Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another month closer....


We’re another month closer to our publishing date, and things have been moving along.

Lee Madison has completed the Horatio and the Mastodon and is now hard at work on the new Jian MMTV. Click on the image above for a close-up look at some of the best vehicle art I have ever seen.

I have seen the preliminary sketches of the Jian and it looks very interesting. I have also approached him about doing the Velite ISV, as it appears that Mike Sullivan will not be able to complete that last project with the resources he currently has at hand.

Ian has done a preliminary Sarpedon and it will be finished with the addition of a few details. I have also approached him about working on the Velite, but as with Lee, have not heard anything back yet.

Eric has been busy with school and rightly so. However, he has also done a lot of drawing during opportune moments and the results are impressive. The art for the Daimyo is very good, with some last-minute tweaking to make it a handsome edition to any Kuritan armory. The Combine’s Gallowglas is at the inking stage, and Eric is working up a rough sketch of the latest Cataphract for the Capellan Confederation.

I gave Eric ‘license to upgrade’ with the new Cataphract III. Now, normally I stress retaining certain visual cues from the older drawings. This is in order to ensure a person looking at the design will make the connection and recognize the new art as being a ‘re-design’ of an established visual archetype. Thus, the new Vulcan has a ball-shaped cockpit that projects slightly forward and sits below the shoulder line, has a humaniform body and leg structure and is somewhat skinny. These are some of the most easily recognized features of the original Duane Loose art.

However, I took a look at the original 3025 Cataphract and then another at the 3050 version and recoiled in disgust. The 3025 version is a mish-mash of other ‘Mechs – the original Marauder legs, the Marauder arms and a few bits stuck on here and there to a Ost-style body.


The 3050 version, on the other hand, has no styling cues at all, unless you count the grotesquely fattened legs.

Neither have features I want to preserve in a new image of an otherwise-solid design, so I told Eric to come up with something he would want to pilot if it was a miniature. I am not sure what I have unleashed, but it should be a hell of a lot better than what has come before. Quite frankly, previous illustrations of the Cataphract stink. They look as though the folks at FASA were in such a hurry that they commissioned a high-school kid to sketch these during study hall.

I have also commissioned Eric to do two tanks – the Capellan Dao and the Lyran Panther. I assume these are under way as you read this blog.

Geoff has been busy with life in Japan, but has found the time to produce two good writeups for the Daimyo and Gallowglas. I will try to go over these today, but I have been very busy this week and my laptop and the weather have not been very cooperative. Today is Saturday, Halloween, and as it is sunny outside right now, I predict the weather will be good for the trick or treat crowd. So tonight’s writing will not be all that productive. There are the groceries to get, the trash to dump, a room to clean out and a house to vacuum. I have my hands full. Tomorrow I will get up very early to get my son’s drum set stashed in the car (hope I can do it!) and drive him to an event known as ‘Woodstick’, a drummer’s paradise from what I have heard.

Otherwise, things are going well! This should do it. The total number of vehicles and ‘Mechs is 105, with 187 record sheets now ready to publish. With two remaining writeups and some tweaking of the Panther tank design, writing and design editing should be done. Next week ought to bring another few pieces of art into their final stages. We are getting close to finishing this baby, folks. I will send the edited pieces off to Geoff on Monday and make room in my budget for additional payments to my artists. David Dryburgh has finished inking the second interior plate and I will get him his payment for the CM-33 this next Friday in the mail. Lee Madison is getting the models I promised as well.

Take care and enjoy the tunes.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

I had the Corvair dream...

Hey ! You're back!


Okay, so that interior plate by David Dryburgh? It's had that teeny tiny change and is now (I presume) being inked and colored. He also agreed to take on the other inside plate. So all the internal art has been accounted for – there are three and they are in color.

Click on that art at the top of the page and get an eyeful of what Lee Madison has been working at. I told you he was worth the wait. Yes! It's a Free Worlds League minesweeper, the Mastodon. Pretty nifty if I do say so, and I have Rick Raisley to thank as it was his Heavy Metal Vee software which made designing the little beauty so simple.

Just wait until you see the Horatio Bridgelayer. I cannot use it right now as it is undergoing some small changes in the details. But it should be ready in a few days, if not tomorrow. Maybe it will head this blog with next week's installment.

I have hired a new artist, a fellow name of Ian who hails from England and whose 3D renders on the forums caught my eye. Some (not all) are good. One or two will translate well into black and white and I need a new artist along these lines since Mike Sullivan has gone on hiatus. Ian will be doing the Sarpedon for the Free Worlds League and from the look of the roughs, it is shaping up to be a winner.

