About Matt

Matthew D. Wilson is an artist, writer, filmmaker, game designer, entrepreneur and business leader. He continues to search out and explore new ways to avoid sleep and share the weird stuff going on inside his head. Matt is best known as the award winning game designer and owner of Privateer Press, publisher of WARMACHINE, HORDES, MONSTERPOCALYPSE, THE IRON KINGDOMS RPG setting, and many other fine game and hobby products. He is also known throughout the civilized world for his artistic contributions to such esteemed games as MAGIC: THE GATHERING, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, and SHADOWRUN as well as book cover work for MARVEL COMICS and HARPER COLLINS.

Totally Random

I needed to try out some new film gear. I needed a blog update. I got a new, weird, giant robot toy that you have to see to believe. Somehow, it all came out in the form of a video blog that I threw together in a couple hours Wednesday afternoon.

It’s pretty down and dirty; just natural lighting and onboard sound. I really just wanted to try out this new slider system…which is sweet.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a habit of this. But you gotta see the crazy ass robot toy(s)!

(If the video doesn’t show up below, try refreshing the page.)

Up All Night

free-photo-full-moon-628If I had a minute of shut-eye for every time someone has asked me, “When do you sleep?” I’d have to change my name to Rip Van Winkle. But I’m about as far away from that concept that you could get. I loathe sleep. I detest ending the day. I’ll do pretty much anything to avoid bed time (like writing this blog). It’s like admitting defeat, though for a battle I could never win.

“Damnit, Earth! Your endless rotation has thwarted my plans once again!”

I began dwelling on this when I noticed one of my coworkers, Simon Berman, tweeting about how he couldn’t sleep because his mind was overflowing with creative ideas.  It’s an affliction I’m all too familiar with, and apparently it’s contagious. Creative insomnia has ruined many a morning, but the irony of it all is that no matter how tired I might be through the daylight hours, I never want to retire at a reasonable time. The sun sets, and I wake up. It’s always been like that.

Historically, I do some of my best work after 11pm. There’s something about the way the world quiets down at that hour that is highly conducive to creativity because the distractions that thwart a concentrated stream of thought have all gone to bed. Most people are asleep. The incessant chime of incoming email ceases (unless you’re in a twitter conversation). It’s practically a guarantee the phone won’t ring. And if you happen to be a parent, your child (if a year or older) should be fast asleep.

I suppose it’s only fitting that my own son, nearing 2.5 solar years of age, resists the notion of bed time every night. And by ‘resists’, I mean the way the Spartans resisted the Persian invasion at Thermopylae. It’s practically a fight to the death every night, only his weapons include a battery of story books, a barrage of songs, and an assault of defense-shattering hugs and kisses so adorable that you’d have to be a corpse to deny entertaining his playfulness for whatever time it may take for him to become exhausted to the point of sleep.

But I know where he’s coming from. He’s afraid of missing something interesting or important. What if something incredibly fun happens and he’s not awake to experience it? What a disappointment that would be. Frankly, sleep is boring. The only purpose it serves is to facilitate your alertness, physical endurance and mental health when you wake up. But if you’re blessed/cursed with the power of creative insomnia, who cares? You might spend the day dragging ass, but you’ll wake up eventually and be ready to write/draw/game/party just fine. I know this for a fact. I’m doing it right now!

The cold, hard, realization is that I was born on the wrong planet. Somewhere out there in the infinite cosmos, there must be a world with a 30 hour day. In 30 hours, I could work 18 hours, spend four hours painting miniatures and playing video games, and I’d still get eight hours of sleep. What a perfect existence that would be.

I need to go to bed.

Subject to Reinterpretation

fallen_angelHaving been an illustrator and concept artist for enough years now that I forget how many unless I stop to do the math, I’ve had the opportunity to see my illustrations and concept designs turned into a variety of different objects and expressions beyond the original image. Often this involves one or more additional artists in the process, such as the miniatures I have designed for Privateer Press. But I’ve also had my work turned into a few life-size statues with Wizards of the Coast and Privateer, video game models with WhiteMoon Dreams, more tattoos than I can count, costumes and prosthetics for a couple of my short films, and I even had one painting of a psychotic, roid-raging bunny turned into a puppet for a Magic: the Gathering television commercial (check it out if you haven’t seen it!) many years ago. Some of the coolest expressions of my work that I’ve seen are the cosplay reinterpretations of the characters I have created, and seeing these show up at the conventions I attend is always in immense treat. It’s also why I enjoy the film making and video game production so much. There’s something incredible about seeing a character that started as an image in your head go from some scratches on a piece of paper to a living, breathing being walking around in front of you.

