m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

Choose Your Own Writing Career

Choose Your Own Writing Career is a Twine (a.k.a. hyperfiction, a.k.a. CYOA) story I wrote back in the day when Twine was young clever reuse of Tiddlywiki. Because CYOWC is so old, I wrote it for the Sugarcane story format, and so, following advice on the internets, when I updated to Twine 2 I used the SugarCube 1 story format rather than SugarCube 2.

Twine story formats are the most confusing part of Twine; they have their own version numbers (e.g. SugarCube 1 vs. 2) which sound like they’re intimately linked to Twine version numbers (Twine 1 and 2, more specifically 1.4 and 2.1.3), but often aren’t. Once I realized there was a SugarCube 1 for Twine 2, and a SugarCube 2 for Twine 1, I got very confused. I still haven’t noticed a non-superficial difference between SugarCube 1 and 2 in Twine 2, nor figured out why SugarCube 1 was recommended over 2 despite 2 being the one that’s still maintained. Maybe it has something to do with more complicated scripting than I used.

I switched the story to SugarCube 2.20 when my story broke in SugarCube 1 and 2.x, where x was an unknown number less than 20, locally, in Safari 11.0 due to new security restrictions on local files. Though I eventually found a workaround I wanted the real fix. The downside was the superficial differences between SugarCube 1 and 2; I preferred 1, though not enough to try to change the structure of the story format back to SugarCube 1’s style.

Instead, I wrote some CSS, that, when put into the appropriate StoryStyles section in a Twee file or in the Stylesheet popup accessible from Twine 2’s story menu, overrides the default or Bleached style to create a sort of mutant stepchild of SugarCube 1 and 2. I’d call it SugarCube 1.5, but then TME would have to kill me. (Note that you should put it after all the Bleached styles if you’re using Bleached (available from the downloads section for the SugarCube of your choice.)

/* makes SugarCube 2 look a little more old-school 
   tested with SugarCube 2.20.0 - mcdemarco */

html {
    font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont,
        Roboto, Oxygen, Ubuntu, Cantarell, “Fira Sans”,
        “Droid Sans”, “Helvetica Neue”, Helmet,
        Freesans, Arial, sans-serif;

#ui-bar-body {

#ui-bar-history [id|=history], 
#menu ul,
#menu ul li,
#menu li:not(:first-child) {

#ui-bar-history [id|=history], 
button#ui-bar-toggle {
    color: #68d;

#menu li a {
    padding: 0;
    padding-top: .25em;
    text-transform: none;
    cursor: pointer;
    color: #68d;
    background-color: transparent;
    text-decoration: none;
#menu li a:hover {
    color: #8af;
    background-color: transparent;

My Gamebooks

I suspect I like gamebooks because I bought and read them at the beginning of the fad, when they were a new and exciting genre. (Now they seem to be deader than westerns, if that’s possible.) As a result, I have a collection of first editions and nearly-first editions. My gamebooks were evicted from my mother’s house when she moved and spent ten years in a medium-sized box in storage, along with a few supporting pencils and dice. Even after they arrived in my current home, they had to wait for the game shelves to be set up in order to get themselves unpacked.

But now they’re just sitting there on a couple of shelves, tempting me, so I catalogued them using Demian’s Gamebook Web Page. One thing I learned in the cataloguing process is that I have a Which Way Books edition of the oft-published classic Sugarcane Island (after which the Twine story format Sugarcane, predecessor of SugarCube, was named), but I don’t have the final Choose Your Own Adventure version.

I also learned that many of the books were reprinted in other series (or under the same series title but resequenced), and that many of the series went on much longer than I recalled. I lost interest relatively early on, probably because the books were below my reading level from the start, and I was never as interested in the RPG-style gamebooks as in the CYOA stories—though I learned I have more of the former than I thought.


I made a few improvements to my pnut.io apps (formerly ADN apps) during this weekend’s hackathon. I haven’t said much about them in the past because pnut was an invite-only service, but now it’s also open to public signups. So if you’re interested in these apps, you can sign up and use them.

My pasteboard app, Paste, is no longer as greedy for privileges when you authorize it; it will only read its own channels (unlike some apps I could mention, but won’t). I also fixed some issues with my old copy of highlight.js, and now Markdown highlighting, while still minimal, is obviously present.

My shopping list app, Market Bucket, got a manual refresh button (by request). I thought a bit about making it more proactive about refreshing for you, but didn’t actually code any of that. Either way, refresh won’t help you any unless you’re using a shared list at the same time as another list member.

