The fifth chapter of Tarus Space is in the works. Our team usually starts with concept art, script writing and the plot. After that comes sketching (for concept art), approval of designs and storyboarding. For those unfamiliar with what storyboarding is, it’s basically a bunch of quick sketches (very low quality) of how you want each page of the comic to play out. It decides the panel layout, where text might appear, what the people within are doing and the major important details.

Everyone on the team has day jobs, mostly because we like eating and not living on the street, so what would take a usual full time writing team days, or perhaps a couple of weeks, gets stretched out much longer for us. But, there’s a silver lining. Ideas sit in the writer’s head much longer and they get to cure and become a little better before they get put onto paper. There’s a sort of visualization that happens in the writer’s head, like a movie playing out, and then snapping scenes from it and putting it into panel form. What are interesting angles? What are the important moments? What’s fascinating to see? How do you play out the larger plot with this? How do you make it amusing and comedic?

Script writing helps pick out the larger plot that goes from page to page, while the storyboarding helps to decide the exact scene setting, dialogue and narration. For me (the writer), the main parts to storyboarding are:

  • What are interesting scenes to capture in a captivating manner for the reader?
    • Is it visually intriguing?
    • Does it draw the eye
    • Does it flow?
  • Where does the narration and/or dialogue fit?
    • Do I have to rearrange the scene or panels to make the speech bubbles fit better?
  • What world building details and fluff can I fit in?
    • What’s important to show?
    • Flags? Symbols? Cybernetic enhancements? Armour design?

I try to layer those into the storyboard and then cut out the cruft. You end up with something that looks simple, or at least it should look simple. It follows something that is very similar to my day job; in the software development world there is a tendency for people to prefer rube goldberg level codery that baffles the most senior of developers but the real charm of programming is building simplistic solutions to tough problems that even a five year old can understand. Complexity is a sign of compensation in coding and, to me, it is also a sign of compensation in writing/plot design. I’m partial to highly complex plots myself but I think it’s better rephrased as “intricate but simple plots”.

That being said, I look back at the previous chapters in Tarus Space and I think of these major flaws throughout:

  • Overly rushed plot
  • Insufficient details on the universe
  • Glaringly bad exposition on the Great Tech Blessing of Kolce

I will just have to content myself with writing better this chapter.

Also, here is a preview from the storyboarding (behold and despair when the writer tries to draw):

Style Guides for Factions

The team met recently, digitally across the world, as people have moved and it now spans multiple continents. As it’s near the beginning of development, most of the talk was about concept art and the script. We’ve got the general gist of the story down. Now, it’s about what we should think about before starting off the comic proper (dialogue, storyboarding and page sketches).

Well, I was going to take a page out of corporate design books and apply it to the indie world in a more fun indie way. Style guides! In the deep dark world of the corporate machinery, style guides are ways to tell a large organization what the “look” and “brand” of the company is, whether it’s the shape of icons or the fonts they choose to the colours that should appear in their mockups and final designs. For Tarus Space, it’s going to be about “what should each of the factions look like?”.

What will be fun to nail down is the look of each of the four factions that’ll appear in Chapter Five:

  • Royals under Queen Saruq
  • Hussars under Hetman Rzewuski
  • Republicans under Governor Marud
  • Technobarbarian “tainted” forces under Tyrant-King Ellac

We’ll square down their colours, their flag, have example soldiers for each one, their weapons and so on. It’ll help readers identify each faction clearly from panel to panel and make the flow of the comic better. This doubles as a fun exercise in exploring what might be a “royal” soldier under Queen Saruq. Do they prefer more cloth and surcoats? Are they bright colours? Do both sides use bright colours, just a different scheme? What makes someone look like a technobarbarian? Cybernetics? Patchwork armour?

(Side note: For my American readers, “Republican” in this context means they reject Queen Saruq’s throne and has no connection to the Republic Party of the United States)

Hopefully, this gets fleshed out over the next little while and we can show off a bit of the work in progress.

