What Do They Do?
Michael G. Ryan
wanted to be an artist. My father was an artist, and we used to visit
the Cleveland Museum of Art when I was young," says Mark Jindra,
a Web developer at Wizards of the Coast. "That idea quickly changed
when I saw a television commercial advertising a starving artist sale
at a local hotel. I wasn't willing to starve to become an artist."
Road to the Web
his teen years, Mark became fascinated with computers and taught himself
to program both his Atari 800xl and his Commodore 64. "Then, when
it came time to go to college, I opted for a career as a computer programmer,"
he says. But in the aftermath of college, his computer-related jobs were,
in his words, "unfulfilling"... until he stumbled upon the Web.
am lucky that, at those many jobs, I picked up skills in multimedia development
and some of the more modern programming languages and was easily able
to make the transition into Web development," he admits. These skills
landed him a quick stint constructing a website for a student organization
at a major college in Ohio. "It took me a few hours to build a five-page
informational website, and I made an easy couple hundred bucks. I remember
thinking, 'This is the kind of job I could really enjoy.'"
already familiar with Wizards of the Coast long before coming to work
for the company -- he began gaming more than 20 years ago when his cousin
introduced him to D&D. Later he founded his own play-by-mail
game company, where he did all of the programming and game design himself.
to coming to Wizards," he says, "I worked for a subsidiary of
Wizards of the Coast called Andon Unlimited. We ran conventions around
the Midwest including Origins
and even Gen Con. I was a longtime
friend of Andon founder Gary Smith, and when he needed a webmaster and
RPGA coordinator, I was there for him."
years after beginning work with Andon, Mark joined Wizards in September
of 1998 as part of the newly formed online media team. "All I can
remember about my first few days at Wizards is that I thought to myself,
'This must be the coolest place on earth,'" he says. "Well,
at least it was for gamer like myself."
promptly put in charge of the Wizards
online community and
began work on a revision of the Wizards website.
"Like a Jigsaw Puzzle"
what does all that mean? What does a Web developer actually do?
developer' is just a big-business way of twisting the title of webmaster
into something less intimidating and mystifying to management," Mark
says. "I can sometimes be working on as many as twenty or thirty
projects -- what I mean by that is, I know the schedule of the next thirty
or so Web updates, and I keep in touch with the production team so as
to stay in the loop."
projects are generally articles for the D&D, Forgotten Realms,
or Chainmail websites,
but on occasion he works on projects for the Wheel
of Time Roleplaying
Game or the d20 Call of
Cthulhu Roleplaying Game
pages. "The projects include development projects like generators
and calculators, as well as graphical
projects like art galleries,"
Mark explains. "So far, I would have to say that the highlight of
my career at Wizards was developing the html version of the fast-play
rules for D&D that are on the Dungeons
of developing, say, an article for the Official D&D Website
is actually somewhat more complicated than you might think. First, a producer
offers a writing assignment to a game designer, and the article gets placed
on the web content schedule. When the article comes in, an editor does
a first pass on the piece to be certain it's ready for review by the D&D
rules council. Once the article is finalized, it's returned to the producer,
along with any necessary information to guide the Web developer, such
as suggestions of images and artwork to use or links to add.
developer then begins to pull all these pieces together "like a jigsaw
puzzle," Mark says. "I take the raw article and do all the [html]
markup, deciding what font sizes to use, how the graphics best fit with
the text, what if any special code needs to be written, and so on. Ultimately,
I act as a 'typesetter' and something of a graphic designer for the articles,
as I am the last stop for them before they are viewed by the public."
The Web producers at Wizards maintain a schedule detailing the status
of each article, and developers like Mark use that schedule from week
to week to monitor where their projects are at any given time.
most fun comes when someone decides to take a vacation and the schedule
needs to be moved up," he notes.
of skills Mark needs to make this process function is impressive. "I
started Web programming by teaching myself html," he notes, "but
it seems that very little of what I do on a day-to-day basis has anything
to do with raw html anymore." There's a common misconception out
there that anyone with a little knowledge of html can be Web developer,
he notes. "To some extent this is true, but to do it for a living
is another story altogether. With the advent of hand-held and cellular
devices, the way that the data is marked up and stored [for online use]
has changed quite a bit.
advantage of the way things are done in today's Web environment is that
content can be shared laterally between brands, even other sites. Web
pages can easily be served in a multi-language format without having to
create a separate site
. Our Sideboard
website is a great example of this."
date, Mark has done quite a bit of Web work for Wizards. In addition to
challenging projects like the "Join
Regdar" promotion the company created for the launch of 3rd Edition
D&D ("I learned quite a bit about programming in the Visual
Basic environment for that one.") and strange ones like the "Waterdeep
Weather" generator for the Forgotten Realms pages ("It
does a lot behind the scenes to make sure that there's a weather prediction
for each day of the year."), he has also worked on the "Chainmail
Warband Generator," which evolves
constantly as new models are released. This, he concedes, is by far the
hardest project he's worked on yet.
projects under his belt like The
Externals, an interactive browser-based product that Wizards did
for Alternity's Star*Drive game, Mark can take great pride
in his accomplishments. It's not an easy field to work in, with so many
different demands on his skills. "Just about every reference in the
text of The Externals was linked to its key reference somewhere
else in the product," he explains. "It also included a dice
roller and online enhancements." Curious players can still find the
game at the Wizards
he ever consider leaving the Web development field? Possibly. He's already
written several articles for the D&D website, including for
the "Monster Mayhem"
Fight Club" columns, and he's currently spearheading support
for psionics in "The
Mind's Eye" feature. But the big screen might also lure Mark
into a new line of work. "I have always wanted to be involved in
some way with the motion picture industry, possibly in special effects.
Or the computer game industry as a designer/writer of computer games."
In the meantime, however, he's very happy with the field he's become an
advice would he offer someone looking to get into Web development? "You
should start early, learn the basics of html development on your own,
and get into an intern program before going on to college," he suggests.
"Learn as much about xml and xslt as well as multimedia development
in Flash and Shockwave as you can. The future of the Web seems to indicate
that programming in the .net environment will become a necessary skill
hardest thing about the job is that it is always changing, but that may
also be the reason I enjoy it so much. Our online media team gets a considerable
amount of recognition from within the company itself, and occasionally
we get a letter from a fan that thanks us for the job we do -- it's days
like those that make the job worth doing."
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