Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Looking for new artists...

Am still trying to get hold of Paul, the proofreader who rewrote the Introductions. I have not heard from him in over a week, so he must be pretty busy. I am going to tackle the main intro myself, using the tips he gave me and trying a less ambitious approach.

Went through the listed Hi-Rez images for the Vehicles and found that we’re missing one – the Werefox Martel. Vadim is aware it’s missing and is looking for the original to scan it again. I’ve nailed down the others – they were under different names (the original names associated with the original designs; we didn’t know then what was a duplicate and what was appropriate for a given House.)

‘Mech images all have Hi-Rez art (except the ones which have NO art, of course) and I am down to about five designs which need finishing or a new piece begun.

There are three ‘Mech writeups in Suspend status due to a conflict with canon 3063 events – the Vulcan VL-7M, the Vulcan II and the Guillotine GLT-8M. I am still waiting on Geoff to get back to me on those, but with the July 4th holiday fast approaching, it may be another week before he can help with resolving this issue.

Given that my current ‘stable’ of artists is either busy or away on a trip, I am going to go out tomorrow evening and begin trolling deviantArt.com for more artists. I contacted one who is working out of Irkutsk (in Russia), but he is not available for commission work at this time. Damn shame, too, because he is really good and his work is right up my alley…

Hopefully I will be able to get things moving on the art front within a few days. Money is still tight, but I am cutting back on expenses here at home so I can offer a decent price for each work. So far the max I can afford is $50 per piece. That probably won’t go up, given my finances, and it will limit the pool of artists I can call on. Some want upwards of $150 per piece. Maybe that is the going price, maybe not. I know no one in the gaming industry who could tell me different.

So far I have sunk $600 into this project on art alone (don’t tell my wife) and I am rapidly approaching my limit. Free work is something I have not yet considered, mostly because artists of sufficient caliber simply won’t work for nothing, and because the ones who will do it often won’t follow a deadline of any sort. And besides, it hurts my pride to beg. But if anyone reading this has a lead on a talented fellow who will take direction, produce on a schedule and be satisfied to see his name in print (or accept $25 per piece), let me know.

I really hate to take commissions away from folks who want (or say they want) them, but the show must go on and every day we am not reviewing a sketch or approving a final inking is a day wasted, so far as I am concerned. I get the impression that a few of the artists I have contacted do not work well with a deadline. Oh well. If I have to commission a separate artist for each piece, so be it. We *will* finish the project!

The only trouble with all this pro-activeness is going to be computer time. My wife has discovered Facebook’s social networking game, FarmTown. She can easily burn off a whole day on that game, and it is a daunting task to get the machine from her long enough to update this blog, search for artists and maintain communications with my fellow writers. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. I will have to hope her work schedule at J.C. Penny’s will include a few closing days, so the computer will be open when I get home.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

More news from the Art front...

Well, the changes to the Introductions have been made. I have scotched the idea that the Free Worlds League created a ‘mega-factory’ on Panjang after it was pointed out that, unlike the Draconis Combine, this was something Thomas Marik probably could not accomplish. Too much political resistance. Besides, this would require that I go back into all the FWL writeups and change manufacturing locations, manufacturers mentioned in the writeup itself. Too much work.

Eriance is currently tied up with summer school, so there is no telling when we will see more art from him. I will keep sending money, but there is only so much time in anyone’s day and Eric’s doing well in school is far more important than our little project. We may have to bump the printing date back, because there are other issues with art.

David White is under several deadlines, as was mentioned before. Hopefully he will get a chance for a break – even *I* took four months off from writing just to recharge my batteries and Geoff has had school and other things to attend to in the past. It *is* a hobby, after all, not a living or a lifestyle. Daniel Cherng is off to Taiwan for a few weeks, so it will be a while before he can begin work in earnest on his assignments (the CM-33 is shaping up nicely, however).

Summer has hit us – so very little time to do the work on this TRO with all the other things calling. There is house work, of course, but also house repairs while the weather is good, yard work while the weeds are dry, and the usual non-CBT activities with my friends and family. I have been trying to make the most of the rare instances where our artists, writers and proofreaders have time to work, but time is easily the hardest resource to come by.

