Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Story behind the Story....



Welcome!

I have been busy the past few days, but here is another blog post.

I sent Dan a copy of the TRO mockup which our layout man created. Dan passed this on to another writer, Chris, a fellow who’d been instrumental in the creation of the Marian Hegemony. He had the following question concerning the Hegemony’s Catapult:

…Guess I would like to see an explanation of why you went to an ERLL and 20 rack as an upgrade. Why was the profile of the ‘Mech changed so drastically? That seems like a major upgrade into an entirely different type of ‘Mech than a simple upgrade of the C1.

Now, I pondered this and went back to the writeup to see if I could establish what lay behind a simple support ‘Mech’s conversion into a jack-of-all-trades. I discovered this was not possible, not in depth, because too much of the remaining writeup would suffer. But I dropped a few bits in here and there, and Dan assures me it is enough.

The designs in this TRO came from Vlad, for the most part. A few are submissions given to me back when I was looking to establish a modest section on ‘special’ ‘Mechs intended for Solaris Seven or mercenary use. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many takers and the quality of the material was somewhat poor. I dropped the idea, but kept a small section for Mercenaries anyway.

Vlad’s designs came with no notes. I had to come up with a backstory for each one, and base the writeup on that. Some of the backstory made it into the text (in some cases, too much made it in), the text was massaged, and that was that.

But Chris highlights the function of proofer admirably, asking a question most of us writers thought was self-evident – until another look at the text proved it was not.

I responded to Dan with the following from my notes on the Catapult:

[The purchase was of obsolete or surplus BattleMechs. It did not matter which one; the purchasing agents were instructed to focus on tonnage and quantity. Condition was a distant third because the WOB-backed Hegemony was prepared to repair whatever was broken. In fact, the poorer shape the 'Mech and its warload were in, the better, as the price could be dickered down - and it would all be ripped out anyway. As to deviating from the original mission profile, again, the machine’s original purpose was only broadly considered. Hegemony planners already knew what they needed in a 'Mech. They just had to get their hands on some raw material.

Keep in mind the Hegemony’s shortage of ‘Mechs across the board. The C6 is a classic ‘Vindicator’ approach, attempting to cover as many missions as possible with a single machine. Unlike the Capellan Vindicator, the C6 is large enough to carry a warload that makes this approach reasonably effective in a single unit. It has a single large missile rack for indirect fire, mine-laying and artillery-style missions. It has a single large beam weapon for long-range sniping of smaller units and standard beat-down of units its own size. This gun is independent of ammo supply lines, as you (Dan) noted, and so is the next set of weapons. The four ER medium lasers are set physically to fire as a group. They handle close-in engagements, especially vehicles, quite well.

Note that the assignment of double heatsinks allows the C6 to fire its ER large laser and four ER medium lasers at once, while on the run, with only moderate heat buildup. This is no accident; neither is the increase of armor, a fifteen percent advance over the C1.]

I must confess at this point that Chris and Dan’s comments actually provoked a minor re-design of the CPLT-C6, upgrading it further to ferro-fibrous armor and ER medium lasers and adding another heat sink, which the version they saw simply did not have. This is what feedback from the readers is all about, especially readers with the experience and background that Chris and Dan have in abundance. I rarely balk at changes to the text, or even the design, as they are simply a matter of rethinking the intent of the ‘Mech and doing some heavy typing. Art has already been dealt with, as it is expensive. I got it out of the way first for that reason.

My son John participated in the SeaFair Torchlight parade on Saturday. He and his drum instructor carried the bass section for the Pacific Alliance Drum Corps. Check out the link below: the short drummer with the big drum in the back is my son.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meGVpgJsDXg

Man, did he sound good!

Until next post, take care and thank you for stopping by.

Steve

The 100th Machine makes its debut...



Hello there!


Gosh, it sure has been hot the past few days here in Bremerton. It is now 2215 and I am still sweating outside at the table as I type this. Temperatures are still in the mid-80s, although hopefully it will drop down into the upper 60s later tonight. We had to shut the house to maintain cooler temps, but the day peaked at 100 degrees and when I got home, it was at least 87 inside the house. Still much cooler than outside.

We turned the housing ventilation fan on about 2000, and things are slowly cooling off. But it is distracting, to say the least. I was hoping for warm weather, but this is ridiculous.

In TRO news, Geoff turned in the edited Diatryma, Leopard, Uragan and Werewolf, as well as the back cover text. They look very good and are ready to go to the proofers.

Dan Eastwood was kind enough to proofread the Catapult, Velite and Centaurus. He made several good catches, especially the part about ‘transfer of technology’; it is what I meant, but I did not say it. Most changes have been made, and the writing tightened up on the Velite and Centaurus. I give thanks to Paul for the sharper eye I bring to each piece.

While pondering the lack of hi-rez art for the Fox, I took a look at the writing for the Federated Commonwealth’s Fox upgrade and discovered quite a few things which needed smoothing. I may have to go into Vehicles again in the next few days and see what else is in that condition. Again, I believe the new eye Paul loaned me is responsible for this.

There are only thirteen designs left which lack art. I know that sounds like a lot, and it is, but they are nearly all commissioned to artists and it is just a matter of time. The following is a status report on the unfinished art:

Vehicles:

Diatryma armored car [commissioned to Jeremy]
Leopard attack helicopter w/ infantry bay [commissioned to Jeremy]
Horatio Bridgelayer [commissioned to Lee]
Mastodon Minesweeper [commissioned to Lee]
Cortes Light Tank [commissioned to Lee]
CM-33 Ammo carrier [commissioned to Daniel]
Zhukov II – [commissioned to JP]
Crinos I – [commissioned to Mike]
***NEW*** - Fox – [commission not assigned]

‘Mechs:

Culverin – commissioned to Eriance, sketched.
Fedcom Centurion – commissioned to Eriance for correction
Blackjack – commissioned to JP.
***NEW*** – Argus – [commission not assigned. 100th addition to TRO.]

Excepting the new additions, the estimated cost of this art will be about $300, bringing the total spent on art to about $1500.

