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The End of the Beginning

Offworld is progressing nicely, which means that we are ready to move forward to the next phase of the game’s development. Thus, the Founder’s program is going to be closing soon, specifically on January 16th. After that, the game itself will not be available to new purchasers until it goes up on Steam. Right now is your last chance to buy and play the prototype and join the private forums.

Buy the game here at offworldgame.com.

Three Podcasts

The good folks at the Three Moves Ahead podcast recently tried out the Offworld prototype for the first time, which led to the game be mentioned and analyzed on three recent podcasts:

  • Julian Murdoch shared his experiences with the game on the Gamers with Jobs podcast (referring to the game as “frickin’ brilliant”).
  • After battling each other, Troy Goodfellow, Rob Zacny, Bruce Geryk, and Julian spent an episode of Three Moves Ahead talking about the game.
  • I sat in on the Game Design Round Table after playing three games with Dirk Knemeyer, Bruce, and Julian, going into detail for the first time on the team game.

I should also use this opportunity to mention that I have actually launched my own podcast on the Idle Thumbs network to talk with noted game designers about why we make games. The show is called Designer Notes, and my first guest is Rob Pardo, formerly the Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard. You can subscribe in iTune here.

Two Interviews

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.

Talking About the Game

We’ve changed some of our policies recently with the Offworld prototype (which can be purchased at offworldgame.com). First of all, we’ve automated the process so that Steam keys will now be sent as soon as the transaction is complete. (Previously, we sent them out manually as a batch, once per week.) More importantly, we are changed the terms of the NDA required for playing the prototype. The only thing we are restricting now is the sharing of videos and screenshots of the game. Thus, please feel free to share your impressions of the prototype online, with friends, or wherever else you would like. We are asking people to not share the graphics because they are not at all representative of the game’s final appearance; we focus on gameplay first. Therefore, if you are interested in buying the prototype, hopefully first-hand accounts will be appearing soon.

Also, I was on a couple podcasts recently discussing the current state of the game. Listen in for an update on our progress.

Play the Prototype!

When we announced our pre-order program back in May, we promised that purchasers of our Elite Edition (and their friends) would be “the first to play our prototype this Fall.” We would like to announce that Fall has arrived early this year, apparently in mid-July! In fact, members of the Elite group have already been playing the game for a couple weeks and discussing it on our private forums. As everything seems to be working well (or rather, well enough for a playable prototype), we are announcing publicly that the Elite Edition now gives buyers immediate access to the prototype. (Some disclaimers: prototype access requires an electronic NDA, and the Steam keys are distributed manually once per week.)

We have been inspired and encouraged by all those who have pre-ordered Offworld without any screenshots, videos, or evidence of a working game. Now, at last, we can offer the game. Would love to hear your thoughts on our private forum!

Offworld Rules

Offworld is heavily inspired by board games (besides obvious influences like Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, and Agricola, there is an old GDW game called Belter that is almost a starting point for Offworld), so I’m writing the rules in the style of a traditional board game rulebook. (You can pre-order Offworld here.)

1.0 Introduction

Offworld Trading Company is a game about the colonization and exploitation of Mars by corporations who have taken to space for a profit. Each company will found a HQ on the map, claim territory, construct buildings, produce resources, and then make money by selling them on the open market. Players can harass each other with industrial sabotage, mercenary pirates, and market manipulation. The end goal is to buy out all the other corporations via the stock market, in which each company’s price goes up and down based on the value of their current assets.

2.0 Components

2.1 The Map

The map represent a section of Martian terrain that has been opened for commercial development. This map has been divided into hex-shaped tiles, each of which can be claimed by players. Some tiles, such as mountains, slopes, and canyons, are marked as unusable and will never contain any resources. Also, each usable tile has one of five height levels (Very Low, Low, Medium, High, and Very High) which means that the map is a collection of plateaus. These plateaus are useful for connecting buildings together into rail-based networks that allows the transportation of resources without using Blimps. Tiles also have a wind level (Very Weak, Weak, Moderate, Strong, Very Strong), and the height and wind levels determine how Solar Panels and Wind Turbines perform, respectively.

2.1 The Resource Deposits

Each tile can contain deposits of the primary resources (Water, Carbon, Silicon, Aluminum, and Iron). These deposits are classified into four different resource levels, which each have different yield rates:

  • Trace (-75%)
  • Low
  • Medium (+50%)
  • High (+100%)

Also, some tiles contain a Geothermal Source, which is required for the Geothermal Plant.

