All posts by Tim Rodriguez

Using ImageMagick to create a POD ready sheet

My local playtesting group was discussing print-on-demand providers for prototypes and we’d gotten into some of the nitty-gritty of laying out card images.

Print Play Games has some of the best services we’ve encountered, but have also found that the document setup can be a little bit painful compared to The Game Crafter’s online tools. One person mentioned the venerable ImageMagick as an option for quickly creating thumbnail sheets from individual card images, while also bemoaning the complicated-ness of figuring out precisely what the command-line needed to look like and hoping out loud that someone would write it up and share.

Since this is quite in my wheelhouse, I took it upon myself to create these command lines and after about an hour or two, have successfully written a command-line that processes a set of appropriately set-up individual card images into a PPG-ready file in an instant.

How to prepare your raw cards

Your cards should have the dimensions 1125x825px, which is a poker card on its side, accounting for 1/8″ bleed. For this command line, they’ll need to be named cards-1.png through cards-18.png.

How to set up your computer

There’s a link above to the ImageMagick tool, which has many installers available. Install it.

You’ll also need a transparent image with the dimensions 3600x5400px (or 12″x18″ aka “Tabloid Extra”), named ppg_blank.png.

The Command-line

If you’ve followed instructions precisely, you should be able to navigate to the directory that contains all your individual card files and run these two commands.

montage \
 cards-{1..18}.png -tile 3x6\
 -geometry '1x1<'+0+0 card_montage.png

composite card_montage.png\
 -geometry +112+225 ppg_blank.png finish.png

This command line can be pretty dense, so let’s unpack it a little bit. First, we’re running an ImageMagick tool named “montage” which takes a series of images and makes a thumbnail sheet. Then we’re adding our series of card images using a Unix short-cut for sequential filenames: {1..18}. The -tile and -geometry are called “flags” which let us tell the montage application how to process these files, e.g. we’re creating a 3-wide 6-tall tile grid, and NOT resizing anything, and NOT putting any space in between these images. Finally, we’re outputting a new file called “card_montage.png.”

The second one is a little easier. We’re using a tool called “composite” and using the -geometry flag to overlay our card_montage.jpg file and then offset it over the larger ppg_blank.png file. (recall: 1125 * 3 = 3375, which is less than the 3600. An 112px horizontal inset will center it within 0.5 pixels, and the same vertically). Finally, we’re writing that out to a file named “finish.png.”

This last output precisely matches PrintPlayGames poker card template, making it easy to upload a correctly set-up file!

Metatopia 2016 is just around the corner…

This now-five-year-old convention is the one I look forward to the most in a given year. All of Double Exposure’s conventions are great, but only one is specifically about to delivering excellent content tailored around designing games, for people designing games. And it’s open-armed, welcoming, and unbelievably full of interesting information from an incredible number of amazing people.

The games I’ve taken there have consistently gotten immensely valuable feedback. I’ve met phenomenal people and solidified casual acquaintances into fast friends. I’ve also been able to make a difference in people’s understanding of running their individual game businesses. And it’s the last part that I think is one of the most important to me. I thrive on helping people learn and succeed. And Metatopia is the single best place to do that in tabletop games.

I cannot recommend this convention enough. I really can’t.

I am going to be running four playtest slots of a game under the codename “Project CS,” which is a pickup-and-deliver deckbuilder. There are a few bits and pieces that need ironing, so if you’re going, I hope you’ll help me find and file off the remaining burrs. The game is also on the schedule for a for a formal announcement next week, so keep an eye on my twitter account (@dicefoodlodging) for more info!

Here’s the timetable of events that I’m an official part of, and I have lots of things I want to attend as well. Come and find me!

Friday
9-11am – Project CS
1-2pm – D017: Defining Success – Establishing Personal Metrics
2-4pm – Project CS

Saturday
1-2pm – D059: Theme: What is it Good For?
2-3pm – D065: Where I Stole My Best Idea
8-10pm – Project CS

Sunday
3-5pm – Project CS

Bonus: Brie Sheldon has written up some great tips on being a good playtester, just in time for Metatopia!
http://www.briecs.com/2016/10/convention-playtester-tips.html

My Apologies

Sometimes it’s hard to be an adult on the internet. For me, that came up today when I accidentally started a fight, then pushed harder on it until we were at the point of muting each other, and walking away stewing.

