Sunday, December 27, 2009

The final art rolls in...

Hello there!

Thank you for your patience.

The final two pieces of vehicle art came in this week from Lee Madison, who did a very good job with both. I discovered while over at that I could not equip the Striker II with a single Artemis-enhanced LRM-10 and keep the three SRM-4 launchers standard – it would seem that if you install Artemis on one missile rack, the others on the vehicle, regardless of type, must also be equipped.

This made the Striker II overweight, so I just removed Artemis and added an additional ton of ammunition. Naturally, I had to change the writeup to reflect this. The Velite is good as it stands, so no changes were necessary.

Also, Geoff and I hammered out the Jenner writeup and Eric Ou came through with the wonderful illustration at the top of this blog entry.

All that remains of art is the possible addition of those vignettes I mentioned earlier by David Dryburgh, and to be honest, I would rather pay him up to date before asking again. I have no doubt he can do them, but I owe him about $100 and need to finish paying him and several others before moving on to actual production of the PDF.

The PDF itself – layout issues still need to be resolved, and I have not had the best of luck staying in contact with Jim Devlin. I am going to go over the existing layouts and mark the changes that must be made prior to actually sending the information Jim needs to get started.

As for that information, I’ve made significant inroads into packaging the material, but still have not gotten a mailing address from Jim for mailing the info on a CD or jump drive. I will shoot an email to him after posting this blog entry to see what can be done. Otherwise I will have to ship it to him in 25 meg snippets, and that won’t be good for him when it comes to downloading.

I am also going to take a step in the next few days towards a more thorough vetting of the existing writeups. Part of the problem is that I am correcting on the fly as I read the text on a monitor. Well and good, as far as that goes, but I have found that I actually do better work if I am reading it from a printout. Call it a hangover from the days when I would proofread my work on hobby electronics using fanfold printouts from my Commodore C-128.

Whatever the reason, I have found many styling errors, repeated phrases and words as well as other troublesome flaws when reading a printout of a single entry. So this is how it will go: I will step out and purchase a new ink cartridge for my printer, along with a ream of paper. Then I will go through and print out every single entry, including art. Punch holes in all of them, then put them in a binder. Then take the binder with me wherever I go and make the changes with pen and ink. Finally, I will enter the changes electronically and that should do it.

The art is essentially done. The edited writing is nearly so. I have to finish making payments and we can get on with the production. As you can see from the previous paragraphs, there will be plenty to do while waiting for the money to arrive, so it’s not like I will be idle. Just a few bases to touch and when the last payment goes through, we should have everything lined up.

Then it will be up to our layout man to get things together and a collaborative effort to ensure they are done right. I will keep you posted.

Taken directly from my TRO tracking sheet, I owe the following:

JP Sphagnum - $25
Lee Madison – at least $60, give or take depending on how many models he wants, if any.
David Dryburgh - $105
Jeremy Pea - $50
Ian Stead - $15

That all, so far as I know. If anyone reading this knows of an amount I owe them still, please drop me a line and tell me how much.

Thanks for stopping in.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tying up the loose ends...


I have received the final interior plate art for the TRO from David Dryburgh. It really looks nice and I have received nothing but kudos from those who’ve seen it.

I have also received a final rough for the Velite from Lee Madison. He is busy putting the finishing changes to that piece before moving to the final version of the Striker II.

Geoffrey Butler, my co-author, has finished working on the Jenner writeup and I expect to work on it Sunday evening. After his final go-over, it will be ready.

Eric has been very busy catching up on commission work, and while I am eager to see his take on the Jenner for 3063, that piece is in line and must wait its turn. I don’t seriously expect much until after Christmas.

In fact, I would be surprised to see any of these remaining pieces done before the holiday, as many folks are gearing up for their celebration. I am no different. I got a nice Christmas bonus this year – a week’s pay makes quite a difference, especially as the economy has been in the doldrums. We’re lucky our CEO saw fit to add something to the holiday paycheck. I spent it all on gifts, of course. Momma’s paycheck is coming the day before Christmas, and some of that will go to gifts and a nice dinner. I am hoping to make cookies for the family this year.

