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What's up with Palladium and BTS?

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Mantisking

BosTan Cat Herder
Validated User
I'd just like to say that I'm amazed that this thread has gone 18 pages without devolving into a screaming flamewar. That is all, carry on. :)
 

The Architect

Harpo Marxist
Validated User
GM Victory said:
I wasn't happy about the inclusion of Megas either. As soon as I saw it there, I knew it was trouble.

CS and GI didn't disappoint. You couldn't swing a dead Boy Wonder or Star-Spangled Sidekick without hitting a Mega.

This is my only gripe about your fine books Mr. Coffin. :)
How heroic would the characters have been if they hadn't been Megas? Bill's take on Megas was the pretty much the only way to make HU characters Heroes instead of Regular Joes with Superpowers.
 

Crusader808

Sexy, shoeless god of war
Validated User
The Architect said:
How heroic would the characters have been if they hadn't been Megas? Bill's take on Megas was the pretty much the only way to make HU characters Heroes instead of Regular Joes with Superpowers.
And it still was (thankfully) restrained from what it could have been.
 

Bill_Coffin

Part of the solution
One of Kevin's biggest problems is that he is a micro-manager in the truest sense of the word. He runs an operation where ultimately, every single decision must go through him, and frankly, that's too much for one person to do and still keep up a company whose primary asset is a steady stream of new intellectual property. He's still living this fantasy where he thinks he can oversee everything himself and still go home and bang out a great sourcebook in seven days. Do you see the folly in this? You do? Well, bully for you, because Kevin sure doesn't.

This is where another big problem of his comes forth and compounds his first problem: Kevin simply cannot accept the fact that sometimes he is wrong or might have fallen short in something. Work with the guy long enough, and you'll see this is the case. He never, ever accepts responsibility for something bad that has hapened to the company. Or if he does, he couches it in terms of how he's too much of a nice guy and gave Idiot Freelancer #23 a break when he should not have, or he was too open a boss and let Treacherous Scumbag #44 stab him in the back, and so on. His fault, but not really his fault.

As a result, he surrounds himself with people that he can shunt blame to, ignoring all the while that you can't really shunt anything away from yourself in a company where you are the one guy who ultimately approves every single thing that happens. But, he does it anyway, which is why when an order gets boggled, it's one of his worker's fault. When he can't get writing at home done, it's the fault of somebody in his family. When he assigns a book to be written, has fully crystallized views on what that book ought to be but does not share them with the writer, and gets a book he didn't expect, why, that's the writer's fault. When the distributors don't order 8,000 copies of his latest book which is three months overdue, it's the tough marketplace's fault.

(IMO, this explains why Kevin holds some measure of disdain for pretty much everybody in his life -- the way he sees it, everybody he comes into contact with lets him down at some point or another. For a guy who feels like he's propping up the efforts of a bunch of halfwits and marginal talents, he still can't see that without all those people, he wouldn't have a company.)

These things have a nasty tendency to pile on top of each other and create vicious circles of which Palladium's goofy production schedule is a great example.

It starts with Kevin receiving a manuscript proposal for Rifts Greenland. Kevin likes the pitch and greenlights the project. Whatever the freelancer's ideas for the book are, Kevin gets jazzed over the concept of the book and develops all on his own what the book ought to be. Only, this is going on while the poor freelancer is writing the book, so surprise, surprise, when the book gets turned in, it's not what Kevin wanted. This is a classic case of somebody hating Black Hawk Down because when they went ot see it, they were in the mood for M*A*S*H. So, Kevin does what he does best, he writes the freelancer a patronizing letter on how excited he was when the project was first pitched and how disapoointed he was that all that promise never materialized. Sometimes, the freelancer doesn't take this well, and he goes off on Kevin, which is never a good thing because then it prompts Kevin to call his other writers, read to them the letters he and Angry Freelancer traded back in forth and lament about how sad it is that there are so few professionals in this business.

But back to work. We now have a Rifts Greenland is not to Kevin's liking, but he wants to put the book out, both because he wants his vision of it realized and because he needs new product. Objectively speaking, it might, in this case, be smart to write off Rifts Greenland and instead put out the book he's been working on himself. Only he can't, because he hasn't been working on a book himself. He's been busy running a company by chewing out the guys in the warehouse, fighting with Disney over preserving his right to sell Rifts tee shirts he'll never produce once the movie comes out, and calling his other freelancers to bitch about how difficult his life is.

Thus, as shipping day looms, Kevin has no Rifts Greenland, and no Mechanoids Space, BTS 2E or whatever he really ought to have been working on all this time. But he's got bills to pay, so he must produce something. And, since he got all fired up about the very idea of Rifts Greenland way back when the project was first introduced, he started pimping the book thirty-two seconds after he received a signed copy of the book contract from the freelancer. So now the public expects Rifts Greenland whether its ready or not. And what's more, he put the book on a release schedule that would only be met if every stage of the book's production goes entirely according to plan.

