Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What is it like working for Catalyst?

I realize it's been a while since I've blogged anything --- four months. I wish I had an real excuse beyond the two that took up my time --- a Non-BattleTech novel and the holidays. The novel is done and is now going through the editorial phase ....

But that's enough of the excuses. I did complete something that I sent in to Battlecorps and hope to see it sometime in the future. I won't say more than that until there's more to say. There's a new Catalyst Store that should be more responsive to users' needs (There is no truth to the rumor that Catalyst was running out of virgins to sacrifice to keep Battleshop running --- they ran out of those five years back......)  There's a few things on the way....

The reason for this post (besides a reminder that I'm still alive) was prompted by a comment (Since deleted for some unknown reason because I didn't delete it, and the comment wasn't offensive in any way.) I will however post the comment (Because I'm notified by email when a comment is posted, along with the copy of the comment) without revealing the person's identity until such time I received permission from the poster. It asks a question I would like to answer.

Hi Craig,
Read your blog with great interest. Longtime Battletech fan here, and recently submitted & got approval for two short stories from John & Philip. I'd be interested to hear about your experiences working with the company, as this is my first submission with them.
First, welcome to a small group of people --- Battletech writers. The fact you had two stories accepted by Phil and John is a mark in your favor. Hope you hang around for a long time. We're a crusty bunch, but mostly harmless (At least that's what the Hitcherhikers Guide to Gaming Writers said, which is better than the previous "Warmongering Stormtropers" Until Lucasfilms sued.....)

What has my experience been like? It's been mostly good, but like every other company, there are times you wonder what's going on. But before I dive into my experiences, a little about Catalyst Games Lab and what makes them a little different for other gaming companies.

The most unusual things is Catalyst operates under a defused company structure. Catalyst Employees and Freelancers are all over the world. With the Internet, we don't need to live in the same area, as Catalyst, or even in the same country. So we are a diverse group and we all bring out unique views to the game we write and make art for. The second thing is that most of us working for Catalyst are freelancers, operating under a few full-time employees. That makes Catalyst flexible enough to handle a multitude of projects are the same time. And last is the passion the freelancers have for the game and the universe. For nearly forty years, the Battletech Universe has been a living, breathing universe with a diverse set of factions and an in-universe history that covers over a thousand years, from the start of the 21st century to the current middle of the 32nd. It is a honor to be a small part of such a vibrant universe.

My experiences with Catalyst have been for the most part, great. Most my interaction had been with six people; Jason Schmitzer. Herb Beas, Ben Rome, Phillip Lee, John Helfers, and Randall Bills.

Jason Schmetzer was Battlecorps' editor when he bought my first story, The Lancer Killer. A writer as well as editor, he had an ability to find a story's weakness and suggest changes to make a story better. He left to pursue other projects, but I remember him as the man who started my Battlecorps career.

Herb Beas was the Battletech Line Developer when I became a Battlecorps writer, and it because of him, I had to chance to pitch for a number of Battletech projects. Fact-checking lead to pitching and because of him, I established myself not only as a Battlecorps writer, but as a Battletech writer, with several writing credits in products such as Field Manual: SLDF, Interstellar Players 3, and Field Report 2765: DCMS.  He also left, replaced by Randall Bills.

Ben Rome was Battletech's Assistant Line Developer under Herb Beas and ramrodded Total Chaos  for Herb and wrote most of the War of Reaving sourcebook. It was he that gave me a chance to write up Gannon's Cannons for the sourcebook to honor the son of a Catalyst agent who had leukemia. Gannon is much better these days and I still considered writing the backstory for the Cannons my greatest pleasue to this day.

Phillip Lee became a Battlecorps writer after me, and Jason decided his skills were also suited to helping him running Battlecorps. He is usually the one who first reads a story from the slush pile and his experience as a writer can spots the flaws in a story as quickly as Jason could. Those that pass his inspection are sent to John Helfers. Phil and I have also work on both Valiant: RPG games books, with Phil taking the lead on both books and me writing for him. I consider him a good friend and  and we bounce ideas off each other more often than not.

John Helfers' background I've detailed in the previous blog post, but in all my communications with him, I have found him to be friendly, helpful, understanding and encouraging. He has plans for both Battlecorps and the other fiction lines has me hopeful for 2017 and beyond.

