War Of Worldcraft - Episode One
Recently Wizards of the Coast posted an opening for a job. The position was for a "creative manager" which was a little bit nebulous but basically Doug Beyer asserted that Wizards had the following problem:
Now I've always wanted to work for WotC—that's not entirely accurate but at least for as long as I've been playing Magic I've been making up cards. The community's enjoyment of this process has recently manifested in the creation of the Custom Cube Project by Ali Aintrazi and Justin Parnell. I remember when I was interviewing for my current job (my boss is a Magic player and even made Top 4 of Team Pro Tour DC) my boss was concerned that I would "up and leave" at the mention of a better opportunity.
I told him that the only things that would get me to leave would be a job at Wizards or my band (feel free to like us!) taking off. To be clear I don't really think I'm going to get the job offer and I'm not 100% confident I would take it if I did; I really really am having a lot of fun with my band and relocating to Renton would be something I'd have to think long and hard about. But I had to apply.
I had to apply for a couple of reasons:
- These non-programmer jobs at WotC come up so infrequently that it would be a missed opportunity if I didn't put in for the job.
- I'd love to be on their radar even if this isn't the job for me; maybe my resume causes them to offer me an internship sometime in the future and maybe that would be the appropriate time and place.
I knew that to have my resume stand out I'd have to make it look awesome and make it pop. So I did just that: I made my resume look AWESOME. But more than that I wanted to let them know that I had some of the qualifications that would be required of a CREATIVE manager not just a manager. So with no game design creative experience I decided to go to work.
I created four distinct worlds with individual characters mechanics and storylines. I'm aware that mechanics aren't traditionally part of a creative manager's job description—but with the proliferation of top-down design since M10 it became obvious I would need to show proficiency in all of these areas.
So what does all of that have to do with anything really? It made me acutely aware that world building and developing mechanics and character sketches is harder than just having an idea and that's why there's a whole team for any of these tasks. There's not just a playtester bro and a storyline bro who just fist-bump every time they finish a new block (which is approximately every week).
I called my world descriptions "Planeswalker's Guide to _______" for the familiarity/novelty of it but those things are a whole book's worth of material. What do I know about a style guide or art direction? Not a whole lot frankly.
I spend a completely irrational amount of time designing my own cards/mechanics/worlds etc. Actually I spend a completely irrational amount of time doing and thinking about anything to do with Magic but I guess that's why I'm writing this and why you're here reading it.
What I'm setting out to do with this article (which hopefully becomes a series) is demonstrate some of the difficulties of the creative and development process and the importance of working with a team. Some of the work of developing what I'll set out to create here will be crowdsourced (not that they do readership crowdsourcing at Wizards but any time you have group input there's an element of it). The end game is to have a completed set at the conclusion of this with a rich storyline a developed world and intelligent fun mechanics.
Let this be your fair warning: except in the most abstract sense (via playtesting the new cards) you won't find any strategy or decklists here. This isn't a piece for people looking to brush up on the best way to play Delver decks or fine tune their Esper Stoneblade lists.
What I'm going to do to get things started is give you a couple ideas. They'll be small stories that aren't entirely developed or fleshed out. Then you can vote on the story you want to see worked on most. After that next week's article will be the story that I've developed and we'll work on another aspect of the set.
Story 1: Ciesta
The world of Ciesta has been until recently a plane of extreme quiet. Almost all of its denizens share a continuing collective unconsciousness as they're all asleep. While the people and creatures of Ciesta sleep their dreams are used to fuel the magic of the Somnamancers a guild of mages who draw inspiration from the dreams of living things.
Unfortunately for the Somnamancers while they practice some of the most powerful magic in the multiverse they are cursed to never sleep themselves. Something has changed though. Generally on Ciesta nightmares are relegated to dreams-within-dreams and are not a shared experience but a host of nightmares has recently invaded the world.
Story 2: Valea
In Valea mankind has just started to develop magic. Powerful beasts are high atop the food chain and sentient species' development will be key to their survival. The primitive nature of this plane has attracted an egomaniacal planeswalker who thinks he can reshape Valea's people in his own image.
Because his magic is greater than anyone else's many bend the knee and worship him as a god. But what will become of a deity who is challenged by another with equal power?
Story 3: Azathu
95% of Azathu is undeveloped wilderness. But in the expansive wild stands what appears to be a massive obelisk. On all sides this towering monument is guarded by seemingly ornamental stone sentries and protected by some of the most powerful magic ever practiced. Truly this tower is a prison for the vilest criminals in the multiverse. Power is only measured two ways brute force and charisma and if you're short on either you'll find yourself at the bottom of the totem pole…or six feet under it.
But one of the inmates has recently discovered he's more powerful than his captors initially thought. During a brutal beating that should've ended his life his spark ignited and he discovered he was a planeswalker. He's determined to break free of Azathu and take some of his friends from the inside with him.
I'll leave you with that and encourage you to vote for which of these worlds you'd like to develop into a set. Keep in mind that we're looking at top-down design—so we're going to develop mechanics and cards that fit thematically within the story not bend the story to fit cards we want to make.
It's my hope that this gives me (and you) a more thorough idea of the creative/design process in Magic (and it very well may not—those people sign pretty tight non-disclosure agreements)—and maybe that it will give you more appreciation for what it is that R&D and creative does. I'm pretty excited about working together on this and please don't hesitate to leave me some feedback in the comments section.
Next week we'll discuss the world that you've chosen to develop and flesh out a fuller story. Then we'll begin the process of selecting some mechanics.
Best wishes to all!
~ Dave Rockstar