Saturday, August 29, 2009

A curious state of affairs….

Hello to all.

It’s been hot and cold running tanks here the past week. On the other hand, I have not heard a peep from fellow writer Geoff. He said he’d be busy, it’s true, but he also said there would be time for a go-over on the BattleMechs. Maybe that was a little optimistic, given the enormous shift he is about to make (moving himself and his sweetie to Japan). I don’t think they are going to be able to take much with them, but most of the electric appliances and electronics won’t work over there anyway….

Right. So I shot a missive off to Lee Madison and our layout man Jim Devlin, but have not heard from either in a while. That said, we’ve taken in some new work and payments have gone out (the check is in the mail!). I got a really nice rendition of the Zhukov yesterday and it is posted at the top of this blog entry. Double-click on the image to get an eye-full of the Ice Queen. Things are progressing with the Diatryma, which has grown a bit and now actually looks like a ten-ton vehicle. I am still working with David Dryburgh on the CM-33, which as of last note was looking quite good. Karl Olson’s Cobra BattleMech is finished and ready to go – my son quite likes the new look.

I took a very hard look at some of the images on hand, and as I noted before, there were a couple for which no hi-rez art existed. It’s really a shame, but they will have to be re-done to be presentable in a published format, so onto the commission stack they go. [Or not. As of Sunday 30 August, they are now in hi-rez format thanks to David White's deft hand, and they look pretty damn good. Thank you very much, Dave!] After another hard look, a few pieces popped up which turned out to be highly derivative of existing machines over at Fortunately, the original artist was none other than our very own pixel-wizard, Mike Sullivan, and he has agreed to re-do these pieces as only he can.

Other pieces were simply poor presentations – the art depicting a tank from a head-on static view is rather simple and quite boring, conveying nothing of the excellent design and good writeup.

Another was a copy of a German WWII tank, the King Tiger, with three gun barrels instead of one. On to the commission stack they go!

My son was quite taken with Eric Ou’s work on the FedCom Centurion (who wasn’t?) and the Argus, which perhaps a few of my sharp-eyed readers have seen on the BattleTech forums. So much so that I prostrated myself in front of the man (digitally, of course) and begged him to consider another commission. He has graciously agreed to do two more at reduced prices, and is now hard at work on the Anvil and the Vulcan II. I am not exaggerating when I say that I can hardly wait.

As I wrote to Eric, my only regret is that I cannot incorporate his other excellent work into the TRO. That new Wraith he did is truly impressive, but I find it impossible to create a new ‘Mech which works with the image and yet is truly an advance of the design. My best piece was equipped with Guardian ECM, an ER Large laser, two medium lasers and a targeting computer. Unfortunately, the targeting computer is the only thing which makes this combination stand out, and it is not something you would find on a Free Worlds League or Draconis Combine machine. Oh well :(

Some of you actually listen to the music I’ve posted here; others may not find it to their taste. I added some new stuff, and removed some old; we’ve got a piece by the Arctic Monkeys which never cracked the charts but which is fun to listen to just the same. I added something good by the Hollywood Undead, but let me warn you – it is rock/rap and there are naughty lyrics on ‘Bottle and a Gun’. Furthermore, while ‘Desire’ is a fine listen, you may want to be careful. This is a song from a collection meant for those annoying trucks with woofer arrays in the pickup bed. Don’t get me wrong – the sax playing is really good, but the bass, while excellent, will overdrive your woofers if you crank it up too much.

It’s really, really deep. It makes James Earl Jones sound like a soprano.

You’ll see.

Payments will go out again on this Friday; I hope to catch up by the Friday after that. Thank you to all my artists who’ve been more than patient while waiting for their dough. I promise you will get it and we will not publish until all accounts are squared. I must admit that some of the difficulty in getting payments to you guys is complicated by the fact that you have no PayPal account and I have no address to which I can mail a money order. Hopefully we can iron that out before I end up owing you my paycheck!

Thanks for stopping by.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Zellbrigen... or just plain stupid? You decide!


Well, we have the finished Crinos ready to go. I shot an email off to Lee Madison about the remaining vehicles he has to do, but have not heard from him yet. Also finished is the new Cobra BattleMech, something I think you will all like. It puts a very nice look to this oft-overlooked Medium. Payments for this, the Crinos and the completed Fox will go out next Friday.

There have been a few proofs turned in and it looks like we are nearly through with them. I have been at a loss for things to do in the writing department, so it’s off to the images. I took a look at what we had and began comparing it to the writeups. Immediately it became apparent that we did not have all of Vlad’s images in hi-rez format, so I went back to the family computer to download what I could from saved emails. I got two pieces which had somehow been overlooked, but as for the Sabra III and the Bu-20a, all I have are the original low-rez images he put together. These came from late 2007, before it was apparent from the printed looks of TRO:3062 that we would need better quality scans to get clean prints.

Oh well. Vlad probably does not even have the originals on hand anymore, but I will email him and ask for them anyway.

While looking at the Bu-20a (an ammunition carrier for the Sabra III), I did some trimming of the writeup and realized that the Sabra III could shoot through an entire nine tons of ammunition in about ten minutes! Even taking battlefield tactics and movement into account, I realized it would take require far more time to load and unload the ammo than to actually shoot it off. So I bumped the Bu-20a from 20 tons to 30 tons and added more cargo space. It now carries fourteen tons of ammo. Changing a design this late in the project is almost unheard of, but required very little in the way of writeup alteration. Furthermore, the carrier moves a bit faster now. Gotta keep those twin Long Toms fed!