The fact that it was probably pushed along by a variety of factors including hangry-ness, stress spillover, and having my buttons pushed doesn’t matter. What does matter, is that a mutual friend called me out on bad behavior. And I responded by apologizing to the person with whom I was having a fight. A real apology. Owning up to the fact that I had been behaving badly.

Now, this doesn’t change that I said a bunch of mean things, or that my opinion is any different. And it certainly doesn’t mean I won’t behave badly in the future. But it does mean that I am willing to acknowledge wrongdoing and try to repair a relationship and reputation.

The attempt to amicably resolve things after the fact here is the most important part, and here’s why: On the internet, your behavior is part of your brand, and reflects on you as a person, as a professional, and as a potential partner. If I am known as someone who picks stupid fights on the internet, that is likely to color opinions of me. But a proper apology changes that outcome. It shows that even if I pick a fight about something, I can accept outside criticism of that behavior and acknowledge when I’m wrongheaded. It improves reputation. And it’s hard.

Words are hard, though. And poor apologies always ring false and leave you in a worse position than no apology at all because you come off as untrustworthy. You’re not a little kid anymore, being forced to mutter “sorry” to the person you hit. You’re an adult. And hopefully, you want to be a good one.

Apologies extend to other professional spaces too. Late projects, costly mistakes, the list of things you might have to apologize for is plenty long. In this case, apologies are not just about your behavior. They have to create action and avoid excuses, the latter of which is immensely difficult. My personal bias is to refrain from making excuses, and instead only make plans of action. Save the reasons for a retrospective, and analyze what went wrong, there. As part of an apology, it’s an excuse.

In closing, I had thought to offer some ridiculous comparison to a utopia where no one is ever hurt, but I don’t think that is useful. Instead, consider this existence to be the prototype of that perfect world and help improve it by learning how to apologize better. And when (not if) you hurt someone and you feel badly about it, practice that skill. It will make that relationship stronger, and it will improve the world. It only takes one “I’m sorry” at a time.

Always Be Prototyping

Il meglio è nemico del bene
–Orlando Pescetti

Proto, from the Greek protos “first.” Type, also from the Greek typos which had a great many useful meanings, most of which had to do with a physical impression of something, like a dent or other struck-mark. Our modern understanding of a prototype, even a digital one, is consistent with its etymology: a first impression.

In digital games, the earliest prototypes are “paper prototypes;” constructed in this easy-to-iterate medium. These come before the rough digital incarnations known as “wireframes.” Eventually, “High-fidelity” prototypes are the penultimate step in the process in the creative construction. The stages, if not the language, are consistent with regards to the paper games we make.

I often refer to the paper prototype stage as an “alpha.” At this point, I’ve created a proof-of-concept, useful for testing assumptions, gameplay techniques, and a rough gauge of the complexity of my idea. Much like their digital counterparts, these are frequently hand-drawn and contain the least amount of information. There’s no point in making them any nicer since they are expected to change, usually by crossing out old information and scrawling in new.

Wireframes translate handily to the “beta” phase of game development. There might be placeholder art, computer-generated templates, and some early ergonomic affordances. We’re starting to fine-tune the mechanics of gameplay here, perhaps also trying to conceptualize the visual design, but that remains secondary as we are still trying to work out any functional flaws within the game system. It’s important not to skip this stage and move into high-fidelity prototypes too quickly as it often gives the impression that the game is more finished than is true.

High-fidelity prototypes represent mockups of the final product, before entering production. The visual treatments are considered most strongly here as well as the ergonomics. These are the showpieces that represent your product-to-be. They should be functional, appealing and coherent.

Each of these three phases often takes several iterations to complete, occasionally jumping backward from one to another as you discover things to address. They are all still prototypes—_first impressions_—and constantly, iteratively improving them, and validating your assumptions is the path to a final product.

And when is it a final product as opposed to a prototype? That’s the million-dollar question. There is no formula to tell you unequivocally when the development process is complete. But there are guidelines, deadlines, and other such process-based valuations that will help you make an informed decision.

In commercial design, deadlines are usually a defining factor. In a project scheduled for three months, you must have a final prototype at the end of that period. Other guidelines might have to do with performance, such as playtesting reports and an apparent lack of flaws. (The Minimum Viable Product model is one such metric that explicitly sets a release well before the design is in a final state.)

