Gray Area

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out the garage and came across something I had completely forgotten existed. There’s a reason I leave the sculpting to the professionals, but these little guys occupy a soft spot in my heart and I’ve never been able to throw them out. They’re the only miniatures I’ve ever sculpted or ever will. (The astute observer may recognize some pilfered bits from other games…)

When they're this cute, you don't mind the probe so much!

WARMACHINE wasn’t the first miniatures game I ever sat down to design. Almost two decades ago, I booted around a number of game ideas with a wargaming buddy. The one that made it furthest into development couldn’t look more different than WARMACHINE or HORDES. It was hard core sic-fi, deadly, highly complex, and took about five hours to play a game, which we thought was pretty good back then! There was also no world to it — it was purely an exercise in game design. But we each had our own ‘factions’ that we brought to the game, and mine definitely reflected my influences over the years.

It was the mid 90’s. X-Files was the coolest thing on TV, X-Com was my favorite computer game, and crop circles were regular news items. Being a lover of UFO mythology since Leonard Nimoy hosted IN SEARCH OF when I was a kid, I loved anything to do with the idea of extra-terrestrials, and I wanted to be able to play with them in my favorite hobby. A couple weeks and a pound of Sculpy later, I was raiding towns and abducting hapless victims with an elite tactical unit of well-armed alien Grays.

So, it’s almost twenty years later, and what am I doing? Making movies and games about bug-eyed aliens. I guess the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same…

(Don’t worry, I promise never to sculpt anything for Privateer!!! But if you haven’t checked out [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, please have a look!)

Completion Anxiety

Last night, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, the short film that I have dedicated the last eight months of my life to, was released to the world via the magic of YouTube and the interweb. It was an exciting, exhilarating, and utterly terrifying moment.

I realized when this project was within hours of being completed that the prospect of finishing, the moment that I’d been dreaming about for months, wasn’t coming with any sense of relief. Quite the opposite, in fact. The end of this project was marked with a wave of anxiety and a question I wasn’t ready to answer: What next?

There’s a false sense of security one builds up when immersed in a protracted project with no defined sense of end. When you have your head in one project for so long, it infiltrates your identity, and your existence becomes defined by your daily effort on what can often seem like a task that may never end. And in a way, I think sometimes that’s what the subconscious wants, because the act of finishing the project means detaching yourself from what seems like your very reason for living. You’re severing the umbilical, cutting all ties free, pushing the bird out of the nest. I just can’t seem to figure who the bird is: me, or the project?

Completion of such an all-consuming project would seem like a time to rejoice, to pop the cork on the champagne and toast the project on its merry way. For me, it comes with a strange sense of emptiness. There’s a hole left behind that must be filled with another project immediately, or I start to get a little anxious. This neurotic separation anxiety comes from two aspects of the project’s completion. First, I have more dream projects in my head than one person could complete in a single lifetime. Knowing this, I have to select the next project carefully, for time is a scarce commodity and I’m capable of working on only a few projects at once with any degree of efficiency and competency. Second, there is a gut-wrenching reality one must face when they release a project into the world — judgment.

There is an idea that art no longer belongs to the artist once its offered up for view, it belongs to the audience. To the degree that ‘perception is reality’, I agree with this. If the audience at large perceives that something is great, then it will be successful and great. If the audience at large perceives that something sucks, then it sucks, man. As the old adage goes, numbers don’t lie.

Another phenomenon related to being so completely immersed in a project is that one loses perspective on quality. Where in the beginning, you might have enjoyed a vantage point of objectivity, eventually you can’t see the forest for the trees. The wise man seeks the opinion and feedback of wise people and prays they tell him the truth, and that can help mitigate the blindness that comes with having your head stuck in a project too long. But in the end, all you really have to go on is your planning and the hope that  you have done a decent service to the vision you set out to create.

After 17 or so years of sending art, stories, and games into the world for public scrutiny, I’m fairly familiar with judgment in all its forms. I’ve racked up both great successes as well as great failures. And while I’m in the positive overall, I’ve never released a major project without feeling the butterflies in my stomach. I think that’s why it’s so important to get right on to the next thing — it’s the need to fill that hole with something that will push the damn butterflies out.

So today, this little film goes out into the world, but it’s you who will decide if it has wings or not. I hope you watch it. I hope you like it. If you do, please pass the link on to anyone who you think might be interested.

No matter what, I’m already up to my ears in the next thing; excited, exhilarated, and terrified. Can’t wait to share it with you.

http://level7film.com/

 

 

What have I gotten myself into?

