What Do They Do?
Michael G. Ryan
at the zoo. Spud boy. Fry cook. Pizza dough roller. Customer service rep.
Production coordinator. Production manager.
thought your career path was a strange one.
of course, if you're already a fan of the products you'll ultimately manage,
which Chas DeLong most certainly was. Nowhere in the job description for
a roleplaying game production manager does it read "must be a gamer
goob in order to succeed," but Chas freely admits that it might as
well. The man loves RPGs, TCGs, and especially miniatures. He ended up
at Wizards of the Coast after reading a random article about how much
fun it was to work at the (then) small company and deciding he'd like
to be a part of that. "Nerf wars, action figures, and gaming -- sounds
like my dream world!" he admits.
to the point, Chas was given the enviable responsibility of overseeing
some of the greatest roleplaying games ever created. At any given time,
he's tracking from five to 40 titles working their way through the various
stages of production at Wizards. These products range from mass market
paperbacks to roleplaying games. "I have the fine task of ensuring
that we design books to meet the vendors' requirements," he notes.
"I also have the task of working with the vendors and ensuring that
they produce the best possible product for our customers."
his list of successes over the last four years (as it does the list of
so many Wizards employees): the release of the 3rd Edition of Dungeons
& Dragons. In fact, D&D has moved like a force of nature
through much of Chas's career.
one of my interviews back in 1998," he admits, "I totally goobed
out when I saw the proofs for the product Return
to the Tomb of Horrors. That moment is what most likely secured my job."
what does Chas do as an RPG production manager? It's more complicated
than you might think.
comes the yearly schedule from various project
managers for Wizards's monthly releases;
the schedule indicates rough timelines for each step of the process, from
design to release. "Most of our titles have set specifications that
are detailed on a Product Brief Worksheet," Chas explains. "These
specifications include trim size [a books dimensions], page count,
color, and [paper] stock, as well as various other bits of information
that pertain to a particular title."
gets involved early on in a project to ensure that all manufacturing specifications
are correct and to solicit competitive quotes to produce the job. "If
necessary, I obtain the templates for covers, map sheets, and any other
special needs from our vendors early in the life of the product,"
Text to Tome
the biggest project on Chas's plate is Power
of the Jedi Sourcebook, which will be released in August
and therefore is nearing the end of its design phase. "As far
as I personally am concerned, this product consists of two components:
a cover and the text," Chas says. "As they are designed, they
route through the various departments -- R&D, Legal, Materials Management,
Spine Design, Brand -- for approval. There are three approval routings;
I usually see the second round for approvals." At this stage, Chas
measures the components to be certain they meet the proper print specs.
Then, once all parties have approved the various components, the job is
is about this point that I receive the final print run number and work
with our Purchasing department to create a purchase order for the vendor
who will produce the title," Chas adds. "The files for all components
are turned over to me, at which point I give the job one last look over.
I then turn the file over to Digitech. Digitech double-checks the cover
files to be certain that they were built properly for printing. They then
turn the files over to Prepress, and Prepress sets up PDF files for the
intended vendor and outputs proofs for one last internal viewing. After
that approval, I send the files to the vendor who's been awarded the job."
two weeks later, the entire team receives from the vendor final proofs
for color and content, and these are approved by Design, Editing, Materials
Management, and Chas, as the production manager. "If an error is
found at this point, we almost always fix it here at Wizards in Prepress
to control external costs," he explains. "When the vendor proofs
are approved, they get sent back to the vendor, who then produces the
job." From beginning to end, the process for bringing the product
to fruition takes roughly a month. And with so many different pieces of
so many different projects all requiring attention at the same time, an
eye for detail, organizational skills, and patience make all the difference
in the world.
Chas is working on several projects that fans will undoubtedly find intriguing.
One in particular stands out for him -- City
of the Spider Queen. "This is the first adventure produced
for the Forgotten Realms
Campaign Setting," Chas says. "The cover just
crossed my desk yesterday, in fact. The image on it is an albino
drow priestess in her wispy gown of webs. This title ties in with the
War of the Spider Queen series
of novels that we are also producing, as well as the City of the Spider
Queen miniatures." The complex interconnection between so many
products simultaneously obviously adds an extra level of excitement, anticipation,
and stress to the production process.
suspect that, four years and hundreds of products later, few titles would
stand out in Chas's mind as being a particular source of pride. Turns
out not to be the case at all. "My favorite piece of work to date
is the Player's Handbook,
the book that kicked off the 3rd Edition of D&D. The R&D
and Design teams did a spectacular job creating a new look and feel for
D&D. I remember being on the first press check for this title.
I was so nervous, knowing that the final printed outcome was in my hands.
Well, as we now know, it really did turn out to be a beautiful book, one
that pushed roleplaying to a new level."
course, there are always more projects in the pipeline that demand Chas's
attention. By his own admission, one of the most challenging ones recently
was the TSR Silver Anniversary
Collector's Edition. "Our
Design and Imaging team painstakingly re-created seven of the original
D&D modules and the original blue rulebook," he explains. (The
final set also included The Story of TSR 1975-1999, as well as impressive
artwork by artist Jeff Easley.) "Story's cover and the box
that contained all of the components were created out of three metallic
covers plus black. We had several test proofs made to ensure that they
would print properly, and I had the task of going to the printer to check
that quality was being maintained. Bringing all of the components together
was quite a task in itself. There were so many different pieces that I
was sure something would go wrong. Instead, it all came together in the
end without any major problems whatsoever. I for one appreciated
all of the efforts that were involved in getting these titles out. The
final piece looked excellent!"
pride in his work as an RPG production manager could only have been rivaled
if he'd actually stayed on the career path he'd once envisioned. "When
I was a young child, I wanted to be Steve Austin -- the Bionic Man,"
he admits. "In fact, at one point, I asked my parents if I could
change my name to 'Steve.' Fortunately, that never happened. . ."
both for Chas
and for D&D.
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