Monday, November 29, 2010

More New Artwork... and a Reponse to Paint It Pink!

Greetings. It has been about three weeks since our last update. That is about right, given the rate I am paying and the response time from some of the artists / editors. Here is what’s happening:

- Paul Skowronek – spotty communications but we have reached an agreement. Now if he could only get that PayPal account up and running. I want to give you money, Paul, but I have nowhere to send it.

- Lee Madison finally responded and came up with this, the latest iteration of the White Knight.
- Our layout man Bill has had several things come up, mostly family-related. He has been busy with the holidays so no work has been done outside of some of the basic stuff I showed you in the previous blog post. I still have the page count as accurate and we are still massaging the images as well as the overall look and feel of the pages themselves.

One of the important things is the font size and font alignment. As some of you may have noticed, there was no real attempt to proofread the prototype we showed you. Aligning the text is very important and so far, Bill has been doing it by hand. He’s in a hurry and that ain’t good. I am going to take advantage of his down time and see if I cannot get InDesign to let us format the text in the document so all we have to do is drop the text in and it does the justifying automatically.

- Kenneth Schmidt is an intrepid user of Solaris Skunk Works and has done the data entry for the ‘Mechs, so we will provide those along with the HMP files for each machine. Unfortunately, SSW does not provide for vehicles of any sort, but you’ll still have their HMP versions available along with the Record Sheet PDF.

- The HMP files themselves have all been entered. Along the way I found a few issues and tweaked one or two designs in order to comply with their original intent. The writeups were modified accordingly.

- The HMV and HMAero files are still pending. They are time-intensive, as I do not have all the data in this computer. I have to call up the PDF and then make sure what I do have in HMV matches perfectly. Otherwise, I have to work split-screen, creating the HMV file from the PDF. And it’s fricken’ cold out there… in fact, my fingers don’t last long at 28 degrees F.

- Stephen Huda has completed the Werewolf VTOL for the Outworlds Alliance and is hard at work on the Draconis Combine’s Katana.

- The Draconis Combine’s Nemera had some late-breaking issues, mostly to do with perspective. I have sent it back to Chris Seymour for correction.

- The Taurian Concordat’s Auroch armored personnel carrier is finished. Good job, Karl!

- The Panzerfaust is complete. Payment to be rendered by Friday, pending a working PayPal address.

- Stephen Huda has also agreed to take on the Federated Commonwealth’s Werefox family, six vehicles which share a common chassis but which are not Omni vehicles.

- Ian is still working on the Tomahawk. Due to his workload on other projects, I have decided to pass the commission for this piece on to Eric Ou, who has time to do this and one other piece. He has already generated a couple of sketches which look very good and they will form the basis of the two vehicles

A Response to Paint It Pink’s Blog Post “BattleTech 2.1: Uncool Rules”

Some of you who have read PaintItPink’s blog (and who among the discerning has not?) noticed I took exception to a few of the items she listed under ‘uncool rules’. My initial remark:

Steven Satak said...
Oh, I am SO going to comment on this at length. But not here in the comments section, because I would run out of room.

The people at CGL are making a wargame that dips into fantasy. Their attempts to keep the wargame aspect under control are as impressive as their effort to include the fantastic. The two are at constant war with each other and with the current state of the art in the real world.

That they even attempt it, repeatedly, and market the result as successfully as they do, is simply astounding.

Her response was thus:

Steven S.: Wow, a post that has turned you into a Ra-Ra CGL fan boy! ;-) Looking forward to your piece in due course.

All right, the woman has called me out and I have to respond. I simply have to.

First, let me clear the air. I am a BT fanboy, not a CGL fanboy. They had me for a while and then they lost me – chalk it up to unpaid writers and three quarters of a million smackers gone missing at the ATM. I like the game and the fictional universe a lot, but the people who head the company that makes it? No way. I’ve had my rants on this topic and will let that be.

Nevertheless, I stand by my ra-ra because it is, frankly, justified. They have a hard row to hoe and they have done it against all odds (even the ones they have brought upon themselves). Not always gracefully, not to everyone’s satisfaction, but they keep at it. Three years on my part of writing, organizing art and wrassling with the problems involved in making a BT publication which is the equal of the company’s own work has taught me one thing – it ain’t easy. I don’t care for Herb personally, and you know what I think of some of the others. But by Hades, they do the best they can.