On the topic of money, I have decided to drop the two additional interior color plates. We won’t have the extra $200 to spend on them. They have been bouncing around in my head for over a year, but will probably never see the light of day. To compensate (slightly), I have added another ‘Mech to the Mercenaries section. It is battle-tested and a good addition to any gamer’s stable of BattleMechs. Like the Nimravus, this one was designed by my son from a stock ‘Mech (a requirement of our gamemaster) and has been run intensively in our game for nearly a year. It is different enough from the stock models and effective enough to warrant inclusion in the TRO.

The Argus AGS-3D is a blend of the AGS-2D and a new machine coming off assembly lines in 3062 (the AGS-4D). It is based on an AGS-4D captured from House Davion, but has been modified to carry a warload similar to the AGS-2D and combines it with the close-combat potential of the newer machine.

This will be the 100th (and final) machine featured in the TRO.

The Fox lacks hi-rez art and will not be getting any from the original source, so I am going to put it up for commission. Let me know if you are interested.

Our projected publishing date is late September. This is after GenCon, of course. Hopefully nothing will appear to necessitate changes in our written material, but anything can happen.

Thanks for stopping by.

Steve

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Running the gauntlet and a confession...





I did not think I would have a reason to post anything before early next week, but while waiting to go to Seattle to see the Torchlight Parade (it kicks off SeaFair and my son is in one of the marching bands), I thought about some of the designs in the TRO. And I have been reading Tactical Operations.

I have mentioned a few times that one of a BattleTech fan-writer’s biggest fears is that the author (or authors) of the original canon material will change something fundamental in the game while the fan project is still in the works. Sometimes it happens, and there is nothing you can do. Sometimes it happens, and you have a chance to change the entries before they get to print. And sometimes you get a look at something that completely invalidates your work and there is nothing to do but sigh and either wash your hands of the project – or start over.

We have been lucky. Our writers have had access to nearly all the printed BattleTech material of recent years and between that and sharp-eyed proofreaders, we’ve hopefully managed to avoid most of the usual pitfalls. But there are unpleasant surprises. I looked at the Mastodon Minesweeper just this afternoon after reading TacOps, and briefly panicked at the thought of introducing a dedicated mine flail tank in an era of mine-clearing missiles. Talk about a mis-match!

Then I saw the introduction date of the mine-clearing missiles (3069 with the Federated Suns) and breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, we could mount missile racks on the Mastodon, but it is a bit much to believe the Free Worlds League designers could anticipate such an advance and equip their machine to comply in 3063. In 3070, sure. But by then they probably have more pressing things to develop.

And so it goes.

All of our designs are going to experience this lag. We are uncomfortably close to Catalyst Games’ current take on the BT universe, introducing as we do several experimental weapons only whispered about when the designs were created back in late 2007. It has been a constant battle, combing through the writeups again and again to pick out bits which no longer conform to canon.

Dan brought up a question the other day; I used the phrase ‘extended range heavy laser’ to describe an ER Large Laser. I have done this on a few pieces, not many. He was confused because a heavy laser is a Clan weapon, and I was describing an Inner Sphere design.

Now, I have been trying like blazes to avoid a sin we committed with TRO: 3062, that of using game terms to describe things ‘in universe’ – that is, a TRO entry written by fictional characters and aimed at fictional readers. ‘ER Large Laser’ is game terminology; in universe, I had seen manufacturers describe their Large Lasers as ‘heavy’ lasers, so I went with that as a way to get away from the game-reference stigma. Time will tell whether or not there is more confusion on the part of readers. Suspension of disbelief is important, but erring on the one hand (using ‘heavy’) to offset another potential error (using the game term ‘large’) is a tricky thing. I guess we’ll find out when the other proofreaders render judgment.

Meanwhile, I have a confession to make.

I said before that we were not in the business of inventing new worlds, cultures or timelines. We are here to get new stuff out that is worth reading, playing and looking at. But I forgot that I have done exactly that thing, and was reminded of it today when Geoff turned in the edits on the Diatryma and the Eragon. I thought it likely the Outworlds Alliance would trade with other Periphery States, even ones located all the way across the Inner Sphere. Specifically, the Marian Hegemony. After all, the OA gets BattleMechs from the Free Worlds League – how much of a stretch is that? Geoff disagreed and I ultimately backed his choice of replacement text. It is pushing things to assume the OA is buying rocket launchers from the Hegemony, and while it reads well, I might be adding details which conflict with canon the further I get from the current sources. And that does not serve the story.

However, a second issue was my reference to Syrinx, a world a little bit ‘east’ of Delos IV on the Federated Commonwealth’s edge with the Periphery. Go ahead, look. Delos IV is there, but Syrinx is not, and so Geoff changed things to another location.

I changed it back.

This is probably the first and only time I have nixed his changes, and for a very personal reason. I wrote a few stories around some characters for BattleTech fiction a while back, and as I didn’t have the resources at the time to determine the nature of the worlds in the FedCom ‘Outback’, I picked a location a little outside the border and established a new world there. Syrinx is the setting for at least three stories, and while the characters are not world-gobbling maniacs or stoic warriors hunting for ‘death or glory’, I am wroth to give that world up. So no, Syrinx does not exist on any Inner Sphere map and yes, I invented it. It’s a pretty quiet place, except for the occasional solar storm and Periphery pirate raids. You will only see it twice, briefly mentioned in the Centaurus and the Diatryma entries.

Someone out there will have problems with it. That someone may ask ‘there are plenty of undocumented worlds which already exist on the map – why are you making a new one?’ Well, here is your answer.

Thanks for stopping by.

Steve



A summary of the week...




Hey howdy!

The past few days have brought some additional edits on Periphery Vehicles by Geoff; additionally, he tackled the Federated Commonwealth’s Cheyenne III and Dragonfly. These last two have been tweaked for readability and accuracy, including the technical bits which describe the unique lift arrangements. The Cheyenne is modeled on the Bell XF-109, among others. The Dragonfly is modeled on a tail-sitting French design, the Coleoptere. Both read quite well and are based on actual machines which might have worked quite well if blessed with the fruits of 31st century technology.