It is nearly the end of my too-brief weekend, but we have made more progress; not as much as I would like, but patience is the key. It has been nearly two years since this project got started, and while I feel a little pressure to complete it at the two-year mark, it may take a bit longer. However, the biggest pressure is to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ – getting the hard work (art, proofing) out of the way before the artists and writers all have to buckle down for another school year. There is much to do still.

I put a reference to a military action on the world of Les Halles into four different writeups – one was a vehicle, three were FWL ‘Mechs. Unfortunately, nearly a year after writing these, my fact-checker (Geoff) found that such an encounter simply could not have taken place in 3063. So it is back to the drawing board with those writeups to find something which can plausibly replace the references. *Sigh*. I really did think I could get away with it :)


Friday, June 26, 2009

The Shock of the week...

As you know, I have been writing and writing and writing for a couple of years now on Battletech TROs and stories and so forth. It is a long time to be writing on a single subject, and to be honest, I thought I was rather getting the hang of it.

You can imagine my shock, then, a couple of days back when Paul Skowronek returned the first of my Introductions with his notes. After that was the sound of chopping late into the night - me at my computer, hacking away at what I *thought* was a pretty good intro.

It got worse. The introduction for the 'Mech section was horrific - I had committed so many egregious errors that it became pretty clear what I had was not only not ready to print, it barely rose above the status of 'rough draft'.

I studied the changes Paul suggested as I entered them, noting along the way that I had used colloquialisms, names for political entities which did not exist in 3063, and even a few bits of slang. It probably would have served me well to study the actual TROs I have in profusion, but Paul set me straight and... well, he pretty much re-wrote the Introductions.

I have not heard from him in the past few days, though I have sent numerous emails with comments and questions. He is probably very busy, but let me say this right now - I have a LOT to learn about writing for BattleTech, and about writing to an audience in general. He has essentially performed the duties of a co-writer rather than those expected of a simple proofreader.

Thank you, Paul! As with my other co-writer, Geoffrey, you are responsible for any excellence this work may have.

I am still stuck on what to replace the current main intro for the Vehicles section. Probably brain lock or something. I will be attending a game tomorrow, but working hard on that bit tonight. Perhaps Paul will come to my rescue, perhaps not. There is enough guidance to get the job done, but it will be slow.

Meanwhile, I have to send out reminders to the artists again, checking on their progress. The Oculus has been finished, and while it may not seem like a big deal, it is the first finished piece of commissioned vehicle art. You can see it above. We are using propulsion systems which actually work, but are a bit of a change from the usual helicopter layout...

Meanwhile, Geoff has once again come through with several pieces which have been tweaked and trimmed and brought up to standards (including those mentioned by Paul). I will send them out to the other proofreaders tonight. More eyes is better, it seems.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Good News!

Howdy! Steve again.

I’ve got several bits of good news. The writing portion of the TRO is finished; that is, the portion where we take a design (or more rarely, an image) and come up with a TRO entry from scratch.

That is the first bit. Now that is not to say there will be no more changes to the writeups; Geoff has just returned several Capellan entries which have been improved with more accurate references to military units of the 3063-era and text which ties it a bit closer to events transpiring during the first and second waves of the FedCom Civil War.

That was the second bit. The third piece of good news is that Daniel Cherng and Mike Sullivan have both reported in. Mike has the scoop with a solid design for the Oculus combat spotter, and he is busy refining the image I chose to keep. Daniel still has nothing to show, but is eager by all accounts to get started. I will shift another VTOL (the Leopard) over to him – in addition to the Dragonfly, he has four Vees to work on. He really does good work and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with on his drawing board.

The final announcement is that David White, after many hours of wrangling, has come up with a sketch for the Thunderbolt. The parameters of this particular design are challenging, and it is hard to distill them into an image which conveys the sheer difference of this T-bolt from the standard fusion-powered model while retaining the traditional styling cues. He too is plugging away and I hope to have something within a week or two.

That’s all!

No, wait! Our proofreaders have begun returning the snippets I sent and the results are every bit as encouraging as I’d hoped. Some pieces had few flaws; others were in need of some additional love and I gave it. Thanks, guys! Keep on charging and keep an eye on your email for more of the same. The work you are doing is vital, and I depend on your keen eyes and timely turnarounds to maintain our publishing schedule.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Art is the Thing.....