Meanwhile, the weather has warmed up and I have been out in the garage working on the TRO. Several pieces of Vlad’s art remain to be cleaned up and it is time-consuming work. Furthermore, I have been busy bundling the art with the writeups in order to make things a bit more organized for our layout man. The ‘Mechs, with the exception of the Jenner, are ready to send off as email attachments. I was thinking it might be wiser to send them on a jump drive or possibly a CD ROM, but Jim Devlin is in England and the shipping time would drag things out further. Still, I may do it anyway, in order to give him something solid to work on. It would save him the time and trouble of downloading hundreds of megabytes of information.

So for me, it’s cleaning up art and when that is done, bundling it. I had forgotten to add art to the section headers, and may do it tomorrow – nothing fancy, but it will break up the monotony of text. Furthermore, I have decided to make some changes to the print-friendly version of the layout. Some of the text needs to be black instead of white for ease of reading. Furthermore, I see no reason why the print version needs to be in anything but greyscale. Colors, even with the simplified layout, just get that much harder to look at when they are forcibly turned into a shade of grey. Better to make it all black and white and sort out the visual problems before we move on.

That’s pretty much it, folks. Sorry I couldn’t have this ready for Christmas, but if you’ve been following this blog, you know the kinds of trouble I have been having with art and so on. Let’s hope the new year brings us the remaining work (and money to pay for it). I will do my best to hammer out the rest here at home.

And before I go, apologies to PaintItPink for splashing my disappointment all over her blog's comments section. It seems the more I see of amateur (or professional) efforts to portray 'Mecha in film, video, whatever, the less patience I have with the work itself. I mean really, am I the only one on the planet that sees this stuff? And is bothered about it?

Thanks for stopping by.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A bit of an Update...

Hello, and thank you all for your patience.

I have been busy this past weekend putting up lights, trees and whatnot. Our shop is short a person due to holiday vacation, so when I come home it’s understandable I am somewhat bushed. Add to that a slowdown on TRO progress (why did I ever think I could get this out by Christmas?) and you have little motivation for an update that really isn’t an update.

But it is.

I talked with Lee Madison, he of the Velite and Striker II art, and he is also busy with projects, but is nearly finished with his art. David Dryburgh has not checked in for over a week, but I think he is in the same boat as Eric Ou – that is, a student at university who is now out on holidays. Nevertheless, I trust he is still working on the final interior plate.

Naturally, this enforced idleness does not sit well with me, but I have been busy just the same. However, whenever there is a lull in the action, I get out to the various websites and check to see what’s happening in the world. In my case, that includes the world of BattleTech. One of the sites I visit is, a cozy little stop where folks are creating new machines and talking over new ideas. Much of it you will find on the bigger sites, but there are always a few nuggets to be found which do not make what I refer to as the ‘big time’. One of those little gems in the rough was a ‘Mech design based on a favorite of mine, the Jenner.

The designer meant well and designed the best he knew, but has mixed elements of a close-quarters fighter with those found more appropriately on a fire-support ‘Mech. All this, packed into a 35-ton machine which is one of the odder-looking ducks of the BattleTech universe – and that is saying something.

Now, the last time I saw something like this, it was a canon design called the Vindicator. The writeup admitted that this ‘Mech was the product of compromise, and really did not excel at any one task unless it was deployed in lance strength. I did not want a Jenner consigned to the same fate, yet the design had promise. The accompanying writeup was sparse, without enough detail to determine what assignments the author had in mind for his machine. Despite repeated efforts, I have not been able to contact the original designer to get his blessing and some additional background. However, there was enough to ascertain that this ‘Mech came from a campaign, a long one, and that it had seen actual combat on the tabletop. That was enough for me and I took it to the next step.

I changed a few things around – the energy weapons, the ammunition supply, the armor and the jump jets. The rest I left alone. The result looked enough like an advance on previous iterations of the Jenner to qualify as a TRO ‘Mech, yet I already had enough ‘Mechs for the Draconis Combine and was not willing to drop an existing piece just to make room. So the new Jenner found a home in the Mercenaries section.

Yes, that’s right. I decided to add another ‘Mech. Again.

