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.

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.)

 

 

The Glamorous Life

If you’re a regular diner on this little word salad I’m tossing here, you might have noticed some gaps in my updating schedule and that posts seem to be less frequent and creeping closer to the end of the week. A couple of hefty convention trips definitely contributed to the lag, but more than anything, I’ve just been plain busy. (I also find that I’m either very inspired to write a blog, or it’s a struggle to come up with something remotely interesting to say that even passably fills this space, as today’s entry is glorious testament to.)

I know there are those of you that think I while away my days, drifting through azure Caribbean seas on a plush yacht playing WARMACHINE while I drink 25 year old scotch through a straw.( Okay, none of you really believe that, but I would love to prove you right if you did.) As it happens, that’s as much a fantasy as is a steam-powered robot with a magical brain. The reality is that I’m pretty much glued to my computer in my cluttered little office (tastefully decorated in the finest action figures, import robots, and video game collectibles one can find, of course!) unless I happen to taking a meeting somewhere in Los Angeles, which generally results in a driving-to-meeting ratio of one hour of driving for every fifteen minutes of meeting.

So when I’m not stuck in traffic or daydreaming about my fantasy office on the S.S. Privateer, here’s a list of the different kinds of things that occupy my professional time. On any given day, I’ll shift gears every few minutes, and a normal day will comprise anywhere from 10-30 instances of the following activities:

• Art Reviews and Approvals — All concept artwork and much of Privateer’s finished illustration work is sent to me in various stages from initial thumbnail designs to final image. I offer commentary, direction, and do the occasion draw-over or sketch to help keep thinks consistent to our vision and quality standards.

Here’s what passes for a quick sketch when I’m trying to communicate an idea. This was done while working with Privateer Art Director, Mike Vaillancourt to hammer out the composition for the next IK RPG cover. (Really, I’m just searching for an image to decorate this blog with!)

• Reviewing Licensing Contracts — When we license our brands for products we don’t create, or license products into other territories for localization (translation to the local language), I have to wade through the contracts. Not my forte.

• Reviewing Distribution Contracts — Same as above, but all about getting the games into new parts of the world.

• Sculpting Reviews and Approvals — Like the art approvals, I’ll get images of sculpts in different stages  and have an opportunity to provide feedback.

• Story Editing — I get pretty involved with our fiction and like to be present for initial story-forming discussions and then final review on the longer tales. Recently, I’ve been up to my ears editing and guiding fiction creation for Privateer’s settings. If you like to read, we’re going to do our best to burn your eyes out next year (you know, in a good way.) Note: I’m not a proof reader or copy editor, I’m just about story — hence all the spelling and grammar mistakes present here.

• Marketing — it’s a broad topic encompassing a lot of different tasks. Privateer has a whole department for this and I do my best to work closely with them on the many different projects we do. Privateer’s approach to marketing isn’t so much about ‘selling’ as it is awareness building and support of our games. Daily tasks include press releases, web content and website evolution, convention planning, promotion planning, ad copy review, organized play planning — the list goes on. My involvement here is primarily at the inception of new initiatives and then at various checkpoints along the way. But there’s a river of material constantly flowing through my inbox as it’s a big, eclectic department doing so many important things.

• Game Design Review — Oh yeah, once in a while I actually do something related to making games! I used to design them, but these days it’s more about offering creative guidance and adding my voice to the feedback we give throughout our development process.

• Naming — Everything in our settings has a name, whether it’s the next WARMACHINE warcaster or a genetically engineered alien hybrid in LEVEL 7. We take great pains to come up with interesting, flavorful, memorable names. Just yesterday, we wrapped up a four way email thread spanning three days and about 30 individual messages to do determine the right name for a previously undisclosed Khadoran intelligence agency that will be appearing for the first time in a significant piece of fiction next year. All that for one name.

Another quickie done to communicate a pose for an upcoming war beast figure.

• Writing — I do a bit of my own writing as well. These days, I mostly write screenplays that will only ever be read by a select few, but once in a while I drop some words into published work at Privateer as well.

• Film Development — As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m developing a number of different projects. This could spawn a whole new list of tasks, but it primarily involves a lot of writing and art production and liaising with producers about the projects.

