Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Richard Garfield Interview - Half Truth

Photo Content from Richard Garfield

Richard Channing Garfield (born June 26, 1963) is an American mathematician, inventor, and game designer. Garfield created Magic: The Gathering, which is considered to be the first modern collectible card game (CCG). Magic debuted in 1993 and its success spawned many imitations. Garfield oversaw the successful growth of Magic and followed it with other game designs. Included in these are Keyforge, Netrunner, BattleTech(CCG), Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, Star Wars Trading Card Game, The Great Dalmuti, Artifact, and the board game RoboRally. He also created a variation of the card game Hearts called Complex Hearts. Garfield first became passionate about games when he played the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, so he designed Magic decks to be customizable like roleplaying characters. Garfield and Magic are both in the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame.

Greatest thing you learned at school.
I loved school, and learned that there was no field that I couldn’t find something to be interested and engaged in. I also learned that it doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t communicate. I am not sure which of those are my best lessons but I am pretty sure it is one of them.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I guess I was a dedicated game designer sometime late in my undergraduate years, but I didn’t think it would work as a career because there were so few successful games. It was disappointing to me that I didn’t think I could do that for a living, but on the other hand I loved academics, mathematics, and I thought research and teaching sounded fulfilling and I thought I might even be able to design and study games on the side. It was after Magic’s unexpected huge success I found I had the opportunity to work with games full time, and that is the direction I went.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
The projects that are keeping me most busy these days are Half Truth, which is a trivia game that has been in design for about a decade, and Keyforge, a game whose mechanics are similar to trading card games but in which every published deck is unique, with its own special name.Keyforge will be keeping me busy for a while because the space of design possible with procedurally generated decks is huge, and exciting to play with.

Another game of mine which just came out recently is Carnival of Monsters. I always have many many projects ongoing, and they often go at glacial speed because it takes me a lot of time to get just what I am after – and after that I have to convince a publisher it is just what they are after also. Which generally it isn’t; which leads to another round of tinkering.

Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
Yes, absolutely. Positive reviews can reframe the importance a game can have in people’s lives. Sometimes that is reflective of my game hitting just the right note at just the right time and is more a reflection of how amazing games are as a whole. Sometimes there was a little magic in the design which helped it along.

On the other hand, negative reviews honestly given are often something that could have been addressed in the game under question and can be learned from going forward. Sometimes this is changing the mechanics in such a way that it improves without detracting from what made the design good in the first place. Just as often it is management of expectations, every game isn’t for everybody all the time. If someone reaches for a piece of cake and it turns out to be cheese that may be disappointing but it doesn’t make it bad cheese. But it might mean you and thepublisher should put a bit more effort into letting people know it is cheese and not cake.

If you had to pick one other author to write your biography, who would it be?
That is a tough question. I don’t relish being scrutinized by my favorite authors. However, a bit of reflection gave me an answer I am comfortable with – David Halberstam. I guess he can’t since he passed away over a decade ago, but I read many books by him, on topics ranging from the Vietnam and Gulf war to the Fifties and Michael Jordan. He would have been able to get a perspective on games as whole and the amazing renaissance of games we are living in.

Designing/Creating/Developing Games
I am motivated by many things in game design. Often what drives me is looking for something that I think should exist, and if I don’t find it I try to make it. For example, many drafting games are made in such a way that the best player will always win – and I wanted one more like poker, where the best player will usually win, but not always – because then I could play with both serious and casual players at the same table – something I love to do. Another example is King of Tokyo – which stemmed from an exercise where I asked myself what Yahtzee – a game I admire – was more interactive and had a fun theme.