As you know, the writing is nearly done. We combed through and shipped the Record Sheets Annex to our layout man, James Devlin yesterday. I would like to say the writeups are nearly ready to ship, but while waiting for the art to catch up to the writing, I have had time on my hands and been idly reading and kicking my heels as I go through writer's withdrawal. It sucks.

A few days back, I got a message from Eric Ou (Eriance) that he was ready to take on my other vehicles. Considering the stand-up job he did with the Zephyrus, I leaped at the opportunity. No, I have not sent the vehicle writeups yet. Before you scratch your head, let me explain. He also has been working on re-doing the 'Mechs from TRO:3055, as practice and as a way of correcting some of the less impressive pieces of art found inside that venerable tome. I don't think he is working from the 3055 Update, mind you, but his effort is appreciated by every BattleTech fan, I am sure.

That said, he offered a few of the pieces for sale to me.

Now I know what you are thinking. “Steve! You already said there would be no more additions to the TRO, that the last 'Mech had been put to bed. What gives?!”

Well, I had a Corvair dream.

Those of you approaching your half-century mark know what I mean. Strangely enough, there was an Asian fellow in a military uniform in it. During the part of the dream where I had my Rampside on a lift and was inspecting the engine, he appeared and asked “Where is the love?”

Yeah, it didn't mean anything to me either until I was combing through the 'Mech writeups last night and realized the Draconis Combine had only four 'Mechs for the TRO:3063. Seeing as these guys were the ones who began cranking out Heavy PPCs and other wonderful gadgets in the late 3060s, you might expect a bit more to their lineup. After all, nearly every other faction has five or more 'Mechs, solid advances on the state of the art.

Ted Kurita was right. At least, I think that is who the Asian guy was. So imagine my surprise when two of the 'extra' 'Mechs Eric is doing turn out to be the Gallowglas and the Daimyo. Well, I had a reason to get hot and heavy with the HMP again; limited only by the era and by the fact that any changes have to match the look of the 3055 warload these machines carry, I got busy. Geoff has gone over them and given a preliminary thumbs-up to both designs. I need more detail from him but it's beginning to look like two new machines will join the Draconis Combine BattleMech lineup soon.

Naturally, I will have to get cracking on the writing, as the weather gets colder and colder. My fingers freeze up uncomfortably fast and make typing a chore. But the cool part is that the art has already been done, and that has been a holdup for the past few weeks.

Hell yes, it's going to cost more. But I can afford it (barely). And the publishing deadline has not been changed. I am glad to give this pair of 'Mechs a shot – they are seldom seen on the battlefields over in our local game shop. Perhaps their 3063 iterations will fare better.

That's all for this week. Our blog has topped six thousand hits, which assures me most of you are stopping by to get the word – and hopefully, get the word out. I will be changing the music a bit in the next few days – as usual, seldom-heard tunes will lead the way. A few of the more well-heeled members have dared to hit the PayPal button and for that I am grateful. I used the funds to pay artists in a speedy manner. Thank you.

Thanks for coming by.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Interior Art is nearly done...


It's that time again, time for the weekly update on what's happening with the TRO:3063. There isn't a lot to report this week, so this installment will be somewhat short compared to some of the previous entries.

Take a close look at the art at the top of this blog entry, and then the one at the bottom. The difference is the size and style of the AC/5 firing up front. I want you readers to tell me which one you find more aesthetically pleasing. Both are reductions of the original art's gun barrel, which was simply too big and unbalanced an otherwise-excellent design.

First up, we have an update on the interior plate commission taken by David Dryburgh. It looks mighty good and with one tiny change, will be ready to ink and color. It's excellent work, and I am hoping that after I have paid for it, David will consent to take on one more interior plate commission. But of course, that remains to be seen.

Second, we have completed assembling the Record Sheet PDFs for the TRO. There are 168 of them and they represent not just the 'Mechs and Vehicles in the TRO, but the variants mentioned in the writeup (if any). Below are examples of the 'Mech and Vehicle layouts. Those of you who use Heavy Metal Pro (by the excellent Mr. Rick Raisley) will be familiar with these.

I chose these layout formats because they give the most room to do gaming work with the usual pencil and eraser. There are alternate formats which include hit location tables, movement modifiers and so forth, but the primary information area is reduced. This is not an issue with seasoned gamers, but it is worth pointing out that the break points for movement multipliers have changed with the issue of Total Warfare, while the HMP v5 program has not. Version 6 is in the works. However, this extremely sophisticated and highly complex software is the work of a single programmer, much like the early days of computing, and the information he needs to create his program is not all in place (at least one more rulebook to go – with the inevitable errata). Furthermore, like the programmers for the Apple, Commodore and Atari platforms, Rick has a day job and the rest of life to contend with as well.