That said, let’s move on.

Pink said:

“Being an Old School Player of Battletech, what sold me on the game was the fact that it would allow me to simulate the action sequences I saw in Japanese SF anime giant mecha show, which were/are cool. So, using the concept of the "Rule of Cool", here are the rules in Battletech that I think are not cool. “

Ammo Explosion Rules
1. Ammo explosion rules, and the various CASE rules, are so clunky as to be the first thing everyone I know house rules, so not cool. In fact the ammo explosion rules are a classic example of a broken rule in Battletech, which is amply illustrated in the explosion of one ton of machine gun ammo equals 200 points of internal damage. My inclination is that an ammo hit equals the damage of the ammo. For example machine gun ammo would be two points, LRM 20 would be 20 points. Internal damage is always bad, but this plays far more reasonably (fun & cool), and would remove a lot of arguments for not carrying auto-cannons etc.

I agree with this as far as ammo explosion is concerned. I never did like the idea that a single bin of machine gun rounds could gut an otherwise untouched ‘Mech. It made carrying machine guns a serious hazard and one that tends to force people away from machines that are specifically designed for anti-personnel missions. Unfortunately, this is one mission which practically begs for ‘Mechs, as they are for all practical purposes giant men, with all the advantages of the human form as regards terrain. Despite that, the ammo explosion rules as they stand make a man-hunting ‘Mech a positive liability and most folks I know would rather avoid using them for that reason alone. You never see a tank blowing up from such a hit – why a ‘Mech?

I have never seen a house rule such as the one you list; it is a good house rule and I admit my experience is limited. Perhaps I will suggest it next time I game.

Even Bigger 'Mechs
2. Not allowing mechs larger than 100 tons is so not cool. Giant stompy robots are cool. Bigger giant stompy robots have even more cool. Cool is good, rules that get in the way of cool are not good. Of course the reason these rules have never been codified is that there are some flaws in the engine table when they arbitarily shifted the mid-range engines power to weight ratios. As for the record sheets, again these can be adjusted as there is nothing intrinsically stopping one from doing so.

There are rule sets out there cobbled together to allow larger ‘Mechs and other machines. But reality (such as it exists in BT) in the form of the in-universe flavor the writers want prevents this from becoming canon. Also, there is the acknowledgement by many players (including myself) that a machine much over 100 tons becomes little more than a slow-moving pillbox. We have no shortage of ponderous gun platforms at 100 tons – why would a 200-ton machine be anything other than more of the same?

Over 100 tons, you lose some of the advantages of the human form and the differences between a 200-ton ‘Mech and a 200-ton tank become moot. Further, where do you stop? The rules would have to be modified to account for those larger machines and they are complex enough as it is. The revision of rules has to stop sometime or you would never get the work to market. And soon enough, you’d have games where no one fields anything lower than a 150-ton ‘Mech.

Can you imagine how slow the game would be if you had to plow through four or five hundred points of armor to take down a ‘Mech? Even then, you would still not please everyone – eventually there would be players calling for rules that permitted 400-ton ‘Mechs, or even 1000-ton ‘Mechs. Finally, how would you transport such a behemoth?

No. I don’t believe the additional quality you would bring to the game would be worth the man-years required to shoe-horn it into the existing setting. And I don’t believe it would make for a better game on the tabletop, either.

I once called the fuzzy line between what ‘Mechs do and what infantry do the ‘30-meter Limit’. Once you begin trying to play BattleTech inside that single hex, the rules break down – and fast. You are effectively in RPG territory. You can’t have it both ways, though the writers and designers have worked hard to make it at least somewhat possible. I strongly believe that there is an upper limit to the game’s resolution as well, one I call the ‘100-ton Limit’. Once you start playing above that limit, you are in BattleForce territory, and again, the BT rules break down pretty fast.