Chapter Five Cover Art

The cover art will start soon, the artist is currently occupied with greeting family and giving them tourist guides about Australia where he lives. It’s now in the hands of the writer to figure out some concept art for it. What’s best to go with the Battle of Ustron, the fifth chapter for our intrepid heroes? Well…

I was contemplating something along the lines of the silhouettes of our soldiers against a blue-ish background of urban carnage. Tashy would be front and centre, following the theme of rotating through the ensemble cast, and that would complete the rotation for the main characters. Urban warfare, cigar smoking and a jingoistic splashy cover? Perfect for a military sci-fi work. The cover art is probably going to derive some inspiration from a few sources. One is the re-imagined X-Com. I played both the original, where everybody dies, and the newest one, where you lose if anybody dies. It’ll also get some inspiration from urban warfare scenes in the background like my friend War40k or stuff like Fallout. War40k gives it the right sort of “technobarbarians are invading my world” vibe and Fallout has a look that is good for “Team America rescued the shit out of my city”. (Side note, I think Fallout’s damage to the city looks more like indiscriminate shelling than a nuclear attack. Maybe it just bugs the engineer in me that “buildings don’t get damaged like that if it were a nuke”. C’est la vie?)

With so much awesome cover art out there these days, I’ve been thinking about what makes one better over another in my eyes beyond just the quality of the artwork. In my overthinking it moments, I see something like Dust Wind’s cover art and it’s got a band of post-apocalyptic warriors against a devastated urban background. Then you read the lore and you find that they’re actually a specific faction, the most heroic sounding one, and the Soviet propaganda style poster feels more relevant. Then, I look at Fallout 3’s cover art, it’s the helm to powered armour. Awesome… and then there’s no meaning to it. Powered armour is iconic to Fallout but it’s nothing special to the storyline of Fallout 3 but it’s an attempt to connect the game to the previous two that featured powered armour helmets. But, here’s the thing, Fallout 1 and 2 had zippo money because it was “back in the day”, so I’m not sure that just doing homage is good enough to me. It has no connection to anything in the game itself.

Turning away from other games to derive inspiration, there’s also a few reference images of various places in Poland to get a good feel for their architecture. Most of the meaty architecture exists in pictures of market squares. There’s the distinctive tiled roofs and square-ish buildings that speak of the architecture in Poland. I’ve also a preference for tightly packed buildings (in North America, the best example would be East Village, New York City).

Anyway, that’s where the cover art is at these days.

Ustron and the Plot

Over the last four chapters of writing Tarus Space, drafting the plot mostly began as a series of “interesting points” that sat in a bag and woven into a coherent plot and is now moving much more toward a traditional sort of writing. For Battle of Ustron, it has an intro, rising action, an obstacle, a climax and then a conclusion. What hasn’t changed, is pulling from that bag of interesting points for the humour that’s thrown into the comic. After all, a lot of jokes are just jabs at military sci-fi and hard sci-fi.

What I felt was missing in the other chapters was better and more solid writing; a well crafted plot to give structure to the jokes I was trying to deliver. It’s one thing to laugh at a funny tidbit here and there, but like a nicer wine, you don’t just want some upfront flavours, you want that backing too. Tarus Space always had a long term plot but ideas are less important than the actual execution. For a while, it didn’t sit that well with me, as the writer, for the plot to feel under-delivered either because the pacing was off, the structure was wonky or there’s just so much to the world of Tarus Space and I’m showing too little and too much with every turn of the page.

So, for Battle of Ustron, I focused it down a lot more. The plot is centrally themed around a single part of the war, with everything else probably unfairly accelerated around it so that it doesn’t matter as much to the reader. There’s just one battle, whose importance is stated upfront and with some flashback, while everything else going on in the war is vague and unimportant. You know it’s going on, you know it’s happening but you don’t need to know any of the specifics. It’s my take on Tolkein’s grand ability to craft thousands of years of history, show you a scant few months of it in an adventure by a hobbit, and you simultaneously feel the world building that’s going on without being overly concerned with the details.

