We got to spend some quality time with Catalyst Game Labs‘ art director, Brent Evans (who was absolutely great to interview), this morning in a 30 minute interview that covered quite a bit of ground. The big question on everyone’s mind has got to be: where is Catalyst as a company? You ask, we answer.

The Drama
We’re not going to rehash the financial irregularities that have recently plagued Catalyst, we’re more interested in where they are now. Right now, the company is putting on a brave face, acknowledging the financial issues and focusing on setting things right. They’ve conducted a full audit of the last three years of business and have been working to make sure freelancers are paid appropriately. They have also started an internal reorganization (which started prior to their issues) and seem to feel genuinely confident about their upcoming bankruptcy hearings. More importantly, they’ve still got the confidence of Topps (the rights-holders for both Shadowrun and Battletech – as evidenced by the recently signed extension of rights to Catalyst (this was a huge outstanding question).

You can’t really talk about Catalyst without talking about Wildfire and Posthuman Studios. The two companies have found a new home at Sandstorm, but the separation isn’t totally clean at this point (Wildfire’s Poo game is up for Origins Award – with Catalyst as the publisher). That said, relations seem to be pretty good (and Catalyst believes that the teams are still friends) – as evidenced by Catalyst providing event support for Cthulhutech at both Origins and Gencon.

The Games
Yeah, yeah, but what about the games??? We talked about a bunch of games, so let’s hit ’em:

  • Board Games: Catalyst is determined to keep board games as part of their product strategy. And with games by Knizia and established titles like High School Drama, they just might make it work. On a personal note, they’ve acknowledged that the rules for Ergo were…subpar – expect new rules soon.
  • Leviathans: Catalyst’s long-announced game of flying battleships in WW2 is still absent in practice. The miniatures shown at Gencon last year were mock-ups and it seems that Catalyst is really struggling with the production side of the game. That said, they are fully committed to turning the property into a full product line with long-term support (though if they can figure out how to make the magnetic base idea [think ships that actually hover], I’m totally in). Catalyst still won’t commit to a release date or even a general timeframe.
  • Battletech: Ah, Battletech, how I love thee. Apparently, so does Catalyst. First, the new releaes – you can pick up Operation Klondike at Origins and the new Tech Readout 3085 at Gencon. Over the course of 2010, there will be a series of products wrapping up the current Jihad storyline and moving the fiction into the “Dark Ages” period started by Wizkids. Apparently, the Wizkids fiction will be considered canon and is being expanded greatly in the products that should start coming out over the next few years. Even better, Catalyst has been working with IronWind Metals to coordinate releases so that miniatures and books should release at roughly the same time – which is huge for the legion of dedicated Battletech players who insist on having accurate minis.
  • Shadowrun: Not much on the Shadowrun front, though they seem dedicated to continuing to put out some solid releases at a semi-regular schedule (you can pick up the Corporate Guide at Origins and the Sixth World Almanac at Gencon).

So where does all of this leave Catalyst? Overall, I think they’re going to pull through. They’ve definitely created some trust issues within the professional hobby community, but they seem genuinely focused on addressing those issues and moving forward. Combined with a strong product line and some of the most popular properties in hobby gaming and I think we’ll see Catalyst emerge from this as a stronger company than when they started (I’ll caveat by saying that I think this prediction depends on some of the organizational restructuring that is currently under way).

Updated to correct dirigibles comment…one day I’ll get that right…