The process of developing Call of Cthulhu 7th edition

June 13th, 2014

When I began the process of designing Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, I had it in mind from the start that two rules i needed to follow were to be paramount. One, that the book be easy to read; and two, that the book be easy to navigate and quickly find information. There had been a lot of talk in different circles about wanting CoC 7th ed to look like this, or look like that, and as a fan myself, it was easy to fall into the mindset of “Yes, I want to look as amazing as possible! Full color everything! Cool things everywhere!” But one thing (out of many, many things) that Lynn Willis taught me is that form should never supersede function. The primary job of a rulebook is to disseminate information in the quickest and easiest manner possible. Everything else is fluff. And if that fluff gets in the way, then I’m not doing my job right.

So I did a bunch of research. I looked at several iterations of Call of Cthulhu, from the first edition all the way up to 6th. I looked at the Spanish and French editions, as well. Each version had their strengths and weaknesses that I took note of. I then went outside Call of Cthulhu and the horror genre entirely and looked at other rulebooks that had come out in the last few years. The gaming world has advanced a lot since Call of Cthulhu 6th edition, with a ton of new artists and designers introducing new ideas and concepts into how rulebooks should look and function. What had they done right? What had they done wrong? I looked at titles such as Godlike, Pathfinder, Eclipse Phase, Kerberos Club, The One Ring, Hollow Earth Expedition, and others for inspiration and object lessons.

One thing that stood out to me was that, with a book as massive as this, easy navigation through the book was going to be really important. I hit upon the idea early on that I wanted to incorporate some sort of icon system that would give distinctive visual cues to the reader when flipping through the book. In addition, I borrowed an idea from Eclipse Phase in which the two columns of text really standing out from the page:

 

KS article example 1

 

As you can see in the above example, the icon navigation idea really didn’t work. The page is way too busy with icons, symbols in the background, splashes of blood, graphics at the top of the pages…the main text just gets lost, even with the highlighting. You can see also that the font for the headers is an early attempt of a tome-like feel that didn’t quite work.

Some things were kept, however, as we’ll see in a bit.

 

KS article example 2

The main page background has been toned down greatly, and all but one of the icons show up on the page now. I wanted to have notebook pages and scraps of paper used for boxed text and other highlighted sections; you can see one example of this above. Still, too cluttered.

KS article example 3

After some more feedback, things start to change pretty radically. Borders have been placed for most of the boxed text, as well as all the page headers. The main page backgrounds have been toned down even futher, with arcane symbols in the upper corners, and distressed looks in the lower corners. Obviously, the red sidebar text didn’t really work. Header fonts are still very much in flux (i went through so many fonts throughout the evolution of the book, it’s not even funny).

KS article example 4

 

Amazing what one font will do for a book…once i introduced Cristoforo, it all really started coing together. Example boxes have been made. And, for the separate boxed text, you can see how i borrowed from my idea back in the first example of the highlighted box for the main text. Goes to show you that you should always hold on an idea; you never know when it might work for something else! The illuminated letter at the beginning of each chapter, as well, has been kept from the earliest iteration (and, later on in the process, colored for effect).

KS article example 5

And now we see the near-final look and feel of the design. The size of the header font has been dropped significantly (in some places, it was just huuuge), the page background have been darkened just a bit, and it all just looks…cleaner. One side benefit of using the Cristoforo font by Thomas Phinney is that he included some terrific Lovecraftian glyphs, some of which i was able to use for bullet point lists. Example boxes have been refined, and space in general has at once been tighened up, and expanded as need be, to give the text space to breathe.

 

KS article example 6

One last example after further polishing. Old photo borders have been added to the pictures, the “Example” headers in the Example boxes have been taken out (to conserve space), and general tightening up.

So there you go! It’s been a very long evolution, one that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What you see here is the result of months of tweaking, refining, getting feedback, doing further tweaking, more feedback…until we reach something that we can all be happy with and proud of. And this is but a taste of the many, many versions of the core book that we went through; these screenshots highlight only a small sample of them.

Thanks for reading!