Some time last year, I received an email from a model named Vanessa Alexandra who wished to do a live reinterpretation of a painting I had done for Magic: the Gathering called Fallen Angel (above). Naturally, I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes please,” but I could hardly have expected the amazing image that would show up a few months later. After six months of preparation and meticulous work in recreating the costume for the character, Vanessa produced a photo shoot and worked with another pair of talented people (photographer Rick Lujan and SFX artist William Price) to create the work of art you see below.

Model: Vanessa Alexandra Photo by Rick Lujan SFX by William Price Makeup and Costume: Vanessa Alexandra

Model: Vanessa Alexandra
Photo by Rick Lujan
SFX by William Price
Makeup and Costume: Vanessa Alexandra

Vanessa’s own character shines through and she has added her own vision to the work, which is part of the great experience of seeing another artist evolve one’s idea. But at the same time, this photo, very much alive in ways that the original image is not, captures all the mood and feeling and character of the painting.

It’s a rare treat to see such an amazing reinterpretation of one of my paintings, and I have to thank Vanessa and her collaborators for the honor and pleasure.

You can find out more about Vanessa through her Facebook page at:
www.facebook.com/therealvanessaalexandra

Vanessa was also kind enough to share a behind-the-scenes shot of her work in progress, showing just how glamorous the life of an artist can be!

The glamorous life of an artist at work!

The glamorous life of an artist at work!

 

 

 

 

Launching an eXpedition

SIX logoIn my relatively tame and uncorrupted youth, my biggest vice was probably a fiction addiction. Thanks to the Science Fiction Book Club and their twelve-books-for-a-penny introductory offer, I mainlined a constant stream of sci-fi and fantasy prose into the wee hours of every night, ensuring no more than a few hours of sleep to get me through school the next day. Mock me if you will, but if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re more like me and less like the kids that were getting themselves into more exciting kinds of trouble at the time. And while I’ve often thought that maybe I missed out on some of the coming-of-age adventures that defined my generation’s journey into adulthood, what I didn’t know at the time was that I was preparing for a much greater adventure, or rather, an entire series of them, and I never could have expected where my love of reading fiction would take me.

Over time, my shelves packed with fantasy and sci-fi novels were replaced by a library of business books, art tutorials, and texts about the craft of writing. Opportunities to enjoy a good piece of fiction were few and far between and for the most part my fiction fix was fulfilled by whatever game product we were currently working on at Privateer Press.

I wasn’t the only one that enjoyed the stories based in the Iron Kingdoms, though, and over the last decade of world building and game publishing that we’ve done through the WARMACHINE, HORDES and the Iron Kingdoms RPG game lines, the number of requests  we’ve had for novels set in this dynamic universe is countless. With the proliferation of portable digital technology, I realized sometime last year that fulfilling this request — a goal we have held at Privateer for a very long time — was well within our grasp.

902947_594932690534967_149436601_oIt seemed a simple enough mission; find talented authors who would be interested in exploring the Iron Kingdoms setting with us, work with them to create novels, package them with stunning artwork, and distribute them digitally for all to enjoy. None of this seemed outside the realm of anything I’d tackled in the past and the adept staff at Privateer Press was more than capable of bringing it together. But the reality behind the fiction was somewhat less straightforward. We weren’t just trying to publish a novel or even a series, but rather, an entire library with multiple series that explored the world end to end. It quickly became clear that this would be a massive effort.

Once the decision was made to go forward with this new publishing venture, things began to come together very quickly as we planned out the line of books we wanted to publish. In very short order, projects began with several talented and accomplished authors, some of which were even players of Privateer Press games. Outlines flew back and forth by email, stories formed, and first drafts piled up on the desktop like an an impossible-to-summit mountain whose peak moved farther away with every step toward it.

885307_591394904222079_1164059918_oThe challenge was twofold: First, we wanted volume. The goal was to produce regular offerings with a minimum of one new novella or novel every month. This meant initiating multiple projects in parallel and managing them all through their development at the same time.

The second challenge was continuity. We’re creating stories in a world that has ten years of publications on the shelf already, a pantheon of developed and known characters, and a rigid system of rules that governs many aspects of what can happen in the setting. Complicate that with nearly fifteen-hundred years of in-setting history and an ongoing plot line involving a dozen factions, and you suddenly find yourself in a treacherous landscape that few can navigate on their own.

To their credit, the fantastic authors that signed on for this undertaking were ready for adventure and they rose to meet every challenge that comes with weaving new tales into an established setting. What we ended up with are multiple series that chronicle the origins and exploits of Immoren’s most famous warcasters, warlocks and adventurers. Stories range from intimate character studies to swashbuckling hijinx to epic warfare, and for me, each one has been a different kind of joy to read. While my first responsibility in reading an early draft of a story is to help maintain continuity and consistency of the setting, it’s difficult to avoid getting swept into these tales and reading them for pure pleasure. Finally, we get to read of Makeda’s harrowing youth and the complicated origins of Allister Caine. We get to explore the monster-infested wilds with Pendrake and we get to witness the emergence of an entirely new threat to the Iron Kingdoms with the Convergence. For anyone who has craved more out of their experience with WARMACHINE, HORDES and the Iron Kingdoms and beyond, there is a treasure trove of literature on the way.

