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1 May, 2008

 Products The Guns of Gettysburg Design Diary Battery D

The Guns of Gettysburg Design Diary: Battery D

Battery D

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As promised in the last entry, this entry will just deal with the box design. The cover image, shown in its original form above, is of Battery D, of the 2nd U. S. Artillery Regiment. the photo was taken by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, and was developed by Alexander Gardner and published in Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the American Civil War, 1861-1865. There is a dirty little secret here about this photograph, I’m afraid: although the battery depicted was at Gettysburg, the photograph in question was actually taken at Fredericksburg.

So why did I use the photograph? Well, the short answer is because I liked it and couldn’t find any from Gettysburg that I liked nearly so well. I was actually fully prepared to use cover art in either of the two prior games that were not from the battles depicted, but was fortunate to be able to find images that I liked that were from the subject battles. Here, as it happens, my luck ran out. Oh, well, you can’t have everything!

The battery in question and its commander actually had an interesting history, as it happens. At the time of Gettysburg, the battery was equipped with 6 12 pounder Napoleons. The battery was part of the field artillery brigade of VI corps, but the battery was re-equipped as horse artillery after Gettysburg. The battery commander, Edward Bancroft Williston was heavily decorated, including a Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in the Battle of Trevallian Station on 2 June 1864. He was a career army man, and was eventually promoted to Brigadier General (retroactively, after his retirement, remarkably enough) in 1904. It is difficult to be sure, but I suspect that Williston is the man seen in profile standing behind the second artillery piece from the left in the photograph.

The choice of the cover art was first conditioned by my desire to depict artillery on the box cover: I had used infantry in Bonaparte at Marengo, cavalry in Napoleon’s Triumph, and I felt strongly that it was artillery’s turn. The second factor governing my choice was that it be a photograph, not a painting or a drawing. This was a response to my own sense of our collective visual memory of the war as being chiefly governed by photography, so it felt right to me that a photograph would appear on the box cover. The final factor was that I wanted an image whose composition would express the continuity of the new game with the old, even as the change from paint to photography would express the discontinuity.

Without question, my desire to retain a continuity of composition was the most difficult constraint to meet. Cameras at the time of the Civil War were bulky things and Civil War photography is dominated by portraits (individual and group shots) and perhaps most memorably, images of the aftermath of battles showing the fallen. Photographs of units in action are relatively rare, save for shots taken in the relative safety of fortifications. After some searching without finding anything like what I had in mind, I was beginning to wonder if I would be forced to adjust my goals downward, when I came upon this image. The first place on the Internet I saw it did not contain any usable references that would help me locate a high-resolution copy of it suitable for print, but eventually I was able to track it down.

Before discussing the process of adapting the art for use on the box, I thought it best to remind you of the appearance of the completed work, and so here it is:

Battery D

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Because I am planning a change in the shape of the box from previous games (from a portrait to a landscape orientation), the re-framing problem is less here than it was with the previous two games, where I had to adopt landscape orientation art to a portrait orientation box. As was the case previously, the edges of the art had to be extended to wrap around the sides of the box while still leaving the central image well-framed on the top (the Photoshop rubber stamp tool is great for that sort of work). If you compare the left and right sides of the box version and compare it with the original, you can see the extensions: there are extra horses on the left, extra trees on both the right and left, and a rather lonely looking tent on the left side that was copied from all the way over on the right. Finally, of course, the whole thing has been tinged with a sepia tone to give it that antique look.

As is my custom, other adornments on the box apart from the cover art are kept to a minimum. The subtitle text “The Battle to Save a Nation” was strongly criticized by a writer friend of mine when I showed it to him as it reminded him entirely too much of high-school history class. I rather like it myself, because I enjoy the ambiguity inherent in the identity of the nation the battle is to save. It reminds me of the famous prophesy of the Oracle of Delphi when asked by King Croesus of Lydia whether he should go to war with Persia or not; the Oracle replied “If you proceed, a great power will be destroyed”. Satisfied with this answer, Croesus went to war, lost, and Lydia was destroyed, satisfying the Oracle’s prophesy, albeit not as Croesus had envisioned.

Of course, being who I am, I can’t do anything new without using a new font. I just love fonts; those of us who love the visual arts but are incompentent at their execution can always get a cheap thrill by using non-standard fonts. The font in this case is Albertina, and it is an all-upper-case font (the lower-case letters being smaller versions of the upper-case letters). It has an old-fashioned look that I like, which I think harmonizes well with the photograph. When you (eventually) see the board for the game, you will see a lot more of Albertina, so I hope that those of you who (like me) care about this sort of thing like it.

One more visual touch worth noting is the stupid little calligraphic ornaments to the left and right of the subtitle. You can barely see them without zooming in, although they are more obvious when the art is printed. If I seem hostile to them it is a reflection of the grossly disproportionate effort I went through to get them. I already had a library of little decorations which I’d obtained for a personal project, and I originally assumed I would find some there that I liked (I thought that the box composition need some small decoration to save it from being just text and photograph) but no luck. I looked at online clip-art, I bought two decoration books promising thousands of images, and still came up empty. Frame art, sure, tons of frame art, rectangular and circular, but bi-lateral designs that were intended just to go on the right or left side of something or other I couldn’t seem to find. Finally, I succeeded (the images come from a Dover book, Calligraphic Ornaments CD-ROM and Book) although it still took some work to get them; I use a Mac and the image files were encoded in some strange way such that it took a Windows-only browser application to coonvert them into a standard format. Once I figured that out, I was able to obtain the images in an almost usable form, and it took only the power of Adobe Illustrator to convert them from raster to vector form using that program’s “Live Trace” feature. If it seems like I’m punishing you with this over-long story of how I got two tiny decorations onto my box, you should just know that I’m doing it because I can’t see any reason why I should be the only one who suffers.

Oh, one more thing. I had meant to close with the story of the ridiculous decoration search, but there is one more thing worth discussing, and that is the choice of a title. You know, mine wasn’t the first Marengo game, but still there aren’t that many and so I was able to come up with a pretty clear title for the game that wasn’t already in use without much effort. With Austerlitz, the title name space was substantially more crowded and I finally ended up going with the fairly generic “Napoleon’s Triumph”. When it comes to Gettysburg, however, done, re-done, and re-done as it is, the title name space is really, really crowded. As it is, I have a near collision with some set of miniatures rules called ”Guns at Gettysburg”, but I’m ok with that I think. I do like the alliterative aspect of the title, and it looks especially neat when written out with the three “G”s in an all-upper-case font like Albertina.

Well, that’s it for now. Curent plans are for the next entry to begin the map reveal strip-tease mentioned in the opening diary entry.