80,000 Words (with Director's Commentary), Part II

Posted in Making Magic on December 8, 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.

So I had this crazy idea of doing a column with director's commentary of a previous article. The perfect choice seemed to be 80,000 Words, my eighty-picture photo tour of Wizards as it had very few words (the least of any article I've ever done). If all this sounds unfamiliar to you, that's because you missed my column from two weeks ago where I did part I of my director's commentary article. (Seriously, read it first if you haven't already.) Why did I break it up into two parts? Well, apparently the old dictum is true—pictures get much more done than words.

When last we left our tour, I was just about to take you all to the best floor in the building, floor 3. Why is floor 3 the best floor? If you don't know the answer to that you just haven't been reading long enough to figure out how large my ego actually is. Yes, floor 3 is the home of R&D. What floor could be more compelling than that? If nothing else, I have a lot more to say about floor 3 than any of the other three floors. But enough of my chatting without pictures. Onward!

As I said during Part I, I didn't plan out what I was going to say. This panel does include a joke I've been making every since we moved into the new building. I believe the picture is from some Dungeons & Dragons product but every time we pass it, I make a rum joke.

You'll notice that there is a whole lot of art based on our games hanging on the walls in the building. Basically, we like our art and have made the conscious decision to put it all over the walls. The interesting thing is that the people who select the art aren't necessary the people who play the particular games. This means we have quite a bit of cool art on stuff people don't use much scattered around the building. Nonetheless, I think it's great we use our own stuff to be our art.

Here's how meeting rooms got named. When we moved into the new building each section got to name the rooms in its area of the floor. Thus (as we'll see in a moment), all the R&D meeting rooms (bar one) got named after Magic cards.

Here are a few of the names of meeting rooms in the building:

Transporter Room
10 Forward
The Wampa Cave
Moon Base Alpha
Waterdeep
Rivendell
The Bridge
The Old Curiosity Shoppe
Easy Bake Oven
Dragon's Nest
The Matrix
N.O.R.A.D.
Borderlands
Grand Central Station
The Forbidden Room
The Computer Lab
Bag End
Lost Temple
The Havoc Room
Area 51
Gilligan's Island
The Abyss
The Swamp
And, of course, Graceland

I tried to convince another section to name one of their rooms Carnegie Hall as I thought it would be fun to answer the question "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" with "Practice." It turns out, Carnegie Hall didn't have the kind of geek cred needed to warrant a room name.

Next

So The Bat Cave is right next a meeting room named Wayne Manor. I'm sad to say these are two of only three superhero referencing rooms in the building. I'll be getting to the third.

I included this picture for two reasons. First, I liked the weird running joke of all the goblin-themed Magic statues. Second, this thing has an awesome story behind it and I love filling you all in on some of the quirkier aspects of Wizards of the Coast.

Long ago, Wizards of Coast tried our hand at running game stores. In the end, it didn't work out. One of the cool perks for the corporate office was that we picked up numerous statues (themed on games we sold, mostly Wizards stuff) that had formerly been used in the stores. One such statue was the Goblin King statue you see in the photo above.

Anyway, for some reason, one day someone left something on the Goblin King. The idea was that it was left there for good luck as an offering to the Goblin King. Over the next few weeks, more and more items began being left. Eventually, it became a thing. Wizards employees just made offerings to the Goblin King. So many, in fact, that it is now routinely cleaned off every couple of months.

One of the fun things about working at Wizards is that there is a much more playful atmosphere than you would find in a traditional corporate environment. The Goblin King is but one such example.

I guess I should take a moment to explain what exactly the murals are. To decorate the major hallways, it was decided that the art department would create murals combining art from all the different games Wizards currently and formerly has made. These murals are changed from time to time (the original plan was every six months but in reality it's working out closer to eighteen).

One of my favorite things about the murals (besides that they look cool) is that there are all sorts of things hidden in them. I've walked by the same mural for months only one day to suddenly realize that there was a piece of art I hadn't noticed. It's also a lot of fun figuring out where you've seen a certain art from.

