Saturday, April 10, 2010

“Funeral For A Wonderful Daydream”

Greetings and salutations.

Got some new tunes on the old musical box. One is by Jethro Tull, the other by a band called Porcupine Tree. Make of them what you will, they are nice jams and it is about time some of the older stuff gets rotated.

I sent my final missive off via the US Postal Service to Lee Madison today along with his final payment. We’ll see if that gets the remaining images from him, or indeed, any contact at all. Hell, for all I know the man could be dead.

Josh is mending slowly and getting his energy back. I have been keeping him posted as to the various changes, status, etc. He will jump in when he’s ready.

Losing a BattleMech!

I have already announced (via the previous post’s comment column) that I will pull a Lyran ‘Mech from the TRO and replace it with a new quad design. This ‘discarded’ design is good – make no mistake, it is not dross we were keeping in as filler. It has a complete writeup and art, as well as being a very useful design. However, we have already decided not to increase the machine count in the TRO as it has been solidified past the point where we can easily change things around – or expand the page count.

This ‘discarded ‘Mech’ is the Zeus PE, a ‘Mech specifically designed for the Federated Commonwealth’s Periphery Export Program.

The Zeus PE was intended as an offering to various Periphery realms in need of a good assault ‘Mech (most of whom cannot produce this class on their own in 3063). It was deliberately designed with an endo steel skeleton and Artemis-enhanced SRM launchers to ensure the recipients would remain dependent on the Federated Commonwealth’s good will for a steady supply of the special ammunition and chassis replacement parts. This tactic of keeping the Periphery customers coming back to the ‘company store’ might have actually worked. Instead, it backfired

The problem is that this is the only Zeus variant with an endo steel frame. Civil War politics halted production after forty examples and the kill order included all endo steel spare parts. With no chassis replacements for sale, even cash-strapped mercenary units pass on the Zeus PE. It is nearly impossible to repair significant damage to the PE’s internal structure. The Outworlds Alliance is stuck with twenty such units and they will probably run them until there is nothing left to salvage. Ironically, standard launchers have already replaced the only complex system with relatively plentiful repair stocks - the Artemis-enhanced SRM racks.

Someone requested that this design be made available after the TRO is published, as an online ‘bonus’. I think that is a good idea and will take it for action in the near future.

A Solid Replacement

Meanwhile, the potential of the new Scorpion II to be a standout machine in the TRO is very good. Its design philosophy makes all kind of sense both in terms of game design (a lot of synergy between the warload and the four-legged chassis) and in-universe storytelling. The design has always been over-engined – most of the obstacles encountered in designing an effective Scorpion were related to the fact that it has less tonnage and internal space available and thus cannot mount nearly as much hardware. Forcing the poor thing to move 6/9/0 required an enormous engine that ate up drastic amounts of tonnage and contributed to a lackluster performance regardless of the variant.

The trouble is that weight-saving moves such as endo-steel and ferro-fibrous armor are bulky and gobble up critical slots, something which is in abundance with lighter designs but not so much with medium or heavy ‘Mechs. This is doubly so with quads, which lose the critical slots normally found in the arms of bipedal machines.

We fixed the biggest part of the problem by de-rating the powerplant. This left room for a good warload. I am already in the playtest phase of development, while Geoff is busy throwing together a rough draft for the writeup. By the time you read this blog entry, I should have some preliminary results from actual combat. While we are busy at this, our artist Eric Ou is working on the visual portion. He has had trouble in the past with quads and sees this as an opportunity to hone his craft. Between the two of us, I think he will amaze everyone.

Death of a Daydream

There are many, many established freelance writers and artists, as well as the usual assortment of BattleTech gurus, who are going to be left twisting in the breeze pending the (presumed) failure of CGL to retain their BattleTech license. But even if a miracle occurs and they keep it, a complete overhaul of the major players in this debacle is all but assured.

A lot of writers, artists and product ramrods do their work for very little compensation beyond getting their names in print. The line of folks waiting in the wings who write passable BT fiction and produce good art for this hobby is as long as your arm, and then some. We all hoped – or in my case, daydreamed – that one day, if we kept at it and the timing was right, we’d get our chance to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with CGL and have a shot at ‘the big time’.

Yes, even I occasionally indulged in the fantasy that CGL would see this TRO and knock on my door with a request that I go to work for them as a freelancing writer or editor. And a guy should have goals, even ones that are unlikely. I’m pretty sure I am not the only one who consoled myself with that happy fantasy. And how many of the published authors began that way?

