Since I’ve spilled the beans about UA2, I can be more direct about what I’m working on with the project for those of you who are interested.

At present, Greg and I are working on part three, the cosmic-level section. Each section begins with the same two chapters: Overview and Campaign. The Overview presents the setting–stuff about the occult underground, the nature of magick, and so forth. Campaign specifically addresses ways to start your campaign by stressing cabal creation.

Late this week I wrote the first drafts of the Cosmic Overview and Cosmic Campaign and sent them to Greg. Last night he sent back the Overview chapter with edits and new material, and I’ve reviewed those edits and filed the new version of the chapter in my working directory for UA2. There wasn’t anything that required another round of edits, so the Overview chapter is done pending peer review. That’ll happen next week. Once we wrap up the first draft of the Cosmic Campaign chapter, I’ll send both chapters off to our circle of reviewers to get their feedback.

Meanwhile, I’m off to work on the next chapters in the Cosmic section. I’d been planning to lump all the cosmic-level magick stuff into one big chapter, but was having problems conceptualizing such a chapter and what it might be called. Cosmic Magick was an obvious choice, but the connotation of that title isn’t really appropriate. Tonight I realized that I should just keep the chunks of that chapter as separate chapters. The new layout dispenses with the two-page spreads that have traditionally opened each UA chapter, so it’s not a waste of space to have several short chapters in the book. So Overview and Campaign are followed with Godwalkers & Ascension, Artifacts, The Unnatural, and some other stuff I’m blanking on right now.

On the layout track, I’ve got the first two sections of the book–street and global–in decent shape. I need to review the comments on the global section and implement corrections directly into the layout files.

The book needs to be 256 pages, no more and no less, and that’s a huge uncertainty. My page design is meant to hit that target, but the problem is the manuscript isn’t done. We’re still writing stuff like crazy, and I may find that the page design needs more or less text to hit that target because of the length of the final manuscript, or that things need to be cut or expanded. I just don’t know yet. I do have some flex built it–for example, as much as I want to include “Pinfeathers” in this edition, we can leave it out. I’m also not laying out the chapters of the rulebook fiction (“Legacy”) until the end, so I can use that to expand or shrink the page count to hit 256. But this uncertainty also means I can’t start fixing the “see p. xx” references. They’ll have to wait until the end of the process as well.

Ideally, I wouldn’t start the layout until the manuscript is done. But we have so little time left that I have to keep pushing on layout when I’m waiting to get revisions from Greg or whatever, and hope that my layout work doesn’t get undone in the next few weeks. Gah. In some ways it’s a blessing to be writer/editor/graphic designer on a project, since I get as much control over the work as anyone could want. But it can also be a hellish responsibility and a nightmare workload.

This evening Karen and I went to an unbirthday party at Daniel & Heather’s. Daniel’s birthday was last month but he was too overworked to do anything, so Heather threw him an unbirthday party this month. We hung around and watched some bizarre samurai/ninja adventure flick and then two episodes of the documentary Walking with Prehistoric Beasts. This is a sequel to Walking with Dinosaurs, a BBC production. The various Walking projects use the same beautiful conceit: a documentary about dinosaurs and other ancient critters made in the same style as a modern animal-behavior documentary about living creatures. Which is to say that they shoot and present it as if they were taking footage of lions on the veldt or monkeys in trees. There’s no interviews with talking heads or anything. We just see the creatures engaging in their (imagined) natural behavior while the voiceover offers the usual cycle-of-life commentary. This is accomplished by shooting film in actual locations and then using CGI and some puppetry to insert the dinosaurs. It’s beautifully done. They even have some great outtakes in which you see film crews sneaking around to shoot footage of live dinosaurs, and that sort of thing.

I wrote a review of Walking with Dinosaurs last year where I commented on the differences between the BBC project and the American version of the same thing that played on the Discovery channel. They changed narrators, rewrote the narration to dumb it down, changed the on-screen titles to generalize references to specific locations, and cut out the violence when dinosaurs mauled each other. In short, it was really pathetic.

It turns out that Discovery really screwed the pooch on this new documentary, which is about the rise of mammals. Daniel saw the Discovery airing of their version and then bought the BBC DVD release, which is what we saw tonight. He was stunned. The Discovery version chopped out almost half of each episode and replaced that material with talking heads babbling away. And of course the narration was rewritten and replaced, and stuff like prehistoric primates having sex was nowhere to be seen. The whole conceit of the series is that it’s done in the traditional nature-documentary style of “The male lion surveys his territory and there–the gazelle breaks from the trees and the chase is on!”, except it’s about creatures that no longer exist. And Discovery blew that all to hell and cut out much of the brilliant work the BBC’s team did on the project.

So again I can only say: screw the Discovery channel. This is a really great project. The U.S. videotape release is the Discovery channel’s hacked-up version, but happily the U.S. DVD release is the original BBC production. Rent the DVD, or buy it ($28, two discs), and give this thing a watch. It’s good stuff.

Having just gone to Amazon to set up the above link, I discovered that they’ve introduced the stupidest feature yet: Your Message Center. Now on their home page there’s a sidebar that links to this feature and tells me: “You have 6 new messages waiting for you!” Following the link reveals that yes, all six messages are sales blurbs from Amazon. That’s it. It’s not an inter-user messaging system, or a system for people to comment on reviews you’ve posted, or anything else resembling a messenging system. It’s just a link so you can read spam from Amazon! Good God. They expect people to look at their “messages” more than once ever? This is ridiculous. What a waste of effort. My only hope is that it’s a trial program I happened to be included in, and that not everyone who goes to Amazon sees this nonsense. Oh well.