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Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Finishing A Call to Arms: Star Fleet Deluxe Edition

Steve Cole writes:

The plan for A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, Book-1.2 called for a preliminary "Basic Edition" which would fulfill the promise Mongoose made to replace the original book and its rules with a working rules set, followed by a "Deluxe Edition" which would have the same rules but with more art, background, an expanded painting guide, a new tactics section, and expanded annexes. It is the Deluxe Edition that will become the printed hard copy rulebook. The battle plan was to get the PDF version of Deluxe-1.2 (and the PDF version of Federation & Empire: Minor Empires) onto to download stores, then do Captain's Log #51, then check any player reports and do the hard copy versions of ACTASF Deluxe (and F&E Minor Empires).
We are taking the opportunity to put the story of how this project came together into the blog as a lesson in project management for customers and other game companies alike.
The first step was to notify the design and editing team of the plan, and to post a public "last call" for input. This gave Tony L. Thomas (developer of Book-1.2) time to round up any rules fixes and players a last chance to get any questions they had answered and any suggestions they made processed.
Steve Cole then set about creating the Deluxe Edition. The first thing he did was to check the corresponding (smaller) chapters in the Basic Edition. He discovered a problem with the painting guide chapter (which was written for the original resin ships that are no longer produced) and asked Tony to do a new painting guide. Steve then went to work on the parts he had to create.
The expanded background from Chapter 10 was not that difficult, but there was a lot of it. He consulted the published background of the Federation, Klingon Empire, Romulan Empire, Kzinti Hegemony, and Gorn Confederation and expanded the material in the Basic Edition accordingly. He even added the lists of presidents and emperors from the Prime Directive roleplaying books. Once complete, this section went to Jean Sexton for proofreading.
The new tactics chapter was fairly easy to compile, as we had published many tactics articles in issues of Captain's Log. We simply copied all of that into the ACTASF format and sent it to Tony, who approved some of it, deleted items that applied to deleted rules, and rewrote some parts of it to reflect the updated rules. This new chapter then went to Jean who was giving her Purple Pen of Proofreading a workout.
Steve then took the Basic Edition Annex chapter and added some additional material (Tony's designer notes, a fleet chart, a new glossary, and some notes about A Call to Arms rules not used in ACTASF), created the Deluxe Version of the Annex chapter, and sent that to Jean for proofreading. (Well, that's the simple version. The real story is that Steve opened up the annex chapter, dumped in everything he could find including tactics, notes, and other things, and gave that stewpot of unrelated items to Jean. She then divided the "junk basket" into three parts like Gaul: the new annex chapter, the new tactics chapter, and "other stuff we might use somewhere sometime but not in the book." Steve then reformatted the material into the three parts and submitted the tactics and annex chapters to Jean.)
Steve then moved on to the painting guide chapter, using Tony's new text and photos, some of the original text and photos, a revised asteroid article, and Matthew Sprange's history article about the Red Dagger Squadron (and Tony's photos of ships painted for that squadron) to create the revised and expanded painting guide section. This was when Steve discovered that when Mongoose sent the original photos of this section months earlier, they had accidentally left out a few of them. Steve did not inventory the photos when they originally arrived, but once he found what was missing, he asked for them and Mongoose sent the photos. This should have inspired Steve to check another archive of photos from Mongoose, but it did not.) Once the photos were in place, Steve gave this chapter to Jean.
Jean proofread the four chapters and sent them back to Steve for fixes. Steve made the fixes (more or less) and Jean checked them, having some of them done over, suggesting alternatives to others, and finding some more. A few back-and-forth passes and both Jean and Steve declared the expanded "back of the book" chapters finished.
At this point, Jean pointed out that page 1 (the table of contents) and page 2 (publisher information) had to be different for the Deluxe Edition. Steve printed her the Basic Edition pages which she marked up. A few round of back-and-forth and these were ready.