For me, part of getting over something like this is figuring out what the hell it is I have to get over. Why should I be bothered by this? Look at the past history of this intellectual property… where’s my stake?

Here’s the deal… with all the recent activity concerning InMediaRes and Catalyst Game Labs, the dream I had of being allowed to working on official material has been smothered in the crib. And I’ve finally realized that its passing was the primary reason I was so upset about what the folks in charge did. Don’t get me wrong - the pity candle is just about burned out on CGL, at least for me. And the fantasy I entertained was never a driving force behind the TRO, so my pretty dreams are just another example of what the military calls ‘collateral damage’. I’ve no doubt it is an element behind some of the outrage you find on the forums.

And that’s what bothered me.

A Guess at What Lies Beneath

Bill recently tried to explain Loren L. Coleman’s actions to me, sizing him up as a man so devoted to BattleTech, he gave decades of his life to promoting it and developing it. Thus, he probably felt he was honestly entitled to the proceeds - regardless of the company’s debts and contracts.

My response was immediate: if Loren L. Coleman was so dedicated to BattleTech, so honestly convinced the money was rightfully his, why did he willingly gut a successful company’s finances on the sly and ensure its eventual ruin? And why didn't his closest comrades in the company stop him?

That's devotion to the self, not devotion to a hobby. And Bill had no ready answer.

Nevertheless, I can understand Loren Coleman without too much strain – a combination of greed and arrogance, encouraged by decades of being a big fish in a small pond. His is a textbook case of never believing your own press releases. Randall Bills was a tougher nut to crack – he had to know. He had to. And Randall was a good man when I met him last in 2003. I prefer to remember that Randall Bills. But what prompted him to go along?

I believe the answer lies in something I re-read today by C.S. Lewis.

Lewis wrote an essay titled ‘The Inner Ring’. In it, he said:

"…to nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to Scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors… Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man or woman whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still – just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïve or a prig – the hint will come.

It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play; something which the public - the ignorant, romantic public - would never understand; something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about, but something, says your new friend, something which “we”… always do.

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back into the cold outer world…. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit.

It may end in a crash, a scandal and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. Of all passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.

I think Randall wanted to belong to the BattleTech Inner Ring so much, he was willing to look the other way when his fellow Inner Ringers began twisting things. It all fell apart when the money ran out – and don’t think this is the first time I have seen that happen (ask me about Fantasy Realm). To his credit, when it became public Randall was the only one who expressed some remorse.

The rest, presumably, called a lawyer.

We’ll Never Really Know

But of course, there is no telling if any of this is fact, beyond what is published by the company itself and its former employees and partners. And that is subject to spin both ways. We can’t see into their hearts, or catch any more than a glimpse of what they’ve so carefully hidden all these years.

What we can all assume with some assurance is that we’ll never hear the full story from the lips of those most intimately involved. This is not really surprising. No one involved can admit they turned a blind eye, or that they even knew what was going on, because that path leads to lawsuits, prison and a mountain of debt.

And anyway, why should they tell us? Starting with a mindset that sees nothing wrong with spending mind-boggling sums from the company coffers on personal projects, why should they even consider an explanation? It’s not like they owe us an apology, either - as has been stated somewhere, it was their money and their company.

All I know is, I will probably never get anything for BattleTech into print that is not put there with my own money. Joining the Big Boys in their story-telling was an unlikely event before, but Mssrs. Coleman and Bills have driven the last nail into the coffin of that dream. I am fifty years old. How long will I have, to write and create, before life – or death – intervene?

It’s hard to let a dream go.

Thanks for stopping by.


PS: Just received an email from Loren Coleman - no, not Loren L. Coleman, but apparently another Loren Coleman. I would like it to be truly said that no other Loren Colemans were impugned during the recording of this blog post. So - if your name is not Loren L. Coleman, the fellow currently connected with the woes over at Catalyst Game Labs, no offense is intended.

And if you took offense, please accept my apologies. I sometimes forget how wide the Web is and how far my net can be cast.



Paint it Pink said...

I can understand your emotional response to the whole CGL debacle, but think you have done what a lot of us have done, over invested yourself in something that is beyond your control. I've done it myself, both in the past and on occasion even now with interests I have. For me the only response to such an affective response is to remove myself from what upsets me, or re-evaluate the meaning. Both are useful tools for allowing oneself to process the emotional over commitment to whatever one has become over involved in.

