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Production Values


In high school I was able to take a creative writing class my senior year. We did all sorts of things, but one that I really remember is putting together the creative writing magazine. We sent all of these poems, stories, and pictures to this printing place. They sent back proofs. We had to go through all of these proofs and make the corrections by hand. We didn't have a spell check or anything.

Finally, after all of this work we got these long sheets back, with everything that was to go in the issue printed on them, and these funky pages which we were to stick the proofed stuff onto. We would painstakingly cut apart the stories, and place them on the page. It took a number of tries to get it kind of the way you wanted, but then you had to decide how to break some of the stories apart. They were long-- two page spreads-- and you had to cut right between the lines. It looked nice at the end, but as much as I hate dealing with computers it is amazing what we can do with a computer, printer, and scanner nowadays.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was looking through an old (what other one is there?) issue of the Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society. There was a little blurb about some of their new product coming out, and how they were having to proof stuff and get it looking right. Back then, it seems, a lot of this stuff was done by hand, and I might be wrong about this-- but a lot of it must have been done in house. That explains the lack of illustrations in early products, because they were such heck (Lent) to place.

Chaosium always had a unique look to there stuff, and they seemed to be one of the first companies to do stuff with one main column and a little sub column (is that right?) next to it. TrollPack was cool in one way because it looked so different from anything else on the market. But that must have been labor intensive. Later on, and I haven't checked this, I feel that they must have gotten a Mac ('84-'88?) and their look changed again. It must've made their stuff a lot easier to produce, but everything looked alike, and it all had that early Desk-Top Publishing look.

Nowadays-- boy do we have production values. White Wolf excels in producing stuff that looks exceedingly good-- unfortunately I believe that their production values sometimes obscure what is going on in the game (I won't even go into their habit of releasing beta copies of their games only to release a second edition a year later-- at least TSR had the decency to delay Alternity for a year). Steve Jackson Games used to be a company that produced books that quite frankly looked terrible. You bought Gurps for the content, not the looks. However, with Dan Smith aboard, SJG has been producing some awesome books where the words and art go hand in hand. Production values have certainly made an upturn in our industry!

In some ways we have gone backward in recent years. The web magazines tend to either look blah (rpg.net is guilty here [Ed. note: Hey! We prefer the term 'fast loading'! :)] ), or ungodly, with huge graphic files and a confusing interface (rpg.net has a very clear interface-- thanks!). Pyramid does a nice job with its graphics. They add to the experience of reading without slowing the loading time of the page. Yet I continue to miss print. There's nothing like getting a new book and smelling the fresh ink. Of course the best experience was getting a new boxed game-- you know the kind that was filled to the brim-- and smelling the ink when you opened the lid for the first time. Yet the web makes it much easier for an amateur like myself to have a say-- it makes it much easier for publishers and newbies to come in and take a chance in this eclectic hobby. There's more upside and downside with this kind of publishing.

In some ways I'm nostalgic for the way things were-- but I appreciate how things are today, because I am able to have a voice. Where else but on the web could a Screaming Jackass like myself have a regular column?

Scott Shafer

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