By complete coincidence, two interviews about Offworld were published this week. The first is with Christian Donlan of Eurogamer. Here’s an excerpt:
“When people start playing they’re used to thinking that they should be focusing on the map,” agrees Johnson. “If only because that’s where most RTS games are. But then they realise that the game is really in that market. You’re really playing this UI element and benefiting from what you see happening. Once people make that connection, that’s really when they understand what the game’s about.”
Perversely, it’s precisely when you start to understand how different Offworld is that it starts to seem more familiar. It certainly moves at a familiar pace. Playing against a handful of AI corporations, it’s as brisk and bloodthirsty as any Blizzard game, and the intricacies that the market allows for create some classic build-tree brinkmanship.
“It’s interesting to see the things that come out naturally from the system,” Johnson explains. “You’re always making a choice based off limitations. So when you start Offworld, you get four claims. The conservative strategy is: alright, I know I need water, I know I need food, I know I need steel to upgrade, I know I need energy, and I know I need iron. Even right there, that’s five things and I only have four claims, right? But these are your base resources and you’re probably not going to make a lot of money off of them.
“So sometimes what you might do is you’ll cheat,” he laughs, “Water’s a very common one to cheat on, meaning I’m going to just ignore water because I’ll just assume other people are going to sell it. Water is often very cheap because usually it’s a very common resource. People claim it right away, and then they get into a money crunch so they dump it. If you’re playing against veterans, it’s almost a given that you’re not going to go for the base set of resources at the start. But if you go too far, if everyone does that and everyone decides to cheat on water, then they’re all going to be in trouble. Except the person who saw it coming.”
The second interview is with Peter Sahui, who runs the blog Matchsticks For My Eyes. Here’s an excerpt that details the major influences behind Offworld:
- M.U.L.E. is perhaps the most obvious one considering the setting (settlers on an alien world), territory acquisition (claiming plots of land), and balancing resources needed for life support and infrastructure with more lucrative cash crops. I should note, however, that I actually didn’t play M.U.L.E. until I was an adult as I was only seven when it was originally released.
- Railroad Tycoon was an important early influence for me, especially as it’s the first purely economic video game I ever player. The resource tree of Offworld and the general idea of shipping routes come directly from Railroad Tycoon. In fact, very early versions of Offworld focused more on the blimp routes themselves with the player having to micro-manage each specific one (bringing iron from a Metal Mine to a Steel Mill and then from a Steel Mill to the Colony, and so on). We eventually moved to a more automated system which opened up space to focus more on the free market.
- Age of Empires 2 had a very interesting game mechanic hidden inside the Market building. When selected, you could buy or sell three of the game’s resources (food, iron, and stone) for the fourth one (gold). Further, the prices went up or down depending on what other players were doing. (If one player bought a lot of food, the price would go up for everyone.) The designers hedged their bets here by making the buy price double the sell price so that players couldn’t benefit from constantly arbitraging the market. We originally tried two prices in Offworld, but collapsing them into a single price made the market mechanic so much more powerful.
- Finally, an old GDW wargame from the 70s called Belter was a huge influence on me as a kid. The game had players prospect the Asteroid Belt for ore and gas, mine the resources, ship them to the market, and sell them for profit. Each asteroid had different resource levels, which is an idea we also have in Offworld (trace, low, medium, and high). Belter had a combat mechanic, but we loved the economics so much that we unofficially agreed to ignore it, demonstrating to me at an early age that a game of pure economics could work.