As for why a place called Ustron? I did what any great sci-fi author does when they need names… I went to a map and then went to an area of non-English speakers and then chose names from their country. I mean, obviously the theme for Tarus Space is the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (it was obvious right?), so I chose some smaller towns in Poland and surrounding countries for place names.

For chapter 5, hopefully it’ll feel more solid. A deep dive into a single battle, with the knowledge of the rest of the war going on, and a proper amount of attention to the characters. I want the chapter to help expand them in a way that’s more about reading an interesting plot than singular gags. Of course, the story is still light-hearted, so it won’t feel “heavy”.

Anyway, that’s all for now.

Chapter 5 and the Battle of Ustron

It’s been a million years since there’s been a post on this site by the team but as chapter 5 is now under way, a month after the release of chapter 4, now is as good a time as any to write up a new article.

The latest chapter in Tarus Space is tentatively being called Battle of Ustron because, well, it’s about a battle near a fictional city known as Ustron. Each chapter has been primarily about each character in turn: Chapter 2 Alpine Marmot Down was about Captain Short Straw, Chapter 3 Kingdom of Kolce was about Major Valeriya and Chapter 4 Guns of Modlin was about Sergeant Brown Pants. This time, the focus is on Sergeant Tashy, the cigar smoking, vodka drinking heavy weapons specialist of the four protagonists.

This chapter is going to be more visually focused as Tashy is meant to be a more silent character. A contemplative philosopher with an uncaring attitude to war, violence and the ideals of the Commonwealth. Being a tough character, actions are more important to her than words.

Anyway, just a quick little update about Chapter 5!

Writing and Karma

Oh, karma! What could we do without it in writing? It’s all about actions having consequences and typically, negative decisions lead to negative outcomes. This is built into almost all writing despite using a word that comes out from Southeast Asia. A reader comes to expect it, already knows it intuitively and when it doesn’t happen is either surprised or confused.

As the writer for Tarus Space, sometimes I get into talking about the craft of writing. Karma is something that has held my attention lately. It’s the concept that builds the reader’s expectations for a work; whether in this setting the karma is such that bad characters get bad lives most of the time or the opposite where the heroes are never rewarded for their good deeds. Karma can be used to make the world is cynical or ideal. So, it sets the tone. Then, it goes further than that. When you know actions can have consequences it invests you in the characters and plot. You know that an action leads to consequences and so you eagerly await those consequences. A bad guy just dropped kicked a dog? Oh boy, at some point someone must drop kick him! And, with that then you can build real excitement and tension. A story that follows karma just enough to have you expect consequences but not quite adhering to the laws too strictly means that the reader doesn’t know whether the outcome is going to be desirable or not.

It’s almost intuitive; people expect equity in life. That doesn’t change when it comes to fiction. In fact, it’s even stronger. What is usually unfair in life is expected to be fair in a work of fiction. This is almost used as a yardstick to determine whether a world is bleak/grim/dark/cynical versus ideal/bright/happy/light-hearted. In a world where bad guys doing bad things always gets what is coming to them can be very satisfying and builds an ideal world. On the other hand, a setting where the heroes who help others are never in turn rewarded builds a barren dark place. Ultimately, it means that the writer sets the tone and the expectations. Readers who first read Warhammer 40000 will quickly realize it is a grim dark future but if they were to watch Batman the animated series, they can pick up the fact that bad guys go to jail for their actions.

These expectations are powerful. It creates a sense of consistency that many people inherently desire. Sometimes it’s episodic. One chapter, episode or issue might flip between them, using the reader’s own intuitive sense of what is fair, and having them build out the rest of the plot in their minds. Think of your favourite TV show when it’s normally serious and then at the start of episode, instead of guns blazing against bad guys, he has his gun jam in a hilarious manner, bullets are flying but nobody gets hurt. Ah, then you realize, this is one of those lighter episodes in which actions have no real consequences. The karma this time is that it really doesn’t exist.

