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Obituary: Redmond A Simonsen (1942-2005)
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Dallas, Texas 10 March 2005 -- Redmond A. Simonsen, one of the co-founders of Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) and the most influential graphic designer in the 20th century wargaming industry died Wednesday of heart failure at the age of 62. Simonsen, who had struggled with a series of heart ailments and declining health over the past year suffered a major attack Monday and was hospitalized. His sister Lois K. Simonsen Nash, sister-in-law Mary L. Nash, and nephews, Maj. Erik L. Simonsen and James A. Nash, were in attendance at his death, which was peaceful.
Simonsen and James F. Dunnigan purchased the floundering hobbyist magazine “Strategy & Tactics” from Christopher Wagner in 1970 and redesigned it both conceptually and graphically. They turned it into a bi-monthly and included a complete simulation game in each issue. The publication, which Dunnigan and Simonsen used to market their many other games, energized the wargaming hobby. SPI eventually branched out into science fiction and – after notoriously deciding not to market “Dungeons & Dragons” when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were looking for a publisher in the early 70s – roleplaying games. Simonsen was principally responsible for the launch of SPI’s bi-monthly science fiction magazine, “Ares,” which also included an SF or fantasy simulation game in each issue.
Simonsen’s game design credits include “Dixie” (an alternative history simulation where the CSA won the war for southern independence but then had to fight the USA again in the 1930s), “StarForce,” “Sorceror,” “BattleFleet: Mars,” and “Dragonslayer” (based on the Disney movie). But his biggest impact on gaming stemmed from his brilliant and relentlessly utilitarian art direction and graphic design for SPI games and corporate purposes. “No other graphic artist has had as much impact on the way wargames look, and work. A one-of-a-kind guy if there ever was one,” stated Dunnigan. “He could help a simulation designer organize and present information in ways that made games work that would otherwise have been unplayable,” said Eric Lee Smith, a longtime SPI designer. Added former manager of R&D Brad Hessel, “The professional ‘look’ that Redmond stamped on everything SPI produced from combat resolution tables to magazine covers to business cards certainly helped open doors to potential investors, licensed property owners such as the Tolkein and Burroughs folks, and government military people. Plus the company’s ability to produce upwards of two dozen simulations games plus 18 magazines and sundry books, newsletters, and marketing and sales materials each year – mostly pre-computer -- is a testament to his extraordinary systems design skills.”
Simonsen was born 18 June 1942, the second son of Astri Nordlie Simonsen and August Emil Simonsen and grew up in the Inwood section of northern Manhattan where he maintained his boyhood apartment until moving to Texas in 1984. He attended Stuyvesant High School and graduated with a BFA from Cooper Union College in 1964. He served in the Air Force, and prior to SPI, he worked as a graphic designer creating book covers (including the one for, “Is Paris Burning?”), album covers for London Records, and Kool Cigarette advertisements among others.
Simonson was an accomplished photographer. He sold photos to many publications, including Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, and loved discussing photography in general, or why you bought the right or wrong camera in particular. An early convert to computer gaming, Simonsen lead the effort to “computerize” Dunnigan’s “Wreck of the BMS Pandora” paper game. The resulting game published by Apple for the Apple II platform in 1980 with its Simonsen-designed graphics is considered an early classic as one of the first computer strategy games to be played in real-time. After SPI, Simonsen co-founded the Ares Development Company with Brad Hessel to design computer games. Ares was working on a multi-game contract for Texas Instruments when they pulled out of the home computer business in 1984. After moving to Richardson, Texas, later that year, he co-founded Microbotics with Jerry Robinson, which designed and marketed hardware peripherals for the Amiga computer. He also worked as a free-lance journalist in the computer industry and gaming network moderator for BIX and other places.
In 1998 Redmond retired completely and spent his time drawing, writing computer programs, and writing science fiction short stories. He suffered his first heart attack in 2004, and was very focused on his recovery. In the couple of weeks before his major attack, doctors surmised that he had experienced at least two minor heart attacks, but he had recently switched medications and ascribed the symptoms to that. By the time he was hospitalized on Monday, 7 March, his heart was exceedingly swollen and doctors estimated only about 4% of the tissue was still healthy.
Simonsen was predeceased by his parents and his brother, Dr. August Simonsen. In addition to his sister, sister-in-law, and nephews, he is survived by his nieces Karen Bezanson, Jennifer Galanek, Heidi Simonsen, and Kristi Bunovich.