Turning from that task, I looked into the art again and immediately spotted something which had nagged at me even back in the summer of 2007 – the hi-rez scans that Vlad sent me were often accompanied by enormous quantities of what I call ‘screen artifacts’. These are randomly distributed blue to grayish pixels which might be left over from the inking process, or even a result of the scan itself. They muddy the look of the art and totally defeat the whole purpose of hi-rez scans.

Doubleclick on the picture at the top of this column and you will see the difference. I cleaned this one up a lot, then placed half of it side-by-side with the original art. It is very time-consuming to clean these images – my laptop only has so much memory, and I can clean about eight areas before I have to save and reboot the software. The result is quite good; unfortunately, I will have to go through all of Vlad’s scans to remove at least the worst of the artifacts around the outside of the image.

On another note, I have been noodling around the Internet, taking a look at BattleTech in general. It seems to pop up a lot, and yes, folks are understandably enthusiastic about it. But one comment, coming from Catalyst Games, made me smile. I believe they were talking about the ‘resurgence of interest and popularity of the BattleTech game and associated products’. I thought about it for a minute, and realized that naturally they would say that!

The reality, of course, is quite different.

I don’t know what circles you readers move in, but I have been a roleplayer and gamer since 1979 and to this very day, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I work alongside who have even heard of the game. Suffice to say, while there are occasional discussions in my office about Star Wars and the various versions of video, movie, toy and gaming products, there are NO conversations about BattleTech. And you get a lot of strange looks if you mention it. ‘Giant stompy robots’ is where you begin with most of these folks, and they usually don’t want to hear any more. I have never been able to talk about this TRO to anyone I have worked with, because there is simply too much background to update before I can even begin talking about my own writing.

Hell, I can't even talk to my own wife about it!

Maybe my experiences are unique. Maybe not. I get the feeling that if BattleTech is experiencing a resurgence of any sort, it’s only impressive compared to its performance in the past – in the gaming community. Perhaps that is what Catalyst Games is talking about. However… I think it is telling that my son never talks about BattleTech with his friends – they know nothing about it, only the Mechwarrior games, and damned little about those. Make no mistake, folks. If we attracted ten percent in a year of the money and attention that is given daily to collecting and speculating on sports cards, BattleTech could be considered to be ‘resurging’. Right now you will not find it mentioned anywhere but on gaming sites and blogs; it is most definitely not in the public eye.

Finally, we had a game yesterday. Over in Redmond at the Games and Gizmos store. It was split into two separate encounters – I played in one, my son in the other. My game went well for us – we were up against a lot of hidden battle armor, LRM carriers and big tanks, supplemented with artillery. Damned Wobbies. My fellow players and I held our BattleMechs back and sent our hovercraft and VTOLs into the fray. We lost a lot of our vehicles but suffered only a freak gyro hit to our Warhammer (who disobeyed orders and deserved what he got). Our worthy opponent was nearly wiped out by the massed rush and was forced from the field.

I love tandem charges. I hate the Tactical Operations vehicle field of fire.

My son, on the other hand, got by with very little damage, but the Wolves-in-Exile force which accompanied him and his fellow players was wiped out to a man. Four light Clan ‘Mechs should have been useful, even against an opponent whose cybernetic pilots enjoyed huge targeting advantages. The Manei Domini are nothing to screw with, it’s true, but letting them send in a single ‘Mech with C3i and then taking a pounding from their already-ridiculously accurate gunners? It was suicide. We did not lose any other ‘Mechs, to my knowledge, but if ever a game was handled badly, that was it.

I heard the player running the Clanners clung to zellbrigen all the way through, despite the WOB opponents breaking it time and again. That's just silly - and it cost us. The Clanners should have been a screening advance to a two-pronged attack. Yes, they would have gone down. But the only way to offset C3i and freakishly low Gunnery skills is to get in the other guy’s grill as soon as you can. And that means ‘charge’.

Or you can stay back where it’s ‘safe’, like our guys did, and let them pick you to pieces. I know where my money would go.

We’re going to continue this battle in about a month and a half. That sort of misjudgment won’t happen again if I have anything to say about it.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Art begins trickling in again... and it looks good.


We just got a rough draft of the Crinos I in from Mike Sullivan, who has been doing some really good work. He’s the guy behind the Cheyenne III, the Dragonfly, the Flagstaff and the Oculus, so you know it’s going to be excellent. And judging from the roughs, it is.

But that is not all. Jim Lafferty has also turned in a serviceable rough draft of the Fox. We’ve worked on a few bugs and it looks ready to hammer into shape with increased detail. I look forward to the next iteration of the design.

Two new artists have signed on for putting the remaining art to bed. The first is Karl Olson and the second is David Dryburgh.

Karl is a man of great talent and I wanted to see his work in the TRO so badly, I went through what ‘Mechs we had on hand just to see if there was anything which could be considered sub-standard. There was. The Cobra CBR-03 is an updated, upgraded variant of the 3060 machine, the original CBR-02.

This is a forty-five tonner that moves at 5/8/0 and carries two LRM-15s and two medium lasers, along with about 75% of the armor allowed for its tonnage. It's okay for a fire support 'Mech, but is basically an Apollo Lite with no Artemis fire control. And Lord love it, no CASE. It could be better with just a few changes, especially given the Lyran propensity for big direct fire guns.

The CBR-03 has the same framework and engine, but it carries two ER large lasers, three medium lasers, 99% of the armor allowed and moves at 5/8/4. It also features additional heat sinks to deal with the heat spikes generated by those big guns. Yes, it is still fire support and not just a glorified Griffin; though the indirect fire capability has been lost, it can at least jump to get into position for a good shot.

