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.

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!