Interview: Development Manager Will ‘Oz’ SchoonoverSeptember 19, 2018
The revived and re-energized Monsterpocalypse is just two weeks away from launch! I sat down with Will ‘Oz’ Schoonover a Lead Developer for this miniatures game of Kaiju-sized monster mayhem for an interview. I wanted to know more about him, how he got where he is today, and the games that he’s worked on. And, of course, as big MonPoc fan, I wanted to learn all I could about the game’s upcoming launch. Let’s get right into it.
You’re a game designer and you’ve been one for some time. How did you get started in the industry?
I started accidentally. Back in 2006, I was working in radio. I’d been working in radio for 5 or something years. I was having horrible luck developing my radio career, and in my free time I had been volunteering for some game companies. I found that Steve Jackson Games had a job opening for an Art Director. It wasn’t a creative position, but it was a role for someone who could keep track of freelancers and worked on contracts.
I applied to the job, out of the blue, and they hired me. I moved to Austin Texas and got a job in the Tabletop Gaming Industry. It was completely unplanned. I worked at SJ Games for a couple of years, starting as Art Directory and eventually getting into play testing and then beginning to develop games.
What was the first game you had a hand in designing?
Well, designing-wise, I didn’t design anything until I got to Privateer Press. Development and Design are different disciplines. Designing is like writing, and developing is like editing. Designers create a game, usually with a mathematical concept of some sort. And the developers are the people who make sure the game is fun.
A lot of people in the industry are forced to do both, and I wish that was different, because they’re different skill sets. The developers are less worried about the math, and more worried about ‘are the people playing this understanding all these components? Is everything valuable? Are there extraneous things we can take out? Is the middle of the game as much fun as the beginning and the end?’
How did you get to Privateer Press?
When Privateer Press had the job opening in 2011, it was very much what I wanted to do, and the experience I had matched what they needed. I applied to the job, just to see what would happen, and I got the job. And I’ve been at Privateer Press now for a little over 7 years.
So you’re a Lead Developer over at Privateer Press, right?
I’m the Development Manager at Privateer Press now. I started out as play test coordinator, then became a game developer, and then eventually, about a year and a half ago, I became the Development Manager.
What does a Development Manager do?
Coordinate all the projects inside the department. I go to a lot of meetings.
Sounds fun. What did you start working on at Privateer Press?
I got to the company, and then in the first 2 weeks, we had a meeting about Level 7 [Escape]. And we previewed that Level 7 was a brand at that year’s Lock and Load, and that was only three or four weeks after I started. So I came in and jumped straight into ‘let’s make board games from the ground up.’
Are there going to be more Level 7 games in the future? I think there’s a brand-smash sort of game that you all have coming out soon?
Ah, Riot Quest. That’s an Iron Kingdoms adjacent brand. It’s kind of like the Saturday Morning Cartoons version of the Iron Kingdoms setting. As for Level 7, that’s on a break right now. But there might be more information on that in the near future.
What did you work on after the Level 7 games?
I worked on the Iron Kingdoms Adventure Board Games. Starting with The Undercity. We decided, sometime while I was working on the three Level 7 games, we wanted to make an Iron Kingdoms dungeon crawler. Something that would bridge the gap between board game and RPG, and introduce people to the world. To give people a chance to play as a Gun Mage or a Trollkin, or what-have-you.
We wanted an RPG-light board games, and we didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. While we worked on Level 7 [Omega Protocol], we were looking into the IK side of things. And I knew starting out, that I didn’t want to make another game that was just like what we already made. And Omega Protocol was already a very traditional dungeon crawler game with a Dungeon Master and everything.
We also wanted to make a game that used the same base-sizes as the Iron Kingdoms RPG miniatures, so it could be a seamless transition. 30, 40, and 50mm bases don’t lend themselves well to a grid. Omega Protocol has a one inch grid system, so it’s very much a standard dungeon crawler. We wanted to do something different. We wanted a fully cooperative dungeon crawler with an AI of sorts controlling the bad guys. So we made The Undercity and Widowers Woods.
Wow, you’ve been busy. What came after Widowers Wood?
Company of Iron. When we make things, we’re always talking about other products. The idea of skirmish combat in the iron kingdoms came up a couple of times. We talked about a lot of different directions for it. Would it be a No Quarter game? Would it be a big stand-alone game? Eventually we decided on something in the middle.