They look even better now that artist Mike Sullivan has finished working on them. ‘Sweet’ does not begin to describe these pieces; you will have to see for yourself what this man hath wrought. He begged me to give him a break from VTOLs, which is fine since there are none left to illustrate. I will send him the Crinos I tank. A quad track design, I think it will be intriguing to see what he creates.

Our inimitable Lee Madison has been hard at work, but real life issues have forced a bit of a break. He is currently creating the Cortes and the preliminary sketches look good. It is not easy to make a six-ton tank look effective in 3063, but he is pulling it off with panache.

The Pea-man has also been busy working on the Leopard VTOL, a conventional rotorcraft whose art is anything but run-of-the-MIL.

I have issued emails to our other artists for an update on their progress; there should be some response in the next day or two. Forgive me if I lapse and forget the initiative is on my side (ie: I was the one who was supposed to contact you with the feedback or new writeup) . Losing the main computer along with all my tools is a bit of a shock. However, all of it was backed up to a thumb drive and that is my working platform for now.

Our layout man, Jim Devlin, has sent me a two-page mock-up of the layout art. There are some issues and fine-tuning to be done, as might be expected. It looks really good, though white letters on a dark background will play hob with the printed version. We’ll work things out.

One benefit of the two-page mockup is that I discovered issues with the writeups he used and have gone back to correct them. Otherwise, his presentation of the designs was excellent, especially the section which lists information in the same format used by Rick Raisley’s Heavy Metal Pro and Heavy Metal Vee building programs. It should be a snap for folks to enter this data into their own copies of HMP and HMV (and others like them) should they care to use the TRO’s machines in their own game.

Wow, it’s sprinkling out. About time.

I finished the text for the back of the TRO. Sent it off to Geoff for the usual butche… er, editing. No, really, he will take what I am shooting for and improve on it immeasurably. Speaking of things which cannot be measured, Dan Eastwood of the blog Giant Battling Robots has kindly tweaked my Trebuchet writeup (all to the good, naturally) and even gone in and brought the art up to par with the listed warload. It looks nice. And since what he added was round and very like a balloon, I am 100% behind it. Medals for everyone! If you want a look, go over to his blog and have a look at the latest post. I think he did a great job, and you have to look really hard to see what was changed (hint: the MRM launcher tubes in the left arm).

He did so well, in fact, I have debated sending him more writeups; effectively he will be another proofreader. Yes, I know. We already have some. Well, a few more won’t hurt, as there are 99 pieces to work through. We’re only about half way there in terms of ready-to-press writing. What do you say, Dan?

I have an up-to-date list of the people I owe for finished work and all debts will be paid by 31 July 2009. No, really. The check is in the mail!

Right. Well, my Inbox is distressingly empty and the weekends are not known to be especially productive in terms of finished work rolling in, so until next Monday or Tuesday, take care and be well. Have a good weekend and thank you for stopping in.

Steve

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Well, the day was not a complete wash...




Darn it! Took the day off to see the VA man, found that I did not possess a complete copy of my medical records. I will have to get them from the Naval Records people, and that will take more time. Turning the house upside down and cussing a lot did not help.

Got the computer to the shop, at best it’ll cost me $150, but the motherboard is still under warranty (if that is the problem). Worst case scenario is about $250. I will probably get it back near the end of the month, God and my paycheck willing. I am in a good job but overtime is a thing of the past. I had to work two Saturdays a month and an hour extra each day, but I liked the extra pay (33% more!).

Just shot some corrections on the Dragonfly off to Mike. Smooth down the cockpit, add louvered intakes, the usual stuff. We are working with a very basic CAD drawing, so no more pulling of the hair when something does not come out just right. A couple keystrokes and whammo! there you are. I was even able to get into my painting program and modify the sketch to illustrate what I meant, and I have no drawing skill whatever. It probably shows; sorry, Mike.

The Captain (one of our proofreaders, Jeff) should be a very happy Kamper – he caught an egregious (love that word) error in the writeup and design of the Kuritan Nemera, an infantry support tank. In short, the design/writeup did not match the art by a long shot! Congratulations, Jeff! And thank you!

Please don’t ask how that got by me and Geoff. Now you know why we have proofreaders.

I went back in and massaged the design, tweaked the writeup to reflect the new warload and that was it. All fixed. Now the Nemera sports an XL engine, an HPPC, a single ten-tube MRM launcher, an anti-missile system and no less than eight Talos-4 short range missile racks! It is actually more imposing than before. Also much more expensive, but whaddaya gonna do?

As a side note to those of you who think 3/5 is just too dang slow? Top end equals nearly thirty five miles an hour, not bad considering the vehicle in question weighs sixty-five tons. Trouble is, a BattleMech of the same tonnage can make up to 50 + mph. One more reason why the ‘Mech rules the battlefield, but hey, if you are going up against anything else, it’s plenty fast. It’s tough to remember to think of these machines from an infantry (and not a Mechwarrior) viewpoint, but give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Seems we’ve caught the attention of some established BattleTech fans; the author of the blog GiantBattlingRobots weighed in with a few comments and a link. Since he goes by the nym ‘Trebuchet’ over at BattleTech.com, I sent him a copy of the writeup and art for the new Trenchbucket the Kuritans are fielding. He wants to ‘blog’ on it; I am somewhat of a noob regarding the ‘blog-o-sphere’, so I have no idea what he intends. Something good, I hope. Anything can happen; what I want to know is, “will there be balloons?” Balloons would be cool.

Anyway, if he intends to comment on it, you might want to skedaddle over there and take a look. He might trot out the actual writeup, or maybe just the art. No telling what the man has up his sleeve. But everything (even BattleMechs) goes well with balloons. Pretty, pretty balloons.

I also returned the Leopard sketch with suggestions; my apologies to Pea-man for the harangue on AD&D in modern culture. (Don’t ask). And finally, Geoff turned in some additional edits on the Periphery vehicles, meaning that they are close to being finished.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Steve

A day off... and the update.

Hello!

