War plans ~ 2004 – 2012: Eight Years of CoHCOMICS!

Continuing our look ‘behind the scenes’ of AFS at War, in this post we reproduce some of the documents detailing the genesis and development of the project.

Seen below are Marks’ original notes for the story outline and background scenario.Note that the bottom of the page shown indicates it was written at a stage where the story would be told over three chapters from the differing perspectives of the antagonists, The Recruit, The General and Specialist Slate, respectively…


The second image here shows the breakdowns for the first four pages of the opening sequence. 

Although the war would provide a backdrop to the story being told it was a conscious decision that it would only be shown briefly, hence the large Thrax splash page after which they are never seen again…

Even early in the process of taking screen shots there were a number of retakes required and bits of vague information that needed to be clarified such as place and character names.

Obviously there was a very real final deadline approaching for any redux to be completed in.  Once the servers were shut down there was no guarantee how long references such as TaRapedia would remain, although as it happens the site still persists to this day.

N.B. the “yawn” was a required emote on page 5, not indicative of boredom!

The reverse side of the paper similarly shows changes required while the game was still running.

Once again, the concept of spreading the narrative out over three chapters, this time across three separate issues with different but thematically linked front covers as each character is introduced to the narrative arises.
Unfortunately, the material covering each of the featured characters is not of a consistent length in terms of page counts, so the idea was dropped…

War (comics) is Hell ~ 2004 – 2012: Eight Years of CoHCOMICS!

Right from my first days in the Beta, I always had the fancy that Tabula Rasa would make a good comic series. There was a huge amount of scope to tell personal stories against the backdrop of the conflict between Allied Free Sentient forces and The Bane; Where are the Earth survivors who weren’t fighting?; What about people who didn’t want to be drafted?; What did cloning mean?; What if your clone ended up the opposite sex?; but a lack of time prevented me from exploring any of them while the game was running and it was only the prospect of it being shut down forever that spurred me on in that final month of life to capture some of what I’d seen in the world for posterity.

And what a beautiful world, or worlds, it was, or they were, too.
With the exception of three images I can think of, the 60-ish pages are all screenshots from taken from the game engine and the story only takes place on one continent of one of the planets (two if you count Earth) and none of those have been Photoshopped. Yes, unbelievably even that Thrax Overseer being punched out on page 14, actually happened just the way it was pictured, the instant the screenshot button was being pressed by Julie, as you can see from the whole sequence of images.Speaking of Julie this wouldn’t exist in its current form without her help. Beyond the sanity checking and edits she’s still to finish even as I type, the hours she spent in front of keyboard or laptop during the five nights running up to the server shutdown at midnight on 1st March 2009 were going above and beyond the call of duty, especially the two and a half hours we spent in the Pinhole Caverns trying to get that lightning attack from the correct angle while keeping roaming Miasmas and other players out of the picture without success. It was entirely my fault that we had to return six days later, on that final day of operation, when I realised flagging the characters for PvP would allow us to get exactly what we wanted in only 20 minutes!

And so what if the whole thing took three and a quarter years to finish, despite my highly optimistic appraisal of being able to complete it in a month? It’s still the story I set out to tell which has remained consistent all this time, but more refined and evolved than it would have been being produced in such a short time frame.

Of course the elongated gestation period for the book opened it up to other, less desirable, incidents too, such as the inadvertent deletion of all the screen shots from the backup storage and the loss of all the pages produced between august 2011 and april 2012. While the former was relatively early on in the process and would just have meant abandoning the nascent work, it was much more dis-heartening to lose the pages produced for the latter half of the story with such a substantial portion already completed. In the end it was as much about summoning up the will to redo the lost to work as much as the effort of actually recreating them.

Although Julie was involved in the production process and had a vague notion of the plot, it’s only been during her review of the entire book that she got to experience the whole story from beginning to end. Her initial list of dialogue corrections was accompanied by the comment “a Cliff-hanger? Really?”

So to avoid any confusion for anyone else who wasn’t around when the game ended, the implication in the last minutes before the servers shut down, as the recruit says, is that although the GMs playing the Neph were claiming victory, their forces were actually on the back foot against the players by that point and that the AFS won the war on Earth.
Then obviously they switched off the servers (for story purposes Umbra was activated) and the whole universe disappeared forever…

So as to the cliff hanger, it isn’t one.
Never was.

The story was always intended to end in an instant, true, heat death.
That’s it, stelliferous era to dark era of universal expansion in a few seconds thanks to Umbra.

Everybody lost. Everything just stopped.

