(Metagame Archive) Design Vs Inefficiency: A Day in The Life of My Coworkers

By Danny Mandel

I was asked a while back* to give details about a “day in the life” working in R&D. I’m sure many of you think it’s all gaming all the time. Well, I’m here to tell you it is. It absolutely is.

Okay, not entirely. You see, some of us at the office—let’s call them “designers”—have to take care of all sorts of the niggling little non-gaming components that are required to build a set. Things like making sure the art matches the mechanics, coming up with names and versions (with help from John Wick and others from the creative content team), templating, organizing and reorganizing the master file, and so on.

While the designers are getting eye strain from staring at their computer monitors, a second group—let’s call them “developers”—get to play games all day and sing songs and watch TV and watch movies and talk on the phone and go shopping and sing songs.

I hate developers.

But, my hatred aside, I’ve decided in the interest of science (and saving myself from having to write a “real” article this week), to present you with a day in the life of each of the guys who works on Vs. in his own words.

Here’s the email I sent to the guys:


I’ve been requested to write a “day in the life of R&D” style article and I could use your help.

All I need for you to do is give me a summary of the various activities you did today. Feel free to be as detailed as you want. I can either print what you write or rewrite it if you want.



Here’s what they sent back:

Note: As it turned out I didn’t have to do any rewriting. Nice job, guys! Except for you, Humpherys. You stink!

Any comments I added are in parenthesis like this:

(Danny: Look at me! I’m a sample comment!)

Also, while these might not be the most serious replies, they’ll at least show you a little bit about how each of these guys’ minds work.

From Matt Hyra

Rolling into work at least a half an hour late, I have a hard time finding a parking spot, so sometimes I have to go park on the street. Trying to sneak past security because I lost my badge months ago always gets the old adrenaline going.

(Danny: Two important points here: 1. We all have these neat little badges that we have to wear to show that we really, really, in our heart of hearts, work at Upper Deck. If you don’t have your badge in the morning, they make you do push-ups. 2. Matt drives a Porsche. Yeah, yeah, I know, this isn’t helping to remove the “working in R&D is like being a rock star” image, but I felt it was worth mentioning because every once in a while he lets me take a ride in it.)

I spend the first hour of my day looking over my email inbox and looking for a department that brought donuts. This allows me to miss the “important” morning meeting that some jerk decided to hold on something inconsequential and boring.

After 11 a.m., it’s all about trying to figure out when and where to go for lunch. The rules of lunch are:

~If the place you want to go is far away, you have to start drumming up support for your choice early.

~If the restaurant you want to go to is nearby, its name can’t be mentioned until we hit the parking lot.

~A minimum of 15 minutes must be spent deciding where to eat.

~Another 15 minutes must be spent figuring out who drove and who is willing to drive. You see, no one in R&D drives, so this gets tricky.

(Danny: What Matt says here isn’t entirely true. Actually, only Matt and I drive. Everyone else isn’t adding comments to this article.)

~During lunch, at least six “bad beat” poker stories must be shared.

~When the bill arrives, everyone will have a $20 and no $1s, and two people will want to put the meal on a credit card.

~Whoever puts the meal on a card collects the cash and usually ends up with a free meal from everyone else overpaying.

After our two-hour, $20 lunch (gourmet milkshakes optional), we get back to the office and zone out for another hour as the food coma wears off.

From 3:00 to 4:00, we get in a good hour of testing and then start looking at the clock. The rules for leaving are:

~The later you arrive in the morning, the closer to 5:00 you get to leave.

~If you carpool, you get to leave even earlier, as obviously you don’t want to make your poolers have to wait for you.

~If there is a “pack-check” scheduled for that day, it always happens after 5:00, so be sure to cut out by 4:15.

(Danny: A pack-check is when a bunch of us sit around a table opening freshly printed boxes of cards to check things like collation and print quality and to make sure there aren’t other random errors. While it was extremely cool the first time we did it way back in Marvel Origins, some of the luster has faded, especially when we have to do it over and over for each different language’s set release.)

Arriving at home, we each put in a good six hours of work, interrupted by an occasional “all-in” and a prayer for no bad beats. 

