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Quality Control: Creating the New Look of the Game

Spirit in the Sky: Inspiration and Results

Joshua Brain Jaffe
January 26, 2001
 

Just when you thought I was gone...

Sorry, you're not that lucky. I know this column comes late (it will now be monthly), but I have had an exhausting few weeks of pre-production, and tons of late art (I believe it was Christopher Shy who mentioned something about flaky artists?). The book is looking amazing. I only have so much done, but since working around big patches of missing art is a pain, let me comment on what I have.

You want a look deep into the heart and soul of Pidge? Well here it goes.. Some of you who read my brother's column may have already known this, but almost 2 years ago (God, has it been that long?) I lost my mother to a plane crash. She was practicing a routine aerobatic maneuver and she crashed. Yes, my mom was an aerobatic pilot. Yes, she was pretty effing cool. Kind of helps you figure out where my brother and I get it from.

Either way, ever since this terrible accident, obviously, my life hasn't been the same. This incident has, however, put a serious fire under my (and my brother's) ass to make something of myself. Hence, Synister shifts into fifth gear. She was one of our first investors, and I'll be damned if I am not going to live up to that responsibility. So, sometime around late December I found myself completely unable to sleep. My heart and mind had a little scuffle at this point.

"Well Josh, you should get on those test layouts you wanted to do."
"But I want to sleep!"
"Eff you. Get up and work. Get me something to eat while you are at it."

So I hopped on to my Mac (her name is Kahdijah, and she is a Powerbook G3 400 MHz, for those of you who care), downloaded some power tunes from Napster and was good to go. That's about when inspiration hit. I only had two pieces of art that I knew where to place, so I went with them. You see, I took all of your comments on art direction very seriously, and therefore, each section was assigned to an artist, keeping a similar style running for each section's theme, and a common look, making each section more cohesive and attractive.

Thanks, guys, for those of you who think I don't listen. I do, I just don't shut up while I am listening. Bugs the crap out of everyone around me, but we get things done.

The downside to this choice, however, was that I couldn't get anything done until I had the entirety of the art from any one given artist. Since they all had a week left before deadline (most of whom still haven't hit it!) I only had these two great pictures by the talented Audrey Koestler.

So there I was, two pieces, some text, and a head full of ideas. After some pre-decided layout choices, and some instant epiphanies, here's what I came up with: Crush!

I don't know what you think, but I was damn proud. As I was staring at my creation, my painfully empathic mp3 player started playing "Lean On Me" (my mom used to sing it while I played the bassline. Very deep.). Then I looked to my desk to see this picture of my mother: Mom

Right there, I started crying. I know all she wanted of me was for me to succeed in my talents, and right there, I knew I would not fail her. More so, I knew she was watching over me, and I knew she was proud. For the first time, I started to get a little closure on her passing. See, I'm not a complete jerk.

Now, to grind the gearbox into second gear, let me break down some design choices I made, and why. First, there's the symbol and title. The Crush is a group of sexual and violent predators, but they do have a classy side to them, when they choose to. I wanted their title to convey this, so I went with a font that was a nice script, but had some sharp edges to it. Don't ask me what font it is, because it is 8 am and I once again have not slept all night.

Next, There are obviously many different elements that each of the two-page write-ups for each Religion require, and I wanted to clearly separate them. There's the leader of the group, then their dogma (more or less their "alma matta") and a relevant musical quote for flavor. I figured all these elements should be on the borders where you will no doubt read them first, to garner a quick idea for each group.

Then came the most important part, the body text. I put all of the body text as the only words that are basic black-on-white, as they need to be easily read and comprehended. Aside from the nifty initial cap in the title font, I made the body text as simple as possible. Months ago I chose "Centaur MT" because frankly, it looks cool, and its question mark looks kind of like a Hebrew character. Pardon my Jewish half. Oy gevalt, and excuse me, goyim. The pictures do text wrap into the body text, but I did my best to keep them as unobtrusive as possible.