First cover design…and some more Feed the Shoggoth news

June 9th, 2014

 

It’s kinda funny…i’ve been doing book design work for over a decade now, but up until recently, i’d never actually done a cover for any of the books i’ve worked on. But when Oscar at Golden Goblin Press assigned me to do the book design and layout for the upcoming De Horrore Cosmico, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios set in the Cthulhu Invictus era, he asked me if i wanted to take a shot at the cover.

And, as usual, when someone offers up a challenge like that to me, it’s hard to refuse. ;) So i set about doing a bunch of font tests, to see what would look visually appealing, as well as playing around with the basic format. Much to my dismay, i quickly discovered that the ratio that the original artist had created the cover art at wasn’t at the standard US paper measurements. Urk.

Meanwhile, my font examples…fell kinda flat with Oscar. He sent me back an example of what his art director, Mark, had in mind, which helped out considerably. Sometimes it’s great to have a blank slate to work from, but in other instances, a little direction can go a long way. Now i had an idea to work with.

But those side areas…oog. I needed to do something with them. The idea of filling them with Roman columns was briefly bandied about, but i quickly jettisoned that, as it made the cover look too crowded, and took the focus off the cover art. I started thinking about many of the visuals i saw from recently watching Gladiator, and how many instances of marble were not solid white after all. So, something less busy, and set back against the rest of the art…

Well, you can see what i came up with below:

 

 

De Horrore Cosmico Cover Final Small

In Feed the Shoggoth! news, i’m actively editing the video for the Kickstarter. This is absolutely the last step before going live (pending approval from the Overloads at KS, of course). Hopefully another couple of weeks…

Video post mortem

May 7th, 2014

Wow. What a day. We spent all of the other Saturday filming, and it was a complete blast. It actually went faster than i thought it would (which is a good thing; last thing i wanted was for all of us to get burned out at some point with filming yet to do). My crew, actors, and everyone else involved made it a breeze; there’s no way in hell i could have done this without them.

Stuff i learned from the shoot:

1) Bring food and drinks: i didn’t think of this, but thankfully, a couple of my friends did, and brought snacks and such for people to nibble on whilst we were filming. It helped out a lot.

2) Get a professional: I was lucky in that i had not one, but two friends who do video production for a living. Their insight and experience was invaluable; knowing how to set up the equipment, staging the table and the actors, getting the lighting correct, properly recording the audio, how to film inserts (and where they’d be needed)…the list goes on. So…trust me. Find someone who knows their way around a shoot. Even if you have to pay. You won’t regret it.

3) Have people rehearse: This sounds like a no-brainer, so it’s easy to forget. And it’s an easy thing to do whilst the technical side of things is getting set up.

4) Get your post-production ducks in a row: As i’m finding out the hard way now, it’s really in your best interests to figure out how you’re going to get all the footage off the camera and on to your computer so that you can edit it. Or have someone lined up to do the post-production work for you. Right now, this is still a major blocker for me; i’m still dealing with trying to get to a place where i can just import the damn footage and start editing. It’s been a massive headache.

Kickstarter Ho (nearly)!

April 15th, 2014

With CoC 7th edition off my stove top, at least for now, i’ve been turning my attention full time to getting all of my ducks in a row for Feed the Shoggoth’s Kickstarter. Most of that lately has consisted of such un-fun but necessary activities as getting shipping prices for various countries sussed out (thank you, Angus at Chronicle City!), going through feedback for the KS preview, and putting a crew together for the video.

Oye…the video. Let me tell you this now, anyone out there who’s looking to get a Kickstarter going- PLAN YOUR VIDEO NOW. I didn’t mean for my video to be the last thing of my project. That’s just how things worked out. But for any future KS launchers, take heed and start scoping out your video as soon as you can. When you do, you’ll want to think about these little crumbs of advice:

1) Write a Script: i know it sounds kind of silly. I’m not really making some Hollywood epic, right? It’s just a little promo film for my Kickstarter. But that pesky little Baphomet is in the details. What do you want to say in the video? What are you going to show? Is there going to be game play demonstrated? If so, how much of the game will be shown?  If you have other people besides yourself appearing, what are they going to say and do?