883651_588015487893354_1330701628_oOver the many months of commissioning and creating content, I searched for an identity for this publishing label. While the initial books are all based on existing Privateer Press properties, and while the publishing label is a subsidiary of Privateer Press and depends very much on the efforts and contributions of Privateer’s staff, one of the goals for this venture is to be able to explore worlds beyond the Iron Kingdoms, including worlds in other Privateer properties as well as all new, never before seen settings. Working with established and accomplished authors as well as unpublished and emerging talent, we are building a bold new publishing label that will innovate, take chances, and hopefully create a name for itself that represents these qualities while doing honor to the Privateer Press legacy.

SIX_TWC_TheWayofCaine_Cover

The name we finally settled on was Skull Island eXpeditions. The ‘silly cap’ X is a way of tidying up our URL (www.SkullIslandX.com), and also giving a nod to our swashbuckling  lineage and that which marks the final destination of any great quest. Finding this identity crystalized what we were about, what we wanted to achieve, and gave us a compass to help guide and inform the kind of content readers can expect to experience with us in the future.

It’s been no small task getting here, but all of the work thus far has simply been the preparation. The real journey will be underway in a matter of days, when we finally get to release these books to the public and launch this expedition once and for all. It’s my hope that you’ll follow us on this great adventure and explore the Iron Kingdoms along with the amazing authors that have contributed their vision to it. Fair warning, though: Proceed with caution. Reading fantasy books can take you places you’d never expect.

Mood Music

Last week, we brought on a new producer to help get some forward movement on this LEVEL 7 feature project I’ve been working on for a while now. The great thing about bringing someone new onto your project is that they bring all of their individual experience and ideas to what you’re doing, which forces you to take a look at the work from a whole new perspective.

One of the sales tools we’re using in presenting the LEVEL 7 project to potential financiers is a two minute trailer cut from the short film we made last year. The new producer thought it might be an interesting experiment to revisit this trailer, not only with some new visual material, but with different music than the score we currently have in it. The score, done by the talented Mr. Deane Ogden, is fantastic, but for the very quick trailer, this producer suggested we try sourced music as a way to hook the viewer and hold the whole thing together thematically. Sourced music is music that already exists and hasn’t been created specifically for your film project. In this case, we’re looking for an existing song that enhances the narrative and emotional content of the trailer’s visuals, and ideally is something familiar enough to the viewer that they have a positive reaction to the work overall.

Pairing music with visuals, whether it’s creating the score from scratch or finding the right song for the scene, is one of my favorite parts of filmmaking. I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, having failed at more attempts to learn instruments than I care to mention. Some would also question my musical taste, which I’ll simply sum up as eclectic. Nonetheless, for me, the right music makes the film, so I was up to this new challenge and immediately began combing my own music library, which currently consists of 5,225 items amounting to 13.9 days worth of listening entertainment, according to my iTunes calculation. (And this doesn’t include older CD’s that I have yet to load on the computer.) When I exhausted the possibilities within my own library, I began searching online. Talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack!

In desperation, I threw out a tweet looking for help in finding that perfect track. I got a lot of great responses with inspiration across the entire spectrum of music and I tracked down and listened to every single suggestion, comparing it to the current cut of the trailer I’m working with. Sadly, I haven’t yet found the perfect song to accompany this piece, but I do have a few contenders while my search continues.

I’ve uploaded a low res version of the trailer with no audio so you can see what I’m trying to match the music to. It’s no easy task. The trailer contains elements of horror, action, and science-fiction. Trying to find a song that communicates all of those different genres in one cohesive piece…well, that’s the reason films are scored! But I’m sure the perfect song is out there somewhere, and I’m determined to find it.

SilentTrailer — Click to View

Note: due to copyright laws, I can’t use a piece of sourced music publicly without obtaining the rights. The presentation of the trailer with the sourced song would only be in private presentations, so I can’t post it here. But I will give you the list of my contenders and if you’re so inclined, you can play them in the background against the trailer to see how they might match up.

I narrowed my list down to four songs that I think created very interesting and very different viewing experiences with the trailer:

My current favorite is Land of Confusion by Disturbed (thanks to everyone who suggested Disturbed, which led me here). This is a high-octane cover of the original Genesis song, which is a favorite from the 80′s. The sound pairs well with the trailer and the intensity builds nicely along with the visuals. There is some very cool thematic overlap between the lyrics and the story playing out in the trailer with this character who wakes up in a place that he knows nothing about, only to be pursued by forces he doesn’t understand. The downside is that the lyrics eventually go to a place where I think the parallel ends, and it sort of loses its relevance.

