Etherscope: A game with artwork as drab as the setting

Goodman Games

Now I know this game was nominated for ‘Best D20 Game’, but it can’t be because of the artwork.   Released from Goodman Games in 2006, and I say released because Joseph Goodman seems to have had nothing to do with it other than putting it to press, this is a bare bones type of core book release when it comes to artwork.

That typically means you are looking to save money, and I can’t fault that entirely, but there is also something to be said for looking at a book and being a bit overwhelmed by pages and pages of unbroken text.  To me, that doesn’t properly set the stage, and I think Etherscope provides a very limited view of everything cool that makes steampunk [or in this case etherpunk] viable.

Art direction [and for this book more importantly graphic design] was handled by Shane Hartley, and again I don’t know his budget so perhaps he was simply working with what he had.  Whatever the case, this book is a flat out horror when it comes to artwork.

The cover is comprised of riveted metal plates with a small green-cast medallion of a lamp and does nothing to sell the game to me.  It is so odd, in fact, that there is even a credit for ‘cover art direction’ by Sean Glenn, and artist Jonathan Hill gets credit for the lamp.  I’m amazed that it took three people to put this cover together, but perhaps that is another sign of the products failure to capture the eye, no unified vision.

Inside, the book is very sporadically illustrated in hard-line ink by eight seemingly eastern European artists, and frankly by 2006 I think you could have gotten some great full color digital work if you were already going on the cheap into the former Eastern Bloc.  Whatever the case, pieces here strike me as ‘throw away’, with nothing capturing my attention as a creative spark.

On the whole, this is perhaps the greatest artistic failure I can imagine for a core book released more than halfway through the 2000s. 

Artistic Rating: 1 [out of 5]

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  • Scott on

    Pierre: While I certainly appreciate you ‘sometimes reading’ my critiques, I find it interesting that you obviously have no idea what Art of the Genre represents, which is the extreme love off all things non-digital. Every artist I support above that shares my site doesn’t work digitally, and I love standard mediums, but my point above was that if you were spending money, and going to get substandard traditional work, you might as well have gone digital and at least added color to liven the page. I very much prefer b/w illustration to color, but in this case, the book needed help, even if that meant going digital color.

  • Pierre Carles on

    What I see here (and particularly in the last picture) is a fairly decent line-work, and a solid sense of perspective. I sometimes read your critiques, but this one is absurdly off. One sentence in the article, though, may explain it all: “frankly by 2006 I think you could have gotten some great full color digital work …”
    Too bad that so many people, who have been spoon-fed with the same digital style over and over, lack the necessary visual culture to “read” and appreciate anything else.

  • Kenneth G on

    Well not outstanding, I’d have to say that what was included fit the theme of the game very well (much more “Dickensian Cyberpunk,” than the Steampunk rubber stamp everyone is so fond of around then :) ). And, to be honest it looks quite a bit better than some of the art if seen in later offerings.

    Personally, a “1” might be being a little unkind. :)

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