Hi. Steve here.
I have spent the past few days sending off emails to the various artists and checking on their progress. As Father’s Day arrives, I am not much nearer my goal of getting some vehicle art done than I was two weeks ago. It’s okay, I suppose – just a case of the jitters. I don’t know how realistic the deadline is anymore, given the glacial pace at which Vee art is moving. Throwing money at it won’t help, even if I had extra money to throw.

And I don’t. Still gotta pay the electric bill and put gas in the car, ya know? The art is paid up to date (with the exception of Eriance; I still owe him fifty bucks for the Centurion art).

  • Looks like Dave White has other deadlines to pursue right now, all more lucrative than my project (Lego, various toy companies) and these are much more important, I am sure you will agree. He has projected a sketch will be ready by the end of this week, so it’s just time to be patient.
  • Daniel Cherng… not sure what the deal is with him. He has a busy schedule, but has promised quite a few pieces are in the works. I have not heard back from him in about four days, so it’s touch and go. Hopefully this Father’s Day will allow him to get a few in the email so I have a placeholder for some of my designs.
  • I have shifted two designs over from Daniel to Mike Sullivan, the Oculus and the Cheyenne III. Mike has been in constant touch with me, does good affordable work, and offers 3D rendering of any design he creates. This allows me the luxury of choosing one of several perspectives for the final image. Both of these machines will be using radical VTOL technology (some of it actually works!) from current and past attempts in the real world.
The idea is to get away from the conventional rotor-driven helicopter concept and dip a toe into some alternatives (back issues of Popular Science are very inspirational). My personal favorite is the Bell XF-109, with rotating jet engines at the wingtips of a conventional-looking jet fighter. In real life, this prototype did not perform as well as the designers would have liked, but I think the bugs will have been worked out by 3063…
  • I had planned to have three color plates inside the TRO, illustrating various scenes from the world of 3063. The first, Dawn Patrol, was done by Alex Iglesias over a year ago and is very good. The second, Chaperone, was to be centered around battle armor, but does not exist anywhere except in a well-described scene sketch on my hard drive. The third has no name; I may let the artist decide what the subject will be, but a crew having lunch next to their disabled tank is on my mind. It reflects a scene from many games I have played: what will a crew will do when their fearsome AFV loses its main gun?
  • Vlad is occupied with real life, and has not been able to do any work on the Horatio bridgelayer, so I may farm that out to another artist as well. Time is running out.
  • On the writing front, Geoff is doing what he can. He dropped off two very good final pieces for the Kuritan Privateer and the Capellan San-Ku-Chu Light Mobile Tactical Vehicle yesterday. I am eagerly awaiting more from him, but a lot of it is editing and will probably be shipped back to me the way it was sent – in a batch. Unfortunately, this means I will have to go through and look at them again – I would anyway, just to see what wonderful additions Geoff has made – and correct certain formatting errors which keep cropping up.
  • Oh well. At least it kept me busy for a few days, and I now know where a lot of the glitches can be found.
  • The rough draft for the Death Incarnate is finished, at a maximum word count of 765 for our TRO entry. I am sure I could find fifteen words to strip out, but would rather leave that to Geoff if he finds it necessary. Like the Mercenary entries, I have given some thought to whether or not this really belongs in a TRO – it is not a production model or even a prototype, after all. But the average Battletech reader would be a dull dog to claim no interest in such things, and this is not a company product. So they will stay, little bits of glitter amongst the drab grey primer of machines rolling off assembly lines.
  • I have a small stable of proofreaders assembled and waiting. Their main job will be to vet the overall look and feel of each entry; something similar to what Douglas Gatto did with the Hegemony’s Catapult. I have ninety entries to track; it is just not possible to catch every vague phrase when you are the original writer. I know what we meant to say; it is for my proofreading team to decide if we actually said what we meant to say.
  • Finally, the Table of Contents and Introductions have been amended to reflect the new machines, along with an update to the Credits section and a few shout-outs to the major players. Covering the copyrights is required, but I am debating the inclusion of a minor list of names under the heading of ‘Artistic Inspiration’ as well. That is probably a wise course in this increasingly litigious society. Despite our vigilance, there may be oversights in the matter of derivative art, and I do not want to appear in court.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Artwork and some new 'Mechs added...