And now I can too…

Mark McCreadie
Day 1234 (yes, really!) of my war

Sneak Peaks

Wait. What’s this? Either someone is getting a cheaply wrapped boot as a birthday present or there’s another Batman related blog post in the works…

There are Episode 1 3D publicity events across the country at famous landmarks this weekend but the schedule is so loose between photo opportunities and press appearances around Edinburgh, there’ll be plenty of downtime. Might try a live Field Report for it…

Back before the CoHCOMICS.COM implosion there were a number of outstanding submissions for the site, so while working through the uploads of the Wednesday Comics to this blog my intention had been to debut them as new material as I got to each series concerned. So it was that for, oh… ages… I had planned a DC One Million homage cover for Battle Bovine #12 as it has the dual benefits of somewhat fitting the story and also making me seem far more clever than I am when I do these things. I created the finished cover all set to go, when I noticed that issue eleven didn’t exist. Turns out, it too was never published back on the CoH Comics site (a fact that I had entirely missed) and so also required a cover image tout de suite. This left me with somewhat of a problem as I’d never even thought of ideas for the cover of this issue. The plot concerns our hero, Bovine being sued my legal representatives of Marble Comics for infringing their copyrighted character “Combat Cow” who has never actually been seen. While better people than I could no doubt come up with a dynamic courtroom based cover image, it didn’t give me much scope for ideas.

Exploring tangents, I initially thought of the type of “sensational character debut” cover as used for the premier of Robin The Boy Wonder in Detective Comics #38 (or Black Canary’s solo feature circa Flash Comics #92) but it doesn’t quite fit the story. Besides, are we going to have Bovine holding the paper hoop he jumps through? Makes no sense…

“Marble Comics” is an obvious play on words so maybe we should take a look at debut appearances from that source..?

Unfortunately the majority of their characters who came from the Golden Age and those covers don’t tend to splash new arrivals in quite the way I need (a notable exception being Incredible Hulk #1 which I already used here). On the other end of the scale there are the 90’s style first issues of Cable and his ilk, but would the parody be obvious enough using the in-game engine as it wouldn’t replicate the over busy line work of the Image style artists.

Late Silver Age covers don’t offer much inspiration either with either the trade dress of the time being too obscure for the cover not to look just like… well, a badly designed cover, I suppose or just fairly bland such as the debut of The Dazzler from Uncanny X-Men #130.

Unfortunate timing too, as the “welcome to the X-Men… Now DIE!” line was homaged in Wolverine and The X-Men #1 recently and might come across as a crib.

My search then took me outside comics at this point. The plot of the issue is effectively a face off between the two cow-based heroes, so what about the movie poster for Face/Off then? It’s okay, but not brilliant (miles better than Kramer Vs. Kramer for source material though) but in the same vein we have promo images for the last two Harry Potter films which is more in line with what I’m thinking.

Unfortunately, admittedly due to my own limitations, it didn’t really work before when I used it.

The movie image research did lead me to The Ides of March though.

Now that’s gone right up my flagpole. I’m saluting that. I can see Bovine on the left holding up the folded cover for an issue of Combat Cow on the right. There’ll need to be some fudging of any CC logo to get it mostly on the half of the page which is visible so people realise who it’s supposed to be but I think it’s doable. We still need some recognisable Marvel trade dress to recreate though and it unfortunately has a left hand bias mostly, although during the 60’s and 70’s there was the period where the name was in a banner headline across the covers as opposed to a corner box, so all we need is an issue from such an era to copy it from, right?

Which ironically leads me right back to almost where I started with Giant Size X-Men #1.

Why, I’m thinking, didn’t this occur to me straight off the bat? You have a cover image which so famous it has been homaged before, which ticked the recognizability box; there’s the original character(s) seeing the arrival of the “new” rival(s); heck it even has the bursting through motif I originally thought of!

As a bonus it also gives me the chance to do the “tearing through a cover” concept I wanted for CCC Compendium #4. So it’s off to City of Heroes for a reaction shot of Bovine (and a neat BB #1 cover reference to boot) and an appropriately dynamic screenie of Combat Cow.I have a brief debate with myself over whether it should say “Giant Size Battle Bovine” as the title, but a) it’s not “giant” and b) “battle size” seems funnier and leaves just a single word, “bovine” to manipulate into the X-Men logo. I’m tempted to go with the original font of the phrase “X-Men” for the second part of the title, but Bovine’s logo is quite good and doesn’t appear on #12 as it is so I stick, rightly or wrongly, with the ITC SNAP font for it. Now I’m thinking it’s ‘wrongly’ but the cat jumped up on the keyboard while the file was loading somehow corrupting it and now I’ve lost all the work I’d done. Luckily I’d exported the near-as-damned-finished-article first!The scroll work at the lower left was going to be a pain in the backside to recreate, so I summon the greatly enhanced power of CorelDraw X5’s Trace facility and create a vector shape of the original as a cheat. Combat Cow being on his own instead of the group of All New, All Different X-Men leaves a fair bit of empty space on the left too, so I fudge this by repositioning the scroll and adding a speech bubble. For anyone wondering the line was the title of the story. Doesn’t actually appear in it though, and never having sat through “A Few Good Men”, I’ve no idea if any of the rest of the dialogue in the issue fits in with it. Judge for yourself, here from 8th February… Uh…

