Thursday, June 23, 2016

hack vs exploit vs innovation

In the process of setting up the dungeon contest website, I have spent a lot of time looking at One Page Dungeon Contest entries spanning the eight years the contest has been running.

From its inception to the latest iteration (OPDC 2016) I have noticed some trends through the years which have been driven by the creators and the judges' selections.

The contest began with (a comparatively) rigid format, and included templates for both dungeon and hex crawl wilderness maps. Creators soon began to create dungeons that captured the spirit and intent of the templates, but in their own unique format and style.  The templates that were, in part, the impetus for the contest are all but forgotten now.

Creators have shaped and re-shaped the One Page Dungeon format each year, and there have been some truly inspiring layouts and design choices.

One development that I find a bit problematic, perhaps in part due to my 45 year old eyes, is the drastic reduction in font size. Some one page dungeons have managed to cram two or three dungeons worth of content into a single page, and despite attempts by organizers to deter small font sizes, have done well with the judges.

This is conflicting, as technically entries that use very small font sizes for their text have not done anything that is restricted by the contest, and are simply taking advantage of a clever innovation to make a dungeon or adventure more "fleshed out" and content rich.

Unofficially, the "tiny font method" circumvents the design challenge set forth by the contest which is by my estimation the most frustrating and rewarding part of the whole process.

From a practical standpoint, it makes for PDFs that are difficult to read without extensive zooming and panning, and some of the original entry PDFs are sadly unreadable. Random Wizard mentioned to me that there was some demand for print copies, and the problems presented by tiny fonts are further exacerbated in hard copy, although I suppose the old school zoom ( a magnifying glass) could help. Looking over past entries, I can honestly say that I don't think a print version will be possible for every year without omitting entries, or being comfortable with unreadable pages that are the equivalent of a preview jpeg.

I am thinking of a few ways around this. Some of my ideas include establishing a minimum font size as a rule rather than a suggestion, limiting the format options a bit, incorporating a point system into the judging process that penalizes smaller font sizes to a degree that offsets the benefit of gaining a bunch of extra space for content (how the hell do I begin to quantify that?), or imposing a minimum font size but allowing a Double Sided Dungeon format so that a One Page Dungeon technically lives on one page, but makes full use of both sides.

While this last suggestion seems a bit like a concession as I type it, I don't want to limit creativity or innovation, but I do want something that is readable. Entries will be used to create compendiums that are sold online. This is no secret. If entries are unreadable, or the formats are so varied that combining them together in a book leaves oceans of white space and results in further reduction to images (and font size) then who would want them?

The double sided dungeon format would not replace the classic 'single sided" dungeon format, but would offer a second option, and a second category, to the contest. By this line of thinking, I don't feel it would be fair to judge the two formats against one another. Creating a one sided, one page dungeon with the set minimum (readable) font size is less of a design challenge than creating a two sided, one page dungeon with the same minimum font size.