The next best pick is Dragula by Rob Zombie. This one works for me because of the sound texture and tempo. Thematically, there’s not much relevance, but you can’t really hear the words anyway, so that doesn’t matter too much. On the downside, I think it’s a little dated and a little loud for a presentation. Sometimes the folks we’re talking to are looking a little bleary-eyed from living the Hollywood lifestyle, and hitting them with Rob Zombie before they’ve had their third round of Advil and coffee might not be the best sales approach.

On a lark, and to try something different, I tried E.T. by Katy Perry (with Kanye West). Before you judge me, this one was NOT in my music library before this project started. However, I started searching iTunes with terms like ‘alien’ and ‘space invader’ and eventually stumbled across this bizarre song, and I was surprisingly amused by how it worked. But I think it becomes too much of a joke to be effective. ‘Playing against type’ is the term used when music is paired with visuals that don’t match thematically, such as a big bloody shoot out set to Jingle Bells. While the subject matter of the song and trailer possess some entertaining overlap, the genre of music seems to go against type in the case of E.T.

Speaking of playing against type, there was one more song that I tried, almost by accident, and this one was in my library already; Delilah by Tom Jones. There is absolutely no reason to pair this song with the trailer, but there is an suspenseful sort of intensity to the way Delilah starts that seemed oddly appropriate when I played it next to the trailer. It’s absolutely wrong for the presentation, but it’s a hoot to watch.

There’s about five seconds of black at the front of the trailer. If you do decide to watch it against any of those songs, wait until you’re a few seconds in and then cue the track.

For now, the search goes on. Now that you’ve had a chance to see what I’m trying to put music to and you know what I’ve been listening to, I’d love to hear any new suggestions!

 

 

 

 

Stryker Three! Yer’ Out!

Out in front of the public, that is!

(Groan. I know.)

I’m going to try to be brief on the words and let the pictures do the talking, today. If this piece of concept art had taken any longer to complete, we would have seen the actual miniature on the table before I actually finished the drawing. The illustrating of Coleman Stryker’s third in-game incarnation was as epic as the story that has gotten him to this point in his fictional life. Okay, maybe not, but it turned out to be a long, laborious process for me, and ever time I sat down to work on it I wished I’d had the foresight to tell Privateer’s Creative Director, Ed Bourelle, that I wasn’t going to do it.

Once again, though, sharing the journey with those who have joined me in this blog turned out to be a rewarding experience. It was great to see all of the passionate feedback from so many people, and to find out just what this character, a pillar of the WARMACHINE universe, meant to you. Stryker is an icon and I learned that certain elements of his visual identity are in themselves, iconic. In many cases, the comments on my last update of the Stryker III concept confirmed my own reservations I was having about the direction of the design. In other cases, my eyes were opened to things I hadn’t yet considered.

If you compare the final product to that last entry, you’ll see remnants of the original drawing, but there is a significant amount of evolution that the design underwent. I think the end result is recognizably Stryker and contains the DNA of both his previous versions while still bringing some new offerings to the table.

All in all, hanging the original warcaster’s new clothes out there for public scrutiny ultimately yielded what I feel is a much better direction than where I started. I hope you’ll agree! (And if not, well, maybe you’ll want to try out the Convergence. ;-)

Epic Stryker III (figure) for blog Epic Stryker III (horse) for blog

 

 

Bag Full O’ Cats

cute black cat in a red bag isolatedLast Friday, the away team at this year’s Temple Con in Rhode Island delivered the 2013 Privateer Press Keynote presentation, disclosing many of the projects we’ve been working on for the past year and what the coming months hold in store for players of Privateer’s games. Only a couple weeks before that, we also announced upcoming plans for the Privateer Press Digital e-reader ap as well as the very exciting new Skull Island eXpeditions fiction imprint that will be exploring the world of the Iron Kingdoms through multiple lines of all new, original fiction from some of the most talented authors around. While there is much more to tell about each of these different projects, the opportunity to finally expose our efforts to the world has come with a great deal of personal relief as I’m now finally free to break my silence…or more importantly, I now have something to talk about.

When I launched this blog last year, we were well into production of several new projects. I had a film project in progress and games we were hoping to bring attention to. For a time, I had more than enough material to ramble on about, and I think some of it was even interesting. But as the summer came to a close and we went dark on new developments, I suddenly found myself with very little I could converse about publicly. As well, I didn’t seem to have a spare moment to talk about any of it even if I could. MattWilsonPrime came to a screeching halt and over the past few months has accumulated dust and cobwebs, a situation that I’m hoping to remedy, starting now.