It’s been a while since I officially had an art deadline to meet. I honestly don’t recall the last piece of actual concept art I did for WARMACHINE or HORDES. These days, my art contributions amount to little more than scribbles on the back of napkins as I try to communicate a basic shape or silhouette to the art team at Privateer. In fact, most of the illustration I’ve done over the past year or so has been either storyboards or creature design for my upcoming LEVEL 7 film project and that’s been very much at my own pace. I was setting the deadlines, so if I needed to, I could move them. Not anymore.

The first concept for Eiryss, ever — swaggering'!

As we were reviewing the concept documents for all the new models that will be in the next WARMACHINE book, I started to get the itch to do some drawing again, and I made the mistake of opening my big mouth. It started with an upcoming character for Cryx. It’s something we’ve never seen in that army and I have an image in my head that I need to get out by way of the illustration. I tentatively expressed my interest and thankfully found out the illustration wouldn’t be due until fall. No problem! One character in the next 4-5 months? I can fit that into my schedule. Then Ed Bourelle, Privateer’s Creative Manager got greedy and suggested I tackle some more. “You could feature it on your blog!” chimed in Simon Berman, our Community Manager. They made it sounds so easy.

Fortunately, some of my better judgment won out and I didn’t take everything Ed threw at me, but there was one I couldn’t refuse: the new incarnation of Eiryss, the much loved, much loathed Mage Hunter who now stalks the Iron Kingdoms with the fanatical Retribution of Scyrah.

The second incarnation of Eiryss will kill you with even more style!

Eiryss is one of two mercenary solos in the original WARMACHINE: PRIME book that came out nearly ten years ago, and she’s one of the first characters I ever created and designed for the game. She’s also the first appearance of an Iosan (elf) in WARMACHINE and is for me, one of my all time favorite personalities featured in our fiction. In our next book, we’re reinventing Eiryss once again, and not how you might expect! Instead of going solo, she’s  joining up with some rank and file troopers as a Unit Attachment. That’s right, Eiryss, the original Iosan badass will now be making an entire unit of badasses even more badasser. Who would have ever thought she could be a team player?

See? I got all excited just writing about her. I almost forgot to tell you what the problem is: the due date on the concept is July 16th! Now maybe that sounds like plenty of time to do a simple illustration of one character, but to me, that feels like tomorrow. I’ve got a list of things that have to be done between now and July and heaping concept art responsibilities on top of that is insane. But like the saying goes, no rest for the wicked.

So now I’m going to do something I’ve never done before — I’m going to ask for suggestions on how to design this next incarnation of a very beloved character. NO! Not rules — don’t even think about making a suggestion for her game rules. Jason Soles graduated her out of play testing months ago. We’re just talking about the visuals, here. We’ve seen Eiryss in a dynamic leap, Eiryss stalking from a rooftop, Eiryss walking with a sexy swagger. Now she’s going to be leading a unit of razor-blade-wielding, human-hating, homicidal zealots — where do I take her from here? The only thing written in stone is that she’ll be retaining her signature weapon combination: A sword and a crossbow fixed with a nasty bayonet.

Things I have to think about:

Pose: Action, Heroic, Stealthy?

Costume: More armor? More skin?

Details: Hood up or hood down? Is it time to see Eiryss’ ears? I’m not sure the world is ready for that…

If you’ve got a good idea, let me know what you think. I have a feeling I’m going to need help with this one…

And whatever I do, I’ll show you here — progress to completion, pass or fail! Stay tuned!

 

WARMACHINE vs. IRON KINGDOMS [movie]

I had a little fun playing the ‘let’s cast the WARMACHINE movie’ game this week. I always love looking at those threads on the Privateer forums to see if other people imagine the same actors I do when I think about the characters in our games. Naturally, this is something I think about a lot, both because I’m making films of my own now as well as because just from a fan-of-films perspective, I’d love nothing more than to see an amazing WARMACHINE film done with a huge, all-star cast and an amazing director.

WARMACHINE movie = Epic metal on metal action!

Now before I go on, let me stress that there are no concealed hints here, no veiled teases— this is strictly my own daydreaming and theorizing, so join me in the frivolous flight of fancy, if you will…

If we had say, $150 million to blow making a movie, but we only get to make one, what would make a better flick: an epic WARMACHINE battle extravaganza, or a more focused, character oriented quest in the IRON KINGDOMS? The distinction I’d make here is that in the former, we’d be dealing with the political climate and the primary factions we detail in WARMACHINE, while in the latter, we’d explore the Iron Kingdoms with a party of mismatched heroes with no particular ties to the conflict between nations.

Now, I’ve got my own opinion on what I’d rather see if I only had one shot, but as I muse about this stuff, I see challenges and benefits to both approaches.

