Sunday, November 22, 2009

Contact is made, the art rolls in… and a free bonus Rant!

Hello, all.

This has been a sparse week for accomplishing things. Still, progress continues.

Eric Ou has submitted the final Lyran Panther tank and the Draconis Combine’s Sentinel. Jeff Kamper has proofread three writeups, including the final Sentinel and I have incorporated his changes. Eric presented me with the sketch for the new Capellan Dao tank and it looks really good. Some weeds and rocks and it should be ready to ink.

Ian finished the Free Worlds League’s Sarpedon tank and I have asked him to take another commission for another Free Worlds League machine, the Ocelot II. Its current art is too derivative of Mike Sullivan’s online 3D work.

Excellent news! After having gone ten rounds with the dreaded Swine Flu, our layout man James Devlin has surfaced. I am not certain how soon he will be able to begin working on layouts, but at least we are in touch again. And that means everything to me, as he has all the layouts, fonts, software and talent for making this collection of art and writing a proper TRO.

I submitted a tentative layout to an online Print-on-Demand publisher. Hardback, 230 pages, four color plates and the rest in black and white, 8.5 x 11 landscape. The result is daunting – for 25 copies, it will run about $40 each. That is a lot of money for me, and a lot to charge folks for what is basically a non-essential publication which will never be a part of BattleTech canon. Don’t get me wrong – it conforms to the existing storyline and timeline quite well. But the company will not admit that any of these machines exist in their universe. That isn’t a problem either, but the price remains quite high for a book of this nature.

So I went down to FedEx Kinko’s to print out a sample of a PNG file printed with full bleed in color. And while I was there, I approached them about producing this TRO with a Perfect binding (same as the standard company products). They promised they would call me with a quote for twenty copies, or whatever the break point is. I know they can do most of the work in-house, with the Perfect binding done by an outside contractor. It can’t hurt. It’s not likely to be any more expensive than the TRO:3062, which was in full color with a spiral binding, and ran about $35 each for four copies. It’s local. And they work with the PDF file, so I won’t have to buy software to convert every page to a PNG file (which looks okay with full bleed, but I still wish the letters were a bit larger).

David Dryburgh has submitted another sketch of the final interior plate. He and I are working out the details on this one – I may be asking too much of my artist in terms of what will be clearly visible in the picture. So I have provided the bare essentials of the image I am trying to convey, and leave it up to him as to how it will be done.

I’ve also asked him to do some small interior filler pieces, having been favorably impressed with some bits he did which have popped up here and there on the BattleTech forums. I did not know they were his until I connected ‘Razi’ with his website…

Finally, the page count is done and I find the TRO will run 230 pages, not counting the covers. That’s 115 double-sided sheets – a bit larger than the regular TROs.

That's the update. Those of you who came for it, can stop reading now. The rest is stuff I feel I have to get off my chest...

Rant the First - Blowing a fuse on the Forums….

I seem to be on some sort of hair-trigger as the holidays arrive. I thought perhaps it’s the TRO deadline, but that has been going as scheduled. It might be the days, which are getting darker and shorter, but I’ve been through this 48 times, and you’d think I would be accustomed to it. But something is going on, and it’s starting to affect the way I see and respond to events and people.

I voted on the BattleTech Universe a few days back for some art contest, nose art I think. I gave what I considered diplomatic but honest feedback. I was immediately warned not to post ‘negative comments’ and that was when I blew a fuse in the ol’ temper.

I erased my vote, replacing it with a petulant response unworthy of a man my age – or any age, for that matter. I cooled off later and retro-modified the post, but of course, the damage was done. A quick check with a friend of mine on that forum suggests that I overreacted.

Yeah, you could say that.

Furthermore, he volunteered that he’d seen a change in me over the past year and a half. Now, I presume this change is bad; despite their attempts to quash ‘negative feedback’ on the forum, the fact remains that people rarely volunteer to tell you your personality has improved. After all, that implies you possibly were an unpleasant git in the recent past - and that opens up a can of worms best left in the pantry.

