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Project: Dead End part 7 - Graphic Design and Layout

Project: Dead End is a development blog where I am chronicling the process of game design from initial concept through publication. To start at the beginning, click here: Part 1

It's been quite some time since I have written about the Dead End project. Work has continued, but at a much slower pace and it has not been played in several weeks. Not because it is done or that it is not a good game, but because I need to let it rest for a bit before I can start applying a critical eye to the specifics. This is the portion of the design process that I am unable to power through. I have seen people just push and push through this phase of designing until they come out with something that they are proud of, but I have never been able to do that. With every creative endeavor I have ever worked on I have come to a point where I am too attached to particular ideas and I am unable to objectively look at changes. It is at this point that I am too close to the project. I am too attached. I have always found that setting something aside for a while has allowed me to approach it with fresh eyes and renewed excitement that allows me to make drastic changes that are needed.

During this period, however, the game has not sat completely idle. I knew I needed a break, so I decided that it was time to hand the project over to my good friend DT Butchino of Sketchpad Studio. D- is filling the role of Art Director on this project and I am letting him make all of the layout and art design decisions with very few exceptions. I gave him just a few rules and then let him have the reigns:

- Single color. This allows for black, white, and one other color. The reason behind this is that the game will most likely be available for print and play long before it becomes a published product (IF it becomes a published product.) I would like for the game to be easily printable without consuming a great deal of color ink, but also the art must not suffer when printed as black and white.

- Sketchy artwork similar to the Walking Dead series. I'm not looking for polished, photo correct artwork. Simple line art with greyscale highlights make for great printable images. Also, this is a prototype, NOT a published design. D- is being paid for his services and I don't have much of a budget for artwork on a game I plan to give away or sell for no profit. Also, if I am able to license this game to a publisher, it is unlikely that the artwork would be retained.

- You pick the style. I gave no particular direction for the style of artwork used. It is completely up to him whether he wants the game to be cartoony or serious. I could honestly see it going either way, but he's the Art Director. He gets to decide.

We had a great chat about what I wanted and what I was willing to pay for it. D- and I have maintained a great friendship for over a decade and I have asked him to do work for me off and on for years. Because of this, he offers me a great discount on his work because honestly, I think he enjoys the creative process as much as I do. D- is an extremely talented dude. Not only can he do great graphic design and art, he can also add life into a project by writing card text and tying it together with the art and even help shape mechanics and card ideas. What I gave him to start with were the v4 files and these were the basic card templates that needed to be designed:

My lousy attempt at layout

My "design" was very minimal and served only to present the cards in a consistent manner for playtesting. I'm not going to lie, I am not a fan of my layout... that's why game designers hire graphic designers. D- is the first person I turn to when something isn't visually appealing to me. He can almost without fail say, "hold on a sec," and a few minutes later show me a rough that is ten times better than any idea I had.

First design by D-

D- was able to take my basic design and build on it. This was his first shot at it and I don't believe either of us were wowed.

He built off of my layout initially just to get a feel for what elements needed to be on the cards. It was a necessary step because we both needed to see how the cards looked with a less basic design. We both liked the solid border and using the letter Z to indicate the zombie strength of the card instead of a plain number. We were also unsure of the vertical card name because it didn't really serve a purpose other than to be different from other games. I would say that most games have the card titles across the top for a reason and it seems silly to be different just for the sake of being different.

Second design by D-

After a bit, D- came up with his second design and we both loved it. It presents all the key elements in a very accessible manner without getting in the way. The card titles are bold and easy to read and the game text has plenty of space without sacrificing the art space on the card. This is really about the 3rd or 4th design because he kept adjusting things between sending me updates.

So, there's no artwork yet. We are way too early in the process to start contemplating art. This is still the design and refine stage. Cards are changing, being removed, and added. Titles may change, effects may change, and all of that changes what will be required of the art. Art is the last thing to worry about at this point. I may find some filler for personal playtest copies, but as that would surely violate copyright, I will not be posting images of that here.

Okay, that's a lie. There is a bit of artwork done. Here's some more layouts from D- and completed house cards!

House design by D- House design by D- Event design by D-

I do have some new cards designed but I haven't committed them to the deck yet. Now that I have the layout stuff in order, I'm going to order some print on demand poker decks with excess cards and blanks so that I can fiddle with the numbers and even the text. The design is getting a bit to detailed to keep adding bits of sleeved paper here and there. Having cards that are easily shuffled and also easily written on is invaluable at this stage.

I miss designing on business cards.

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On to Part 8 >>

- May 15, 2012