Final Thoughts on My Trip to Wizards of the Coast

I was going to write some kind of coherent narrative encapsulating the entire journey, but quickly realized that was going to be impossible. It was like visiting the sausage factory, but instead of being grossed out, you discovered that sausages are made of rainbows and dipped in elementally pure Awesome, then packaged by elves and sent across the world on the backs of dragons. How could I describe that coherently? So instead, here’s a rambling series of random thoughts about the trip, and sort of a photo essay as well.

  • Every single Wizards employee I met was utterly fantastic. It goes without saying that any gamer who visits there wants to work there, but more than just working in such a cool place on products that are interesting, a lot of the appeal is just that everyone there is so darn nice.
  • Their jobs are awesome, but they work hard at them. I have to give special thanks to Vincent Price, Lee Sharpe, Chris Kiritz, and Michael Gills, who over the course of the week put in a ton of hours just making sure the Community Cup invitees had an enormous amount of fun. Thanks guys!
  • Vincent (right) and Lee (center) are stunned and crestfallen when they hear the first round results of the MD5 draft. Ok, that’s not what’s actually going on here, but that is Vincent and Lee.
  • I saw some art from Scars of Mirrodin, though none of the cards were identified. That weird metallic spiky landscape will be back.
  • There was another gallery of art that we were all speculating about. Then Aaron Forsythe came over and mentioned that it was leftover Planechase art. Someone asked if that meant there would be more Planechase, and he suggested that they certainly planned to use the art for something. I questioned him further on the subject, and he revealed that there won’t necessarily be a new multiplayer product every single year (like this year’s Archenemy), but that after a few releases of that nature they’d see what worked and revisit earlier ideas, Planechase being a strong possibility.
  • When the office tour took us through Magic R&D, we saw a lot of clean desks. There was a box labeled “FFL,” which stands for Future Future League, which is basically R&D playtesting Standard two years from now. Can you imagine if, through some genius subterfuge, someone had gotten a hold of that box? How very stolen iphone.
  • Mark Rosewater and the other R&D guys came out of a design meeting to talk to us. But they left the door open so we could see the cards they’d been working on on the whiteboard. “Platinum Lotus. Casting Cost: 0. Tap and sacrifice Platinum Lotus to take three extra turns.” Also, an instant that cost one blue, and said, “Take control of target chair.” I asked if the head judge’s chair was a valid target.

  • Thanks to the IT guys who had to set this stuff up.
  • I had an excellent interview with Richard Baker, who’s been with the company designing D&D worlds for nearly 20 years. I’ve got some info on Dark Sun, which I’ll be posting in detail later this week, and a very early scoop on Gamma World that I’ll get to next week. And it’s of the, “OMG OMG SO AMAZING” variety.
  • The awesome PR people that I interact with through email every week are twenty times as awesome in person. They made time to meet with me (in one case taking me to dinner at an Irish pub that randomly morphed into a karaoke bar), set up interviews, get me review copies of things and generally be great people. Alas, there is a bartender in Renton, WA right now wondering who the hell Nissa Revane is.

  • Seattle seems like a pretty nice city. There is this sort of constant low-level anxiety about volcanoes, though, and that might get to me. Also, they have no NHL team. Anyway, self-portrait with the famous fish market behind me.

