80,000 Words (with Director’s Commentary)

Posted in Feature on November 24, 2008

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

On August 7, 2006, Making Magic featured one of my most popular columns of all time. In it, I took the readers on an eighty-picture tour of Wizards of the Coast. The only words in the column were scribbled on two small white boards that I carried around with me. This, of course, means that one of my most popular columns of all time also had my smallest word count ever.

On a completely separate track, I had the idea of taking one of my old columns and reprinting it with a director's commentary like you would find on a DVD. The key was finding the right column. After I'd written "80,000 Words," I realized that I had found the perfect choice. It was both beloved and full of lots of details that I was unable to talk about first time through.

What that means is that today you are in for a second look at my photo-journey through the office, except this time, I will be making note about each and every picture (as well as showing you a few that didn't make the cut first time around—yes, the director's commentary comes with outtakes). Hopefully, this sounds like fun.

I guess I should begin by talking about how this article came together in the first place. Oftentimes I come up with a neat gimmick but not the subject matter to pair it with. When that happens, I file away the idea until the proper subject matter comes along. For instance, I had the idea to do a "Choose Your Own Adventure" column six months before I got the idea of using it to show off what an average day is like for me.

The all-picture column idea came up when I was brainstorming on how I could do a column that broke traditional conventions. I loved the idea of using pictures in place of words. That said, I knew from the very minute I came up with the idea that I would need some words. I had the whiteboard component from the first moment the all-picture idea popped into my head. (Where did that come from? I don't know, maybe a Bob Dylan music video.) I also, interestingly enough, had the idea for the column's title. I didn't know what the number was going to be, but it was going to be 1,000 times the number of photos in the column. (In case you don't get the reference, the title is playing off of the expression "a picture is worth a thousand words.")

The problem I had was what kind of content I could tell with just photos. Sure, I'd have the ability to make a few comments, but the visuals had to carry the column. The subject matter had to be something people wanted to see. Flash forward to a year later when I was collecting ideas for columns. One idea was doing a tour of Wizards of the Coast. My problem with it was how to convey a tour with words. This is the point where I "get hit" by my idea. ("You spilled your all-photo essay in my office tour.")

The only rub was this: we were months away from moving. Was there any value to giving a tour of a building that was about to change? I felt there wasn't, so I waited for us to move. And then I promptly forgot about it.

Luckily, my good ideas occasionally burrow back up into my consciousness. So one day, I asked my wife to bring our digital camera to our weekly lunch (Lora and I have lunch together once each week—where, interestingly enough, we play Mood Swings, my awesome mass market trading card game that stubbornly refuses to get printed). Yes, the camera person for "80,000 Words" was my wife Lora. I always felt horrible that I didn't give her a credit in the original column, so I'm trying to make amends here. All of the photos, barring a few retakes (which I'll be talking about), were done the same day during my lunch break.

The one thing I'd like to point out about this particular picture was that I was concerned with how to take consecutive pictures that properly conveyed that we moved literally across the street. I really like the solution here of having me stay stationary (a.k.a. facing the same direction) but having the camera move.

One of the ways you can tell that it's lunchtime is how empty the parking lot is. Also notice how I'm trying to move closer with each picture to give a sense of movement. (My film school training is showing.) In the background you can see the Wizards of the Coast sign hanging on the building. We used to also have a Hasbro sign across the street, but for some reason we were unable to move it so only the Wizards sign made it onto the new building. The one thing you don't see here, mostly because it's around noon, is the crazy number of crows that circle the parking lot at dusk. It's a scary number—reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds.

At the time of this column, we had just moved into this building the year before. We had been in the "old" building for the previous ten years. Before that we were in a building several blocks away (what us old timers call the "old, old" building). When I started we were at the old, old building but were about to move, so I was never given a desk. But the move was delayed by a few weeks, so I had to work at people's desks when they weren't there. No, really—for the first month, I was a desk nomad.

Before the old, old building, Wizards of the Coast was in (founder and former CEO) Peter Adkison's basement. This time is now warmly referred to as the "basement days." For those who don't know, Wizards of the Coast was started as a roleplaying game company. Magic didn't come along until several years later.

Okay, real quick "Wizards of the Coast gets Magic" story—Richard Garfield and his friend Mike Davis (later a VP of R&D) came to Seattle to pitch Richard's game RoboRally. Peter liked the game but said that it was too expensive to produce for a company of their size. He explained what he wanted: a game using cards that would be small, portable, and quick enough that people could play it in between roleplaying sessions. Richard said that he had a game he'd been working on that could possibly work. Richard moved that game closer to what Peter was looking for, and voila—it's Magic. (My abbreviated version isn't really doing the story justice, so I promise one day to take a whole column where I tell the story in full. It's really quite interesting.)