Outside of Battletech's creators, I can't think of anyone more associated with the IP than Randall Bills. He has been working with the IP in one way or another for over twenty years, and is currently acting as Battletech's Line Developer in additions to his other Catalyst duties. A nice guy, when you can get a hold of him, which isn't often.

I've had good relations with all of them, even though the only one I've met in person was Randall (Twice, I think, when Origins was still moving around --- Baltimore and Philadelphia were the two I attended.) And that is the key --- if you have good relations with the people you work for/with, you will enjoy the experience.

I hope that answers your question.

Until later (though less than four months, I promise!)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Changing of the Guard

In life, things change. People move onto other jobs, decide to spend more time with their family, or need some time to themselves.

No, I'm not talking about myself. I'm staying where I am....

However, who I deal with at Battlecorps has changed. Jason Schmitzer has decided to move on and left as Battlecorps Editor at the beginning of the year.

So, who replaced him?

John Helfers.


I was familiar with the name, but didn't really know who he was. So, I looked him up. The following is from the Penguin website: John Helfers' Bio

John Helfers is an author and editor currently living in Green Bay, Wisconsin. During his sixteen years working for Martin H. Greenberg at Tekno Books, he co-edited more than twenty short story anthologies, as well as overseeing numerous other ones for publishers in all genres. He worked with many well-known authors and co-editors, including Lawrence Block, Larry Bond, Dale Brown, Stephen Coonts, Nelson DeMille, Charlaine Harris, John Jakes, Anne Perry, Jeffery Deaver, Michael Connelly, Walter J. Boyne, Harold W. Coyle, Mercedes Lackey, Margaret Weis, Kevin J. Anderson, Ice-T, Richard Belzer, and Max Allan Collins. He has also edited more than forty complete novels by such authors as Doug Allyn, Brendan DuBois, James Patrick Hunt, and Jean Rabe.

He has also published more than forty short stories in anthologies such as If I Were An Evil Overlord, Time Twisters, and Places to Be, People to Kill. His fiction has appeared in anthologies, game books, and novels for the Dragonlance®, Transformers®, BattleTech® and Shadowrun® universes. He has written both fiction and nonfiction, including the third novel in the first authorized trilogy based on The Twilight Zone™ television series, the YA novel Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers: Cloak and Dagger, and a history of the United States Navy. His essays on the military have appeared in Beyond Shock and Awe, and in theHow to Lose a War series, including recent volumes on the Civil War and World War II. His most recent nonfiction book, The Vorkosigan Companion (co-edited with Lillian Stewart Carl) a guide to the science fictional world of Lois McMaster Bujold, was nominated for a 2009 Hugo Award. In 2010, the Shadowrun anthology Spells & Chrome won the Origin Award for Best Game- Related Product.

In 2011, he left Tekno Books to become a full time freelance writer and editor. He wrote several novels in the Room 59™ espionage series for Worldwide/Gold Eagle Publishing (including the launch book, The Powers That Be) and has also written novels in their Deathlands™ and Mack Bolan/Executioner™ series. Currently he’s working on several tie-in and original projects in both the adult and YA genre.

That is an impressive resume.....

Not that Jason wasn't good -- without his help, I wouldn't have grown as a Battlecorps writer. and we had a few discussions via IM and email about different subjects involving writing and stuff. He was the one to decided The Lance Killer was good enough to publish, and he did the same for every other story he published. He didn't accept everything from me --- I had a few misfires. He took on a tough role and did it for eight years herding a bunch of cats disguised as freelance writers, most of the time by himself until Phillip Lee assumed the assistant editor slot. A truly thankless job, but he did it and stories were still being published. He decided to leave on his own, to devote more time to his job and his family. I don't think we've seen the last of him.

But Battlecorps website goes from a strong editor to an even stronger editor. It's clear that Catalyst want the fiction to become an even stronger part of the company. No other game besides BattleTech and Shadowrun has placed such an heavy emphasis on the fiction --- it is through the novels and to a lesser extent, the short stories, advance the timeline and fill is small parts of the universe to make it come alive. and with the revamping of the Battlecorps website in the works, we should see a strong, better Battlecops website.

But John's more than Battlecorps' new editor, he is also overseeing all of Catalyst Games Lab's Fiction lines --- Shadowrun, Battletech, and any other fiction lines that come to fruition. Short stories, novels, anthologies --- they are his domain. He was brought on in 2013 to shepherded the return of the Shadowrun novels. When Jason left, John took over as Battlecorps editor, ably assisted by Battlecorps' Assistant Editor, Phillip Lee.

