Friday, December 18, 2015

Announcing a New Design Challenge Series—The Spotlight Challenge

It's time for something new.

This community is ready to stretch itself again and I've finally figured out a good way to do it.

Each fortnight, we'll cast the spotlight on a single designer. That designer will be challenged to design multiple cards for a particular purpose. Mostly cycles, cards that share a mechanic, or maybe all the commons of a single color for a theoretical set, but we'll see. They will have one week to submit their first draft. Then, I'll review their progress and they'll have one more week to revise and submit their final design, which I will also review. The designer is invited to entreat ideas and opinions from their fellow artisans, and I invite all artisans to lend their insights to each review.

This will replace the Weekend Art Challenge after this weekend and for the foreseeable future. I might overlap these challenges so that a new designer is in their first week while the last is in their second, but we'll see how that goes.

Who goes when? First, if you want to participate and can commit to completing all the work expected during your fortnight, announce that in the comments below along with 0-2 challenge suggestions. Second, submit a design to the 12/18 Weekend Art Challenge. Among those interested, I will choose a preliminary order based on my entirely subjective opinion of the quality of your WAC submission. And then I'll coordinate with people on that list as the weeks unfold. If you want to join the queue after 12/21, leave a comment below and I'll add you to the bottom of the list.

The order of the list will not be hard and fast, and no one is guaranteed or promised a chance to be a spotlight designer. I will curate the list as things develop, and however I damn well please. I may invite a designer back for a second round before everyone has had one. Mostly, I'll be looking to spotlight helpful community members with interesting challenges.


  1. I'm kinda torn. I really enjoy the Weekend Art Challenge. It something on the weekends when I'm more free, it forces me to design around a piece of art and tell a story, and everyone and anyone can be involved and create their own card.

    On the other hand, I do see some upside to change. The spotlight challenge will be more things you do to create a set, where as the WAC is very unlikely to happen in design, and even then would be relatively simple.

    If some body wants more challenge than WAC, then why not work on your own set or, even better, help with the Tesla project? Plus, not everyone will be included in Spotlight, since it's a one person 2 week challenge.

    Overall, I'm just being human and objecting change. I'm willing to give it a try and see how it works.

    Count me in. (I'll post some challenge ideas later)

    1. I mean, personally I think Tesla is poorly-conceived and badly-executed. I don't contribute because half my contributions would look like "this is terrible and this whole theme should be scrapped and replaced from the beginning".

    2. Could you explain more on your view? Why do you believe this?

    3. "Progress" is not the kind of theme magic design lends itself to. It's not going to work well, and it is an uphill battle just to come close. It also is a terrible fit for Kaladesh and what we've seen of it; Kaladesh is a world where progress has come and gone, not one in transition.

      Additionally, many of the mechanics that have been discussed enthusiastically are not just terrible but obviously terrible. Justice is garbage and is never going to be legible to a normal non-designer, and I find it hard to believe that anyone has actually playtested it because this would be obvious in five minutes of playing it with someone who didn't have intimate knowledge of the card file.
      Revolution and its variants are interesting, potentially. Combine is as well, but apparently everyone decided that it wasn't high enough importance to preserve. And it's recently come out that it was tried in New Phyrexia and played very badly, which was unforeseeable but still removes one of the few good points of Tesla.

      Every time I check in on Tesla,I feel like all I see is an endless succession of doubling down on dead ends, which started before I knew this site existed and which I therefore don't feel I have a right to a say in. So I shut up and don't interfere unless it's brought up in a context that will affect me.

  2. This seems like an excellent idea. I look forward to reading every weekend art challenge, but I haven't felt nearly as drawn to submit to them.

    I would love to throw my hat in the ring as a potential designer. This is just the thing to get my creative energy flowing again.

    Possible prompts:

    Design a set of cards that injects a clear flavor-identity into a returning mechanic. Either by adding flavor where there is none (cycling) or by rebranding a returning mechanic (a la Chroma -> Devotion)

    Design a limited archetype. It should include at least one build-around card, two support cards that "pull" drafters into the archetype, and two reward cards that work best in the archetype, but will consistently go late due to lenticular design or weakness outside of the archetype.

  3. I'm interested. I think it might be good to keep something like the WAC going, possibly with someone else judging.

    For a challenge suggestion: Give the challengee the draft archetypes for two color pairs (e.g. RG and GW), and have them make a group of commons and a few uncommons for one of the intersecting color pairs (e.g. RW) that feels like a distinct style but meshes well. Or if that's too complex, just give them a single color pair and a specified third color.

