Going to California

Making Magic — 13

In the early days of a project, even a rush project like Illuminati: New World Order, it’s easy to feel like you have plenty of time and to avoid letting the stress drive you, that all you have to do is work patiently and deliberately, day after day, and everything will come together. As I began to show off the early card and box designs, it was clear that we would not have the luxury of a quiet period at the beginning of our efforts.

“Is that really going to work?” asked Steve, squinting at the design.

“I think it can,” I said. The group cards, for example, had a red, lightly textured background, the card name in gold along the top with drop-shadows and a few highlights throughout the design. “My only worry is that the drop-shadows may need too much manual tweaking.” With today’s tools, it would be easy to get the effect right. In 1994, it would take a lot of manual manipulation, with no guarantee that it was perfect before the first proofs arrived.

Still, I did like the effect. It gave the cards some depth. They even looked a little fleshy, in an enjoyable way. If I’d taken the time to experiment for a couple of hours, or even simply just thought about it a bit more, I probably could’ve made it work, but —

“Then drop it,” Steve said. “And this looks flat somehow. Can you make it pop more, like this one?” The new Illuminati would have a ton of special cards, which I’d given blue backgrounds to clearly separate them from the groups. The blue was richer and deeper than the red, that was for sure, as the groups would be laid out on the table most of the time while the special cards would  be played and discarded, so it made sense that the group cards should be less garish, allowing their card art to pop out more.

I began to explain this to Steve.

“There’s no time to get anything any more right,” he said. “Just make some of these changes, and let’s keep going. Have you looked over my list of card art ideas yet?”

I had not.

“Do so,” he said. “I’m sending them out to the artists tonight.”

Just like we had three colorists on our end, we had three artists ready to draw art for the cards. The idea was that their black-and-white line art would show up in the mail — FedEx, really — at least once a week, giving us more than enough to do for that week. They simply needed to be told what to draw and ink.

I looked over Steve’s list of card names and art ideas. Some of them were obvious and needed little description — the Bill Clinton card didn’t need a lot of text — and some of them were obvious but needed a lot of text — the art spec for the National Security Agency’s card described a guy with headphones and an old reel-to-reel recorder, crouched outside a bedroom window on which you could see a silhouette of lovers embracing. I only took a few hours working on the list; the art specs were mostly either great, or good enough, or so specific and idiosyncratic that Steve would not listen to any criticism.

For example, the George Bush card — this was Bush the elder — had to show the man with a piece of broccoli on a plate, because evidently he’d said at one time that he’d never liked the stuff and that as President he wasn’t going to eat it any more. As a total media junkie from that era, I was surprised that I’d never heard that quote, and not at all surprised when I couldn’t find anyone else who could recall having heard the joke. But Steve thought it was the line that best summed up our 41st President, so that’s why the card shows the man with a piece of steamed broccoli on a plate.

For all the weird, personal references that Steve insisted on hanging on to, we found many more cool bits of art to slip in. As it’d be at least a week before the first bundles of art began arriving, Jeff and I spent a couple of days going over our recent publications, books and magazines, and pulling out interesting art that either immediately jumped out at us as an embodiment of one or more concepts in the game, or could simply be colored really well, or hopefully both. With Rick and his girlfriend having just arrived in town, it was time get him up to speed, and fast, and this batch of fifteen or so pieces of existing art would be great practice.

The first playtest made a lot things very clear, though.

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