Touring the print edition of Theory of Fun

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Dec 052013

The print edition is out! Yay! Hopefully I get author’s copies tomorrow.

In celebration, I thought I’d share some images of what it looks like now. I really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. All glossy and hefty, it feels very substantial and classy. And I have trouble going back to look at the black and white now, having grown used to color everywhere. Read on for some before-and-afters on the imagery, some looks at the text additions, and how I tackled the issue of revising away some of the sexism in the cartoons!


The first thing, of course, is the layout. Yes, it’s in a portrait layout now, instead of the horizontal format. Not only will it fit better on shelves, but it also means that the book shouldn’t fall out of stock as much, because we selected this layout because we can  use Print On Demand to constantly keep hard copies available. Before, copies had to be manually ordered.

Ironically, the actual size of the book is almost exactly the same. The new edition is actually just slightly larger.


Here is an example of how the interior layout has changed. Not only are all the pages glossy throughout, but the font is more readable too. You can also see that we are using new fonts for the captions throughout — these are actually based on my handwriting, and are the same ones that you can see in the “Ten Years Later” presentation I gave at GDCOnline. Of course, the acknowledgements section has gotten a little larger now…! A whole host of people kindly offered to read the original version of the book and offer up their critiques of it. Their comments powerfully shaped the revisions in the new edition, and they are all thanked here. You might recognize some regular blog readers and commenters!

IMG_2583This is another view of how the layout works now. I had to edit many of the cartoons to work better as vertical layouts. In the process of redoing the captions, I also pulled them all off the image (since they were hand-inked before) and inserted them digitally as text with the custom font. That lets us in theory do translated versions much more easily, since image editing won’t be required for hand-drawn text all through the images.

Many of the cartoons were much harder to translate into vertical than this. There are a few that I had to basically leave intact and just center on the page. Others had a lot of white space, and I was able to crop the white away and just blow up the whole image.

The hardest ones to deal with were those that were laid out horizontally but were in panels or the like. Those, I actually physically re-laid-out, with careful cutting and pasting. This was done after they had already been colored horizontally, because the decision to shift to a vertical layout came relatively late in the process.

IMG_2585IMG_2586Some cartoons, I went nuts on, and basically added whole backgrounds to. This was probably overkill, but it was kind of fun anyway. The tricky bit here was actually trying to keep to the spirit of the original cartoons. I have mentioned this before, but the originals were done rather hurriedly. Because the deadline was tight, I chose a deliberately naif style, something with very little elaboration in it. Figures had basically no relationship to actual human anatomy in most cases, and hardly anything was drawn from reference. I just didn’t have time to do a better or more detailed job.

Well, opinions on the cartoons are certainly divided! But plenty of readers tell me they are “charming” or “quirky” and I didn’t want to lose that quality of them having been doodles in a notepad (as suggested by the cover). So coloring them introduced an interesting problem: how to color them without it being either pure flat-shaded (which would have conveyed corporate cartooning) or overly elaborated? I ended up trying to mimic the original style, only with some custom Photoshop brushes. I tied hue to pressure sensitivity, giving a slightly more painterly look — and then stuck only to largish brushes, so that I couldn’t work in any great detail.

TIMG_2587he book does have new material, of course. Here’s some of it. I was pretty conservative in adding pages of new material. For one, in the original, it is possible to simply read just the cartoon pages straight through without referencing the text, and vice versa. This meant that inserting material in the middle was a challenge — it had to work well between two pages of text and between two pages of cartoons. Most revisions were carefully constrained so that page breaks were preserved exactly between the two editions, for this reason. I also got the feedback loud and clear from many readers that “the book shouldn’t change too much” in terms of tone.

This page on alternate ways to play is something I wanted to include, though, because especially lately I have seen my positions on games be represented as rather more rigid and fundamentalist than they actually are (in fact, re-reading the book, I was struck by how much more rigid some of my recent essays seemed than some of the stuff in Theory of Fun… that was an interesting thing to notice!). So I wanted to make clear that there are lots of ways to enjoy games other than what is defined as “fun” in the book. (And yes, of course, for a videogame enemy, the monster under the bed is a player…!)

IMG_2588One of the things that has increasingly popped up as a critique over the years is that many of the cartoons seemed sexist; the player was all too often a guy, and there was a “hostile female” sort of vibe to too many of the punchlines. This was hard to address. First off, it’s hard to see about yourself or your work, of course. None of the cartoons were intended that way, but that’s how the impression came out, and what’s more, the impression seemed to intensify over time as more people pay more attention to the issue.

Secondly, there were big constraints on what I could do to address it. Redoing cartoons wholesale was something that was rather tricky given the book’s deadlines (one suggestion I got was to redo all the cartoons with nonhumans… alas, maybe next time!). I had to make a call image by image on how to, and whether to, fix the cartoon. There is one in there, for example, that was literally a spoof of the old Lockhorns comic strip, where the sloshed husband returns home to a toe-tapping angry wife, only set with cavepeople. The source material was stereotypical, so the spoof was too. IMG_2590That one turned out to be too intricate to redo. A lot of the cartoons entail a somewhat violent punchline, and with those there’s just no way to win; if I flip the sexes in the cartoon, either it’s violence against women or it’s the hostile female trope. The only real solution would be a whole new cartoon, and avoiding the violent punchlines.

In some cases, like the one about designeritis, I was able to just rewrite all the captions in the image to portray the woman in the cartoon as an expert gamer. In the end, I hope I managed to move the line towards a more equal gender balance in terms of who ends up being the butt of the joke and who ends up being seen as the game expert.

This applies to the text as well; there are many who disliked some of the material on brain differences between the sexes, and the science has moved on quite a bit in the last ten years. (There’s a lot of dislike of evolutionary psychology in general, I have found. Likely because it is so easily misused by those with an agenda). So that chapter saw quite a lot of careful revisions to emphasize that games in general were not at all always destined to be the province of males, or that women were in some way inferior as gamers. In the end, whether differences are inborn or not was never really the point of the material anyhow — it’s clear that some are, and some aren’t, and far too many of them are socially constructed. But whether or not a given person ended up with preferences through nature or nurture is immaterial compared to the fact that preferences do exist, and games have shown notable power to rewrite those preferences and confer new skills. That was what I always found exciting and fascinating.

Anyway, that’s just a very brief tour of some of what is different between the old and new editions. I know ebooks are where all the excitement is these days, but I couldn’t be more thrilled with how the dead trees version came out. It feels right for this to be the version on the shelf for the next ten years — and who knows, maybe then we’ll be doing yet another revision. (In hardcover? And the ebook, maybe animated? Who knows…!)

It’s available now and you should be able to get it before Christmas, if you plan to gift it. 🙂

Theory of Fun for Game Design: Raph Koster: 9781449363215: Books.


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