I am having a hell of a time laying out Hollowpoint.
Not in a good way. Here’s the issue: I am committed to using a 6″ x 9″ format for only one really good reason and one reason that’s pretty weak. Every other argument regarding this format is against it. The problem is, the two reasons for using it are both reasons that relate to the consumer. The arguments against it are all arguments that relate to the designer (me).
Here are the two pro reasons: it’s a very convenient format for a game. It travels well, it doesn’t take up a ton of table space, and it’s pretty. The other reason to use it is that I already did it once and it tickles me to make books that sit nicely together. The reasons we used it for Diaspora are basically the same: I like to use it and it sits beside my copy of Spirit of the Century nicely. These are reasons enough to use this format, as far as I am concerned.
It is, however, hell to lay out for.
The page is too wide for a single block of text in a reasonable typeface at a reasonable size. It results in long lines that are hard to read or in text that is too big and looks like a pre-school text. It’s crap for one column.
If you shrink that column to make some space for a sidebar, you discover that there isn’t enough. Sidebars are crowded affairs needing substantial massaging to work in the short line length remaining available. They do not work well here.
But you can’t go to two columns, which is what you would do in letter format, where you have far too much space for one column but plenty for two. Because there isn’t enough space for two columns here unless your type is extremely small.
So, basically, there as at once too much and too little space for the text. This is incredibly frustrating. It’s also a secret joy, of course, because trying to work inside a difficult constraint is puzzle-solving. I love this kind of work. But it is also crazy frustrating.
You can decorate your margins and suck in your column width. This is a pretty good solution if you have access to printing that can reliably get bleeds right. I probably can’t count on that — at least my experience is that I won’t be able to — and so I can’t afford to butt artwork up against the page edge unless I think really hard about the effect if the page trim is wrong and some white paper is revealed. So heavy and thoughtless decoration is out.
The other possibility is austerity. Stick to a narrow and legible single column and place it in a big empty space. This is actually very appealing to me and opens up some new possibilities.
Take for example contextual cues. In Diaspora we used italics and inset (from both sides) blocks to set fiction. When you see a narrow column of italic text, it’s always fiction. You are warned or cued depending on your interest. It doesn’t need to be explained. So by making the body text part of an austere and open margin design, we open up more opportunities for context because we have the space to expand into, or to set right or left of the body text. The text can acquire some dynamism not by being surrounded by art but by moving within the page space. The defect of the format becomes an opportunity.
It’s not clear that this is appropriate for the text in Hollowpoint. It might be, though — can the rythm of text position be made to imply the punctuality of the game’s pace? Can we fire paragraphs like gunshots?
Probably not. The audience for games is surprisingly conservative and isn’t likely to respond well to anything too clever. The taste is generally for conventional (within the context of games) layout: lots of art, border decoration, sidebars, and so on. Crowd the page and get as much stuff on it as possible. Invent page textures that make it hard to read, colour the page, blotch it, line it…make the reader feel like she got her money’s work at least in ink weight.
I worry that if I do that and subsequently run into Tufte, he’ll strangle me. Or drown me in my excess ink. I don’t want that to happen. So there’s likely to be a little avant garde design in Hollowpoint, though the garde it will be avant is the accepted forms for game text layout — certainly it won’t be avant the rest of the design world. This worked out okay for, say, Nobilis, though it had a lofty, airy context that aligned nicely with the layout. How can I get near that? Can I invent a context for Hollowpoint in which the space makes sense?
I don’t have answers yet. Which is why I am still laying out Hollowpoint. Endlessly.