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Author Topic: Writing for People  (Read 7869 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #15 on: September 20, 2004, 07:53:19 PM »

Danny ... (sigh) ...

Obsidian. Deliria. The Riddle of Steel. A/State. Crimson Empire. Beautiful hardbacks, all of them. And you are dissing Sorcerer, my friend - its production value stands with all of these.  

All this stuff about the low production value of independent games is starting to piss me off. Take a look at the history of the hobby, and you will find the most godawful, crappy-edited, badly laid out, and cheaply put-together stuff from the non-independents, consistently. White Wolf and TSR are the exceptions, not the paragons, and the former ain't had such a hot track record with the editing.

All this is aside from my current outlook that the 50-100 page non-standard dimension paperback book is the best way to go. I really think Nathan screwed the pooch with his sleeper paragraph, despite my immense agreement with everything else in his post, and what really irritates me is that people seem to be agreeing with him, wide-eyed, without considering what the hell they're looking at.

Best,
Ron
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #16 on: September 20, 2004, 08:07:24 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
All this stuff about the low production value of independent games is starting to piss me off.


What he said. I've designed many of them: Will to Power (Godlike supplement, hard back), Cartoon Action Hour PDF, Charnel Gods, octaNe, InSpectres, Universalis, Dust Devils, Fastlane and Trollbabe.

And, I think the best of all is my latest, Nine Worlds. The book is beautiful. If my pals are to be believed, the art director for Green Ronin bought Nine Worlds because he admired the graphic design and the presentation (thanks!). I don't design pretty books. I design nice looking books that do what they're supposed to do. They're functional. Nine Worlds is the one I'm most proud of. It's immensely appealing based on the style alone. There's substance there, too.

Now, sure, this doesn't speak to the writing of those books. Fortunately, they all happen to have very good writing.

Many of these books are "kinko's specials." They have funky bindings or other 'sub-standard' issues. (In fact, many take advantage of that, with functional, attractive page sizes and interesting paper choices, like my parchment paper for Dust Devils.) That's a matter of funding and resources, not of design or skill.

We're designing beautiful, functional games with pretty damn good writing. Given bigger budgets, those skills go right into competing with the biggest company's books in terms of presentation and production.
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Matt Snyder
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Paganini
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« Reply #17 on: September 20, 2004, 08:33:03 PM »

Ron, yeah, pretty much. I had no idea that was gonna be such a big deal. Heh. It was almost the *only* part I hadn't planned out ahead of time on my way home from work. It just slipped through my stream of consciousness while I was writing out the post. Guess that'll teach me.

Danny, I don't really give a crap about how a product is bound, or what kind of art it has. My points in my original post apply equally to electronically produced products as they do to anything else. I'm talking about writing period. TROS *looks* like it ought to be an awesome game. The cover shines. It has a huge bloody arm with as word on it. It's got great big firey gothic letters. If you sit down and spend about a month figuring out what it actually says, well, hey, golly gee whiz, there really *is* a great game in there. But *man* the text sure doesn't help you find it.
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Valamir
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« Reply #18 on: September 20, 2004, 09:16:36 PM »

It is a standard we should all strive for, I'm completely with you Nathan.  I'm a big tooter of that horn myself.  I just disagree that there is a trend that indie designs are greater offenders in that regard than any others...not that there aren't indie games that could have been better written but that I don't percieve the "could have been better written" to "Good as is" ration to be higher for indie than non indie game lines.
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Paganini
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« Reply #19 on: September 20, 2004, 09:49:30 PM »

Ralph, could just be a percentage thing for me. I see more indie games than I see non-indie games.
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ChefKyle
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« Reply #20 on: September 21, 2004, 10:22:15 PM »

I think that when Paganini speaks of poor writing and presentation, he is not attacking any particular person's products. Thus, no particular person need leap to his own defence, or the defence of his favourite games.

In my recent post, I didn't emphasise something that had occurred to me, which is that poor writing is no particular monopoly of rpgs, or even indie rpgs. It's everywhere. A glance across the internet or the ten-pound Saturday newspaper will tell you that our society emphasises quantity over quality.

So, in our poor writing and presentation, we're no worse than most of those who write and present. However, we ought to still strive to be better. Wouldn't it be nice if, instead of having a reputation as only being as good or bad as everyone else's writing, rpg writing had a reputation as being better than other writing? It's difficult, of course - but not impossible.

I don't think indie games are particularly bad for writing and presentation. Roleplaying games in general have not very great standards. Sadly, nerds are not very discriminating. They'll complain constantly about how something was produced, yet still buy it. As with the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars movies, nerds all bag them, but they still go to see them several times.

