Interview with Andy Heckt

Finally I finished my judge article. I will send it in early next week. As a bonus, here is the complete interview with Andy Heckt:

First of all: What is your official job title at Wizards?

Network Manager – this is because my duties coordinate player need, the judge program, and organizers of premiere events (invitations).

What do you do at Wizards, especially related to judges/judging?

I’m responsible for managing the DCI judge program including: production of materials, selection of sponsored judges, judge procedures and policy, data entry for certifications, networking organizers to judges, and customer service for judges. I have input on Regional judge advancement and am responsibility for International and Professional judge advancement.

Other duties I have are managing player information for our premiere events, including invite and GP-bye lists.

How long have you been the “judge coordinator”?

I have been the judge coordinator since February 1st of 2004. My prior job with Wizards for four years was player coordinator and I still have those responsibilites.

Many judges I have interviewed mentioned that since you are in that position, the judge program has greatly improved. What changes did you institute?

The judge program has had two prior phases; creation and philosophy. The creation was a framework in how we thought things could/should work. Philosophy was the period of asking ourselves why are we doing things this way and formalizing it in documents. My focus has been on redifining the Community and allowing judges to find a level of responsibility for themselves.

Community in the building of a the worldwide judges as a community of people with their own culture and sense of belonging. Primarily we are doing this in a top-down fashion, because the program is structured this way to pass along experience, mentoring, and certification. We restructed the higher levels of the program with the idea of including more judges at these levels. Its accomplished by encouraging communication on list-servers and especially at events through seminars, high-level meetings, one-on-ones, etc…

Responsibility in that we redefined the old levels to provide a description of their responsibilities and area of operation. We want judges to understand that advancement is not required. You can be the best, most accurate, knowledgable, fair judge as the Local judge for Friday Night Magic (L1s), than the similar judge who wants to build the judge community and organized play as the Regional judge (L3).

Most importantly I take input and solicit opinions, so this program is the judge’s program and not a DCI dictate. I think it especially helps that I’m NOT a certified judge with a level and rank. I’m the network between the judges and the DCI.

How would you describe the current situation of the judge program?

Varied, but steady and slow. It takes time to develop judges and the nature of TCGs is a rotating player base. Many areas of the world are still developing organized play and in these areas the judge program looks more like it did 5 years ago, while other areas have well developed organized play and their needs are different. I share responsibility of this program with co-workers in other offices who’s focus is often more narrow (their country or region) while I have dual responsibility of my Region (Americas and Japan) and the worldwide program. Managing the resources of the program to meet these varied needs is difficult.

What improvements are still needed?

Better opportunities for testing and mentoring. We need more opportunities for those who wish to judge to test for certification. We also need a better means to mentor all the judges and especially the new judges who are remote from others. We also simply need to move into the electronic age more with the program.

How would you describe the overall quality of judges? How does this differ on the various levels (from small in-store tournaments to the Pro Tour)?

The various levels actually reflect responsibilities, not quality. I have great faith in the testing being conducted more and more. The interviewing of even Level 1 candidates is improving (i.e. its not simply scoring well on the test that makes you a judge.) The Regional judge’s (L3s) responsibilities are empowering and time-consuming. We understand that many judges simply want to judge their local events and be recognized for their contribution to growing organized play at its base.

What, in your experience, causes people to become judges? And why do they stay judges? What incentives do people have to become judges?

Its volunteerism. I think people become judges because they want to improve their (game) community and do so in a role that uses their skills. They want to make a contribution to something they enjoy and find value in – similar to many reasons people volunteer for school programs, music programs, sports programs, etc… They find a means to belong to their gaming community that recognizes their better skills. Some judges are professional players (Bram Snepvangers, Sol Molka, Duncan McGregor, Werner Cloete, etc…), others are store employees/owners seeking to help their business, others are players who judge to improve their playing skills. Most tangible incentives for becoming a judge come directly from store owners and professional organizers. The real incentive, and the reason they stay with it for any time, is from the knowledge that they have helped to make something they care about, better.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Many players think that a judge is a rules expert and that all the answers are written down somewhere. It far more about keeping a tournament fair and running while encouraging the fun that exists. The philosophy and intent of the rule is more important than the technical details.

