Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Electronic Dragons

No, this isn't about some new elemental dragon in 4e, but about the move of Dragon magazine to electronic format. I used to subscribe to both Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and had mixed feelings about the move to an all-digital format. Still, it meant better access to the articles through a search-engine, so I accepted it.

Now, I know that D&D Insider is new, and free, and so I should not complain, or understand, or something, but it's feeling like a half-baked idea right now. This is from the same group that also gave us Gleemax, so I'm not sure why I'm surprised -- but I guess I hoped that the face of Dungeons & Dragons would be done correctly (Okay, I don't know how related the Gleemax system is to D&D Insider, but they're the same company...)

If you've browsed around this blog, you'll notice that on the right, there's a link to wizardslinks, which is a collation of all of the articles on The D&D site, since I've never found the site amenable to finding articles that I know exist. Part of maintaining wizardlinks is also maintaining lists of the articles on a per-issue basis, instead of by column. And this is my rant for today.

Take a look at the Dragon page. I know, I know, it's absolutely ugly -- I've never professed to have an artistic bone in my body. Look at issue #364 first, ignoring the first half of the articles, focusing more on the ones that have page numbers -- these are PDFs that have page numbers on the pages, presumably representing their location in a final collated PDF for the whole issue (you'll notice the only full issue they've released is right at the bottom, issue #360 -- I have an outstanding request to customer support about whether we'll ever get any others).

Note how the page numbers overlap? No, it's not because the articles share pages. They're just not in-sync. Yes, the last half of the articles line up nicely, but those first ones are all just doing their own thing. And as new articles appeared, I went back to see if maybe the older PDF had its pages renumbered -- nope, not yet.

I was willing to forgive this at first, since this is their first issue where they are releasing the articles as PDFs, whereas the previous four digital issues were all webpages (except for, of course, issue #360 which we have as a complete PDF, even if it's lacking a bit of the flash that you expect from Dragon magazine). But then came the first article for issue #365.

Or is it? Yes, the filename of the PDF starts with 365_, and they said in the description that "July's issue launches with a bang!" And sure, the first page of the Artificers article (page 5 of the issue, apparently), does say

July 2008 | DRAGON 365

at the bottom. Of the first page, anyway, because as soon as you advance, you see

June 2008 | DRAGON 364

on every other page. It's like they took the Demonomicon article from the previous issue and just filled stuff in, accidentally remembering to change the front page to the correct issue number. "Oh, good, I found a previous article that's also 11 pages long -- I won't have to learn to count!" Yeah, that was a bit churlish, but you have to agree it seems quite unprofessional. Don't you?

On the other hand, the articles are as great as they've always been, perhaps more so because they have 4e content, and thus nothing feels tired and overdone. Since 4e is so new, there's a dearth of content and so any article is welcome. The layout is professional and easy-to-use, the stat blocks are readable and full of good new content, and the artwork, even those that are only sketches, add that extra bit of professionalism that some web page I might write about a new class or power could ever have.

And perhaps it's the fact that the content is so well-done that it irks me so much that this little thing, this last bit of presentation, is so poorly considered. If this is how they're approaching the new Dragon and Dungeon magazines, then I will regret that the Wizards content didn't just stay as webpages with the print magazines being extra, additional, professionally presented content.

For those who read this blog for opinions about 4e specifically, you'll have to forgive me this little aside about this, but to me, the switch to D&D Insider goes hand-in-hand with the release of 4e, and thus this is an appropriate venue. 'Sides, it's my blog!


Crwth said...

Eerie - a day after my rant, up goes the PDF for Dragon #364, with proper page numbering! The individual articles still have the wrong numbering, of course...

Now will they go back and make PDFs for #361, #362 and #363?

Crwth said...

Oo, extra-tacky -- commenting on my own post TWICE!

But it has to be added: why on earth is the PDF table-of-contents not clickable??

theinternetisbig said...

I'll direct you to the wizards job page. There they are hiring for web developer, web specialist, and 2 senior software developers.

Clearly, there was some kind of a shakeup at WoTC close to 4th ed's release.