Disclosure: I previously did some writing for skippyslist.com under my gaming handle “Ihmhi”. I was not compensated for my writing in any way.
Jonathan “Skippy” Schwarz is a man of many hats. He’s served in the United States Army during NATO’s Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina and written about some of his more interesting experiences at his personal blog skippyslist.com. He’s worked at Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment on a Stargate SG-1 MMO that unfortunately was never released. He has recently taken to developing and producing his own board games such as Redshirts and its upcoming expansion Redshirts 2: Leprechaun’s Revenge. TechRaptor asked Skippy some questions about his many interesting experiences in life and he was kind enough to take the time to answer them.
TR: You served in the Army as a Specialist during NATO’s Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Modern soldiers have opportunities for gaming such as laptops, handhelds, and consoles – what was it like for a gamer during that conflict? How did you spend your downtime?
Jonathan “Skippy” Schwartz: Drinking mostly. I also spent a lot of time playing Windows Solitaire. Eventually we got Dungeon Keeper 2. When I deployed to Kosovo a bit later I invested in a laptop, and brought a small game library with me.
TR: Your MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was 25M (Multi-Media Illustrator), and you later switched to 37F (Psychological Operations Specialist). It’s unlikely that you would encounter any sort of direct combat, and yet the Army saw fit to require that you take airborne training. It’s been over a decade since you’ve served – have you figured out how the heck you ended up being ordered to jump out of a plane?
Skippy: That one’s easy. When I first enlisted, the system wanted me to go to 4th PSYOP group, which is an Airborne unit. The preference was that soldiers who go there volunteer for jump school.
TR: What was your time like at Southern Methodist University’s Guildhall program for video game development? Do you feel that your education there adequately prepared you for working in the gaming industry?
Skippy: It was one of the hardest things I ever did. The high amount of work, combined with the short amount of time was nightmarish. But it was excellent training for the field I went into. If you can handle the fees and you are serious about getting into the video game field, I strongly recommend the Guildhall over most of the other schools teaching that subject.
TR: The last five years have seen an explosion in the Indie scene. Many indie games have been created by people with little to no formal training in game development. Do you feel that people who have made successful video games without any schooling could benefit from game design courses even though they already have many of the necessary practical skills?
Skippy: You can always benefit from decent training. It’s more of a matter of how much benefit vs. how much cost. If you are already making money and want to stick to the indie scene, you probably don’t need the extra schooling. But if you want to make the jump to working for a big studio it could probably help.
TR: In August 2008, you were hired by the now-defunct Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment to work on a Stargate MMO. The game unfortunately never saw the light of day – what sort of work did you do at CME?
Skippy: I was one of the World Builders. I basically took the assets made by other departments and laid out areas for the players to run amok in.
TR: What did the gaming world miss out on because the Stargate MMO never came out? I’ve personally always felt that Stargate was the perfect setting for a good MMO, and it’s a shame we’ve never gotten a really good multiplayer Stargate game.
Skippy: They had a combat system that I haven’t seen before. You missed out on a lot of story that connected the dots on various bits of lore from the series. And a ton of jokes based off of the fact that there was a Goa’uld named Ba’al.
TR: You released a multiplayer card game called Redshirts. What inspired you to create this game (other than an obvious love of science fiction)?
Skippy: It started with just having an idea of “What if the goal of a game was to get your own people killed?” I went through several variations on that theme, like being a WWI general, or managing a group of Emo bunnies. The sci-fi part evolved from the fact that my wife is a huge Trekkie, and I would make fun of the show while she was watching it.
TR: How does the process for designing a video game and a physical board game differ? Which did you find more challenging?
Skippy: In some ways a board game is simpler, because I get to come up with everything myself. And sometimes it’s harder for the same reason.
You have to strip a tabletop game down to its fundamental elements because you don’t have a computer calculating things out for the players. And past a certain point, gamers really don’t want to do math to enjoy your game.
In both cases what you really need to do is present simple clear choices to the player that have complex potential outcomes.
TR: You’ve been a soldier, a game designer, a blogger, and now you’re the father to twins. What would you say has been the most challenging part of your life so far?
Skippy: If I say anything other than twins here my wife will read this and hurt me.
TR: What does the future hold for you? Any new projects in the works you’d like to talk about?
Skippy: Well we’ve opened a Kickstarter for the expansion to Redshirts, and it would be awesome if everybody that read this hopped over and pledged. After that we are going to release a game called Rocky Road Warriors. It’s about adorable cartoon animals having a post-apocalyptic highway duel over the last icecream truck in the wasteland.
TechRaptor would like to thank Skippy for taking the time to answer our questions.