Karma builds you time delayed investment. Action equals consequence. So, you see a bad guy do something bad then you expect some consequence later. For darker settings, typically they have the hero do something bad to accomplish their mission and this creates the expectation that something bad will happen to them later. Then a reader is guided to flip the pages of a book waiting for the other shoe to drop. Other times, readers are pushed to move through a plot because they just want to see a bad guy get what’s coming to them.

Here, we see the excitement and tension grow organically out of this writing. When you have karma lead to the expected consequence most of the time but not all the time, then a reader has a consistent world they can live in but also feel tension because they don’t know whether or not the karma will work out this time or it might be just that one time where it fails. It also is a means for checking whether a plot is moving forward correctly; did the heroes actions lead to the later scenes due to consequences? If not, maybe you had a plot tumour that destroyed the original thread (think of some stories where the start of it is some complex political situation and they’re working through it, only for everything to be dropped because a prophecy happens or some random big bad rolls in… then you think what was the point of the whole half of the plot?), or perhaps there’s a character being railroaded (nothing the character did led her to the situation that she is, yet there she is for absolutely no reason). This is where karma becomes crucial to making sure a writer is building a plot worth following. Everything has causality, the plot is a whole being, characters that do anything affect the whole of it.

Tension also comes out of the consistency built out of karma and the slight deviations from it from time to time. When a bad guy normally gets thrown in jail after a crime, you come to expect it but then if every so often it doesn’t happen then you still feel a sense of tension of “maybe it’s one of those times?”. Without karma, and anything happens, then a reader becomes confused or gives up. Of course, that’s not to say that a sitting that consistently doesn’t have karma isn’t its own kind of consistency in a way. In a setting where actions never have consequences, it may serve as a vehicle for fun when they do. It can also be a writing trick to give more reward to those moments when a hero is finally given her due. Think of those stories where the protagonist is always scrambling, always fighting for what they deserve but never getting it until that one time; it’s the central theme to a lot of character dramas.

So, there’s my love of karma as a tool in writing.

Religion in Tarus Space

So, how many religions exist in Tarus Space? As many as there are people!

Alright, fine. There’s two. On the planet of Kolce where the story they’re split down between the Machinists and the Red Gods worshippers. Our intrepid Hussars are followers of the Machinists and more specifically, they’re in a denomination that interacts with the Machinists through the holy dialogue of lolcats. Indeed, in the grim dark future of humanity, there is only lolcat.

So, what exactly are the Machines? They’re super-sentient (because that’s a word) artificial intelligences or enhanced intelligences (cyborgs) that exist and have been around for a long time. Most of the technology which exceeds human understanding are maintained by them but overall the Machinists are a group of artificial intelligences concerned more about morality and ethics, as well as social management, rather than technological advances. They represent the concepts of wisdom.

On the other hand, the Red Gods are more mysterious, their origins less known and people never ever actually see them. What they do see is advanced gadgetry or “tech blessings”. They give them to their high level followers. It’s always something powerful enough that it’s treated like magic. Of course, the Red Gods keeps everyone in line by making sure everything they give is a one-shot deal. There’s no replication, reproduction or blueprints given. That way their followers are always asking for more gifts.

But being Machinist or being a Red Gods followers doesn’t really mean much in terms of laws. There’s no guide books. In fact, most Red Gods worshippers never even see or interact with a Red God and whole populations might not receive any tech blessings. That’s the case with the people on Kolce; half the population worships Red Gods, zero of the people have ever dealt with them. This means they can make of the religion what they will and that in itself is powerful. Machinists on the other hand can actually interact and the people on Kolce get to see Sigma-9 (a cyborg). Of course, Sigma-9 is just one cyborg so in a population of over a hundred million people, you might not really get a chance to get a word with her.