I imagine that you like me are a passionate person. It is one of the reasons for me supporting you in your TRO venture. It reminds me of when I was young and producing a fanzine called MekTek and hanging out with the Mech Force UK people, which led to my one contribution to the Battletech canon. I can see how you too would like to achieve the same. All I can say is that in the greater scheme of things, any such contributions are seen as mere trifles. As for future contributions, I imagine hell would have to freeze over first before I was allowed anywhere near the game.

Steven Satak said...

As you remarked, I was over-invested in something beyond my control. Or rather, I *was* - again, the pity candle has burned out and I have already stopped the daydreaming.

What this was, essentially, was an analysis, my motivations for being upset in the first place, and some of the thoughts which extend from them. It's that re-evaluation you mentioned. In the process of identifying the source of irritation or pain, the source itself becomes less painful.

I recall well using this technique on my son when he broke his arm. He was so scared! But I discussed the technical aspects of the arm function, the events leading up to the break and the latin names for the bones.

My son was so absorbed in the details, he forgot to be scared. The pain was still there, but he was able to distance himself from it a bit and the fear left him to the point where he was advising the doctor as to which latin-sounding bit actually hurt most. He was 8.

Cute, but that was what I did here. I think the thing most poignant is that it reminds me that I am no longer a young man turning out a fanzine of my own. You are right about the trifles; in my clearer moments, I never thought any of the TRO would amount to more than a 'hmph...nice' and a dismissal as not being canon.

What irritated me was that while canon is holy in the BattleTech universe, the folks creating canon are not. And it seemed to me they have been acting as though they were.

It is a short step from 'I speak for myself and not for God' to 'So saith the Lord'. I wish they had been as rigid in following their own moral standards as they obviously expected us to be.

Panzerfaust 150 said...

Well written and said sir...sums up my feelings about the matter succinctly.

Doug said...

Do you think CGL will go under? I think they will turn out just fine, books are still coming out.

Steven Satak said...

It's hard to say, Doug. I do know that what we are seeing is mostly PDF and leftovers that were still in the pipeline.

The thing is, I have seen this happen before on a smaller scale (a local game shop) and once the money is spent, the company usually goes into receivership so that the creditors can get their money back.

But what is really going to kill this is the one-two punch of not having the money or credit line available to pay Topps for the license, and the notion that Topps is well-aware of what is going on. CGL and IMR still have Loren L. Coleman in the driver's seat, calling the shots and representing the company to the world - including Topps.

If I were renting the henhouse out, I certainly would not be willing to lease it to the fox who has just eaten most of the chickens inside. So yeah, Topps is probably going to tip their hat at Coleman's brass balls and then move on to another company not quite so tainted.

I am sure the creative team will remain where it is. Except for Randall Bills. I think that guy, regardless of his creative abilities, has all but conclusively established that power corrupts. He has lost my trust, at any rate.


Paint it Pink said...

You said quote "I am sure the creative team will remain where it is. Except for Randall Bills. I think that guy, regardless of his creative abilities, has all but conclusively established that power corrupts. He has lost my trust, at any rate." End quote.

I think that is a bit harsh, given that what we know is limited to what little that can be confirmed. Now if you had said Loren had lost your trust, I would understand that more. I've not seen him, heard of him, owning up. Not that this is likely, given the legal ramifications, but you know, just saying is all.

Steven Satak said...

Pink, it's not a bit harsh - it's very harsh. I have seen the letter Bills posted to the freelancers. He has been there all the time, intimately involved in the line development. He simply could not, over the past three years, *not* have seen what was going on.

And he's LDS. He damn well knew better, but he went along any way. And I'm being harsh for calling him corrupt? I supported that statement above. Yes, it's harsh. So is what he did. No, I would not trust him again. He knew better and profited not at all except to be a member of the Inner Ring - and he still watched it happen and did nothing.

The pity candle is burnt out on this one, but I am calling a spade a spade. The man cannot be trusted with that kind of power. There are certain kinds of power I cannot be trusted with. It's a limitation. Calling it what it is, is not harsh, but a truth that *someone* should have spoken four years ago when it all started.

It's also one man's opinion based on what he perceives as the facts. YMMV.