Early in 2017, we agreed to publish Tim Taylor's At All Costs, a sequel to their To The Last Man, hoping to release it later that year. As it's now 2020 and we're about a month away from publication, it's taken a bit longer than that. Partially this was about giving Tim the time needed to finalize the design, partially this was about giving us the time we needed to playtest. Our implementation of the game involves printing directly on some specialty wood bits, and so we had to spend some time experimenting with that, in addition to the usual time and money spent on the art.
But Mary and I are firm believers in the concept that no one really remembers when a game came out, just whether or not it was good once it did. And I am absolutely confident that the version of At All Costs that we're releasing in 2020 is a much stronger production than what we would have put out in 2017. You publish enough games, and you can't help but get better at it. The same goes with box covers, counters, and cards; the stuff I'm doing now is miles above what I did when we were first starting out. And At All Costs actually demonstrates this pretty well!
When we first announced the game, I created a cover that, at the time, I found rather striking and was rather proud of.
Mary was rather less enamored with it, and said the guys on the cover looked goofy.
"Goofy? Mary, that guy has a bandage on his head. With blood. They're all terrified."
Shrug. "It looks goofy. But if that's what you want to go with, I guess we're going with it."
I said I would see if I could finesse it a bit before it was finalized. And a couple of years later, I did make some slight alterations, but the essential idea of the cover remained the same.
"Man, you really like those goofy guys," Mary said to me recently. "They're still there."
"Well, let me see if I can think of something else."
"No, keep it," said Mary. "I mean, it looks terrible, but if you like it, I guess we'll put the game out with that terrible cover. You can't be the only one who will like it. I'm sure there are other people out there who have no taste, and maybe they'll buy it."
So at this point I stop finessing and decide to just do a brand new cover. I have no idea what this cover will be though.
Now, just as I had done the original cover back in 2017, I had started working on the cards a while back as well. I didn't have a lot of different period photos or art to work from that would be appropriate for the eastern front of WWI, so I decided the best way to spice the thing up visually would be to distress the card titles a bit.
This wasn't done via specific "distressed" font; instead, I rasterized each card title in Photoshop and manually distressed them, choosing where the letters would be obscured with an eye toward maintaining legibility. My initial pass was checked both with human eyeballs - polling some friends, gamers and non-gamers alike - and with a computer program. Based on that feedback, many of the title blocks were completely redone, shifting and reducing the distressed portions to maximize readability. This process wrapped up in early 2019.
When some of those cards went online early this year, however, we got some comments about the titles being difficult to read. I re-ran the tests, which included getting feedback from a couple hundred fresh sets of human eyeballs, and about 35% had problems with the legibility. This was more than high enough to cause concern, and so Mary and I decided that, yes, the cards needed to be redone, and that concept abandoned.
The new cards have plain, non-distressed titles, but I put a photograph taken during Brusilov's Offensive behind the title block to give it some visual appeal.
Around this time, Mary reminds me that my current cover stinks on ice, and I start thinking, okay, what if I built the cover around this photo rather than the "goofy" illustration? And while the distressed text didn't fly for the cards, maybe it'd look better on the cover?
Mary confirmed that this was moving in the right direction, but the image was a little too soft - it wasn't sharp enough. I didn't want to just throw a filter on it; I've overused the posterization effect in the past, and I wanted to maintain the realistic photo appearance.
So what I did instead is I used two versions of the photo. The first was the mostly unaltered photo you see above. For the second, I used "color select" to select and remove much of the white from the photo, leaving a sort of sketchy outline with a transparent background. I then applied a black color overlay on that so as to solidify that image.
This was layered over the original image, maintaining the original's essential character while making the thing a little sharper and more visually appealing.
"This one's good," determined Mary. "The only problem is I don't see any dinosaurs."