Quad 'Mechs
3. The quad mechs rules in Battletch are so not cool. Quads are cool, quads with a torso and arms are cool, quads with a torso and a body with four arms are cool. Tripods with, or without arms are cool. Six legged mechs with turrets are cool. Battletech is about the rule of cool. Again the rules for having quads that can torso twist, or not (think choice of hand actuators etc for Rifleman etc) is relatively trivial. Record sheets can be adjusted so that quad mech legs are treated like biped arms with two sets of internal spaces. Allowing turrets for quads as their version of the built in torso twist. It's all cool.

I think advanced rules already allow for a turret in a quad ‘Mech. I have used HMP to make them. The loss of internal space in a quad’s legs is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they are permitted to carry armor equivalent to a bipedal ‘Mech that is ten tons heavier. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Neither is their ability to fire in a hull-down position behind Level One terrain, effectively negating all incoming hits to the legs fore and aft. That’s four out of twelve hit locations that are essentially ignored and that is the same as a LOT of extra armor!

What do you want? The quads would not even be there except for the Rule of Cool, and the latest set of rules tries very hard to make an unlikely arrangement as practical as possible. To put them in a position where they enjoy not only the hull-down ability and the extra armor, but all of the advantages of a bipedal ‘Mech as regards field of fire is to negate any real difference at all. Cool is great, but we’ve got a game to run.

One Shot SRM, MRM, LRM launchers...
4. One-Shot Launchers (SRM, MRM, LRM) rules are a complete waste of time, so again not cool. My reading of the rocket launcher rules suggests that the fix is in, but the will to remove useless stuff is lacking. I can see from an RPG perspective that one-shot launchers may offer more in-character role-play opportunities, but for Battletech the boardgame, not so much.

No arguments here. I would expect such devices on vehicles, but not on a ‘Mech. Other than a drastic reduction in weight (and I don’t really see that), the only advantage would be to allow the use of special ammunition. And who wants a launcher that can only plant a single minefield?

Breaking the Game with Tarcomps
5. Rules that break the basic premise of the game, which for me is epitomised by the basic rule of thumb that faster machines are harder to hit. So for me this means targeting computers, pulse lasers and any other clunky rules where the rules make it an advantage to sit and shoot, rather than fire an manoeuvre have to go, as they are just not cool.

You flummoxed me here – earlier, you wanted the option of heavier machines that for most practical purposes are designed to get to the area of operations and... sit and shoot. A 135-ton 2/3 ‘Mech is not the epitome of maneuver.

Yet you appear to have an issue with weapons that give additional advantage to that tactical choice – this, despite the fact that pulse weapons are quite limited in range. Targeting computers take up tonnage, are tied into all weapons and grant only a +1 to hit. Are you going to nix precision rounds for the autocannons as well? After all, they negate up to 2 points of movement modifier on their chosen target. Ma’am, those rounds are the best reason anyone would use the AC/10. Which is it to be?

Armor Variants a Waste of Time
6. The additional armour rules for stealth, hardened etc. are great for the RPG, but are a total waste of time for the boardgame, too much detail for very little added play value. So again just not cool.

I have seen stealth armor used and mis-used. Hardened armor is a very great advance for machines which are small and carry very little protection. Furthermore, to be able to prevent a headcap is considered a good thing by most of the players I know. Regardless, I have seen very little of these options used except in games where the opposing forces have them due to House choice. Chalk that up to complexity, or just that no one can figure out how to get the most from a stealthed design – like rocket launchers, they add flavor and have their role, albeit a minor one, in the overall game. How is that not cool?

Electronic Countermeasures, Sensors, Networks a Waste of Time
7. All the electronic rules covering things like ECM/ECCM, Beagle probes, C3 Boosted, Master & Slave, Remote Sensor Launcher rules are just so not cool. All of this stuff needs to be folded into the basic premise that Battlemechs are the ultimate warmachine of the future, and such detail should only rear its ugly head when playing the RPG.

I have never played in a double-blind game, so for me the Beagle and ECCM are things which rightly should exist but which are not necessarily critical assets when playing at the local game shop. That said… I have equipped several of the machines in our TRO with ECM for the express purpose of ECCM, because when it DOES affect my local game, the impact is phenomenal. In fact, one of our recent games turned on the fact that a Raven ‘Mech had a Beagle probe and discovered hidden units early on that were positioned very close to our front lines. With their cover blown, they became fodder for our big guns and much of the enemy’s plans were trashed on the spot. They were off-balanced for the rest of the game and that was VERY cool.