If I told you one picture had more trouble than any other, would you have guessed this one? Well, rather than tell you why don't I start by showing you. Here's the original photo, we took during the initial walk through.

Click here.

Can you spot the difference? Yes, I incorrectly identified the statue as Goblin Bomb rather than Goblin Grenade.

Goblin Bomb
Goblin Grenade

I knew that the card was the red card from Fallen Empires but when I plucked the name out of my head somehow I went to Bomb rather than Grenade. When you think of it, isn't it really more of a Goblin Bomb? Anyway, Monty pointed out to me that I had named the wrong card. So I went back and took another picture.

Click here.

But this isn't the photo that ended up in the final article. Can you spot the difference?

Yes, I accidentally wrote "Fourth Floor Kitchen," but we're on the third floor (and yes, I did it wrong in both versions of the photo). I offered to redo the photo, but Monty felt he could fix it in Photoshop. For the Making Magic trivia buffs, this photo is the only one that needed to be altered.

This picture was taken the day of the initial tour, but the previous photo was taken the next day. Normally things like this don't matter, but the items on the free table were gone by the time I came back. That is why the previous photo has me standing so close to the Goblin Grenade statue.

But that is not the meaty part of this photo. No the part I really wanted to talk about is the "Free Table." I've mentioned it a few times in my column so I wanted to take a moment to explain it. The original Free Table began on the kitchen counter near R&D in the old building. Like the Goblin King, it started pretty organically. A few people brought in items that they didn't want but that they thought others might like and left them on the counter in the kitchen. Those first few items had a sign with them I believe.

But R&D liked this concept and so the table morphed into a place where employees could leave items for one another to take. The Free Table thus had two great perks. First, there was a place where you could get rid of just about anything (I say "just about" as a few people have pushed the limits of the Free Table, although you'd be surprised what things do get taken). Second, it's a place where magical things can happen. In fact, I have gone out of my way (as have others) to try and create such moments.

For example, when I was moving, I had four three-foot high stools that I no longer had a need for. I thought this was the perfect chance to create a wonderful"Free Table moment. So I came in with my four stools and put them on the Free Table. Then I sat back to watch. The look on the face of the person who first spied the stools was priceless. It's not often furniture is put on the Free Table. Suffice to say, the stools went very fast.

The downside to the Free Table is that some people forget the whole "anything put on this table can be taken by someone else" rule. On occasion someone has put something on the Free Table with a sign saying not to take it. Gamers that we are, we long figured out the workaround—take the sign first.

Anyway, the Free Table is but yet another quirky perk of Wizards life.

This is a picture that I got on pick-up day. When I was looking through my pictures trying to piece the article together I realized I had forgotten the pop machine (yes I say "pop"; I'm from the Midwest). I really wanted to show off a lot of the perks and the soda machine is a nice one.

Here's the quick story behind it. Once upon a time, back in the old, old building, Wizards had free soft drinks on tap, including Thomas Kemper Root Beer (which I think is regional, but good stuff for those that like root beer). While that sounds great, here's the problem. A restaurant (at least a good one) takes great care to keep their soda gun clean. At Wizards, there was no one assigned to such duty. Thus, although we had free soft drinks, not a lot of people wanted to use it. Then one day, as a cost cutting measure, management changed from the free soda gun to 25¢ cans. The employees were pretty happy because cheap clean soft drinks were a step up from dirty free ones.

For each picture I would stop and think what I wanted to say. Then I would write it on the white board and pose for the picture. The joke behind this picture was that I had no mail. And really with the advent of email, I'm not sure why I should even expect to get much snail mail. Anyway, that was the joke. All I had to do was look sad. If we had filmed this tour on video, this would be the blooper clip where I couldn't stop laughing.

Somehow the idea of trying to look sad made me laugh uncontrollably. In the picture I am laughing very hard. I gritted my teeth and hoped it would somehow look something in the vicinity of sad. It didn't, but Lora and I both felt it was a close as I was probably going to get.

By the way, four people took me up on my offer and wrote me a letter. Thank you to those four individuals. You know who you are.

