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Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Company President Steve Cole reports:

It's been one of those springs that makes you pull out your hair and wonder if the new building is on an Indian burial ground or something. Nothing went right, everything that got done took too long, and a lot did not get done at all. Some of it was our fault but some of it was not. Some of what happened was just a price to be paid for a better future. Some of it was just bad planning. Some of it was people being a problem.

We set up the schedule in that quiet two-week period between abandoning attempts to buy the building we almost bought (the one we found out would cost $50,000 or more to fix and even then could never be sold to anyone else) and finding the building we did buy. During that period, we assumed we would not find a building, and that we'd end up staying in the old cramped quarters for another year.

Moving the company was an adventure, as you all know from the blogs and MY DAY files of that epoch. Doing this took two entire weeks, but that was just "the move" and did not count the week that we spent "closing the deal" and running around talking to remodeling contractors and did not count the two weeks it took to turn the piles of stuff that just got dumped in any random office into a workable company. (We are still looking for my box of Civil War books, but that will keep.) It also did not count the week we went to Austin (which was part of the moving the company deal since that was taking warehouse stuff we sold to the guys we sold it to and installing it for them). All of this is the price paid for much better and more effective working conditions. We now have the third printer and second binder out of storage and our printing capacity has nearly doubled, which is pretty cool since restock orders from wholesalers continue to pour in.

Oh, yeah, then there was the computer crash (crashes, actually) that cost me a week's work, and the one that cost Petrick a week's work. All data was recovered, but lots of work got delayed.

Then I began my first of three spring projects, Federation Commander Briefing #2. This project was supposed to take less work (than, say, Orion Attack) since everything was just a conversion of an existing ship (even if we were doing 72 ships, not 20). But the real work turned out to be (as we always knew it was; why were we so stupid?) in CHECKING the cards for mistakes, to be sure everything got changed. Not just that this ship (in the Middle Years) has 3x9 warp instead of 3x10, but that the power track also does not need a +40 any more. Not just that plasma-S became plasma-G, but that the plasma track was reduced from 30 to 20. Not just that those phaser-3s were deleted, but that the "weapon fired" box also got deleted. A Ship Card is just exactly as hard to do if it is color or B&W (same work goes into it, and the color versions are on file for future use). A Ship Card that is a modification of a Ship Card is no easier (in some ways harder) than a new Ship Card. If you're doing a new card, you don't put things on it that it doesn't need. If you are converting a standard to Middle Years, every single thing on the card has to be re-confirmed as being what should be there, not a leftover artifact of the historically later (previously published) card. Had I thought this through, I probably would not have done FCB2, at the very least, not in the "spring" when the Origins deadline is there to get screwed up. At the very least, any future module of this type is going to get some VERY careful "time cost of the product" study before being "green lit". Plans for Borders of Madness #1 were pushed back to fall and will be re-thought. We will probably do it, but maybe not in the way we assumed we would be, and maybe not this year.

Then I did my next project, the FC Reference Rulebook, which was "already finished". Except it wasn't. The draft version had the updates there; the "final" version had to be "written through" to build the updates into the original text. (Plus, lots of last-second "we always knew that this needs to be fixed but never mentioned it" stuff showed up out of the woodwork.) This took a week that was not budgeted, and Jean took more time updating all of the text to the "higher standard" she has set (paying attention to spelling, punctuation, and grammar). I could not go do something else while she did that (which would have been the case had she been in the office). Since she was doing everything by email, I had to make all of the corrections for her. (She reduced the Chief of Design to her page format slave, not to mention reducing me to tears.) Nobody budgeted "fixing whatever Jean wants fixed" into the plan, and we all should have known better. A lesson for next time.

