Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

It\’s All About Pen, Paper and People.

The Book As Artifact

Posted by Nathan P. on July 27, 2006

Here’s a honest question: are there any large-press games that are being produced with an eye towards how the book itself, as an artifact, informs play?

This is one of those things that really excites me about the creator-owned design and production process. We can make books that, by their physical makeup, interface with the imagined content that playing that game generates. One thing I’m really hankering to check out at Gen Con is Keith Senkowski’s Untitled. I’m also very curious to flip through Shock:. The cover is gorgeous and evocative, and I can’t imagine that the content is any less.

I know that Ron has posted about how he put Sorcerer together the way he did because he wanted picking it up and flipping through it to be a different experience, from the get-go, than picking up a standard-size game book. I think InSpectres has a good physical presence at the table, personally. Small and unobtrusive and glanceable.

Carry is laid out in a manner inspired by military field manuals (credit where credit is due – I may not have gone through with it were it not for Keith’s prodding). It’s pretty stark and serious and no-nonsense. I think it works. I’m very curious to see reactions from people who pick it up sight unseen.

This is one element of a larger concern that is becoming stronger within me. Production is an element of design. As I start to conceptualize new projects, I’ve been thinking about how the final product will look, and work, as a part of how the game itself will play. At this point, I can’t even imagine saying “Well, maybe it’ll be 5.5×8.5, unless I get a high enough page count, in which case I’ll go for full-size, maybe with a hardcover.”

Where am I on the spectrum with this? And what kinds of other concerns that relate physical book design to the gameplay experience should I be incorporating?

4 Responses to “The Book As Artifact”

  1. Novitski said

    I’ve heard that Dictionary of Mu is laid out as an actual dictionary, information organized into alphabetically sorted entries. That sounds pretty goddamn swank to me.

    The most recent making-of bit on Burning Empires talks about how the layout is informed by the order in which the players should create the game, with World Burning before almost any other rules explanation.

    The whole issue mostly reminds me reminds me of Infocom feelies, but I’ve been on an Interactive Fiction kick for a while now.

  2. Guy said

    You could say that for Nobilis the look gives a flowery look, also filled with anecdotes and side stories, as is the book.

  3. Wow. My brain is dumb for forgetting Mu. I’ve seen Mu, and it is indeed a fantastic artifact for play. Each letter is a setting/character/etc related item for the…scenario? Supplement? God, I don’t even know what to call it. Anyway, it’s great, and thanks for pointing it out.

    Burning Empires is an impressive object, indeed.

    Good point on Nobilis. Also, the odd size makes it all “I’m different!”-y.

  4. My comment got lost on the blogger site (Nathan, turn off commenting over there!):

    FLFS is going to be a little 6×9 hardback of ~200 pages that looks as much as possible like a book out of the Victorian era. It’s also laid out chronologically — dice is the last thing discussed.

    Agora’s interior is going to look like a Star Trek -ish touchpad computer. Except with brushed metal, because I am a Mac geek.

    On the other side of evocative of the content of the game, though, there’s also usability. How is the physical book supposed to be used in the course of playing the game? How much will it be referenced and flipped through? How much of the game can be represented on a cheat sheet (or even the back cover)? Striking the balance between evocative-of-content and useful-for-play is a tough one.

    …which is why, while FLFS is going to be all anachronistic, I’m breaking out the sections within the chapters in the ToC. I played with the thought of listing ‘in which we discuss blah de blah blah’ but god dammit, if I was playing, I’d want a freaking page reference.

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