Saturday, November 28, 2009

New art, anti-rant, and like that...

Hello there!

For those of you who ventured beyond the safe limit and explored my rants last time, I apologize if I ran on too long. Well, actually, there's no 'if' about it. That's what I get for keeping it bottled up.

This installment, as with the last, reports incremental changes. Eric Ou delivered his last piece with the inked Capellan Dao; although I am certain he could do another piece if I asked (and I am giving the Roland OmniTank the shrimp eye even now), it is probably best if I get paid up to date first.

Lee Madison has been hard at work. I have the Jian MMTV ready to go, and Lee is working on the Marian Hegemony's Velite ISV. He also presented me with sketches for the Striker II and presumably that is in the works as well.

Ian Stead is currently working on the Ocelot II. After some corrections to the rough draft, it should be ready to go.

What is significant is that Lee and Ian are working on the last three vehicles. With some surrounding terrain to fill in for the Sarpedon and the Ocelot II, this will be the last of the vehicle/'Mech illustrations. What's left?

Well, David Dryburgh is still working on the last interior plate and has agreed to provide the remaining detail for the two vehicles I mentioned above. In addition, he may be willing to do a short series of black and white vignettes (possibly in monocolor, if it suits him) similar to the one below:

That will wrap up the last of the artwork – all that remains is to put the whole thing together in PDF format. I have had spotty communications with our layout artist, James Devlin, and it may be that he is still recovering from the effects of a bout with swine flu. Time will tell; hopefully he will get back in touch with me soon. I still have some questions about the formats.

As mentioned in a previous post, I have completed the page count. What is more, I have located a Print-On-Demand publisher who will turn out twenty copies at $23 dollars each. The people who have donated twenty dollars or more via my PayPal button will get a copy, as will artists who have contributed five or more pieces in commission work. Naturally, the head of Catalyst Games will get a copy, as will my co-writer and a couple of the proofreaders whose efforts made a significant contribution to the quality of the writing.

Those of you who are scheduled to get a copy know who you are, but don't start salivating. I will not have the funds to get these printed until late January or early February. The reason is simple: I won't have the required funds ($478) available until then. But there is another reason.

That reason is also simple: I have to finish paying for all my art before I can issue the TRO in any format, and Christmas is coming for my house as well as yours. Yes. That means the TRO will probably not hit the street by Christmas. My troubles with keeping in contact with the layout artist have forced me to admit that he will likely not be able to keep to such a tight schedule during the holiday season. They have Christmas in England, too. And he will probably be very busy with his daytime job. Furthermore, there will be errors in the prototype which, despite all my efforts to stamp out in advance, will crop up and must be corrected.

So do the math. I mean, with the paper copies. I figure it like this:

Me – 3 copies
Vadim Antonov – 2 copies
Geoffrey Butler – 1 copy
Catalyst Games – 1 copy
David White – 1 copy
Mike Sullivan – 1 copy
Eric Ou – 1 copy
David Dryburgh – 1 copy
Lee Madison – 1 copy
Paint It Pink – 1 copy
Brian Compter – 1 copy
Jeff Kamper – 1 copy
Jim Lafferty - 1 copy
Total = 16 copies

That leaves four copies for sale to whoever ponies up first. The PayPal button is always an option, as is email to me at If you have to save for it (and I know some of you will), make arrangements with me. Don't kill yourselves in the rush – it's going to be another couple of months before I can ship. And I am looking into printing twenty five copies, if I can manage to afford it.

- I will not take orders on these things until January 1st, 2010.

- I will charge exactly what it costs to print the book and ship it. No more, no less.

One more thing – if you are one of the people on the forums who wants to have a paper copy, then let me know who you are there as well as in real life. I've been tracking names of interested parties, and some of you have been waiting for a while.

A Semi-rant... not to be confused with the real thing

'Doubters do not achieve; skeptics do not contribute; cynics do not create.'

For any of you who suffered through my last couple of rants, that pretty much sums up what I was saying. I recall my brief interlude with the folks over at BattleTech Universe who were trying to get their own TRO going. It worked well for a while, but fell apart when the number of talented people actually doing the work were outnumbered by the ones who didn't know what they wanted, but knew what they didn't want. It was being crushed under the weight of American-style quality control, if you will. I am sure there were several feedback loops in place, but the overall impression was 'crank it out and we'll cherry-pick what we want – then send you back to cranking it out again.'

Under such circumstances, the only way to keep the whole thing going was to make it a dictatorship – and while that may not be a good system to live under, it does make the trains run on time – or in this case, get a TRO to print. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, no one was left with the energy to make the transition from a democracy to electing a king and making it stick. The artists and writers had no end of talent, but they were burned out from the bickering.