Then there was another "not on the schedule" project. I had known that doing the FCRRB would require me to do Revision 5 versions of FCKB, FCKA, FCKS, FCRB, FCRS, FCRA, FCA, FCTA, FCBA, FCLB, FCDK, and FCOA, but I had planned to just ignore this until after Origins. Meanwhile, Leanna told everybody that "Of course, Steve will do the Revision 5 versions of all twelve rulebooks immediately after we ship FCRRB!" Sounds like a simple "Open the old rulebook, remove the rules, replace them with the new rules, print" but it's not that simple. The non-rule parts had to be done over (scenarios, mostly), and then Jean had to go through them and update the spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Two weeks burned on those twelve rulebooks, all the while with people screaming at me to hurry up since we could not ship tens of thousands of dollars worth of wholesaler restock orders until the new rulebooks were done. Leanna was a genius here, going through all these orders and figuring out which ones could be shipped with the fewest new rulebooks so I could do those first. Every day, another rulebook was finished, and every day, another order or two shipped.

Then I spent over a week on the die cutting crisis. (And that was doing nothing BUT the die cutting crisis. I had already spent over two months working on this, a few minutes here and there.) This crisis was not our fault (although my having too many jobs hurt; in a company ten times our size, I would have done the FCRRB, another guy would have done page layouts for the twelve rulebooks, and a third guy would have solved the die cutting crisis, all at the same time). The die cutter we have used for two years suddenly announced he didn't want to do it any more, because we actually expected him to do it right instead of taking whatever he decided to do for us. We found another die cutter who would do it, but he wanted twice as much money. Fortunately, with some friends in another game company, we found a dandy die cutter who can do the job for less than we were paying, and based on his work for other companies, it's vastly superior. This is a die cutter who does wargame counters, not a die cutter who has never heard of wargames, thinks he can do them, but has no understanding why it matters if the starship is on this counter and its combat factors are on the next one to the left! Even so, the problems here will mean that Hydran Attack will appear this fall, not at Origins. On the other hand, the new die cutter has shown us how to get 280 counters in the space of 216, which will launch an exciting new edition of Federation & Empire. The bad news about not having Hydran Attack for Origins is that now I have to find some other product (probably Booster #91) which I can finish in time. I don't even know where Petrick is on C3A and G3A, and he's home fighting some kind of plague (I told him to take the day and rest up so he'd recover more quickly) so I cannot even ask him, but he works more on a steady state basis than I do. I work in spurts.

As overwhelmed as I am with this spring, I am excited about this fall. The new edition of F&E, Hydran Attack (easy to finish from where it is), and Star Fleet Assault all beckon to my designer's passion.

After the die cutting crisis, I got sick and spent the last several days doing nothing much (other than being sick). At least I finally figured out that I wasn't going to get over being sick until I quit trying to get to my desk every time I felt half-awake. I took some time to just rest (I spent some of it packing paperclips into bags for Klingon Border), something I have never done, but it did the trick. I'm back at my desk feeling quite well. (I also got to watch all 15 episodes of PRIMEVAL start to finish, and lost six pounds.) If nothing else, the enforced time off gave me time to think through where I am in this mess and how I am going to get out of it. I have a plan, and I think it will work. I am determined to make it work.

And remember, that every time I lose a day of work, I lose two days of design time, since the non-design work still has to be done. This is one of the reasons why I have yet to find a way to get the FCB2 Ship Cards printed (or sold as PDFs if I cannot get them printed in the small quantities we are likely to sell; the minimum print run for laminated cards is four times the sales of FCB2). Two months ago I was confident that we would have the fighter miniatures ready for Origins, but Todd reports that the first production run did not work, and I haven't had time to prod him every day into getting the second round finished in time for Origins. Oh, yeah, then there's the problem that none of our fiction authors have delivered a story for the Captain's Log #39 headline (and by the way, CL#39 was suppose to have shipped today, and nobody has even worked on it since January, when we were halfway finished). So, tomorrow, I have to sit down and force myself to think up and write a story. I have had to do that a dozen times in ten years, and every one of them took all day every day for an entire week. Some of those stories were brilliant and were published. Some of them were total drek and will never see the light of day (but still took an entire week). About a week from tomorrow, Petrick will read whatever story I write (maybe Juggernaut #3, maybe Flotilla Commander #2, maybe something else) and tell you if CL#39 will be released at Origins or not.

See you then.