(Danny: I should probably explain that Matt’s a little bitter that everyone else in R&D is a better poker player than he is. In truth, not everyone in R&D plays poker, but Matt is so bad at it that the guys who don’t play come out ahead of him.)

From Dave “Rainbow” Humpherys

—Read Vs. Rules email list regarding the functionality of a keyword in the Avengers set.

(Danny: Our rules team exists only in cyberspace. Essentially, R&D (or sometimes OP, which stands for Organized Play) posts to the rules team list, and then they get back to us. One of the cool things about our rules guys is that they don’t view our attempts to try wacky things with the game as threatening to the very fabric of the rules’ existence. Rather, they take our wacky ideas as a challenge to which they almost always rise.)

—Rejected some offers to play Vs. In-house League Matches.

(Danny: We have this sort of in-house prerelease Sealed Pack league where everybody gets five packs of the newest set to build a sealed deck with. Then, after playing like five matches over the week, we all get another pack to add to the mix. This goes on for about three weeks. The problem is that the league uses real cards (right now it’s Marvel Knights), and R&D is actually working at least two sets ahead (Green Lantern is finished, and we’re in the middle of Avengers and early into Justice League). Therefore, as Humpherys said, we often have to skip some of our matches in order to play games with the in-progress sets.)

—Added characters with concealed to our test card proxy print-out program.

(Danny: We’re constantly upgrading the quality of our playtest cards. When we first started doing this, we’d print out four copies of every card in the set on horrible stickers. Not only was this incredibly wasteful, as we had to print out the whole set every time we wanted more cards, but the stickers were pretty hard on the peepers, especially when there were a bunch of them in play. Nowadays, we have pretty pictures (fake pictures, but pictures nonetheless) to give us visual cues as to what the proxies do.)

—Updated the development master Avengers file to incorporate updated names and art.

—Made many game text changes to the Avengers development master file.

(Danny: While that may sound like Humpherys has gone mad with power and makes changes whenever and wherever he sees fit, in actuality, he makes the changes based on tons of developer feedback. Also, at times when he actually does go mad with power, we give him a fake “master file” onto which he can make as many changes as he wants.)

—Played some Avengers decks.

—Took a quick look at the fan site forums.

(Danny: If by “quick,” he means, “slow and exhaustive” . . .)

—Ate a couple of large, unhealthy cheeseburgers while making fun of Danny, who was eating his burgerless burgers.

(Danny: Waitaminute! Okay, here’s the thing. I tend to avoid red meat because of the whole keep-an-eye-on-the-heart thing. So when we take our monthly trip to In-N-Out, I order their grilled cheese sandwich, which is pretty much a burgerless burger. So yeah, I guess what Humpherys said is true.)

—Solicited new ideas for a handful of Avengers cards and worked out new powers on those cards with those who responded.

—Made a couple of new Avengers decks.

—Played a couple more games with Avengers decks.

—Put on headphones to drown out Danny’s constant chirping.

(Danny: Okay, that’s a lie. It’s not constant. I mean, it’s not literally constant.)

—Felt sorry for Andrew Yip being sick.

(Danny: Andrew’s been out all week. More on him later.)

—Was told I had a sentence in my upcoming Metagame article that made no sense.

(Danny: You see, Humpherys is what I consider “a terrible writer”. So before he turns in his articles, I like to read them over and belittle him. Sometimes he cries.)

—Realized it was time to go home.

From Lord Mike Hummel

8:00 Turned on computer.

8:03 Checked new emails (19 JL, 3 RT, 5 R/D, 2 OP, 6 PM, 2 JD, and 12 Misc)

JL = Judge List

RT = Rules Team

R/D = R&D

OP = Organized Play

PM = Product Managers

JD = Jeff Donais

Misc = People wanting me to review their game proposals, send them free stuff, or suggesting we make a (insert IP) Vs. game.

IP = Intellectual Property = Transformers, GI Joe, Thundercats . . .

9:16 Got caffeine.

9:20 Reviewed yesterday’s Avengers file update, and worked on new mechanics suggestions for problem cards.

9:56 Walked into the playroom to tried and get someone to play an Avengers Constructed test deck against me. Quickly realized that I had a 10 a.m. meeting and instead just watched a game in progress. Asked the question, “What if we did this . . .” six times in three minutes.