If you plan none of these things before you shoot, you’ll end up being stuck trying to figure all that out while you’re shooting, and that’s only going to cost you time and money.

2) Keep it Short: Attention spans these days are short. Surprisingly so for online video (ask yourself how long you are typically ready to commit yourself to watching a Youtube vid. Probably only a few minutes, unless you’re really invested in the subject matter, right?). You should be able to give a good overview of your game (or whatever) and introduce yourself in 3-5 minutes, tops.

3) You Don’t Need to go into Super Detail: Just give the 30 second elevator pitch for your game. Save the in-depth examination of mechanics for the Kickstarter page itself. If people are interested, they’ll take the time to read up further.

4) Get as Much Help as you Can: At the absolute minimum, you’re going to need the following:

-Film equipment

-Location

-Editing software

-Sound of some sort (live or inserted post production

-Someone to film everything

Unless you plan on doing all of that yourself, you’ll want to start talking to your friends, co-workers, perhaps some college students who would be willing to film your video on the cheap…whoever you can scrounge up.

All of that has come up before i’ve shot one frame of video. No doubt more things will surface once we actually start rolling.

While i’ve got all that going on, there are a couple of smaller projects i’m plugging away at. One is a web banner for a friend’s site that will advertise  a Jules Verne-esque book he’s writing. The other is the cover design for an-as-yet-unannounced book for Golden Goblin Press. Woot, my first cover design!

CoC 7th edition is now in house

March 31st, 2014

As of yesterday afternoon, the last of my work for Call of Cthulhu 7th edition has been turned over; now the rest of the heavy lifting is in Charlie and co.’s hands. I had only about two weeks or so to do whatever work i could on the Investigator’s Handbook, which isn’t much. I was able to do the basic page decoration, and layout all the text, but there’s still plenty to do (tables and charts, inserting the art, etc.). Similarly, the core book has a lot left- inserting the rest of art and cleaning everything up).

The plan now is for the two books to finish getting assembled, and then they’ll be sent back to me for final clean up, look-and-feel wise. I’m assuming that at some point a final proofreading will happen, but that hasn’t been scheduled yet.

I have to say that it feels kinda weird not working on 7th ed anymore. I’d been plugging away at it in some fashion since last summer, and really ramped up work on it in October. I’ve spent most weekday nights and weekends on the core book and the IH for months…thus it was kind of anti-climactic to upload my files yesterday to Chaosium’s ftp server. No fanfare, no glass of champagne, just hitting Send and making sure the transfer worked.

In honour of that, i’ll share with you one more trick that i learned in InDesign that i wish i’d discovered years ago. Sure as shit would have saved me a ton of time and work…anyway. In addition to being able to search and replace text as one is used to, i found that you can also add formatting to the text.

Say, for example, you’re dealing with dozens of stat blocks. And you have “Damage Bonus:” repeated over and over. But you need to bold all of those. Whelp, in the past, i would do all of the bolding by hand. InDesign’s Find/Replace feature is way more powerful than i first suspected, though; you can use it to find all those instances of “Damage Bonus:”, and tell it to bold every instance. I can’t remember the exact steps to enable this, but it’s pretty easy.

So…what’s next for Squamous Studios? Whelp, the Kickstarter for Feed the Shoggoth will be going live in April some time, so i’m doing as much work as i can for that. I’ll be posting more about the KS soon; right now, i’m polishing up the KS page, and getting all my ducks in a row, so to speak.

Bookwise, i have a few projects upcoming that are floating about in the aether, but i’ll wait until i have something more concrete before yammering about ‘em.

The mother of all tables (and other musings)

February 26th, 2014

I meant to post about this a while ago, but i kept on forgetting…

In a couple of spots in 7th edition, there exist some rather…large tables. One particularly massive table has to do with listing every single Mythos tome ever written about in any Mythos story. We’re talking well over a hundred entries.

