Gaming PDFs, e-readers, and THE FUTURE

Valanti

G in a world full of E
Validated User
I just read the thread concerning WW's new direction, and it occurred to me:

(1) if pdf releases are the "future", for most rpgs
(2) and if e-readers are getting more popular

(3) why not make pdfs which work and display well on these machines?

Or maybe so many people have laptops, etc., now, and use them at the table, that it doesn't really matter.

But even then, pdfs don't display all that well on laptops, in terms of seeing a whole page at once and reading it well. There's always scrolling and zooming and whatnot to be done.
 

dissolvegirl

Made To Fade
The way people do PDFs right now is really disappointing. They're all identical to the print copies, or else optimized for printing-- there's not a ton going for really utilizing the capabilities of a good PDF reader. I optimized the crap out of the PDF for my game, It's Complicated-- it comes with a plain, print-ready PDF AND a PDF full of extra explanatory sticky-notes, clickable links, a table of contents that'll actually take you to the appropriate chapter, the whole nine yards. (Plus a java application for playing the game online, but that's neither here nor there.)

And even that's not the bleeding edge of PDF stuff. Adobe's advertising right now about how you can embed music and videos into a PDF-- mood music tracks for your game as well as instructional videos or small snippets of actual play demos? That'd be hot. But I don't think anyone's interested in really exploring what the medium can do as much as they're interested in cutting costs, which is a shame.
 

Brad J. Murray

VSCA
RPGnet Member
Validated User
PDF is popular right now largely because it's dead simple for most publishers -- it's not a new project; you just "save as" and ship. Unfortunately it's also the wrong format -- it's intended destination is 300-1500dpi print on a fixed page size and there is just NO way that's going to please every electronic target. In fact it meets none of them at the moment. PDF is a preview technology for electronically distributing copy for markup prior to printing and for delivering print-ready material.

Unfortunately, the screen target (unknown size, unknown resolution) cuts the heart out of the artistry of layout because the artist can't really afford to invest in any assumptions and therefore can't control fonts, colours, margins, flow, or, really, anything that he wants to control. Worse, it's a new project that requires new attention to a text you thought was finished. And that attention exercises new skills -- you have to let go of control and find ways to deliver your vision with imprecise commands -- "this text is bolded", "this text is bigger", "this text is in a sidebar, which could mean anything", "this text is in a sans serif font if the reader has one", etc.

The second, in practically any specific form (ePub, eReader, eBook, eWhatever), is vastly superior for every end user except the one that intends to print your book before reading it. It's searchable, cut'n'pastable, conforms to any screen size/resolution, is very small (hundreds of times smaller than a PDF usually -- Diaspora is 8 megs in PDF but less than 100k in eReader), presents fewer licensing issues (fonts -- it's not entirely clear that any of the gaming PDFs I've come across lately are even legal for distribution according to the font licenses), and can be handily distributed by the Big Names in the game -- Kindle, mostly, but more are coming.

PDFs are pretty but broken for this. They are not intended for it and it shows. I hates them.
 

harpy

Retired User
Right now there are very few devices that can display a typical 8"x11" pdf well, but right around the corner we're going to see a lot of devices that have larger screens that give a 1:1 view of your typical office document.

The ereader's formfactor today are aimed at the paperback novel, but next year we're going to see ereaders aimed at the business market and its those devices which will make the whole gamer ereader click.

I can't wait! I'm busily selling off on ebay a lot of "analog" material I have around the home. We're getting closer to the all-digital world that I've been pining for at least two decades.

As for pdf... I'm not really seeing any problems. Once the form factor scales up then you'll see them just as if it were printed. Color ereaders will still take some time, but if they can do grey scale then that's fine with me. Storage space continues to increase so the file size isn't going to be a real issue.

Once I can have everything I own digitized and searchable, easily readable on the toilet or in bed, along with having everything at hand at the gaming table (which I impatiently wait to be a digital table also) then I'll be in heaven, at least for a little while... Until I'll have caught up with those "individual efficiency multipliers" and then hear about the next techno power boost.
 