2.2 The Headquarters

Each player founds one HQ to start the game, which stretches across multiple tiles, all of which need to be usable and of the same height. The HQ will contain the player’s resource stockpile, which is where resources are taken from when sold on the open market and deposited into when bought. Each HQ also consumes life support (Water, Food, and Oxygen) which have to be bought on the open market if they are not in the stockpile.

2.3 The Buildings

Each claimed tile can contain one building, and the different types are listed here:

  • Water Pump (mines Water)
  • Solar Condenser (creates Water from Ice tIke’s and Carbon and Oxygen from Dry Ice tiles)
  • Greenhouse Farm (turns Water into Food)
  • Electrolysis Reactor (turns Water into Oxygen and Fuel)
  • Chemical Refinery (turns Fuel and Carbon into Chemicals)
  • Elemental Quarry (mine Carbon and Silicon)
  • Glass Kiln (turns Silicon and Oxygen into Glass)
  • Electronics Factory (turns Carbon, Silicon, and Aluminum into Electronics)
  • Metal Mine (mines Aluminum and Iron)
  • Steel Mill (turns Iron into Steel)
  • Solar Panel (creates Power from height level)
  • Wind Turbine (creates Power from wind level)
  • Geothermal Plant (creates Power but requires Geothermal Source)
  • Patent Lab (can discover patents)
  • Optimization Center (can improve industrial production)
  • Pleasure Dome (produce money from population)
  • Hacker Array (can create artificial shortages and surpluses)
  • Offworld Market (can sell resources offworld)

Each building (except the Solar Condenser) consumes Power when active.

2.4 Ships

Ships cannot be controlled directly by the players and are instead generated automatically based on player actions. Each ship consumes Fuel, and Blimps consume more Fuel depending of their cargo. The different unit types are listed here:

  • Engineer (repairs buildings)
  • Freighter (ships resources)
  • Pirate (steal resources from Freighters)
  • MULE (mines resources)

3.0 Turns

Offworld is a real-time game, but the game system itself is updated in turns. Every turn, buildings produce resources, the HQ consumes life support, and various other event might occur. The game has five different speeds which determine how fast the turns occur, but the default speed (Normal) is set at one turn per second. In single-player games, the player can change the game speed (and also pause the game) whenever desired.

4.0 Scans

Before founding an HQ, the player will spend some time exploring the map. Each tile will have one of three visibility states:

  • Fogged (tile and resource deposits are not visible)
  • Revealed (tile is visible but darkened, resources are visible but their identity is unknown)
  • Visible (tile and resource are visible)

Most of the map will start the game as Fogged, but each player will begin with a small section of the map Scanned. The player can then perform scans on specific tiles to reveal more of the map – each scan will set all tiles within a certain radius as Visible and all other tiles within a larger radius as Revealed. Once the first HQ is founded, the map will slowly reveal itself automatically to all players.

5.0 Headquarters

5.1 Founding

Once the players have scanned enough tiles to discover a good place to found an HQ, they select an HQ type and then place it on the map. Once an HQ is founded, the player receives their initial claims, money, and resource stockpile. Players who found later will receive an extra claim. Resources underneath the HQ are removed from the game, and the player gets a one-time bonus relative to the resources’ levels.

The four different types (and their bonuses) are listed here:

  • Expansive
    • One extra claim with each HQ upgrade
    • Needs half as much Steel for buildings
    • Units move +50% faster
  • Robotic
    • HQ does not consume life support
    • Units use Power instead of Fuel
    • Double bonus from tiles under the HQ
    • Requires less Aluminum and Electronics instead of Glass to upgrade the HQ
    • Buildings receive an adjacency bonus if next to a building which supplies an input resource (such as a Water Pump next to a Hydrolysis Farm)
  • Scavengers
    • Uses Carbon instead of Steel to construct buildings
    • Learn about shortage and surplus events earlier
    • Can use Black Market more frequently
  • Scientific
    • Conversion Buildings can use resource deposit on their own tiles (for example, a Hydrolysis Farm could use Trace Water to create Food)
    • Recovers faster from EMPs and Power Surges

5.2 Upgrading

Each HQ starts at population level one and can be upgraded four times. Each successive upgrade costs an increasing quantity of resources, and each upgrade increases the life support demands of the HQ. The benefit of each upgrade is that the player is granted new claims.