Eric quickly agreed to do a new piece of art for this machine. I have cautioned him to retain as many of the major styling cues as possible, even sending an image of the Jenner IIC to show what I mean. And Geoff? He was eager to get started on the writeup – he agreed that it was a solid design. I will have to wait until Eric has finished his other commissions and Geoff has completed the changes to his writeup to reflect its Mercenary origin, but this one is a go.

The new Jenner’s warload is impressive. It carries three MRM-10 launchers, supplied with a single ton of ammo. That is enough for eight turns of fire, plenty for a ‘Mech of this tonnage and adequate for the average game. Backing these are two medium lasers. The original design called for four jump jets, but those are most often found on in-fighters and in any case, four is not enough. The stock unit carries five and they are only moderately useful – there is little a jump of four can do that a movement of 11 (or 14) cannot, and the speed on the straighaways is key for this design. The Jenner’s tonnage does not support in-fighter missions and such an assignment would be a waste of the MRM’s range in any case. I removed them and added MASC. Some might find this questionable, given the chance of losing a hip, but in practice I have found MASC to be a hole card when it comes to getting into position for a good firing solution.

Armor is near maximum for a ‘Mech of this size, with liberal use of endo-steel and ferro fibrous plating throughout. An extra-light engine powers this new Jenner. Again, some might consider this to be a liability, but light ‘Mechs have plenty of internal space relative to the tonnage available for weapons, so it’s a necessary tradeoff. The pilot is protected by CASE. With a movement profile of 7/11(14), this baby should be able to execute ‘saber-dance’ routines with ease, its high speed granting relative immunity from enemy fire. The key is to keep moving. A stationary Jenner, even with good armor, is a sitting duck.

When the ammo runs out, the pilot retires to the rear; armed with two lasers, he can deal with anything that makes it to the backfield. By the time the enemy gets there, they are usually full of holes and ready to take internal hits – and the Jenner pilot still has his speed.

My son took a look at this design and labeled it a ‘recon/harrier’ which would be especially hard on vehicles. Funny, because the original writeup described it as being unsuitable for recon. However, I believe the speed makes it suitable for such missions and the warload would deliver quite a punch to anything met along the way.

I have had email asking about the printed version. That’s good – there is sufficient interest for me to go ahead with the initial 25-copy print run. I will have to borrow money to make it happen, but should get a modest portion of it back when I sell the remaining nine copies. I would like to do thirty copies, but do not yet have enough people shouting for it to make that worth my while. It’s at least another hundred twenty dollars, and I do not wish to borrow more than $600. I might pitch in the extra money if enough people commit to it, but so far I have not got enough emails to warrant more than the initial run.

Hopefully we will see the finished Velite and Striker II before the next update. I am crossing my fingers – but not both hands. After all, I have to pay off the artists before I can publish, and that will take a little more time.

Thank you all for being so patient with the TRO and the blog updates. Hope your shopping is stress-free and that you are getting a chance to relax before the holidays hit us.


Monday, December 07, 2009

A comment on hobbies past....


Despite the artwork at the top, this particular entry isn’t about the TRO itself. So if you came for an update, sorry.

Well, all right. David Dryburgh just shot me another update on the last interior plate and it’s coming along nicely. I love the sketch stage – it’s where the artist and I can get together and make the tweaks and changes which culminate in a finished piece. I have not heard from Lee Madison, but as you can see from the header art, he’s got some good ideas and is hard at work on them.

No, I really got on this today to kinda lay something out that has been bugging me for a while. See, when I was a teenager, a man named Don Bruce let me into his house at the top of Horizon View (in Lake Forest Park, at the top of Lake Washington, city of Seattle). That was 1978. I noticed some interesting electronic bits on his workbench and asked him if he could teach me how to make electronic gadgets too.

Long story short, he did and here I am, thirty years later wondering what happened to the hobby. I recall clearly in the mid-1990s modifying an Original Series Star Trek Communicator purchased at a Trek convention to record sound, flash lights and turn on when you flipped the antenna grid open. With a sound delay, you could order three to beam up and a voice would respond “three to beam up, aye”. People were amazed; but then, this was the era of Steve Job’s NEXT computer.