We wanted to create a game that used a lot of the familiar Warmachine and Hordes rules, but just changed up the game play in a new and interesting way, specifically for skirmish play. We worked on it for a while, and released Company of Iron last fall.
Let’s talk about the new Monsterpocalypse. You spoke about how a designer and a developer wear different hats. What developmental differences are there in this new version?
This new edition was almost entirely a development project. We had a solid set of rules that worked pretty well, so we didn’t have to design anything. We started work on this new edition by playing the original as it was published.
During those early games we saw room to make the game more fun and ways to adjust the game that would make it fit more into the product plan. The biggest difference in this new edition is the work we did to make monsters stand out as the true stars of the show. In the first edition it was a little too easy for units to whittle down a monster over the course of a game. In this new edition, if you want to deal with a monster, you need to use your own monster.
One of my favorite things about the original game was finding the little bits about the story of Monsterpocalypse. Will there be fiction about the setting that you all will release outside of the little bits in the rulebook?
We’re going to be building the story of the game on our website. Monsterpocalypse.com has some elements of the story right now, and will have more in the future. We also launched a series of posts this week about the world called “Living with the Monsterpocalypse“
A little while back, you all released the rulebook as a free PDF. Will the physical rulebook in the starter sets be different than the free PDF?
The PDF available at Monsterpocalypse.com is the full rulebook that comes in each starter.
What’s in the two starter sets? Are they random?
The two Monsterpocalypse starters aren’t random at all. This new edition turns the game into a hobby miniatures game, so you always know what you’re buying. The only difference in the contents of the two starters are in the miniatures. The Protectors starter includes Defender X and five G.U.A.R.D. units while the Destroyers starter includes Gorghadra and five Planet Eaters units. In addition to the miniatures you get a rulebook, a double-sided map, 26 dice, six cardstock buildings, and two token sheets.
I loved the buildings in the original. You mentioned that there’s cardstock buildings in the starter sets, and we know that there will be new resin buildings to come. What buildings are coming out first?
In order to keep the starters affordable, we included cardstock buildings. These are basic models with almost no special rules, but they fill out the city and bit and provide the basic terrain for a game. Before the end of the year we’ll be releasing six resin building models. Each of these buildings have special rules which make them valuable strategic objectives as well as making the city look more interesting.
Will the Privateer Press HQ only be available through organized play, or will it be sold separately at some point?
As of now the Privateer Press HQ is just a tournament prize. It doesn’t have any special rules of its own, but takes the place of the standard Corporate Headquarters that is in the first wave of buildings.
The agendas and factions have been tweaked a bit for the new game to allow for better 2 on 2 monster fights. Can you get into a little bit of detail on those tweaks?
We’ve opened up army construction a lot. When you build an army it is either a Protectors or Destroyers force. At launch that means you’ll buy one of those Agenda starters. Before the end of the year there will be releases for three Factions from each Agenda.
The Protectors launch with the human forces of G.U.A.R.D. and then gain Shadow Sun Syndicate and Terrasaurs. The Destroyers get Planet Eaters first, then add Lords of Cthul and Martian Menace. Any model from the Factions in an Agenda can be added to your force. So you can mix the giant ninjas of Shadow Sun with the dinosaurs of Terrasaurs along with G.U.A.R.D. tanks if you want.
Some monsters have synergies with units in their Faction, but models from other Factions in an Agenda will complement each other well.
Maps play a huge part in how games of Monsterpocalypse play out. Do you know what (and how many) maps will be available before the end of the year?
Each starter comes with a double-sided map, so at launch there are two to choose from, Destruction Junction or Calamity Park. The Isle of Annihilation league, which can be ordered now, provides participating players a new map. As the game grows we’ll have other leagues with new maps and map products to expand options.
Do you have any news you’d like to share about Monsterpocalypse?
We’re working on a lot of exciting things for the future including new factions, but all of that is stuff that is a little too far away to talk about in specifics.
Thanks again to Oz for taking the time (twice, due to technical difficulties!) to do an interview with me. There’s still time left to pre-order a Monsterpocalypse starter at your friendly local gaming store. If you’re into miniatures, skirmish games, Kaiju, wrestling, or even the old Sim City games, I highly recommend that you give Monsterpocalypse a try. I think you’ll love it!