  4. I like the idea! And I'm interested in participating.

    Challenge ideas:
    (1) R&D has done a lot with different kinds of mana costs: hybrid, twobrid, Phyrexian, and now colorless. Come up with a new kind of mana cost (or iterate on one of the existing ones) and design two cycles that demonstrate it.

    (2) The Magic brand team wants to release a small stand-alone expansion that's a crossover with some other well-known fictional universe of your choice (e.g. Star Wars or Harry Potter). Design a booster pack worth of cards from that expansion, making sure that they still feel like Magic cards.

  5. So a list of the pros and cons, bear in mind from one person's perspective (and preferences):

    1) It's new and different (and doesn't sound irredeemably awful right off the bat). New ideas are good, especially for something like the WAC that's been such a long runner and is starting to lose a bit of steam.
    2) Corollary to 1), it's not permanent, because Jay is the blog owner and he can do what he damn well pleases on Fridays. If enough people are clamoring for the WAC to be back, we'll see it back, whereas if WotC releases a new and shiny but terribly ill-conceived idea out into the world (Tarmogoyf...) we're going to have to suffer through a format infested with that card/mechanic for at least the next 3 months. E.g. I loved the "nostalgia" WAC, but because it had a lukewarm reception the first time, it's not going to be done again and I'm ok with that.
    3) The opportunity to do more challenges that span multiple cards, including challenges that really encourage multiple cards to properly assess them.
    4) The opportunity to reward and showcase longstanding members of the GA design community without necessarily bringing them on as writers long-term. In the follow-up articles, the designers themselves could explain their particular approaches, in more depth than you'd get just from the "get to know you" thread. Very often with the WAC it's hard to distinguish one designer from another, because each person is designing only one card per week and the challenges call for very different things.

    1) The biggest reason why I'm not doing this challenge: loss of flexibility over whether and when one participates. I like the WAC because it's a low-stress fun way to engage with a certain facet of my hobby, and at the same time, if I think the art is ugly or the challenge is boring or I'm just swamped with work from my day job (a job that has no relevance to game design, but one that I do enjoy and work hard on), I can just not do the challenge that week. With the Spotlight Challenge, if you're not willing to just have your challenge semi-randomly assigned to you, you don't get to be spotlighted at all. On a real Magic design team, you very often don't get to pick and choose which parts of the design file you work on, including the parts you find boring/dislike, so the Spotlight Challenge makes sense as good practice for people who want to work in game design someday. But that's not me.
    2) Featuring one designer per week necessarily decreases audience participation, by virtue of there only being one person who has final veto over all the submitted designs. People who get passed over several weeks in a row might feel bad. Sure, everyone can offer feedback in the comments, but not everyone wants to be a sounding board for other people's ideas rather than come up with their own.
    3) The tendency toward multi-card challenges, and the requirement that the challenge be able to be discussed for two weeks, means that a lot of the more "out there" ideas are going to be rejected as unsuitable for the Spotlight Challenge, where they might have found a home in the WAC. Some of my favorite challenges (though not necessarily best designs!) came from challenges like "include X word but not Y in your design" or "Purposefully do something weird that Magic doesn't normally do."

    1. I second Jenesis on most everything. Mostly I agree with Con 1. I'm a relatively new grad student and time is just not a thing I have a lot of right now, hence why I haven't really contributed to GA over the past few months. This seems neat and I'd love to participate, but I can't. At least, not for the near future.

    2. I'll third(third?) that. Most of this is what I was trying to convey above. I think you can narrow your pros and cons to this:

      Pros: It's something new and challenging for longstanding GA community members.

      Con: It discourages people to participate because of time commitment and difficulty level. This includes newer designers and older ones.

      Take for instance me. I discovered GA last spring( the first WAC I read was the turtle one) and soon after started submitting for WAC. If it was the Spotlight challenge that was going on instead of WAC, I'm not sure if I would have felt able to join this community so easily.
      By the way, I also enjoyed the "nostalgia" challenge.

    3. There might be some compromise on the commitment, if "on short notice" is a side-effect, not the main intended effect, eg. people can sign up for weeks they're free and Jay can choose who goes what week according to whatever criteria works best.