6.0 Claims

The players receive a set of claims upon founding and upgrading their HQs. Extra claims can also be gained from random events, bribed via the black market, and won in claim auctions.

7.0 Buildings

7.1 Construction

Buildings can only be constructed on claimed tiles. The player purchases buildings by spending resources, and then the HQ create an Engineer unit which travels to the tile and constructs the building.

7.2 Production

Every turn, buildings produce resources. Some buildings create resources directly from resource deposits (the Elemental Quarry creates Silicon and Carbon from the corresponding deposits). A few more create resources based on the tile’s ratings (the Wind Turbine creates Power modified by the tile’s wind level). Others convert input resources into output resources (the Glass Kiln consumes Silicon and Oxygen and produces Glass). Buildings can be turned off if the player determines they are not profitable.

Adjacent buildings of the same type have increased production rates – two adjacent building receive a +50% bonus while three get a +75% bonus. Higher numbers of adjacent buildings receive higher bonuses but with diminishing returns.

7.3 Shipping

After resources are produced, they are shipped either to other buildings or to the HQ. If one building produces a resource required by a second building and if these two building are connected by an unbroken string of claimed tiles, this resource is instantly transported to the second building via rail. If no such building exists and if the first building is instead connected to the HQ by an unbroken string of claimed tiles, the resource is similarly transported to the player’s resource stockpile.

If, instead, the building producing the resource is not connected to either a building that requires the resource or to the HQ, the resource is stored within the original building. Once the building accumulates enough units of the resource, a Frelighted is created which transports the resource directly to the HQ. Players can choose manually to ship resources earlier.

Finally, buildings which require resources can also be supplied from the HQ. For example, a Steel Mill that is not connected to a Metal Mine on an Iron deposit will receive shipments from the HQ. If the building is connected to the HQ via an unbroken string of claimed tiles, the resources will travel instantly via rail. Otherwise, a Frelighted will ship Iron from the HQ to the building.

7.4 Optimization Center

The Optimization Center allows players to research technologies that increase the production rate of specific resources in all corresponding buildings. For example, Improved Water Pumping increases Water production at Water Pumps by +25%. The bonus affects the building’s output but not the input, so Improved Food Production will mean that a Greenhouse Farm produces more Food but does not consume more Water. Each technology costs Chemicals to research. The four levels of research possible for each technology are listed here:

  • Improved: +25% production
  • Efficient: +50% production
  • Optimal: +75% production
  • Super: +100% production

7.5 Patent Lab

The Patent Lab enables players to acquire patents that can change how their company operates in fundamental ways. Each patent costs Chemicals to discover and becomes unavailable to all other players after the initial discovery. The different patents are listed here:

  • Superconductor: +100% Power from buildings connected to the HQ.
  • Energy Vault: Can store up to 100 units of Power (refills automatically +1/turn)
  • Water Engine: Ships use Water instead of Fuel
  • Financial Instruments: Receive 25% cut from all other players’ debt interest
  • Virtual Reality: +50% revenue from Pleasure Dome
  • Perpetual Motion: -50% Power consumption
  • Water Engine: Units use Water instead of Fuel
  • Nanotech: When scrapping buildings, the resource cost is refunded.
  • Cold Fusion: Buildings use Water instead of Power
  • Carbon Scrubbing: Buildings which require Carbon harvest it from the atmosphere
  • Slant Drilling: Buildings can access benter resource deposit in adjacent tiles
  • Thinking Machines: Buildings adjacent to HQs receive 50% less damage from sabotage
  • Teleportation: All buildings and HQs are considered connected

7.6 Hacker Array

The Hacker Array allows players to trigger artificial shortages and surpluses which can alter the price of specific resources. For example, a Food Shortage would increase the cost of Food. The cost of shortages and surpluses go up each time they are used by the player. These artificial events are indistinguishable from the random events that occur naturally during the game although the impact of the former will lessen the more they are triggered.

8.0 Resource Markets

8.1 Local Market

Once the HQ is founded, players can buy and sell resources freely on the open market. If Food is $20, then a player can sell one unit of Food for $20 or buy one unit for the same price. However, each time a resource is bought or sold, the price goes up or down accordingly. Thus, if a player decides to purchase 100 units of Food for $20, the price will go up during the transaction so that the total cost will be more than $2000. Resources bought and sold are added to and take from the player’s stockpile at the HQ.