Well, I took a day off. Principle reason? Taking my military medical records down to the VA man and seeing if I can get a disability allowance. My fellow retirees say I should have done that back in 2003, when I retired, but back then, the TAPS class instructor was adamant – the gummint was not gonna pay me twice for my service, so a successful disability claim would only mean my retirement pay would shift in source, not in the amount I got each month. I could not get paid 30% disability (assuming they gave me even that for my poor knees) AND a full retirement check each month.

Well, word has it that changed late last year, so it’s off to the VA office to begin the process. Wish me luck.

I put off taking the house computer in for servicing because it is gone, but not so far gone that I cannot try transferring files from the desktop to a jump drive. It will require me getting familiar with DOS commands again, but worth not having to pay the computer guy money to drop those same files onto a CD. I may do that in the morning, as Momma is in the way (doing her networking on the laptop in the same spot as the main computer once was). Either way, successful or not, the machine goes into the shop tomorrow.

Oh! That’s right, this blog is supposed to be for the TRO! Sorry.

I got more corrected vehicle files from Geoff, for the Periphery. We also received proofed Draconis Combine vee writeups from Jeff, six in all. I have my work cut out for me this evening. Incoming art? Yes sir, we have sketches of the Outworlds Alliance Leopard VTOL from the Pea-meister and a prototype of the Federated Commonwealth’s Dragonfly from Mike Sullivan.

For those of you who have already completed projects and are awaiting your payment, please be patient. I am going to pay you by the end of the month – as has been mentioned until I (and everyone else) am sick of reading it, I am not a wealthy playboy. But my payment track record so far is good and let’s face it, if I don’t pay, I get no more art and a really bad reputation with talented artists.

However, the car occasionally needs a brake job and computers do conk out. Rest assured, you will all get paid before I pony up for the repairs to the house computer. I can use the laptop for another month or so. I will not post the art on this blog unless you give permission and I will not take ‘ownership’ of it (meaning the hi-rez images I need) until the money is in your hands.

Finally, I am spending a portion of this evening transferring files to a special folder which I will send to Jim Devlin when he gives the thumbs-up on assembling a prototype. For art which is not completed, we will substitute something. Like I said, it will be a mock-up and will not necessarily resemble the finished product. But all the important bits will be in their place, and we can do our figures from that.

Thanks for stopping in, and a special thank-you to the people who post comments on the entries. Your comments and feedback are quite welcome.

Steve

Friday, July 17, 2009

I can't believe it... just can't believe it.

This is a quickie update from my son's computer.

The Cheyenne III VTOL has just rolled in from Mike Sullivan and I nearly crapped my pants when I saw it. It is freaking fantastic. I am going to hold this one in reserve; you will not see it in the header. But rest assured, Mike nailed the bastard.

Did I mention that I liked it? A lot? Well, I do.

UPDATE: Please bear with me. My main computer's motherboard took a crap on me due to heat and insufficient cleaning. It will go in for repairs tomorrow. Meanwhile, updates will be spotty.

Steve

Publishing the TRO...




We have good news on the publishing front; James Devlin reported in and the prognosis is improving. He has assured me that there will be no problem making separate online and print versions. I discussed the feasibility of putting together a complete prototype of the TRO using the materials at hand. Now, there will have to be placeholders for some art pieces which have not been completed (or even commissioned yet), but all the introductions and writeups are there.

No, they are not all proofread, nor even edited by Geoff yet. I was afraid a lot of work would go into making a full-scale mock-up with incomplete parts, as it were, but James may be game for it. Basically, the writeups will go through changes due to various errors being weeded out, event and name corrections and so forth between now and the time we put it all together. However… the word count, stats and the vast bulk of the images will remain the same size, and that is what we are calibrating – the total page count and basic layout / look of the finished book.

Some of you may have caught a glimpse of this project via a very early (2008) prototype of the Vehicle Annex (the former name for this TRO). The writing was basic, with no weapons names, no manufacturers, no limit on the word length and no proofreading. Essentially, it was another TRO: 3062. The images were all from Vlad and in at least four cases (the Lyran Centurion, Griffin, Nightsky and the Free Worlds League Thug) the art has been changed. It was very rough, let me tell you. We used the TRO: 3062 layout and page art. All of that will change over to a new format very similar in look and feel to the TROs recently published by Catalyst Games.

If we go ahead with the mock-up (I have not yet received confirmation from James), I will have a very large prototype TRO on my hands. It will be larger than email can handle, and I may move it to a site where the proofers can download it. That will centralize the entire thing. Rather than frantically shoot off writeups, I can simply direct our proofers to the download site. Each will work on his section and email me the recommended changes.

It seems to be the system Catalyst Games uses and probably works very well. The only problem – and it is not very big – is that Geoff is still editing three-fifths of the writeups. I will have to work around that, incorporating his changes with my own records just as I would a proofer’s (although Geoff typically makes deeper alterations to the writeups than simple sentence and topic clarification).

Another, more serious problem is my determination to get at least three full-color plates inside. We won’t have any fiction for you to read, unfortunately, so this is important. The first is done, another is on the drawing board, and a third is in my head (and quite impressive). However, the money to fund these works – and reliable artists to successfully bring them off – is questionable. I have been in intermittent contact with color artists like Alex Iglesias, but money is the primary issue. David White could pull something like this off in a trice, but it would cost at least $100 to $150 per piece if I was lucky – even with the lesser-known artists.

Anyway… that is how things stand on the subject of assembling the TRO. If James does in fact give me the go-ahead on the mock-up, we will begin by trying out different page layouts and art, color and so forth. It should go quickly and will be much like working with any of our other fine artists – first the rough sketch, then on to the more finalized versions until the piece is acceptable. However, this particular work has over a hundred separate parts, so when James does commit to the mock-up, it’s going to have to be as close as we can make it to the projected final TRO.

I will put the pertinent files on a CD and mail it to him. It will take him a while to get it together. And when he is done, like any mock-up, the beauty will be skin deep. It won’t really fly. There will be unfinished bits here and there. But it should allow us to stand back and get a good idea of what the finished product will look like and how big it is. Then we can go on to figuring out things like print costs.