Note that I chose to issue the Vehicles as double sheets. Many, if not most, of these machines are meant to be deployed in lance strength, so it's just practical to pack as many of them on a sheet of paper as possible.

I have gone through and combed the writeups one more time for formatting errors, making sure that only the information that our layout man needs for his work is present. That involves stripping out some extraneous text and the occasional image left over from the old days, when this was going to be posted on a website and the format was quite different. You would be surprised at how many glitches of this nature slipped by us as we focused on getting the writing done.

Mike Sullivan is doing well, but has problems with getting a steady computer and internet connection (and the time to use them), so the Velite is still in the development stage. Again, his work is of such caliber that I am content to wait until he can deliver. This will probably be his final work, however.

My finances are on an uptick; I should be able to make at least two or three payments this payday, and the balance on next Friday.

Several people are hankering after a look at the TRO, but that will not be possible in its present state. The most I can do is shoot a copy of our most recent pre-production layouts. Meanwhile, I am going to send the final remaining writeups to the proofreaders.

There is the final issue of the remaining commissions. I will look at my paycheck next Friday and determine which of these works I can pay for – up front. The quality of the art produced by my established artists is such that I can pay for them in advance. I have every confidence that they will deliver a solid product in a timely manner. The biggest problem so far has been my ability to get my artists their fees on time, and I don't want to hold things up any further.

Eric has agreed to re-do the Cataphract III, and I eagerly await modifications of his preliminary piece, the Champion II. Some of you may have seen it on the various BattleTech forums, but I have issues with 'busy' sections and he is not happy with the legs. That one is still in the works.

Well, it seems I have run out of things to update! If David agrees to do the final interior plate, I will probably use the Crinos I 'Red' art to grace the cover of the Record Sheet Annex. It needs a cover, after all, and I will probably find myself writing a short introduction to that, as well.

Stay well and thanks for stopping by.


[And for those of you who want to know what the original looked like?]

Friday, October 09, 2009

Good news for TRO 3063 fans!


I have good news for all of you who have been visiting here for the past week, looking, and finding nothing has changed. Of course nothing *has* changed – I told you all a while back that we would be slowing down the tempo as school and fall take their toll on the artist's schedules and my writing takes a back seat to intercontinental moves.

Well, we are over the moves and the first set of exams has been passed. The TRO has accomplished a few milestones:

The writeup edits are done. Oh, lower your eyebrows. We are not absolutely putting up the word processors. Geoff and I will be going through pieces such as the Outworlds Alliance's 'Eragon' (mercifully renamed the Zephyrus) and reworking the text to reflect the new art's propulsion system (hint: it's not a set of helicopter rotors). I have great hopes for Eriance's 'vehicle phase', though the final iteration of the Zephyrus looks as though its pilot were compensating for something with that chin turret. All we need now is a pair of TruckNutz hanging from the fuselage, know what I mean?

But the integration of the 'Mechs and Vehicles with the world of 3063 is pretty much done. And that is what the editing was all about. I am still waiting for some input from my proofers – or are they waiting for me to get off my fat ass and send something new? Well, I will iron it out tonight and Saturday.

All of which is to say the textual content is nearly finished.

On the art scene, much has been accomplished. There are still four pieces which remain to be commissioned, but Lee Madison has rewarded my patience with roughs of the Horatio Bridgelayer and the Mastodon Mineflail Tank. Despite strong temptation, I have held back from posting them here – despite their ravishing good looks, they are not finished, I have not paid for them and the artist would probably prefer to have his best work on display.

Another piece by David Dryburgh is the final interior plate, something I did not think would see the light of day. Suffice to say that David has done stellar work, and all the corrections and changes I have ordered on the initial sketch arise from my own poor skills at imagining a scene. He has created what I asked for. However, what I asked for was not as well-thought-out as it should have been. We should have things in a place where he does not have to start over and I get an image which conveys a particular mood to the viewer. The man has phenomenal talent and a knack for facial expression which is quite impressive.

We've added another 'Mech! I know, I know.... but this one was Geoff's suggestion and to his credit he came up with the rough draft. This one is new, based on an existing design and which originally appeared as a mention in the Comstar Champion's 'Variants' section. The Word of Blake normally gets no love from anyone (I hates them too), but this is their baby and it is a mean sonofabitch. Seventy tons and based on the Champion design, the Champion II mounts an experimental heavy PPC, three ER medium lasers and three Streak SRM-6s. Moving at 5/8/0, it carries 92% of the maximum armor and incorporates Triple Strength Myomer. It will be one tough customer and I believe Eriance will have the pleasure of illustrating this beast.