The art for this was originally provided by Vlad, and he did the best he could with what amounts to a fairly ugly ‘Mech. But the result is a side view which is visually confusing. I have always thought it could be done better, and now it looks like Karl has pulled it off. The new Cobra is so well-put-together that it practically gleams. I really think it does the design and writeup justice and, after sending the minor corrections back to him, eagerly await the final product.

David is another fine artist whose work I saw on one of the forums. He agreed to do the CM-33 and despite the lowly nature of an ammunition carrier, has submitted a sketch which is quite attractive. A few corrections here and there and it will be ready for inking.

Pea-man has finally (!) coughed up a rough draft of the Diatryma armored car, and aside from the wheels (which I feel should be more robust), it looks promising. The turret sticks out like a sore thumb from the sleek hull, however, and so a bit more back-and-forth will be required before we nail this one down. I want to preserve the sleek looks as much as possible – the Diatryma is an urban combat vehicle whose primary role is security.

The base model carries a triple rack of small pulse lasers in a turret, the Urban variant trades two of those SPLs for an SRM-2 which is capable of launching CS missiles and is thus better-equipped for civilian crowd control. The design weighs in at ten tons and one problem may be that the scale is off – right now I have what amounts to the image of an oversized AMC Gremlin with a turret, and the whole thing can’t weigh more – visually, at least –than two or three tons. It looks like something from Car Wars. Which means, not bad, but we gotta work on it.

As an aside, I will be tapering back on my weekly updates. The project art and writing are temporarily in the hands of others right now and do not require my full-time attention. I promised my son I would spend more time with him, vice a writing project which has been omnipresent for the past two years. Time to play catch with the boy, instead of going through files over and over, weeding out errors. I can still fire the machine up after he takes to bed, but the days of coming home, making dinner and then planting my ass outside with a cigar, coffee and this computer until 11pm are over.

Also experienced some issues with Windows Explorer (not the web browser), which reacted to my opening my Incoming Work folder by gobbling up 99% of my processor time and staying that way. I fixed it by killing the folder after salvaging the items I needed. Made a new folder and we are back to normal. Thank goodness the fix was so easy. I have not the slightest idea why it did that, though.

Tomorrow I have the day off – took it to get the van into the shop. The starter solenoid, the anti-sway bars and the poor oil pan are all hurting. My Cavalier’s brakes nearly went metal-to-metal on Friday; fortunately there was a mechanic who agreed to come over and do what was needed. Two sets of calipers and brake pads later, I am good to go – albeit $220 poorer. That was not in the budget, needless to say. I will be scrambling to make ends meet for the next two weeks, so if someone out there does not get their payment immediately, rest easy. I will pay you before using your art, but I must also tend to the lights, water, etc.

Expect another update on Friday or Saturday.



Sunday, August 16, 2009

Some tunes, tastefull and otherwise...

I have brought tunage to the BattleTech Reader. It is not enough for me to shove my opinions down your throat - I must jam some kinda crap in your ears, too.

Some of you may never have heard these songs. Others..... mmmmmmaybe.

One is very funny and kinda catchy, but has a few naughty words ('Like a Boss'). [Umm, actually, I took that out. I tried to explain it to my old friend Keith Mears, you know, as a way of warning him not to listen to it when he stopped by. Afterwards, I realized that if I could not find a way to explain without my face getting hot and my collar tight, probably it should not be there. I still like it and play it, but here at home, not out on the Internet.

The others are an example of my eclectic (read 'weird') tastes in music.

It is the kind of music I listen to when I am working on the TRO, so yes, there is a connection.

Let me know if you like it. Or if you don't. Turn the volume down a bit, though. The verdamnt thing starts out at full on.


The writing team splits... :(

Hello, all.

Today I shoved a ton of writeups at Geoff through the email. It was not because he deserves it – he’s been doing a good job with the edits. However, he and his sweetie landed jobs in Japan, presumably teaching younger people the fine points of the gaijin’s tongue. I will have to ask. Meanwhile, between packing and visiting relatives, he has about a week left to do writing of any sort. Then we will bid him goodbye for a while, probably for a long while, until he gets settled in.

He must begin work on the first of September, or so I gathered, so there is not much time to do any work of an extensive nature on each writeup. Now, it is true that we have September and October to work with, but I am assuming it will take Jim Devlin and me at least three weeks to get the whole thing laid out correctly. Meanwhile Geoff will be busy at his new job, setting up house and all the myriad other things one must do when beginning life in a foreign country. I was assigned to Japan for five years, and it is daunting when you are a sailor. I cannot imagine what it must be like for a civilian.

I am deeply sorry to see him go. As many of you know, he is the other half of our writing team and brings the BattleTech universe to life in the writeups we produce. I have a very tenuous grasp of what is going on at the company level in BattleTech in the year 3063. Or any other year, for that matter. But he has the memory and resources, and so far he has brought the story to whatever he’s touched. I have the art, the basic designs and even the technical details, but it is Geoff who connects all that to the world of giant stompy robots.


Well, we will see what happens. He has all the vees nearly done, or so I think. I will go over my files tomorrow and check to make sure he’s had his chop. This is so important I don’t think words can quite convey what I mean. Here is an example from this very evening:

Geoff sent me the writeup for the Roland OmniTank and left a little blue note at the top near the traditional weapons listing. It asked, simply “Isn’t this supposed to be pod space?”