So that leaves me with the concern that my son raised earlier this month. He told me that I was beginning to sound more and more like the people with whom I work, an interesting bunch in the Chinese sense of the word. I fear the company I keep is affecting me, rendering me less and less willing to let things roll off my back.

Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to let me know if I say something offensive. The most pernicious part of this change is that either I don’t notice its effects or I justify my more offensive actions as something I have earned the right to perform. This is manifestly not the case.

Bonus Rant!

Someone, Doug I think, suggested I begin working on the writing for TRO:3073 in order to overcome my anxiety at not having any writing to do now that the work for the TRO:3063 is done. He means well, I am sure.

Eh. Let's get this one out first. This TRO began in an attempt to address a large (seven years!) gap in the BattleTech TRO timeline. The next TRO, 3067, established production of a lot of new technology. Eight years later, TRO:3075 introduced still newer stuff.

To be honest, I did TRO:3062 without knowing the slightest thing about the BattleTech timeline and it was done without the benefit of the new rules set. There were a lot of embarrassing blunders, especially in the use of technology that in 3062 simply did not exist in a form worth fielding. Sounds strange, but I can barely stand to look at it now. Too many glaring mistakes that I want to go back and fix. It's like an itch on my back that I can't scratch.

I know better now. I still am ignorant, but at least I have co-writers who spot the anachronisms and we either come up with a good reason they're there, or we drop them.

This is possible for us because we are operating in a section of time the developers appear to have largely finished. I don't have to second-guess them; what they wanted to say is out on paper already. Unfortunately (and I have mentioned this in a blog post already) the closer we get to the 'current' timeline (3075ish), the tougher it is to figure out which way the company writers will go. What will the developers want from their fictional universe? What will we be allowed - yes, allowed - to say about any given thing from vehicles to 'Mechs to personalities, states and events? One misstep is all it takes to invalidate the entire thing.

I may have already made that misstep with the TRO:3063. Time will tell. For the serious BattleTech maven, finding one or two anachronisms is like finding one or two pieces of art that have been blatantly copied from someone else's work - the whole thing becomes a big vanity project no player or reader of BattleTech should take seriously.

Look how much crap the original company-produced work takes *to this day* over mistakes, retcons, 'adjustments' and piss-poor art standards. I've spent thousands of dollars on art to make sure this TRO is well-received and actually used, thousands of hours writing it to ensure a level of reading which is close to that produced by the company itself.

Did you know that I secretly sent at least ten 'Mech designs out to actual gaming groups to see how the designs would hold up when performing according to their mission profile? Oh, of course not! It was a secret. But yes, that is what I did. I test-drove the Vulcan, the Durendal, the Forge and several others. Most of them came through successfully; those that did not were changed and the writeups modified. Several were lauded by the gaming group testing the design and several players went so far as to try capturing a working example - so they could field it on their side of the table!

How many of the machines the company designed back in the day were play-tested? I have no idea. Maybe all of them. Maybe a few. Maybe none. (My bet is with 'a few'.)

I've discovered that it's darned difficult to equal the output of folks who've been authors in their own right for decades. It’s tough to find, never mind adequately pay, artists whose work is the equal of that done by men and women who have been making a living creating sci-fi art for the past fifteen to twenty five years. And let’s not forget that I am attempting to replicate the accomplishments of folks whose ability to organize and network far exceeds my own. Their contacts are all industry-related and well established - it intimidates me to the point of depression at times to think I've ever considered this TRO to be remotely in their league.

But those are the bad days, and I persevere. Too late to turn back, you might say.

I just don't look forward to two more years of creating another 'unofficial' book which many readers and players will regard with a condescending nod and a sniff. You know. 'Nice, but it's not canon'. That’s all that seems to matter to them.

I gave up a lot of time with my family and friends over the past two years, and spent a lot of money. I've lost count of the times I froze my fingers while writing, shivering as I relit my cigar and sipped an ice-cold coffee. And when I go on the forums, what do I see?