Well, it’s been about a week and a half. Time for an update!

First of all, we automatically send out a bi-weekly update to those parties involved in the art or writing of the TRO. For those of you who are working with us and have not received the latest (today’s date), let me know. For folks who are NOT on the project but are curious about the TRO, drop me a note at ssatak (at) yahoo.com. I will send a single copy. Who knows? Maybe you will spot a naming error or something…..

We have added two more BattleMechs to the roster. Yes, I know – the list was supposed to be frozen, but the Periphery is still not very well-represented in the ‘Mech section, and the writeup/design/artwork was already there.

The first design is for the Taurian Concordat. I just received permission to use the Forge assault ‘Mech. Some of you may recognize the name from the ‘Battletech Universe’ website’s own attempt to produce a TRO. It is a modest effort by a Periphery state to get a leg into the ‘big leagues’ and the design is solid. Thank you, Kirk. We are working on a commission for the art.

The other design is a piece of battlefield salvage which has been heavily modified for Solaris Seven, then taken and modified further for use on hunting expeditions. Where, you might ask, would such a machine be needed for big game hunting? Why, on Hunter’s Paradise! For those of you who do not recognize the name, it is a world out beyond the Lyran Periphery and a bit ‘north’ of the Rim Collection. The design includes such oddities as laser eye beams, a big hatchet and a torso-mounted cockpit. The art for the Death Incarnate (a former Kuritan Quickdraw) is complete, the design is a good one and the writeup is nearly done.

I am getting murmurs back from my vehicle artists: Daniel Cherng is experiencing scanner problems and Mike Sullivan is sandwiching his work in between day jobs. These are two talented fellows, and I eagerly await the fruits of their labor. Eriance is still plugging away at ‘Mechs, but should be able to turn his attention to AFVs in the near future. Finally, David White is still working on the Thunderbolt – he too has many obligations to fulfill, so it may be another week before we see what he hath wrought.

My co-author Geoffrey Butler is also juggling a busy schedule, but between finals at school and a girlfriend (!), he is making progress on the proofing and final edit of the writeups. He is even adding info to ground our work more solidly in the 3063 era (bonus!).

I am still going through each writeup and trying to maintain a fresh eye. Just the other day a reader caught a discrepancy between a description of the Marian Hegemony’s Catapult as surplus and a later reference to its performance which seemed at odds with the initial description. I made some changes (‘refurbished’ is such a useful word) and the issue was solved. But things like that will continue to crop up, and our writing will tighten, as the artwork portion comes closer and closer to completion.

I have been thinking hard about the artwork itself, specifically where VTOLs are concerned. While many of them will remain conventional helicopters (the art is in the can), some will feature unusual propulsion systems (such as that found on the Bell X-19) or even a ring rotor. It all depends on what the artists choose to use, but I strongly suggested they avoid conventional rotorcraft layouts (although in the case of the Oculus, the Lockheed Cheyenne AH-56 will serve). We have enough helicopters in Battletech.

Another challenge was to see if we could showcase a tracked AFV which did not exceed six tons and yet still carried a decent loadout, moved at a good rate of speed and was well-armored. The Taurian Concordat’s Cortes is a good stab at this idea, packing an ER medium and ER small laser, 2.5 tons of armor and making 7/11 with tracks. We probably could have made it a bit more ‘shooty’ with a wheeled suspension, but there are already armored cars in the TRO (the Centaurus and the Diatryma) and they have their limitations.

We wanted something like the Czech 38t from World War II. Not intended for taking MBTs head-on, it excels at raiding supply columns and, when attacking in mass formations (as the Germans did), all those ER mediums have to be somewhat disconcerting to a foe. My only regret is that in order to reflect the actual crew such a vehicle might have, I would have to add half a ton of ‘stuff’ to the design and that would mean dropping either armor or a weapon.

As it is, we will just have to rely on the miracle of 31st Century fire control systems to permit a single crewman to drive AND fire AND maintain communications with his lancemates. *Sigh* I suppose if a Mechwarrior can do it, anyone can.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Doing the Limbo….

This evening I went through the remaining BattleMech writeups and have spotted a few more glitches, which I smoothed over or trimmed back. The original Vulcan piece clocked in at 1,200 words! But as it was a ‘co-writeup’ with the following Vulcan II, and as that piece had only about 450 words, I felt the two balanced each other.