• Video Conferences & Conference Calls — Several times a week, I can be found as a choppy, pixelated image with stuttering sound on a small computer screen in the conference room of Privateer’s HQ in Bellevue, WA. When we don’t want to brave Skype, we’ll talk the old fashioned way on a phone. I do a fair amount of non-Privateer conference calling as well.

• Meetings — The live kind! As mentioned above, these generally involve copious driving. I do a lot of pitch meetings, the occasional development meeting, and sometimes really fun meetings like my field trips to WhiteMoon Dreams to look in on video game development.

• Vide Game Development — It’s an ongoing process and someday it will hopefully turn into ‘Video Game Playing’.

• Film Production — My current favorite pastime is being on a set directing. I don’t get to do this nearly enough, but I’m working on that. Not sure how I’m going to fit more into this schedule, though!

• Film Post Production — I have a love/hate relationship with this part of film making. It’s awesome to see the magic come together, but it’s also the pass/fail part of the process where you find out if you’ve made the right decisions along the way. It’s also long and often tedious due to a lot of waiting for things to get done.

• Concept Illustration — Occasionally, I actually bang out a piece of concept art for Privateer or for some film project I’m developing. I keep trying to hang up this hat, but every time I walk away, they pull me back in…

• Executive Management — The least glamorous of my day to day existence is actually contributing to the ongoing management of Privateer Press. It can involve anything from writing new company policy to coordinating physical facilities where we work. None of it has anything to do with making up new monsters or drawing robots, so for me, this is the price I pay to be able to do all the fun stuff the rest of the time.

• Blogging — This and other social media content generation! It seems to take up more and more of my time these days, but that’s because I’m enjoying it so much. Working remotely can be somewhat isolating, and the social media gives me a chance to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to speak with. I can find friendly voices online at just about any hour of the day now!

So that’s a pretty good cross section of what my day-to-day looks like. As you can see, it’s not all gaming and cocktail parties (do those things even go together?). But the truth is I really enjoy about 99% of what I do, even the more challenging tasks. Every day is different and I’m never, ever bored. Wouldn’t mind a little more time to play games, but as I’m fond of saying, no rest for the wicked…

 

 

 

 

Hi-yo, Quicksilver!

The original Stryker image done for the first Battlebox releases of WARMACHINE.

A couple weeks ago I tweeted that I’d gotten roped into doing the concept art for the next incarnation of one of WARMACHINE’s most iconic characters, Commander Coleman Stryker. The truth is, I wasn’t roped into it so much as presented with the opportunity. It took about three seconds for me to process the idea and agree. Stryker is, after all, a character very close to my heart and represents the very beginnings of WARMACHINE.

In terms of development, the original Commander Coleman Stryker is the first warcaster ever created. He became the baseline by which all other warcasters were compared to and balanced against. In a sense, both mathematically, and conceptually, Stryker represents the closest thing to an ‘everyman’ that a warcaster can be. He’s not ‘the best at what he does’ like the two-gun-slinging Caine, nor is he imbued with the powerful arcane abilities that Haley possesses and develops over time. He’s good at what he does, don’t get me wrong, but he was created with the idea that he’s well rounded and adaptable to a multitude of situations, relying on no single strategy for success. And fictionally, this is represented in the character as well. He’s the consummate soldier and an admirable leader, the kind of guy you want to follow into battle. While victory is his goal, the preservation of life and humanity are his foremost concerns. He’s gallant, shining, brave and ready for anything. At least he was…

Something unique about the WARMACHINE and HORDES miniatures games is the way we’ve woven the sweeping story into the game itself, primarily reflected in the character models. The big story, the one we call the ‘meta story’ started about nine years ago in our first expansion book, Escalation. Through a brief anthology story and several vignettes and snippets of fiction, we exposed the characters of the warcasters. We got to know them better, get inside their heads a little, and we got to see the beginning of their ‘character arcs’.

Andrea Uderzo’s magnificent rendering of Stryker in Prime MkII.