So, I have a new editor to become familiar with, a new way of doing things, and new challenges. I'm looking forward to John's stewardship of Battlecorps.

Welcome aboard, boss.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

New Battletech Anthology Out

I can't believe it's been six months since I posted on this blog.....

Time for a quick update:

My story "Shadow Angels" was published on the Battlecorps website in (month) and I should have another story up soon. There's a third story I submitted for another anthology, which has a neat premise. There are a few other things floating in the wind, but nothing I can say anything about. And a few other non-BT related things......

According to my stats, that makes twenty-five stories published by Battlecorps, and a combined word count of slightly over two hundred thousand words. That's not bad, and hope to see twice as many stories on the site one day soon.

Anyhow, what this post is about is the new print Battletech anthology that came out at Gen Con (Cover is the picture above.) Volume 6: Front Lines is important to me because it is the first time one of my Battlecorps stories has appeared in physical print. Jason Schmitzer, Battlecorps' editor chose my story "Hikagmono" for this print anthology. I discuss "Hikagemono' in this blog post, so I won't repeat what I said there here. All I will say is that I'm honored that this story was one of those selected for this honor.

Right now, I'm involved in writing my third co-authored novel (non-BT) novel and I'm still waiting for a chance to write a Battletech novel. But for now, I'm content that I'm making headway.

It's a short post, but I will NOT let six months pass by without a blog post. That is something I want to strive to achieve the rest of the year...



Monday, February 15, 2016

Another Time of War Character --- Marik Merchant

Haven't done one of these in a long while, so here's another A Time of War NPC for your RPG. This time I added a basic seed idea to use with this character.

Concept: Free Worlds League Merchant

Miles is from a merchant family, but never wanted to be one He tried his hand at being an artist in his youth, but while he was a competent painter and sculptor, he realized that he wasn't good enough to make a living at it. He was drawn back into the family business, taking it over when his father died.

Miles makes regular visits into the Confederation, Magistracy, and Lyran Commonwealth. He deals mostly in art and other valuable items. He is smart, and uses his experience as a young artist to uncover fakes. He is also a tough negotiator and hard to fool. He is extremely wealthy and has a wife and three children. He has worked hard to earn a reputation as a fair merchant. His oldest son, Damion, is now accompanying him on trips to learn the business.

While Miles is't a fighter, he always has 1d6+2 bodyguards around him (Use the thug template, AToW, p.337 +1 to both career/bodyguard and small arms skills listed in the template)  His home is a fortress, with 2d6+4 guards and 1d6+2 guard dogs.

Seed: The PCs are approached by Miles. He needs extra security for a trip into the Magistracy. He  is in pursuit of a valuable object, and needs the extra protection for him, his party and the object, once they buy it. He figures a few mercenaries and their BattleMechs might make any thieves think twice about interfering.

Name: Miles Novloceck
Age: 49 
Height: 163cm 
Weight: 75kg 
Hair: Brown 
Eyes: Gray 
Affiliation: Free Worlds league (Marik Commonwealth)

Attributes          Link           Movement(Meters Per Turn)
STR    3               -1              Walk 6       Climb 3
BOD   3               -1              Run 17        Crawl 2
RFL    3               -1              Sprint 34     Swim 8
DEX   4               +0
INT     8               +1
WIL    7               +1
CHA   6               +0
EDG   6               +0 

Traits                          Rules           Traits                     Rules 
Combat Paralysis(-4)   p. 108          Equipped (+3)        p. 116
Connections (+7)         p. 111          Extra Income (+3)  p. 116
Dependent: Wife (-1)   p. 113         Gregarious (+1)      p. 118
Dependent: Child (-1)  p. 113         Property (+5)          p. 123
Dependent: Child (-2)  p. 113         Reputation (+3)      p. 124
Dependent: Child (-2)  p. 113         Wealth (+7)            p. 128
Enemy (-3)                   p. 113 

