Since I started working with John from Brave Halfling Publishing and got Arcana Creations started, a couple of people have asked me what I use or what I would recommend to manage some of the work I get done when I put out and have something published. A fair question, and given that I have once more did a bit of software upgrading, it has again made this topic relevant.
First off, I had already been using Open Office for years and a direct output to PDF was always handy for personal use. I liked previous versions of Microsoft Office but inherent costs with that package, particularly with some of the earlier versions, wasn't at all practical for someone on a tight budget (and no longer eligible for a student discount). However, when I was first approached by John to edit and check the game mechanics of the first C&C module BHP was producing, Open Office was really the first tool I had to go with. My responsibilities as for as production went was very limited -- once I finished with the text, John would get the file and lay it out along with the art. I got a pre-published version in PDF to double check the text and make sure nothing was missed and it went through to the next production stage when I gave final approval. From there, it got put in a PDF format for distribution as well as a physical digest of the module. I also had input on the first covers of the module but didn't do any of that work either. This was the digest release of 'The Secret of Ronan Skerry' and the digest was very well received when it was first released.
The success of this first release prompted us to do two things. First, I formed up Arcana Creations -- a studio focused on developing material for RPGs. Second, we decided to take the module and re-format it to a full-sized module in order to release this into retail distribution. It was at this point I started demanding a lot more out of my existing computer system.
At the time, this was a dual core Athlon 64 X2 3800 with a mere 2 gigs of ram. It was a great system and cutting edge when I first got it in 2005. Software was a different issue. I was still using Open Office and, you can do a good job doing rudimentary layout with most solid word processors now. It's something that I wouldn't recommend though because as soon as you begin to try and put in artwork, you are bound to run into problems. These aren't insurmountable issues but they will cause plenty of headaches and you can forget about trying to do anything fancy. These are the reasons that earlier products are certainly 'no-thrills' and a bit simpler than later offerings.
As far as graphic oriented work was concerned, a favorite of mine for many years was a program called Paint Shop Pro put out by Jasc Software, the last great version of which was version 9 prior to the buyout by Corel in 2004. It was a great little package and fast for what it was. However, when I started working with 600 dpi layers and realized that my system just could barely handle it when trying to design the covers, I realized I needed to think about upgrading the equipment as well as the software to make my life easier.
Between Open Office, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, GIMP photoshop, and a lot of patience (and a bit of scotch), a revised version of the Secret of Ronan Skerry was finished and I went on to do a digest sized version of the Ruins of Ramat for C&C a few months later. Once again, the files where passed on to John who took care of the physical production of the modules and final preparation for PDF distribution.
These three releases spanned from the summer of 2009 to the end of that year. At that point, some work had already started on the Arcana Creations website and I started blogging as well. The website was managed with a simple 'WYSIWYG' program but, like now, never a major concern since stuff was released through Brave Halfling Publishing anyway.
However, given that I was ready to undertake another C&C module and I had been planning for larger projects, I knew I needed a better set of tools and I began shopping... The setup I had to start with was functional but not ideal. It's probably not the worse way to start if unsure of what kind of investment you want to put into it.
To be concluded in Part 2.