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Game Design: Step by Step, Redux

Chipping Elephants: A Vision Thing

by Gareth-Michael Skarka
Jun 14,2002


Game Design: Step by Step

Chipping Elephants: A Vision Thing

It's an old story. I'm sure you've heard it before, but bear with me.

A man is asked how he can create a statue of an elephant from an immense block of marble. "That's easy," he says. "Just pick up my hammer and chisel, and chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant."

Working on a second edition of a game is a lot like that, actually. I've got an idea in my head of what UnderWorldshould be. I've got a first edition rulebook, and a bunch of manuscript material, originally intended for supplements of that first edition. The task now is take all of this material and chip away everything that doesn't look like UnderWorld -- anything that doesn't match up to the idea in my head.

I'm sure some of you are asking how stuff that doesn't match that idea ever got into print in the first place. It's a reasonable question--after all, since I was the designer of the game, shouldn't the product have been reflective of my vision for it?

The answer is more complex than that, though. The first printing was a collaborative effort, and as such, the ideas of others with regards to presentation (and even some content) had to be considered. Things that I didn't think fit at all within UnderWorld were not approved, and didn't make it in. Some things, though, I was willing to compromise, and in retrospect, they didn't work as well as they could have. This is not to say that the efforts of the staff of Synister Creative Systems(the publisher of the first edition) were somehow "unworthy" and I'm going to be going through and cutting everything they did...that's simply not the case. Some of the material, however, doesn't fit with my vision of the second edition.

So, what is that vision?

Well, pretty much the same vision that drove the first edition: an urban fantasy game which can be played as either a table-top or live-action game, set in a world which has the feel of a fairy tale written both in and about a modern city, instead of the default 17th/18th century Europe. I want to give urban legends the weight of classical myths. I want it to convey my belief that magic does not have to be confined to the past...that our modern existence can be imbued with as much wonder as the world inhabited by the original crafters of our myths and fairy tales. Maybe that's pretentious. I don't know, and honestly, I don't care if it is. This industry is small enough that producing something purely for the artist effort of it still is a viable business model. Besides, the folks who don't like it are going to call it pretentious, whether it is or not, so I can't really waste my time worrying about it. Again: No compromises.

The main difference in the vision lies in a refinement of those original ideals. I have seen what worked on the page and what didn't -- what came across better than I had expected, and what didn't quite reach the goal. In general, though, my goals for the second edition (or UW2, as we're calling it here at Adamant) is that it must be bigger and better than the first edition.

The first change, as I noted last week, is the title logo. Whereas I do like the look of the grafitti-tag title, I do realize that from across a game store, the title is unreadable... which sure as hell isn't going to help sales. For the longest time, I would argue that it was a failing of middle-class midwestern white gamers, who were simply ignorant to urban style. Part of me, to be honest, still believes that. However, a conversation that I had with Ken Hite snapped me out of that particular reverie:

"It's not unreadable. You just have to be familiar with grafitti!" I complained.

"The same thing can be said about Korean," he said. "But that doesn't mean you should do your title logo in it."


Not much you can say to that. He was right, and so were the criticisms. It just took someone spelling it out that way for me to see it. The result is the new logo, which I gave you a look at last week.

Artwork is another touchy issue...very subjective. One person may love a particular piece, others may hate it. There are a few pieces in UnderWorld which are almost universally hated. I'm not going to point them out, because there is no need to insult the artists in question, suffice to say that those pieces were rush jobs that were commissioned and included without my input or approval, and that my first look at them was upon my arrival at the first day of GenCon in 2000, when I first saw the finished product. Needless to say, they're being cut. Which brings us to the first Tenet of Second Edition: NO BAD ART.

We are keeping the best pieces from the first edition, and we had commissioned art from those same artists for the supplements, which are now going to appear in UW2. We're commissioning new art as well. No Bad Art is pretty much a no-brainer... and it's more than a little bit tongue-in-cheek. I guess that a more realistic way to say it would be "No Compromises." The artwork that appears in UW2 is going to be EXACTLY what we want to have in there... no rush jobs. All killer, no filler, as the kids say.

I'll be sharing some of the new artwork with you in future columns, and we're also planning on letting an artist or two take a week's entry and show you the development process from their point of view. In the meantime, those of you familiar with the first edition should feel free to give your opinions regarding what original art you liked, and what you think should go, in the forum below. I suspect that we already know the answers, but it would still be helpful.

Now seems as good a time as any to give you an idea of the format we're shooting for. The first edition of UnderWorld was a 174 page softcover (although the last 7 pages were blank, due to confusion between the printer and SCS's production folks), perfect bound, with a color cover and a black-and-white interior. For UW2, the page count is going to be boosted from the inclusion of the material originally intended for the first supplement. Plus, we've got new material we wish to include as well. So right now, we're shooting for 320 pages -- a big, juicy book, full o' content. We're also planning on making the game a hardcover (a book of that size almost has to be, and besides, I've always wanted to do a hardcover).

We're thinking of using a non-standard size: probably something along the lines of Eden Studios' hardcovers (All Flesh Must Be Eaten, for example)--smaller format, roughly 7.25 x 9.25. Despite what some retailers might claim, there is no rule saying that all games have to be 8.5 x 11. Experimentation in format is a good thing. It works in mainstream publishing, and there is no reason why it can't work in the games industry, aside from neophobia. I like that smaller format, because the book is more portable (which is an important consideration when you're talking about a game that is intended to played as LARP if the players wish), but not so small as to interfere too much with ideas for layout.

Oh... and we're also doing color interior.

Currently, we haven't decided if it will be entirely full-color, or merely some sections of color--that will be determined by the print quotes that we get over the next couple of months. I'm personally hoping for an entirely color interior, but at the very least we're going to have some. All of which falls in with our overall goal of making UW2 bigger and better than the first version.

See ya in 7,

Gareth-Michael Skarka TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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