  • The sci-fi museum was top notch. They have a lot of great original, one-of-a-kind memorabilia, but that’s not all. The exhibits are arranged by theme and era, and include lots of thought-provoking material on science fiction themes and inspirations. It reminded me of a good Smithsonian exhibit.
  • Rock me, Dr. Zaius.
  • In the same building as the sci-fi museum is the Experience Music Project, with exhibits on Jimi Hendrix, the Seattle grunge scene, and one on the development of the electric guitar. There’s a lot of interactive stuff too. I had my mp3 player loaded up with Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden for listening to while I wrote Robot Viking articles in my hotel room.
  • I met some great people on the community team, too. Bill Stark was a great coach during the events he sat out of (and he volunteered to sit out one extra so Evan and I could play more Magic). Joseph Hill appears at first glance to be a crazed lumberjack, but he is literally one of the nicest people I have ever met. Constantly upbeat and perpetually helpful, he was a lot of fun to hang out with. Evan simply fumed quietly when I made major screw-ups during our Commander match together, even though I knew he wanted to Hulk out and smash the table over my head.
  • I completely got over my nervousness about flying, only to find that beyond it was sheer drudgery, discomfort and tedium. A seat on an airplane is a brutally unpleasant place to be stuck for five and a half hours. And to the guy next to me on the red-eye from Seattle to Charlotte — I hope you realize how close you were to needing surgical intervention to retrieve your damn ipad.
  • Swag. Oh my Lolth, the swag. I already feel as if I’ve been bragging a bit, talking about my day of ultimate luck, pulling the Jace and whatnot, so I’ll just say that if you’re ever invited to visit Wizards of the Coast, leave extra space in your luggage for the trip home.
  • What website is that on a computer in Wizards’ central meeting room? It does look a bit familiar, doesn’t it? The large black space, by the way, is where the network login and password were written on the whiteboard. A few images with that visible were published on someone’s site for several hours, which caused a minor stir.
  • Wizards of the Coast employees refer to their company by its acronym; however, they pronounce it as a word, which sounds like, “Watt-See.” I found this surprising, for some reason. They call Magic: the Gathering Online, “Mitt-Go.”
  • The MD5 draft. Community guys on one side of the table, the Wizards team on the other.
  • Some of the high level Magic designers don’t play a lot of Magic Online, and they were, on occasion, somewhat frustrated by the interface. So if you’ve ever played and accidentally clicked through your turn or chose the wrong target, Aaron Forsythe knows how you feel.
  • They’re working on it. I saw mock-ups of the new interface (which may be some time away, as they still haven’t made a platform decision yet). I wasn’t allowed to photograph them, but I can say that there were different versions of the login screen, each with one of the iconic planeswalkers on it. They looked good. I also noticed (and I may be pushing the boundaries of what I can disclose a bit here) that there were hierarchical menus along the left side that could be expanded or partly hidden. Much more useable than the current interface.
  • Several Wizards employees told me they like Robot Viking and the writing on the site. The one article everyone mentioned? What’s Up with Sexytime Elf Cartographer Lady? Maybe I should put more of a focus on making snarky comments about Magic card art.
  • One other piece of big (ok, in my mind, HUGE) news — without naming names, I can tell you that someone at Wizards contributed to the Project: Death Race fund drive. And, without making guarantees, there’s a chance that some Wizards employees might run a play test (with photos). How sweet would that be? And what a kick in my pants to make sure I get the beta rules ready this week.
  • Finally, thanks Wizards. Getting the email inviting me to participate in this was the closest thing to getting a Golden Ticket to the Willy Wonka factory that can actually happen in the real world. In fact, it was better because those movies seriously creep me out, and you guys weren’t creepy at all.

8 Responses to Final Thoughts on My Trip to Wizards of the Coast

  1. Did you actually go into Pike’s Place? There’s a very nice comic book and game store in that pile of a building about one floor down from the surface. I stop by there every time I’m in Seattle. it’s pretty cool. Also, you should interview Penny Arcade about their card game, it’s pretty sweet.

  2. I did, that place was cool. I was bummed that I didn’t bring my comics lists with me, I usually like to buy a few back issues at every city I visit.

    The market was nice, I would love to go there to buy fresh fish and veggies, but I hear all the tourists make that difficult. Ironic.

  3. I am truly jealous man. A WoTC trip with all the trimmings and tons of killer swag. That’s so cool that some of them have been reading Robot Viking and show interest in Project Death Race.

  4. Joseph Hill appears at first glance to be a crazed lumberjack…you don’t even want to know what I appear as during subsequent glances…

  5. You are so going to have egg on your face when I really do win a Nobel…It just won’t be in peace. If it happens, I’ll turn and wink. Know that it’s just for you.

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