on the shelves in a relatively self-contained, secure environment without added costs. Yes, even in a game where less forces than on the actual market are influencing what is read you have to advertise your stuff. You still have to proofread and edit and offer this service to other writers, too, in exchange, as none of you get paid. You still have to finish things. You still have to show up to write on the regular. You have to make the time to do all of this. And what I also had to do was to learn how to socialize at all. I think I finally got over the bump with that. I am running a well known Candy Shop in the game’s spawn city. And none of the players would believe my old shy „true self“ that isn’t true anymore. And no, this is actually not a case where I’m confident on the internet alone, it already crossed back over into the real world. Streaming works better than ever for me and I enjoy the resulting conversations a lot.

And it is actually true, if you have finished a couple of stories, your perspective on writing is changing up. You have more of a grid to work from in your head. It’s easier to keep the structure of the work together mentally as you’ve already worked through some of them in their entirety before. And having a good theme, really having something to say, doesn’t seem that difficult and abstract anymore, too. That was actually one of the things I learned fastest. Writing 1.000 signs is not hard, you can do it in a day or two. Writing 1.000 signs that give a meaningful or even pleasing experience to both reader and writer, that is harder. When you are thinking to yourself „Why bother?“ your current work probably does not have enough substance yet. For me, the fun at trying new things and testing how far my writing can go within the constraints has soon and quickly taken over.

I think my stream even taught me something very important the past days. I met Shiro4K, an old friend, again who now streams videogames now. He told me an anecdote from the day he met me in 2016, that I had forgotten myself. I was tabling at a convention and he jokingly asked me to draw something I had never drawn before. So I asked the tabling artist next to me for a fan you can draw on yourself and drew a dragon. I saw a photo of it, it doesn’t even look like it was drawn by me, but still works. That taught me something very important about myself, that I haven’t figured out without the reflection from others. Apparently I was never one for a uniform look of the art. I am rather one that relentlessly experiments, always moving forward and shaking perceived own limits. And it is fun being around me when I am like this. You can shake your head and go „what is she up to now?“. Let’s admit, that dragon could have gone terribly wrong, especially with my limited skillset back then compared to today. I was drawing it live on a convention. A stunt like that requires bravery. Apparently there’s more of it in me than I tend to show nowadays. It turns out again and again that I was worrying about the wrong things all along. I’m currently writing a sonnet written by an orc (with orc grammar and everything, but still attempting to keep up with the rhyme scheme and structure). I can’t say I’m good at poetry, but I’m taking the challenge. I am exactly the right person for something like this.

And now comes the clue, I’m not writing this down for the sake of me. But this gave you a taste of an authentic Styxcolor, maybe even just a glimpse of it. And if people hear about other people being authentic, it tends to encourage them to show a bit more of themselves, too. People do appreciate you when you show yourself. Go out there, try it, even on a small scope. You will probably not want ot miss it again. If you need to write books in a videogame to figure out and work on your true skill level, so be it. I bet there’s other venues to get started or repair your skillset as a storyteller, too. See you out there!

SPREY Log #025 – Advent

I have a new blog entry to make and what a blog entry this is.

So last time I told you about how I cut back on social media. I didn’t have any dramatic reasons. I didn’t expect a specific outcome and the last thing I want is to sound like one of those clickbaity videos or articles about how quitting social media changed my life. But it did change my life. It’s uncomfortable to admit that. I decided to make a big step years ago and struggled to live as an artist since then. But even with being on the right path, something always felt off. My life felt spent, not lived. And I couldn’t have expressed it to you like that and did not know any remedy. Less social media did not cure me, but it gave me more time and energy to focus on working instead of worrying.