Well, let me tell you, the alarm bells went off right away. I have never personally built an Omni-anything with Heavy Metal Pro, but it occurred to me that while I was faithfully listing what Vlad had sent to me in design, none of the information was presented in the technical listings. At all. It appeared in the writeup, but that was it. I scrambled to assemble an OmniTank in HMP, and got the stats listed properly (and yes, it now says ‘Podspace’ at the beginning of the tank’s description).

Come to think of it, I have writeups for the Culverin OmniMech which probably suffer from the same thing. I will get on them tomorrow morning, after breakfast and laundry. And there is the Blackjack configuration, which is likely suffering from the same sort of neglect. I will get them all.

We are working on the Fox tank; the art required a shift of perspective to keep it visually clear.

I was going to talk a bit about the various tracking systems we have in place to make sure everything is done, and done correctly. You know, in case anyone else wants to attempt something like this. But this evening’s events kinda took the wind out of my sails. Better to fix the errors I *do* find than sit and list all the methods I use to track the corrections. I will probably get to that tomorrow. Or the next day.

Take care. Thanks for visiting.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

The last 'Mech finally arrives....


Eriance has delivered the last of the ‘Mech images, leaving only eight vehicles to illustrate. These are in various stages of completion, and I have once again begun sending money out to my hard-working artists.

The Argus is a thing of beauty and everything I could want in an illustration. I wish I had more ‘Mechs for him to do, but Eric has created over a dozen images for this TRO and it is time for him to rest. He is going to try his hand at that interior plate; we’ll see how things turn out.

The Pea-man has turned in his finished Leopard; as soon as I pay him, I will get the hi-rez art I need to make that TRO entry. It looks very good and I anticipate the Diatryma any day now.

James Devlin has created a new mockup for the layout. It looks very good, clean and simple, something which will translate into a print copy very well. Next up should be the online version, something we have discussed based on the mockup he sent a few weeks back. It will be quite a bit more colorful than the print version, but that is the nature of the beast.

I noticed some errors in the mockup, none which were James’ fault. They had to do with the information contained in the sample readouts, and I have already gone and corrected them. Unfortunately, these errors are potentially in all vehicle readouts, so you know where I will be for the next couple of nights!

Geoff has begun on the Federated Commonwealth edits and I have already received the Churchill writeup. Geoff is busy making sure each readout conforms to the current military and political climate of 3063, a task which by rights should have been done at the beginning of the writeup. However, we only recently acquired the resources to do this.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Such work sometimes requires significant research and re-writes of a portion of a given writeup. This is most time-consuming, which is another reason why I am not frantically spurring my artists to finish their remaining pieces. It will all come together eventually. None of us is doing this for a living. It only seems like it :)

I have posted some of the art in the various BattleTech online forums, and the response is encouraging. Keep charging, guys!

Thanks for stopping by.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Incoming art!!

Welcome back!

Good news on several fronts – Geoff is finished with the Periphery edits and our hard-working proofers have finished the Lyran and Capellan vehicles.

The layout mockup made use of the Heavy Metal Pro and Vee listings, meaning I have to go back and redo the listings for the vehicles of the Draconis Combine, Lyran Alliance and Free Worlds League, as they were originally (and laboriously) laid out in Word for a completely different format. I am nearly done with that, and have found some tweaks and so on during my journey through each House’s writeups. These should be easy for James Devlin to drop right into the final layout.

ERIANCE IS BACK! And he just dropped off $100 worth of good stuff. There is the re-done Federated Commonwealth Centurion and the long-awaited Capellan Culverin OmniMech. The Argus is in the wings and will be the last ‘Mech to be illustrated. I took a shot at getting an interior plate done by Eric, but this one will be in black and white. Eric is mostly into manga and anime-style work, so for those of you who are aware of BattleTech’s roots, this will be a tip of the hat to the origins of the big stompy robot.

Jeremy Pea should be coming up for air soon. He’s already submitted rough sketches for the Diatryma armored car and it looks promising. Likewise James Devlin, who has all the feedback he needs to make a go of both our online and print layouts. You’ve seen JP Sphagnum’s work; he’s working on the Zhukov. Mike Sullivan has his work cut out for him with a redo of the Crinos. Lee Madison did a stellar job with the Cortes, which was the header for the last post. Yes, the scale is correct – that is a six-ton tank you are looking at, with but a single crewman (eating peaches). Lee is busy with more good stuff.

Jim Lafferty is hard at work re-doing the art for the Fox, and has submitted sketches for that art. Meanwhile, I am making room in my budget for the final push. The interior plates are back, sort of. I put a six-week limit on their production, meaning the TRO will not appear before 1 November 2009. It will take that long to come up with the money anyway. As mentioned before, Alex Iglesias will be doing at least one of them.

I have sent several emails to Daniel Cherng and have not heard back from him yet. Although we have another six weeks to complete the art, I feel his lack of response bodes ill for the CM-33 ammunition carrier, and am going to commission it out tomorrow to a different artist. Sorry, Daniel. You had your shot.

On a related note, it was announced a few weeks back that several core pieces of old-school ‘Mech art (and their accompanying likenesses in pewter) were going to make a re-appearance. According to the Catalyst Games blog, there is a bit of a snag; without going into detail, it seems that a number of the most popular ‘Mechs taken directly from anime cartoons and movies are not going to show after all. The Marauder, Warhammer and a few others have been expunged from new Catalyst Games publications due to this unforeseen difficulty.

You all know my take on the Unseen, so I won’t abuse your eyes or your sensibilities with further rants. Suffice to say that this development will disappoint a few of you, but I took steps a while back to ensure we would not be caught with our knickers down around our ankles if the Unseen remained – well, unseen. It is one reason why I re-did the art for the Lyran Griffin.

