Art of the Genre

I often wonder what goes into making a game.  I mean a real game, not some sandbox rules set or home brew Fedex/Kinkos print job, but a real hardcover core book.  As I look at my shelves the myriad of small gaming companies who have produced truly inspired works over the years is astounding, daunting, and in the end sad, as most of them are no more.  

For my posting today I’m going to look at one such core rulebook that found its way to my collection at GenCon a few years back from a discount bin.

Ex Machina: Tri-Stat Cyberpunk Genre was produced in 2004 by Guardians of Order, Inc and is a hefty volume of over 350 pages.  It took seven writers to fully pen the work and is a massive undertaking because there is so little art to be found within.

I have no true idea how the Tri-Stat system works, but I can say that Guardians seemed to be doing right by the RPG world when they produced this book and many other since its founding in 1996.  However, after the creation of The Game of Thrones RPG, the company folded due to overwhelming debt in 2006 and the pretty standard 10 year life cycle of most small RPG companies came to a close.

But enough about the company’s history, lets dig deeper into the art of this hardcover monstrosity!  It was art directed by Jeff Mackintosh and he seemed intent on driving the art of the book with two page black and white spreads.  It is an interesting way to design your book, especially if you are trying to maintain a budget and don’t have the cash flow to fill the book with artwork dedicated to characters, classes, weapons, and other minutia that can be found in most RPG books of that time.

These lovely gatefolds do catch the eye, and most of them have a good feel that fits the setting.  Once again [if you read my Exalted post] we see the same stable of artists brought to this publisher by the UDON art house which is used exclusively on the interior.  Of this particular batch, the work of artist Eric Vedder is my favorite piece.  He brings a Jeff Dee circa 1979 edge to the publication, although he is only featured in it once, and I think this is the failing of using a house like UDON because typically they look to have been assigned a project and then parceled out the work among their artists to finish the job faster.  That works for speed and efficiency, but not necessarily continuity.  For that reason, a book of this size begins to lose artistic focus, and instead of becoming intimate with the setting, the reader is jolted each time they see another two page spread by a different artistic style.

The cover of the book, done by Christian Gossett is a fine piece, although subdued in its color choice which is probably needed when depicting the ghost in the machine aspect of the genre.  Still, there is no hard and fast rule that a splash of color couldn’t be used to keep readers coming back for more [I mean look at the Star Frontiers boxed set!].

In all, I find Ex Machina to be a huge project that never found a market, be it art fans or gaming fans. 

Artistic Rating: 2.5 [out of 5]

Written by Scott Taylor — May 29, 2013

Leave a comment