Energy is a special resource because it cannot be stockpiled. Instead, it is automatically sold to the local market at the current price. If a player is instead losing Energy, it is bought automatically from the market. Similarly, life support resources (Water, Food, Oxygen) are also purchased directly from the market if the stockpile is empty. If the player also has no money, the automatic purchase increases the company’s debt, which has a very negative effect on its stock price.

8.2 Offworld Market

Offworld prices are set randomly at the beginning of the game and rise slowly over time. With the Offworld Market, players can sell resources offworld, often for prices higher than on the local market. Each offworld sale requires 100 units of the resource, 20 units of Fuel, and 20 units of Aluminum. Thus, if the offworld price of Food is $500, the player would lose 100 Food, 20 Aluminum, and 20 Fuel and then earn $50,000.

9.0 Time of Day

Each turn, the game clock moves forward, which affects a number of buildings. Both of the buildings which require sunlight (Solar Condensor and Solar Panel) turn off between 21:00 and 05:00.

10.0 Auction

Every day at 12:00, an auction can be triggered. The auction is open to all players and is timed. Bids start in increments of $1000 and go up as the bidding increases. Further, the time limit is extended if a bid is made close to the end. Five types of auctions are possible: a new claim, a specific tile, an unclaimed patent, a sabotage item, and an advanced building.

11.0 Sabotage

The identify of the player triggering each sabotage event is hidden and not revealed until the game is over.

11.1 Auction Tile

Can start an auction for a tile on the map. If the tile is owned by the player, the player receives the money from auction.

11.2 Hologram

Hides the identity of a building from other players.

11.3 Spy

Reveals the identity of buildings hidden by a Hologram, the location of Goon Squads, and what advanced buildings (Patent Lab, Optimization Center, etc) are developing.

11.4 MULE

A unit which will mine 200 units of a resource from a tile without a building.

11.5 Pirates

Attacks Freighters and give the lost resources to the player who hired them. Pirates will stay on the map until they have captured at least 100 units of resources.

11.6 Magetic Strorms

Destroys all units (except Pirates and MULEs) within its radius.

11.7 EMP

An EMP freezes buildings within a radius from the targeted tile.

11.8 Power Surge

The Power Surge freezes a number of buildings, travelling along a random path.

11.9 Circuit Overload

Doubles the Power consumption of buildings and disables buildings which produce Power, travelling along a random path.

11.10 Adrenaline Boost

Doubles the speed of buildings within a radius from the targeted tile.

11.11 Slowdown Strike

Halves the speed of buildings within a radius from the targeted tile and is not blocked by Goon Squads.

11.12 Network Virus

Locks the player out of buildings, travelling along a random path. These buildings cannot be scrapped, cannot be turned on or off, and always have auto-supply turned on. The Network Virus also eliminates Holograms.

11.3 Core Sample

Discovers a new resource on a tile. The probability of the resource found depends on the terrain type.

11.14 Underground Nuke

The Underground Nuke lowers resource deposits by two levels. For example, a High Iron would be reduced to a Low Iron. (Resource deposits can never be lowered below Trace.)

11.15 Dynamite

Dynamite destroys a building; the owning player can repair it for half its normal construction cost.

11.16 Mutiny

A Mutiny allows a player to capture another player’s building for a period of time.

11.17 Goon Squad

The Goon Squad protects a building from sabotage. If that building is targeted, the sabotage fails, the identity of the saboteur is announced, and the targeted player steals the sabotage item.

12.0 Black Market

The Black Market is where all sabotage items are purchased. Also, the player can Bribe Claim (to receive a new claim) and Cook the Books (to improve the player’s Debt Rating). The Black Market is initially closed for a specific number of the turns after a player founds an HQ; the number of turns is lower for players who found their HQs later.

Each time items are purchased from the Black Market, the price is increased for all players in the game. Also, each player is locked out from the Black Market for 60 turns after a purchase.

13.0 Stock Market

Each player’s company begins the game with a stock price that goes up and down according to the value of its current assets (money, debt, resources, buildings, HQs, and stock shares). Shares can be purchased in increments of 1,000, and each company has 10,000 total shares. If no more shares are available for purchase on the open market, a rival player can buyout the player’s own shares by purchasing them for double value. However, once a player owns half of her total shares, they have to be bought all together.

