Posts Tagged magic

Experiences, Designed

My relatively new position at Wizards (within 6 months or so, although I started laying groundwork from the start of 2012 or so) was honorably mentioned in Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe’s yearly State of the Union style address on our website today!(Aaron’s my boss.) I got some great kudos from friends and admirers on social media. I wanted to chat a little bit about the ups and downs of being an “experience designer.”

My job, as I see it, is to enhance the enjoyment of our products by providing one-time one-of-a-kind experiences for players associated with those products. So, for example, when we release a new expansion set, we make a big event of it (the prerelease) and I am in charge of defining how to make that big event special, memorable and on theme for that product. Maybe a huge treasure chest that the players must work together (in small ways) to unlock, or a special themed “initiate to the group” box chosen by the player when they select a group to join and fight for. Incredibly, I actually got a bit of a start on this sort of design in college, with Caltech Ditch Day – designing a full day of fun, themed activities for underclassmen as seniors.

The best part is that I feel directly plugged into giving our fans opportunities for more fun. We get to do some really creative stuff for these experiences (which I can’t talk about – yet!) and I get to be at the center of that creative effort, which is really invigorating, especially working with so many talented folk all along the line.

The challenges so far have been communication-related – getting everyone on the same page about what we are trying to accomplish with any particular experience – and process-related – it can be a bumpy road, creating these new experiences, since we are new as a company to making these things.

I hope that this year, with a full year behind me of experience with experiences, I can start to lay a more formal groundwork for a kind of template starting-point for experience design!

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Sometimes I get an idea in my head, and it screams to be free and in the world.  This isn’t as easy as it might appear, as some ideas are not satisfied with being spoken – they must be made real in the form my imagination fits to them.  In this case, I had an inkling of an idea when I found out my new HTC Evo phone (which is awesome, btw) could be a wireless access point.  What if I could host an application on my phone, where there was no Internet?  “No Internet?” you scoff. “Where exactly is that going to apply?”

On the Magic Cruise, that’s where.

I have been developing a local-area-network version of Facebook (*much* reduced in capability) for use on this cruise a bunch of nerd-friends of mine are taking next week.  I call it Faceboat.  Faceboat will do a few things for us that may or may not be useful:

  • We can check-in from various parts of the boat, in case anyone was wondering where to find us
  • We can set up rendezvous plans without needing to be in exactly the same place at the time of the plan
  • We can put our room # up, available to friends, for reference

I’ll be honest – it was fun to release the creative desires that led to the imagined reality of Faceboat, but we may find it is completely unnecessary once we embark on the cruise.  Still, totally fun to do!

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Review: Aaron’s Random Card Comment of the Day

Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe posts his thoughts on a variety of cards in Gatherer using the Random function.  I wanted to review this because (a) I think it’s a great idea and a great tool for discussion of Magic cards, and (b) Aaron told me he was inspired by my blog, so mise.  Also I enjoy talking about stuff my friends create if the stuff they make is sweet.  Aaron posts his comments using Gatherer’s comment system, which has flaws but in general does good things, and then tweets that he has posted for maximal distribution.  If you want to check out the ones he’s done so far, you can check the #arccd hashtag on Twitter or do the Gatherer search for his comments.

I think Aaron is doing a lot of things right with his series.  By posting about 3-5 paragraphs on each card, he’s not drowning out other discussion (as an essay might) and there’s enough room for him to give personal opinions or tell short stories about the card.  It’s a great way to release his general thinking about Magic into the aether without the drawing the same ire that an explicit article might; basically, players who care get some insight into his thinking, and I think that’s net positive.  Also, by using the random function, no one can read into his selection, so the comments stand on their own.  I have seen both the number of comments and the length of comments from other folk go up since his series began.  Add to that the fact that the content is perfectly associated with its context (the card) and its audience (Magic players) and you have a big win.