When it comes to rpgs, naturally the publishers look at the balance sheet, and look at the columns in magazines and internet forums, and decide that one is more important than the other. It's a business, so for that we cannot blame them.

It cannot be denied that writing, layout and editing, and art, are all different skills. And it's difficult for a person to be very proficient in several skills. I think here of some software millionaire who, when asked how he'd made his fortune replied, "I figured out the things that I was absolutely outstanding at. Anything I wasn't outstanding at, I assumed I was utterly incompetent, hired someone else to do, and left them to it."

While we may not all seek his financial success, I think that a similar method might be the path to the other thing we seek - prestige.

Many of us pay for professionals to do the artwork for us. Why not, also, pay for professionals to do editing and layout for us? For my part, on my recent publication d4-d4, I did editing and layout myself, but did pay for someone to give me a couple hours' advice on it. The editing and layout I hired out, like the artwork I hired out, was limited by my budget.

I wouldn't trust the computer to check the grammar in my piece. I prefer to use my own brain or, better yet, that of someone who's a professional editor.

We hire professional artists for our work. Why not professional editors and layout and design people?
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Cheers,
Kyle
Goshu Otaku
d4-d4
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #21 on: September 22, 2004, 04:28:39 AM »

Hello,

Kyle, you're makin' me squint. Most of the publishers here do pay others for layout services, specifically others who do this kind of thing for a living.

Bluntly, this thread has gone to hell in a handbasket. It was badly, badly hijacked by its own founder, specifically a throwaway paragraph that represents an excellent case of fingers outstripping the brain, which eclipsed the content of what could have been an outstanding thread-opener.

I think Nathan's first post needs to be reviewed by everybody. Never mind anything to do with production value or spiffy presentation. Focus on the "writing for people" issue. That is a great point and worth considering in dozens of ways that I cannot even begin to talk about in the thread as it stands.

Best,
Ron
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Paganini
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« Reply #22 on: September 22, 2004, 10:20:42 AM »

OK. In my initial post, I used the word "presentation." I said if your presentation is not good, then your ideas are worth squat. In case someone hasn't figure it out yet, that phrase, and all similar phrases, were in the context of the subject of the thread. In other words, it doesn't mean "your game has spiffy art" or "your game has a big fat shiny cover." It means that your game is (or is not) presented to the reader in well-writen text. Text is what presents the game to the reader. The artwork doesn't do it. The binding doesn't do it. Even the layout doesn't do it, although the layout does need to support the text.

So, Ron, if you want to try and "fix" this thread by splitting all the sleeper stuff off into a "Indie Production Values" thread, or something like that, feel free. Alternatively, anyone can spawn new threads that point back to this one, just like usual. I'm planning a post out on this subject to start a new thread, but it's not ready to go yet. In the meantime, no one has to wait for me. If you want to continue to discuss the topic, *please* post a new thread. That's why I posted in the first place... to get people thinking and talking about writing standards.
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #23 on: September 22, 2004, 10:29:26 AM »

So, if we are talking about text i have some questions for the more experienced writers.  Nathan specifically notes technical manuals in his first post so experience with such things would be especially appreciated.

So, organization.  How do you organize the text?  Character generation, skills, feats, combat, equipment.  In that order?  The order you will encounter the rules in?  Building blocks where simple concepts preceed the advanced concepts that build on them?  And how do you go about doing all that?

Thomas
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ChefKyle
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« Reply #24 on: September 22, 2004, 05:14:30 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

Kyle, you're makin' me squint. Most of the publishers here do pay others for layout services, specifically others who do this kind of thing for a living.

Excellent. I'm glad they do so, and I'm sure it does much good for their products. It certainly helped me. However, for my part, I was speaking more generally. It's not really possible to know with certainty how many little publishers do pay for layout and so on. However, we can look at their products and see whether a nice job was done.

We can also look at other things. For example, over at rpgnow, there's some 2,700 products. 1,400 of them have sold less than $10 worth in the past year. Looking over those which haven't sold (and removing from the question those which sell as part of a bundle), it seems to me that most of them have some worthy ideas in them. Not all are brilliant, but the same might be said of many wildly successful products down at my FLGS.

So, why aren't they selling? Presentation, and advertising. Electronic publishing has the great advantage that there's no store space to worry about; but the flipside to that is that a great pile of products can build up. It can be difficult to find what you want. It's like a giant bookstore with the one copy you're looking for out the back in a box and dusty. If you look long enough, you'll find it. But you have to look.

The point is that most people don't go looking. Their eye is attracted by what's in front of them, and looks nice.

Now, if 1,400 of 2,700 products aren't selling, that, to me, indicates that they must be not attracting people's attention. That's "presentation."