According to the screenwriting guru Syd Field, there are four building blocks or aspects of character, which people like to lump together with the term ‘characterization’. These aspects are a point of view unique to the character, an attitude reflecting how he interacts with life and challenges, a need, want or desire that motivates the character through the story, and last but not least, change. No, not a pocket full of coins. We’re talking about character change. The thing that ultimately connects us to a character in a dramatic situation is our observation of how that character deals with a problem and ultimately changes (or doesn’t in some cases) in order to achieve a resolution to that problem. (Am I getting too heady here? Better get some caffeine…)

So, back to Escalation. We’ve got this character, a hero of his nation, a man revered as much for his courage and martial prowess as he is for his sense of justice and mercy. He’s a veteran of numerous battles and engagements  and has certainly experienced both victory and defeat, but his character is never daunted nor tarnished because his only desire — to protect the kingdom that he cherishes — is utterly selfless. And then he’s confronted by something he’s never had to deal with before. His past wartime experience was always by the book. The rules of engagement were clear and everyone abided by those rules. Then came Khador’s invasion of Llael and everything got turned on its head. As Cygnar mobilized to assist their allies to the north, the long simmering theocracy of the Protectorate of Menoth seized the opportunity to strike at Cygnar’s unprotected flank. The result was chaos that spilled over the confines of any battlefield and quickly devastated the lives of innocent civilians caught in the line of fire. Coleman Stryker was rudely awakened from the dream that war could be a noble method of resolving conflict and forced to face the cold reality that there is nothing noble about it. He watched helplessly as ruthless Khadoran soldiers murdered and looted a defenseless village while Protectorate militia massacred fleeing civilians simply to make a point about their difference in theological preference. This was a war without boundaries, an ugly war like Stryker had never experienced before. Witnessing this inhumanity without the power to stop it became the catalyst for Stryker’s change.

Stryker served a just an honorable king, a service he’d been proud of over the ten years since he’d aided Leto in usurping his brother’s throne and leading the nation into an era of prosperity. But Leto’s code prohibited any action considered inhumane, and this is the catch 22 that Stryker found himself mired in. The enemies of Cygnar were willing to do anything to crush them, but Cygnar had no way to defend against such ignoble actions while still upholding the nation’s values. Realizing he would only be leading men to their death as his beloved country crumbled around him, Stryker laid his sword down at the feet of his king and resigned his command unless he be given the freedom to seek total destruction against the forces that threaten Cygnar’s people.

And so ends Act I of Stryker’s character arc. Met with the catalyst for change, Stryker reluctantly embraces this new reality and makes a decision to change his personal code in order to seek a solution to the problem of his nation. Ultimately, Leto has no choice but to give Stryker his leash, and what happens next becomes the subject of much heated controversy between those following the saga of the Iron Kingdoms. Stryker, the once shining knight of Cygnar, becomes the monster he is trying to defeat.

In retrospect, as the creative director driving the plot of the meta-story, I realized we moved a little too fast from the Escalation chapter to the next expansion installment, Apotheosis. If I had the chance to do it all over again, Escalation would have been a bit more of a prologue and a chance to get to know the characters and set up the conflict, and there would have been another book inserted before Apotheosis in which we take these characters to the brink like we did with Stryker. I think the controversy that stirred around Stryker and what he became in Apotheosis was largely due to the fact that we moved from the starting image of this character so quickly into something completely opposite. It might have felt a little like a bait and switch in terms of his fictional presentation. On the other hand, it was a very dramatic shift, and the fact that it polarized people to the character means that it struck the right chords. Our take on the events in the Iron Kingdoms is that nothing is black and white, it’s all grey area and one’s opinion of a situation is entirely relative to his or her position and point of view. In other words, people SHOULD disagree.

Epic Stryker in full battle rage.

So with a his newly appointed station to Lord Commander giving him authority above the law of the land, Stryker decides that the best defense is a good offense, and he sets out to offend his enemies in every way he can. In doing so, he offends some friends as well, namely his mentor, Commander Adept Nemo, when he uses his newfound authority to confiscate a suit of prototype warcaster armor against the old man’s wishes.

He proceeds to march across Cygnar, rounding up civilian sympathizers of the Protectorate (specifically, anyone that worships the Protectorate’s god, Menoth), then shipping them off to a prison island. It’s a dark turn for our once gleaming hero and obviously not something the Protectorate’s religious tyrants would ever expect from Cygnar. Then Stryker leads a brutal assault against Sul, a city filled with the downtrodden and oppressed citizens of the Protectorate. Stryker’s metamorphosis is underway. He has officially become the monster he wants to destroy. It’s a conscious choice, one born of noble intent and complete self-sacrifice but it’s a dark path and comes at the price of Stryker’s soul and very nearly his life.

