I am a little slow in putting this up, because I forgot to check back after I heard this might be appearing, but you should definitely review this post about the card game Emergent. Why? Well, first and most importantly, it was created by my friend Dan Palmer, who has been creating and tweaking games his whole life, and this is to be his first commercial offering. Dan has a gift for finding interesting forms of gameplay, both effective and entertaining, and I’ve had firsthand experience with this for a long time now (like, two freaking decades.) But there’s also the little detail that the graphics of the deck are actually mine.

Emergent game color cardsNot the designs themselves – those are Dan’s. But he wanted real photographs to represent the color suits of the cards, and enlisted my help in finding images that would fit the bill. Once these were chosen, I worked from his instructions and criteria to put out the other cards as well (it’s not like text is a huge skill.) He designed the logo and graphic backgrounds; I just made them to order. Dan also located a printer that could do a really slick job of producing the cards, and managed to get his complete deck in hand for a gaming convention early this year (though not without a rather intricate backstory in itself involving delivery times, car breakdowns, and the suspicions that Fate might be a real force after all.)

The trip I mentioned a while back was actually into his neck of the woods – we live far apart now and all of the prep work was done through the magic of the intertubes – so I not only got a chance to play it out for myself a few times, we attended another game convention together and got to try it against a few blocks of players, receiving a lot of input. On the drive back, we hashed out more rule tweaks on this and a few other games Dan has in the works.

A few weeks ago, he contacted me about a new card that might be added, and had decided on purple; did I have something that would fit as the background image? His own suggestion was a nighttime lightning shot, since the sky tends to go purple in those conditions anyway, but he was up for any suggestions. I sent along eight possibilities I think, and he had largely decided to stay with one of the lightning examples I provided. Then, perhaps a week or so later, I got the hazardous near-miss image and of course sent this along; I think he’s pretty much set on using that one now (if the additional card passes muster, at least – this remains to be seen.)

This whole thing has been an ongoing story. Not just from the progress of the card deck from concept into real time, but on many other fronts as well. The convention mentioned in that other post was directly related to Dan’s day job, or at least part of it: a bit of swarm-oriented software for assisting in medical diagnoses. He and his colleagues have been developing this for the past couple of years, and submitted a paper on it not too long ago. I was enlisted to help tweak their images for publication clarity – ensuring that a color image would retain the same contrast and illustrative properties when converted to monochrome for one-color printing, overlaying results from different stages in the process, that kind of thing. Dan’s presence at this convention was due to the paper’s acceptance, and so I then helped a bit with the presentation he would be giving – I don’t want to make any kind of big deal out of my contribution, because it was minimal; Dan and his colleagues had produced a fascinating body of work and a process that will, hopefully, become integrated into medical diagnoses in the near future. I was only there to ensure that the illustrations worked, and in a lot of ways, that’s what a photographer does: present a visual representation of some concept. Art is all well and good, but function is in demand ten times as often.

something hidden?Dan, within his ridiculously busy schedule, also ran a summer camp this past season, and he demonstrated the very same software within it; the algorithm is designed to produce probabilities from a large number of diagnoses. Obtaining medical images for public use is indescribably involved, due to patient confidentiality laws, so instead of using medical images, Dan asked me for anything I might have, or be able to produce, with hidden elements – the idea is that the kids would independently point out where in the image lay some unexpected element, if it even existed, and their confidence level in it as well, and the software would collectively evaluate their ‘diagnoses’ and provide a potential ‘group’ diagnosis. The most fun was the criteria where there should be nothing of note in some of the images, but they should give the impression that there might be. So, once again I was providing my services towards Dan’s work (and in fact, this funded the trip up there.)

Is there a point underlying all of this bragging? Sure. It’s great to be able to get paid for doing exactly what you want to be doing, recognized for your art and all that, but it’s also extremely rare. Most times in fields like this, you have to produce what someone else wants, sometimes just as much as if you held one of those office jobs you thought you were avoiding. Pride in your own work, your own taste, your own style and approach, is all well and good, but pride in making the client happy is important too, and more in demand.

And, it is really cool to be watching these various things come to fruition, to be a part, however small, in these projects. Hell, I’d be interested in noting their progress just from watching them develop, even without any involvement of my own. But when they work, I know that my contribution is at least doing what is needed.

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If you spotted the thin red line down the middle of one of the cards on that linked blog post, good catch! Too bad I missed it before I packed the images off to Dan. It’s simply a reference line for keeping things centered on the cards, existing on its own separate layer, and was supposed to be rendered invisible before I finalized the card image. It was already fixed long ago, but this was the first deck of cards made – just one card has that artifact, and of course it’s one of those chosen for the illustrating image…