On the other hand, using random means if he did want to theme his comments over a period of time like a week, it would mean breaking the routine.  I think it’s also worth noting that Aaron must be having the same issue I have with my blog sometimes, which is that you have to self-censure when you know you are going to say things your audience shouldn’t hear.

Gatherer wasn’t designed for threaded discussion, and it has a variety of bugs that cause trouble now that Aaron’s Comment of the Day is shining light on that feature of the product, but I don’t consider that a negative on the part of his series.

I’m glad Aaron has this series, and I’m mad at myself for not thinking of it on my own!

Overall: A
Frequency of Homeland Cards in Supposedly “Random” Hits: Very High
Expected Ratio of Good to Hidden Information in Aaron’s Comments: Medium-High

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Review: Vintage Rotisserie

First of all, this is not something the majority of folks are likely to just pick up: vintage rotisserie draft, as I have discussed previously, is only for the most highly enfranchised of Magic players, and even then it’s not for everybody.  However, I have done it now three times (!) and thought it would be a good time to talk about it.

Overall, I have not done well in the play-the-games portion.  But I have had lots of exciting moments during the draft proper – times when I realized exactly the card I needed and was able to pick it up, or times when I made someone yell in agony as I swiped their card before they got to it.  And I have also had some very fun games despite losing a lot.  I would not have thought, when told about a format where you needed to know all 12,000 Magic cards, and where simple missteps in draft could be a big problem for your deck, that the entire event would be so fun.

Things I have learned, that I would share with others!

  • Having a fixed set of cards, like 1000 or so of the “top contenders” based on consensus, out for people to see and interact with is an excellent way to do this kind of draft.  Having everyone do tons of homework and agonize over weeks in an asynchronous, not-in-person draft is kind of poopy.
  • Drafting a fun deck is probably better than a boring, skill-intensive deck (and some of the fun decks are skill-intensive too!)  It’s just way better to be enjoying playing, you can devote mental energy elsewhere, and the decks are close to each other in power level anyway.
  • For anyone who has played forever and is still into Magic, has or knows someone with a big collection, and/or likes to hang out with friends for a long Magic-related activity, this is the thing to try!  Kind of the pinnacle of draft experiences.

Overall: B+
“Game Pieces” per Game: A+++ (12,000 cards to choose from!)
Skill Required: More than I have, but fun nonetheless!
Wide Appeal: D

p.s. For those who are familiar with Magic, I have drafted a blue-black Time Vault combo deck, a blue-black-red Storm combo deck, and today I drafted a black-blue aggro-control deck.  I was very close to drafting an Elves deck which Aaron ended up drafting, too.

Thanks to Kyle Boddy to introducing me to it, and Brian David-Marshall and Randy Buehler for making in-person drafts possible with WotC folk!

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Kellen Abel

Kellen’s a local Seattle Magic player, but hilariously I didn’t really have any clue who he was (even having shown up to multiple events at the local competitive game store and to Cube drafts) until very recently. Kellen’s totally awesome though, and I am very happy I know him. Not only does he have an amazing sense of humor – the kind that when you’re worried you have a stupid joke and nobody will laugh at it, but then Kellen does honestly and you feel much better! – but he’s apparently some sort of acrobat (which I still don’t believe, because he *clearly* doesn’t backflip everywhere) and also just a sweet, nice guy. I basically can’t stop smiling when Kellen is around.

Kellen and Joe recently did the storefront work in Amsterdam for local card store CardHaus, and despite their extreme exhaustion due to jet lag and running around doing errands, Kellen still found time to come and say hi and give me a hug. It’s a small thing (I mean, the hug was nice!) but it really indicates to me the kind of gentleman Kellen is: dedicated to what he does and to his friends. I regret we were unable to battle the Magical cards, and in fact, I’m not sure I have ever played Kellen, but man that sounds like a hilarious and wonderful time!