There are those, though, out in the space wilderness of the Rim Sector that the Second Fleet of the Husaria patrols, who do receive tech blessings from the Red Gods and use them to gain brutal military advantages over others. They’re known as the Tainted. These aren’t a single people, but many disconnected collapsed civilizations that had come to rely on these tech blessings so much that their societies disintegrated. This is the threat the Husaria was originally formed to combat; the evil technobarbarian hordes known as the Tainted.

Blood and courage Hussars!

Worldbuilding: The Planet of Kolce

In Tarus Space: Plight of Kolce, the plot takes place on… Kolce!!
Plight of Kolce takes place on… Kolce.

As the writer, here’s a little exploration to how Kolce came to be and a little bit of its backstory.

Let’s talk inspiration. Kolce is about conflict. It’s located a little bit around the outer edges of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. By being outside of the “core” of the major powers, Kolce is now somewhat on its own to fend off whatever space wolves lurk out in the galactic edges of the grim dark future of humanity. It’s like a little space sheep in the wild unknown with space wolves that can get it.

On the planet itself it’s also divided. Drawing inspiration from the Kingdom of Jerusalem (the one headed by King Baldwin IV), it’s a planet divided between two political factions. There’s a clash between two sets of cultures and two sets of religious factions. This backdrop is filled out with another inspiration; modern Afghanistan. Kolce, like Afghanistan, had a well-liked monarchy in the past and having been through some troubling times is looking for an answer. Queen Saruq represents that. She returns to a broken world full of strife, poverty and a host of other issues and her presence signals a return to better times. Yet, she can’t just do what she did in the past, Saruq has to consider the new universe she lives in and how times have changed in the intervening centuries since she last ruled the world.

On Kolce, there’s humans on one side and then the eeeevil xenos on the other. Except for the xenos that work with the humans. Those xenos are good. But then if they work with the humans and then later don’t work with the humans then they are bad, unless they work with them again. Then you have religion; one side is known as the Machinists and the other follow the Red Gods. But, all of this is one realm and it’s Queen Saruq’s realm.

And that’s where we get into the motivation behind designing the planet like this.

Queen Saruq has an endless list of headaches. Whether it’s the fact that Kolce is at the galactic edge and thus vulnerable to the many technobarbarian fleets that roam there or it’s an internal threat wielded by those of a different religion or ideology, she has her hands full. And what better way to help than Hussars? Decked out with the best equipment and not a clue about local politics. It’s endless opportunity for “interesting” situations.

So, what’s the result?


It uses names from Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian sources.

There’s eight or nine centuries of history to the place.

By the time the story begins, Queen Saruq’s return is a welcome symbol of respite and the possibility of returning to prosperity. Yet, at the same time, they know that a good crown isn’t enough to ward off the many perils that lurk within and without.

Taxes Cont’d – It’s a Real World Thing

Last time we explored why you should get excited about taxes. Because you want to be an accountant! Really though, it’s another way to craft and build your world and ask all those questions of “why are things the way they are?” The real world is a great place to steal ideas so let’s take a look at that! We played in China last time, and continuing the vein of ancient civilizations: Ancient Egypt and it’s original Pharaoh system. Back in those days, there wasn’t even a concept like currency; instead people traded in goods, and, in most cases, back then food was money. Literally! The Pharaoh directly oversaw a number of farmers whose yearly harvest was taxes (the dreaded harvest tax).!

This grew out of a system where a main leader controlled the farmland. But as the number of citizens grew, so did the administrative burden, to the point where nobles controlled other farmland and these estates instead paid an income tax (a harvest tax). As the wealthy grew more powerful and farmland more numerous, it became increasingly difficult to assess farmland properly and so there came to be a new tax levied on people; the wealth tax. It was easy to march inspectors into an estate and evaluate its holding and then tax based on someone’s wealth; because who knew what their income might have been? But the finer points, like hiding your wealth, became common and so you can imagine a setting there might have these little tidbits crop up (someone may purchase very fanciful furniture and then have storage spaces to hide it during tax time).