I worked my behind off and finally learned how to code. I wouldn’t say I’m good at it yet, but it is enough to help my husband out as a second coder (mostly bugfixing) on Your Land. This brought a lot of movement and change into my life. It seems that I became so passionate about it and about Your Land, that I even became more sociable instead of less. I know more people online than before and my Twitch streams are not empty. Coding also gave me a new, completely different perspective on art and visual storytelling. First of all I had an identity crisis because I found something that was more fun to me than making art. Seriously. The joy of seeing a problem fixed ingame or a new thing given to the players to enjoy. That was a threat to my art unheard of before. I know how it is to fend off things to make room for art. But how and why do you fend something off that you love more? Should’t you let more love in your life instead of less? After the first shock of two weeks I started drawing again, though, in small scope still, but artist Styxcolor is not a memory of the past. Coder Styxcolor is more grounded though which might be one of the reasons to more happiness from doing it. This is such an interesting change in perspective. For the longest time I was desperate to invent and tell really big complex stories but unable to write even a short one, and I knew there was something wrong but never got behind it.

Suddenly I’m coming from the other end where you’re happy you can make anything work and don’t actually dream about big castles made of code (at least I don’t). And at the end of the day, if you do your job well, you have something in your hands you and other people can enjoy. Art shouldn’t be different.

Also, my media consumption has fallen through the floor. I appreciate every work of the arts there is more than ever now..but I just cannot consume so much of it anymore, at least not in a binge. I also cannot literally eat so much anymore. I want to have the time and bandwith in my head to really experience something and think about it. No more background youtube, not even background music sometimes, and there is no ban on it, I just choose to focus fully on the work ahead. I have no trouble sleeping at night and no trouble getting out of bed at all. I’m eager to get out of bed and get to work.

As you can imagine this is quite a confusing experience. What if all of this doesn’t actually take away from artist Styxcolor but adds to my qualities? Apparently videogames are a good outlet for creativity in general and storytelling, too. If that is my way of grounding myself, may it be so. Also, in hindsight, I might always have asked the question wrong. Should I become a such and such artist? Should I focus on gamedev instead? But what about my own stories? When the actual question is, what are finished creative works that I can actually do and repeat the process so it’s building up a body of work over time? I wasn’t very good at consistency and finishing in the past for various reasons. I wrote two ingame books in Your Land that are a proof of concept to me that I actually can write and finish stories and that even a piece of atomic scope can be worthwhile. This is a new frontier and I’m researching with the passion and eagerness you know from me. Nothing is lost, all is won, and I’m entering a new phase in my life and creations.

Oh, and this is brand new – I can finally admit that I can’t write SPREY or maybe possibly anything else. I will have to break my universe down and make very small wrrks out of it to get them out at all. And this doesn’t even sound like a downgrade, more like an upgrade! I want it done and out! And you can be sure there will be substance when there is no need for any filler. I’m not even afraid that I will have to cut some if not most things. If this is how I make it happen actually, how I become a functioning storyteller, then be it so! What if I needed all these years of struggling to arrive at this point where my mantra becomes „Smaller/condensed is better“/“Say it with less“ because I know from my own experience how it doesn’t work the other way around?

SPREY Log #24 – Understanding the world

Hello, everyone!

Another day, another blogpost. So I cut back on my social media the day before yesterday. Something like this disrupts a routine, even if it’s just thinking patterns worrying about keeping up with the platforms in question. And it creates a gap. The path of least resistance would be to fill that gap up with playing videogames or watching videos. While I love both like the next person, I was aware it would not help me with my current goals from the start, so I resisted doing that. My goal is to get more of the work done that is right in front of me.

I found help with that where I didn’t expect it. My curiosity made me listen to a bit of Miyamoto Musashi’s philosophy, just a bite. And I also listened to a summary of Marcus Aurelius’s meditations on my daily walk. Nothing of this was forced, I was just curious and wanted to know about these ideas for a long time. Obviously, I can’t digest all of it in a day, but I have finally made a start digging in at all, taking action. I am also aware of the danger of the illusion of getting things done while actually just listening to things that can broadly be categorized as „self-help“ or „self-improvement“ . But it couldn’t hurt to listen to thinkers whose way of seeing and navigating the world still hold up enough that people still are interested in their ideas. And an impact it had.