10:00 First meeting of the day, met with Creative and Brand to work on advance Avengers solicitation text (the three-page fold out). Finalized the set name as just Avengers, and not Avengers Assemble or Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

(Danny: I’d like to comment on stuff like these meetings, but I really don’t know about all the weird, secret stuff Mike does to make Vs. great.)

10:53 Walked into the playroom and tried to get someone to play an Avengers Constructed test deck against me. Quickly realized that I had an 11 a.m. meeting and instead just watched a game in progress. Asked the question, “What if we did this . . .” nine times in six minutes.

11:00 Met with Creative, Brand, and OP about the topics/content for the next two Vs. Dork Tower comic strips. Discussed where/when to release the first comic we had already received. 

(Danny: These are one-page comics that you see in the back of Scrye.

11:30 Met with OP to talk about Avengers materials for the sneak peek (yes we need to plan these six months out). Determined which images to use on t-shirts, and talked about whether we wanted to create new extended art sized stacker cards as the prerelease cards for Avengers. Considered mentioning this in Danny’s article, then checking the fan sites to see if they liked the idea.

12:00 Went for burgers with the R&D group. Joined the group in making fun of Danny. Remembered I had a 1:00 p.m. meeting.

1:00 Went to a Brand meeting to start discussing what the 2006 releases are going to be.

2:00 Reviewed the final proofs on the new Batman starter decks.

2:30 Reviewed the first copy of the new rulebook for the Batman starter decks.

3:00 Played one internal Marvel Knights league game (won), then picked up my new pack for next week. Got a Varnae. Wondered if I should suggest making an EA version of the card . . .

3:30 Checked my Mike_Hummel@Ihatemylife.com account. Read 63 “Why wasn’t Black Panther in MK?” emails.

4:00 Reviewed the art requests for the JLA set.

4:30 Reviewed new images for the Avengers set.

5:00 Remembered that Brian Hacker was running a chat tonight and decided to leave for home at 5:00 instead of the standard 6:00 to 6:30.

5:02 Walked past a bunch of non-R&D people playing Vs. in the main room after they had signed out for the night.

5:05 Reminded myself that I have the best job in the world.

From Justin Gary

—Read email.

—Finished checking the final cardsheet for the Batman starter.
(Danny: Justin’s the lead design of the Batman starter set. He’s doing a great job**.)
—Played Avengers test decks.

—Read VsRealms forums.

—Went home to have lunch slightly healthier than In-N-Out Burger.

—Worked on new Avengers decks.

—Played an in-house Marvel Knights league game.

(Danny: Notice, he didn’t say whether he won or lost. What do you think that means?)
—Discussed changes to Avengers file.

—Made brand new exciting Avengers deck teaming with X-Men.

—Smashed opponents with brand new exciting Avengers deck with X-Men.

—Wrote email about my day.

—Went home.

(Danny: As you can see, Justin didn’t put as much effort into this whole day in the life thingy as everyone else. This is because he’s not very smart or charming or tall.)

(Danny: The next two guys on here are contracting with us for few months. After that, we’ll determine if they’re offered permanent positions. It was my idea to have them fight to death to see who gets the job, but Humpherys said no. He gets squeamish around blood.)

From Brian Kibler

As one of the newcomers here at UDE R&D, I’m still getting used to the grueling daily routine imposed upon us by Drill Sergeant Humpherys. After dragging myself out of bed at the crack of dawn (or 7:30 a.m., which is close enough) and making it to the office sometime between 8:00 and 9:00, it’s hard enough for me to just keep my eyes open, let alone focus on the day’s work. The first step is checking my email for the daily mandates from our evil overlord, which generally consist of updates to the latest file and unreasonable demands like “work on testing Modern Age today.”

After countless (read: three) hours slaving over the playtesting table smashing my latest Marvel Knights/Avengers Modern Age deck into all comers and finally starting to lose (read: half the cards in my deck got changed because it hasn’t lost in a week. I think Hump is jealous.), I took a well deserved break from gaming to . . . well, game.

The in-house Marvel Knights league that Humpherys loathes so much serves as a welcome respite from my tireless work testing Avengers, though I’ve only played (and won!) three of my twelve scheduled matches over the past few weeks because everyone is too scared of me (read: I’m too busy and/or lazy). My escape is short-lived, however, because the most important part of the R&D day is fast approaching: lunch.