While I do love a good reveal, I don’t much like keeping secrets. It’s a burden. I’d much rather be able to share openly what I’m working on as well as all of the cool developments at Privateer as they happen, and they happen daily! There are important reasons for holding back info, though. Competition is one of them, but it’s probably the least of my considerations as much of what we’re doing can only be done by us. No one else is going to add a new faction for WARMACHINE, for instance. But chief among our reasons for being a bit coy is simply managing expectations. If we’re going to announce a new faction or a new game, we like to have something to show for it. Giving insufficient information could lead people to the wrong conclusions or leave them underwhelmed, and we always strive to overwhelm, if there’s going to be any whelming at all. (Did you know ‘whelming’ is a word? I fully expected the autocorrect to change that one on me!)

The Privateer Press Keynote largely took the form of a series of videos produced by Privateer’s amazing Tony Konichek and the company’s marketing team. If you had a chance to see them all, I’d be amazed to find out that there wasn’t at least something that you found exciting, even if it wasn’t what you were personally hoping for before the event. But for my part, I’m truly thrilled about all of the new developments we’ve got going on and can’t wait to see them produced and released into the world. I really believe Privateer has the hardest working and most motivated crew of people in the game industry and what makes them so is the pride and passion they put into these projects. They/we love what we’re doing and we love to please the people who play our games and engage in our worlds. We can’t possibly please everyone all of the time, but my hope is always that if we continue to make enough people happy, they’ll keep granting us the opportunity to continue doing more.

I could do a separate blog on every one of the new projects, but I’ll hit the highlights here:

Among the most exciting announcements was the new Convergence of Cyriss faction for WARMACHINE. This is something we’ve been wanting to do for years, but because we’re so involved with the ongoing saga of the Iron Kingdoms setting, it had to appear at the right time. We spent nearly two years developing this faction, coming up with an exciting new mechanic that would make them original and developing the visuals that hadn’t really been explored since our original RPG offering in the Witchfire Trilogy. We’ve only shown the tip of the iceberg with what this faction has to offer and I think that as it unfolds the faction will only become more exciting. I’m personally so thrilled about it that I’m ready to start a whole new army and can’t wait to get my hands on the models to start painting them. Diving into what makes this clockwork faction tick has been an amazing experience and has probably resulted in the single most realized and cohesive faction we’ve ever created. It adds a new dimension to the world and will engage players both on the tabletop as well as in the fiction that supports it. Part of having a world that is so rich and deep is that we have what seems like an endless well of material to explore and this one has been anticipated by us as well as many Iron Kingdoms enthusiasts for over a decade. Cyriss as last!

We also have had several new game announcements recently. HIGH COMMAND the new deck building game for WARMACHINE and HORDES, will give players an all new way to experience the battles in the Iron Kingdoms on a macro level. It also offers an opportunity for people who don’t have the time or inclination to glue their fingers together to engage the world we’ve created. I expect this will become the game that people play as they’re waiting for their gaming group to show up or for tournaments to start. It captures all the flavor of the dynamic battles of WARMACHINE and HORDES in a fast, intense, card game experience while showcasing the vast library of artwork we’ve accumulated through ten years of development.

LEVEL 7 continues to occupy a great deal of my time, as well. I spent much of the last few months working closely with Privateer’s director of business, Will Shick, to create the fiction for a LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] expansion as well as the all new tactical combat board game, LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL]. Both games reveal new information about the insidious agenda of Subterra Bravo and allow players to explore the nightmares within its twisted halls. And with [OMEGA PROTOCOL], we get the chance to fight back — with miniatures! Taking the next steps with the LEVEL 7 franchise is personally very fulfilling, as we’re following a plan outlined several years ago. If running for your life from aliens and genetically engineered monstrosities wasn’t quite your thing, maybe filling them full of lead will be. But if all of that seems too oppressive, there’s some lighter fare in store as well…

BODGERMANIA is a hoot. It’s fast, raucous, a little irreverent, and brings that crazy cast of maniacal goobers back as pro-wrestlers, with all of the bling and bawdiness associated with this performance sport. I had very little to do with the development of this game, which makes me look forward to it all the more as a player. When it was pitched by DC and the dev team at Privateer, it got an instant green light from me. They took the bodgers in a wholly new and unexpected direction and even playing with a mockup deck of cards, I couldn’t stop laughing through the demos.