If at any point the other players in the game own (in combination) over half a player’s stock, that player becomes a subsidiary. Subsidiaries are controlled by the AI but play a more conservative version of the game; they don’t bid on auctions, don’t use the black market, and don’t buy stock. Every turn, subsidiaries distribute 1% of their cash to their owners, relative to shares owned.

The game ends when all other players are subsidiaries of the winner.

14.0 Random Events

14.1 Dust Storm

  • Wind Turbine: +100% production
  • Solar Condensor, Greenhouse Farm, Solar Panel: -50% production

14.2 Solar Flare

  • Solar Panel: +100% production
  • Solar Condensor: +100% production

Introducing Offworld Trading Company

UPDATE 01/28/2015: Offworld Trading Company has been revealed! Check out the official website for screenshots, video, and tons of details.

For a game about corporations and colonization, Offworld Trading Company has always been a very personal game for me, a game I have wanted to make since before joining the industry. I am most drawn to games that make me think and adapt and change; Offworld does that better than any game I have ever played.

We have called Offworld Trading Company an “economic RTS” – what do we mean by that? First of all, Offworld fits the format of a classic real-time strategy game like StarCraft or Age of Empires II, meaning that the game supports up to 8 players, can be played in less than an hour, and is intensely competitive. Offworld is economic because, instead of the two or three resources found in a traditional RTS, our game has thirteen different types. Indeed, the game has no units to fight with at all, only buildings that turn resources of one type into those of another.

In Offworld, the player’s most important weapon is money, not guns.

The setting is Mars, and each player controls a corporation trying to claim, develop, and exploit its own bit of alien soil. The game starts with an exploration phase, during which players decide where to found their colonies based on nearby resources and buildable plots of land. Next, players use their limited number of claims to start extracting these resources – maybe an ice condenser right here to get water, or maybe a metal mine over there for iron? Extra claims can be used to create factories that turn these base resources into something more valuable. A hydrolysis farm could turn water into food while an electrolysis reactor will split water into oxygen and fuel. Most importantly, players only start with a few claims, meaning that they can’t produce everything.

Instead, every resource can be bought or sold on the open market, with prices fluctuating according to what the players do. If everyone decides not to build farms and just buy food, the price will go up. Instead, if they all sell, the price will go down. Thus, the key to success is predicting which resources will go up in price and which ones will go down. Buy low, sell high, and do it first.

What makes Offworld special is that each game is unique. Random maps create a different combination of resources each time, meaning the market will change naturally to reflect this unique distribution. What happens when a map has very little water? Or when iron is everywhere? Unlike RTS games with well-known build orders that eventually become rote, Offworld has no “best” resource. If the community thinks that oxygen is the most lucrative resource, then these players will all flood the market, driving the price down, and the winner will be busy producing something else.

Offworld Trading Company contains much, much more – auctions, espionage, sabotage, patents, stocks, even pirates – but the core of the game is how this free market system coupled with random maps creates a game that never gets old. We’ve been playing Offworld internally for months and months now, and it continually surprises us. We want to get the game into your hands as soon as possible, so we will share the roadmap for turning our prototype into a polished final product.

Today, we launch our website and begin taking pre-orders. Everyone who buys the Elite Edition pre-order will get access to our playable prototype this Fall. We are excited to share Offworld with our community so that we can start to learn from you. The game still has plenty of room to grow – an economic RTS is a great fit for a dynamic campaign, for example – and we don’t want to grow it in a vacuum. Offworld Trading Company is a unique game, and its story starts now.

Also, hexes.

More Press!

I did a couple podcasts this week to go into greater detail about the goals of our studio, the design of our new game, and why we feel that the time is right to go independent:

I also did an interview with GameIndustry.biz in the wake of our announcement.  We discuss the advantages of independent development and my thoughts on free-to-play games. Further, I talk about our philosophy of open development in the age of Kickstarter and Early Access: “The last thing you want when you’re developing a game is to lock yourself away in a room for three years and at the end of it hope that you come out with something that’s good. As much as possible you want to get real, honest feedback on the progress you’re making.”

 

Early Press!

In preparation for our announcement, I’ve been speaking with journalists and friends about the new studio and our upcoming game, and the resulting stories are now public. For more details on Mohawk’s development philosophy, our relationship with Stardock, and my goals for Mars (just a codename as, legally, we will need a more unique name), check out the following stories:

Game Informer – “Instead of the core mechanics being about combat and military and rushing people, [Mars] uses a tycoon game mechanic.”

Gamasutra – “I wanted to make a competitive multiplayer RTS that was significantly different than anything out there. I wanted it to be original.”