I just realized I have no text for the back cover. Better get on it, I guess.

Thanks for stopping by.

Steve

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blog hits 1000 and some new stuff appears....




Hey, we have some new reviews turned by Geoff – the Revenant and the Nemera. I have bundled six of the Draconis vehicle writeups and sent them off to the proofreader. Jeff will perform his usual sterling job and return them, hopefully, by Sunday.

David White is gone but not forgotten. I have not heard from Eriance on the Fafnir and the Culverin, but it may take a while, so patience is the key. Lee has turned up a very good sketch of the Cortes light infantry support tank and JP is thumping away on the Blackjack. Mike has re-started the Cheyenne III and we are making excellent progress.

Meanwhile, traffic here has bumped up a bit since the new art was posted – we’ve nearly a thousand hits by the time of this writing and that means this blog is performing its job. I have feedback from my associates that indicates they read each update and that equals timely communications with my fellow artists, writers and proofers. It also means other folks are stopping by to have a look at what you fellows are turning out.

Since no one (except the proofers and artists) can see what we have written, this increased traffic can only mean that the art has stimulated interest in the project. That is good for the artists and good for the TRO itself. Google the phrase ‘TRO: 3063’ and you will see what I mean. Word is getting out. I have also noted several folks on the various Battletech forums expressing an interest in vehicles and ‘Mechs from this period. With Catalyst Games currently working like a gerbil on amphetamines to keep pace with their ambitious production schedule, there probably isn’t going to be anything new in the Civil War era for a while.

That I know of.

I know what the rest of you know - precious little. Like any other fan publisher, I can only hope that this TRO fills a genuine gap and does it well enough to satisfy the fanbase. And of course, I fervently hope Randall and his hard-charging crew do not come up with something in the next year or so which will knock what we have written into a cocked hat. But that is the risk you take when you work outside of the established circles. What makes this TRO different is that we did not begin by trying to invent new history for the BT universe.

Of course, this happened anyway on a small scale – I mean, really, where in canon does it state the production name for the Draconis Combine’s newest toy, the heavy PPC? (I know at least three people reading this are going to raise their hands….) Anyway, we took the name of existing equipment (the Hellstar, produced by New Samarkand Metals) and extended it. Thus, a PPC with a harder-hitting stream of particles became the NeutronStar PPC.

But we did try to blend what is in the TRO into the existing framework, so folks could get the maximum use out of it. Yes, I know – I covered this in an earlier post. Bear with me. We don’t want to tell our version of the BT story, we do not want to invent a new timeline, we simply want to get some good ideas for new vehicles out there. And of course, ‘Mechs.

The ‘Mechs were originally going to be a small addendum to the TRO, something to keep interest stoked in what was otherwise intended to be a helping of love for conventional arms. But this is BattleTech and the big stompy robots grew on us. So now they are a third of the volume – but they still follow the same guidelines as the vehicles. That is, they are useful, likely additions to the battlefield with writeups which illustrate how they got there and how you might use ‘em.

Yeah, well, I guess the proof is in the pudding. No matter how many edits we make, no matter how much research we do, no matter how many glitches the proofreaders catch, no matter how much excellent art we pack in, it will be you guys out there, you fans, who will be the final judges as to whether or not we are successful in our mission.

On a final note, I see the button on my blog offering to ‘monetize’. That means place advertising on my blog which pays me a few pennies for each hit. Or something like that. However, while at least two people have suggested I use that to offset my own costs, I believe it would be tantamount to making a buck off Catalyst Games’ intellectual property, and you all know how I feel about that. Never gonna happen.

Hope you enjoyed your ad-free visit!

Steve


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Saying goodbye to a sterling artist...




Back once again for the Battletech Master
d6 damage with the ill behavior

Okay, so nobody knows who Fatboy Slim is. As my son would say, “Dad, that is just wrong on so many levels’. Never copy the young. Except even Fatboy Slim is getting old. Hope he doesn’t read this blog. Fatboy Steve is in the house.

Not much to report on the wordage front. Geoff hasn’t submitted anything for two whole days, which means his lady probably had him out on a picnic or something. Good for him, I say. I suppose that means it is time to send something out to the proofreaders, so I will collect the works and get them out tonight.

David White submitted his last commission for the TRO today. He will be leaving us with six phenomenal pieces. The final work, a Lyran Griffin, is posted at the top. I am very sorry to see him go – I was hoping to get a couple good vehicles out of him ;) but really, the man earns a ton of money doing this sort of work for the movers and shakers. According to Dave, one of them is now Catalyst Games. It seems he got their attention and they are commissioning new pieces, so we may see more of his fine work in the near future. The pay will be much better, Dave! Thank you for devoting your time and effort to this TRO.

JP has posted the Thug as a finished piece, though there are some bits to tidy up. We are working on the Blackjack and it should be ready by the end of the week. Next up will be a vehicle, either the Horatio or the Mastodon.

The rest of the artists have not yet reported in, but they have their assignments and I am not a micromanager. Or, at least, not a very good one. The Leopard VTOL should be appearing next, if all goes well.

That’s all for today. Thanks for stopping in.

Steve

Monday, July 13, 2009

Art Progress and a Special Note...




Hi.

Sunday brought us a single writeup from Geoff (the Merkava Mk V) with a new Notables section and a few needful additions and changes.

We also received the final draft of the Forge, which Jim is sick of looking at. He’s been working on it for quite a while now, and the bugs were finally run out of it. Looks pretty good to me, Jim, but I haven’t been staring at it as long as you have!

I shot a message off to James Devlin, our layout man, but have not heard from him yet. Some folks do their email at work, so he may not have seen it.

The Pea-man is working hard on his Leopard VTOL. Preliminary work and our conversation so far fills me with confidence on this one. I just finished shooting off a long letter discussing things pertaining to the layout of the machine. We are working off a pencil sketch, which makes radical changes a lot easier. I am also taking time on my laptop to more adequately describe and discuss the various features, so communications are better as well. I send letters as attachments, rather than trying to put everything into an email. I can discourse at length and Momma is happier, too.

