What it takes!

I was asked recently by one of our female fans what it take to do up a single SDS. She was very nice about it – saying that she really liked the write ups and the designs, that her and her husband liked the Control Panels we do, and the one sheets…that sort of thing.

But underlying her request, I suspect she wanted to know why it takes so long and what steps there are.

I’ll try not to get too technical – no one really wants to read HTML language, InDesign layout speak or Illustrator mumbo-jumbo.

So for this example, I’m gona pick a TNG ship that’s appeared on screen and go through the process…The Firebrand – AKA – the Freedom Class.

Step one is of course what I just did – choosing a ship. This first step really starts with what graphic is available. And that can even take a day or two to nail down. Some ship images as “one-off”s – in other words, there are really good B&W (or even color) side, top and front views, what we ostensibly call the 3-standard view graphic. However, sometimes there are NOT good images – or images conflict. For example – the Freedom class has been somewhat thought of as having a three phaser strips, because the only real on-screen evidence is the wrecked ships from Best of Both Worlds…however! There are several nice line drawings that show a port and starboard phaser. Add to that the fact that several sources draw the ship differently with varying levels of details. Since the on-screen evidence is a little lacking – it requires research – filming photos, analysis of screen captures, on and on…this can take a few hours if we’re not careful and lead to a lot of back-and-fourth on the final design load out. This has slowed the process many times.

And that’s assuming there is a decent graphic in the first place. When we’re on Deviant Art or some of the other graphic art boards, we often find absolutely AMAZING 3-D works – but no 2-d material. OR the existing drawings are sub-par or don’t really fit our idea of what it should be. If we have to cut out a graphic – that can take an hour or more depending on the detail. And then there are those of us who are crazy…er – I mean serious enough to re-draw or trace over a design. This can expand the graphic process exponentially, depending on how detailed we want to be (and again, we try to step it up when we can!)

Now, one of the reasons this can take so long (and jumping ahead just a little) is the question of “WHY?” In other words, WHY would Star Fleet create the ship in the first place?!? I mean for crying out loud – they already HAVE 400 different versions of a Heavy Cruiser – why do they need ANOTHER one?!??! (And “because that ships looks cool” shouldn’t be the reason – although it often is!)

When we’ve seen a good looking ship and think it’s worth the process – the question of why is often as paramount as any other question. This can take a little creative thinking and can influence a final drawing. Does the ship have roomy science bays, or comfortable crew quarters? Is there special equipment on board? Extra shuttle bays – NO shuttle bays? While some of this can be handled in the back story later on – a new drawing can sometimes help create this.

However – drawing a new design from the ground up is time-consuming. The result is often better, but it can eat up time QUICK!

Let me give you an example:
We often have to come from the problem from the end and move forward. Recently – I spend several days “redrawing” the Saladin, Siva and Cochise classes…and creating a “II” versions. I clearly wanted each of the three designs to be slightly different visually – and so one the TOS era versions I angled things a bit differently here, added a flush vent there – minor stuff – but stuff that would make each different. The TMP ear versions would again have some different graphic elements making each different. They would serve for a while and then get standardized to Jackill’s Jenghiz class down the road. So while choosing what changes to incorporate, I had to keep in the back of my mind that eventually the changes for all THREE would be merged into what we now think of as a standard 1-engine Federation TMP desrtoyer.

Believe it or not – once a graphic is chosen or drawn, its on to what is arguably the easiest part of the process – building the ship!

I won’t go into a lengthy description of how to build a good FASA starship – that will be another “paper” in the future. But to abbreviate the process- we choose the class and start trying to make a good ship. With printed manuals and (more importantly) good excel spreadsheets – it can take a good half hour to an hour depending on how we want the final product to be. AGAIN – we have to think in terms of “why!” You don’t want to remake the same ship over and over (and OVER!) It’s quite easy to make each Class IX Destroyer be just like every OTHER Class IX Destroyer. When you’ve designed dozens of Class IX ships you start to realize just how limited thing get. Again – I’ll try and expound on the development of stats in a later paper…

Once a ship is designed – then the back story comes into play. Personally, I really like a good backstory – something that tells about the design, why it was popular – perhaps some of the short comings – even the technical style of writing can be fun to read. This can also be one of the most challenging aspects!

Again – the question becomes WHY!

Why did Star Fleet build yet ANOTHER Class XI Heavy Cruiser. Other technical works can often help with this creative process…but I find when we try and create write-ups here, we’re often thinking in terms of moving the internal equipment around.

