Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Layout Design: A Retrospective

Clearing out a bunch of old files, and I thought it would be interesting to show how the layout ideas evolved. There are some steps missing, but it's got all the major changes.

Not pretty.

We looked at mimicking the 3145 format:

But it wastes a ton of page space, and we wanted to be a bit more distinct.

So I whipped up this side-and-top bar layout (top two in the picture, compared to two official TRO layouts):

And that was good enough for us to get the first preview out the door.

 But it still wasn't great.

We dabbled in madness with unit type icons in the sidebar and factional banners along the top.

The unit icons we quickly discarded, but people were quite enthusiastic about the banner, to the extent that I tried making the sidebar itself a banner. It was pretty popular and we were working with this one for a while:

Eventually I nixed it because we couldn't get the banners for all the factions and we didn't want to have them be inconsistent. And also, their "fair use" status was particularly uncertain, since they were from the HBS BT. I still have a soft spot for that one though.

In moving on, debate raged over the plain three-column layout vs the top-and-bottom section layout (I don't have a picture of the two-column ones, sadly):

 Finally, we settled on two sections of three columns.

The bars were intended to change with each faction, but the purple metal look was never great and it would add a lot of unecessary layout hassle, so we moved to a more neutral look:

And finally, replaced the slapdash textured bar with a cleaner, more vibrant hand-drawn one:

 And that's where we're at now. Not half bad, I think.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

New Sketches!

Hot off the press, sketches for five new mechs (or...is it four mechs and a proto?) just came in! Check 'em out:

Monday, May 11, 2020

Art Process: the Mystic

Someone was recently asking me how the art process goes, and I said, "Sounds like a blog post". So, how does a unit get from this:

To a piece of TRO-ready art?

 To an extent, it depends on the artist. When we got our first units done by Anthony Scroggins (ShimmeringSword) I just gave him the stat sheet and then hung out in a stream and gave feedback while he sketched. But that's an unusual way to do it.

The more typical process starts with looking through a ton of pictures and picking out a few for inspiration. For the Mystic, I went through and looked at all the Nova Cat mechs and picked out the classic Nova Cat as the main inspiration, with influence from the Huntsman as well.

Looking at other Mechs, the Nova Cat influenced the final choice of leg design.

I always try to include a couple of pieces that aren't connected with BattleTech, to try to keep everything from looking too samey. I had two pieces that I liked for the more smooth and organic look I wanted for the Mystic, to reflect it's reflective (heh) armor.

Having got a bit of an idea of what I want, I then wrote a short bit about what I was looking for:

Look - Sleek and sharp. Torso shape based on Mystic1, Mystic2, Huntsman, and Shadow Cat.  Ignore the shoulders on the Huntsman, I'm not counting those as part of the torso. The legs, like the Novastar, should have the same joints as the Nova Cat and Cave Lion. The missile tubes should have a hatch or cover so that when they're closed the torso looks relatively smooth.

Pose/Background - Directly inspired by the piece labelled Mystic_Scene, as well as the brief shots of mechs walking through the forest in the Mechwarrior 4 intro cinematic.The Mystic should look like it's moving a bit faster, though, as if it's evading a distant target's fire. I'd say the legs should be angled towards the side, as opposed to being in line with the way the torso is pointing. The PoV angle doesn't need to be exactly the same. Only environmental difference is it should be snowy or misty. Should have commissioned the Spirit Cat's new BA in that last batch, so they could fill in for the Elementals here...

Quirks - Low Profile
Overall, my goal is usually to provide a visual palette to work from, rather than looking for very specific things. The "Pose/Background" is sometimes totally ignored, sometimes directly implemented. I usually don't really care - I'm just trying to provide a lot to work from to avoid wasting artist time. With a bit of a painting and drawing background, I know things can change as you put them on paper, and something you thought would look great you end up trying to scrape off the canvas the next day, so I don't want to be too restrictive.

That done, I send it off to the artist (for the Mystic, Matt Plog). And then, anticipation.

A little while later, Matt sends back this sketch:

Then I send the sketch to a few test viewers. Sadly, I don't have those comments archived for the Mystic, but as I recall there weren't that many for it. I know the shoulders, oddly, drew the most comments. Anyways, once I gather some feedback, I pick out the issues that I think need addressing, and add my own thoughts:

MYSTIC: Structurally, the legs are the wrong way around - they should have the "cat's leg" look the Huntsman and Nova Cat do, where there's a knee at the front. The pelvis assembly is also bit too big. The armor should bring in a bit of the smoothness the Quicksilver has, I think that worked really well to indicate reflective armor visually. Only other tweaks are minor - move the LRM rack over towards the shoulder a bit, and possibly back towards the rear of the mech a little. I think the AMS should be moved, and look less bulbous. You can move it wherever you like on the torso, I can rearrange crits as needed so that it fits the visual. Same goes for the ECM if it needs to move to accommodate the AMS.
One thing that I like about this back-and-forth that you can see here is that I try to have the stats, fiction, and art all work together. Here it's pretty minor, two small systems being moved around. Sometimes it's bigger, like a big gun moving from a torso to an arm, or giving the unit a quirk like "Low Profile".

That feedback goes to the artist, and then the next sketch comes back. I had actually forgotten that the Mystic went through as much revision as it did - I was uploading the picture below this one when I said "Wait a second, sketch III?" and went and dug out sketch II.

Matt Plog is a pro and most of the time I can approve his second sketch with maybe one minor tweak and just trust him to fix it and finalize it in one go. In the case of the Mystic, however, there were a couple of specific things I was looking for.
Mystic: I was trying to communicate that it should feel like, for example, the attached "Mystic2" pic, in terms of both being both smooth and "sharp". Sorry for the confusion. Also attached an edit to show what I mean about the leg joints. Lose the ammo drum on top of the AMS. The TAG should move to the other side of the cockpit.

Sometimes I quickly make a mockup showing something that I want, and this was one of those times, because I really wanted a particular look to the legs.

Sketch III came back, and was pretty close to what I had in mind:

So I said:
Like the even sleeker look, largely good to go. I think the thighs should keep their overall length but the lower legs should be moved down and some poleyns added. Only other change is to move the SRMs over a little and make them a bit larger so they fit into that large part of the curve. Also, the little "winglets" coming off the cockpit have confused people. Go ahead and finish it, I trust you to make it look good.

And then waited for the finished piece. As I said above, Matt is a pro and working with him is usually not this involved. I picked the Mystic for this post because it had more "process" to it than most, so it's got some more room for insight. And the final product is one of my favorites:

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

"What do you mean, 3145 isn't the deadline?"

After a lengthy hiatus, work is resuming. At least it'll be something to do in lockdown, right?

I’ve actually been working on getting rolling again for a bit already. The time away has not been entirely detrimental. When I resumed, I took some time to try and assess the problems with fresh eyes. Then spent some time finding solutions for them. I think the TRO will end up the better for it when it’s done.

Saturday, April 27, 2019


Are you a BT nerd obsessed with things like which brand of medium lasers are manufactured on Butte Hold? I'm not. But we need people who are. If you'd like to volunteer to be a fact checker for the project, shoot me an email. It's one of the most time-consuming tasks, and getting a couple of other people on it, even one unit at a time, would be super helpful.