Software Choices

Good software is nearly essential for producing a good roleplaying game book.  Over the years I have made a series of choices between different software packages and I thought I might explain my reasoning. Perhaps this may be useful to some of you.

Brainstorming:  I am currently undecided between using the technical solution (Freemind) or simply resorting to pen and paper for this function. I haven’t quite internalized a separate “brainstorming” step in my game designs, so I tend to use this in an ad-hoc fashion.

Writing the Draft: I started using the very nice open-source program Celtx which is a remarkably versatile media pre-production program. That one is particularly good for screenplays and movies, but I managed to get it working for my game writing. Easy to learn and freely available, it was a good choice.

That was when I found that Literature and Latte had released Scrivner for windows.  I picked up the program and fell absolutely in love. It’s a logical system for organizing and shuffling content without the fiddly bits involved in word processing software. Excellent as an organizational tool alone, it also supports the writing of content.  It comes with a a two-hour long tutorial and costs about $40 USD, but well worth the price. It’s telling that this is one of the few pieces of commercial software I currently use.

Editing: My go-to word processor is the open-source program Libreoffice at the moment. While I have access to MS Word and WordPerfect, I like to support the free program. Despite a few aesthetic disagreements, I have found the program to be robust and it fulfills my needs at the moment.  Some of the technical decisions, such as the use of frames, work quite well.  As a supporter of the open-source movement, I appreciate the use of open standards.

That said, I do fall back to MS Word on occasion.  Turns out that word 2007 has some extremely handy automated tools to point out passive phrasing and a host of similar stylistic problems. It’s also the default file format for writing, so sometimes it must be used.

Art: The open-source domain has continued to treat me well when it comes to art. I use the excellent and intuitive program Inkscape for all of my vector art.  I have replaced the proprietary Adobe Photoshop with the excellent and free program The GIMP.  Both of these are of professional quality and free

That said, I fully realize that some closed-source software can be worthwhile.  One program in particular, Corel Painter, has earned my praises.  I know that it would take me months of continuous practice to learn how to use the program effectively, but the incredible versitility has impressed me.

Layout and Publication:  I have the hardest time in choosing the best programs for layout and pdf production.  Picking an excellent closed-source PDF Editor was easy (PDF-XChange by Tracker Software). The challenge was in picking the ideal layout program for my purposes. I am torn between sticking with the open-source Scribus or invest in the proprietary Adobe InDesign.

Adobe InDesign is aboslutely the industry standard and is objectively the best program of it’s type on the market.  Everyone uses the program, printers expect it and tutorials abound.  It’s also a closed-source program with a price-tag of $699 USD.  That is certainly not a casual purchase, especially for a new publisher.

The open source competition is Scribus, a program with its own challenges.  The consensus within the Forge and Story Games appears to be, avoid the program. There is a significant learning curve and the help files/tutorials are quite poor. Adding to that, several professional graphic designers have mentioned some key deficiencies in the program. I put in days of effort learning the bloody program and the effort paid off; I am now able to do my own rudimentary layout. I used Scribus for “A Sojourn In Alexandria” in Gamechef 2010 and it worked well enough.

 

I hope that someone finds this information worthwhile.  I would love some discussion on the layout programs in the comments, if you kind reader(s) would like to help. Thank you.

 

Cover Art presented

Spark RPG Cover
Spark RPG Cover

Sorry for the slow update cycle of late; over the holidays I have been out and about which has slowed my development somewhat. That said I will have another fruitful playtest next Tuesday which should test some new design innovations. If things work out as well as I hope, I will finally have a solid base mechanical system to encourage the kinds of gameplay I am seeking.  I shall speak more if the playtest does go well.

The real reason for this post is to link to the cover art for Spark! Gabriel has done an excellent job in my opinion and I hope you agree.

I will hold off on doing the lettering and, well, the rest of the graphic design until I am dramatically further along in the design work.

Yeah, it’s premature to commission art but it also gave me a chance to solidify a standard artist contract template. Not to mention that Gabriel is remarkably good value for money. Check him out people!

New arrivals in the realm of Spark

Two recent events in the world of the Spark RPG. Firstly, I have commissioned an excellent piece of art from Gabriel Verdon which I will be using for the Cover of the book. Lovely little piece and I thank him for his efforts. I will hold off from posting the image thus far, chiefly because I have yet to add the text. Keep tuned for more!

I am now fairly certain that I will be excising the old Glory mechanics. It used to be a very wishy-washy catch-all which would cover any weird drawback or special capability, but it grated on my design sensibilities. Instead, I am adapting the existing trait names and have fashioned a standard mechanic. It’s a variation of explicit aspect compels mechanics which were explained by Rob Donoghue found right here. Players declare situations where they are particularly capable or feeble. They will get very significant bonuses when they try those actions. Things are finally coming together, I believe. Certainly eager to see if it works out in playtesting.

So have any of you been inspired by Rob Donaghue’s insights?

First art preview for Spark

Image of an armored medieval magic-user
An illustration of a tool used by a character

I am pleased to provide you all with a quick look at some of the art produced for the Spark RPG.   These are still the early days yet with regards to art direction, but I was eager to get this artist working on this project.

This piece is actually part of an expansive illustration of Tools.  The game system accounts for “Tools”, external aids which are used by characters to accomplish tasks.  Tools are not limited to physical items, but rather include any external aid which can help in physical, social or intellectual pursuit.  A magus might have a spell formula which helps her conjure demons from the ether.  A gentleman might have some juicy blackmail which assists him in confrontations with the mayor.

This particular illustration is showing off the staff as a tool for his magic use.  His red armor is another good example of a tool which will protect him from blades or arrows alike.

The artist in question is David Sondred, who can be found at Studio Colruophobia.  I have worked with him in the past and his dynamic figure illustration is impressive.

Links:

http://www.studiocolrouphobia.com