That is all for today, folks! Thanks for stopping by.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Art update and the end of the solitary hobby...


Well, it appears my skin cancer worries are eased for now.

The discolored area is somewhat akin to a liver spot. Combine that with an insect bite that was subsequently shaved and formed a scab which itched as it healed, and you get a panicky Steve.

But not melanoma.

JP approached me this week with an offer to do the interior plates, and after generating a rough drawing and detailed run-down of each, I sent them. It may be that they are beyond his ability at the moment. The time it would take to do each would push the publishing date back at least sixty days – and that is if he does nothing else.

I looked briefly on to see if there was anyone out there who could pull these off. JP says they are somewhat complex; I have no idea myself. I thought perhaps I could find an artist, and I did, but realized about halfway through my search that any artist capable of doing these probably does not need the exposure and has plenty on their plate to begin with.

I went back to Alex Iglesias and submitted them. No response yet, but what the hell, right? I know what the answer is if I don’t ask. He has already done work for Catalyst Games, which puts him in the big leagues as far as I am concerned. I will count myself blessed if he agrees to do them for the amount he charged for the last one. If he does, I may push the publishing date back. Alex is really that good. [Update: he has agreed to do them after he completes his move to Florida.]

Several proofers have made progress on the writeups, and we have put those to bed. There are many left to go, but we’ll get ‘em done. The Cortes is finished and the Horatio and Mastodon are in the pipeline. Mike Sullivan is concentrating on real life problems and so there will be a delay on the Crinos, but a rough draft of the Fox has come through in the meantime and that means production has begun. For that piece, anyway.

Today I will PayPal a few artists for their work and find some way of paying JP for the ‘Mechs he has already done. I’ve changed the oil on both the Cavalier and the Aerostar; while under the Aerostar I noticed a big gunch in the oil pan, which will need replacing, as well as some totally worn-out fittings on the stabilizer bar, which will also need replacing. The bills need paying and I return to work next week. It’s been an interesting week off, but I am glad to be back at Trulife.

I have not heard from the Pea-man on the Leopard, and will have to follow that up so I can call it complete. [Update: Jeremy turned in the Leopard but is going back to add some additional material to the surroundings. He also submitted some preliminary sketches for the Diatryma Armored Car.]

Finally, I want to let you all know that the last post was not one big whine about how no one appreciates my contributions to several hobbies. Perhaps I misspoke. I certainly ran on far too long. No, what got me down was that there were several perfectly good pastimes in which I seem to be the only participant. Yes, even with the internet and the ability to reach out to others with my interests, it would seem there are very few young people nowadays who are interested in hobby electronics, modeling, control-line flying and – well, anything else that involves taking real-world kits or parts and assembling them into something which resembles a real-world object. It may be that their exploits in the virtual world are enough for these kids, but sometimes I wonder.

The really weird thing is that, as people become more connected in the virtual world, they become more solitary in the real world. Conversely, the more they become secluded, indulging in social networks instead of relating to real people, the less they actually engage in truly solitary hobbies. I can only conclude that the solitary hobbies - electronics, etc - are meant to be pursued in solitude that no longer really exists.

What seems to be valued now are money and fame. Making a dollar with your hobby is, apparently, equivalent to getting respect. Being connected to dozens, even hundreds of other people who read your words and know of your life and doings – that too, is considered ‘respect’. It all seems to tie into ‘respect’, which is another word for feeding the ego, or what older folks called ‘spiritual pride’. I’ve seen first-hand what effect doing that has on me. I recognize it as a temptation to something which is quite pleasurable but bad for me in the long run.

But convincing younger people that it *is* a bad thing – is very hard to do in our current cultural climate.

Back in the day, folks pretty much knew when a thing was bad for them and when it was not. They might love to do it, but they knew deep down it was bad and many of them tried to abstain. Cigarettes are a good example. But nowadays you have to 'sell' the idea something is wrong - and then you have to 'sell' the idea that it is worthwhile to stop doing that something - before you can even begin the 'cure'.

Maybe that’s why folks tend more and more towards hobbies which are manifestly *not* solitary, but rather are maximized towards connectivity. It seems to me that nowadays being known for something mediocre is more desirable than accomplishing great things in private. That, and the feeling you get when you are zipping down the road at 80 in a 70 mph zone - as long as you are surrounded by others driving the same speed, hey, 'everyone else is doing it' is as good an excuse as any. Right?

But then again, I could be wrong. However, I think it’s quite telling that I find very few hits on Google when I go looking for someone who has raised the subject. Perhaps my search methods are to blame. I simply don’t know.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Some thoughts on the hobby....

Hey diddle diddle!

I got a couple reminders today from an artist to send pics to him.

I did.

I said I’d send the edited Vehicle writeups off to be proofread.

I did that, too.

I said I would send Jim Devlin feedback on the new mockups he sent me, and pay a goodly number of people and check in on Daniel Cherng to see if the CM-33 ammo carrier was going back in the commission pile.

All that, I did.

Unfortunately, for the past day and a half, I have not received anything notable on the TRO. Bad timing, I guess. So for this installment, I will talk about something that is related to gaming, but not strictly BattleTech.

Back in the mid-1990s, we had a local hobby shop and I was a new father. Besides painting a scad of BattleTech miniatures for a Navy buddy, I was all about Magic: The Gathering and my wife and son. We lived in a little apartment in Poulsbo. A friend of mine got me interested in Warhammer:40K just after they began revising some of their models. Discontinued older ones (like the old Landraider) were still in demand, but what caught my eye was a Leman Russ tank.