By its nature, a WARMACHINE film would have to showcase the grand battles between these magnificent and terrifying armies. Assuming we’re focused on at least one warcaster as our hero, there are inherent challenges in choreographing a story that does decent service to your central character. The reason for this is that there almost inevitably end up being a lot of characters in this story! And I know, because I’ve taken a stab at a couple of these WARMACHINE screenplays already. A warcaster is a leader of an army and part of a very big organization that has to be realized during our two hour limit. Because it’s a fantasy world, we don’t have the luxury of shortcutting the exposition because the audience possesses familiarity with the setting or time period. For instance, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN didn’t have to explain who the factions were or why they were fighting, or really even where they were. Spielberg could jump into a battle and count on the fact that most people watching that film would know exactly what was going on and what the greater stakes were. But when you’re crafting a world from whole cloth, you got a lot more ‘splaining to do. And that’s why these big fantasy and sic-fi epics can be so difficult to pull off – you have a limited amount of time and money to tell a story. Moments spent explaining the world or the politics or the science can take away from the time spent getting into your hero’s head or developing the relationships between characters. And in the case of a WARMACHINE film, you’ve got a minimum cast of your warcaster and his or her battle group (they may not talk, but warjacks are characters, too!), plus a reasonable amount of supporting cast that can actually speak words. The cast gets big, quickly.  I’m over simplifying the approach, but you get the idea — to make that film we all see instantly in our head when we look at the tabletop is nothing short of complex.

Not to mention, where do you start? The setting has a clear bias towards who the protagonists are and I think it’d be hard to make a WARMACHINE movie without the inclusion of Cygnaran characters, but where do you go from there? Who’s your main hero and what forces do you pit against each other? Can you tell a story with Haley without including Cryx? How do you give a comprehensive overview of a world as big and complex as the Iron Kingdoms in just two hours? Again, I’ve  spent way too much time thinking about this stuff so I’ve got my own ideas, but it’s not as clear cut as you might think.

The other side of the coin would be an IRON KINGDOMS movie. Here the wars between nations would be little more than a backdrop. We’d focus on a small group of characters, as few as just one, and we’d have more then enough time to spend on characterization. We’d also potentially get to see a greater cross section of the world, exploring cities, ruins, the history and the cultures that populate the setting. And while I’m sure we’d see some steamjacks, I think the thing we’d miss out on would be those huge battles that define WARMACHINE. The things that are truly iconic in the setting might never get touched on in a more quest-style storyline.

IRON KINGDOMS movie = super cool characters with ample time to do a sexy strut

It’d be a tough call! And as an aside, that’s part of the reason I’m so excited for the new Iron Kingdoms RPG to come out — I miss being able to explore those things about this vast world that we can’t fit the WARMACHINE stories into.

The truth is, these two things (WARMACHINE and the IRON KINGDOMS) aren’t really at odds. Many of the stories we tell in the WARMACHINE books are small, intimate moments, and every one of them is very focused on character. But in broad stroke terms, if you were to picture that perfect movie that represented each of them, I think you’d come up with two very different films.

What do you think? What’s your WARMACHINE or IRON KINGDOMS movie fantasy? What would you want to see in it?

Like I said, I’ve got my own ideas. Let’s see if I can make any of them happen!

Wait — what? Did someone in the back row just yell out ‘HORDES‘? Don’t worry, I didn’t forget. HORDES is a different animal altogether and I’m going to save that one for a blog of its own. I’ve got plenty of ideas for that one, too…

 

Back against the Stormwall

So, I’ve had this box sitting on my desk for weeks. An innocuous brown box about the size of a shoebox, sealed with a single strip of clear packing tape. In the chaos of the past month, I’d almost forgotten about it. I’d even moved it around a few times and it was accumulating paper and other clutter on top of it like some sort of weird office supply stalagmite. (I’ve got more than a few of those around my workspace. The technical term is ‘creative filing’ and if you’re a creative type, you know exactly what I mean.)

Back to the box…

Oh yeah, I kind of spoiled it in the title. It’s a Stormwall — the mighty Cygnaran colossal of Privateer’s WARMACHINE tabletop miniatures battle game, on the off chance that someone reading this doesn’t actually know what I’m referring to.

Tonight, I busted it open. I had a brief fantasy that I’d have this thing assembled and painted before Lock & Load, but that’s not going to happen. I could get it done, but this is something I want to take my sweet time with. It’s been a long time coming to have this beautiful weapon of mass destruction spread out on my desktop, and I want to savor every brush stroke as I make it battlefield ready. I’ve got a couple challenges ahead of me before that can happen, though.

The Cygnar Stormwall —beautifully huge!