Gotta work on the Blackjack feedback now; JP is in the inking stage for the Thug. I have an issue with the way the Blackjack appears in action. It’s like the damn thing is made of Legos! Perhaps I should have commissioned this one to David White – he’s the resident authority on making Legos look like they could get up and run. Have you seen his site? He does work for the Lego people. Pretty darn good at it, too.

No, seriously, JP has the job and from what I have seen of his work, is more than equal to the task. Sorry, David!

I have updated the TRO status report and will send it to anyone who is interested in the actual progress of the TRO in more detail than we give on this blog. Leave a note or send an email.

Doug, thank you for the tip on the publishers. I will see what they charge and what they can provide, and balance it against my budget. It’s a bit too soon to make any judgments, as I have not got a reply from James. All will depend on the final page count and whether or not he can create a separate print copy. After that, it is a matter of picking which options I can afford.

One more thing.

I want to make it perfectly clear to everyone reading this blog that the TRO: 3063 is not for sale in any format whatever. It will be published in PDF format and passed around the Internet for free. The intellectual property belongs to Catalyst Games and sundry other institutions. It is not mine and I cannot make a profit from anything I write about it at all, ever.

Ever.

Got that? So – if I offer artists and writers the option of getting a printed copy for themselves (and that is not a hard and fast thing yet), I will charge the individual for the price of producing the print AT COST. No more, no less. You will benefit from whatever price breaks I can wangle, but neither I nor anyone else will make a nickel from this work. And that is as it should be.

Yes, I have poured an impacted assfull of money into the art (about $800 and counting). Yes, we all have dedicated a few hundred man-hours to the writing and whatnot. Many of you are creating sterling work at prices far below what you would normally charge, and I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.

Nevertheless, it is a hobby, a pastime, and I am sure there are many of you reading this who have spent more on your own hobbies – fishing comes to mind – so the idea of putting all that into a work which will fly around the Web for free really isn’t that strange. Consider it work experience or advertising, if you will. Which is why I (and many others) take such pains to make sure it is the best we can do.

Weather is a bit rainy today, but the grass needs a drink once in a while, too. I will post here when more work rolls in.

Take care and thanks for stopping by.

Steve

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The weekend so far...




Welcome!

We’ve been making hay over the past couple of days. In the land of cloudy skies (Bremerton/Seattle), you do that while the sun shines – which it has, for the past week. And we’ve got some high-quality hay, let me tell you.

Geoff has come through again with some sterling modifications (okay, they’re practically rewrites) of the Guillotine and Vulcans. As Jack Black would say, ‘Excellent work, my keyboard-slinging amigo!’ They read smooth as glass; I rewarded a lowly (but brave) BU-20a driver with a slot in combat medic school, but that was the only change. The BARS looks very good, as does the Crinos. The Katana I will read through after dumping the week’s garbage.

Mike has been hard at work tweaking the Cheyenne III; I have bumped his pay up a bit although it does not begin to compensate for the effort he has put in. I will see what I can do to reduce the workload per piece. He will be working on the Dragonfly next, I hope – Mike has a knack for producing excellent VTOL designs which are practical and pleasing to the eye.

No further news from JP on the Thug and Blackjack. Work over the weekend should yield some results. Lee also has fallen silent in the past few days, no doubt due to the challenge of illustrating the Cortes and Zhukov II. Eric has posted a note on his page over at deviantART.com to the effect that he will try to get caught up on his backlog soon. Calculus II will do that to you! Eric, study hard and don’t let the art keep you from making top grade. I wish I had a shot at college again, but time has passed me by and my bed is made. School is the key to your future – mine is nearly used up, but you still have many miles to go.

Jeff has been pounding away at the Forge again – it looks better with each iteration. I still have the impression that the missile launcher is cocked towards the left side of the ‘Mech, but that may just be me.

Malcadon (sorry, I don’t know his real name) has been working on the Diatryma armored car and the Leopard VTOL, but so far no word from him on any progress. I will let you know as soon as I find out.

I have not yet contacted our Layout man, James Devlin; he is a professional and may be quite busy. Nevertheless, I have decided to make two PDFs if at all possible. One will be the ‘color’ version, for viewing on a computer. The other will be a ‘print’ version, with only certain pages in color and the vast bulk of the TRO in simple black and white to enhance clarity and reduce cost at the printer’s. Several of our artists and a few writers have expressed interest in a copy, and I would like very much to comply. It would go a long way towards defraying the cost of their personal time, and give them something solid to show in their portfolio. However, this will depend on the per-piece cost of each copy and that will have to wait until I get a final page count from Jim.

Once I have that, I can contact various printing establishments in the area (as well as online) and determine the price breaks. It cost me $120 for four copies of the TRO: 3062 down at Kinko’s, but I didn’t have more money to spend and each page was in color (at a time when they were having a special on color copies). That page count was 91 – the TRO: 3063 has 37 ‘Mechs and 62 vehicles and will run over 200!

I can’t stress enough to our artists that the first, second (and maybe even third) drafts of an illustration should be in pencil or the digital equivalent. There is going to be a degree of back and forth on each design, and I don’t want you guys to put an assload of work into your piece, only to find I want the body changed or something equally unreasonable (which, at the later stages, it is). You fellows put a lot of sweat and talent into your work, and to be blunt, I can’t pay you what you are really worth. The less you have to do when making changes, the better. It will save us all a lot of heartache.

If, on the other hand, I give the thumbs-up to a piece - and you finalize it - only for me to decide later that it is somehow unsuitable due to a style issue, that is MY fault and you are NOT obligated to correct anything. In the end, it is my job to make sure the art has the right number of guns, legs, etc. You still get paid, and I adjust my eyes and expectations. That is how it should work. But until that final okay, let’s keep the piece minimal until the major issues of balance, position and location are settled.

Finally, I have been informed that persons associated with Catalyst Games look in here from time to time. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you are getting a good look at the fine work of my talented artists - their efforts appear on the header of each post. I trust you will give them a shot at joining your team sometime down the road. They do excellent, timely work and are good communicators.

