Rick was a friend from back in my college days, if a distant one. He was on the far side of a social circle that had swept across with my own so thoroughly that all the points of contact didn’t become clear for years. We’d only hung out maybe three or four times, though I’d seen him around and more than anybody else in that crowd I felt a palpable kinship with him, a sense that we were meant to work together at some point.
Of course, I did the only reasonable thing and felt extremely embarrassed by my feelings, cramming them down into the big nowhere inside my head. After having been kind enough to introduce me to some terrific music, Rick moved back to Houston for art school, but I’d seen some of his little black and white noodlings, and he was good, much better than I was. But because I liked him, I wasn’t at all envious, I was happy for him, so I kept him in mind for whatever reason.
Only a month before Steve asked me about the card game, I heard from a friend that Rick had graduated school and was killing time working at a book store, thinking about how he was going to repay his art school loans. So when I did the math and saw that there was no way I could get everything done, even if I broke down and taught Jeff how to color art, which I was grudgingly admitting was possible, I was already ready to consider unreasonable solutions. The thought of with Rick went from a random feeling, best suppressed, to the obvious solution to a good many problems. So I called him.
“I don’t know Photoshop,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “But you know your way around a computer?”
“Mmm, no, not really. Sort of. But no.”
“Tell you what,” I said, “I’ll send you a piece of line art, and you try to color it in best you can. I’ll show it to Steve and we’ll see if he thinks we can work with what you’re capable of putting out.”
When Rick emailed me his sample effort, it was clear he didn’t know his way around Photoshop. But I knew he had an artist’s mind, and it’s always been easier to bring an artist into the digital realm than to bring an engineer into becoming an artist.
“He did this?” Steve asked.
“I spent a tiny amount of time doing some touch-up,” I admitted. “Not ten minutes.” Not five, but I was hedging. Some touch-ups might take much longer.
“So,” he said, waving his hand at the monitor, “you’re going to ‘touch up’ the work, and get it where it needs to be?”
“Yes,” I said. “With 400 cards, the three of us can color maybe one every two hours. That’s twelve a day, sixty a week —”
“Seven weeks,” Steve said, “and then a week for layout.”
“We’ll have to do a lot of the layout up front.”
He pushed his glasses up his nose toward his eyes. “You won’t have time. You’ll be coloring art.” He gestured at the monitor again. “You’ll be coloring art.”
“Can you see at least that we need Rick if we’re going to do this at all?”
Steve nodded. “When can he get here?”
“A few days.”
“He’s in Houston? Tell him to start driving.” He puckered his lips. “Have you talked with Jeff?”
“Not yet,” I said. I’d been converting the existing Illuminati logos into scalable vector art that computers like to use, and working on the layout of the cards themselves. They’d have to be very different from the previous version of the game. Steve even had the name — Illuminati: New World Order. But I’d wanted to get my thoughts on that nailed down before involving anyone else. It’s not like I’d been doing anything in my spare time except packing and moving and half-heartedly unpacking.
“Jeff,” I said, later that day. He turned to me. “I am going to need your help.”
“Let’s look at how the brushes work in Photoshop, and how I use them to color art.” His eyes widened slightly, and I felt bad for not having been able to check my ego at the door in the past, and for not having been a good mentor.
I said, “It’s easy,” by which I meant, “You can do this,” by which I meant I was only there to support him. We were going to do this. And Rick. It was going to work.
Later that evening, Andy was flicking between sample cards from various sources while we watched, in the tiny confines of his office. The talks with printers were getting serious. He sighed.
Jeff flicked a few, some of which had a very satisfying snap. “Why can’t we do cards like these?”
“That’s how real cards are made,” Andy said. “They got a nice coat, they got a plastic center—”
Steve stood in the door of Andy’s office.
“Yeah,” Andy said. “It’s just impossible to get time with those printers right now.”
“Really?” Jeff asked.
Steve said, “There isn’t time,” and he said it with enough of a punch that we got the picture.
This was serious.