Steve then turned his attention to Tony's report of some minor corrections (and a few from Jean) for the "core" pages 3-96 which were common to both Basic and Deluxe Editions. These changes were quickly made, but care had to be taken to make the changes to Basic Revision E (producing Basic Revision F) before we created the Deluxe versions of those pages (which differed only in the footers and some added art). That "last call" for input resulted in one avid player sending five requests for clarifications (which were made as needed) and 13 proposals for rules changes (one of which had been made a year ago and another was used; the rest would have required sending the entire game back to playtesting. While some of those were worthy of consideration, that starship had left the dock).
Once all the changes were made, Steve "cloned" the core chapters, changed the footers, and had the Deluxe versions -- except for the art.
There were two types of added art to be added to the core pages. One was to survey the pages and fill any empty spots from the clip art file (which fortunately Steve had taken an entire day to organize years ago.) This was easily accomplished. The more complex element was to add the "photos of painted miniatures" to the ship cards in Chapter 9. This should have been easy as we only had to insert the file of photos from the original book. There were a few tricky bits here, however.
First, the file we had received (a year earlier) was not complete. Steve asked Mongoose for the missing pieces. Here we faced a problem. Steve sent the request after Mongoose closed on Friday. By the time Steve could expect to get the photos on Monday, Mongoose would already be closed. (There is a six-hour time zone problem between Texas and London.) As a backup, Steve Cole asked Tony Thomas and Kent Ing to provide photos of these ships from their own fleets. Steve really hated doing this as it might have turned out that Mongoose would make their actions unnecessary, but both were willing to send them anyway (even building and painting ships for the purpose). Against Jean's advice, Steve had included a prediction in Communique, released on Saturday, that the Deluxe Edition would be uploaded Monday. Steve felt confident that between Mongoose, Tony, Kent, and a secret backup plan, all of the missing art would somehow turn up. Jean reluctantly agreed that Steve "had a plan that deserved to work."
Some of the ships that Tony and Kent did were for the "civilian" section which did not have photographed minis in the original hard-bound book printed years ago by Mongoose. With the help of Tony and Kent, these ships now have proper photos. Others were used for a couple of ship cards which Steve Cole had added to the game when doing Edition 1.2 and then promptly forgot to arrange art for.
Monday came and Mongoose provided all but one of the missing ships. Even with all of the ships from Mongoose, we went ahead used some of Kent's Federation photos because this added more variety to the book, and Kent is a swell guy who went out of his way.
It turned out that missing ship was missed because Mongoose's art director did not realize that the Kzinti Fast Cruiser and the Kzinti Fast Battlecruiser were the same thing. (Jean pointed out that Steve's Tolkienesque tendency to use multiple names for the same ship had once again exploded.) This was a problem because with the time zone differences, it was already too late to get the missing photo. By dumb luck, this was the ship that Tony tried to paint in a hurry, but Tony had ultimately decided not to send a photo of a ship he considered to be unworthy of the product. Steve then turned to his last backup plan: He asked Jean to extract the ship photo from the ship roster card file. Jean said that it was too hard to extract the ship since she doesn't know how to use Photoshop and Simone Dale, our graphics director) was not scheduled to work before the deadline to upload the PDF of the Deluxe Edition. Steve told her to export a photoshop version of the ship card and sent it to Simone's computer. (Steve thinks he can run Photoshop. Simone and Jean are skeptical.)
With the clock ticking and the deadline looming, Jean went to her archives of ship roster cards to extract the needed ship art. At this point she discovered that when Jon Woodland worked on the ship cards a year  earlier, he had noticed the missing Kzinti fast ship and had gotten the original photo from Mongoose. Jean extracted that image from the ship roster card and sent that to Steve, who celebrated the good fortune with a suitable exhortation and placed the ship in the book.
Then the final step began. Steve opened each chapter of the Deluxe file and exported it as a PDF, then strung all of the PDFs together in a single file. It was noted that the Deluxe Edition PDF is three times the size (in megabytes) of the Basic Edition PDF because of the extra art.
Leanna printed a copy of the Deluxe PDF and Jean checked it. She found two minor glitches, neither of which affected game play, and (looking at the clock) got the file uploaded with a few minutes to spare.
And that is how we managed to get a complicated project done under a tight deadline.