• Ari Esqueda

Department Spotlight: Isaiah Schmit

It is early afternoon on a Saturday, and Isaiah Schmit has already made breakfast, tidied the kitchen, did a little work on a character for the Trials of Omnus, and sent some business emails to manufacturers. I, on the other hand, have only just rolled out of bed and relearned the mechanics of showering. When I get to the kitchen/dining room of the cozy Indiana apartment NAJI Games calls home, I am immediately offered a beverage (coffee, tea, sparkling water) and handed a freshly baked cinnamon roll. I gladly sip some coffee and smother a smile as Isaiah multitasks, converting a french macarons recipe from grams to cups, while fielding a series of questions from the Mechanics Department (a.k.a Nathan Stump).

Isaiah neatly measures out the ingredients for the delicate dessert we are about to attempt and turns to me with his tenacious blue eyes, “You ready to bake?” For the next little while, he whips the egg whites to a stiff peaked glossy sheen, and I sift ground almonds and sugar. We take turns folding in the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients and then gloop the mixture on to a baking sheet. As we wait for the cookies to set, I finally get the man to sit down for a reasonable chunk of time to answer a few questions about his various roles and responsibilities for NAJI Games.

“I have a few roles, I suppose,” Isaiah says with a little laugh as he settles on one side of the comfy brown couch and puts a freshly fluffed pillow on his lap, “I’m Creative Co-Director with you, and I also take care of a lot of the business aspect of NAJI Games.

“Where we both work on story development and narrative, I think we work on two different hemispheres of the same world. For my part, I focus mostly on world-building, cultural structures, and character development. So I work with cosmologies, pantheons, and have developed the tenets, histories, and races of Omnus, the world where the game takes place. I also look at the physical evolution of the world, the landmasses, bodies of waters, and the different terrains found within each continent.

“I guess, I’m concerned with the global minutia, by that I mean, histories of the races, the relation between races, the political, social and cultural developments of the world, the different cities and towns, occupations, and class systems. So my hemisphere, in our little narrative sphere, is the world-narrative.”

As if that weren’t enough to tackle, Isaiah takes a breath of air and adds, “I also take on a lot of the business practicalities. Things like business correspondence, organizing the legal information for copyrights and trademarks, designing the website, maintaining licenses, and registration. Things like that.”

I laugh at how simple he makes it all sound and ask him if he experiences any frustrations or difficulties in his work. He nods his head rapidly and, in a breath, says, “Oh, there are a few things.

“I’m a worrier at heart, and the work that I do is so foundational. It’s the stuff that not everyone is guaranteed to see, and even if they do, it probably won’t be obvious. They will take it for granted that their character has this knowledge that allows them to cast spells, but their character has that knowledge because I made a school and teachers and histories of spells and sent that character to the school.

“My work is the stuff that maybe people won’t wonder about, or care about, and then even right now, amongst our team, we can’t even fully see how all this information is going to be used because we haven’t hit that point of development yet. So it kind of feels like whenever you want to build a house and you lay all that foundation, and you have to be careful, and all the measurements have to be exact, but at the moment, when you lay the foundation, it doesn’t feel like a house. It just feels like so much. There is just so much to do, and I worry about if I am using my time wisely, or are there other things that I should be focusing on to get this house built.

“There are a lot of times where I wonder if it is worth all the time and effort that I’m putting into it. But then I see when we are trying to build details for something within the game, and we reference my work, either the city where the character grew up or a political tie with one of the characters or whatever it is. We can do it super quickly because I already have all that right now. So little by little, that worry has just started to cease, and it was just months and months of work to get here.”

Isaiah smiles and adjusts his glass, pushing them further up his nose. I take the opportunity to ask him a question that not even I fully know the answer to, “How did you end up in this role within NAJI Games?”

He does a poor job of smothering a chuckle, “Well, I think, as with a lot of us, it just fell on who was most comfortable doing what. And I am NOT a mechanics type of person. My mind does not work in a logistical fashion. I struggle a lot, even visualizing the mechanics when we sit down and talk about stuff like that, and I depend on people to just explain it to me very well. I’m just way more drawn to the narrative of the story, and that’s what I like in board games when I’m engaged in the world and story. When I play a game, it’s not about the mechanics or the actual gameplay; it’s about the experience, the learning, and the inquisitiveness of it. So because of that, that’s kind of where my position fell.

“As far as business operations, I just think it is fun, the bureaucracy, the formal writing. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it gets my gears turning. It’s relaxing. So because I like it, I just kind of picked it up and took care of it.”

“Well this month,” I say, trying out my best ‘real’ journalist impression, “NAJI is highlighting, the Thaumaturge, one of the characters in the game. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired that character?”

“Sure,” Isaiah says with a glint in his eyes, we all know he has favorites, and the Thaumaturge is one of them. “I wanted a character to be based on old English, old Irish, folklore, mostly because I have always found stories of the fey as interesting and funny because they were very tricky. Things like the leprechauns, the elves, the pixies, who are these cute, nice, mischievous people but, traditionally, when they started out in their inception, were very violent and dark. For example, kidnapping people and making them dance until they died. So I wanted a character that was inspired by that because it was just amusing. The Thaumaturge is this tricky, mischievous person but with that idea, merging that with the tradition and rigor of the ancient Irish kingdoms that developed after the Celtic people kind of dissipated. What I love about this character so much is that she is carefree, a little selfish, chaotic-neutral, and wild, yet she comes from this very strict, rigid, careful society, and she is SO powerful.”

I nod and smile, now very well versed in the history of the fey after several brainstorming sessions early on in the Thaumaturge’s development. To tie up the little interview, I thought it would be fun to throw him an oddball question, so I ask, “If you were to go back four or five months from today and tell yourself that you would be knee-deep in designing a board game, would you believe yourself? And what advice would you give yourself?”

I get the desired reaction. Isaiah squints his eyes and smacks his lips together in a pucker. After a brief moment of consideration, he responds, “I think I’d believe it because we play so many board games and we love them so much, I think that idea would make sense to me. But I don’t think I would understand, quite, the scope of what that means. And the advice I would tell myself…” He thinks again for a moment and says, “I would probably tell myself to devote more time and work harder.”

As if to emphasize his point, I’ve barely hit the stop button on the recording, when Isaiah jumps off the sofa and springs back to action in the kitchen. Over the next hour, he whips together the filling for the macarons, a complicated strawberry buttercream recipe, and one of the most delicious strawberry jams I have ever tasted. I don’t know how this amazing person could work any harder, but if anyone could figure it out, it would be him.

Ari Esqueda

Creative Co-Director and Editor