Let me give you one example (and you’ll probably read some of this in several ship designs we have posted). LABS! Yes laboratory space. While we’re playing a tactical combat table-top game, Gene’s idea for Star Trek was a universe were we are explorers, discovering new and wonderful things through out space. Laboratories become a MAJOR part of this – and the internal arrangement of labs on a Star Fleet Heavy Cruiser can be varied. Perhaps each lab is totally independent – as on the TOS Enterprise. They each have their own work space, computer space and personnel to research a “target” and all the labs are located on a single deck near one another. Perhaps they’re located away from each other for some reason – safety concerns, interference from each other equipment, some labs require direct energy from the plasma conduits while others don’t… Or perhaps the labs are broken into “sections” with each of the major fields having their labs clustered together. Take it a step further – perhaps once field – say the Space Sciences – dominates a single deck, while the Planetary Sciences dominate a different deck. Perhaps some of the labs are designed for extra “isolation” protocols. Perhaps some labs are in the saucer while others are in the secondary hull – again to prevent interference from high powered equipment. Or is there one massive lab so that ALL thie fields can concentrate on a single research objective. And this is just scratching the surface! We’ve done this kind of thing with crew quaters, weapon systems, engineering – with so many ships out there – we have to really get creative (I feel another lengthy paper/blog post coming on!)

However, as you can guess – we have to try and remember as many of these things when we start to do a write up. “Did I already use that idea? Can I use it again?” And that can slow down the creative writing process. On more than one ship I’ve done I’ve gotten one or two paragraphs in and been TOTALLY stuck, having to move on. AND of course there are “good” days and “bad” days when writing. I look back on some of my writing and just cringe…while other times I love it. But a good back story can often slow down the publishing process quite a bit! Yet it’s just as important as a good graphic – so we try and put them in whenever possible.

Part of the back story also come in with the choices of how MANY ships were built, when were they built, where – all that jazz. We use several spreadsheets and flip back and forth to help keep track of a number of stats and details beyond just the basics. We have our Master Ship List – which we use to keep track of all this ships from ALL the races. It’s an exhaustive spreadsheet – with contradictions and probably WAY too much detail, but it includes things like registry numbers (when known), the shipyard where it was built, Laid down-Launched-Commissioned dates, its’ status (as of 2400) such as Active, Destroyed, Scrapped, Sold to Ranking Family in the Empire – that kind of stuff. While a lot of these details are not filled in yet – we’re in the process of adding it all in. However – when we start working on a new ship – especially one that has no real history or data, fleshing out these details become important to help create a good backstory.

We also have a Master “NCC” List, which just lists every NCC number from 01 to 500,000. This one is ALSO incomplete and contradictory. However, this helps us try and find blocks of NCC numbers that we can use for our new ships.

Part of the details also come in – as touched on above – with the ships history. Since a number of ships are destroyed or scrapped or even lost – we try and use our Timeline spreadsheet to keep things in check. Most of the ships we write about that have been destroyer or scrapped we try to associate with a particular conflict and even a specific battle if possible. It takes some checking to make sure that you don’t have the ship upgraded to Mk II in 2291 only to have it destroyed during the Taal Tan offensive in 2284. (been there- done that!) Again – slows the process. And if the ship is destroyed but not during a conflict, why was it destroyed…more creative writing.

OH! And lest not forget that if it’s an existing design (again – back to the Freedom class) you have a significant amount of on-line research to do. Is there already a list of ship in the class? What does Paramount/CBS say about the ship? Does that tie in with the FASA universe. Are there list from fan sites…or even details? Do they contradict? On more than one occasion – this will bring the whole process to a CRAWL as you look up contradictory info and try to cherry pick the best bits without going overboard.

Once we got a good graphic, and a good ship design and filled out the details for it’s history and backstory – we’re ready to publish to the web!

IF all the above is in order – it’s literally just a few minutes to put it in an HTML page, load the graphic and BAM! New ship.

Then of course we want to announce it with a blog post. Couple minute there.

Then we might want to do the SDS PDF. That requires copying and pasting the image, data and story into a SDS sheet design that works. This takes some layout (we use InDesign) work and can actually take an hour depending on how much tweaking is necessary.

Same goes for the MCP.

And of course if we’re doing an “update” say to the Enterprise class – we need to write a blurb about what’s different from the published version from the 80’s and what we fixed. (That’s a WHOLE nother story!)

NOW! To wrap this up – add in feeding the dogs, cleaning the living room, cooking dinner, going to work, doing laundry – all the mundane things that we all do every day – you can see that the process is time consuming to say the least. And with a wide range of other projects (maps, planetary lists, various articles, re-creating and printing existing FASA books, AND creating new ship recognition manuals) that them selves are time consuming and can create burn out – it is a lengthy process.

SO! A quick shout-out to those behind the scene who check the work, check the spelling, fix the graphics and the dozens of other helpful bits that keep up rolling – THANKS GUYS (and GIRL)!

Captain Kirk