Also, here’s a sneak peek of Star Trek Online’s 2nd Anniversary. Or… something… to crowbar in the post title. Actually I suppose it could be labelled as such as it’ll be finished in a couple of days now so if you didn’t already get your complimentary Odyssey-class ship (or Klingon equivalent) by then you’re out of luck until they inevitably appear the C-Store. I’ve been a bit quite on the STO front even with its move to Free to Play, what with being focussed on Champions Online mostly, but hopefully the launch of the fourth Featured Episode series will lure me back after the interminable content drought of the last year…

Marks Remarks

Back in February I touched on the the fact that I’d failed to deliver an update for the CoHCOMICS site for the first time since I took it over. Unfortunately following that the same thing happened again for the next update and the next and I came to the realisation that I just wasn’t enjoying it any more.
On top of that the laptop death/remediation issues with the domain name/a general lack of time to develop it further/other superhero MMOs being prettier/not actually having played CoH since i14/Paragon Studios global account merger stupidity had all conspired to force me to the decision to draw the site to a close at the end of April.
Thanks to this blog though most of it will still be around in some form even if it takes a while to move all the material across and it’s not to say I won’t do something with it or the three dozen or so submissions which are still waiting to go online eventually, but after five years running it (three of which have been updating a minimum of very two weeks) and nearly seven after the site first opened it’s doors it was time to take a breather!

With all my new-found free time I’ve gravitated back to playing Champions Online, favouring it slightly even over my beloved Star Trek Online with its recent content drought. That’s not to say Champs has been any better in that regard what with the buyout of Cryptic from Atari by Perfect World and effort seemingly being focused on the move of STO to a free to play model instead, but having left CO when the closed beta for Trek started and not having returned till the debut of its Weekly Comic Series there’s a ton of old content which is entirely new to me at this point.

It’s also prompted me to push on with my Tabula Rasa comic. In fact in the last month I’ve made more progress on that than I have at anytime since I completed the first 14 pages of it back in July 2009!

Things I don’t need…

1) Complications
So, another week and another excuse as to why that STO cover still isn’t finished. Now all the crew images are correct and the Constitution class ship has been included as per the original layout sketch.
This creates its own problem. The deflector dish is hidden behind the security chief there. Which probably means having to make the ship smaller overall to see it just past the left hand side of his head there. As well as the time sensitive nature of the finished article (i.e. unlike, say releasing a comic book based on Tabula Rasa, an MMORPG which closed down two and a half years ago) I probably want to finish this while the weekly series it relates to is fresh in everyone’s mind the star field in the background was only a temporary placement. The final revision is supposed to have the comet in question on a star field as the background as well as featuring the two 23rd century guest stars faces at the bottom right, as per the original sketch. These are all elements I don’t have screenshots of yet and can’t get because it requires time to play through the mission chain again. Not just time incidentally, there’s a bit of a prerequisite here for me to complete my outstanding Captain level missions chain before I start these weeklies lest I gain sufficient XP from the weeklies to out level that content! Additionally, this was supposed to be part of tomorrows STO themed CoHCOMICS update. More on that in a minute…

2) Distractions
By far the (second) worst thing that could happen at the same time as all this is to be invited to beta test an upcoming game.  Now, I’m not saying that has happened because even if it did the attached Non-Disclosure Agreement would stop me from even mentioning that an NDA existed for this fictional game.  What would be especially galling would be to dislike its arcade beat-em up sensibilities as a result of its joint PS3 development, but to be stuck yearning to see more of its authentic in-fiction locations and iconic characters and really enjoying the full voice cast.  Shame about the poor character generation system though.

Luckily all of this is simply a flight of fancy as far as you know.  Incidentally, its “second worst thing” cause the first would be getting BUMMEDINTHEGOB…

3) Problems
Poised as I was to bring a Star Trek themed set of comics and covers to CoHCOMICS this week, that’s just not going to be a possibility.  The initial setup of a new title on the site is obviously more time-consuming than adding another issue to an already ongoing series.  This is made worse by having to create a thematic look for the new genre as well.  Knowing this I started the Star Trek inspired work weeks ago, but since then I’ve realised the background won’t tile properly in the frames.  Given time I could’ve fixed it, but I lost confidence in the quality of the submission itself.  It just doesn’t work as a debut issue and I think the authors lack of exposure to common comic book tropes is pretty obvious, so regretfully I’ve had to let it slip from the schedule.  Luckily I have an inventory of other titles for just this sort of situation so instead we’ll have a regular slice of City of Heroes inspired four colour adventure instead.

4) More time (not)
There just aren’t enough hours in the day at the moment.  Between actual work, preparing for Christmas and all this other nonsense that’s going on I’m run ragged.  It could have been worse.  An update could have broken the boards and left me struggling to find the cause and fix it.  Yesterday.  And that would have been the end of the forum altogether, cause it was only the relative ease of porting them the new hosting that made me bother continuing with them at all.

5) A laptop that freezes and reboots randomly…
Or indeed, doesn’t reboot at all.  It’s not loosing data that will bother me, cause the drive is fine it’s just not having the laptop to do anything on.  Like at least half of yesterday when there really was stuff (see above) I should’ve been getting on with.