Right next to R&D is a big conference room called Lost Temple (a Starcraft reference I believe). When we first moved into the building and when I did the tour, this was where the Computer Lab was, a literal stone's throw away. When we built up our Digital Games department, it got moved downstairs to be near them (on floor 2). The Lost Temple is now just a big meeting room. I use it, by the way, to run my biweekly design seminars.

The "It's Research!" line is a running joke in R&D. Whenever we play games of any kind, we always claim it's work. It's what the "R" in R&D stands for.

Finally, yes, that is a Watto statue hanging from the ceiling in the background.

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On the wall next to the Pit hang three uncut Magic sheets: a Beta common sheet, a Beta uncommon sheet and a Beta rare sheet. I think we got them originally because we felt it was something cool to hang in R&D. Now that we've had them for three years, it turns out it's something we look at all the time for inspiration. Whenever we have an issue, we'll always look to see "what Richard did."

For those who like outtakes, here's the first photo Lora took.

Click here.

That's why the shot we used has the camera slightly angled, to avoid the glare.

I took one other picture because I wanted to explain that we had a sheet of each rarity, but the picture got cut when I was whittling down to eighty.

Click here to see it.

One day many years ago this sign showed up. It sounds very ominous and it scares the bajeebees out of any DCI members that get brought to the Pit on a tour. To the best of my knowledge no one yet has lost their eligibility to compete in Marquee events.

I have no idea why I felt a need to waste a second picture on this sign. Ideally what I needed was a closer picture of it with my sign from above, but we never shot it and it never occurred to me to reshoot it.

My "take photos over lunch" plan worked great with one or two small hiccups. This photo was one such problem. Normally the Pit is full of hustle and bustle, but at lunch it's like a ghost town. It was so underwhelming that I felt obligated to explain why there were so few people there.

Another thing I dislike about this shot is that it doesn't do a good job of showing off the Pit. My angle wasn't really good. Ironically since this picture was taken, the Pit has grown in size and now there is a much better vantage point to take the shot. I'll have to find a way to work it into a future article.

Click here to see the even worse photo of the Pit.

Not everyone leaves the Pit during lunch. Matt was here so I decided to make fun of him. There have been a series of running jokes that we abuse Matt in R&D. Luckily, we have hired Ken Nagle, so now we get to make the jokes about him.

Let me point out a few things you might not have noticed.

#1) What you are seeing behind Matt is one of our two views in the Pit. The yellow building is a hotel that is right behind us. If you ever get to visit Wizards on our dime, chances are this is where you're staying (well, there are four hotels grouped together—you'll stay in one of the four).

#2) Yes, that is a picture of Mike Turian on Matt's desk. Why does Mike have a picture of Matt? I don't know. He just liked it. I believe the photo was one used for an issue of Sideboard (a magazine we used to produce about Organized Play); we went through this phase where all the photos had to have Magic cards in them.

#3) Yes, that is the art from Oath of Druids. I believe it's from the Wizards of the Coast Tournament Center that got shut down. Matt chose it because he had always liked the card. In fact, there's a cool story associated with it. Exodus was released the same time as a Junior Super Series Championship (a tournament series we used to run for players 18 and under) down in Orlando. We brought in all the winners of that year's Pro Tours to gunsling and do Deck Clinics (where Pros look at people's decks and suggest how to improve them). The winners were Randy Buehler, Matt, Dave Price, and Jon Finkel.

One night I took them out to dinner (and by me, I mean me with Wizards picking up the check) and we got to talking about Exodus. The only card that the group thought was good was Carnophage. Matt, though, had his eye on one other card, Oath of Druids. He said "it looked good to him." At that same dinner, I had a fight with Finkel over whether or not the card Forbid was any good (I was saying yes). I told him that he'd be playing it within a month. At U.S. Nationals that year (about a month later), Finkel walked up to me and said I was right. The deck he played was known as Forbidian (Forbid + Ophidian).

Yes, this photo of Mike was the one sitting on Matt's desk. Two quick observations.

#1) Mike was playing an online game called Travain. Multiple people wrote in to him to ask if that was in fact what it was. We don't talk a lot about non-Wizards games we play, but we are gamers after all, and we'll hunt down good games no matter who makes them.