Folks routinely arguing over fictional events, the possible personal motivations of fictional characters and the unreal performance of fictional weapons and other systems, including BattleMechs themselves. These people have no problem with ripping into real people in a dispute over fictional events. Their cutting remarks are apparently excused by the inordinate importance these... enthusiasts... attach to rationalizing a fictional setting.

Someone once pointed out that quite a few of these things were due not to some twisted logic, the seemingly endless egoism of the various major characters or even the repeated incredible concatenation of events in the BattleTech universe. It was the fault of lazy writers, careless editors and substandard artists. They were ignored, so far as I could tell. So was I when I mentioned the same thing.

My perspective is a healthy one, mind you. I realize there are sour grapes in every bunch, and they all seem to have loads of time to post their exclusively negative opinions on something they themselves would never attempt. And really, how seriously can you take the opinion of someone who has posted thirteen or fourteen times a day, every day, on a single website for the past five years? I knew when I began this TRO, it would eventually be in the public eye - and under the guns of that sort of person. And they seem to have all the time in the world to post ad nauseum just how poor they think the TRO is.

But I find I am less patient with the Canonicity Police than I used to be. Yes, it is important to stay within the lines when drawing a picture of the BattleTech world. But have they ever done aught but criticize? I got very few useful pointers when I shopped the TRO:3062 around - a handful at best. Mostly it was ignored.

It seems like the folks sitting on their butts posting umpteen times a day for years on end are the majority of the people who deign to comment. Who the hell knows if any of them ever even try to use the presented material in a real game? Or how long it's been since they actually played in a regular campaign?

The sad part is, after we spend the time and money and effort, our reward more often than not is the incessant bitching of a bunch of gamer nerds. And after we throw in the towel in disgust, the gamer nerds remain, hoisting their super Big Gulps above their sticky keyboards in triumph.

No wonder the game is relatively unknown amongst the rest of America. Just look at the quality of its most vocal 'ambassadors'!

So no, I don’t think a TRO:3073 or anything like it is in the cards, Doug.

Not right now, anyway.

Thanks for stopping by.



Paint it Pink said...

Well, it is always good to get things off your chest, mostly...

Don't let this stuff eat you up, because at the end of the day it is just a game you enjoy playing. There have been times when I have sworn at Battletech, and I even went away and wrote my own rules, which crashed & burned BTW.

I've been most impressed by your perseverance and dedication to this book, and will try and support it as much as I can, which given that we live half a world apart isn't going to be much.

As for the whole job thing. Yeah, stuff rubs off on you, that's natural, but just take a step back and think about the costs versus the benefits of becoming Mr. Grumpy? I'm pretty sure you will be able to take a step back in due course. Just be kind to yourself, and treat others as you would wish to be treated.

Take care now.

Steven Satak said...

Thanks for the vote of support, Pink.

Yeah, unfortunately, I take a page from the passive-aggressive types I know and keep my displeasure bottled up until it finally comes boiling out.

It does no one any good in that form, and meanwhile I have not done anything to correct the original problem. It may be there *is* nothing I can do about it.

But what I was ranting about? That's the sort of thing that drove Vlad and several others I know away from the game as an outlet for artistic skill and even fun.

The folks on the forum, it's like they never really play the game, they just talk about it. And so their grip on that false reality is pretty weak.

Well, back to my new Dick Francis mystery, 'Silks'. I wonder if he's still go the touch after teaming up with his son for this latest book?


Yukigono said...

Hey there. I'd just like to say I've been eagerly following this project for months. I'm the kind of person who loves fan projects, and the quality that yours brings to the table is beyond any i've seen before. As a result, deviations from the canon don't really bother me at all. Keep on trucking on this quality work. Don't let the gamer nerds keep you down.

Steven Satak said...

And thank you for stopping by, Yuki. I don't think you *will* find any real departures from canon - that was one of the things we writers worked hard to stamp out - but there's plenty of room to tell stories without using one of the Name characters.

Finished that Dick Francis mystery. Pretty good, and his son has helped him keep up to date on the technology. But you know? Human perfidy never quite goes out of fashion. Seems like his heroes take more of a beating in the more recent books than those of the early reads, but these are ripping good tales, and the man do know his horses....


skiltao said...

