Going to California

Making Magic — 14

Production of a 400+ card game, when you’ve never done a card game but are desperate and driven and experienced enough to want to get things right, is a great misery. Andy felt it first, which was why — after I blazed my way up the gravel drive to slide gracefully into my parking space, only seven hours after I’d driven home the night before — I saw him on the low rise of the neighboring property, kicking out boards from what remained of walls of the the derelict stable.

He didn’t say anything for a while, just stood and raged at the remaining horizontal boards around him. He didn’t want to take out too many in the same place, he explained to me during a later session, since knocking out too many might cause what was left to collapse down around us. There was no ceiling left whatsoever, though the thought of the remaining wall frames falling was a serious one.

“Motherfucking printers?” I asked.

Andy shook his head.

“Ah,” I said, “Steve.”

Andy kicked another gray board, knocking one half off and leaving the other half to dangle a thousand fresh, pink splinters out over the open air. Steve could get very passionate about what he saw as the right thing to do. My ego was still numb from the bruising it took when he’d pulled my book, so I understood, and Andy knew I understood, and he was happy to kick out a bunch more boards while I stood there and watched, and I was happy to watch him.

Inside, behind my sliding door — I’d moved back upstairs and taken over the often-empty “business person” office, next to Andy’s print-buyer office — I spent my days in darkness, playing with color.

It was a meditation, really. As the first batches of art came in, I scanned them and distributed some to Jeff and some to Rick, keeping the ones I felt inspired to color myself. I thought I was doing well spending only about 20% of my time correcting the art that Jeff and Rick turned in, though I didn’t know how well.

After a good week and a couple of days worth of coloring, I sent what I had to Steve. While I waited for him to get back to me, I turned my attention to the thing I’d been dreading: the actual card layouts.

Here’s how you do it: You take a monstrous, thousand-dollar software package that you’ve learned inside and out, and you tell it to imagine a large sheet the size of the sheet you’ll be printing on. Then you take a bunch of geometrically shaped virtual objects meant to represent the precise placement of images, or text boxes, or rectangles of solid colors. Then you think very carefully about how you want everything to come together, and how large the cards need to be, and whether or not it was a good idea to use a repeating pattern as a background, given that you won’t be able to line them up edge-to-edge unless you get the repeating pattern absolutely just exactly right.

Then for more than 400 cards, you type in the card name, you type in the card text, you adjust the height of the image and the colored box based on how much descriptive text there ended up being, then you place however many arrows you are needed around the edge of the card and move on to the next one.

If you take 5 minutes with each one, it’ll take you 33 hours to lay out 400 cards. So you try not to take 5 minutes with each one, and you get it done in three days, just in time for the next playtest. There’s nearly no art in place, but at least you now have a way to print decent demo cards.

After the playtest, Steve said, “I have collected my notes on the coloring. Is this a good time?”

“Sure,” I said. Things did not go well.



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