#2) Yes, that is a picture of my family hanging on Mike's wall to the right of his computer. For some reason, Mike always keeps the latest version of my family's holiday card on his desk. (Click here and scroll to the bottom to see my family's card from last year.)

Here's where Aaron sat two years ago. Since this time he was promoted to Director of Magic (I believe Aaron was the Head Developer when this was taken). He now has an office (which we'll actually see later in the tour). In fact, everyone in the Pit has moved since this tour, so no one sits exactly where you see them here.

A few observations:

#1) Behind Aaron is the other choice of view, the other building in our complex. You see, the Landmark has two identical buildings side by side. We get to see the other building. The worst part is that in late afternoon the sun reflects off the mirrored windows of the other building and we have to close our shades.

#2) That bat belongs to former Head Developer Brian Schneider. I don't know why Brian had it, but he loved to walk around holding it. It always reminded me of a certain scene from The Untouchables. The bat was handed off to Aaron when he took over as Head Developer. The bat is still in R&D, but no one really claims it right now.

#3) The picture to the left of Aaron's computer is his wife Anne and his daughter Athena. Since this time, Aaron and Anne have had a second daughter named Astrid. (Yes, they like the letter "A".) You can see art by Athena behind Aaron's head.

#4) My desk was directly across from Aaron's. This was because at the time I was Aaron's boss. (Oh, the times how they've changed.)

Speaking of my desk, here we are. While my desk ebb and flows, it really does get this messy. About once a year, Bill Rose (the VP of R&D) threatens to move me unless I clean it. (Moving me is the only way Bill knows to force me to clean my desk.) You can see Aaron right behind me, showing the relationship between our desks. You can also see where Matt and Mike's desks are in conjunction to mine.

Other observations:

#1) The statue to the left of my head is a GAMA award we won for Ravnica.

#2) Next to it is a postcard which was the invitation to the very first Pro Tour. On the postcard it is called the Black Lotus Tour, which was the original name we were planning to use. Yeah, yeah, we quickly realized our mistake.

#3) Behind my hand you can see my box of Mood Swings. I still play it every week (mostly with my wife).

#4) You can see numerous Inquest Magazines. One of the reasons I kept this version of the shot (you'll see the second in a moment) is that I liked the Inquests lying on my desk. The shot also did a better job of showing how messy my desk was.

#5) The bumper sticker shows off my love of Underdog.

#6) That green thing is a stuffed cactus plant (think teddy bear or pillow). It was in my house growing up and I've kept it ever since.

Click here to see the version I didn't end up using.

I felt the other picture did a better job of giving you the essence of my desk. There are a few things to see here though:

#1) You can see all my knick knacks lined up on my desk sill. For those who care: a green monkey (a tribute to my character in Neopets—I was on the design team for the game and had to play a bunch), Audrey II (the plant from the musical Little Shop of Horrors), Wile E. Coyote, Thumper from Bambi, and Alf. To the right of my computer is the Composite Superman, a villain of Batman and Superman (combined from the comic World's Finest). The villain looks like half of Superman and half of Batman except with green skin. His powers are all those of the Legions of Super Heroes. He is one of the goofiest villains from the Silver Age, but I love him. (The figure was a birthday present from Matt who had no idea what he was getting me and was shocked how much I liked it.) Behind the computer is a Hubert Humphrey doll that I got from Skaff Elias (creator of the Pro Tour and longtime R&D member).

#2) In this photo you can see the second award on my desk, (the clear round globe), this one for Unhinged from the readers of Inquest Magazine.

#3) Yes, I use a Mac. I am a die-hard Apple user. Every computer I have ever owned or used at work and/or at home has been an Apple. I am also a crazed iPhone fanatic. I currently own 233 apps, only 112 of which fit on my phone at any one time. (By the way, any developers out there who are itching to make an awesome Magic app: let's just say there's a demand.)

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One of the most common questions I get is "was that really top secret stuff"? The answer is yes. The card file and playtest cards were actually from a then-unpublished set. Monty did spend a bit of time with various photo enhancing programs to see if he could find anything. Ultimately he became convinced that the picture had too low a resolution to actually blow up any text and have it be anywhere close to legible.