Thank you for stopping by!

Steve

Thursday, July 09, 2009

New Art and Corrected Writeups Appear!




Hey hey! Here’s what’s been going on for the past few days.

Mike has come back with some preliminary work on the Cheyenne III VTOL. Lookin’ good, Mike! We have a few changes to make, but you have been putting in long hours on this one and frankly, I feel bad I can’t offer $$$ equal to the effort you’ve been making. The Oculus payment is on the way.

JP has been busy too, working on the Blackjack and a really impressive preliminary of the Thug. The Blackjack still needs some tweaking, but the Thug is nearly ready for primetime.

Jim has been slaving away like a digital blacksmith over a hot Forge, pardon the pun. We’ve made some changes to the preliminary drawing, changes which will make this machine as impressive as any of the other new art we’ve received so far.

Geoff has come through with more rewrites: the three ‘Mechs which were in a holding pattern have been corrected thanks to his tireless research. Thanks, buddy! I have not had the time to go over them yet, but am going to hit them on Friday evening. He also finished editing several Kuritan vehicles, expanding the anemic writeup of the BU-20a Ammo Carrier among others.

My son wants me to watch some episodes of ‘Red vs Blue’, a YouTube story based on images from Halo 3. It is pretty funny and surprisingly well-written. That will be an hour out of tomorrow night, but time well-spent with my son. We went swimming this evening, part of a joint effort to get into shape and lose some pounds. Fifteen laps (over and back) in an Olympic-size pool is pretty taxing, let me tell you! Four visits to the pool each week and I may finally catch my breath. He does them without pause, but then, that is a fourteen-year-old for you.

I am going to shoot some more writeups to the proofreaders, so heads up out there!

Finally, for the artists currently working on TRO projects: I humbly apologize if my recent corrections and descriptions are not adequate to the task. It has been difficult to get much time on the house computer to research the images and fully describe in an email what I want in the way of changes to your preliminary work. I am a firm believer in good communications and promise to redouble my efforts to be clearer and more to the point when it comes to modifying your work. Your time is valuable, and I feel in some cases that I have been wasting it.

Take care and thank you for stopping by.

Steve


Monday, July 06, 2009

A few updates on progress...




Hey there! Not much to add to the blog but a few updates.

First: the third draft of the intros has come back and I have incorporated all of Paul’s suggestions. It’s actually readable! I will send them back one more time tonight. There are a lot of words and Paul may find more to correct; we’ll see.

Second: David has already (!) come up with a preliminary sketch for the Lyran Griffin, and the pose looks pretty good. I have sent it back with some suggestions and corrections for the final drawing. Thank you, David, for jumping on this one so quickly! I know you are very busy, and hope the holiday weekend gave you some much-needed ‘decompression’ after the massive number of deadlines you had to meet in the past month.

I have also sent Jeff (one of our proofreaders) five writeups on the Capellan vehicles. I am sure he will pick them apart, but he does it well, and that’s why we need his services so badly. Good luck, Jeff.

No responses from the other new artists yet, but I keep an eye on the email and the deviantArt.com website, so as soon as something appears, I will post it here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Steve


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Return of the Unseen... and M-80s




I had a good day today.

Had to ground my son for screwing around with M-80s (for those who’ve never seen the effect an M-80 has on your hand at close range, visit Rotten.com some time). Of course, someone may ask ‘what was he doing with them in the first place?’, and that was part of the problem. I bought them, told everyone they were mine, and explained about how the ‘light and get the hell away’ warning on the side was serious business. Later the next day, he took a few when I wasn’t around, lit one and threw it to impress our visitors. Or something.

He still has all his fingers, thank God. Just not his freedom.

So it was a good day.

Anyway! Today Geoff came through with quite a few writeups, mostly the Lyran, Capellan and Free Worlds League vehicles. The issue with those three ‘Mechs? Almost cleared up – there are some timeline problems I am having a hard time getting my head around, but I am sure Geoff will work his usual magic and it will be resolved.

A few artists have responded to my call: you may have noticed that Jim Lafferty picked up on the Forge. I have another artist (JP) who thoughtfully dropped a sample of his work off in my Inbox. I was much impressed with, of all things, the piece known only as ‘Untitled’. Good work on an existing design – let’s see how he does with the Blackjack configuration, eh?

I still have to send Mike his payment – sorry for the delay, Mike! – and I will toss in another $5 for the inconvenience. He needs the dough. And he did an excellent job on the Oculus, you have to admit.

You may recall I sent the corrected first draft of the intros to Paul for further mauling… er, correcting. He did not disappoint. Gosh, that guy has a helluva talent for finding boners in a piece and suggesting fixes. I took them all for action, and even tweaked the main intro’s first paragraph (it probably wasn’t enough, but was better than just leaving things as they were). I shot the corrected second draft back to him this afternoon.

No reply from some of the other artists I contacted, but two new artists will have to do for now. I miss Eriance and hope he finds time to finish the Fafnir between classes. Not to mention the Culverin. David White is (presumably) hard at work on the Lyran Griffin. I have mentioned to him that the previously Unseen ‘Mechs – the ones originally controlled by Harmony Gold back in the days when FASA produced BattleTech – are on their way back into use. He may use some of those old-school styling cues on the new machine.

And while we’re on the topic of the Unseen, I may as well air my own thoughts. Go to any BattleTech-oriented website and you will see the return of the Unseen as one of many topics. Several players out there are jumping for joy, but I fail to see what the excitement is all about. Sure, some of the designs are closely identified with the game, and yes, a few of the images genned up to replace them fail to satisfy. And yes, there are very few people left who associate the images with their original appearance – in Japanese anime from the seventies and eighties. It may be that Harmony Gold (or whoever) finally realized they were holding artwork which was nearly worthless apart from the BattleTech property. Who knows? And does it really matter?