Now you have telephones that are the same size as that prop communicator. They take pictures, store reams of music, connect with the Internet and of course, make phone calls and permit texting. And for all practical purposes, they are disposable. That is, the turnover rate for these amazing powerhouses is driven by fashion more than obsolescence. I still can’t get it through my head that they are disposable technology, but I suppose it goes a long way towards explaining why one of my favorite hobbies is pretty much dead, at least as a hobby.

I don’t think you younger readers have any idea what it’s like to go to the store and pick up a copy of Popular Electronics, or Radio Electronics, or any of the plethora of other such magazines. Not that any of you would, but there it is. I can still recall slipping into a bookshop in the early 1990s to pick up a copy of RUN magazine, for the Commodore computer. I am not used to the idea of the Commodore being ‘retro’, but I suppose the ability to learn BASIC and program your own computer is quite old-fashioned. As is the notion of opening up your computer, desoldering a chip from the motherboard and installing a socket for a new chip – or even just replacing a CIA chip which blew out when a static spark fried it (the mouse for the C-128 was infamous for that). Hotrodding a computer these days is quite different from when I was a young man.

I think that is the part that really bothers me. I still get a kick out of electronics, but now the only things folks will pay cash money for are custom electronic projects for things you will never, ever see on the open market. Such as Union Class Dropships.

The question is, who will do these things when I am fifty-five?

There is no one to pick up the challenge. There is not even the desire. Industry’s capacity to manufacture more and more complex electronic gadgets on a scale which makes them as disposable as a ballpoint pen has pretty much squashed that. But the issue goes deeper. I saw an advertisement tonight for a ‘smart phone’, something which is quite common now. The trouble is, I have no idea what the hell I would do with all that functionality – and a good part of it seems dedicated to ephemeral things like social networks, pictures of things no one really cares about, and connecting to an Internet increasingly obsessed with the inconsequential. The last time I was presented with a machine that did vastly more than I needed was when I bought a PC-XT clone in Hong Kong – in 1985. I never used it, never needed a computer to do anything until 1988, when I got a Commodore C-128. That was when I began writing and programming and tinkering with electronics in earnest.

Yes, I know, BattleTech can be counted among the things of little consequence mentioned earlier. But think about it – BattleTech is one of the few places where you can find people writing actual stories, assembling and painting miniatures (and in some cases even designing them) and designing new machines on paper for the game itself. These are also hobbies I love. I am wroth to see them go. There is nothing I can do about electronics – I have friends who know more than I and have done better things, but there is no new blood, no teenagers eager to assemble a crystal radio or a metal detector or even (gasp!) a blinky box. They are pretty much gone.

So too are the model builders, the control-line flyers and other relics of the distant past. Oh sure, the boys have fun when I break out the airplanes and get those Cox engines revved up. But they are not inspired to create their own designs, to learn about air foils and where the center of gravity should be relative to the wing chord to get a balanced plane. It’s enough to see them having fun, I suppose. But check out the websites for these hobbies and you will see that most of the participants are in the 30-60 age group.

It may be that I lack the skill to pass on the spark, to infect others with my fascination and pleasure. My own father tried for decades to interest me in the outdoors and camping, and while I love to do those things, I am not inspired to take them up on my own. The tent, the camp stove, the sleeping bags – all languish in storage until the day arrives when my son is gone and I am too old to do such things on my own even if I wanted.

You know, I created that Union Class Dropship for the Catalyst Games GenCon 2007 table. It got plenty of admiring comments, and I did a good job. The company bought it from me in the end. But something bothers me. My partner on the project, Bill Burt, stenciled my name and email address prominently on the side of the table for GenCon. I eagerly awaited the people who would contact me to find out how it was done.

Not one email, folks. Not one person expressed the slightest interest in how it was done. They were impressed, certainly, but no one wanted to try something like it on their own.

I think I mind getting old because of the things I have to leave behind. There is nothing wrong with any of those hobbies – my son could, if he wanted, make a solar-powered radio in a nice cigar box and it would work as well as the one you can get in the gumball machine. But people have changed, at least on the outside. And there is no one to share my experiences.

On the one hand, I value the internet. I know how much it has changed everyone’s life, and mostly for the better. You would not be reading this blog, for instance. But I have a confession to make, and it is this – every time I see a new internet virus or threat, a tiny part of me stands up and cheers. I know what terrible things would happen if the world-wide web collapsed. But deep inside, a part of me secretly wishes the Internet *would* go away – forever.