      Likewise, I definitely like the idea, but I certainly can't do the NEXT two weeks... :)

    4. As I said, I'll coordinate with the people who want to be spotlight designers. If it's your turn and you can't do it this week, we'll come back to you when you can.

      I'm very much hoping a lot more people will participate each week than just the spotlight designer. I expect them to solicit ideas and feedback from the rest of the community.

      And yeah, this is an experiment. If it needs tweaking, I'll tweak it. If it needs killing, I'll kill it.

    5. Fwiw, I like the solicit ideas aspect, I didn't get it when it first showed up in designer searches, but as I've started thinking at higher levels of design it's seemed more and more inevitable. It might easily be, "everyone, submit ideas, I'll choose which ones go in the final submission"

    6. I really like the new design challenge idea. After all, this blog came out of the Great Designer Search, and the plan sounds like basically "let's simulate a Great Designer Search challenge each week or two". The other aspect I like is that it will channel everyone else's energy toward brainstorming and feedback, which are abilities that the WAC hasn't been exercising so much.

      That being said, I agree with the other commenters that the WAC is a great way to draw new people in and I'd be sad to see it disappear completely. Perhaps it could continue less frequently, or under new management? Inanimate did a good job with it over the past few weeks.

    7. Agree with Jenesis, as I said to Jay on Twitter. I'll elaborate slightly. [Relevant definitions: Here I'll use the economic terms complement and substitute. A complementary good is one whose consumption increases the value or quality of another good. For example, vermouth is a complement to gin, in that they together are more than the sum of their parts, they're a martini. A good is said to be a substitute for another good if consumption of the first good can replace consumption of the second. For example, apples and bananas are substitutes if you don't much care what fruit you eat each day. ]

      To me, the point of WAC (and similar products) is to complement game design. I do a lot of game design, and should always do more, because I would some day like Crystal Clash to actually be published.

      When a WAC asks something short that gets me thinking in a new way, it acts as a complement. I come up with an idea I'd never have thought of before, and maybe I get to carry it over directly to another game design project, or at the very least it gives me a new trick up my sleeve. Further, I get to see everyone else's ideas as well, and maybe those also spark new ideas, etc.

      Further, just the act of thinking about a small challenge gets my mind craving more design challenges, and the natural way to get those is to go do more game design. That's great!

      When a design challenge is too hard or time consuming, it ceases to act as a complement to game design and instead is a substitute. I could think about how to make a really awesome Mountain Forge Rare I need for my game, but instead I'll solve this hard problem in the WAC. Wow, what a great solution I came up with. But I did that instead of working on a game. That, to me, is bad. That starts to feel like I'm wasting my game design energy, rather than priming and honing it. (This, by the way, is why I don't participate actively in projects like Tesla, which are plainly a substitute to game design.)

      This new proposed format is in the same vein as Tesla, it is by design something that will consume all of someone's game design energy for a two week period. It is a substitute, rather than a complement to game design. It is an excuse to put off working on your game design projects for two weeks, and that just isn't what I am looking for.

      [Note: This is just my preference. Of course there are benefits to undergoing a game design bootcamp, particularly if you are a budding designer. ]

      But if you are really going to take game design seriously, I'd ask that you consider putting those two weeks into finally making that prototype for that idea you've had kicking around for months and never let yourself get around to (you know the one I'm talking about) instead of into something like this.

    8. I think you could make the same point a lot shorter by saying "I do a lot of game design already, and small challenges help that, but large challenges suck up time I should be spending on my own projects."

      But that makes sense! Presumably, WAC are good for complete newcomers to the blog, and for existing designers looking for variation, but the spotlight would be good for people who are would like to try their own design but aren't sure where to start, or experienced designers looking for a short-fill in project or to stretch themselves in an unusual way, or for people who specifically want to learn magic design and angle for a job at wizards.

      All of those make sense, but I don't know which are in the majority. It would make sense to try spotlight or something like it, and maybe alternate that and WAC.

      Or Weekend non-art challenges. I'd like to see more that stretch those same muscles but are hole-filling or mechanic-design or similar, rather than art.

    9. Thanks, Tommy—and everyone—for your feedback. All opinions are welcomed and valued, as always.

      It is impossible for two different anythings to serve the exact same audiences in the exact same way. It is unfortunate that some of the people who appreciated WAC will not appreciate SC. If I had the time to run both, I would, but all my GA authorship substitutes my own game design. I would fervently support someone else carrying on with WACs while I run the SCs.