  • Almost every characteristic of games are neither good, nor bad – but have their place for some players. For example, many people think player elimination is strictly bad – it is not.
  • All games are built on previous games. We will build better games if designers know what came before.
  • Learning why certain audiences like games you dislike can help you make better games. It also may teach you to like some new games.
  • More luck doesn’t mean less skill. Games with lots of randomness are mastered with different sorts of skill; skill of adapting your strategy to unexpected circumstances.
  • Game balance is a moving target, the ideal balance is different for casual and expert players so you want to balance the game in such a way that both have a good experience. And ideally you should do it knowing that the best players haven’t yet come along, which means your balance may not be ideal for the players to come.
  • Players play games for different reasons, and it is good to be mindful of these reasons and make your design good for these different groups, or at least not draw in players looking for the wrong thing.
  • Feedback is almost always valuable, though you may have to be creative in interpreting it. For example, a player who says your game is too long may really be saying they were bored – which is not at all the same thing.
  • You need to play your design with players that will do things you didn’t anticipate.
  • Innovation is great, when it is there for a purpose. If you are innovating just to be different then you are doing your players a disservice, there is a cost to doing something different.
  • It is useful to think of games as having a complexity budget. Any time you consider adding a rule make sure it is worth it in play value.
Your Journey to Publication
My game design career has been based on doing what I love. I love games, I am consumed with curiosity about what can be done with games, and what has been done with games. I am interested in the history – not just recent history of the 20th century, but how games have been played from the start.

However, I did not regard games as being a place you could make a living so I chose to go into academics. I was blessed with a wonderful friend, Mike Davis, who loved one of my designs, Robo Rally, and took it upon himself to get it published. It took him many years and many publishers before he found Peter Adkison who was just starting a small game company and was interested in some new ideas. Shortly after this connection was made I came up with the concept of the trading card game and that lead to Magic: The Gathering, which got me into games full time.

My family was always supportive of my interests, and I am sure some of my success in this way stems from their values of really trying to understand and share what other people are interested in.

Gaming: Behind the Scenes
(Anything to do with your own personal process: habits/quirks, research process, inspiration, choosing names & settings, etc.)
I love generating random names for my games. Originally I started doing this for prototypes because I didn’t want to give a mediocre name that was good enough that it began to sound good over time. So I had prototypes named Ghost Noodle, Unabated, and Monocardia, for example. These names could be chosen by literally rolling dice or just pointing randomly into a thesaurus or dictionary. Sometimes I would allow myself to interpret or massage the results – for example, when we rolled Triassic as the name of our company, we interpreted it as Three Donkeys.

It is hard to picture a better capstone to this process than Keyforge, in which every deck has a unique name – I spent months laying the framework for a flexible name generation system I named Selene: Stochastic Exotic List Exploiting Name Engine. She game me such wonderful random names as Vega No Thumbs, Eagle Mousewyrm and King Potato. Also, within Keyforge many of the creature names were taken randomly from the index of the Horologicon by Mark Forsyth, such as Moon Curser and Restringuntus.

What is the first job you have had?
A Paper Route in Eugene, Oregon. I got up at 5:30 to earn a dollar a day.

What book are you reading now?

I just finished rereading Watchmen in anticipation of the new HBO Series, and Recursion by Blake Crouch. I am currently reading Altered Carbon and On Numbers and Games.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
When I was 5 I wouldn’t eat spaghetti with sauce. My mother, in frustration, told me that I used to like spaghetti with sauce. I was amazed – had I really? Then I tried it and liked it. I resolved then to be more open to new things – and that evolved to a belief that not only can you be open to new things, you can train yourself to like them if that is what you want. Since people who like more things have more things to be happy about – it is often the right move,

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
Whatever game design issue is nagging at me.

What event in your life would make a good movie?

At the age of 7 being in Bangladesh during the Liberation War and fleeing to India with my family. We then ended up in Nepal for several years.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional. with whom would it be?
I am not sure about ‘trading places’. Being a game player I am drawn to know exactly what the rules are. I wouldn’t want to trade places with Darwin on the Beagle, for example and deprive him of his insights, but I would love to be there with him.

Half Truth is a party game for all ages and people, created by legendary game designer Richard Garfield and 74-time Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings. With art by well-known artist Ian O'Toole, the game comes with 500 trivia question cards and each card has a category on it, like "Animals with blue tongues." There are six possible answers, three right and three wrong, and players have to place bets on answers they believe are correct. Players are usually surprised by how well they do. We're all smarter than we think.



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