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The Purpose of Your First Page

For a while, I’ve been figuring out how to write a post about constructing your first page. This is key — how you introduce your entire idea will make or break interest & understanding of your game. But without examples, I’ve be talking in useless abstracts. Thankfully, Brennan Taylor offered up an early draft of Bulldogs! intro page for us to look at, as well as the intro page as it’s going to press. So bonus! Side-by-side comparison.

First of all, if you’re not aware of Bulldogs!, it’s best described as the Han Solo RPG. Powered by Fate (and doing some neat stuff with it), it’s high-action sci-fi that blends Star Wars & Firefly together, and I think it’s pretty keen. He’s got a Kickstarter going right now, worth checking out if this is up your space alley.

Second, I was one of the editors on the project, which is why I have the first draft. Below is that initial just-over-a-page with some of my notes (cleaned up slightly):

Bulldogs! Draft Marked Up

Bulldogs! Draft Marked Up (click for two-page PDF)

You’ll see my notes during this high-level developmental pass focusing on what this wasn’t doing, notably:

  • Not having tone that matches the game’s feel
  • Introducing setting information before he’s sold the game’s idea to the reader
  • Defining his game by using the negative. (“It isn’t…”)
  • Didn’t prepare the reader for what’s to come.

Brennan took those and worked further with the angel of editing that is Amanda Valentine[1] (and then layout from Fred Hicks) to come up with the first two pages of the RPG as it’s going to press:

Bulldogs! Intro Final (click for two-page PDF)

So, let’s look at what he has done:

  • He’s starting with rhetorical questions, which is a good candidate for engaging language. Questions rock.
  • In the second line, which totally draws your eye[2], grabs at you with the second person usage.
  • Then he launches into why Bulldogs! is promising to be awesome.
  • Once he’s done selling you the idea, he’s setting you up with the overview of the book.
  • The next page is enough setting info to get folks started. Honestly, it’s a good two-pages to hand to some friends when you said “hey, I want to try this game, what do you think?”

Writing this is really hard! As a designer, this is (a) obvious to you and (b) kinda boring, because you’ve lived it. So you have to forge this, and second-guess yourself, which is where working with editors is really going to help you here.

I won’t go much further. The draft & final side-by-side are pretty useful for discovering the difference between what the designer feels is the starting point for discussion and what the reader actually needs to read. For you designer-writer types out there, what are you doing in that first page that’s attractive readers and buyers?

A huge thank-you to Brennan for showing us some under-the-hood. A lot of folks don’t do that, and I’m glad I surround myself with folks who do.

– Ryan

[1] Who will have her blog up soon! (No pressure.)

[2] And crafting non-linear text, accidentally and purposefully, is a future post I’m sure.

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3 Responses to The Purpose of Your First Page

  1. Scott says:

    This post makes me cry a little inside because my writing is much more like the initial draft than the final.

    On the plus side, there is hope, as the Bulldogs! authors managed to get from point A to point B.

    Thanks for the insights.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Scott,

      It’s actually pretty common. And better to cry well before publication than after you’ve got a thousand comies of your book lingering in your garage. :)

      – Ryan

  2. Dave S says:

    Huge improvement!
    As a player, it makes me grok the setting instantly, and starts churning my brain for character ideas.
    It’s emotional and it does effectively set the tone of the game, something that’s hard to infer by flipping pages in a game store.

    I know I certainly would have written something similar to that first draft.
    That why you game writers/editors are rock-stars!

    My only obligatory-gamer-complaint is the repetitive use of the blue “Bulldogs!” title font in the third intro paragraph and the Overview chapter listings.

    1) It’s very jarring and hard to focus on the content rather than the typeface. That’s a bad thing, especially for the intro.

    In fact, The book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” discusses studies that show simply having a highlighted word in text causes disruptions in reading comprehension and retention.
    Readers regularly scored lower on questions about text that contained highlighted links in the content versus those that didn’t.

    2) Highlighted words help you notice/scan the page for important phrases.
    For good use of this on the page, see how your eye hits the Overview chapter titles and the titles in the “Bulldogs! uses the FATE system” blue box.
    But the repetitive title highlighting interferes with useful scanning.

    I understand layout finished, but perhaps in another edition, it might be a good idea to consider reducing the number of times the title is explicitly mentioned and highlighted to only the first sentence in a paragraph. Less “*Bulldogs!* is…” and more “It is…”.

    But then again, I can be nit-picky about silly little things and I’m certainly not a professional editor/publisher/game designer.

    In any case, I never considered tone being the central point of an intro.
    Thanks for the insightful post and the concrete examples!