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Amanda Bornhofer

I met Amanda on the second Magic Cruise, while we were out on the Pub (not public) crawl of Key West. It did not take long for us to hit it off, because we had an excellent time bar-hopping, visiting and conversing (rather than playing Magic) many nights while on the boat. Amanda’s the kind of person who you can just as easily to talk to about any subject as you can just sit next to and remain happily silent just people-watching or listening. She and I and Mick and Patrick ran around late laughing our heads off, trespassing in various restricted sections and generally having a wonderful time making mischief – a tradition that to this day is accompanied with fingers up like horns next to the head and a “Pirates!” exclamation.

Amanda and I had a great talk or two on that cruise, about various subjects – Magic in the classroom, making friends, balancing work with going out – and then I had the opportunity to see her at a number of events throughout the year thus far, in San Diego, San Juan and U.S. Nationals. Amanda is a good person, who cares so much about the well-being and disposition of her friends, her family and her wards in the classroom that she often stresses herself out – and that’s just my observation from the small amount of time she and I have had chats together online! Honestly, she is a wonderful, caring, beautiful person, who is currently at the top of the list of my friends who can easily convince me to go out and do crazy things because it means I’ll have more time to hang out with said friends. (I even finally made a real weekend visit to the Midwest to see her, Steve and Lindsey, Danner, Alayna, Lems and a host of other awesome folks – which was as much them as her, but her awesomeness as part of this group cannot be denied!)

Despite getting to know each other so recently, Amanda and I get along so well that I count her among my closer friends. It helps that we think so alike in many ways, and that she’s smart, sassy and hilarious. :)

One more thing: I can’t talk about Amanda without talking about her laugh. It is unfortunate that I don’t have a recording I could embed here to share its majesty with the world, so my poor words will have to do the best they can to describe it. You know when you are near powerful speakers and the pressure of the sound they produce can make you feel like your heart is syncing up with the beat? Amanda’s laugh is like that – it doesn’t matter how I feel or what’s going on, when I hear it, the humor-pressure-wave rolls over me and I can’t help but smile!

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Worth Wollpert

Worth is a good man. Not only is he devilishly handsome, he’s intelligent and fun! Worth and I don’t actually have too much time to hang out together, but everytime we do (various drafts at Wizards, company or Rosewater events when applicable, and the once-in-a-while party like Worth and Ryan’s Black and White party [which was totally sweet!]) it is very good times. Worth’s been a part of Magic a long time, and has certainly directed its course for the better over that period – something I greatly admire and respect because (1) I too am trying to help it to be better, and (2) I love Magic as a player. Beyond work, Worth’s dedication to his personal pursuits like DJing inspire me, and his strong strong bond to his friends from ye olden times (which comes up here because he is sometimes away visiting them and thus I cannot spend time hanging out with him!) is admirable.

Worth’s also a great example of a person who respects and encourages intelligence and wisdom in the people he works with – which is doubly awesome, because it means he infuses his organization with those values. A ton of the people I interact with – maybe all of them! – in his Magic Digital organization (I say “his” but it’s really a combined effort of many manager/director types) are totally great to work with and get the job done, and that’s a credit to Worth as well. If I ever end up trying to bootstrap my way in managerishness, I hope to follow in Worth’s example because I think he does it very well. Of course, like many of my friends, Worth’s got a mischievous streak, and I definitely enjoy that persona as well.

Tragically (for the rest of us), Worth’s time is often devoted to his wife and son, who also seem like amazing people (so I don’t blame him!) Still, every once in a while, we do get to shoot the shit together, and for that I am quite happy!

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Lee Sharpe

Lee and I work together at Wizards; we actually started working for the company basically around the same time. We’ve collaborated on some projects, we have been on teams together, and most importantly we have had a lot of sweet discussions about morality, philosophy, economics and people. Lee’s a sharp guy (heh) and like me, loves to apply his logic and wit to various topics.