I guess now's as a good a time as any to talk about what I was wearing. I knew I was going to be on camera in just about every shot, so I was very conscious about what I was going to wear. First, I wanted to properly represent what I dress like. What you see is what I look like every day—jeans, t-shirt, and appropriately colored flannel shirt. One R&D person tried to make money by betting people with 10 to 1 odds that they could pick any work day in the upcoming year and any time during the day, and if at that time I was not dressed with t-shirt and flannel, they would win the bet. Otherwise, he won. It was a sucker's bet.

I'm a giant flannel fan and own a sick amount of flannel shirts. Those who paid close attention in my wedding columns (part I & part II) will notice that I have a flannel vest. It was made specifically for my wedding because I wanted to have a little of "me" included in my tux.

The t-shirt is from an old Magic campaign we ran (when the Portal starter set first came out): "Magic: All you need is a brain, a deck and a friend." We'll get a chance to see the t-shirt up close later. There is literally a picture of a brain, a deck and a friend. The text, by the way, says "The Number 1 Game in the World."

While I do wear a decent number of Magic-themed shirts (I own close to one hundred), it is not the most likely subject matter on my t-shirts. No, that honor belongs to comic books. I have a lot of comic-related t-shirts which I wear constantly—so much so that it's a running joke in R&D. But this was for a Magic column, so I picked out one of my favorite Magic shirts. If you haven't yet figured out that Magic's Head Designer is a major geek (and remember I had a column dedicated to my collection of 3" superhero figures), I'll just come out and admit it.

Finally, we get inside. Two years later and the lobby looks exactly the same. Well, except for the fact that the walls to the right and left of me were knocked down to put in doors to new offices (for other companies—we'll get to this point in a moment). I'm not sure what people expect when they come to Wizards, but I often get, "This isn't what I expected."

Our old office was spread across four buildings, each with two floors. The current makeup is one single four-story building. Wizards is on all of the third and fourth floors and a good chunk of the second.

Here's one of the biggest changes since two years ago. This sign is now full. Back then it was just Wizards, the daycare, and one other company. Today the building is fully occupied (and close parking is much harder to get).

There were numerous things I wanted to show off on the tour. One was some of the perks of our building.

I also want to point out that this photo shows off that I in fact had two white boards. I didn't need two for most of the photos, but I wanted to have the ability to write more when needed. Anther popular white board question is whether I planmed out what I was going to write in each picture. The answer is no. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do. The captions were written on the spot. (Remember I'm the guy who winged my wedding vows.)

I should point out that the entire tour wasn't exactly planned out either. Lora and I just walked through the whole building, in order, with Lora taking lots of photos. Once I was done, I picked the ones I liked (rounding to the nearest ten) and put the column together.

This is a perk that I wasn't using at the time I did the tour but that has now become a twice-a-week lunchtime habit (hmm, I think I know a way to make some money off a bet).

I had a number of people ask me why there are kids in the dojo. Also, I get asked why we even have a dojo. The answer to question one is that these are kids from the daycare. The dojo is a large matted room, so it's a great place for the little ones to run around indoors. As such, the daycare uses it quite often.

As to why we have a dojo, it was the pet perk of a high-level employee who has long since left Wizards. But as we had all the components, when we moved across the street, we took it with us.

Of all the features I show off, this is the one that probably gets the most use. One of the odd quirks of our building is that there are no restaurants in easy walking distance. This means if you are without a car or time to travel, B.J.'s (the name of the coffee stand) is the only real option. In the last two years, B.J.'s has also started to offer much more food. I haven't had it yet, but there's now pizza available.

This was the perk I made the most use out of. While all three of my kids have moved on, Rachel, Adam, and Sarah clocked a lot of time at Bright Horizons. Whenever I see one of the teachers, they always ask me how the kids are doing.

I really wish more people had the option of having their daycare at their work. It was so nice to be able to drop in for special events or just be there at the drop of a hat if I was needed. (I was called down once to remove an inch-long piece of foam from Rachel's nose.)

In the old building, reception was on the first floor (in the South building—the four buildings were all named after compass directions). In our new digs, you have to venture up to the fourth floor. Now if I could only stop calling it South Reception ....