None of this is to attack the products of anyone here, most of which, frankly, I haven't seen. I'm speaking generally, the industry as a whole.

Quote

Bluntly, this thread has gone to hell in a handbasket.

Not quite down in hell yet, I think. Might have dipped in the water a bit and got wet, but we can bring it  back up.

Quote

I think Nathan's first post needs to be reviewed by everybody. Never mind anything to do with production value or spiffy presentation. Focus on the "writing for people" issue. That is a great point and worth considering in dozens of ways that I cannot even begin to talk about in the thread as it stands.

This is very true. It's something that I did consider while writing, but it's something I need to continually work on. We can always get better. Recently, on amazon, Anne Rice exploded at some of her critics, and in that she boasted that she'd reached a point where she no longer needed an editor.

Well, we can judge by her millions, or we can judge by our common sense. I prefer the latter. I think I'll always need an editor. It's not my hope to one day reach the point where I don't need editors; it's my hope to reach the point where I can afford to pay for all the people I do need!
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Kyle
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« Reply #25 on: September 22, 2004, 08:02:05 PM »

Quote from: LordSmerf
So, organization.  How do you organize the text?  Character generation, skills, feats, combat, equipment.  In that order?  The order you will encounter the rules in?  Building blocks where simple concepts preceed the advanced concepts that build on them?  And how do you go about doing all that?

Thomas


For a smaller RPG, particularly one with a "quick-grab" setting (Space Opera!  Western!), I think you could do well by the boardgame model of organization.  

If you put your game into the hands of a new person to it, what kinds of questions will they ask, and in what kind of order?  That's the rough layout for your book.  "What's this about?"  What's in the box?"  "What else do I need?"  "How do I start, how do I win?" and so forth.  Not all games will have the same list of questions, but there will be a lot of common ones.  Finding out those questions will help you with the material.  Finding out the order of those questions will guide your presentation.

James
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #26 on: September 23, 2004, 06:27:01 AM »

Hey James,

For a smaller RPG, particularly one with a "quick-grab" setting (Space Opera! Western!), I think you could do well by the boardgame model of organization.

For an example along these lines, take a look at Tim Kleinert's playtest rules for The Mountain Witch. I'm pretty impressed with how close he is to delivering on the accessibility of a boardgame/cardgame style organization.

Paul
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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #27 on: September 23, 2004, 11:35:19 AM »

I completely agree with Paganini and Ralph- This issue, more than anything else, is the thing that makes or breaks a game for me.  But yes, there are too many issues wrapped up in here to deal with it even remotely coherently in a thread of under 200 posts.

There are so many pregnant topics here that my head hurts:

Production Values (which was actually more of a distraction to the thread, so should be respawned elsewhere).

Corehent, Functional Layout (as Matt indicated) - We need to talk about this more pragmatically. What makes a layout functional. Examples of pretty and good layout, examples of pretty but bad layout. In depth discussion on the underlying issues with layout, etc. This forum is all about talking shop. So let's talk shop on this. New thread, someone?

How to get people interested in the game through the text alone, which includes all the following: How to make the game approachable and understood.  practical methods of using tone, flavor, and certain types of description to convey both the rules and the feel of the game.  Relying on triggers to understand the game other than "pretty cover and interior art".

Why it's important to make the game approchable and understood by folks. Including, "Should I bother widening my target audience?", "Am I actually doing the hobby (as I like it) harm by not making the game more accessible to possible interested people?", etc. This, I hold, is the core of what this thread was initially about.  Maybe its time to continue this thread here, or else start a new threat, a more directed thread, at this issue.

Anyway, just a thought.  Maybe it's time to start some new threads to deal with these concurrently spawning but important and relevant topics.

From my end, cause Ben is on my case :) , I'm going to scan in and translate those comics from that Tenra Bansho Zero game- For those folks at GenCon, this was the game where there were little cartoons that demonstrated how the rules worked, as the game was decidedly marketed and fucking gorgeously crafted by the designer to appeal to and be instantly understood by total RPG newbies.  This technique has only been used in a few Japanese games (literally under 5 or so, and all from the same company), but this fluke, this rare example, should shake us to our very foundations, as art has never been used in games, ever, to appeal to visual learners or new RPG players.  Art is almost always used as was earlier indicated somewhere (was it in Sorcerer even?) as either a "mood enhancer" or a "placeholder" ("Here's my book, check the rule for yourself - Which page? I forget, but the rules are on the page with the chick with the huge hooters in a chainmail bikini holding an axe.").

Anyway, look forward to a new thread on this sub-subtopic this weekend.  Gaming tonight, company tomorrow night, local con on Sat, I figure I'll get started on Sunday.

-Andy
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