Friday, February 19, 2010

What Are You Writing In?

Short one today, since I'm not actually writing because I'm currently driving to Dreamation. I just want to put forward an idea that may be radical or may be offensive, but which I hope may ultimately be of use to people out there who are thinking about writing and distributing your own game. That idea is this:

Maybe you should be writing in PowerPoint.

The rules and process for producing a printed book are well known, and we know what those books look like. Even if we're not going to ever print a book, we write our books to look like that. It's tradition. Habit even.

But there are other people out in the world who are doing interesting things with ebooks, with more of an emphasis on readability and presentation, books tuned to the screen and to printing. Go take a look at this pdf. It's a good read if you're into that sort of thing, but what I really want you to look at is how it's presented. This is a simple, clean layout that is easy for even a novice to emulate, and it is well designed to explaining complicated concepts simply. This layout (and variations on it) shows up a lot in business texts. It's PowerPoint, and while it's not quite presentation-ready (too many words per page) it is based off a lot of good thinking about how to present ideas - one per page, with illustrations that clarify or explain.

The question I want to put forward is this: Is your game really that much more complicated to explain than these business ideas? Or are you writing to fill pages out of a sense of what your game should look like?

Obviously, this is not a solution for every person and every game, but I want to put this out there and into people's minds. This is a club we need to have in our bag.


  1. I always thought something like the old Apple Hypercard stacks would be a good way of publishing a set of electronic rules. Which requires you to break down the rules into atomic (indivisible) "cards," much as you suggest with a Power Point presentation.

    The nice thing is that you can then customize how the cards are actually linked together, and even often multiple modes of linking cards. For example you can have a linear mode (which reads just as a book). You could even set options to eradicate flavour text and worked examples to create a working copy of the rules. Or you could link them so as to follow a particular thread, say the viewpoint of one particular class or character, or by a topic. Or, more importantly, you could link those same cards to an editable character sheet, where the appropriate sections of the game rules can be brought up simply by activating the embedded link in the character sheet.

    You could also do more interesting things, such as creating context sensitive rules, where the flavour text (and access to the actual rules) is written from the viewpoint of a specific culture or knowledge-base.

    Of course you would need to make it easy for people to add their own cards to your rules, and even change what is written on your cards, and even transfer the modifications to another set of the rules so that you can construct house variant rule sets.

    [And the added benefit for this extra work is there is a greater incentive for each player of the game to buy their own "player's guide"]

  2. I would have to agree. PowerPoint could be useful, if only to push people toward my favorite tool: Bullet Points.

    I think if people could boil things down into two to three bullet points much more information actually gets transfered than two to three paragraphs.

    Not that embellishment and flavor are bad things, but so often they get in the way of getting your point across.

  3. Being a multimedia student, I have been thinking along the lines of creating a very interactive eBook experience. The use of audio and animation can make the book (pdf) something better geared to teaching the game.

    For instance, I read the beta for Free Market and there are these sections of flavor text at the top where characters are talking to each other, the GM, or among players that help explain the rules. I so wanted that to be active audio with each section a small video or animated feature.

    There are two factors that worry me about such an endeavor; cost and bloat.

    The amount of work that would be required to create such a product would be intensive and I just don't know if they would sell beyond the initial curiosity factor that many will latch onto.

    The second issue is in the bloat of the eBook size. Which, for some reason I find a nagging wonder of how that may affect the way people approach the product.

  4. I actually have a set of five Powerpoint slides I've printed out for each game I've run at conventions the last three years. The first is the flow of the game as intended - done with PP's easy flowchart slide. The second is a quick summary of rules I want to remember about playing NPCs, the third is a quick summary of rules I want to remember about GMing in general, the fourth is bulletpoints about the PCs I should know at the glance and the fifth is bulletpoint flavour text I can use at any point.

    I also have a 15 minute presentation I've done on basic play, tropes of common games, and a who's who of the canon of a particular game system I often do trials of...for when I have a projector handy. I know. Such A Geek.

  5. What's crazy is that portable projectors are getting smaller and cheaper. I expect them to start becoming a common sight at the gaming table.


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