Yeah, I know. A terrible thing to wish for, just to resurrect a few outdated hobbies. Like I said, it’s there and it’s not practical, but I see people devoting more and more of their lives to manipulating pixels and I wonder if it’s actually going anywhere. When you spend increasing amounts of your time tweeting and posting on Facebook, eventually there’s no time left to actually do stuff – and you’re left to tweet about the dreck and humdrum of a daily life which, at bottom, is really not that different from everyone else’s.

With the exception of this entry and a few digressions in the past, that’s what I have tried to avoid with this blog. It’s a place that actually serves a purpose, and will continue to do so as long as it’s needed.


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Ha! Christmas is Canceled!

What?! You were expecting something else? Okay, but give me another hour or so...

All right, maybe more than that... It is chore day, people. I have to wash, dry and fold all the clothes. Then I have to change fish tank water. Then it's off to shop for the groceries and put gas in the van. Not necessarily in that order.

Give me a little more time.

Meanwhile, amuse yourself watching this parody of MegaMan:

It's got robots, so, ya know? Somewhat related, except for the last part. Heh.

Okay, got all that stuff done.

I have finally established reliable contact with our layout man. He has been catching up at work, attempting to do four weeks of work in two. Not easy – I’ve tried that myself (and was unsuccessfull; only managed to get three weeks worth done).

The holidays are upon us and the shoppers are in full cry – or as full a cry as they are going to get this year. I recently received the Ocelot II from Ian Stead, his final piece for the TRO. It looks good and is at the top of this blog. Click on it for a closer look.

David is finishing up various other projects and I have decided not to bother him until I am sure his other obligations are complete. He is working on the third interior plate and (hopefully) some black and white art.

Lee Madison has the remaining two projects – the Velite and the Striker II - still in progress. Meanwhile, he has received a portion of his payment in the form of old plastic models. These are the 1/48th scale Dougram TequilaGunner and the 1/72nd scale Destroid Tomahawk, along with some 1/72nd scale military vehicles and personnel for comparison. Took a while to get there, but I am sure it was worth the wait.

And that is all we are waiting on, guys. I went through the Ocelot II writeup and tightened it a bit, introducing a Riot Control Vehicle variant which I then ported over to the Record Sheet Annex. It now waits with the others. Christmas is not canceled, but my plans to release the TRO in time for Christmas certainly are.

I have a feeling the role-players are going to enjoy this TRO, mainly because we’ve got so many vehicles that approach the thirty-meter limit and thus, begin to cross over into RPG territory. Meaning, you might actually see (or drive) a Cortez during your adventures in the Inner Sphere.

I am having a hard time setting aside money to pay off my remaining artist commissions. It’s not just the season, it’s my having to get firewood and upgrade the car’s tires and replace worn cables and crap like that. To all of you – I am going to start sending it in smaller chunks. You will get it, just not all at once.

I bid reluctant goodbye to Eric and Ian – they’ve both been good artists, especially Eric, and their work, especially Eric’s, has pretty much re-written the standard for fan-made TROs.

As for printing the TRO? Well, it seems there are a few more people than I thought waiting for a copy – or expect one for their portfolio. I did a price check and discovered that printing an extra five copies will run $566 (as opposed to $478 for 20 copies). With a bit more effort, that’s what we’ll get – and there will be enough for everyone. They will be in the same format and binding as the company TROs.

Now to get back and take a look at a few more writeups. I need to make sure I catch all the crap – it’s been a bit disturbing, going into a writeup to answer a forum question and finding an awkward phrase lurking there. Still. After all this time and all this work.


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.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another month closer....


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Take care and enjoy the tunes.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

I had the Corvair dream...

Hey ! You're back!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, I had a Corvair dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for coming by.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Interior Art is nearly done...


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay well and thanks for stopping by.


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

Friday, October 09, 2009

Good news for TRO 3063 fans!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What value?

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

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

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

Thanks for stopping by.


Friday, October 02, 2009

TRO:3063 - the last few commissions

Hello to all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just sayin’.