BDO of the Day: Galaxios

Today’s Big Dumb Object (BDO) is the lighter-than-air floating continent within the universe-consuming “topopolis” of the 1998 novel White Light by William Barton and Michael Capobianco. Galaxios is the closest thing in the novel to a well-described structure that makes sense, but that’s only because it’s made of a huge clump of lighter-than-air foliage, and what can one say to that?

I scare-quote “topopolis” because, although the universe-consuming thing is in the tubular shape of a topopolis, it’s actually a parsec in diameter, or 19 trillion miles, and of unknown length. It’s also at least partially filled with much more air than is gravitationally feasible. It may be rotating for gravity or other purposes; the characters trapped within it don’t know the details.

As noted in my topopolis post, the oversexed characters of White Light have not been well received: “it’s as if the cast of a bad porno movie was suddenly transported into what would have otherwise been a fascinating SF novel.” Reading it for myself, I would say that the bigger problem is that the writing and characterization are at the level of bad pornography; the characters' voices are quite difficult to tell apart, and the text is surprisingly lacking in complete English sentences—even setting aside the extreme overuse of ellipses. The story could have had characters that were always thinking about sex for a relevant plot reason, but their own surprise (itself repeated ad nauseam) at their sex-obsession makes it clear that they weren’t intended to be from a hypersexed alternate universe.

The six characters do come from a post-apocalyptic future Earth that, despite the elapsed time since a nuclear war and their possession of significant space industry and colony worlds in other star systems, is only now about to collapse for unspecified reasons. Two of the characters are a male and female space pilot and engineer; the others are her second husband, his housekeeper/whore (details like the legality of her purchase and sexual servitude are, of course, left unspecified), the engineer’s son, and the housekeeper’s daughter.

They end up on a spaceship together for mostly nepotistic reasons, on a mission that is intended merely to protect them from an (of course unexplained) anti-nepotistic roundup. This ship encounters a poorly-described gateway system that propels them to a sequence of poorly-described places; at one of them they meet aliens who tell them about the looming threat of the topopolis.

Eventually they end up in the topopolis itself, discover that this isn’t just a BDO novel but an AU novel—their unexplained faster-than-light drive actually jumps them to adjacent universes (so close in history to their own that no one from the novel’s universe has yet noticed that’s how the drive works)—and the topopolis has a colony of interesting varieties of AU Earthling they can join. These colonists, in turn, want to find the Topopolitans (the creators of the topopolis) in order to experience a poorly-explained but highly hoped-for singularity/heaven.

And then they find it. The characters are just as unsympathetic in heaven as they were on Earth, and heaven has only a tenuous technological basis in the AU-hopping faster than light drive they’ve been using. Sadly, this otherwise interesting twist totally undermines any purpose the topopolis might have been built for, and its purpose for all-consuming all the universes is never revealed. In general, there’s a surfeit of big ideas in this book, but they’re neither explained nor integrated into the plot well enough to make it a good novel.

State of the Timelines II

A couple of days ago I blogged about timeline software, mostly griping about Aeon Timeline’s alleged fantasy calendar support. Since then, I posted to the NaNo forums about it (but why bother linking to a closed forum they’re going to delete in less than a year?) and started thinking a bit more about the subgenres of timeline software:

Historical Timelines

I linked Preceden’s list of timeline makers last time, and that list is focused on tools to make a historical style of timeline that records important dates and (apparently optionally, since some don’t support it) date ranges of history. Some of these are fairly granular, letting you drill down to months or even days, depending on how much detail you want to cover.

Plot Timelines

Preceden’s list is short on tools suitable for plotting stories, although they do list the grandfather of them all, Aeon Timeline. Dedicated plot timeline software may not even include times beyond the vague labels you assign to your plot events; Plottr is a good example of dedicated plotting software that takes this approach.

People also use project management software (GanttProject is free), spreadsheets, or mind-mapping software such as Xmind or Scapple for plotting.


A historical timeline is just another way of viewing a calendar; if you don’t need that particular view, you can use actual calendar software instead. Real calendar software has the advantage of being ubiquitous and well-developed, but unfortunately fantasy calendar software is even rarer than fantasy timeline software.

If your requirements are simple, you can enter them into donjon’s fantasy calendar generator and get the year of your choice in either month or planner form, with phases of the moon(s). But then you’d need to print out or otherwise grab the calendar and write in your events.