Free Association

Posted in Making Magic on February 5, 2004

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.

When I was in college, I spent many a Monday night performing in open mike nights at local comedy clubs. (Don't worry, my jokes were better than the Howard Cosell joke.) Stand-up comedy helped me develop an important skill for designing card games: recognizing the importance of slow change. You see, comedians put together a series of routines, called a “set," that they use when they perform. When you are first starting out, your sets are usually three to five minutes long.

Once you have your set, you perform it over and over again. Every little bit. A physical gesture, a quick aside, a short pause. It's all planned. And each time you perform your set, you finesse it in little tiny details. Perhaps the gesture should be slower. Maybe the aside needs an extra word. Possibly the pause needs to be a second longer. Stand-up comedy taught me the importance of recognizing that even small nuances can make all the difference.

I see this all the time in design. Often changing one small part of a card, things that the average player might not even notice if they looked at the two cards together can make all the difference. (Oh, and that old Elvis is much funnier than young Elvis.)

Speaking of routines, I hoped you enjoyed the breaking of my routine today. I think it's important to occasionally show instead of merely telling. I can explain non-linear or I could simply demonstrate it. The latter seems the better choice.

Join me next week when I show how each of you can make a difference.

Until then, may you appreciate the potency of subtlety.

Mark Rosewater

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