There are (surprise!) a few problems with this. One, by now Kevin ought to know full well that unless he's got a dependable full-timer writing for him (ala CJ Carella) he hits his schedules a fraction of the time. So, until he goes a year or two hitting every single release date on the nose, he ought to budget 50% more time for his projects than he does. Or at the very least, he should have the decency to not get bent out of shape when his unrealistically planned project goes overdue, further cementing his company's reputation for having one of the most unreliable production schedules in the business.

The second problem at this stage of the game is that Kevin never actually looks at a finished book until it's a few weeks away from its date with the printer. This, my friends, is akin to a flight crew performing a pre-flight check on a plane that is taxiing down the runway. If Kevin were smart, he'd give all incoming manuscripts a full edit the moment they hit his desk a) to see if they are any good and b) to speed the production process along. Kevin's editors would certainly do a better job of making sure the book is what Kevin wants if Kevin molded it a bit himself to begin with.

But no, what happens is Kevin gets the book, often holds on to it for a period of time, then drops it on his editors, who he routinely criticizes for not really being able to edit. Then, 12 days before print time, he expects to be able to do a quick brush-up edit himself on a book that by his reckoning, shouldn't need it anyway. This particular recipe for disaster, in comparison, makes mixing buckshot, nitroglycerine and pistachio ice cream together in a Slurpee machine seem like the next big thing in frozen desserts.

Thus we come to the best part of the process, where Kevin -- already disgruntled because he feels obligated to rewrite Rifts Greenland into what it should have been in the first place, and even further disgruntled because he feels this is pulling him away from the projects he really wants to be working on (even though he really wasn't working on them anyway) -- undergoes a commando rewrite of the project. He's got about two weeks to do it in, a vision of the finished project and about three half-decent ideas ot get him there. Obviously, Kevin can't get blood from a stone, so he writes up some half-strength filler material, knocks about some reprint material, and takes what he likes from the original Rifts Greenland manuscript, giving himself co-credit for having the wisdom to give it a second chance. If he's really hard put, he'll take a look at the art that's already come in and mine it for ideas ("Hmm...this D-bee wasn't in any other books, but it looks cool, so I hereby declare this guy the Grinkle-Nosed Hogtailer R.C.C. Nobody will mind if I reprint the picture, especially once I Xerox it and scribble a few more details on it myself..."). If he's got a freelance writer he works with who he trusts, he'll call them up and ask for a quickie section on something that tangentially refers to Rifts Greenland by the end of the weekend.

What's that, you say? When does he play test any of this stuff? That's a good question. Too bad it's got a bad answer. For starters, he's only got a few days between when he finishes a book and when he gets it out to the printer, so there's no time for a proper shakedown. Not that any of this needs one, don't you know, because the Palladium engine works, it's rock solid, the fans like it judging by the number of books that have sold over the years, and all those jerkoffs over at RPGnet who keep telling him to revamp the engine can kindly take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut. Third, when I was still working for the man, Kevin didn't role-play anymore. He was too busy running a role-playing game company. (Some poor saffron-clad Tibetan is up in the mountains right now trying like hell to wrap his brain around that one.)

Once Kevin's ready for layout, he prints out the whole mess and fires up his wax machine because he still puts these damned things together by hand. What's that? Desktop publishing software? Naw, he's faster without it! To his credit, he lays out the book in fairly decent time, but he also illustrates why all Palladium books have a simple two-column format. Kevin isn't going to cut columns to shape or deviate from formula because he might have to reflow a section of the book, and when he does, all those columns have to be standard or else none of it works. Where this really makes you want to bang your head against the tip of an artillery shell is when he lays out 80% of the book, discovers that he'd like to rename an alphabetically ordered item on page 5 and decides that it would be too much work to reflow the rest of the list. You know how every so often in a Palladium book you'll have a series of NPCs or OCCs or something and one of them is grossly out of alphabetical order? That's why. I used to think it was because Kevin couldn't read the alphabet. Now I know it's because he's truly, madly, deeply in love with putting books together in ways that even Monty Burns would decry as old-fashioned.

Voila! He's finally got Rifts Greenland in the bag and off to the printer. And all it took was him not sleeping for a week (after he already skipped a week's sleep handling the Post Office of the Apocalypse sourcebook fiasco), telling a fresh freelancer to go take a hike, calling up his other workers to say that somehow this might be his best work yet, executing a slapdash layout job, recycling artwork and telling himself over and over again that nobody does it like than he does. In that regard, he's dead on, because 1985 ended way back in NINETEEN EIGHTY FUCKING FIVE.

This is the crazy way in which Kevin Siembieda produces a book. I don't really know exactly how he handles the precise details of managing the rest of his operation, but I always felt that his book production methods set an ominous precedent.

If any good comes out of it, it is all thanks to him. If any bad comes out of it, well, then it's your fault and my fault and that guy's fault and her fault and the industry's fault and the fault of that fucker who sold him a soggy pierogie yesterday and...you get the picture.