His sights locked on a particularly vile priestess of the Protectorate, Feora, Stryker lets vengeance take hold of his actions. But Stryker’s hubris comes back to haunt him when the prototype armor goes on the fritz. Were it not for the quick intervention of Stryker’s least favorite ally, Caine, he would have been skewered on the ends of Feora’s fire-breathing blades. So consumed by his rage at this point, Stryker learns nothing from the close call and shirks the aid and counsel of his friends, determined to destroy the entire city.

An early version of the Stryker in-game model by WhiteMoon Dreams.

There are readers that empathized with Stryker, realizing he was doing what he thought he had to do in order to protect Cygnar from destruction. Others were disgusted with his actions, disappointed and let down that the noble hero could fall so far from grace. But that’s the point. In order for Stryker to achieve his own apotheosis, we would first have to destroy everything that he was. I hear players of the games criticize the fiction from time to time, claiming that the stories aren’t dramatic because the main characters don’t die. But I’ll argue that physical death isn’t nearly as meaningful as spiritual death, and right then, Stryker was on the express elevator to hell.

When we next meet up with Stryker, he’s cornered Feora in a temple full of Protectorate civilians seeking shelter from the battle and he’s about to get the vengeance he’s been seeking. But  Feora commands a warjack to unleash a barrage of rockets to cover her escape, bringing down the temple on top of the heads of the cowering Menite civilians. Suddenly, Stryker is hit with the realization that the civilians of the Protectorate are in just as much need of protection from their tyrant leaders as his own people are back in Cygnar. And herein lies the final fork in the road for Stryker’s soul. Pursuing Feora and leaving the civilians to die means completing his transformation into the monster. The blood of innocents on his hands can never be washed off. Victory would be his, but there would be no return to the man he once was. Instead, he places himself in harm’s way, buying time for the civilians to escape as the temple comes crashing down to bury him alive. The path of darkness has led him to new enlightenment just before he finds redemption in death.

Okay, not real death. Symbolic death. Death of a particular existence, illustrated in the action of being buried alive. We all know Stryker lived or I wouldn’t be getting the chance to concept a new model for him. But the change the character goes through over time, from courageous hero of the people to a monster, to being reborn, enlightened with the ideal that no existence is worth the compromise of values, humanity, or one’s soul is a defining theme of WARMACHINE and in my mind makes Stryker the very heart of WARMACHINE. He might not be your favorite character — there are so many to chose from, after all — and you might not even care for Cygnar as a faction, but as both a game piece, and as a fictional character that has endured and emerged victorious in the battle for his very soul, Stryker is the touch stone by which all other characters are measured in this setting.

And that’s why there was never a question about whether or not I’d do the concept art for his next incarnation.

If you made it though that long winded essay, you must really be interested in what exactly Stryker’s next incarnation actually is — that’s the real reason you’re reading this! I’m sure some of you have guessed it by now, anyway. The big change is that like the latest version of Vlad, Stryker will be mounted. Rules-wise, I’m not at liberty to speak much and honestly, I’m not sure exactly where he’s sitting in development. But the concept brief calls for his horse to be clad in heavy powered armor and there’s a suggestion that Stryker’s own armor might be heavier than his original epic version, by virtue of being mounted on the horse. Presumably, Stryker’s prototype armor has been tuned up by Nemo and he’s no longer a danger to himself, so there’s an opportunity there for some visual change. The brief also suggests that he retain his iconic blade, Quicksilver II (now you get the title of the blog!). I’m thinking this is the right call as I haven’t been able to come up with an idea for any other weapon that feels right in his hands.

It’s quite a few years back when we wrapped Stryker’s character arc in Legends, after he killed Hierarch Voyle and repelled the Protectorate invasion. He’s long overdue for a new model incarnation and this will be a return to the shining knight, but representative of the change he’s undergone. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure yet how I’ll approach it. There’s something missing in the idea that I haven’t discovered yet— the pose of Stryker atop the horse, some affectation of his armor? Would it make sense for a warcaster to carry a pennant into battle? Or is he dual wielding Quicksilver with his disruptor pistol like his original sculpt?

Concept art for Epic Stryker

I got a lot of great feedback on the Eiryss 3 concept and it was a fun process to sift through and harvest the suggestions, several of which found their way into the final concept. I’m interested in what you’d do with Stryker’s new image and look forward to sharing this creative journey with you again.

