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!)

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…

 

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.

 

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.

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* 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!