      SC seems like a worthy experiment because it takes more time for the spotlight designer. WAC is a shallow exercise, relative to SC, and some number of our community having grown their skills to the point they are "comfortable" with WAC are thus plateauing in their growth and losing interest. SC challenges these designers to take their skills to the next level.

      SC also pushes for something we've seen drastically less of in WAC the last few months: Community cooperation. Getting my review on a WAC submission is feedback and that's much better than never showing your work to anyone, but it's only one data point. Bouncing ideas off of fellow designers, discussing their merits, flaws & alternatives, and iterating based on that are vital skills that WAC hasn't been exercising for too long.

      The ability for the community to participate in this way is low-commitment but (if used well) good value. Acting like a design team member or even just a consultant is excellent practice for any designer and an opportunity WAC no longer provides.

      Comparing the low importance WAC served to the people SC doesn't, SC promises to do more total good.

      But of course, it is an experiment, so it might not live up to that potential, or it might even fall flat on its face. In which case we'll adapt again.

    10. Tommy summarized my thoughts pretty well.

      But I note that more serious designers are not the average audience.

      I don't think I'll participate directly myself but I'll certainly be keeping an eye on how the segment fares.

  6. I'd be up for giving this a go, probably. :)

  7. Sounds fun. I'm game.

    Some challenge ideas:
    * Design a cycle of the rare Iconic creatures (Angel, Sphinx, Demon, Dragon, and Hydra) for a specific plane. These are in every set, so it's always useful to have new design ideas for them.
    * A cycle of the big Commons every color needs to break stalemates in draft.
    * A cycle of artifacts with color identity for an eventual return to New Phyrexia.
    * A cycle of Uncommon Shard or Wedge spells, creatures or not for Alara, Tarkir, or a plane like them.
    * A cycle of Mythic Rare legendary creatures that could be the marquee cards for a new set of Commander decks.
    * Cycle of common or uncommon creatures for a new tribal block that displays the focal tribes for the block and what their win cons or play styles will be.

  8. I feel my design skill may not be up to the challenge, but my will is. Count me in.
    - Very Late Hole-filling: it's very late in [real set]'s development process, and [any cards] have to be killed. Fill the new holes.
    - Return to Return to Ravnica: We're back on Ravnica, and we need new mechanics for guilds X, Y and Z!
    - It's the far future: a new multicolor plane. Give a new definition/identity to either arcs or wedges and design to that.

  9. I will be most interested in joining for this.

    -Color-pair draft identity uncommons for a new (big) set.
    -Mash it up! Take two often revisited mechanics and try to make them interact in a novel way!
    -Pielishious: create a "Form of the Dragon" card cycle that fits perfectly the color's pie identity, even though the individual ingredients dont
    -Interaction: Interaction in mtg happens mostly in combat. Try to find ways to push for either more combat or more interaction.

  10. So far we've got:

    Zeno Rage, Devin E. Green, Czynski, Ipaulsen, Jack, Bass, Nich Grayson, P for Pizza, & fading shadows of a memory beloved

    Who's available to go this week and next?

    1. I've got stuff going on THIS week. :)

    2. If the plan is to post the challenge this coming weekend, then I'm available! Otherwise... what Nich said.

    3. I've got Christmas break this week and next, so I'm available anytime for a couple weeks.

    4. How does this sound?

      Reveal Ipaulsen's challenge 12/24
      Ipaulsen's first submission due 1/2
      I review it 1/3
      Ipaulsen's last submission due 1/9
      I review it 1/10

      Reveal Zeno Rage's challenge 1/1
      Zeno Rage's first submission due 1/10
      I review it 1/11
      Zeno Rage's last submission due 1/18
      I review it 1/19

    5. Works for me. Seems a like quite a bit of work for you, though.

    6. Works for me too! If you wanted to space these out more, I'd also be happy to go later so we could have Zeno's challenge during his break.

    7. Reveal Zeno Rage's challenge 12/24
      Zeno Rage's first submission due 1/2
      I review it 1/3
      Zeno Rage's last submission due 1/10
      I review it 1/11

      Reveal lpaulsen's challenge 1/8
      lpaulsen's first submission due 1/17
      I review it 1/18
      lpaulsen's last submission due 1/24
      I review it 1/25

    8. Ipaulsen, if you're somehow following this chain, are you ready for your challenge this Friday and over the next two weeks?