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Quality Control: Creating the New Look of the Game

The Battle of Times Square And The Infamous Last Exodus Pamphlet

Joshua Brain Jaffe
October 3, 2000

Aight, here we go again,

It's 3:06:04 am. I am sitting on a concrete island in the middle of Manhattan's infamous Times Square. Budweiser, Oodles of Noodles and the Panasonic TV screen is in front of me, MTV Studios to the right, Tommy Hilfiger and Liz Claiborne to my left and behind me, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and, uuh, too many to list. I am sitting on the south side, so most of the glowing neon ads are behind me. DJ Krush is on the 1&2 in my earphones, and my brother is sitting right next me, writing his column as well.

What a perfect setting in which to discuss the ongoing battle of style versus substance. It seems here, both sides are winning and losing, constantly. Taken separately, each ad is perfect. Millions of dollars have obviously been spent on market research, design and finally, placement, for each and every single advertisement. They all look impeccable: Logo, title, visual, and maybe a web address. Unfortunately, when you put them all together, you get one hell of a mess. There is no surface within 4 blocks of me that isn't trying to catch my attention in one way or another. Right now, the huge, bright, constantly moving ABC sign/studios is winning. MTV Studios is also catching my eye, but hey, it's MTV and I must admit, I watch.. In a later column I'll discuss my strategy to market this book to the MTV generation through art styles and layout.

So, every ad I see has style and substance. There was a lot of talk on the forums from my LAST column about this issue, so I figured I'd tackle the subject toot-sweet. A few sides quickly formed on the issue: those who fight for the simplicity of substance ("Game books are a set of rules that should be laid out like technical manuals.") and there are those who rebel against this standard for the sake of style ("Gaming is as much a visual medium as a literary one, so books should be attractive as well as well-written."). Lastly, there are those who fall in between leaning to one side or the other.. Me? I vote for both. That should be obvious. You can not make up for a poorly written game with great layout, but there is no advantage to poor or boring layout either. The question here is, what IS bad layout, and how radical can and/or should you be? In the end, this is an opinion-based answer, and since this is MY column, I'll give you MY opinion.

First off, I completely disagree that art doesn't matter, and that game books should look like technical manuals. I like lots of art, and I believe the average gamer does too. It is no coicindence that most gamers read comic books as well. Think about it. So I feel that game books should have a healthy amount of art, and that that art should layed-out as complimentary to the text as possible. I am all for radical layout, but it does have to WORK. Phillip Reed pointed out to me some of the books he worked on, and I think "The Munchkin's Guide" is a good example of this. There is a PIZZA on one page for crissakes! Look for more of Phil's work (he listed his work credits in the forum for my last column, you can find them there) for Steve Jackson Games, they really represent a lot of what I am talking about here.

Now, as far as going far for the style, I think I tried it in my pamphlet and failed in some places. I succeed in some places, as well, but let's check out a failure first. This is a page detailing 3 of the 6 heads of the Apostate Religions (roughly, the good guys).

Now, this page is messy. REALLY messy. There is nothing properly leading your eyes to anything in particular, and it looks like I just threw in random shapes to take up room. That's because I did. It has style (albeit ugly style) but no flow, and it only impedes one's ability to obtain the substance, in other words, it makes it hard to read and follow.

Here's a page I really like, and have received a few compliments on. It outlines the basic philosophies of the different religions, and gives and idea of what some of each religion's average members look like:

Now here is what I am talking about! Granted, before I continue, I'd like to mention that I would change this page a little, and it is part of a two-page spread, so there are two main headings, but you can get my idea with this one page. I should have made the grey in the text boxes a little lighter (the boxes were 20% and the symbols were 30%, I would change that to 10% and 20%), and some of the other headings (the group names) are in fonts that are too illegible, and need to be changed.

Ok, now what I like. Yes, I have mentioned that for the core TLE book I intend on using many different artist of varying styles, but I intend to keep each style fairly seperated as to not dilute each other. All of these illustrations are by one artist, so they all work well together. His style is clean and simple (and Amerime) and works well with the clean and simple layout. Each group is divided into its own set of 4 boxes: Heading (religion's name), subheading (religion's "dogma", or motto), picture, and basic philosophy. None of the boxes of any one group touch any boxes of any other group. The black boxes draw your eye to the titles, and the pictures and text almost flow into each other through the heading and subheading boxes. Lastly, the group symbols are incorporated within text, further cementing them into the players head as being a part of the group. Iconography is a powerful thing guys, wield it well.

On a side note, here's a little something I wanted to add. I wrote this in the middle of writing the column, as it happened while I was writing this column:

Two young African-American New York natives have just stopped me to ask what I am up to. I hand them a sticker and the player packet:

They flip through it, as one of them asks me, "Yo, is this a game or some sh*t?"
"Yeah, man." I respond.
"You wrote this?"
I point to my brother. "Nah, man. He wrote it, I just designed it."
"Nice, nice. This looks hot!"
"Thanks man, word life."
"So, yo, you doing dis right now?"
"Well, sort of. I'm writing a column about designing that game. That's the teaser packet."
"Word life, son, this sh*t is ill! Can I take this?"
"Most def, no problem. Check the website too, it's pretty hot. I made it."
"Damn. Y'all must have it up here," he says as he points to his head, "I gotta check this out. I'll check you later man,"
"Set it. Peace!" as I throw him the peace sign in respect.
"Peace, dawg!"

Wow. I feel so good about this game right now. The teaser packet has instantly appealed to two young black urban youths, one of the horribly untapped markets in this industry. My brother and I specifically set out to write and design "The Last Exodus" to appeal to the inner-city culture, and it seems like we are going to succeed. You may think I am blowing this out of proportion here, but everything feels cooler in the middle of Times Square at 3:30 am on a Friday night.

I look forward to seeing everyone's comments on this issue. Remember, even if you disagree with everything I say, at least now you have a forum with which to get your point of view out there as well. I am glad my little idea here gave all you graphic guys a chance to step out from behind all those pesky writers and talk about our issues. Be good, everyone, and have faith. God Bless.

Peace out.

www.lastexodus.com www.intotheunderworld.com

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What do you think?

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