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!

 

 

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.)