ProtoMechs Do Not Remind Us Enough of the Somme
8. Protomechs that look like animals. Not cool unless you are five and think Transformer Beast Wars is the best thing since sliced bread. Don't get me wrong, Beast Wars can be cool, but it is just so not Battletech, which is grey, unrelenting warfare over centuries, where the advances of the great powers on the interstellar scale look less than impressive. Remember the scene in the Black Adder Goes Forth episode Private Plane. The one where General Melchet shows Lt. George the one-to-one scale model of the 17 square feet of land that the last offensive captured from the Bosch. That's Battletech!

I haven’t much to say here other than that ProtoMechs are a rare sight in any case. Like LAMs they are neither fish nor fowl, and their best use is in actions against infantry – that is, below the Thirty Meter Limit. They rightly belong in the RPG setting, where they would be a positive terror to players. On the tabletop, assuming you ever get to see them, they do not amount to much besides adding flavor. And animal forms will do that as well as any other.

Gentlemen Do Not Fight With Anything but
Ranged Weapons and Their Bare Hands
9. Melee weapons on mechs, except on industrials, and even then they should be field expedient and appropriate to the task of the mech. Hate hatchets, hate swords, and maces even more. This is Battletech not WH40K. Not cool.

Given that most ‘Mechs repeat the human form in large, it seems to me nothing is more natural than two ‘Mechs facing off against each other with swords and such. How is that not cool? Several million avid fans of the Solaris matches would beg to differ.

Double Heat Sinks Do Not Have Enough Drawbacks
- Make Them Explode, Too
10. Double heat sinks rules have no down sides. Not cool. I rather like the suggestion made on the CBT forums that when damaged that they could cause a critical hit on the usual 8+ on 2D6.

Now THAT is an interesting house rule and one I’d not heard of before. I will suggest it next time I play.

Weapons Ranges are Explained in an Uncool Way
11. The way that the weapon ranges are explained are dumb. The way the rules explain extreme and line-of-sight are so not cool. The rules as written tie the game into unnecessary knots.

It’s a tabletop game, meant to reduce ‘real world’ combat into something you can begin and finish in about six hours, give or take. It has to fit on the table. The armor has to be beaten off the machines to get at the fiddly bits inside – how realistic is that? I don’t know if the ranges as explained in the fluff make any sense or not – it’s dipping into that Thirty-Meter Limit and the rulings have to stop somewhere. I have not yet had any of the games I’ve played ‘tied into knots’ over this (other things, yes). So this might just be a case of an imperfect mesh between rules quantified for a quick game and their in-universe justification. I think justifying it is a mistake, but they’ve done it and thus far, it hasn’t caused my gaming group any heartburn.

Infantry Are Not Handled Well in a Game
Where Giant Stompy Robots Are the Main Focus
12. Infantry organisation rules. One mech, or vehicle equals a squad, and 3 to 6 squads equals a platoon. Why oh why oh why then make infantry based around platoons when every unit is equal to a squad. Then you can allow platoons of infantry to be created organically by choosign the number of squads in them as appropriate.

Ah, but now we’re going into WH:40K territory. Or are we? I admit, the equivalents are a bit sketchy, but again, when you are dealing with something that fits entirely inside a single hex, the rules begin to break down. More gracefully in this case than most, because the designers tried to work it out, but only we grognards seem to have an issue with it on a playing basis – possibly because we know too much about how real-world units work.

Rules Supporting My Flavor of the Game Are All That is Needed.
13. Anything that adds extra details needs to go into the RPG side of the game where it belongs. Battletech needs to be streamlined, fast and sexy, because that is cool. At the moment Battletech is a fat bloater who waddles from place to another, and that is not cool.

This comes from trying to appeal to a wide range of players – serious wargamers as well as chips-and-soda casual players. No one group is going to be completely satisfied, and the designers knew that – which is why we have different levels of technology, different eras to play in, and the quick-start rules. It’s a fat bloater all right – but only if you look beyond the rules strictly required for the game you prefer. To the casual gamer, all those books and supplements are a waste of money. To the armchair general itching to get a battalion on the field, they are life itself.