I had been into hobby electronics since a teen, so it was a small jump from making costume props for Trekkers and other science-fiction convention-goers to coming up with some really neat lights and sounds for GW products. I even got into making plastic cardstock models of vehicles I’d seen in the books but which had not yet reached the shelves (primarily Imperial Guard Sentinels).

To make a long story short, I collected a LOT of miniatures in preparation for playing the game and created a lot of electronic tanks to play with. Unfortunately, the players were pretty poor sports and it always seemed like they were running what we BattleTech players would now refer to as ‘munch’ or ‘cheese’. Of course, back then folks were hopping from army to army, the GW people were aiming squarely at young teens and the game was eventually reset in 1998 or so with a brand new set of rules. Again.

I dropped out of the playing scene. For the next few years I took commissions to create new tanks, even making one for a window display in the local mall. The window display never made it there – the shop manager decided it would make a great gift for some big shots back East. I complained loudly at that last, but despite getting a hundred dollar gift certificate from the manager to shut me up (after he’d been read the riot act by his superiors) it was increasingly clear that folks really were impressed by the custom electronic enhancements in my models. And just as unwilling to fork over money to get one of their own.

I tried teaching people how to do it, but no one seemed to want to learn. For heaven’s sake, I even wrote a book on how to do it (for Star Trek fans) back in the early 90s. No one wanted to try it.

I now have a set of shelves filled with Monoliths, Eldar Grav tanks, multiple Leman Russ models, Landraiders, Rhinos and Sentinels (the real ones). And several squads of Mordian Iron Guard. I have a bench cabinet filled with all the lasers, strobes, LEDs and sound boards you could ever want for this kind of work. It has all been gathering dust for nearly seven years. But what really gets me is this: not only can I not find anyone interested in working with hobby electronics, I can’t get anyone to pay me what that kind of work is worth. So now I am on my own again.

Oh, sure. Johnny Worthen took a few tips from me and got his Landraider to look really squiff.

But aside from that, the only action I have seen in this regard was the GenCon 2007 dropship display.

If you take a look at :

You will find details on the creation of an electronic Leman Russ, Land Raider and Vindicator. To my knowledge, no one has ever emailed me to ask how to do them. Anyone reading the description of the Laser Russ would realize it involved my six-year old little boy pressing buttons for his dad.

He is now fourteen and he ain't little anymore.

The point being, that was - what? eight years ago? The stuff has been sitting in my garage for nearly ten years, and no one has ever played with it on a gaming table.

Just because you can do it, just because it is cool, does not mean it will be a success. I have a piece of advice for anyone wishing to take their electronic enhancement of a particular hobby to the level of business - don't.

You see, electronics done like this is a handicraft, and while folks may pay stupendous amounts of money to buy well-made handicrafts, they won't pay squat for this sort of thing. Electronics have gotten to the point where it is, essentially, disposable. I see the most amazing concatenation of abilities - digital camera, MP3 player, long-distance communication and video screen - in cellular phones - and they get *thrown away* because the man on TV said they were no longer the style. Imagine what that man is saying to kids who want to get into Warhammer.

I despair of ever getting my son behind a soldering iron, because there is nothing he can do that has not already been done in mass quantity by diligent Chinese manufacturers. Imaging trying to get him interested in building a little AM/FM radio receiver from transistors and other parts in a cigar box? Or learning to read a schematic? Why should he, when they give radios away in gum machines?

It’s the same with hobby electronics and modeling. I put working lighting, turning propellers and flashing machine guns into a nice 1/48 scale ME-109. Most kids don’t even know what it is. The hard work that goes into this little beauty? They see flashier effects in disposable cigarette lighters.

When is miniature painting going to go the same way? Plastic modeling is in the doldrums, control-line flying is so old-school most young adults have never even heard of it. Radio control is so ubiquitous it is hawked in every possible format; I have even seen a R/C dirigible, and who has not seen Radio Shack’s tiny helicopters for your living room?

I have seen the fall of wargaming from king of the sandtable to a sad has-been at all but a few select conventions. And yet most wargames have only gotten better, with new rules and wonderful miniatures. Its replacement, the role-playing game, has gradually been shunted aside for more competitive fare such as collectible card games and online social wargames. This, despite the fact there is probably a well-written RPG for nearly anything you could ever want to be, in any of a thousand settings. And thirty years of excellent miniatures, to boot.

I know things change, but are the needs these games (and my hobbies) were meant to satisfy going to be met by the hucksters pushing Halo 3: ODST? What do the online games produce but good eye/hand coordination, an ever-accelerating demand for the Next New Thing and the all-but-certain feeling that networking and self-promotion are all that you need to get anywhere?

No real skills are needed – if people think you are something, if you can project the image (online or otherwise), you only have to appear to know something and have lots of connections, and there you have it. Or so the Saturday morning cartoons (and the advertisers) would have us believe.

See, this is how I know I am getting old. I mourn for hobbies younger people won’t do anymore. Not only that; they don’t even know what these things are. When you explain it to them, it rapidly becomes apparent they don’t see any value in it. Does it gain you fame? Does it make you lots of money? If not, they turn away. It is not enough to have fun. There must be a profit or status gained with their peers.

You think I am kidding? Try explaining your miniature collection, or your painting, or the latest kitbash to nearly anyone not already in the hobby between the ages of 12 and 25. Most of them will give you a queer look. But if you begin the conversation with “I made an assfull of cash over the weekend painting a bunch of stuff for some guy in Montana”, or even “I got my face on YouTube with this cool tutorial and now folks are lining up to pay for my painting video” – then you will command friendly attention. Lots of it.