 

 

 

Knowing when to walk away…

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
— Leonardo da Vinci

That quote probably goes through my head a dozen times a day, especially when I’m in the middle of a project. You get bored, you get sick of looking at the thing you’ve been working on for god knows how long, you run out of time, you forget where you left off…there are a multitude of reasons that you might walk away from a piece of art, a film, a story, a song, or whatever creative endeavor has been feeding on your soul like some invisible, soul-sucking vampire that thrives on souls. But there’s another old adage:

You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
— Kenny Rogers

Like many ambitious or wayward young people (take your pick) I entered college almost exactly three months after I graduated high school. I enrolled in a state university with the ambition of becoming an illustrator and ultimately a production designer in the film industry. After two semesters of repeating the same curriculum I’d just had for four years in public school, and having the opportunity to take about one unit of art course for every four units of non-art-related courses, I folded my hand and dropped out. I took my tuition grants and bought a bunch of art books, then buckled down and actually learned to draw. I’m not condemning higher education (I’m married to a doctor, after all), I’m just saying it didn’t work for me. Possibly my expectations were misguided — I really wanted to focus on art. Or possibly, it’s because in the short time I was actually enrolled in college, I didn’t come across one art instructor in those lower division classes that I felt was helping me achieve any of my artistic goals. At the age of 19, I made a very difficult decision to go against everything that had been drilled into me since I entered the public school system and I walked away (ran away, really!) from my extended education with the newly adopted goal of becoming a professional comic book artist! But that’s a story for another day, what I want to tell you about is the one instructor in my life that taught me a single damn thing about art, and it wasn’t how to draw.

His name is Rock Newcomb (couldn’t find a dedicated website for him, so this is the best I could do). He used to teach at Troy High School in Fullerton, California, where I went to school my senior year. Mr. Newcomb (‘the Nuke’ as the kids called him affectionately) is an amazing artist (check out that link) and had a character unlike any other I encountered in fourteen years of schoolin’. He had a way of giving you just the right amount of shit that you were inspired to work harder and be better — if you gave a shit about art, anyway. He didn’t teach it, so much as he facilitated it. He’d give you free range to explore and create but there were always boundaries, and when you hit them, it was like hitting an electric fence. After one year with the Nuke, he didn’t teach me a single worthwhile thing about drawing or painting, but what he taught me was a lesson I’d never forget and I have to say that I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it hadn’t been for him.

Each semester we had a certain number of pieces to complete and they had to coincide with specific subject matter that Mr. Newcomb had determined would be beneficial to our artistic development. The subjects weren’t necessarily interesting, but I learned that if I positioned a good argument to him, Newcomb would give me the latitude to stretch my creative wings. For instance, we had to do a portrait; he let me paint a human skull that was the centerpiece of a surreal anti-toxic waste campaign poster. We had to do a piece depicting wildlife; he let me paint a dragon inspired by one of Roger Dean’s ASIA covers. There was a give and take to Mr. Newcomb’s approach to teaching, and it encouraged me to solve my artistic challenges creatively. However, the one thing the Nuke wouldn’t let me do was finish a piece of artwork.

Working an hour each day in class doesn’t get you very far very fast, so boredom could set in quickly on the work. After a couple weeks, I’d finish an assignment and I’d turn it in to Mr. Newcomb. He’d look at it for about thirty seconds and he’d offer no constructive criticism. He’d simply say, “You’re about half-way done.” Demoralized, I’d return to work on this piece of art that I had no idea what to do with and I’d just keep working on it wherever it seemed like I could make a little progress. A week later, I’d turn it in and Newcomb would say, “You’re about a third of the way there.” What???

I fumed. “Look, just because my favorite class is Art does’t mean I’m an idiot — I can do the math, and a week ago I was further along than I am now? That doesn’t make any sense!”

He’d just smile. It was a terrible smile that said, I don’t have to explain anything to you because I’m the one in charge here, and then he’d say, “Yep.”

Eventually, after I was completely exhausted, fed up, bored and sick to death with the assignment, he’d accept the final piece and give me an A- on it. But then the next assignment would go exactly the same way. After a while, I got wise to what he was doing. He wasn’t teaching me how to draw or paint, but he was teaching me a valuable lesson. At first, I thought it was patience, but that wasn’t it. He was teaching me how to finish a piece of art.