The single biggest consumer of my time since August has been preparing for the launch of Skull Island eXpeditions. For years, we at Privateer as well as two or three players in the audience have dreamed of exploring the world of the Iron Kingdoms through long-form fiction. This year, we’re not only going to see a line of novels from Pyr Publishing, but thanks to the prolificness of the portable tablet and the rise of e-publishing, we have the opportunity to make that dream a reality by delivering boat loads of stories set in the Iron Kingdoms. Skull Island X (as our friends call it) has been gearing up for an aggressive publishing schedule that will release monthly offerings of novels and novellas that delve into the characters and events of WARMACHINE, HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms at large. We’re pulling back the curtain on the shrouded pasts of some of the settings most compelling warcasters and warlocks. We’re following famous adventuring personalities on their never told exploits across the continent of Immoren. And we’ll be seeing the introduction of all new characters that will show us a view of the battlefield we’ve barely touched upon in the fiction we’ve been able to do in the game so far. On top of all that, the first full-length novel from Skull Island X will take us deep into enemy territory as it unravels the mysterious agenda of the Iron Kingdoms’ newest threat to humanity, the Convergence of Cyriss. For months, I’ve worked what has become as second job along side Director of Publishing, Scott Taylor, to shape the content that Skull Island’s amazing lineup of talented authors is preparing to unleash on anyone awaiting a good yarn in this world of steam and sorcery. I plugged one of the stories a while back, The Way of Caine, that we’ll be seeing in a few months, and there are so many exciting titles to follow. But in addition to the great stories, we’ve been procuring dozens of new illustrations. Electronic publishing gives us limitless possibilities for the inclusion of maps and full color artwork, and we’re making the most of it in an effort to realize every nook and cranny of the world as vividly as possible.

In my copious spare time, I’ve actually started developing a new film project as well. It took months of deliberation to nail down what I wanted to tackle next, but I think I’ve settled on a direction. As I hope to do this completely independently, it will likely take years to complete, so I’m doing my best to absolve myself of the stress of a schedule and instead am going to just take whatever time is necessary to make it happen. As I get further along in the development process, I’ll start sharing some of the journey here so you can live vicariously through my self-inflicted pain and suffering.

I wouldn’t say that covers everything I’ve got my hands in right now, and there are surely questions about things I haven’t mentioned, but these are the the things that I can talk about now and I think it’ll give me enough to stay busy on this blog for a while. More than anything, it just feels good to finally let the cat — or in this case a whole herd of cats — out of the bag!

 

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

 

It should come as no surprise that as a person who has made a career out of creating monsters (among other fantastical things), Halloween is by far my favorite day of the year. Spending my time in two worlds — adventure gaming, where we slay monsters, and film making, where they’re brought to life on screen — I’m usually surrounded by like-minded people who share my reverence for this holiday.

My first DIY costume was an attempt to recreate Boba Fett, but this was October 1979, over half a year before THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK came out. The inspiration came from Fett’s first appearance in the 1978 television broadcast of THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, a Christmas themed spin off that will forever live in infamy. Pieced together with ski gloves, a dyed t-shirt detailed with magic markers, and a toy police helmet covered in tin-foil, I very well might have been one of the first ever Boba Fett’s to bounty hunt a Snickers fun-size bar.

The parties, candy and fright-fests are all things I love about Halloween, but the thing that fired me up the most as a kid was the chance to create a costume each year. Off-the-rack costumes have come a long way since I was pounding the pavement and knocking on doors in an effort to harvest as much free sugar as possible. But as a kid, the store-bought costumes held no interest for me. There weren’t many to choose from and the plastic half-masks always felt incomplete, so I endeavored to make my own as best I could with limited skills and resources.

A great deal of paper mache was sacrificed to create this Yoda costume in 1980, long before you could buy a decent Yoda mask. It lacks the gentle wisdom of its inspiration and probably looks more like a gremlin or goblin, but it took 1st place in the school costume contest. Guess that tells you what kind of competition there was! (side note: the robes were made from burlap potato sacks. I still itch when I see a raw potato…)

Star Wars was a big inspiration and probably accounted for at least half the costumes of my early years. Other subjects came and went with my current interests of the day. Mom often assisted with the sewing and fabric dying, and I recall a great deal of duct tape, tinfoil and paper mache going into those projects.

In the 5th grade, I departed from my Star Wars inspiration because I was playing Death in a school play for Halloween. I liked this getup so much I would have dressed in it every day if they would have let me.

I’ve all but missed out on Halloween for the last few years due to a hectic schedule and adjusting to the new role of parenthood. But in the latter, I’ve got a new hope for the future. Tonight, Sherry and I will take our nearly-two year old son to the Disneyland Halloween Haunt in an effort to gently immerse him in the festivities of the holiday. We’re appropriately going as pirates, and while the little one shuns the notion of wearing costumes so far, we’re going to do our best to cajole him into an off-the-rack buccaneer get-up that looks much better than anything I ever assembled as a kid.

Okay this isn’t for Halloween and obviously I’m not the one in the costume here. But I did design these fugly things and even helped sculpt the masks as well as made the rubbery suits for the [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7 short film. Truth be told, I like making the costumes far more than wearing them, especially after seeing how uncomfortable it was for our poor actors to be trapped in them all day long!