The real lesson is that if you somehow manage to break into Wizards of the Coast's offices and make your way to the Pit, valuable future information can be harvested from my desktop. Hmm, maybe that's why I keep my desk so messy—to decrease the chance of an intruder finding anything useful.

Devin's desk was just next to mine (I know someone somewhere made a little Pit cubicle chart—that's why we had to move to mess that guy up) and in general he kept it pretty spotless. What you see here is actually Devin's desk on the dirty side. Anyway, my desk looks bad enough, but in contrast to Devin's desk it looked even worse.

People always seem surprised that I don't have an office. For the record, I neither need nor want an office. I have been offered a manager's-size cubicle outside the Pit on numerous occasions and have always turned it down. I like being where the action is.

Anyway, my boss—the Director of Magic R&D—gets an office. At the time of the tour, that person was Randy Buehler. You might assume that this office became Aaron's, but you'd be incorrect. After Randy moved downstairs, Charlie Catino (one of the original Philadelphia playtesters—the people who playtested the game before it came out), the Director of New Business, took it. Aaron then turned one of the conference rooms we're about to see into his office.

This is another picture that looking back seems a bit of a waste. I took up two valuable photos to show you Randy's office. I should have done it in one (or possibly none).

This photo was left lacking for several reasons. One, it was hard to get the shot we needed to really show you Randy's office. Two, there was nothing remotely about Magic in it. I covered the white board with my mini white board to tease that I was hiding information, but the truth is that nothing on the big white board has anything to do with Magic.

Before I move on to the next picture, there's a photo that was taken that got cut. As this is the special director's version, I will now show you what you missed.

Click here.

Ah, the infamous White Board of Wisdom made famous by the "Is Gum Food?" argument. So why did I cut this picture? Because the board was empty. I wrote the question on it right before the photo was taken. When I was cutting photos I realized that the White Board of Wisdom needed lots of comments on it to recapture what you all had seen when last we showed it to you. Thus, I cut the photo.

I'm sad to say that the White Board of Wisdom got used for some actual business purpose and has not served its Wisdom function in over a year. Maybe I should do something to fix that.

For those who have trouble reading the white board, it says:

ALL THE SECRETS FOR 2007

  • Edible cards
  • Glow in the Dark Ink
  • Return to Homelands
  • Bands with Self

When I entered the room I was bummed that there wasn't anything written on the white boards, so I wrote something.

So what exactly is the Danger Room? The origin of the Danger Room goes back to the old building. The Powers That Be felt that Richard Garfield should have an office. (It seems if you create the game that has been the financial backbone of the company you get an office—I should also point out that Richard was an Executive Vice President.) Richard just wanted a cubicle. Sound familiar? But it appears that Executive Vice Presidents have to have an office, so they gave him one.

Richard didn't sit in it, as his desk was at his cubicle, so he turned the room into a place to store his extensive game collection. He also put in a nice-sized table with comfy chairs. Richard dubbed the room The Danger Room after the place in the X-Men mansion where the X-Men work out. For those not familiar with the comic, the room had advanced space technology, allowing it to function much like Star Trek's holodeck. In fact, the Danger Room predates the holodeck, so I will claim the holodeck functions much like the Danger Room. Richard dubbed it the Danger Room because the room ended up being where R&D worked out (a.k.a. played games).

The Danger Room had a second very useful function. It was a room available for meetings that couldn't be booked (remember, it was Richard's office). Thus it turned into the de facto R&D meeting room for small groups.

Flash forward to the new building. R&D had grown very used to the Danger Room, so we moved it. While it no longer hosts Richard's game collection, it still is "off the grid," making it a good de facto meeting room / game playing room.

I will also point out that this is the only photo that allows you to see what the bottom of my shoes look like.

Next is another picture I cut. Click here.

I cut this picture because it had little value other than letting that guy making the seating chart understand the location of Bill's office and the Danger Room.