What really keeps this vicious cycle going, however, is that for a long time, Kevin was extremely successful working this way. So successful, in fact, that it reinforced all those nasty elements I've outlined so far, proving not only that Kevin was right all along, but that the way he does things is practically the Gospel According to Kevin, patron saint of keeping it real in the RPG industry. Only the GAtK doesn't really work that well anymore. Sales are slipping because the company's premier game seems to have played out its best ideas, its other games don't get much support and -- get this -- the new stuff coming out is largely recycled from a game line that is suffering from falling sales. (There's a Tibetan monk working on that one, too.) And of course, taking the fans' input into consideration for what they'd like to see, such as a simplified core book or a drastically rewritten engine, is simply out of the question. Maybe he's too busy writing up memos about how he gives his fans what they want or something.

But the bottom line is that all is not well, and that some major changes ought to be made to keep the business dynamic and thriving. But those changes keep getting ignored while it gets harder and harder to sell product that is already coming out in smaller print runs and abbreviated page counts. Times are tough, no doubt about that. And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, it's not the industry's fault or some freelancer's fault or the weather's fault, or his pet chinchilla's fault. Maybe it's Kevin's fault.

Naaaaah.
 
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_Gabriel

New member
Bill_Coffin said:

... snip...
OMG!

Mr. Coffin, that post is truly like a veil being lifted and the light of truth shining clearly. Suddenly it all makes sense. It all makes a horrible sort of sense. Everything in every Palladium product I've ever owned now makes perfect sense!

It's like the passage in the bible which effectively says the evidence of God is everywhere in creation. One has only to look to see the Truth. That's what this is like. It has all been there before, right out in the open.

I know I'm being WAY melodramatic about this. But it is sincerely that eye opening of a post to me. I know it sounds totally fucking stupid, but it's true.

It's like I can suddenly play Robotech and Rifts again. I can't explain it.
 

Steve Conan Trustrum

Head Misfit
Validated User
Bill, I believe you forgot one point: Because Kevin's so busy doing all you've outlined, when his writers call him up to ask "here's what I have so far, does it fall in line with what you want?" he is too busy running around ala le poulet sans tete that he can't talk to the writer on the phone and so when the shit hits the fan and the writer hands in something that isn't what Kevin had in mind, he'll yell at the writer for not keeping in touch often enough. :D

And no, Bill, CJ, and I aren't just having a slam dance on Palladium because we like shoving hot pokers in past employers. This is how it actually is, ladies and gents. Consider this: after Palladium cut me off their freelancer list for our ... differences of opinion ... I was so frustrated that I almost quit the biz altogether. Palladium also changed their entire policy on freelancers because I was the straw that broke the camel's back. I had no idea that the rest of the industry is so, well, normal and possesses a sense of community and cooperation. Add to that Bill's announcement from a while back about not jumping back into the RPG industry for now due to burnout and wanting to try new things (and I feel for ya, Bill, you were far closer to the lion's den than I) and you begin to see what working in that environment does to most people. Thankfully Palladium Books is not the norm in the way that it does things behind the curtain or how it approaches its customers. If it was, this industry would be a hell of a lot lonelier and smaller.
 
U

Unregistered

Guest
Wow Bill, what a post! I have always suspected but now the truth is out there.

This answers a lot of my questions that I posted way back on page 6 or 7 of this thread.

I used to be a big Palladium fanboy and I used to like Kevin's work. But the best authors were always C.J., Bill, and Erick. Mystic China is my favorite non-Rifts book. Bill's stuff is awesome and C.J.'s Rifts books were my personal faves.

But everytime Palladium seemed to get on a roll with a hot new author, they would disappear and yet another Rifts book would come out with a "I had to rewrite this" introduction from KS at the beginning.

Siembieda himself drove me away from Palladium with his control freak attitude. Now, I'm perfectly happy with HERO and d20 will never go back as long as KS runs the company or unless KS publishes Rifts d20 or something (which would sell a gazillion copies, BTW)

Sadly, I think KS will drive Palladium into the ground. I foresee bankruptcy in five years or less and Siembieda will leave the RPG industry a broken and bitter man, forever blaming his failures on others.

But two questions remain. What happened to Kevin Long and Vince Martin? IMO, they defined the look of Rifts for me.
 

KromeLizard

Acting a damn fool
As accurate as the drubbing Kevin's taking in this thread probably is, I still can't help but feel bad for the guy. He's nothing but pleasant with the fans when meeting them in person and seems to genuinely enjoy taking the time to chat with them. It'd be nice if he could correct what look to be some truly disastrous management practices, turn his company around, and start producing quality material again.
 

Voriof

Eins, Zwei, Drei
Mantisking said:
I'd just like to say that I'm amazed that this thread has gone 18 pages without devolving into a screaming flamewar. That is all, carry on. :)
Its a Sign, I tell you. A Sign.

Oh, and to be OT I still say Bill, Steve and CJ are wise. I have never, ever had to undergo the kind of heartache that they have had to deal with. And I'd rather not...

Voriof - counting an unexpected blessing
 
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