Being the owner of a miniatures manufacturer has some fantastic perks. One of them is being able to request advance copies of the latest production pieces months before they’ll be available in stores. The production department graciously sent me one of the first Stormwalls off the line, and for that I thank them very much. However, as a cruel joke, they didn’t include a base, so now I have to go back and grovel for a platform to mount this beauty on top of.

Second, getting stuff early isn’t necessarily as keen as it sounds. I got this thing before the packaging was printed, which means I also got it without assembly instructions. Now you might think that since I designed the damn thing I’d know how to put it together, but in my defense, it’s been something like four years since I drafted this mechanized monster, so by now it’s as new to me as it will be to any of you.

Like I said, it’s been a long time coming. But looking at this thing, even in all these pieces, I gotta say it’s been worth the wait.

'Some assembly required.' No shit!

Where in the world is Matthew D. Wilson?

A couple nights ago I had the great opportunity to drop in and say hi to my old friend Tony DiTerlizzi* during his whiz-bang, breakneck A Hero for Wondla book tour. While there, I had the great fortune of running into another friend I hadn’t seen in several years, the fantastically talented Therese Nielsen**. I realized after a few moments that she didn’t know that I didn’t live in the North West anymore. And how could she? I hadn’t really told anyone.

Fifteen years ago I moved from southern California to Seattle to work for Wizards of the Coast as the art director for MAGIC: THE GATHERING. A few years later, I founded Privateer Press with two other partners and spent the next decade primarily focused on creating great gaming products and growing the company. As the company became a stable, self-sufficient entity, I found myself with a little spare time so I filled that time by returning to writing and exploring one of my great passions, filmmaking.

My very first ever Magic: the Gathering painting

In 2010, I completed my first short film, WOLFSBANE. We also optioned MONSTERPOCLAYPSE to Dreamworks that year, so doors started opening and I started spending a lot of time back in Los Angeles. By the end of that year, I was commuting at least twice a month from Seattle to LA, and my wife Sherry (who also runs Privateer) delivered our first child, Gryffin.

Suddenly, we had a lot of reasons to relocate, not the least of which were two Grandmothers who would be essential in maintaining our sanity as Sherry and I plunged into the very frightening, alien realm of parenthood.

In March of 2011, we entrusted the stewardship of the company to our very excellent management team and the talented staff of Privateer, then packed the baby, two dogs and two cats into a pair of trucks and headed for California.

Both Sherry and I are still intricately involved with Privateer as much as we ever have been, but we operate remotely through the magic of email and Skype. Every couple months, I bounce back to Privateer for marathon meeting days and some heavy development work.  In many ways, I think I’m even more involved with Privateer now because I’ve managed to cut down on a lot of travel time, and with the frequent video calls, I often forget I’m not actually present in the office.

About six months after our great migration south, I realized that more than ever, I wanted to find a way to merge these two disparate worlds I was occupying. I had thought that game designer Matt and filmmaker Matt were two different identities that had to be managed separately (apologies for breaking my promise about referring to myself in the third person, it’s such a filthy habit). But what I found myself doing more and more was trying to find a way to make these two paths intersect. With the MONSTERPOCALYPSE option things were already heading in that direction, but being in tune with my control-freakiness, I quickly realized I wanted more. I wanted to control both sides, the horizontal and the vertical, and realize the things in my head in the two mediums I was most passionate about: games and film.

On the set of WELCOME TO LEVEL 7

Cosmic forces willing, I’m within a few weeks of completing my second short film, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7***. This will be my first attempt in the grand experiment to see if I can pull off this intersection of disciplines and worlds. Hopefully it’s a well met intersection, and not an apocalyptic collision, but no matter what, it’s been an amazing ride getting to this point and I’m as excited to unveil the film project as I am to release the upcoming LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] board game that the amazing design team at Privateer has worked so hard to bring to life. It’s going to be one hell of a summer.

So where am I now? Still in LA, bouncing back and forth to Seattle, and up to my ears in my next attempt to create a fantastic intersection between these two mediums I love so much.

*******************************************************************************************************************

* If you don’t know Tony DiTerlizzi, then either a) you aren’t a gamer or b) you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty years. The dude defined a generation of Dungeons & Dragons art with his artwork for PLANESCAPE and now he’s inspiring a new generation of kids with his incredible picture books and novels. Hit the link to check out his blog.

** Therese Nielsen is one of the most famous and incredible MAGIC: THE GATHERING artists that ever lived. If you don’t know her art, do yourself a favor and check it out!

*** Totally slipped my own little world-wide announcement into this post. Boo-yah! Stay on your toes, folks, there’s more to come!