Mr. da Vinci, in his famous quote, summed up the angst of every artist. It’s so hard to know when you’re done, when to put the brush down, when to write ‘The End’. You’re bored and you’re sick of it, or you’re lost and can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. More often than not, though, what the project needs is just a little bit more, that last ten percent, the final polish that will make it great. Whether it’s a painting, a film, a game design or a piece of dramatic fiction, you can always take it a little further and make it a little better, but it takes an incredible amount of stamina to get there. Eventually, though, you have to finish. You can’t work at something forever, especially if it’s got a commercial application with a deadline. Every project must come to a end, sooner or later. But knowing when to hold on and keep pushing, or when you’re actually finished and when to walk away from it — that’s the art.

And if I ever actually figure out how to do it, I promise to disclose the secret in an entry on this blog!

 

 

The Suggestion Box

Maintaining a blog, I’ve found, isn’t easy. It’s kind of become a fourth job. The hard part isn’t the writing. I crank out pages of emails, stories, and outlines every day. For me, the difficult part is in coming up with that next idea that will make an interesting article. Some articles, like the Eiryss concept discussion, write themselves. Others are more timely and in the moment, springing from some fit of inspiration to become words and pictures on the page. But whether it’s focused content with wide appeal or the muddled musings of a mad man, I find it a bit of a trick to get out in front of my self-imposed publishing schedule.

Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board, 1942. Public Domain Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had great success harvesting loads of responses from the new Eiryss design and WARMACHINE VS. Iron Kingdoms movie topics. Today, I’m looking for suggestions and questions on topics that would make content on this blog interesting to you. Broadly, my area of expertise is ‘creativity’, but I dual-wield writing and illustration, and I specialize in game design. I’m multi-classing as a writer-artist-filmmaker-game designer-businessman so I can cover a lot of topics that relate to the production side of genre-based media. I frequently get emails from college students working on papers or aspiring artists and game designers looking for tips or advice on how to pursue a career path, and I may start adapting these to blog entries as well, but I’d like to find out what interests the people who have eyes on this site — beyond just sneak peaks of new miniatures when I have something to leak!

So, be general or be specific and post your ideas in the comments section. If someone posts an idea you really like, give it an extra ‘Here here!’ and I’ll know that’s something I should give extra consideration to. I’ll use your suggestions and ideas to generate delicious content for future blog entries that will hopefully build this site into a resource for anyone interested in ‘creativity’.

The Office for Emergency Management thanks you for your support.

Confessions of a Former Science-Fiction Addict

I have a confession to make. I don’t really read fiction…anymore.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I actually read a lot of fiction, but perhaps not like most people and definitely not like I used to. It’s not for lack of want, and certainly not for lack of availability. There’s an endless supply of amazing and engaging science-fiction and fantasy out there, so much so it can be hard to settle on something if you have to make a choice.

Like many that are probably reading this, I dove into fiction at a very early age. My first exposures to fantasy were C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander. These authors ignited my young imagination and sent me searching for anything unreal that I could get my hands on. Later I discovered true science-fiction with Asimov and Herbert, and I couldn’t get enough. I joined the science-fiction book club — you know, the one where you get twelve books for a penny and then had to buy something like four at full price in the coming year? Ha! It’s amazing I didn’t single-handedly put them out of business. I devoured those books like a Sandworm devours sand plankton, quitting after I had purchased my quota, only to rejoin and harvest my next dozen books for a penny — over and over and over again.

Moorcock, Zealazny, Powers, Wolfe, Eddings — these guys showed me that science-ficiton and fantasy were entirely undefinable and unlimited. It could be heroic and epic, dark and twisted, sexy and cutting edge, brutal and haunting. There were no boundaries. There was no place you couldn’t go. I’d read every night, usually until four in the morning, turning off my light just long enough to grab a few hours of sleep before class the next day, and I had more than my share of agitated teachers wake me in the middle of class when I tried to grab a few more. But I was an addict, I couldn’t stop.

Then somewhere along the way, I did. Sometime after having my mind blown by Gibson, Chrichton, and Stephenson, I found myself creating stories of my own. All the inspiration I’d derived from years of reading these masters came out in the form of comics and then games. Soon, I found myself in limited supply of two very necessary commodities that you need on hand when you’re about to tuck in with a good book: bandwidth and brain space.