There are three elevators, by the way: two normal-sized and one giant-sized freight elevator. My twins always referred to them as the "alligators." I didn't even realize what they meant until one day Sarah informed someone that her Daddy takes the alligator to work.

I chose to start the tour of Wizards proper on the fourth floor because that's where guests always start. Also, I thought the lobby looked cool. Well, cooler than the average corporate lobby. The elements of the next two pictures can both be seen in the background of this picture. Notice the "welcome" on the floor and the dragon off to the left.

In the background, by the way, you can see where we shot the video for the Shadowmoor learn how to play videos.

This is also the first point in the tour where I didn't use a picture I took. I knew I wanted the column to be called something-thousand words so that meant I needed to have an increment of ten. This meant that I needed to shave off a few pictures that didn't do anything. I am going to show you all the photos that weren't used as this is the kind of bonus features one expects to get with the two disc DVD.

I cut this picture simply because I felt the other picture was both more dynamic and did a better job of introducing you to the lobby. This picture is taken as a straight-ahead shot right after I got off the elevator. If you turn left from there, you see the scene of the picture that was just replaced. The art behind me is an original piece of fantasy art used for a Dungeons & Dragon product. The artist? None other than Magic's own Matt Cavotta.

I really wanted to have a light tone to the tour, so I had a couple of shots like this. This shot actually took a little while because we had to wait for people to get out of the shot. Luckily it was lunch and so less busy than normal.

Let me start by saying, yes this is Shivan Dragon. It was originally created to hang in the very first Wizards of the Coast Tournament Center. Back in the day, Wizards tried getting into the retail business and the Tournament Center was our first big outing of the idea. The 1997 World Championships were held there. (The 1996 World Championships were held at the old building.)

Anyway, the Shivan Dragon was made for the Tournament Center. When it closed, the statue was moved to our corporate headquarters. There's actually a cool Magic Arcana about us moving it across the street. This is the first of a number of photos that prove that I suck at displaying facial emotions. That's supposed to be fear. By the way, if you can't tell, the Shivan Dragon is hung from the ceiling so it hangs in the air.

This is Teresa. She is one of numerous people who work the front desk. If you ever have the privilege of visiting Wizards of the Coast, the front desk person will also greet you. Teresa is wearing a headset because the front deck person also doubles as the receptionist. On the right on the wall, you can finally see a Hasbro sign. Hasbro bought Wizards back in 1998. While there have been some changes, being brought by Hasbro hasn't changed much about how we make Magic.

I was trying to include as many Wizards perks as I could, and the front desk always has candy. Always! In fact, if you're in the know, there are always several bags of candy hidden away if you want more choices. On the bottom right of the picture is the sign-in sheet. If you're a visitor you sign in and get a spiffy visitor's badge. All non-employees have to be accompanied by a Wizards employee. We all have little badges we have to wear that get us past security. I said it—security. You didn't think you could just waltz in here and steal all the info about upcoming sets! (I have my eye on you, Internet rumor mills.)

We're proud of all the work we do, so much so that we fill up the shelves in our lobby to show it off. The upper left shelf is Star Wars Miniatures. The shelf behind my head has the miniature AT-AT and some more Star Wars Miniatures boxes. Below that is a shelf with some other trading card games. The only one I can make out is DuelMasters, a TCG that we made for the Japanese market (I was one of the five members on the design team—yes, once upon a time I designed games other than Magic.). The bottom left shelf has Axis & Allies miniatures.

The highest right shelf has a D&D branded game called Three-Dragon Ante and an old, old Wizards game created by Richard Garfield called The Great Dalmuti. If you can find a copy, it's a fun game. Years later we rebranded it with the Dilbert IP for a game called Corporate Shuffle. The next shelf has some Magic stuff including two awards (for Ravnica I believe), the first from the annual Origins awards (kind of like the Oscars for the game community) and the second from a fan-chosen award from the now defunct Inquest Magazine (I miss you, Inquest). The bottom shelf has D&D miniatures.

There are numerous other shelves in the lobby, so trust me when I say that all Wizards products are represented. The other reason I included the picture was that I like showing off when you can actually tell that Wizards is a game company.