Good news for you folks waiting for yo money; I am sending out the final payment to JP Sphagnum and another installment for Eriance. Lee has been waiting for the pristine Dougram Tequilagunner model (1/64th scale) and he will have it soon. However, I am waiting for my next payday to finish catching up on payments and, funds allowing, will solicit my artists for the final commissions at that time
With things progressing at the current rate, you will have this puppy in your hands by Christmas.

David White is cleaning up some art I sent, mostly the 'dirty' pieces from Vlad (there are several) and will try to sandwich them in between his current workload, which, if I know David, is phenomenal.

Mike Sullivan has gotten to a better position in life and when things settle down a bit more, will provide more solid presentations of the Velite. The rough drafts look good, but they are rough and that is not a priority with him just now. Knowing his talent and having purchased several standout pieces from him already, I am content to wait.

One person has posted a PayPal payment with my button on the upper right of this blog; remember, all you have to do is send a paltry five bucks and you've paid for 20% of a new piece! You probably spend more than that on a McD's meal, so don't be shy! I can really use the help and it WILL accelerate the process.

Winter is setting in and I am getting cold hands working outside in the evening. Tonight was relatively mild, but I have to get myself and the boy off to a pumpkin-carving event up in Poulsbo this evening, so that is all for now.


Almost forgot to mention something we've been working on while the edits and art are developing. Someone mentioned that it would be nice to have stories in the TRO. I can think of no better source of those stories than myself – and no better way to set the TRO back another three months by writing them, editing them and then getting someone to proofread. All with no guarantee that you would like any of them.

Seriously, I have already written something like a hundred stories, each about 750 words long. I should think that would be enough for your poor eyeballs to take in.

So no, I am not going to supply short stories. Let that be Catalyst Games' little bonus for each of their new publications. I am concentrating on the interior plates. That is quite enough.

Still... there is a need for something which not many TROs have had up until this point, and that is a record sheet for each of the 'Mechs and Vehicles. I know how tiresome it can be to keep one eye on the TRO while the other is on a copy of Heavy Metal Pro, all the while trying to type in the approximate stats for that particular design. I specifically chose the format we are using in the TRO:3063 because it is essentially that of HMP itself, and contains all the data in one short space that you would need to copy the design.

However, simply providing the record sheets for each entry in PDF format is a much better idea and quite simple for me. After all, I have the design sitting in HMP and just waiting to be run through Acrobat Distiller. So I started a week ago to load the designs up and print them out. While I was doing this, I shot a letter off to our layout man, James Devlin, and asked if this was feasible. He responded with a definite 'yes', so the idea of adding the record sheets to the TRO took another step towards reality.

Unfortunately, we are looking at what I expect will be a twenty-megabyte file when the online PDF version of the TRO is complete. The print version will probably be less due to the simpler graphics involved, but still, it's going to be something you can't attach to the average email and send off. You are going to have to download it from somewhere, probably a BattleTech website. Adding the record sheets at 92k bytes each would come to another ten megabytes, swelling the TRO to a beast which would take a long time to download unless you were blessed with a cable modem or a T1 connection.

But what if the PDF record sheets came in their own little book?

Well, then you could download them if you wanted them, and leave them if you just wanted the TRO for its graphics and so forth. Furthermore, the standalone nature of the Record Sheet Book would mean I could add more value for those who chose to grab it.

What value?

Well, there is a 'Variants' section for nearly every entry in the TRO, and in most of these sections you will find mention of at least a few alternatives to the listed 'Mech or Vehicle. Some of these actually made it as far as the HMP design stage when I was testing them as viable machines. Others are just ideas we tossed in – something that seemed likely to be useful but did not warrant extended research to justify its inclusion in the 'fluff'. None of them have any real stats as written, and if you wanted to include them in a game, you'd have to come up with a design based on those skimpy notes.

What I propose to do is this: go through the TRO and ferret out all the variants mentioned, generate them as working units in HMP, then print them out in PDF and add them as extras to the Record Sheet Book. That way, every single 'Mech or Vehicle along with all the mentioned variants will be available for the interested gamer. It will probably add up to a hundred and fifty record sheets, all totaled.

I hope you think this is a good idea, because it is what we are going to do.

Thanks for stopping by.