Well, enough. I am sorry to say I will probably see the day when tabletop wargaming will go the way of control line flying, and all the wonderful things that go with it (writing fiction, artistic drawing, design, painting, casting, kitbashing, terrain modeling and hanging out with folks who are better than you at those things) will be, as Rutger Hauer so eloquently put it in ‘BladeRunner’, ‘like tears in the rain’.

Time to die?

No, not yet. But like my son, these things won’t be around forever. Don’t miss a chance to enjoy the hobby and its many offshoots while you can. BattleTech has lasted for twenty-five years, but something in me doubts it and other games like it will around for another twenty-five. My grandchildren might get to pound on old Gramps with a Battlemaster someday.

But somehow I kinda doubt it.


Monday, August 03, 2009

Shiny lights and a reminder of my mortality....


Well, it’s my first day of vacation and I pissed it away cruising the internet after Momma went to work.


Geoff came back with some polishing for the Argus AGS-3H writeup, but there is an issue of time elapsed between taking the original AGS-2D as battlefield salvage and the refitting and deployment of the ‘new’ Argus on Texlos, during the St. Ives conflict. We’ll work it out, I’m sure.

I’ve sent missives off to our layout man James Devlin and artist Daniel Cherng. No response today, but hope springs eternal. The final art for the Thug and the Blackjack have arrived, and they look darned good. Thanks, JP! Meanwhile, I am still waiting for a response from Jeremy on the Leopard – just a tiny change and it will be ready for prime-time. Lee Madison is still finishing up the Cortes and it looks as though Eriance may soon have time to finish the Culverin and FedCom Centurion. He has even asked for the data on the Argus, leading me to hope (with crossed fingers knocking on wood) he will take it as his last commission. This will finish up the ‘Mechs once and for all.

Jeff Kamper had a few questions concerning the cover art for the TRO; I am going to stick with the design we’ve got for now. Alex Iglesias did a fine job and I see no reason to change it. Though it *may* change, ‘Vehicle Annex’ is as good a title as any, seeing as the ratio of vehicles to ‘Mechs is about two to one. Again, no one is sorrier than I that there will be only one interior art plate, but the money just is not there. I have bills accumulating and they must be addressed, lest I find myself without lights, water and internet connection.

I have been assisting my son with his trials on Halo III; there exists a list of the re-spawn times for certain weapons in the game, and I have been tracking them and calling them out for him and his online teammates as they play fifteen-minute scenarios. It’s a big help, or so he says. I think he just likes Dad to sit beside him and watch him whale on other players, and quality time is getting harder to come by.

It’s not because my son has no desire to be with me. It’s because I keep coming up with things to do besides hang out with him. I have been told by my son repeatedly that I am an ‘ideal Dad’ compared to what his friends have, but to be honest, they would have to be desperately poor fathers to make me look so good.

Something to work on, eh? And not much time to do it, as a discovery today reminds me.

This morning, while shaving, I found a spot on my left cheek which looks suspiciously like a bit of skin cancer. It has been in the back of my mind all day. I thought it was a bug bite at first, as it itched a bit for the past three weeks. But after shaving, it looks like a bumpy liver spot and my mother has had trouble with this over the years. So off to the doctor’s for me on Friday. Better safe than sorry, I think.

Kinda keeps this TRO thing in perspective, ya know?

Dan Eastwood over on Giant Battling Robots has been writing about how he put a light in one of his BattleTech miniatures, and to be fair, he did a stand-up job. I have always had the problem of finding a power supply which would last a while and be easily replaced, yet fit into a hex base. I built the Pinto attack VTOL with spinning rotor that some folks may have seen at GenCon 2006. I built the Union Dropship which appeared at GenCon 2007 and is now on the back of Catalyst Games’ Strategic Operations Manual. I have installed lights and sounds in numerous Warhammer: 40K models and assisted others in doing the same for their models. But I still get a kick out of seeing what folks who have no experience with electronics will come up with on their own, and Dan’s effort brought a smile to my face.

Good job, Dan. It really looks smooth. Get those batteries replaced!

Well, I have to change out fish tank water, fold the clothes from wash day, clean cat vomit off the carpet (in two places!) and vacuum the house. It is nearly 9:00pm, so if I want to make significant progress on house duties before Momma comes home, I’d better get cracking.

Thanks for stopping by.


[edit: well, got the vomit cleaned and the clothes put away. Two out of four....]

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Picking apart space opera....

Last night was a marathon of file copying in the early evening, then a late-night session looking over the Vehicles section. I cleared up a few disagreements between gauss rifle sources in two separate writeups, and then checked the email.

No one has reported in, but that is not surprising, as weekends are pretty slow. What caught my eye was a message from Classic telling me I had received a response to my comment on one of their forum threads.

Apparently the fellow starting the thread had read a bit of fluff on a planet which was (improbably) capable of supporting Terran-style life while orbiting a binary star system. He allowed for the suspension of disbelief, but wanted to know what real science lay behind it. Several people chimed in, including the redoubtable Cray, for a lively and learned discussion that ran on for about fifty posts before I came along.

I suggested that maybe it was simply a case of the writer making stuff up. Perhaps he was wrong and no such thing could exist in the real world. It was written for a space opera, after all.

The thread’s originator did not care for my comment at all.

He asked if I had even bothered to read his opening post before weighing in, or perhaps I had and just ignored the request for ‘real science’ to say my piece anyhow.