It's Good to be King

The TRO:3063 is a monarchy. I am king. Of course, that title comes with certain responsibilities. Every monarch has them; not all live up to them:

The first is to make sure everyone understands I am king. I have the final say.

The second is that I generate a sound, achievable picture of what I want and work out the bugs before presenting it to my writers, artists and proofreaders.

Third, I must create an unchanging set of standards for product, communications and payments, as well as a workable timetable.

Fourth, I must endeavor at all times to remain in constant contact with my artists, writers and proofreaders and enforce the standards. Communication is key.

Fifth, I must pay people where payment is due, and compliment good work publicly. Criticism, in the sense most people encounter it, is both positive and negative but is always done in private.

Only when the TRO is published will I then be allowed to sit back, stretch and remark 'It's good to be king.'

And Last but not Least...

One final note to the reader who asked why so many vehicles had been included in this TRO: by 3063, the vees have been neglected for quite some time and we thought it would be a good idea to present some new pieces. It's certainly true that Catalyst Games is very busy, probably to the point where they simply cannot do this. So here we are.

We as a group have never seen a bridgelayer or minesweeper deployed on a gaming table, but it was not clear whether this was due to the nature of 'pick-up' games prevalent in most BattleTech gatherings, or because the darned things have never been printed in sufficient quantity. I know bridgelayers exist, but whether they're a good choice when you have a limit on your BV, depends on the game.

I guess we'll see.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving.


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.


Friday, November 13, 2009

A flurry of artwork coming in...


Things have gotten busier towards the end of this week. I am typing from the home computer this time, as it is bitter cold out and there isn’t the slightest doubt but that I would be shivering with numb fingers about five minutes into this update.

So. No cigar for writing, sorry to say. Don’t think it will make a difference. I’m already partly frozen from reading an old Dick Francis mystery; the house is warm, but it’s anyone’s guess how long it will take for my fingers to limber up again.

Oh! You didn’t come here for the chit-chat? Well, alright then….

Eric has been busy on the art front. He has been sandwiching projects in between tests at college, so it’s been stop and go for a bit. But he just turned in the sketches for the Lyran Alliance’s Panther and the Draconis Combine’s Sentinel. The ‘Mech is fine, with a bit of scenery to work out, and the tank is getting cut and squeezed to look a bit more like a main battle tank than a ‘Mech with tracks.

One of the issues is the size of a human being relative to a ‘Mech – or a seventy five ton tank, for that matter. We have some size charts, but you all know that no matter who does the art, humans are rarely (if ever) placed solidly near a BattleMech in any official company representation. Not sure why that is so, but it is odd and makes things difficult for us non-canon creators to accurately size a person standing near one of those enormous things. (Like anyone would want to).

Anyway, Lee Madison has also been hard at work. He has done extensive sketches on the Striker II and the Jian MMTV, and they look very professional. I’ve selected the options he presented and expect something solid within the next week or so.

Mike Sullivan came up for air, amazingly enough, and mentioned finishing the Velite for me. I hurriedly withdrew it from Lee’s list of things to do, but that was on the 6th of November and thus far I have not heard back from Mike. I will have to decide on Monday whether I want to wait longer or just commission the work out to Lee, who has kept his preliminary sketches on the Velite warm just in case Mike cannot finish that vehicle after all.

Where was I?

Geoff and I have finished… wait for it…. The Last BattleMech writeup! I know you folks have heard this before at least twice, but this time it has to stick no matter what. I am just about out of art funds and time grows short. I have told everyone that I have been adding here and there for the sake of filling out certain faction rosters, but that’s not the whole truth. Mostly it’s because I cannot handle NOT writing something while I wait on art. But the final text has been put to bed and I’ve generated the remaining PDFs for the Record Sheet Book (192 machines!).

Ian from England has been served with some final changes on the Free Worlds League’s Sarpedon – perhaps some of you have seen early versions on the forums. I would rather the medium pulse laser was coaxial with the main gun, but that’s getting a bit picky at this stage and it’s not easy to make changes in 3D design.

Jeff Kamper has proofed the Champion II and I will send off the Gallowglas, the Daimyo and the Sentinel to him after I finish this blog update. He has been a bit busy himself but I appreciate the time he’s put into making the writing every bit as entertaining, useful and all-around impressive as the art.

David Dryburgh has finished the second interior plate in color and it is just perfect. He has already sent me preliminary sketches for the next (and final) plate - we are working out the details.

Haven’t heard from our layout man lately; I will have to drop Jim Devlin a line to see how things are with him. Meanwhile, I have been scouting around to the various on-demand publishers to see what they’ve got to offer. I will tell you right now, it is a crying shame Lulu does not offer a landscape 8.5 x 11 inch format, but apparently printing something like that is a royal pain in the butt due to the nature of the paper you have to use. Their 9 x 7 is as close as they get, but it is too small to function as a useful dead-tree version of the TRO. You would not be able to read the darned thing.

