Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide is Out

It has been a little bit since the Kickstarter for Margaret Weis Productions’ Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide was announced. Today, I awoke to an announcement that the PDF of the book had been released. As a backer, I had also received a coupon in my inbox to download the book from DriveThruRPG for free. I’ve been able to scroll through the book a bit, although I have not yet read it cover to cover. Much of the content was somewhat covered in preview editions I received as a backer, although there is definitely much more meat in the final product. This is a review including my initial impressions of the book, although I won’t be going into too much detail until I have read through it further.

The Layout & Look

I had high hopes for the layout and design of this book. This is especially true since, at one point, the updates were that the initial layout didn’t work so MWP had brought in some “superstar” talent to lay everything our again. There was a period where it should have been three or four weeks to get that done and get the next update, which took closer to two months. The actual release of the book came faster than I expected after that, something like only a week or two. So, that’s great. As with previous MWP products—and a lot of other RPG books on the market—there is some splash color and fonts spread throughout the book along with a graphic border. Unfortunately, it’s not a layered PDF, so that’ll eat a bit more ink to print out. That’s okay, I could live with that, though.

I think what bothers me most was that a portion of the funds raised was to go toward artistic talent. What I have seen here is some decent graphic design in the layout and some icons being added throughout the book. For other spot art, what I have seen looks like nothing more than some photographs, perhaps taken by hired artists or perhaps taken by staff members with photography talents or maybe even purchased from somewhere like iStockPhoto. Now, I don’t mean to knock it. Really, I don’t. However, I like a little bit more art. Perhaps I should have expected photo imagery after reading books like Smallville and Leverage, but those were licensed products, trying to emulate the feel of the source material. The base Cortex book was full of art. Marvel had art, but that was licensed as well from a company where the art often sells the product.

Bottom line, I would have liked to see more line art in the Cortex Hacker’s Guide. I would have preferred a layered PDF. Such is life, though, and it doesn’t totally ruin the product for me.

The Content

This PDF weighs in at 264 pages. It has a table of contents built in, so that’s good. The writing is decent and takes a fun tone, which I think really helps sell the product. I do not feel like I am reading a text book role playing game book. Instead, the exuberance of the creators is shining through in their writing. I think that is great.

The examples given in the final book are more than they were in the preview materials. Simply, there are more of them and they are more colorful—no pun intended. I think that is great. These examples really help to give people an idea of what they can do. Whether they want a dungeon crawl or a cyberpunk super-hero mashup, the tools are readily there to help make the game you have always wanted, with what is a fun system.

I want to take a closer look at each of these sections in more detail at a later time, so keep an eye out for that.

Overall Impressions

I’m really excited that this book is out. I wish the art would’ve been different, but I can live with it for what it is. I also seem to recall their being a rumor that this book would open the doors for some sort of open Cortex license for 3pp, and I don’t see any mention of that in the book on the MWP site. I’ve read some rumors here and there, but it seems it may just be overly emphasized conjecture. So, if you read that and are hoping this book will put you on the path toward creating official 3pp materials for Cortex Plus, I wouldn’t necessarily get your hopes up, as it isn’t the first time the rumor that it would be an option has creeped up and then disappeared.

If you enjoy the Cortex system and want to see what other cool and exciting games you can run along many various lines, it is definitely worth picking up.