Dyson Logos

Prophet of the deadEarth
Validated User
I just read the thread concerning WW's new direction, and it occurred to me:

(1) if pdf releases are the "future", for most rpgs
(2) and if e-readers are getting more popular

(3) why not make pdfs which work and display well on these machines?
I think that in "THE FUTURE", our damn e-readers will have a big enough screen and high enough resolution of colour e-ink that they will handle the current PDFs fine.

The problem right now is that the current generation of e-readers are still suffering from cripplingly limited technology.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Publishing ebooks in PDF format in addition to normal printing is trivial. Making non-PDF ebooks in addition to normal printing is not trivial, since they require an entirely different layout to function. And while RPG writers are a dime a dozen, good layouters are expensive. And pretty much every gamer can read PDFs on his computer - but which ebook formats work on all platforms?

Besides, reading PDFs on ebook readers is perfectly doable, as long as you get a large-screen reader:



These are still rather expensive, but I estimate that in three years or so they will be sufficiently cheap to make a viable option for most gamers who spend significant amounts of money on gaming books each year.
 

Turtlewing

Registered User
Validated User
Really, they should be using web technologies for ebooks. The issues regarding developing for unknown platforms are pretty well addressed in web design and the flexibility of an HTML/CSS document's display and layout to be customized by not only the creator but also the device and end user is far superior to PDF. And it can even handle print formating.
 

David Goodner

Observer
Validated User
I occasionally imagine the future of RPGs as Web 2.0.

Imagine this - All the text of your game book is arranged in a web site where each chapter is a page. Hypertext links related content, and there's a handy navigation tool AND a search tool that makes it dead easy to find whatever section you're looking for.

But then kick it up a notch. The character creation chapter has a built-in character creator that will kick out a character sheet in various formats (PDF for printing, some kind of fancy XML for using in an in-game character tracker, etc.) The combat section has a combat tracker that makes it easy to run combats even if the rules are relatively complex.

Then kick it up another notch. New supplements seamlessly merge with the core file such that all the character options for new splats appear in the character chapter, and so on.

Then kick it up yet another notch. Make it so the GM can easily add new content, and houserule existing content. Then your game page appears with the edited content. And you can even have different versions of the game. Just decide which you want to use, and that's what's displayed in a given session.

(And, of course, you can always easily restore to defaults)

Thinking that a game has to be made of "books" with static content is so 20th century.

David G.
 

Tomes

That's my name.
I occasionally imagine the future of RPGs as Web 2.0.

Imagine this - All the text of your game book is arranged in a web site where each chapter is a page. Hypertext links related content, and there's a handy navigation tool AND a search tool that makes it dead easy to find whatever section you're looking for.

But then kick it up a notch. The character creation chapter has a built-in character creator that will kick out a character sheet in various formats (PDF for printing, some kind of fancy XML for using in an in-game character tracker, etc.) The combat section has a combat tracker that makes it easy to run combats even if the rules are relatively complex.

Then kick it up another notch. New supplements seamlessly merge with the core file such that all the character options for new splats appear in the character chapter, and so on.

Then kick it up yet another notch. Make it so the GM can easily add new content, and houserule existing content. Then your game page appears with the edited content. And you can even have different versions of the game. Just decide which you want to use, and that's what's displayed in a given session.

(And, of course, you can always easily restore to defaults)

Thinking that a game has to be made of "books" with static content is so 20th century.

David G.
Mr Goodner, I would like to preorder a ticket to your Future of RPGs.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Mr Goodner, I would like to preorder a ticket to your Future of RPGs.
So would I, but... how many gaming companies will have the technical resources to provide this kind of product?

I can only think of two - Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf. Most of the RPG industry is kept alive that most gaming companies are able to find authors willing to work for money not sufficient to earn a living. But providing such complex electronic versions of gaming books will require skilled programmers, and those generally do not work for minimum wage or below.

This is made more complicated by the fact that such a system would have to run on a multitude of platforms - including multiple ebook readers by different companies - to reach a sufficient audience, something which does not strike me as likely. Even WotC, the largest gaming company out there by far, is only able to support their software for Windows.

Meanwhile, PDFs work on almost all platforms. They might not be ideal, but will it truly be financially worthwhile to develop new formats?

Not any time soon, would be my guess...
 
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