As I mentioned earlier, Wizards is on three floors—the second, third, and fourth. On each of these floors is a kitchen. All the kitchens have the following amenities:

  • a cooler to keep lunches cold
  • a soft drink machine (I'll talk about this one more when we get to the appropriate photo)
  • a sink
  • a dishwasher
  • a coffee maker
  • hot and cold filtered water
  • a giant ice machine
  • a microwave
  • a first aid box (complete with bandages, pain relievers, etc.)
  • plates, cups, and bowls
  • free coffee, tea, and microwave popcorn
  • large trash cans and recycling bins
  • a "free" table (I'll also explain this one when we get to the appropriate photo)

The tricky bit about this picture was that I wanted to show the Goblin Rock Sled statue along with the kitchen. This is where the "I crouch down and am only barely in the picture" tech came from.

This is the first wall after you go through the big doors that lead from the lobby to the rest of the fourth floor. Behind me hanging on the wall is a Magic-branded surfboard. To the best of my knowledge, this is an actual functional surfboard. I think a few were made for some promotional thing we did. That means that somewhere there's a surfer hanging ten on the Magic logo.

My sign has since become technically incorrect. We expanded a year or so back and we now take up two and three-quarters floors.

I'm standing in front of an item made to celebrate the release of Tenth Edition. I also have a shirt with the same splotchy logo. I tried whenever possible to pose in front of interesting-looking, Magic-related things. I admit the Tenth Anniversary splotch isn't one of the most dynamic.

I'm often asked why we don't have any females in R&D. The answer to that is we do (and we have), just not many of them. Elaine was one such female R&D member. Currently, though, she is the Senior Magic Brand Manager. Whenever I talk about Brand, she is one of the people I am talking about.

This is the first picture we've come across that wasn't shot by Lora during my lunch hour. We had some issues and had to come back and reshoot this photo. More on this in a second.

Behind Elaine is a desk filled with numerous stuff, the vast majority of which is Wizards-related. On the shelf in the background are stuffed Neopets. That was a license that we based a TCG on many years back. Elaine and I were two of the four people on the design team. (See, another non-Magic design.) There are numerous pieces of Magic art. I see Summer Glau as River from Firefly. (Our geek blood runs strong at Wizards.) There's all sorts of goodies.

So what did this replace? Two pictures, actually.

In my original jaunt around fourth floor, I held up a sign at every section of the company. When I had to reshoot Elaine's desk (I'm getting to it), I realized that I could include the intro about Brand in the same picture and thus shave a photo.

Okay, now let's go look at the verboten picture.

This picture has a few differences. One, Elaine isn't in it. (She was, of course, at lunch.) Two, the vantage point is slightly different so you can see Elaine's extensive, and quite impressive, collection of Muppet figures. Finally, there were a bunch of Magic products on her desk. While it all seems quite innocent now as everything there has since been released, at the time some packaging wasn't public yet and I wasn't allowed to show it.

This forced me to retake the picture and that allowed me to condense two pictures into one and get Elaine in the shot.

This picture wins the award for being the absolute lamest one of the eighty. It's a sign with me holding a white board telling you what the sign behind it says. The only reason I didn't cut it was that I wanted to mention all the sections that work on Magic. I understand the irony that the PR picture is the least compelling.

This picture is almost as lame as the last one but is saved by two things. First, the white sign shows off another perk. Marketing gets in multiple copies of games-related magazines and—if you know when and where (the where being right here) to look for them—free magazines and comic books.

The second saving grace is the picture of John Malkovich. One of the most asked questions I got was why John Malkovich is on the Marketing sign. To quote one of my favorite films, Buckaroo Banzai:

In the middle of chasing down the bad guys, the Hong Kong Cavaliers run through Buckaroo Banzai's lab where they see a watermelon in a vise.

New Jersey: Why is there a watermelon there?
Reno: I'll tell you later.

The watermelon is never mentioned again for the remainder of the film.

The answer is "I have no idea what John Malkovich is doing there" or, if you prefer, "I'll tell you later." Nonetheless John Malkovich's face is very compelling, and thus it makes this photo way more interesting than it has any right being.

This is the second picture that I picked up during reshoots. The reason? When I got home and looked at my photos, I said, "Oh my gosh, I forgot Customer Service." So when I did reshoots, I made sure to get a picture.

Before I move on, let me plug our Customer Service team. If you have a question about Magic (or any Wizards game), you can call them up or go online and ask them. And then they'll answer your question. It's an awesome service that a lot of people have no idea exists.

R&D loves Customer Service for a completely different reason. They make great guinea pigs. Often when we want to get a sense of how a new mechanic or set of cards will be received, we take them up to Customer Service and watch them play it.