Thanks for stopping by. And Ashley, please forgive me for being a snarky git.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Updates! And a taste of TRO!

My apologies for the very late update…

The Editing Process… a Painful Decision

- Geoff and I have finished our work on the pieces that were edited by Paul Skowronek (skiltao). I sent another batch to Paul, along with an offer to pay for his work. Three measly dollars per edited piece is all I can manage, but the bill will eventually come to $300 by the time Paul is done. Not much, I admit, but I can afford it at the rate he has been turning them out – roughly a piece a day.

Pretty easy, huh? At the end of the week I send him $21 via PayPal and on to the next batch. The question is, will he do it for so little? And if he does, will he have time to do them?

For those of you with a mathematical bent, Paul has already edited approximately ten pieces gratis. That leaves 97 pieces. Divide that by five (an average - let’s be honest, he is not going to do seven pieces every week) and you have… twenty weeks before the writing is at a level where we can publish it without committing seppuku immediately afterwards.

That’s five months. And we’re being optimistic here, because holidays are coming and everybody has troubles – Paul will not be able to edit steady for five months. But who knows? Maybe he can do two pieces a day. Maybe. That would cut the time down to two, maybe three months.

We Need the Time

We need those months of time, brothers and sisters. I am slowly catching up on my bills, but we have at least four more pieces of art to complete – and if I can afford it, an overhaul of the Federated Commonwealth’s Werefox vehicles. They have all the charm of the Clan ‘Mech drawings in TRO:3050. That comes to at least six additional pieces.

All of this – the writing, the quality art, the solid designs – is pointless unless we have a layout man with imagination, experience with InDesign and an intimate knowledge of BattleTech. We had one, but he took sick and I have not heard from him in a long time.

Meanwhile, Bill Burt has jumped into InDesign. He began his schooling by creating a PDF-based magazine for his airsoft team. Not much to do with BattleTech, I admit, except that he IS using the InDesign for Dummies I bought, and his expertise has already been turned on our layout.

Here is an example of the work he has managed so far:

PLEASE - I know there are errors. This is a prototype where we learn to look for, and fix, crap like that. Just take a look and watch as Bill's skills increase...

Production Values

We have hammered out several decisions since beginning the actual layout work…

First of all, we decided the following:

- There will not be a full color version in PDF and a separate black and white version with color plates for dead tree printing. We realized that a full color version would result in a ginormous file, something we would have to send through the mail on a CD-ROM. Bill proposed a low-rez version for quick download and the hi-rez for those of you who wanted it, but we shelved that. It is a lot of work for not much added value.

- We decided that the original black and white print model in high and lo-rez versions would probably be the best compromise – the lo-rez would be small enough to download (about 30 megs) and still remain suitable for viewing. The hi-rez version would be for those of you who want to print their own dead tree copy, and as mentioned before, we would simply mail it on a CD-ROM.

- Bill doesn’t like to lose the full color option, but there it is. He suggested instead that we provide a zipfile with all the Heavy Metal Pro files inside – something you users of HMP will appreciate. Remember, this TRO is filled with machines you will want to put on your gaming table. So getting around the chore of entering the readouts into HMP is a bonus.

Our apologies to all the users of Solaris Skunk Works, but we don’t have files ready for that just yet. Maybe if you volunteer to do the data entry, we will provide it.

Heap O' Labor

If this sounds like a lot of work, rest assured - it is. But getting things right is more important at this stage that getting it out fast. After all, it has been three years since I began this project.

As I write this, I am sitting at a little card table in the far corner of the Juanita High School Gym, right under the fight song banner. It is Sunday and my son and his drum instructor are part of a group of 350+ drummers who are attending Woodstick – the Big Beat 2010. This year, I had to pay $10 for the privilege of watching a bunch of drummers having fun. I am not a drummer; nor a wannabe, so it was a perfect time to catch up on my writing.

One other thing I will do is begin compiling the HMP files for Bill’s Master List. Most of them were designed (or their data was entered) on this computer, so it’s just a matter of working at it. I may collate them with the Record Sheet Annex PDF files to ensure I don’t overlook any variants.