Brothers in Arms

I’ve recently played through Brothers in Arms and I was disappointed. Brothers in Arms is a tactical shooter in a WWII settings with a storyline that’s based on true events. The gameplay is centered around flanking the enemy. You normally have two squads at your command, where on squad is used to pin the enemy down and the other is supposed to flank him.

The game has lots of good ideas and is technially very good. You have the feeling that the developers really made an effort to make a realistic game. It has up-to-date graphics, a good unit AI, an immersive storyline, realistic weapons and tactics, and lots of small and good ideas. I especially liked the extras system: After completing each chapter at one of the four difficulty settings, an extra is unlocked. This extra is normally either historical photos, in-development material, or background material. This really makes you want to play through each difficulty level. Part of the immersive storyline is your familarity with your own squad. You not only get to know your men during the cut scenes, but during the game you can approach people and they will look at you and smile at you. They also call the names of people that are wounded and your character shouts the name of the team leader if you give commands.

But all this good stuff is of no use, because there is one area were the game really sucks. Unfortunately it’s probably the most important aspect: level design. All levels are extremely linear. You often have only exactly one approach to move on. The game plays more like a puzzle game than a military simulation: You have to find out where to best position your men to defeat the enemies with the fewest losses on your side. The tactical aspect of this game is basically limited to finding the tactic the level designers intended you to find and then to follow it. Compare this to games like Operation Flashpoint or Far Cry: In this games you usually have an objective and how to reach this objective is up to you. You can approach your objective from all sides, but finding the best approach is part of the game.

Also, earlier I talked about the immersive storyline: You start off the game with a black screen with only the name of the chapter displayed and a voice over from your character. When the game begins, you awake from a shell shock and are inmidst a fire fight, having no clue what to do. A really frightening scene. Unfortunately this immersion in the game is also destroyed because of the level design. If every road is blocked by a barricade, if every street is lines by unpassable bushes, and if every other way is unpassable due to a (low) fence, it’s really frustrating. The first time you try to jump over a fence to approach an enemy from behind and can’t and are forced to take the open main road, you get frustrated. You really don’t feel in command of the game, you know that the game is forcing you to take the road you are supposed to. Again, compare that to Far Cry, where levels often are, in fact, linear. Only, you don’t feel like that, since the borders feel natural. Also, the areas in which you can walk are vast enough to give you the impression of freedom. They also allow you to approach an objective from different sides.

In summary I was disappointed. Partly because I expected another Operation Flashpoint (i.e. a military simulation) and got a puzzle game with FPS elements. It’s sad to see that games like that are obviously what most gamers demand. Why make the effort to make a realistic game, if it doesn’t feel realistic or authentic, because the level design really sucks?

Public View of Judges

I’m very disappointed with recent articles about judges. Terry Soh’s premium article on Star City Games seems to stand out. I have to admit that I haven’t read the article, since I don’t have SCG premium, but the comments about this article are enlightening. Also, Noah Weil’s article from today doesn’t portray judges in a good light, although I have the feeling that Noah intended it to do. It’s also full of miscomprehensions:

Why would someone become a judge? In my view, there are four reasons. They are: compensation, ensuring a good time, ensuring a fair time, or wielding a desperately needed pseudo-power to feel some kind of pitiful self worth on the backs and misery of others.

He goes on to explain that compensation is a good reason to become a judge. To become a judge just to grab the judge compensation is usually frowned upon by other judges. Also, let’s face it: the compensation is really not that great. For ten hours of hard (but fun!) work at a PTQ you usually get between half a box and a full box of product, depending on the TO. Now compare that to the money you would earn at a real job. Suddenly the comp doesn’t look that good anymore, does it?

Noah then goes on to explain that a judge that wants to ensure a good time is usually not good at his job. He argues with an example from by far the worst officiated tournament [he] had ever been to. Great!

Noah never discusses the other two of his reasons to become a judge, but that’s not really relevant, since he is missing the most important aspect of becoming and staying a judge: it is fun!

Anyways, I have decided to write an article about what it means to be a judge. I will do interviews with other judges, players, the WotC judge manager, and will then submit it to Magic sites. Maybe this will help players to understand judges better.

Update: I just learned from SCG’s editor that Noah’s article is a first part of a series and we will see part two shortly. Nevertheless I am not sure that he really understands what makes most judges tick. But we will see, I am already getting the first replies to the interview I sent out to multiple judges.