Next up are the points of interest (quick clips about the goings-on of the Religion). Last, since their Sacrament (their method of reaching Heaven or Hell) is a game mechanic requirement, I decided to make it long and easily referenced. In this margin I put the pull quote from the dogma, another quick read to peak interest. On the bottom, you will see nice big circles for the page numbers. Next to those are ovals in which I place easy reference words. The left page would read "World: Religions" and the left page will read "Sanhedrin: Crush" as this is in the world chapter, Religions section, the Sanhedrin section of that, and the Crush, this particular Religion. You gamers love easily referenced books, and I took this into account.

Lastly (for real this time) the sacred heart logo and title logo appear on the edges, so you know what game it is. As if the background of the lightly grayed (15 to 0% gradient) symbols couldn't tell you that. I went with this background to give the book a bit more character, and so that your eye will really be drawn to the black-on-white body text, which of course is the most important thing I am laying out.

The art depicts three random members of each Religion, as their bodies appear on Earth and their souls in Eden. It is obvious which human turns into which souls, as the artist laid them out in the same positions, and made obvious visual references to each person. I told you she was good. The artist, Audrey Koestler, was chosen for this section for two main reasons. One, her art showed a beautiful, dark and almost androgynous evil, which we felt would represent our evil Religions very well. Secondly, she just looks damn cool. Tall, black hair, shaved saved for the top, welder's goggles on her head, a beautiful face with deep-set features, and a wardrobe any Goth would dream of. Anyone at GenCon who saw her instantly remembered her. She was also a very cool person, so we had to hire her. I am very glad we did.

Now we have the Squad: Squad

These pages are laid out the same way, save for a few differences. The title and symbol are now black on white (Good gets white, evil gets black. Classic cowboy stuff here.). I obviously went for a tag-style font for the Squad, as they are the positive inner-city gansta Religion (hey, we have to do something new, right?). I don't want any flack on the "unreadable" font here. If you can't read it, then you have no place playing a Squad member, so turn the page, you just failed the entry exam. The artist, Carlo Barros, is a God. Hard working and amazing. We knew his dynamic Amerime style (if you don't know what this, or any other term in this column means, read the old ones. This is going on long enough without me explaining everything) would make for some awesome heroes. Once again, we succeeded.

I know these pictures make his art look very small, but... damn. He is just awesome. Asking any artist to draw inner-city ganstas is usually an open invitation for complete embarrassment, but he pulled it off swimmingly. Trust me, kids, I live right next to lovely Newark, NJ (birthplace of Redman, the Artifacts, and carjacking) and he got the look right. Not cheesy, not overdone, but just right, and before that "Yeah, ok, you're white so come off it, Pidge" Thought enters your head, our African-American (or Black, as they [At least my friends do. I am not trying to speak for all Black people here] prefer to be called) members of the SCS team agree.

For the final bit of layout, I have the intro pages for the Millennium Religion listings: MilReg

I wanted these pages to be dynamic. First the intro paragraph and a musical quote (they will appear all throughout the book. I think they just add a nice touch, and really help with setting the feel of the game) then a great picture of the six leaders of the Apostate as drawn by Clayton Graham. I just love his style. I chose a nice, modern, streamlined font for the Apostate (which you can barely see here) with a white background (remember: cowboys) and the body text, again black-on-white. I did add the Apostate symbol (iconography is a different column) behind the text at 12% as to not get in the way too much. Once again, we have a musical quote. On the opposing page, we have the same basic idea, same artist, the six leaders of the Sanhedrin, their title with a black background (yippi-kai-yay), the symbol, etc. This time, however, we have the WARNING in white-on-black text. This warning states the Sanhedrin are evil, messed-up, graphic, candid, no-holds-barred and going to get us in a LOT of trouble. I wanted this warning to be completely un-ignorable. I was going to try to place the Sanhedrin body text directly under the warning, with their title and picture under the body text, to denote the whole "heaven-above-hell-below" idea, which was nice conceptually, but just didn't look good, so I went with this powerful symmetrical design.

Phew. I think that's all. I hope I finally lived up to some expectations with this installment. I know it was a long time coming, but I think I just did a pretty effing damn good job on this column.

Peace out and God bless.
Joshua Brain Jaffe

PS: Thanks mom. I love you.
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