Way back in the day, when I did the art notes for my first solo-developed project, I learned a valuable lesson. It seems pretty common sense now, but being a relative neophyte in the world of commercial game design, I had to make my bones the hard way. The lesson? In art notes, tell your artist what you want. Like I said, common sense, right? Not exactly.
You may remember the game, if you’re a White Wolf fan from those days. I had developed the Legacy of the Tribes supplement for the Rage card game. We’d finished design, our playtests were going well, and my art notes had come due.
I diligently dove back into the card texts, highlighting relevant sections and adding little comments to the bottoms to suggest specifics. (Tangentially, we did our card mockups in PageMaker. PageMaker! I doubt anyone reading this can even remember PageMaker.) Most of my art-note comments were vernacular, colloquial. Conversational, even.
One card in particular weighed heavily with idiom: the Zmei, a huge, monstrous, epic draconic monster out of Slavic legend. Its game stats were grotesque, representing a dire challenge and heroic coup for any werewolf pack that could bring it down. My art note reflected my naive enthusiasm. “An enormous dragon tearing some clown in half!”
Now, when I say, “some clown,” I just mean some poor fool who can’t meet his situation. A guy out of his league. Someone worthy of laughter or even derision.
The artist illustrated a clown in horrid physical straits. A clown. A literal clown.
I had asked him to paint a clown, hadn’t I?
I got a clown.
Designers and developers, remember this little clown when preparing your art notes or giving art direction. No matter what you’re making, be it a card game, tabletop rpg, video game, or piece of writing, be sure to ask your art director for exactly what you want. Imagine my face over his up there, dangling bloodily from the jaws of a mythic monster.