I responded that the whole point was that that planet did not have to make perfect sense, that it probably couldn’t be explained by real-world science. I even pointed out that it was a bit odd that, according to the actual text, 31st century scientists were “puzzled by the planet’s existence” while it appeared that several 21st century forum watchers clearly were not.

I realize some people cannot enjoy a game unless it contains a certain amount of the real world - witness my friend Ross, who has been a fantasy roleplayer for thirty years but cannot bring himself to play ‘giant robots’ with my son and I for a single afternoon because they ‘just don’t make sense’ in any modern military context. Of course they don’t! It’s a game and a fictional setting. Sometimes I think folks take it too far.

Most of the time when I visit a particular thread filled brimful and overflowing with ’rational’ explanations for make-believe stories and settings, it’s to remind folks that the game does NOT have to toe the line scientifically (although it is true that most BT writers try their best to do so). The game and its cornucopia of fiction are meant to be enjoyed, not picked to pieces on a forum. There is a line you really should not cross.

Considering the realistic ranges for weapons which are meant to be played on a tabletop, the diameter and bore size of imaginary weapons a thousand years from now, the actual population of a given planet versus what the writers state – the discussions, arguments, complaints and insults go on without end. You can hear the catgirls yowling in the next zipcode as every cherished gaming/space opera cliché is pulled to pieces in the name of ‘realism’. I myself have been subjected to this merciless pecking. At times, especially when Cray is involved, I back down and learn a thing or two. He knows quite a lot. But for the rest, I consider the source.

(Paint It Pink will probably cut me a new one for the following statements, but I stand by them. And those statements?)

Whenever you get criticism from other forum members, take a hard look at the number of posts *per day* the more critical members of the forum have to their credit. The higher that number, the less value I assign their criticism. I clicked over and took a look at the fellow who posted that initial question I just discussed. He has a little over seven posts per day to his name. And he joined the board back in 2004. Think about that. Seven posts every single day for the past five years. Does that sound like someone who spends a lot of time on forums? I’d bet five bucks he appears on other forums as well.

I don’t expect a lot of balance from that kind of forum member, because by my lights they’re putting too much time into the forum experience and not enough time into life, the game and everything else. Your mileage may vary and it’s always possible the individual involved is a prolific writer as well as a model gamer, husband and father. But really, what kind of person focuses on discussing the real-science aspect of a piece of science-fiction while apparently ignoring the fact that it was written as fiction?

In my example, the fluff writer could have been completely ignorant of the properties of binary star systems. He could have gotten the idea from Popular Science or Discover magazine. He could, for all I know, have a college degree in celestial mechanics. The point is, after a certain point it simply does not matter.

It’s *fiction*, dammit.

Stop picking at it.

And if you do pick at it, expect someone like me to come along and occasionally dump a bucket of real world on the conversation.


The Art and Making Payments...


Well, the first of the month has come around. We have art from two sources and both are looking great – they are nearly finished.

The first is Jeremy Pea’s take on the Leopard gunship for the Outworlds Alliance. About the only thing I have for suggestions is (a) the guy exiting the Leopard - he looks like he’s either dropping or hovering and since the ground is presumably out of sight below, I’d bet he’s using a small jump pack. Perhaps some exhaust jets from it? Otherwise, you have done a fine job, Jeremy.

The second is the Taurian Concordat’s Cortes light tank. Lee Madison has done an excellent job and will be done with it shortly. I have no suggestions at this point, as the inking has been completed and all that remains is the crewman, who is being done separately and will be incorporated digitally into the final piece. Next up from Lee will be the Horatio Bridgelayer and the Mastodon Mine-clearing tank.

I offered the Fox art to Jim Lafferty but have not heard back from him yet. Wait for your first payment to hit the bank, Jim, before beginning on the next piece. I don’t mind.

Also up for illustration is the Argus. It is a sixty ton ‘Mech which I mentioned a few posts back, and as there are several artists who are good with ‘Mechs, anyone interested can send me an email. It comes with a miniature picture, so there are fairly solid parameters on this one.

We are on the last month of summer vacation and the editing is proceeding well. I have finally gotten my computer back from the shop – the hard drive was unrecoverable, so I will spend a few hours this evening putting files back onto it which I have on DVD. I backed most of it up about three months ago, fortunately.

I will also be sending out writeups for proofreading this evening.

Geoff, I am going to try to get you a copy of that Periphery book you asked for. Look for an email soon. Meanwhile, payments have gone out to Jim Lafferty, Mike Sullivan and David White. A payment to JP Sphagnum for his fine work on the Thug will go out when I get either his PayPal account name or his mailing address.

JP, I am still hoping for some additional surrounding detail on the Thug, if you can manage it. The ‘Mech itself looks really good. The Blackjack also looks good; fleshing out the surrounding buildings will add that hi-pro glow.

Payments to Lee and the Pea-man will go out upon finalization of their work – next Friday at the latest. As with JP, I will need either a PayPal account name or a mailing address. To all of you, please forgive me if I have misplaced your account name or mailing address, as much of it was eaten by the computer crash. Digging through back-emails is very, very time-consuming.

I have the next week off, so if you want to get some work done (especially you proofers), this would be an ideal time to do it. I will be going through the Vehicles section, checking for boners with my new eyes.

Finally, the CM-33 ammunition carrier was sketched by Daniel Cherng, but I have not heard from him for nearly a month. He has a busy schedule - if he does not reply to my emails within the next few days, I will offer that vehicle commission to another artist.

Enjoy the summer, everyone. Fall will be here sooner than some of us like.