But a fresh look at the text showed there were several spots where information was duplicated. Sure, it was from two different perspectives, but it was redundant nonetheless, and I found that trimming the lead Vulcan piece was not as hard as I thought it would be, with the Vulcan II fresh in my mind. So I whacked away at the undergrowth (it is simply amazing what writers insist on keeping, just because it reads well or is one of our better works). The result is that the Vulcan comes in under 1000 words – still too long in light of the standard 750-word limit we impose on ourselves, but well within standards if you add the Vulcan and Vulcan II together and divide.

I am considering adding another ‘Mech (the Forge) to the stable; it is a bit left over from the work I did for the Battletech Universe website’s TRO project. It was considered too long for their format, and it was. I trimmed it back to 750 words and ‘Crayed’ the weapons references, but the BTU TRO is on hiatus and may never see the light of day. I am going to contact the original designer and ask if he is willing to permit its use.

The reason I consider this addition is because, despite the fact that it has a wonderful writeup, the Capellan Culverin is languishing due to art issues. It is an Omni-Mech with two Configurations and I have been trying to set aside money for new art, but so far have been unable to get it to Alex Iglesias in order to move things along. The price is set, and it is quite reasonable, but…well, we’ll see. Removing the Culverin would reduce the number of ‘Mechs by three; adding the Forge would leave a shortfall of two for a total of 33 ‘Mechs.

I suppose I can live with that. It is a shame to waste writeups, but there are times when you just have to let go. This may be one of them.

No new art from Eriance yet, though he has lots of questions on building and designing BattleMechs. It would appear he does not have Heavy Metal Pro or one of the other ‘Mech design programs out there. Doing it by hand is something I have never done, and from the looks of it, I have not missed very much!


Monday, June 08, 2009

Artwork and Format Efforts continue…

Well, Eriance sent the penciled Commando yesterday and it looks really good. He has done a stand-up job thus far and I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Daniel Cherng has stated he is on the job and drawing, but so far I have not seen any of his work for this book. He has talent and a gallery of outstanding drawings, so I know he can do the TRO proud and earn my dollar. The question is, when will he be able to do it? Folks, I don’t commission pikers. Daniel’s art is of the same caliber as the ‘Mech artists we have seen so far – but he is doing vehicles and I am eight pieces of vehicle art in the hole with a deadline approaching. Eric says he will take a swing at it, but his forte is Mecha and people, not armored fighting vehicles.

Yes, telescoping the writing, editing and proofreading while we wait for the art is already in progress. And it is working out. But as you are aware, each of us has a life outside this project and hobby. If I decide to take the evening off from writing to go see a movie or swim with my son, I am sure others are in similar situations and faced with the same choices. Money only commands so much of an artist’s attention. And that is as it should be.

David White is temporarily stymied on the Thunderbolt; no telling when the inspiration will strike. He is an old hand at this, so I ain’t gonna bug ‘im. It arrives when it arrives. But all my commissions are paid up to date (yay!) and the financial decks are being cleared for the next batch.

Right now I am going through the writeups and checking for uniformity of formatting. Everything has to have the same name (Overview, Capabilities, Deployment, Variants and Notables) and it has to be in the same order, so as to smooth the transition to PDF.

Meanwhile, I have also begun to round up proofreaders who will take a look at the work we have done so far – they get their crack at it after Geoff has had his shot; with a few exceptions, he has nearly everything in his hands. I am sending the oversights to him (ie: the Privateer needs a Notables section and is short fifty words) but the end of the creative phase is clearly in view.

Of course, after we exit that tunnel, we will enter another, but that’s the nature of this kind of work. We get to heave a sigh of relief, stand up and stretch, then it’s back to the keyboard for the next phase.

Vlad is back from vacation; I will see if he can complete the other vehicle he promised.

I attended a game on Saturday, one which was bigger than we thought and ran far longer than it should have. Some players cried cheese when confronted with an SRM carrier and its load of Tandem-charge missiles, but they were using artillery to destroy the buildings we were supposed to guard, so it all evens out. I hate guarding property in a Battletech game. However, I fear we did not make the best use of our forces and suffered at least two needless losses due to being distracted by actions occurring all over the table – and in one case (my own), sheer stubbornness. Oh well. Hopefully we will do better next time.