Friday, October 02, 2009

TRO:3063 - the last few commissions

Hello to all.

I have finally gotten a firm grip on my finances. Payments for everyone! Eriance, JP – you’re all going to get your dough. Yay!

Geoff has moved from House ‘Mechs to the Periphery. Unfortunately for my writing, he has gutted a couple of the writeups. Fortunately for the TRO, he has… gutted a couple of the writeups. Yes, they needed gutting, not because they were uninteresting stories, but because they were interesting stories – just, you know, not appropriate for a TRO. In trying to shoehorn the Reader’s Digest Condensed version of ‘Hunter’s Paradise and What We Found There’ into a 750-word limit, I neglected to include very much about the TRO entry itself – the BattleMech known to Solaris VII fans as ‘Death Incarnate’.

Geoff fixed that good. Once I got over my distress at losing the writeup, I agreed with his changes. I usually do. It needed polishing – Geoff has blind spots just like I do – but I knew what he was shooting for and just tightened the script a bit. Still a pretty good story.

A friend of mine said that he’d read the previous TRO we did, the TRO:3062, and even that had more interesting stories attached to the ‘Mechs than the average Catalyst or FanPro TRO. Of course he is biased in my favor, but I rely on Bill to shoot it to me straight when it comes to the writing. See, he’s not a big fan of fluff in general, so I know if he has a comment, it’s usually pithy and to the point. He doesn’t like to linger over what amounts to fanfic. It’s encouraging, especially as this TRO is heaps and heaps better written than the 3062.

Lee Madison responded (at last!) and we are on a more even keel. He is working on his two commissions. I look forward to great things from this man – which is why I’ve stuck by him even after two months of silence.

Eric is currently schoolin’ and that is priority numero uno. However, he has taken a commission on a VTOL and we will see what he cooks up. All I can say is that it will not be a helicopter, and it will NOT be name ‘Eragon’. I am also going to approach him on bended knee and ask for a redo of the Cataphract III, which I have looked at over and over for the past three days. I still find it visually confusing and my friend Bill agrees. I may also commission Eric to do a tank, if he is willing to give it a try.

No response from Mike and the Velite yet, but he has sent a rough draft of the turret so that is something. He has other things on his mind and frankly, he is another artist who is so good that I am willing to wait.

I am going to pay my artists and then I will set up the next (and final) round of vehicle commissions. There are four:

- Striker II - a FWL medium wheeled tank with a 4-ton infantry bay. The existing turret is too derivative of the original Striker art and must be replaced. I would like to retain the rest of the vehicle’s outlines, however.

- Panther – a tracked heavy tank, this features twin PPCs and dual SRM-4 launchers. The art is inadequate for the purpose of this TRO and must be redone, preferably in an action setting.

- Sarpedon – another FWL design, this is a tracked medium tank with a gauss rifle. The art is inadequate for the purpose of this TRO and must be redone, preferably in an action setting.

- Jian MMTV – this is a wheeled medium mobile tactical vehicle which has a 4-ton infantry bay, four Streak-4 missile launchers and a set of firing ports for the embarked infantry. It is too derivative of Mike Sulllivan’s work and must be redone, hopefully retaining the general outlines of the original art.

There! That should wrap up the loose ends. I will probably come across some other stuff that needs re-doing, but this is contingent on my funds. I am rapidly approaching the $2000 mark for art expenditures, but anyone visiting these pages will agree that I have been getting good art for the money.

On a side note, I listen to conservative talk radio in the morning (mostly Glenn Beck) and NPR in the afternoon, on my rides to and from work. I like to think I have achieved a kind of balance. However, I’ve noticed some disturbing patterns with both.

Conservative talk radio hosts actually only talk for about a half hour of each hour of programming. The rest is advertising, and it’s not very encouraging advertising at that. The bulk of it seems to be aimed at stupid people. I mean, really, when the man on the radio repeats the phone number no less than seven times, you know the target audience is not very bright. Or discerning. The ads themselves are usually aimed at people in deep trouble with their mortgage, their credit cards or the IRS.

NPR, on the other hand, tries to aim at the liberal highbrow audience. They deny any bias whatever, but I have my suspicions. Why do I think they give the news with a liberal bias? Well, one example was when a interviewer repeatedly used the word ‘harsh’ instead of the word ‘strict’ when referring to another fellow’s honest attempt to repay his medical bills on an installment basis. I know NPR is choosing those words deliberately to make me feel pity for the interviewee, who is in the same boat as the rest of us. And I resent being manipulated, especially with buzzwords.

I’m just sayin’.