Everyone assumes I'm smiling in this picture because I'm so happy that these people pay me. The truth is that Lora made a joke right before taking the photo. Remember, my ability to show "fake" emotion on my face is iffy at best.

This is another rather boring picture. Katy was at lunch, so we get her name on her office window. Spielberg, watch out.

Since this article, the magicthegathering.com crew has since become part of R&D and has moved down to the third floor. In just a few weeks, by the way, they are going to be moving again, this time into the Pit. (CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC.)

One of my goals with this column was to let people put faces with names. Scott originally wasn't going to be in the picture, but I convinced him to stay in. Behind me to the left you can see the Sideboard cover in which Scott's Pro Tour Team (Potato Nation with Mike Turian and Gary Wise) won the Pro Tour.

We sure do seem to have a lot of Magic statues at the corporate office. The answer to this is that almost all of them were made for our retail stores back when we had Wizards of the Coast branded game stores. When they shut down, many of the statues were brought back to the office (in addition to numerous non-Magic statues such as Star Wars—you'll see a few before the tour is over).

The giant card in the Jester's left hand (this statue, for those who don't know, is from the art of Ice Age's Jester's Cap) was part of a series of oversized cards that Organized Play used to give out as prizes many years ago. Numerous R&D members, myself included, had a league many years ago where we played with giant decks. Getting enough land proved to be the biggest challenge.

Yeah, yeah, it's neat to see the cubicles, but what does Wizards' staircases look like? I seldom take the elevator so I'm very familiar with the stairs. Not much else in terms of stair-related trivia.

Some people asked why I went from the fourth floor to the second floor. The answer is that I wanted to build up to what I thought was the most compelling floor: R&D's home, floor three. Behind me is another piece of Dungeons & Dragons art.

Rewriting a photo column is a little harder than rewriting a normal column. This picture and the one that follows it were both redone for no other reason than I felt I needed to rewrite my white board. For this first picture, this was to better explain what the Help Desk was. For the second, it was to improve the telling of my joke. (Which, I'll be honest, still falls a little flat.)

Before I show you the first photo, I just want to say a few words about the Help Desk. There are very few extensions I have memorized. The Help Desk is one of them. When I have technical problems (most often with my computer), this is where I go for help. You might also notice that this part of the second floor really doesn't like having their lights on. It's probably the darkest part of the office.

I'm not sure that I had to retake this photo but as I had to redo my joke I felt it made sense to give it a second take. In this first photo, I'm not really looking at the camera. My biggest regret is that Eugene is much more invested in this photo than the one we used.

As I was showing around the first draft of this column, people just weren't getting this joke, that I was asking the Help Desk to help me with my design. Since I had to reshoot I decided to rewrite and make the joke clearer. As I said above, while it is better, this is one of the jokes that falls the flattest in the column.

Two things make me sad about losing this picture. One, I like my smile. Two, I like that Eugene is now on the phone. He's actually helping at his desk while I'm doing my tour.

I wish with this picture I had found something more visually representative of Organized Play. For those who don't know what Organized Play does, this is the team responsible for running and sanctioning the entire tournament structure, everything from Friday Night Magic to the Pro Tour.

One of the cool perks of having Organized Play around is that they run internal leagues. Right now we're playing a Shards of Alara Sealed league. I have not yet won a match.

This was my attempt to hit home with the idea that Wizards is filled with gamers. We don't just try to understand our customers. We are our customers. And not just in R&D. Wizards is filled with people who have chosen to do what they do at a game company because they have a love for games.

While we tend to show off Magic on magicthegathering.com, our office has many other geeky things, Star Wars being one of the most prevalent.

My question upon reviewing this photo is this: what's going on with my face? I think I was attempting fear.

This picture got cut because it's doesn't really add anything. Yes, floor two has a kitchen, but it doesn't have anything remotely unique or Magic-y. As such, when I was axing photos, this ended on the cutting room floor.

Before we leave, I should point out that the second floor now hosts all of the Digital Games people. The section did not exist at the time, so it wasn't on the tour.

Except for my farewell, the rest of the article is what I consider the crux of the tour: floor three. And so, this seems like a natural breaking point. I was originally planning for this to be just one article, but I quickly realized I just had too much to fit into a single week. My editor Kelly threatens physical violence when I start exceeding 6,000 words. Come back in two weeks as I walk you through floor three and give you a heap of behind-the-scenes nuggets.

Join me next week when I put Red under the spotlight.

Until then, may you have fun showing off your world.

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