Also like me, Lee is extremely principled. There aren’t many people I know who are strong enough in their convinctions to both say and do something according to their moral/ethic code in the face of tons of peer pressure / monetary or social incentives /etc. Lee is one of those people. The even more amazing thing, however, is that though we share this principledness, we are so different in our perception and incorporation of economics that we have quite the lively discussion about how the world might be better! I have a grand time thinking up ways to convince Lee that he’s wrong about “the fundamentals” of philosophy that I believe – free will, the goodness of humans, better futures than the free market, etc. – and then trying my hardest to hold the line against his equally well constructed and reasoned positions.

Lee is also a great guy to just go out and hang out with. He and I have been attending karaoke pretty regularly, which has become a totally awesome “thing,” but even before that, Lee is always up for a friendly dinner or a night out at a bar or club. I would not have guessed how social Lee is, but I am super happy that we are friends in a way that lets me see and appreciate his suaveness! Lee is the best kind of friend: the one who holds deep convictions, enjoys talking about them, doesn’t overly judge you for yours, and (despite differences) is just fun to chill with.

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Sam Lindsay-Levine

Sam and I were college buddies, but I admit I regret not getting to know him better while I was at ‘Tech. For various (dumb) reasons, I didn’t spend much time with Sam, and then I moved away for grad school. Hilariously, it was at that point I found out (1) Sam was an awesome guy, (2) he was also into Physics, (3) he was also into Magic, and (4) he and my other good friend Nate were willing to take on a roommate for when I moved out to L.A. Thus began our excellent times at the Death Star, where Sam and I often got into philosophical debates and debates over how good various Magic cards were. His cat FORSTSABER and I also did quite a few drafts together (two drops two drops!) on Main Screen, our projector, in the living room. Sam and I even made the Un- set Unsnidd with help from our other Magical ‘Tech friend Dan.

Sam is exactly the kind of person I enjoy conversing with: highly logical, possessed of a reasonable emotional side, and intelligent. He understands quite a bit about the universe, and is willing to argue out a contentious point until both parties are satisfied, something I also enjoy doing. Although he would probably prefer to stay in much of the time, I was quite happy when I or friends were able to convince him to come out with us, because he is a great addition to any group outing. He and his wife Kirsten, also a Caltech friend, were gracious enough to check on me when I visited fair Minneapolis for U.S. Nationals recently, and even invited me and (another) Nate over to game! Truly, Sam is my friend who is most interested in organizing game parties, and I am super grateful because I love game parties!

I know that whatever globular thing Sam sets his mind to, he’ll accomplish, and I am proud to call him friend. (And if you couldn’t tell, we have a number of shared inside jokes, included here for posterity and hilarity.)

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Mark Gottlieb

Mark and I work together, but I’m not sure we’ve ever been on the same team for a project.  He and I have talked quite a bit, though, and worked on various tasks apart from our project stuff.  Although we often get snippy with each other and debate a bit heatedly, I think it’s because we are *too* similar, not that we have too many differences.  My theory was borne out a bit when we roomed together recently in Amsterdam and it was totally fine.  Mark is very very smart (even though he wrongly believes his alma mater MIT is better than Caltech – pffft!), has an analytic mind, doesn’t ignore and often is prey to his emotions, and is a genuinely good person.  Remind you of anyone? :)

Mark has an excellent capacity for fun – he’s one of the people who work on Magic who enjoys playing it for its own sake, something I very much appreciate.  Mark doesn’t seem to appreciate stupidity, but has no problem educating others and helping them to understand.  Like me, even when he feels certain about something, he’s willing to listen and maybe even change his mind.  I have laughed quite a bit with Mark, even when stressed about work and what-not, and I really appreciate that.  He likes LOST (like me) and he likes crazy theories (also like me).  He and I, along with Greg, also had great times doing 1v1 Winston Cube in the past, which is in essence a fun design/gameplay experience with Magic.

I think he’s still off gallivanting around Europe (which is uncharacteristically slackerish of him!) but I am looking forward to working and laughing with him in the future!

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