An hour and two In-N-Out double-doubles later (read: I really need to start going to the gym), it’s back to the grind to find that dark master Humpherys is piling on further unreasonable demands—test Golden Age! With Andrew Yip out sick, our manpower (and my ability to find someone with whom to chat about World of Warcraft) is drastically reduced, so Justin Gary and I work our fingers to the bone in the endless shuffling. I momentarily managed to sneak away from our slavedriver to pick up new packs for the next week of the MK league, but I heard the crack of the whip from the R&D room and had to rush back for fear of the Hump’s wrath. He kept us working so hard I had to wait until this morning to add the new cards to my league deck. The humanity!  

From Ben Seck (also known as TBS, which stands for The Ben Seck, which is just his name with the word “the” in front of it)

(Danny: It’s also worth noting that TBS is from Australia. Or maybe it’s not . . . )

Since I had to move from a different country to work in R&D meant that for the first few weeks, I had the pleasure of staying at various R&D members’ apartments. This experience has lead me to become a fine connoisseur of couches. Needless to say, they varied in quality and size. I don’t want to disparage any particular couch . . . ummm . . . who am I kidding? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll rate how their “comfiness” on a small scale, illustrated below:

#1. Brian Hacker and Dave Smith’s couch

#2. The Known Universe

#3 Danny Mandel and Dave Humphreys’s couch

So after a long night on D&D’s couch, we get up early for an exciting day of gaming. Danny keeps his mental faculties on high alert with a healthy breakfast of Chocolate Lucky Charms. Unfortunately, it has the side effect of making him very hyperactive on the way to work, which means that we have a lot of discussions, with topics ranging from which Green Lantern cards are broken, to who’s who in Danny’s love life (this space for rent). I’m sure that Roy Harper <> Arsenal was created during one of these frenetic driving discussions.

(Danny: Sigh . . . )

Once we get to work, I usually dive into the latest card list sent to me from Dave Humphreys (cruel tyrant of Vs. Development), looking for good cards to break. After I’ve come up with some candidates to build a deck around, I’ll print out some copies and head to the R&D room to test some theories out. Usually somewhere between cutting up the new cards and sleeving them, I’ll be informed that the cards that I’m playing with have changed or even worse, been completely removed from the set! It’s hard to break cards when they get changed before your very eyes. Some of the developers get particularly attached to some of their pet cards, and it’s not unusual to hear Justin Gary let out a scream of anguish as yet another favorite strategy gets changed.

On occasion, we are able to get in an R&D playtest draft before lunch. There are quite a few non–R&D members of UDE that also enjoy a game of Vs., and they often grab the opportunity to join in the fun. My first R&D draft made me long for the real cards, since none of the Avengers cards had art, and so I was reduced to reading printed bits of paper that had Captain America scrawled on the top!

(Danny: Yep, that’s your first spoiler: Captain America is in!)

Lunch is always a fun experience (work doesn’t usually stop during the lunch break) as we discuss all manner of game theory and specific card design. You’d think that talking about it all the time would make us want to take a break from it—no siree! We’re all hardcore gamers around here, and any opportunity to get in a discussion is welcomed. It seems to me that when an argument about whether Galactus or Dark Phoenix wins in a fight can be considered work-related, you’ve got the right job.

(That is all I have so far—let me know if you need a little more)


(Danny: I left his little “let me know if you need a little more” thing in there to be comprehensive and to show that he’s a little teacher’s pet.)

On Andrew Yip

Andrew recently took ill and won’t be back for several days. We all miss him and hope he gets better soon. Mostly so we can get back to our usual routine of sending him out in the morning to get us breakfast.

Okay, that’s all I got today. What? What’s that? How did I spend my day? Well, obviously I spent it working on this article. Also, I sang a song about wearing big pants.

Send questions or comments to dmandel@metagame.com.

And tune in next time for a look at some reader response to a hot issue. And by hot, I mean, important and relevant and popular. Not on fire.

* Good idea, Joshua! (sTaRsCrEaM on vsrealms.com)

** Actually, I haven’t really been paying attention to how he’s been doing, but he sits next to me, so I figure I should say something nice.


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