[A wee bit into the process I began to bog down. It seems I do NOT have all the designs on my trusty laptop, and the data entry was eating up time. As I plowed through reloading the data from the PDF sheet into my HMP program, I realized the writeups would have to be loaded into the ‘Mech data sections for the HMP files to be complete. And the writeups are not finished yet…

No matter. I will continue to create the HMP files, and load the writeup/variant data in as it becomes available.]

What’s Cooking….

- Stephen Huda has is working on the Draconis Combine’s Katana and Revenant, as well as the Outworlds Alliance’s Werewolf VTOL. Depending on the cash available, I may ask him to do the last BattleMech, the Draconis Combine’s White Knight.

- Karl Olson is still working on the Taurian Concordat’s Auroch Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

- Chris Seymour has finished the Draconis Combine’s Nemera – refer to the image at the top of this blog entry

- Ian is working on the Tomahawk. (Still).

- Lee Madison has fallen out of touch again. AGAIN. I sent an ultimatum of sorts – either set a deadline (and fulfill it) or lose the commission. It’s a shame – he does good work – but this falling-silent-for-months-at-a-time shit has got to stop. I can’t work with it.

Seriously, we should have some new work rolling in soon. Everyone seemed to slow down in October, which is why you saw a distinct lack of updates.

- As you know, my wife’s dental work and subsequent replacement partial is costing us a bundle. I am trying to pay people as quickly as I can:

Karl Olson has been paid for his work.
Stephen Huda has been paid up to date.
Eric has been paid as well.

However, there is still some art that has been completed and whose payment is outstanding:

Interior plates - $70 remaining to David Dryburgh
Seven internal color renders - $48 remaining to Terrance Wong
Chris Seymour - $30 remaining

I am hoping to clear those up by next payday, possibly by the end of November.

Control Line!

I have been working on and off with the Jumpin’ Bean plane. I assembled the wing sections and sanded everything, but have not yet made the horizontal or vertical stabilizers.

Below is the Jumpin’ Bean wing in its stock form. I stood the fuselage up so you can get a feel for the plane’s proportions.

And this is what it looks like with the center section added and another engine laid out.

That is quite a bit more wing, and there will be a third fuselage in the center. In fact, I have been thinking about turning those two fuselage pieces into engine nacelles and extending the center fuselage back so that the plane resembles a British Mosquito more than a P-38.

You see, I am worried I will not be able to get the two-fuselage design to line up properly without a jig and I have no time or place to build one. But a single fuselage would be a snap and I would not have to worry about alignment beyond the basic 90 degree angles…

However, I will have to extend the stock fuselage back quite a way to correct the existing proportions and increase the horizontal stabilizer area. I will also have to add plywood stiffeners to the fuselage area around the trailing edge of the wing. That area is notorious on Jumpin’ Beans for snapping in a crash.

One more issue: the tanks are too long to fit between the existing ribs.

I will have to install another rib to mount the tank, then remove the original. Odd spacing, but I don’t think it will sacrifice much strength.

My First Attempt at an Illustrated Work

I was digging through the closet when I came across the artwork and layout for a little book I wrote for my son in 2000, ten years ago. John was five and Daddy had been gone for six months and I wanted to send him something that told a story about my ‘adventures’ while out at sea. It kept me busy and mostly sane.

Believe it or not, this actually happened on our ship. I build a box kite from sticks I made from cut-up mop handles (plenty of those around!) and plastic from the jet shop and tape from the post office. It was held together with epoxy (I worked in Hazmat at the time and there was no shortage) and the joints pinned for strength with thick copper wire from the Motor Rewind Shop.

I won second place (we were not able to get my kite into the air long enough to beat a guy who’d gotten out there an hour before) and still have the T-shirt prize I gave to my young son when I got home.

The artists were a quirky pair from the Print Shop. I paid them $5 per illustration, and they plugged away at it until they got bored, which was about halfway through the project. My mother thought the topic was too drawn out and complex for a five-year old, but what the hell? It accomplished its goals – I kept busy, learned a lesson about hiring artists (handy for this TRO) and learned how not to write for kids. Or so I hope.

Thanks for stopping by!