Hacked together from a couple of emails and PMs, this is the initial design philosophy stuff in terms of establishing a visual identity for Other Worlds. The best advice for any unknown indie games designer is to spend as little as possible on art and layout to cut down on your potential losses. I completely ignored this advice and instead followed a more sort of Factory Records approach of: I am making an object that I expect people to give me money for, so why not make that object as wonderful as possible? On that basis I spent a lot of money on art, editing, and layout. It worked out, I am in profit and I have a game that I am still very proud of, but it was still a big risk at the time and I owe a big thank you to Fred, Storn and Harriet for doing such excellent work. Anyway, without further ado, here is the original plan I discussed with Storn Cook:
What I want to do first is try and establish a general ‘look’ for the game. Something distinctive. Something that represents the truth of how the game actually plays.
The concepts I want to really try and capture are:
1) The game is very much concerned with genre emulation – setting the right tone in terms of atmosphere and making good use of genre archetypes and other iconic images.
2) The world is created by the whole group and not just the GM. They own it, and they will continue to expand on it during play by using their narrative authority. It may not be perfect but it’s all the more powerful because it’s ‘theirs’.
3) Characters are heavily tied into the setting. All of their abilities are defined in terms of either fitting in with their society (culture, profession, relationships) or standing out from it (individuality, trademarks).
4) Play is all about using these details to tell a story rather than simulating a world for its own sake.
I don’t really think of Other Worlds as a generic game. I think of it as a game with a setting every bit as detailed and evocative as something like Middle earth or Glorantha. The difference is simply that the group will create this world for themselves, rather than borrowing it from someone else. My game is intended to be a toolkit for this purpose.
I’m open to any ideas you have about how to represent this stuff visually! The more off the wall, the better. The less like other games, the better. Personally I’ve been thinking of something along the lines of the following:
The game is all about creating detailed and evocative worlds. So those worlds should be at the forefront of the book’s visual identity. We could therefore follow a handful of different campaign settings throughout the book.
We already have some interesting possibilities that have come about through playtesting:
Earth City, the cyberpunk world built by my group and described in the World Building chapter
Ward 13, a secret asylum under a Victorian hospital where patients are being experimented on and transformed into Hammer Horror monsters like vampires, werewolves, zombies, and hunchbacked freaks.
An alternate history where WW2 is interrupted by the Martian invaders from War of the Worlds
An undersea world where the sharkmen fight for supremacy over the sentient starfish-people
We could also make up our own worlds and settings. Non-Tolkienesque fantasy set in the aztec jungle. The pirates of ancient Atlantis. A world colonised by superheroes. Steampunk. The weird weird West. Post apocalyptic zombie survival. Whatever. Perhaps you have some interesting settings or images in mind already, from previous roleplaying campaigns or for future personal projects of your own. If so I’m happy to make any agreements necessary in terms of IP rights and design credits and so on.
We don’t need to write up any of these worlds, BTW. It’s all about the flavour, not the details. We would just have a few pictures depicting some characters, monsters, and locations from these worlds with maybe some hand-written words or phrases of description over the top. ‘This is a Calamari fish soldier’, that kind of thing. Think of it in terms of concept sketches for an imaginary film. We could perhaps also list some suggested abilities alongside it, also in pencil, along the lines of your ‘PC as schematic’ idea maybe?
(In fact, maybe we could also use some storyboarding sequences for the conflicts chapter? Just a thought)
I’ve been very much inspired by the pencil sketches you posted online of key NPCs and starships etc from your weekly space opera campaign (Fading Suns IIRC). In fact, some of my favourite pieces by you are the masked pulp hero with dual pistols and the cyberpirate guy, both of which are also done in pencil. Maybe all of the art in the book should be like this rather than inked? It would certainly be different, and it would also reflect the ‘design it yourself’ nature of the game. What do you think of this idea?
I also want to include about half a dozen campaign concepts. These I imagine will take up half a page, or possibly a whole page, each. They would consist of a pencil sketch or two with a bunch of hand-written text in pencil alongside it. The idea is that they sort of represent example potential campaign ideas ripped out of a GM’s notebook. They’re examples/inspiration as well as artwork. Ideally the text, logo, and art would be all intermingled on the same page like the GM had been doodling an imaginary campaign on his notebook in the middle of a class. The art doesn’t even need to be one picture, it could end up being two or three different character/location sketches scattered across the page.
As a general rule I also don’t particularly want the art to represent the sample templates or examples of play that are described in the text. I want people to be able to imagine on their own what the things in the text would look like, and to imagine on their own what the characters and scenes presented in the art might actually represent. The idea is to spark people’s imaginations and get them to create their own material rather than just playing with whatever random stuff we might happen to have come up with.