Should RPGs Leave The Saturday Morning Cartoons Behind?


Mark Plemmons has a new game he’s running a Kickstarter for called Corporia. While the setting isn’t my cup of tea, one thing really peaked my interest about the project, the art. That might not seem unusual, a lot of people look at games and say “Whoa, that’s amazing art!” In this case though, it’s not just the quality of the art, it’s the format. These aren’t drawings and paintings, they’re photographs.

Mark isn’t the first designer to use photographs in his game but so far as I’ve seen he’s the first to use them extensively and well at the same time. The pictures have a specific magazine cover look. Indeed, some look like mock ups of a cyberpunk future Cosmopolitan cover which really grounds the setting. It has the effect of the subjects looking mundane, while doing really out of character things, like a businessmen wielding a broadsword.


I asked Mark why he went in the direction he did and he related how, when he started, the project was intended to be smaller than it is now. As he worked on it, he kept finding artists he really liked and the art took on a new dimension.

Here’s why I ask if RPGs should leave saturday morning cartoons behind. Mark looked at this as an opportunity to make a game that was visually attractive not just  to gamers but to non-gamers as well.

We often forget that the style and the subject of the art in game books can be a bit juvenile. Yes, there are a lot of extraordinary paintings and drawings out there but there is a lot of silly, poorly proportioned art too. Often, that has the effect of putting people off.

There’s been a lot of discussion about representations of women in games. Again disproportionate bodies and physically impossible poses are frequently lampooned. Using photographs of normal people in fantastic situations reduces that problem significantly. There could still be the issue of if the art is tasteful but let’s take what advantages we can.

There’s been discussions of using photographs in RPGs over at RPGGeek, the conclusion really pointing to the idea that good art is just good art but we tend to be less forgiving of flaws in photography.

There are a lot of games where it would be amazingly hard to pull off with photographs. Mark has the distinct advantage that his subject matter of business men wielding claymores involves reasonably easy to acquire props. I was talking to a cosplayer that did an amazing job of a cyborg and his suit is estimated to cost over $350 in materials probably double or triple that for the labor. Although you could use the suit repeatedly for game art you’d probably need dozens of costumes like that to make a full sized game book. That’s $8000 and up just for some of the props. Now you need the photographers, the graphic artists and to pay the people in the picture. Probably an art director too. In short, expensive. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Mark’s cost were in the same ballpark though.

So why isn’t Hasbro or Pazio doing this? They have the budget and if they don’t have the talent in house, they should be able to acquire it. If you can make a movie about a genre and have it look good, why can’t you make a photo of the same genre look good? Mark and his crew of artists are making it happen. In the next ten years, will we be looking back at Corporia as being the game that broke the mold?

If you’re interested in finding out more, Corporia’s Kickstarter page is here.


Filed under Experimental Mechanics, News

2 Responses to Should RPGs Leave The Saturday Morning Cartoons Behind?

  1. So why isn’t Hasbro or Pazio doing this?

    Maybe because art is better than photos? And also because corporate RPG’s are a part of videogames?

    • Loc

      I don’t see why art has to be better than photos. If you can make a LoTR movie and have it look good, surely an art studio could produce good looking photos. If anything, art is lower tech. In years past, if you wanted a fantasy story, you had to go with animated film. Thats partly why anime flourished in japan, because they didn’t have the ability to film the scenes they wanted to create.

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