Reaction on the forums to the latest art is encouraging. I hope our designs and writeups are at least as good.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Editing Blues....

Hey. Back once again with more updates.

After having sent the whole shebang off to Geoffrey for proofreading, I was left with the credits page and not much else. Out of sheer boredom, I began combing through the ‘Mech writeups and wouldn’t you know it? I came up with at least three that needed immediate attention.

- The Nightsky clocked in at nearly 900 words (the limit is 750) and was still in the original format (meant for online reading).
- The Commando was lacking any Notable ‘Mechs and Mechwarriors section and was about seventy words short.
- The FedSuns Centurion sections were out of order.

You know what that means. I fixed them and sent them individually to Geoff with my apologies, but now I have to go through each and every one of the ‘Mech writeups to make sure this does not happen again. To have missed such an egregious series of errors on the Nightsky was something of a shock. The least I can do is comb through them again, rather than place the burden on Geoff.

Also, I would like to elaborate a bit on the method we are using to guide this TRO. I am not talking about the nuts and bolts of the process – although you can be sure I will do that sometime soon 

As I mentioned a few posts back, the goal is not to re-invent the history of the Battletech universe circa 3063, but to slip our designs into it much like a high diver tries to enter the water. That is, with nary a splash. To that end, we have included references to events and institutions which are prominent in the storyline thus far, but taken pains not to inextricably link a design to any particular Name. You will find references to the loyalty of certain troops to Victor or Katherine Steiner-Davion – but Victor will not order a lance of Dragonfly VTOLs into combat. Nondi Steiner will order the production of new designs, and we will list new designs, but no specific names are mentioned so the connection is implied rather than stated categorically.

Likewise the rest of the Inner Sphere. As a goodwill gesture, House Marik will authorize a contingent of troops and their machines to clear off unexploded munitions left over from various conflicts between the Free Worlds League and the Capellan Confederation, but at no point is it specifically stated that the Mastodon mine-clearing tank was sent to take part in this activity. We leave it to the reader – and the player – to draw their own conclusions and use (or not use) the Mastodon in their own game.

The idea is to drop these machines into the enormous gaps left by previous hard-working writers whose effort is evident in the FedCom Civil War manual and other similar publications. While an incredible amount of information is available on what units and notable leaders participated in an enormous variety of actions across the Inner Sphere, this is as far as the writers took it. I presume they left room for the individual player (or character in the Mechwarrior RPG) to make his mark below the thirty-meter limit.

This is to our advantage. Nowhere does the FCCW manual state what particular ‘Mechs or vehicles took action in the second wave fighting on Broken Wheel – only that light ‘Mechs and hovercraft led the way to capturing a Loyalist General. Thus it is ‘safe’ for us to drop a new version of the Commando into this action and claim it made contributions towards the eventual victory over the Loyalist faction on that world.

I know, I know. It seems like we are investing a large part of our effort into avoiding the discerning eye of authenticity mavens – aka the ‘Canonicity Police’. It’s sad, but it is true. To do otherwise would place us in the untenable position of effectively re-writing a piece of established Battletech canon – that is, the accepted account of history which the company both generates and approves.

It is untenable because we simply don’t have the manpower or time to continue re-inventing the history of the Inner Sphere from 3063 on. And we would lose a large portion of the fan-base. There are other fans who can pull it off (the Shattered Sphere stable of writers is especially good at this), but while their account of ‘alternate-timeline’ events is thorough and quite entertaining, it automatically disenfranchises a large number of Battletech players and readers who like things just as they are. It is too high a price to pay for seeing our work in print.

Remember, we want you to use these vehicles in your own games, in addition to the enjoyment you get reading the individual writeups. Listing them as being produced in an ‘alternate timeline’ is the same as saying ‘aren’t they nice? But you can’t use them in a REAL Battletech game’. I have spent too much money and my associates too much time to permit that to happen.

In other news, the Marian Hegemony’s refurbished Catapult art just came in. It’s sooooo cute! The only thing preventing us from commissioning a cuddly stuffed toy version is the huge LRM launcher and the ER large laser. They take the edge right off the ‘cute’.