My hope is that as he grows older, he’ll enjoy Halloween as much as I did and allow me to assist him in whatever wild character he wants to bring to life. And if he doesn’t, then I’ll suspend his allowance and restrict his TV and video game time until he agrees to wear whatever crazy creature idea I want to bring to life. That’s the parental prerogative, right? Hey, at least I’m involved!

Happy Halloween!

 

Writer Pro Tip #1: Why Ask, “Why?”

I have a 21 month old son. As I’m sure every parent brags, he’s a total genius. He speaks two languages, can count, and has a huge vocabulary. For all his intellectual prowess, however, he hasn’t yet learned the meaning of the word, ‘why.’ My understanding from other harried parents is that this stage usually kicks in about three years old, and that it’s tedious to endure. But I can’t wait until my kid starts asking ‘why’ questions because I love answering them and I’ve already started getting my answers locked and loaded for the future. For now, though, when I confront him with a ‘why’ question of my own, such as, “Why are you throwing all of your toys over the balcony?” or “Why do you insist on pouring your milk on the dog?” the only response I receive is a blank, doe-eyed stare.

Interestingly enough, I occasionally also seem to get this response from writers.

First, let me say that I’ve had the distinctive honor of working with several writers, all more talented and accomplished than myself. My own role has been to provide creative guidance in story development.  I’m the coach, the writer is the quarterback. I can’t throw the ball, but I can tell when someone’s form is incorrect. (For a guy who doesn’t know jack shit about sports, I sure use a lot of sports analogies.) So this isn’t a critique on any writer that I’ve worked with (in case any of you are actually reading this) but rather, an observation about writers in general, and I’ll humbly include myself among them as it’s through my own mistakes that I’ve come to learn the importance of the word, ‘why’.

For the past several months, a great deal of my time and a great deal of my sacrificed sleep has gone into story development for some really amazing fiction projects, both inside and outside of Privateer Press. Most recently, I’ve had the opportunity to delve into the past of WARMACHINE’s famously infamous, Allister Caine, gunmage-warcaster extraordinaire. Working on this project has been a considerable team effort. My good friend, the talented Miles Holmes, has run point as the author of this tale that will feature in next year’s product lineup from Privateer Press. Helming our operation is the ever patient, always calculating Director of Publications, Scott Taylor. My own role has been that of creative director, which in this case has included story-plotting, character development and general guidance for handling the setting, as well as frequently acting as a liaison to our continuity and in-house writing staff of Jason Soles and Doug Seacat to make sure we’re keeping our facts straight. Five people have been involved in this project for weeks and not a single word of the actual story has even been written yet. Oh, words have been written. We’ve generated pages of them. Dozens and dozens of multi-page emails in multiple threads, an 18 page story outline that Miles has revised daily, and we’ve thrown in a few conference calls on top of it all. But it’s all just been preparation for Miles to go weapons-free and start blasting away at this fantastic tale. So much work for one story! “Why”, you ask? Well that’s the operative question, isn’t it.

The definitive Caine, by the world famous Andrea Uderzo.

Allister Caine is a central character to the WARMACHINE mythos. Despite his frequent appearances in the ongoing saga of the setting, and despite being the most popular two-gun slinging rogue in the Iron Kingdoms, the public knows very little about him. His history has been alluded to in vague references, deliberately left mysterious until the day we had the time to tell his harrowing tale of dark dealings and intrigue. At the point we decided that time had come, those involved (myself included) thought it would be a relatively simple matter. The beats of Caine’s background were well established; he was a street criminal, turned military man who relapsed to his old ways before mysteriously being restored to his military career. Internally, as the creators of this setting, we thought we knew Caine intimately, that this work of fiction would be a matter of merely connecting the dots…until we started asking, “Why?” Why did Caine join the military? Why did Caine murder a man in cold blood? Why did Caine return to lives he abandoned, twice? And that’s when the real work began.

‘Why’ is the great dismantler. It unravels the fabric of a story as quickly as the word can be spoken. Sufficiently answering the question of ‘why’ necessitates carefully orchestrated logic during the creation process, and failure to ask ‘why’ is the tungsten carbide drill that produces plot holes in any piece of writing, no matter how cleverly the words may be strung together. ‘Why’ is the the concrete foundation of a character’s motivations. And ‘why’ is the gossamer thread that suspends our disbelief.

Who hasn’t yelled aloud at the film screen, “Why is she going back in there?!!” This and every unbelievable story moment from, “Why did the the stupid space biologist touch that slimy space cobra?” to “Why would you build a flying aircraft carrier with only four lift turbines?” is the result of a writer (or someone in a creative position guiding the story) not asking, “Why?” or mistakenly believing that we the audience, wouldn’t.