Skills                                                          TN/C                               Level
Acting                                    CHA            8/CB                                  +5
Administration                   INT+WIL        7/SA                                  +3
Appraisal                                INT             8/CB                                  +4
Archery                                  DEX            7/SB                                  +0
Art/Cooking                           DEX            8/CB                                  +2
Art/Painting                           DEX             8/CB                                  +2
Art/Sculpture                         DEX             8/CB                                  +2
Career/Merchant                    INT              7/SB                                  +4
Comm./Conventional             INT              7/SB                                  +1
Computers*                      DEX+INT          8/CB                                 +3
Cryptography                    INT+WIL          9/CA                                 +1
Drive/Ground Vehicles     RFL+DEX        8/SA                                  +2
Interests/History                     INT              8/CB                                  +1
Interests/History (Inner Sphere) INT          8/CB                                  +2
Interests/History (Periphery)   INT             8/CB                                  +3
Interests/History (Terran)        INT             8/CB                                  +1
Interests/Law                           INT              8/CB                                 +1
Interests/Literature*            INT+WIL        9/CA                                 +4
Language/Cantonese           INT+CHA       8/SA                                  +1
Language/English                INT+CHA       8/SA                                 +3
Language/German               INT+CHA        8/SA                                +2
Language/Greek                  INT+CHA        8/SA                                +1
Language/Mandarin            INT+CHA         8/SA                               +2
Language/Romanian           INT+CHA         8/SA                               +2
Leadership                          WIL+CHA        8/SA                                +1
Martial Arts                        RFL+DEX         9/CA                               +1
Melee Weapons                  RFL+DEX         7/SB                               +1
Negotiation                            CHA               8/CB                               +5
Perception                               INT               7/SB                                +5
Prestidigitation                   RFL+DEX         7/SB                               +1  
Protocol/Magistracy           WIL+CHA         9/CA                               +2
Protocol/Capellan              WIL+CHA          9/CA                               +3
Protocol/Free Worlds         WIL+CHA         9/CA                                +3
Protocol/Lyran                   WIL+CHA          9/CA                               +4
Running                                  RFL                7/SB                                +1 
Streetwise/Capellan               CHA                8/CB                                +1
Streetwise/FreeWorlds          CHA                8/CB                                +1
Streetwise/Lyran                   CHA                 8/CB                                +1
Survival/Forests                BOD+INT            9/CA                                +2
Swimming                              STR                 7/SB                                +2
Zero-G Operations                  RFL                7/SB                                 +3
*Advance tier 

Equipment                       Cost                Weight                       Stats 
Formal suit                       575                   3.0kg                    see p. 299
Shoes                                  50                     .8kg                    see p. 299
Coat                                    55                   1.1kg                    see p. 299
Civilian Comm.                  45                     .1kg                    see p. 301
          Hold-out pistol                   20                      200g                   see p. 265
          Reload (HO pistol)               1                       20g                    see p. 265
          Compad                            150                     200g                    see p. 303
          Noteputer                          500                    500g                     see p.303
          AV chips  (5)                       5                      25g                     see p. 302
          White noise generator     400                      2kg                      see p.304
         Clan power packs ( 2)        50                    550g                     see p.306
         Clan Micro-power pack (2) 100                 30g                       see p.306
         Counter forgery kit, basic 900                   4kg                        see p.308
        Avanti Luxury Sedan        70,000                                            see p.324

Monday, February 8, 2016

Writing for Factions

(Another image from HBS for their Battletech computer game. Appropriate for this blog entry)

Writing for Battletech mean writing from more than one faction's viewpoint. At any one time period, there will be anywhere between a dozen to more than two dozen factions I can choose from and write for.

I have my favorite faction, but writing for just one faction is not only limiting, but can be boring after a while. Each faction has their own set of history, values, and beliefs unique to them. It would be limiting to ignore them, just because I don't like the faction.

It's the challenge of reading about the faction (Be it one of the major interstellar states, one of the minor ones, a clan, or even a named Merc unit), finding the right plot that fits that faction, a time, a place and mixing them all together to create the story. It's establishing the characters and their motivations, which are tied to their faction. Their background backgrounds are formed from their factions, from a Combine soldier squaring off against a relative to reclaim the family's honor, to a civilian leading his town's population to attack an invading enemy, to a WOB agent defending an HPG station against a mob. The character must reflect their faction's POV (Or have a good reason not to --- in either case the faction's POV is the starting point for the character, and it goes from there.)

A word about POV: When I use the term "Faction's POV" (Point of view) I mean what does the normal character from that faction (Interstellar State, Clan, Comstar/WOB) believes in. For example, the Combine has a neo-samurai worldview, while the later Confederation has Xin Sheng, The Free Words League has local concerns and less interstellar unity. The Outworld Alliance has a strong pacifist streak, while the Concordant is fearful of the FedSuns. It is the generally accepted views of the factions majority. 

