Totally Random

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

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

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

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

Subject to Reinterpretation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The glamorous life of an artist at work!

The glamorous life of an artist at work!

 

 

 

 

Launching an eXpedition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SIX_TWC_TheWayofCaine_Cover

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

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

Mood Music

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

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

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

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

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

SilentTrailer — Click to View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Stryker Three! Yer’ Out!

Out in front of the public, that is!

(Groan. I know.)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Bag Full O’ Cats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

The Fishy Business of Show Business

I don’t even like fish.

If I’ve learned anything from playing Hollywood these past few years, it’s that the more projects you can launch out of the gate, the greater your chances that one will actually cross the finish line, but almost certainly most of them won’t. (Actually, I’ve learned a few other lessons about show business as well, but those all lead to a great deal of curse-filled ranting that I think may not be appropriate for general consumption.) Specifically, I’m referring to those projects that are not entirely within one’s grasp to get done without the assistance of those rare few entities possessing the kind of money to get great looking images up on the screen. My past short film projects were self-financed and done for very little, but the objective, of course, is to do larger and more commercial work, and for that, I need someone to write a bigger check than I can write myself.

It’s a little like playing roulette and trying to cover as many different spaces on the board as possible so your odds of hitting anything are maximized. If you’ll indulge a somewhat lengthier analogy, though, I think it’s a lot more like fishing in a lake. Fishing is all about being in the right place at the right time with the right bait. If you’re fishing with just one rod, then you’ve got a single line in the water and just one chance to catch a fish. So if you want to increase your chances of a catch, you need more lines in the water. Only, it won’t do to drop them all in the same fishing hole because you really don’t know if there are any fish in that spot or not, so you have to spread them out all around the lake, hoping that the fish are going to be gathering in at least one of those places and that they’re going to be interested in what you’ve wrapped around your hook. (Hang on, we’re not done yet, this one keeps going for bit.)

Now this is where it gets really tricky. Fishing isn’t all about throwing your line out there and hoping a fish jumps on the end of it. You’ve got to coax those fish a bit, give a little tug on the line from time to time to try and get their attention. Sometimes you’ve got to reel it in all the way and recast the line, adjusting the position or hoping you land closer to the fish this time. While you’re babysitting this one line, though, all your other poles are going unattended. If you get a nibble on a line, you need to be there to give it a tug and try and set that hook or the fish is going to move on. So while you increase your odds of catching a fish with all those lines you’ve put in the water, you also end up running all up and down the shore line managing them each time you see the end of the rod twitch. It’s exhausting to say the least.

Now I could keep running with this whole fishing analogy, drawing comparisons to getting your hook stuck, having a snarl in your line, the frustration with the one that got away, or the abject disappointment of reeling in a bottom-feeding trash fish that wasted your bait, wasted your time, and delivers nothing suitable to the table. But I think by now you get the idea.

I believe this analogy could be applied to just about any sort of creative pursuit in which one depends on a publisher, financier, producing label, or similar entity in order to accomplish a goal larger than your available resources. But how does one keep sane in this kind of maddening situation? Well, maybe this is where the analogy breaks down because I think a lot of people who regularly fish would say they do so because they enjoy the act of fishing, not because they want to eat the fish. But assuming that your primary purpose for fishing is to serve up a tasty filet to a room full of assembled guests, it’s a good idea to know where you can just buy a fish when you need it. In other words, you’ve got make sure you’re not always relying on someone else to be able to satisfy your objective; you’ve got to have a project that is wholly in your control to be able to create, execute and present without the need for that other entity to write a check.

And that’s where I’m at right now: a dozen lines in the water, running back and forth managing the rods and reels, hoping to be in the right place at the right time with the right bait and to get a solid enough nibble I can set the hook.  But in the meantime, I need to be doing something that I can get done with my own available resources. For that, I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve narrowed down to, and I’ll bounce those off you in the next week or two.

Until then, happy fishing!

 

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.