Before the tour, I had not realized how many of the Magic statues were goblins. For those who can't place it, this card is from the art of Goblin War Drums. Yeah, I don't know who made the call what cards got turned into a statue.

I believe if Del had mental powers capable of making my camera explode, you might never have seen "80,000 Words." You for sure would never have seen this photo.

The reason I felt so strongly that I needed to include Del is that she is an integral part of the process, and I wanted to use the tour to show up some of the lesser known aspects of Magic and Wizards.

To give you a little vantage point, see the walls on the right side of the screen. That's the edge of the current Pit. Since this tour, we increased the size of the Pit and lowered the outside walls to desk level. There are three meeting rooms along this wall and two as you wrap around to the other side. I show you the meeting rooms in the order you come to them.

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All of the meeting rooms have some art on the wall that is supposedly connected to the name of the room. While the R&D rooms are grokkable, there is some art that three years later I still haven't figured out what the connection is.

Why do all the cards have a strip taken out of them and have some weird treatment to them? I'm told it was to be artistic.

This wall art wins my vote for the ugliest in an R&D meeting room. They couldn't even have the whole card have a single treatment.

This meeting room is the one that Aaron turned into his office. He kept the giant Castle Sengir art on the wall. Also, Aaron's office is still in our system to reserve. One day, I'm going to reserve it and kick Aaron out for an hour.

Why didn't I want to name the room Castle Sengir? Because I didn't think the card was good enough to warrant a room name.

Since this picture was taken, the couch has been stolen. Yes, Wizards of the Coast has office furniture poachers.

Here, by the way, is a second shot we tried with me in the shot on the couch.

I decided later that you didn't need to actually see the couch to get that the room had a couch.

Man, I loved the "posing in front of a room's name" shot. I don't know why though. Boring! I do think this is the cleverest of the Magic card room names though.

Here's an obscure joke. The item behind me was the portal that appeared on the product Portal, one of our attempts to make a simpler version of Magic to ease beginners in with. The portal was mocked up as a promotional piece to use when we were pushing Portal. It now hangs by the area where the creative team sits.

This photo is in the running for the lamest one in the tour. When the shelves are full of brand new Magic art, it's awesome. When the shelves are empty, not so much. "Now let's go look at blank walls at the museum."

This was another pick-up shot. I felt we needed something that conveyed how hard the creative team worked. Blank shelves really didn't do the job. This shot was one of the ones that we had to go over with a fine tooth comb to make sure we weren't making something public that wasn't supposed to be.

Now here's a photo of the creative team that I had to cut. Click here.

Why was this cut? Because I forgot that we hadn't yet made it public knowledge that Doug had replaced Matt Cavotta.

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You might think the "Research" line is a joke, but it's not. The Creative Team has to double check what some novel said a lot more than you would think.

This proved to be one of the most popular photos on the tour. While Jeremy did pose for this shot, I feel he was only trying to recreate how he looks when he's had four or more Red Bulls.

This was another pick-up photo. CAPS (which stands for Creative And Production Services) is a huge and important part of the Magic-making process. They take up half of the third floor so once I realized I had forgotten them I went back to get this photo. The room has a lot of technical equipment that the photo did a poor job of capturing.

I do so love referencing old columns. If I could have figured out how to put a link to Elegance in the photo I would. The reason I link old columns so much, by the way, is that the majority of readers have not read all 350+ of my columns, and this is a way to expose readers to columns they might have missed. (Warning: Elegance is a love it or hate it type of column.)

To try and create closure for the tour, you'll notice that I'm moving back out through the lobby to exit the way I came in.

I spent some time trying to figure out how to end the column and I decided that I liked using my normal article structure. So you get "Join me next week ..."

And "until then..." What, by the way, is going on with my face in this shot?

For most of the pictures I just had Lora take one shot but since we knew we were at the end, she took several pictures for the last one. Yes, this was the best one.

Here's the other two. Click here.


See, I said it was the best of the three. In the last picture I look constipated.

Anyway, that is about 80,000 words about 80,000 Words. (I kid, I think I only used 10,000.)

Join me next week when I explain why like the Empire, Magic strikes back.

Until then, may you have a few words to say about your home movies.

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