Looking back over the Battlecorps stories that I have published, I see that six of them have a strong FedSun/FedCom POV, while five others are from a Combine POV. Four have a strong WOB POV, four more with a Commonwealth/Alliance viewpoint, while only one of those stories has a FWL POV. Two Clan-centric stories (each from a different Clans), a single Outworlds POV, and three that have a Confederation POV as part of the story (but one one is what I would considered the main POV for the story)

So, I have plenty of other factions that I can still explore.

Word of Advice For Writers: When writing a character from their POV, be sure to know that character's faction mindset. It will form the base of the character, and from there, the character can be shaped. A Combine soldier will react differently to some situations than a FedSuns soldier would.

But it doesn't mean every character is 100% locked into their faction's mindset 100% all the time. A Confederation soldier is going to have a different level of intensity of mindset as compared to a Death Commando --- not that the soldier is disloyal to the Confederation, but compared to a Death Commando, his mindset is less set. Playing with different levels of the POV will help develop the character to be more fully realized, even if the evidence never appears in the story itself.

That's all for tonight.



Sunday, January 31, 2016

Update and Thoughts About Writing in Eras.

(This picture is from the new Battletech game HBS is working on. It's their's, I'm just borrowing it because it looks good.)

Okay, I dropped two more stories into the slush pile, so that's now five I'm waiting for word back on. I'm also waiting word on another story I have, to see if it's still a viable story (It has been on my HD for a while, as one of those things that goes on behind the scenes cropped up just as I was finishing it....) The special project has been sent somewhere else for a look-see, and I'm sitting back and looking at what to do next.

And I've noticed a certain discussion that pops up on the forums --- playing in eras. Some people are firmly planted in 3025, and no father. Others stake 3050 as their go no father point, while others play Jihad and beyond. I'm not here to discuss what games era is best for you; that is your decision. What I am going to talk about is writing in different eras.

Most of my stories have been set between 3025 -3090, in part because there was a lot of background to work with during those years. Until recently, the Amris Civil war and the earlier Reunification War were broad-stroke events, with little detail for a writer to grab onto. Catalyst has rectified that, as well as laying out the exact structure of the SLDF and the House forces around the time of the Amris Civil War. I intend on generating story ideas based on those eras and see what happens.

But writing in different eras means a slight change in the approach. The Star League era has differences in technology and political situations to take in account that the Jihad era or the Reunification War era. It's digging through TROs to make sure the BattleMech or vehicle you want to use actually exists in that era. It's checking to see if there's been a change in the rank structure for a military force, and the world in question is actually part of the state you want it to be at that time period. I have to be aware of the political forces at that time (I am well aware of what the politics are post-jihad, but pre-Amaris Star League politics are a different kettle of fish).

For example, I had a Reunification War-era story I am currently writing. I need to know what 'Mechs and vehicles were around at the time and who had them. That also means I have to have the right variant of said 'Mech, and know the difference between the two. (Example: the 1N Rifleman is very different from the 3N model -- the 1N is 10 tons lighter, and has only paired large and medium lasers. Ironically enough, it also has slightly more armor protection than the better-known 3N.)

I also had to dive deep into the politics of the era and the military movements. I needed to know the which planet to stage my story on, who was fighting who, and what happened. I have to fit the story into the established narrative seamlessly. A different set of details to make it stand out from later stories.

So, I need to get back to this story......



Sunday, January 24, 2016

And Two More Away!

Earlier today, I e-mailed my first two Battlecorps story submissions of the year. One is a sequel to a previous Battlecorps story, while the other is in a Battletech era I haven't written in before. I have no idea how they'll be accepted, but there's no time to wait.

There are other stories in the pipeline -- one will be published soon, and three (including the two I sent today) I'm waiting word on. There's three more stories near completion, and that special project is near done.

As for behind the scenes --- it's been quiet as Catalyst takes a breath before diving into the New Year. Things are moving at the upper levels, but the freelancers will know when we're giving our marching orders. Right now, a bunch of the freelancers/staff are digging out from the 2+ feet of snow they had dumped on them, so they may be a few minor delays as they recover from shoveling a lot of snow. . .

It's a short post tonight, as it's close to 3am here, and I need to get some sleep.