I don’t end up with a lot of downtime in my schedule, and when I do have a spare moment, my grey matter usually feels like room-temperature oatmeal made with too much water. And more often than not, my mush brain is actually due to writing and reading copious amounts of fiction.

I split my day between a lot of different activities, but one of the primary tasks is writing, usually in the form of a screenplay these days. Another thing that occupies a lot of my attention is editorial work. At Privateer, I try to stay heavily involved in the fiction of our worlds and participate in initial story-forming as well as providing feedback on early drafts in an effort to foster an overall cohesive vision for the setting. I’m not alone in this effort as we have a dedicated creative staff, and many eyes pass over each piece of work as it goes through development and evolution, but it can be a lot to keep track of, especially when you start hopping worlds.

Jumping from writing a new screenplay, to giving notes on a WARMACHINE novella, to writing background fiction for LEVEL 7 all in one day can make my head swim. I’ve found that over time, my brain can only hold so many worlds in it, tracking the characters, the story arcs and the details of each setting with any sort of accuracy. The thought of cracking into a novel and inviting a new world into my slowly softening skull is almost terrifying.

But I do! It just has to be a special circumstance. These days, if I read fiction that isn’t related to Privateer, it’s usually because I know the person who penned it. Having a personal attachment to the author always makes the read more exciting to me. There’s something more real and intimate and tangible when I can hear that person’s voice in my head as I read the words.

Occasionally, I have had the honor of reading very early drafts of the work of close friends. One such friend is a writer that I’ve mentioned in the past, the magnificently talented Miles Holmes. Like myself, Miles has somewhat of a dual identity. He enjoys a brilliant career with many accolades in the video game industry, having worked as a lead designer on the acclaimed MASS EFFECT franchise as well as the SONIC CHRONICLES, and was also the senior designer of the outrageous car-combat franchise, FULL AUTO — just to name a few. He’s also got game design credits to his name and even contributed to No Quarter Magazine a few years back. And he’s also a brilliant author of fiction.

While I’m truly not worthy of reading his grocery list, much less his unfinished narrative work-in-progress, Miles and I have become, for lack of a better term, writing buddies. I show him mine, and he shows me his. (I’m talking about our writing!) For me, it’s become somewhat of a dependency. There are two people who I rely on heavily for critical feedback on whatever I’m writing — one is Jason Soles, whom those of you from the WARMACHINE and HORDES community will be quite familiar with, and the other is Mr. Holmes.

Currently, Miles Holmes is crafting an incredible universe of some of the most imaginative and progressive science-fiction I’ve had the pleasure of reading. To say that it is epic is an understatement because the amount of time it spans is almost unquantifiable. The scope of his story lines, the way they are interwoven between time periods and distant locations, and the themes that he is fearlessly exploring are both mind bending and utterly engaging.

I have had the undeserved privilege of reading his work in raw form as it develops into the final incarnation that he releases to the world. I also enjoy a rare vantage point in that he’s given me insight as to where he’s headed with this enormous project that readers will be forced to learn of only as he is wiling to measure out his mystery. But this foresight makes his work no less enthralling, in fact quite the opposite, and this has actually caused me a bit of a problem. You see, we bare our still baking work to each other under the pretext of providing constructive criticism in an effort to hone our craft and produce the best product possible. However, I have become so deeply engaged in the universe Miles has created that I now find myself reading for pleasure instead of doing my duty and offering intelligent feedback. I have been transformed from a useful colleague into a rabid fan, eagerly awaiting the next installment of his ever expanding saga.

And as I realize this metamorphosis in my perspective on his work, I am forced to confront another truth: the addict is not dead. He’s alive and well and craves science-fiction and fantasy, hungry to devour them both one world at a time.

Miles has set up a fantastic site at INFINITYGATE.COM where you can check out his short stories with which he’s laying a foundation for a much larger, jaw-dropping effort just past the visible horizon. I urge you to go there now, strap into your seat, and hang on for the ride because this one is gonna be going places and you don’t want to be left behind!

I’m also interested in what you’re reading. What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for people with a limited amount of time? I’ve got a plane ride to Lock & Load in a couple weeks, and I might just take a new world with me. I need to feed the beast.