I like the symmetry between your two rants: they could almost be the opposing viewpoints of a single event.

Us over on the BT forums *can* be an unappreciative bunch. We seem to be more receptive when the OP starts the thread by describing which material he's familiar with, the context he's playing in, the area he wants feedback in, and what level of accuracy and detail he's aiming at. (Nevermind that folk seem to use fewer "social" words ever since playful antics were banished from the main forums).

I'm glad you've gotten so far with your TRO- many do not. It might be worthwhile to write up your experience, obstacles & solutions etc., for anyone interested in following you.

Steven Satak said...

I agree, Skiltao. It does almost look like they are coming from opposing directions. The first states that there's been a change in me, and that this is partly to blame for what happened to me in the related incident.

The second rant would be almost a rebuttal, an insistence that no matter how grumpy I've become, it's not so much my attitude that's degraded as it is my inclination to forgive others their grumpiness. I need to work on that. But the problem remains; no matter how much *I * change, they will be just the same.

Yes, I suppose many of the CBT (and BTU) forum regulars are human and if given a set of parameters, will offer up sterling advice. But then, the rant was not directed at them (or you).
You will recall how much of a beating that writing took when I submitted it to you. Thank you for sticking with it. I am sure the remainder will make you wince a bit - what I do *not* know about writing seems to increase by leaps and bounds with each piece I produce.

However, Louis L'Amour himself wistfully commented near the very end of his long life that he'd worked as a writer for more than fifty years and he was now - just now - getting to be a good one.

It's the ones who offer no advice beyond that of 'not canon' and peck at inconsistencies all out of proportion to the actual impact such flaws have when taken in context with the entire work... that's where I have a problem. I ran on at length not to vent, so much as to give a fuller description of a problem I feel nearly every writer, every artist encounters when they go to the forums.

Eh. Such is the nature of the Internet, I suppose.


EastwoodDC said...

Maybe you should re-post your original rant here? Blogs are good for that.
I too find myself becoming "grumpier" with age, less willing to accommodate those I think are wrong, and wanting to express my own contrary views. I am also trying to broaden my views by seeking out opinions I do not necessarily agree with, hopefully to learn something I did not know before.

IMO, if two intelligent people cannot find any topic on which they disagree, then one or both of them are not really trying. People should disagree from time to time, and if they are sincere they will be able to resolve why they disagree and come to a better answer. That's what I tell people I work with when the occasional argument arises - we should be arguing sometimes, because we care about the right answer - it does not mean we are not friends.
So go ahead and post what you think; your friends should be happy to disagree with you. :-)

Steven Satak said...

"People should disagree from time to time, and if they are sincere they will be able to resolve why they disagree and come to a better answer."

Yes, I totally agree with that... as long as the two are genuinely interested in the common goal. I've misread that so many times at work I could cry. You walk in, sit down, go to work and sooner or later express something during the course of the business at hand and the next thing you know, you're involved in a 'discussion'. Which is fine, as I only want answers sufficient to continue my work. But it keeps going, on and on, even after I've stopped talking, and sometimes explodes into something quite different. That's when I find myself in the boss's office, quietly explaining my side of a situation I apparently badly misread.

What I mistakenly took for an honest request for information was an attempt to feed another's ego. What they took from my honest request for information was, again, an attempt to feed my ego - to prove myself 'better', or to prove them wrong. Either way, the motivation and goals have nearly nothing to do with the job at hand and everything to do with egos.

These workplace experiences have seasoned my feeling for that sort of 'discussion'; there are warning signs, you see. And I find the same sorts of bells going off on the BT forums as well. There is more than an honest, open dialogue (as the liberal might phrase it), there is a vested interest in the status quo, an investment of the ego and when two people disagree, most times it's a polite discussion. But sometimes it's most assuredly not. When passions are easily aroused (and they are quite often), the ego is operative.

And logic flies out the window. Along with any hopes of reaching a 'satisfactory conclusion' which does not involve verbally grinding the other person to paste.

If I wanted that I would visit Internet Infidels more often.