Human beings have an instinctive desire to consume stories. But we also crave knowledge, and knowledge wants understanding, and understanding requires explanation. And if there’s one other thing human beings love to do, it’s criticize. We love calling bullshit on something. So when that explanation doesn’t measure up to everyday common sense and the way we all intuitively understand the world and the people in it, we all want to be the first to appear brilliant and clever by exposing the flaw in the design. The lesson here for writers is that as much as people crave a good story, they seem to be much more interested in pointing out its mistakes and tearing it down, and the only universal defense for this is to constantly, continually, and without fail, ask yourself as you’re writing, “Why?”

Sometimes it can feel like you’re chasing your tail. Each ‘why’ answered reveals a new question, sometimes forking the path and multiplying the number of questions that must be answered. Uncommitted or inexperienced writers forget to ask in the first place, or believe that the reader or viewer won’t notice the unanswered question or won’t be interested in following a string of logic down that rabbit hole only to find the unanswered dead end. But the clever writer, the experienced writer, and the writer who has an ounce of pride in the project he puts his name on, will embrace the ‘why’ and chase it through every layer it reveals, diving deeper and deeper into the plot and characters until every branch of every thread has reached its terminus and no more ‘whys’ remain.

If someone is going to do something other people would find irrational, you’ve got to seed the reason why ahead of time or we’re jarred right out of the story. If a plot twists and turns, you have to properly connect those dots and explain why, or the tale will leave us behind in disbelief.

The rule, then: always ask “Why?”, and then ask it again. Because even if you don’t, your audience will, and we are unforgiving bastards.

The origin story of Allister Caine has been a monumental exercise in asking, “Why?” There’s a decade of history to this setting and a decade’s worth of people who are intimately familiar with its every detail. Caine has been a cornerstone of the setting since almost the beginning, and his existence is embedded in the building blocks of the world itself. We’re threading the needle, weaving a story through not only an established history but a well known set of ‘rules’ that must be adhered to faithfully, lest the story ring untrue. In discovering WHO Caine is and HOW he came to be, we have endeavored to leave no WHY unturned. Fortunately, I’m working with a crack team of professionals who understand the value of ‘why’ and are committed to making sure we’ve anticipated them all so that this character and his thrilling story can be brought to life as authentically as possible.

And if we’ve done our job well, we can all avoid that blank, doe-eyed stare that my toddler gives me when I ask him, “Why do you keep hitting me with your plastic toy rake?” (Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s a good reason. He’s a genius.)

 

 

Stryker 3 — Work in Progress

I promised a progress update on the Stryker 3 concept art this week. I haven’t gotten that far with the actual art; much of the time spent on this so far has been thought and conversation.

The conversations are probably the more interesting subjects at this point. The original brief more or less called for Epic Stryker on a horse, with potentially heavier armor. While we had a draft of the new rules in development, fortunately it hadn’t gone into play testing so there was some room to brainstorm with Jason Soles about what we might do differently with Cygnar’s poster child.

Warm up jams, playing with ideas. And the ugliest sketch of Stryker’s mug you’ve ever seen.

I derived a lot of inspiration from the landslide of comments to my original post about this concept. Something I was keen on was evolving Stryker’s armor and weapons somehow, and I thought it was time to get back to Stryker’s roots — before he was a warcaster. So after some back and forth with Jason, we decided on Quicksilver 3 — now enhanced with Stormglaive technology. I mean, come on, isn’t it about time that the leader of the Storm Division started slinging some lighting bolts around? To that end, I took a little out of Quicksilver’s haft since Stryker will be swinging this one-handed from the saddle, and I added the signature coils from the Stormglaive to give the Lord Commander his most formidable weapon yet.

Rough block in of shapes for Stryker’s armor, plus QUICKSILVER MKIII!

The rest is really rough so far, working out new shapes and details in his armor. You might notice some similarities to Nemo’s epic armor styling. This is intentional. I figure Nemo has the kinks worked out in this whole storm-chamber powered armor now, and some of the aspects he perfected in his own suit would help stabilize Stryker’s [misappropriated] prototype armor. I’m also adding some weight to it; this will be the bulkiest Stryker yet, with heavy torso armor and some extra plating on his arms and legs, taking advantage of the fact that his mobility is taken care of by the mount. Since Stryker will finally be up on the high horse everyone has always accused him of, he’s ditched the duster. His silhouette loses something for me without the long coat, but I’m hoping once he’s in the saddle, it won’t be missed.

No real work done yet on the horse. I’ve got some ideas on where I’m going, but I need to go back to Jason with some new thoughts and I promised not to bug him anymore this week while he’s jamming on the next IKRPG book. Stay tuned for a horse update in the next couple of weeks. This whole project is supposed to be done by the end of the month, but I think I’m going to be begging Ed Bourelle for a deadline extension. (Here’s your notice, Ed!)

(As always, please post links, but not the pics! Thanks!)

ADDENDUM

It’s seems not everyone is a fan…

Suck it, Norm! This one’s for you, brother. :-)