You see, Musashi and Aurelius don’t have anything to do with each other. They’re from different times and cultures, but weirdly enough the timeless wisdom they’re famous for, kind of overlapped in my head. At least I didn’t find obvious contradictions on the superficial level I’m on. Both lived lifes of an admirable level of focus and commitment. And apparently walking away from places where you get shallow approval by random strangers is exactly what both would advise to do. Trying to collect things or people instead of dealing with the work in front of oneself will not help, complaining about how unfair or challenging something is just for the sake of complaining will not help, even if it’s true. Looking for a solution to problems will help, doing the actual work, while not spreading oneself too thin. Aurelius says it better than me. Doing less things better leads to a more tranquil life. Not avoiding adversities, they are unavoidable, just hoping you are strong enough in character to persist and overcome them and grow through them. I really like these ideas. I even got offered an answer for what’s the goal in life. So it’s not about popularity or material success, there’s something that is even more important and that’s to never stop learning and developing the mind and to serve humanity with whatever you were given to serve it. Can you imagine how rich this is, especially when it’s coming from a Roman emperor? Aurelius, at one point, was the most powerful man in Rome, but his diary said he saw himself as a servant. And that probably kept him sane, who knows?

I think it makes a lot of sense to think this way. Without humility, you have sky high expectations of what you are and what you are entitled to and you’ll get burned, even if you actually get it. It’s a recipe to divulge in drama and lose one’s way. Also your sight and foresight probably isn’t that great when there’s a mountain sized ego in the way.

I had trouble to define who I am and what I want and need to do for many years. It is hard to navigate and interpret the world, there’s a lot going on all the time. But if I try to think of myself as a servant of humanity and my own virtues, not a slave, it gets a bit easier to get a grip on it. And then…there’s nothing new. No new insights. Like most people I already know what I should be doing, what I should be creating, I’m just scared of it. I would also never have thought that Miyamoto Musashi would give me another puzzle piece to get a grip on my future works. I was needlessly flopping around like a fish on land trying to establish a main medium and specialization, anything. And then comes swordmaster Musashi just saying if you have a favorite weapon or tool you are less deadly. You should be flexible and deadly with mostly everything. I cannot express how helpful this is. No, I’m not thinking about art like about martial weapons. It is about the underlying abstract principles of that statement. Yes, if you have a favorite tool you know everything about it, specialization does help you to be really good at and with this one thing. But what do you do when it is not available to you right now? I have a very real example for that. So I made some efforts to get good at using Clip Studio Paint. But now that me changing to Linux is in sight…well, I sadly can’t take that one with me, CSP does not run on Linux and whether it runs well in a virtual machine is not guaranteed. Time to deal with other programs such as Krita again. Specialization and having favorites is natural, it does happen all the time, but it must not be or become an obstacle. Apparently, anything, at any time, can be taken away from you, but new opportunities open up the same way – and you better be flexible then if you wish to make use of them. It is okay to not be a 100% specialized is what I’m taking away from this. It is okay when my works are not all in the same medium made in the same way. I can rather put my focus on making them well and finishing them. There’s endless ways of telling a story and endless ways of telling it well, but you still got to tell it from start to finish and to make it clear enough the audience can make any sense of it.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #23 – New Horizons

I’m treating this day as a harbinger of things to come.

Yesterday I took the time to thin out some of my social media. I left Twitter and Mastodon outright, Instagram got on the chopping block for a massive content reduction and almost got deleted, too. I swear, there must have been two or more occassions where I thought about deleting Insta before and I honestly can’t tell you why I didn’t. It’s probably the network effect in action. It feels like a far bigger loss than it actually would be. I will keep my Twitch to watch and comment on other people’s streams, but I do not plan on streaming myself anytime soon.

Why am I doing this?