Up to this point, i’d been doing all the tables by hand, but after starting in on the tome table, i was quickly realizing that i was losing Sanity points in big chunks. Surely there’s got to be a solution for this…

Lo and behold, InDesign has a function available, called Convert Text to Table, which can be found in the Table menu. I won’t bore you with too many details about it, but one important element i learned (the hard way, as usual) when using this tool is how tell it when to create a new cell. There are a few methods, but the simplest is by a tab. Basically, it works like this:

(glob of text)  [tab]  (another glob of text)

Select the text and apply Convert Text to Table

(glob of text in Cell 1)    (another glob of text in Cell 2)

It’s an awesome, time-saving feature, but you have to be careful that you have all your tabs cleaned up before you run the conversion; otherwise, entire rows in the table can be thrown off. If there are two tabs between your words instead of one, you’ll end up with an unwanted, blank cell.

In other news, i’ve sent off a completed chapter of 7th edition to Mike Mason; it’s been approved, and will hopefully be put on the KS page soon. And, of course, i’ll put up samples of it here as well. I’ve also mocked up some final card designs for Feed the Shoggoth; i brought those with me to a local con recently, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Once those are prepped, i’ll post those here as well.

2013 in review, and a look ahead…

January 17th, 2014

I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, 2013 doesn’t /feel/ like it was a busy year, but upon reflection, it was probably the most crazy year yet for us Squamous folk.

  1. Publication-wise, most of the stuff that Squamous helped shepherd to print were Miskatonic River Press books: Tales of the Sleepless City, Grimscribe’s Puppets, and Deepest Darkest Eden. Sadly, this would be the year that MRP decided to go on indefinite hiatus (though i know that they’re still working with Chronicle City to get Punktown out in the near future.
  2. Oscar Rios’ new company, Golden Goblin Press, started and completed their first Kickstarter, and we managed to get our first release, Island of Ignorance, out to backers in the timeframe that was announced. That was one hell of a project to work on!
  3. I joined Montag Press, and designed the first book for them, M Against M.
  4. Work began (and continued) on Call of Cthulhu 7th edition; by far, my biggest project to date.
  5. Continued work on my Feed the Shoggoth card game, with toiling away at the artwork top priority for that.
  6. A second book for Montag Press, Punish the Wicked, is in the works.

So what’s up next? Oh, nothing much, really…

  1. Call of Cthulhu 7th edition core rulebook and the Investigator’s Companion are released to the public in late spring. And if they don’t, you’ll probably never hear from me again, as a horde of CoC fans will have stormed my house and flayed me alive.
  2. Punish the Wicked will be out on the shelves.
  3. I plan on launching the Kickstarter for Feed the Shoggoth in mid-March. Watch this space for further developments!
  4. Golden Goblin Press’ next Kickstarter is about get underway for Tales from the Crescent City. Assuming that the KS is successful, i’ll be doing the book design for that as well.
  5. I’ve got a project for Cthulhu by Gaslight that i’ve had on the back burner for months that i’m just itching to get out. By hell or high water…

And who knows what else the year will bring? I’d really like to thank everyone who’s been following along here, and those of you who have been posting comments. They’re very welcome, and i’m happy to answer any questions you may have. Cheers!

In the Gutter

December 23rd, 2013

One of the issues that plagues any book designer/layout monkey is the gutter. No, i’m not talking about the one outside of Lou’s Piss Shack that you stumbled and fell asleep in last night around 1:30am. I’m referring to that gap of space between where the spine ends, and the text begins.

As i’ve learned the hard way (see Dissecting Cthulhu for one brilliant example) that, if you don’t accommodate for enough space in the gutter, the text on the pages get too close to the spine, making the book more difficult to read. This is a major goof. Basically you’re breaking one of the ten commandments of book design: “Thou shalt allow for enough space in the gutter, lest a donkey shite in your car”. It’s a big no-no.

So there i was, absentmindedly thumbing through my copy of Island of Ignorance the other night, and noticing the gutter spacing was a bit too snug. And my mind started to wander a bit…7th edition is sitting at over 320 pages, and i’m on Chapter 12 of 18. This thing is going to need a big gutter.

Oooops.