IGN – “I want to make large-scale games, and they’re not going to be five-dollar games. They’re definitely not going to be one-dollar games.”

PC Gamer – “I’m just bored with what’s out there. I want to see the genre stretch and expand. I feel like it’s a genre that should be as varied as board games.”

Follow me on Twitter for the latest.

Introducing Mohawk Games

I have been waiting to write this post since before I shipped my first game, since before I joined the industry, since before I even learned how to program. Today, I’d like to introduce Mohawk Games, an independent studio dedicated to making innovative, core strategy games.

We are living in the age of the independent game studio – never before have our tools been so powerful, the distribution channels so accessible, and open development so valuable. A robust market exists for original strategy games, my team has the experience to make them, and I am passionate about creating them.

Indeed, independent developers can now do what the big publishers can’t or won’t do. We can take risks on original mechanics and unusual ideas, ones which would never justify budgets that start with seven figures. We can sell a game once, for a fair price, instead of alienating our audience with vertiginous business models. We can work directly with our audience, learning from their experiences and trying to match their dreams.

I am beyond excited to finally create a game of my own, and I hope that you will follow us as we stop dangling our legs and jump. As a start, the following six points define what makes us unique as a game studio:

Gameplay First
Our games will emphasize quality of play above all else. The goal is to make games that will be played for years, based on elegant, replayable systems which are not limited by finite content creation. (In other words, we are building Spelunky, not Uncharted.) Our development process emphasizes rapid iteration above all else, requiring our games to be playable as soon as possible, so that we have time to find the fun. Our gameplay depth emerges from meaningful decisions and procedural content, so no two playthroughs are ever the same.

Designers Are Programmers
Our games are built upon systems and mechanics, which create interesting and enjoyable challenges as they collide with each other. The designers best able to create these systems are the ones who can code their ideas directly into the game, instead of relying upon other programmers to translate their design documents. Mohawk will enable these individuals to iterate as fast as possible without technical friction. Further, we will recruit talented designer/programmers who might otherwise be forced into narrow roles because the games industry, as a whole, hires pure designers.

Technology Supports Design
Although much of our company will be programmers, we are not a technology company. We are a games company. We will leverage cross-platform engines to build our games using one language and a shared codebase. Our internal libraries will provide the basic building blocks for making strategy games – hex grids, A* pathfinding, minimaps, popup help, matchmaking, lobbies, scenario editors, and so on. The engineering goal is to enable rapid prototyping so that designers can go from conception to execution as quickly as possible.

Budgets Matter
The key to game development is to iterate through the design-develop-test-evaluate loop as many times as possible before release. Most teams run out of money before they can start iterating rapidly on a working prototype, which is when the most progress is possible. Taking budgets seriously is the only way to ensure a game gets the iteration it deserves. Thus, we will be aggressive in ensuring that our money is used efficiently and responsibly, and our teams will stay small to keep costs down. Ultimately, every expenditure needs to justify itself in product quality; the cost of bloat is too high.

Community-Led Development
Games cannot grow in a vacuum, without the oxygen of player feedback. Thus, we will involve the community in the iteration process as soon as possible. We will interact directly with our fans, learning from them and never assuming that we know better. We will use alternative funding methods, such as crowdfunding and early access programs, to enable a virtuous cycle in which fans can support our ideas while also holding us accountable to their expectations.

Extensive Mod Support
Communities often understand a game better than the designers themselves; they discover what the game actually is by witnessing how the gameplay changes as stories and strategies spread online. Modding is the ultimate expression of a community’s commitment to a game, by working hard to extend and improve the company’s official work. We will provide powerful tools to our fans to change our games, we will host these mods on our servers to help them spread organically, and – when possible – we will sell them and share the revenue with their creators.

Before finishing, I’d like to take a moment to thank all the people who helped make Mohawk possible. I must thank Sid Meier and Jeff Briggs for giving me the keys to Civilization in the first place, an opportunity which changed my life. I’d like to thank Tim Train, David Edery, and Jon Shafer for their business advice throughout the process, Jim Alley for his awesome work designing our logo, and Dorian Newcomb for taking the jump with me. Thanks to Dan Baker and the Oxide team for hosting us during our early days and helping get the prototype working. Finally, I especially need to thank Brad Wardell, Derek Paxton, and everyone else at Stardock for helping make today happen. We’ll make it count.