I want to reduce the background noise in my mind. Every platform I’m on requires care and content updates from time to time, actually. In a true Pressfield sense I will not tolerate the urge to update my social media as overshadowing my urge to sit down and actually create things. That is…distraction. Also I noticed a mismatch between my mental image of my social media usage and reality.

Social media is not evil and not a bad idea. It’s actually a great idea to have tools and platforms where you can promote your independent creations outside of the classical gatekeepers of your respective industry. It’s also a fantastic idea to have open places on the web where you can converse with people and learn about more perspectives and ideas and keep up with people you otherwise would lose touch with like relatives that live far far away. But as usual the execution is the part that pulls the experience down.

I feel, in order for anything to make sense, I must also touch on something else that is uncomfortable to think about. Humans are hackable. People can manipulate your mood and behavior, people can manipulate your tastes, people can and will manipulate how and what you think. Movies and advertisement are pretty good at it. Any junkfood that is bad for you but tastes better than it has any business to taste does it. Casinos do it. And social media do it, too. You will be influenced by something, anything, almost all the time, while you think you are the ruler over your own mind.

Now bringing it together: so you have these idealistic ideas about social media and join a platform. It is free to use but must make money to sustain itself. If it cannot make money from subscription fees or other direct payments by it’s users, what to do? Well, then it must take something from people that even someone with zero money can give. Time. Attention. Making people watch advertisement that someone else paid for. If a social media platform would openly advertise itself to waste your time, nobody would use it. Nobody sets out to waste hours of their day to scroll random information. Instead you hear about empowerment, networks and networking and how you MUST use it so that other people can discover you and your art.

So there’s pressure to join and use, the fear of missing out. But what happens then, is even more unsettling. You are in a system of loops. The users, as inmates of the prison that don’t know they are in a prison, happily engage with each other, feed the platform with content to discover for others and reward each other by liking, commenting or otherwise approving of what they are offered. This is another case where technology has far outpaced human evolution. You are wired to seek social approval. That was the only way to survive in the past. And your brain cannot distinguish the quality of that approval. You get a dopamine kick whether a random stranger on the net agrees with you or your spouse sitting on the other end of the breakfast table. This is another fascinating as well as terrifying case where your brain cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. It just fires the chemical reaction. The social media company doesn’t have to do anything, people entertain themselves, hunting for more dopamine, both by being validated or just being thrilled by random new and interesting information and pictures they can find. And the platforms do want to make it easy for you to spend a lot of time doing that. In come the algorithms, machine code to ensure content that is interacted with a lot is seen by even more people. It must be either especially good or more often especially outrageous. The algorithm doesn’t judge. It just promotes what seems to be popular to more people. Also, in the case of platforms like Instagram, algorithms also ensure you toe the line as a „creator“ and don’t let your audience down. If you dare to post without buying ads to promote your works, then post daily or perish, be not shown to anyone. Nothing is left to chance in this system of loops. Also don’t think if you give in and do buy an ad you’ll have an easier time. You have fed the beast and now you’re marked. It knows it can extract money from you so you’ll get hit with invisibility double as hard once your ad runs out so that you buy more. And by that point you are probably so far in that the dopamine kicks you don’t get feel like actual punishment and pain to the brain.

And now for me, my situation.

I’m making art and at least for some time, I have been creating things to share almost religiously. But I do not make outrageously good or outrageous art and do not have outrageous takes, so of course it doesn’t stick. I burned out several times, but always stood up and came back, trying again. I just didn’t know any better. While I’m doing everything to improve the quality of my art, I finally realized I cannot „beat“ the algorithm. Not by definition and also not by trying to morph myself into something it might like more. I would betray myself and drift even further away from SPREY or anything else waiting in my drawer. No one is asking for SPREY or any original creation actually, but still, I have to do it. I also cannot create „more“ for the sake of pleasing the algorithm. It is not sustainable.