Right. Problem is, how the hell do i institute this sort of fix book-wide? I sure as shit can’t do it page by page. That’d drive me (more) insane.

After fiddling around, i found the solution. Check it:

1) Go to your Master Pages. Select all of them. Make sure both pages in your Master Pages spreads are highlighted. This is important.

2) Go to Layout -> Margins and Columns. Here’s where you’re going to do your tweaking. Just start increasing the number value of the Inside Margin.

3) Now, this is a reeeeally important step. Before you start changing your numbers, make sure you have the Enable Layout Adjustment option checked. By doing this, you’re ensuring that your main text boxes on all the pages will be moved to fit the new margins, thus saving yourself a huge ass headache of having to do all that yourself by hand, page after page after bloody page.

4) If you have the Preview option selected, you can see the pages adjust as you increase or decrease the numbers, which is neat.

5) Now hit OK! You should now find that all your pages within the book have been adjusted.

Of course, you’re not done yet- since all of your pages have been altered, you’ll want to comb over your book, looking for things that’ll need fine tuning and adjusting. But trust me, this is really important, if you find yourself in the same situation i was just in. Hope that helps!

 

Working in phases

December 20th, 2013

Here at Squamous Studios, we appreciate insanity in all its forms; insanity gives us insight that we may not normally possess, and it gives us an excuse to drool on ourselves or smear ice cream on the cat.

However, sometimes madness doesn’t help. Sometimes, ya gotta be a little more organized. Like when you’re putting a massive tome like 7th edition together. Thus, i’ve broken down the process into 4 distinct phases:

Phase I: Getting the basic text laid out, formatting charts, inserting the basic page decoration, and so on. The skeleton and meat of the book is getting done at this phase. All the text for all various chapters are completed at this point, including all the boxed text bits, tables, diagrams, and so on. These are not, as of yet, incorporated into the main pages.

Phase II: Dropping in the artwork, and moving all the elements around so that everything flows together (boxed texts, tables, sidebars, and the like).

Phase III: Final tweaks and corrections. Admittedly, i will often start Phase III whilst i’m doing I and II; exporting a pdf, and seeing how things are looking in general. But this final phase is when all the fiddling and adjusting and fine tuning happens. Whether it’s corrections in the text, or scooting an art element over a few pixels, forcing a paragraph break in a header, or whathaveyou.

Phase IV: The final front pages go in (title page, ToC), the index is built out, and (according to Mike Mason) the ants take over.

So where are we at now? More than half way through Phase I. I’m staring at roughly 320 pages of book. Yikes! This guy is going to be massive. Phase I always takes the longest, with Phase II going much more quickly.

One last thing- on the Kickstarter page, a couple of layout examples were posted there. I definitely appreciate the positive comments; thanks! I do feel compelled to point out that those examples are a bit old at this point, and many of the criticisms brought up have already been addressed. Trust me, the book looks even better at this point. :)

I’m going to try to get some more up to date examples mocked up soon…

Take /that/, tables!

December 4th, 2013

I’m sure the multitudinous members of my audience will be happy to know that i finally figured out how to slay the tables importing dragon. It took me a bit, but here’s what i ended up doing:

1) I copied the original table from the manuscript file, created a new doc in Word, and pasted it there.

2) I then created a new document in InDesign.

3) Created a text content box, and hit Command+D to Place the Word doc containing just the table into the box.

4) Lastly, i copied that box/table and placed it in the main book.

And that worked. A bit of a work-around from being able to import/place it directly into the book, but hey, now it’s in there.

Continuing on the subject of tables, i’ve been creating a bunch of others in the core rule book as they come up; Damage Bonus charts, Income levels, etc. And at first, i was doing them in simple black and white. Which is, frankly, boring to look at. I had to remind myself that i’m working in color…so why not, in the spirit of the game, make them ichor green and white?  And thus, they now are. :)

Oh, and one tip that i discovered with resizing the cells of tables- you can move your cursor over a table grid, and drag them, but that resizes all of the cells. But you can also Shift+drag, and that will resize only that one row/column. Very handy!