So onward I go, looking at the multitude of printers out there. Many ask more money than I have available for printing a minimum of a hundred copies, and I have the sneaking suspicion that a lot of those copies would be moldering in my closet – but then, you never know. Black and white, ten copies and up seems to be the best way, with Perfect binding being an attractive option at this point. It will run around two hundred dollars if what I read is true.

I may go down to Kinko’s – excuse me, Fedex Office – and see what they’ve got, but the binding is spiral or plastic fingers and I really want this to look and feel like a company production – even if it isn’t.

Any advice along the printing lines would be greatly appreciated. So would a donation in the PayPal jar.

What is most likely is that I will get ten or so copies genned up for the artists and writers (and myself and a few friends), then sit back and see if anyone else needs a paper copy. When enough of you have ponied up, I will make another order.

That’s all for now, folks. Take care and thanks for stopping in.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Ruminating on the Power of the Dark Side...

Oops! Wrong blog.

Hello to you all.

It has been a relatively quiet week here, but progress has been steady on several fronts.

First, we finished the writeup editing for the Draconis Combine’s Daimyo and Gallowglas. Geoff chose to make some significant changes when the second draft of the Gallowglas came his way. He’s in Japan and has a lot on his plate, but put the time and effort in to make sure we weren’t riffing on something we’d already addressed with House Kurita.

Me: “But… Geoff, we had a deal! You write the rough draft, I edit it, you chop it and I do the final polishing. You’ve rewritten the second draft!

Geoff: “The ‘deal’ has been altered, Steve. Pray I do not alter it further.”

Actually he didn’t say that, but he could have and I would have folded just like Lando. No, really, I am out here tonight to smoke and edit his work anew, and I like it. In fact, I like it so much, I took on another project after getting the green light from one of our best artists, Eric Ou.

We needed yet another Kuritan ‘Mech to fill out their roster and I spotted a likely candidate on the forums. While debating the relative merits of Light PPCs versus ER medium lasers, someone stated that the Sentinel was a piece of crap which could conceivably be improved by the LPPC. Upon investigation, I agreed. Furthermore, the illustration was one of Duane Loose’s sketchier pieces. And wouldn’t you know? It turned out to be a ‘gift’ from Comstar to the Draconis Combine in the mid-3030s. Some gift. It was an ideal platform to improve, however. What’s more, guess what House Kurita was experimenting with around 3063? You guessed it – variations of the PPC.

We’ve come up with a nice design that is comfortably armed, well-armored and fast. Eric is taking a shot at illustrating it, not just because it is a commission, but because it is thus far a very ugly ‘Mech. For him it is a challenge. So the Dragon now has another ‘Mech - and we have more writing to do.

Lee Madison is still working on the Jian, with the Velite right behind it. No updates yet, but he’s good at what he does and there are sure to be at least a few babes in the art.

Ian is plugging away at the Sarpedon, and it looks good from the pieces he has been sending me. I will probably finish it off by commissioning another artist to do the grass, people, etc. Those things are difficult to render with a 3-D program.

I have sent David Dryburgh a payment in the mail, and have made more payments via PayPal to other artists. My thanks goes out to Ashley for the donation she made via that PayPal button. I encourage you all to donate at least five bucks so we can get this thing wrapped up. All the machines are currently commissioned, but of course, payments are a bit behind and I would like to catch up as quickly as possible.

Well, my fingers are beginning to freeze up and I will have to duck inside to warm them before I continue with editing. I have put the Record Sheet Annex on hold for the moment, until we can nail down the new designs and print them up. I shot the initial batch off to our layout man (James Devlin) but hindsight has shown that to be a bit premature, and I will have to re-send them with the main body of work.

Someone asked me what level of technology we’d be using in this TRO. The answer is pretty much whatever existed in 3063, with some experimental stuff just coming online for field tests. Much of the next generation of ‘gee-whiz’ weaponry and new systems won’t make a full appearance until the late 3060s-early 3070s, so we have to step lightly. That means bumping most beam weapons (not all) up from standard to ER, and installing the more recent innovations like AMS, Streak missile systems and targeting computers. As of 3063 these are just beginning to hit their stride and a lot of designs can only profit from the changeup.

Overall, it doesn’t sound impressive, but keep in mind that this is 3063, not 3072. Furthermore, a goodly number of designs are ‘in-between’ stages and on their way to future greatness. That is not to say they do not shine on their own, but a lot of folks who are now playing in the modern era (3075) are accustomed to the wonder weapons used by the Word of Blake. Keep in mind that if you play in 3063, at the start of the FedCom Civil War, the machines in this TRO will be quite useful as they are.

Take care and thanks for stopping by.