I even wisened up and understood, while you show up for work every time, you are not entitled to have something finished or ‚shareable’ every day. Especially for long term projects it will be natural and to be expected to have streaks where you create and scrap multiple days or weeks of work because it just doesn‘t come together immediately. It is normal. Sometimes you even have to make several drafts. That’s when things take years to make, but they still get done in the end. I have tricked myself into thinking that this should be otherwise though, that it’s bad to let people down and make them not hear from you at least once a week, even if you have nothing to say and nothing to show. Documenting the journey excessively gives the illusion of actually travelling even if you actually didn’t move. I was actually stressed out by failing to feed the platforms repeatedly. With the context of the things I talked about earlier it was a lot of fuzz about nothing though. Other people who aren’t artists seem to be able to look through this easier, how they don’t care whether you create daily, they can lose interest in you anytime.

As my knowledge about creating art expands, I’m seeing that there are parts to the process that are ‚invisible‘ such as studies, research, writing scripts and drawing thumbnails and storyboards (not the braggard ones, the actual chicken scratch ones) and therefore not that great for sharing online. You don’t see them much and people don’t understand them. Beginners who don’t necessarily know about them are incentivised to skip them entirely in favor of better shareable pieces of work. I realized, the types of content that I want to make, aren’t very daily share friendly and long term.

That is not things that are encouraged or very visible.

I was worried I’d be wasting my time writing all of this instead of just drawing or doing anything for SPREY. I’m actually pretty scared of the pain of returning to it. But after thinking through all of this what I have written down…I’m even more adamant that a social media break is good for me. I don’t have to worry about it right now. I should first focus on creating something that is actually worthwhile, then I can worry about making people aware of it. Trying to document it in a way pleasing to algorithms does not work. I finally have accepted that. And I finally have accepted how my reality as the creator of my works looks like. I must live with long periods of no validation, but compared to never finishing anything that is a price I am willing to pay.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #22 – Far Away

I’m writing you from a weird place in my life. I’m at a crossroad with regards to many things, and another day another crossroad choosing one thing over another again. I kept my promise to myself and continued grinding the art and filling the gaps in the fundies. I’ve even taken up learning to code and 3D animation.

This time around things are actually working out for me. I’m learning to code. In a couple of weeks I might actually be able to help my husband on the coding front of Your Land and other future projects. I think what made it so hard for me to learn it for such a long time was the wrong belief that coding is so „different“ from art and I’m somehow jeopardizing my specialization/skills if I try to dive into that as well. Then I would be double zero, not pro at art, not pro at code. What actually is happening though was the opposite, surprisingly. The moment I didn’t care about my art gains anymore, they started chasing me. And the coding gains exceed what a beginner has when they quickly dive into a thing and get stuck at the first bigger roadblock. I was always good with computers and coding in school, apparently that never went away. Now it can shine. What I did not know was that most „tutorials“ for beginner games are too difficult for an actual beginner. It’s not crochet, you aren’t done with learning a couple of moves and getting comfortable with the patterns. Yes, you can absolutely just copy the code and hope your result does what you want it to do – but if you don’t know what the computer science definitions and abstract principles mean, when you don’t know the language and engine used enough so that you actually understand what you are doing… you know nothing. If you go wrong at copying the code you have no chance to find your mistake. And worse, if the tutorial is wrong…you are left with nothing, even if you followed it accurately. Most tutorials will not start to explain to you the basics and underlying principles of things. Also these aren’t things you can just stumble upon through trial and error. So if you find yourself in the position of someone who either never had computer science classes or forgot them, go for the actual dummy classes on the level of what words mean and simple exercises to understand simple things such as how to make the program repeat a snippet of code three times without you having to spell it out.

I feel hopeful for my future. What if I can make it and fulfill my dreams after all? I feel, even being very far away from SPREY right now, what I’m doing, serves SPREY and all of my future creations. I believe in it.

See you next blogpost!