Having had to go out on my own to find (and pay!) artists who will create a new machine based on strong styling cues and their imagination – and not just modify an existing image – I have a different perspective on the re-use of images from other works. It has been my goal from Day One to use our own work as much as possible. I am not sure what Catalyst Games was thinking when they made this decision, but the reinstatement of images borrowed from other existing works (even obscure ones like Dougram and Crusher Joe) to official canon leaves me officially unimpressed.

Someone may be popping a champagne cork over the return of the Unseen. It sure ain’t me.

Steve

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Help me draw the line. Please.





Hi. I am supposed to be running errands today, but was dipping into a BT website when I came across a link to an artist. One thing led to another, and now I have a problem.

See those images above? I will give you one guess as to which is the original Mammoth Tank from the video game Command and Conquer III, and which is derivative.

Do any of you want to see stuff like that in the TRO? No, really, tell me if it makes a difference to you as a reader and a fan. I know it will make a difference to my wallet. I am trying to draw the line between 'inspired by' and 'ripoff'.

What have the fans seen? I never saw the original tank until today - I thought the drawings we had were original, though I have to admit the turrets on both our pieces look very similar...

I need your help. When does something like this become unacceptable to the average fan out there? I need input, so ask around. This is important, and fixing it could cost hundreds of dollars.


Meanwhile, another piece has joined the short list of art which needs a commission, and for much the same reasons:

!!! NEW !!!

'Mechs:

Thug THG-13M - this is another assault 'Mech carrying an ER large laser in each arm, two Streak SRM-4 launchers in each side torso and an internal Guardian ECM suite. To be patterned after an existing piece done by an earlier artist (we like the 'Mech) but in a more active pose and with new arms (the present arms are too 'derivative').


Thank you for your time.

Steve

Friday, July 03, 2009

The list of Art to be commisioned....




First of all, happy Fourth of July to you all! Hope no one lost any fingers; those Rez fireworks can be pretty powerful.

I just finished reading ‘Common Sense’ by a fellow named Glenn Beck. Real eye-opener, let me tell you. I have read some of Al Franken’s stuff, as well as a couple of Michael Moore’s books, so I am ‘informed by two sides’ as it were. Glen was kind enough to include the text of the original ‘Common Sense’ by Thomas Paine, in addition to what he wrote, and that was worth the cover price all by itself.

What have we got today? Well, two responses from artists online who are interested in doing some commission work. That is good, but talk being cheap (for them and for me), we will see what shakes out. However, it would also seem there are a few people who have come to this blog wondering what needs drawing. So for artists interested in a paid commission and for those of you who just want to know what remains to be done, here is a list of the unfinished works.

Vehicles:

Diatryma Armored Car – wheeled ten-ton vehicle, turret mounted small pulse laser and a SRM-2 short range missile rack. Outworlds Alliance. [UPDATE: the Diatryma has been commissioned to Malcadon. Good luck!]

Leopard attack helicopter w/ infantry bay - a thirty-ton VTOL with a small infantry bay, an Ultra AC/5 autocannon and four ten-shot rocket launchers. It also features a Guardian ECM, though this is not visible from the outside. Outworlds Alliance.

Horatio Bridgelayer – a forty-ton tracked support tank, this carries a deployable bridge on its back and features a sponson-mounted small pulse laser on each side, as well as an ER medium laser in the front and a small infantry bay. Free Worlds League.

Mastodon Minesweeper Tank – a thirty-five ton tracked support vehicle with a mine flail similar to the Scorpion from WWII. It carries a turret-mounted large laser and a small pulse laser, as well as an internally-mounted Guardian ECM suite. Free Worlds League.

Cortes Light Tank – a small six-ton tracked vehicle which carries a turret-mounted ER medium laser and a front-mounted ER small laser. Similar to a gun carrier from WWII, but with better armor and speed. Taurian Concordat. [UPDATE: the Cortes has been commissioned to Lee Madison. Good luck, Lee!]

BattleMechs:

Blackjack BJ2-0G – this configuration of the OmniMech carries a rotary AC/2 and medium pulse laser in each arm, one medium pulse laser in each side torso and an ER small laser in the center torso. It is equipped with four jump jets. Federated Commonwealth. [UPDATE: the Blackjack has been commissioned to JP Sphagnum. Good luck, JP!]

Forge FRG-1 – this is an assault ‘Mech with a PPC in the left arm, right arm and right torso. It also carries two ER medium lasers in the left torso, as well as an SRM-6 in the center torso. Comes with an integral Guardian ECM suite. Based on an upscaled Marauder chassis. Taurian Concordat. [UPDATE: the Forge has been commissioned to Jim Lafferty. Good luck, Jim!]

That’s all for now, folks. I will keep you updated if anything new becomes available.

Have a good holiday!

Steve

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

More progress....




Well, there has been progress today! Poor Paul, who was jet-lagged for most of the week, finally came through with some sterling advice which clarified his earlier modifications to the Introductions. Thanks, Paul! I got to work immediately and removed all name references in the Intros (they are in the Table of Contents, after all) and reduced or eliminated specific references to combat ability, featured equipment, etc. As Paul pointed out, that information belongs in the writeups.

As promised, I contacted Mike about taking on more art (expect to hear from him soon after the holidays) and then I went trolling on deviantArt.com. After locating three promising artists, I sent each a message asking if they were willing to take commission work. No replies yet, but it’s just a matter of time. I will give it a go again tomorrow, time permitting.

David White’s Thunderbolt showed up today. It really looks good; at least I think so, and so I have featured it in this post’s header. Judge for yourself. It is primitive, as befits a retrofitted Star League ‘Mech found in a hidden base. The base didn’t have much, so the Magistracy of Canopus left it to the planetary government. What they found included a dozen stripped Thunderbolt chasses.

The result, after decades of work, is a slow (3/5), adequately armored (exactly 20 pts in each location, excluding the head) heavy BattleMech which carries an AC/10 and two MRM-10 launchers. Oh, and it’s powered by a GM diesel engine! Not much, but enough to handle the occasional incursion by ‘opportunists’ from the surrounding Periphery. A harbinger of things to come? I certainly wouldn’t know ;)

That’s all for this day’s work. I am going to shoot the revised Intros to Paul tonight so he can look them over one more time.

Steve