And now, having reached my intended word count, this article is concluded.

Metatopia

Metatopia starts in earnest tomorrow, I’ll be heading out tonight to socialize and get ready for the full weekend experience. This schedule is subject to update as I get more information. Items in bold are where I’m a featured participant, whether that’s running a playtest or being a panelist.

Stepping back, Metatopia is one of the premier playtest/development conventions for games of all sorts. And since it’s the closest one to me, it’s my de facto favorite. If you’re in the area, and have even a passing interest in tabletop game development, it’s very much worthwhile. And for only $20 entry for playtesters, it’s a huge value!

The master schedule is here

Friday

Time / Code / Type / Name
1000-1100 / D006 / Panel / Helping Stores Sell Your Game
1200-1300 / D011 / Panel / Formalizing Your Game Business
1400-1600 / B161 / Playtest / Bulldogs! Deck Building Game
1600-1800 / B203 / Playtest / Bulldogs! Deck Building Game
2100-2200 / D034 / Panel / Nerd Fountain podcast
2200-2300 / D038 / Panel / Cyber Infiltration Hotsheet: Prepping to GM a Cyberheist

Saturday

0900-1100 / B319 / Playtest / Heartcatcher
1200-1300 / D056 / Panel / Gaming as Old People: Support Group
1300-1400 / D059 / Panel / Two-Player Board Games – Peaks and Pitfalls
1500-1600 / D065 / Panel / Ten (more) Ways to Make Your Rulebook Awesome
2200-2300 / D082 / Panel / Adding Envoy to Your Marketing Arsenal

Sunday

1000-1200 / D087 / Panel / Creating Space to Bring the Sexy
1200-1400 / B608 / Playtest / Heartcatcher

Gaming and Gastronomy

Last week, we were asked to demo OmegaZone out at an event co-sponsored by our friends at Twenty Sided Store. We got to show off the Instant Setting to lots of folks who were pleased to get a quick stab at something new before running around to all the other great things to see. Dwarven Forge was there, showing off their 3D dungeon tiles, there was a costume/photo booth, more games to play and of course, Roberta’s Pizza

Dressing up and Dungeoncrawling
Dressing up and Dungeoncrawling

Twenty Sided Store is also fully restocked on Brooklyn Indie Games’ products. If you’re in need of an OmegaZone deck, Backstory Cards, or the latest Ghost Pirates expansion, you’ll find it there.

Freshly stocked
Freshly stocked

Threat or Menace video shoot!

A few months ago, my buddy Brian offered to help me make a video for Kickstarter purposes. As Threat or Menace is coming to fruition, we started planning it and shot it today with a bunch of great cast/crew. This is definitely the biggest-deal video I have been a part of making for my own purposes. In this one, I am writer/ producer/ talent/ crew. Just a couple of hats there. It’s lots of fun, and also exhausting.

The next steps for the video are the post-production pieces; color grading, editing, graphics, music, and voice over. Brian is wrangling a lot of that, meanwhile I’ll be continuing to plan the budget, writing the campaign page, contacting people to review the game, fine-tuning the rules document, and continuing to show it in order to build up interest and awareness.

I’m really excited that this is in the pipeline for release. It’s been a long time coming, and is proving to be worth the wait.

Dexcon 2015

Double Exposure’s flagship convention was held this last weekend, and the wonderful folks running the convention did a wonderful job as usual. I’ve been playing a lot of catch up with getting myself organized for conventions recently, thankfully that hasn’t been too much of a problem so far.

I helped run a long con game of World Wide Wrestling RPG which went off incredibly. This is one of my favorite games of recent history and to be part of an incredible three-session, multi-promotion, game was a phenomenal experience! All the players brought immense creativity and energy to the three sessions, and in the end we crowned a unified wrestling champion across all three promotions in a 8-player Regal Wrangle. 

 
I also ran two demo sessions of Ghost Pirates, teaching the game to six new players. One player had a great, thoughtful reaction and suggested a few new treasure cards — I’ve been collecting ideas for a treasure expansion for a while now, and this completes a set of six. This may get bumped to near top of the production queue for the year, since it’s a really simple thing to make happen.

 

All in all, a great experience and this only represents a tiny fraction of what was available to play and do. If you’re ever in the area over the summer, I definitely recommend it. 

Dexcon, by Double Exposure