Soren Johnson

Episode № 218
hosts John Lindvay /

Offworld Trading Company is the first and only economic real-time strategy game. Soren Johnson created Mohawk Studios to make this one of a kind RTS after a long tenure at Firaxis games where he worked on the civilization series, most notably as the lead designer on Civilization 4. So when we sat down to talk, our conversation revolved mostly around the differences in his work from Firaxis and Mohawk, but also on the type of multiplayer experience he wanted to create and how a pure free-market model seemed like a fun and interesting engine to express it.

Probably the most interesting take away I have from the conversation is how large of a departure in terms of design thinking Offworld Trading Company was compared to Civilization. Soren explicitly talks about how making a game that can be completed in 20-30 minutes. This was critical in the design of the game as they didn’t need to create large spreadsheets to model how the game would work, they could just tweak some variables and jump in and play.

offworld-headerSoren and his team were able to rapidly grow the game out and see what worked and didn’t in terms of pacing and mechanics. And much of what is core to traditional RTS mechanics (work management, micro/macro) could be evaluated through the lens of a 20-30 minute game time. He even admitted that with that kind of time constraint, you can’t add in more time, so he wanted the macro decisions to take the spot light then things like worker management just pulled time away for something that in Offworld wasn’t really the focus. In the end it became a very streamlined experience where the real crucible was seeing it being played in Early Access.

Since the fundamentals of the game were put into place well before it hit Early Access, they were able to leverage the community to help look at the design of the game through the lens of the players and in true competitive game culture, build the game to better serve that experience. Much of my own learning of the game came from watching 4 people free-for-all matches from the robust competitive scene that supports this game. It is also worth mentioning that having a game where its best mode of play is a 4 player free-for-all is pretty incredible as well as few games can make that system work. More striking still, is that the structure of play allows for close finishes and player elimination tends to occur around the games ultimate conclusion which, as one starts to look at game designs across the board, be it video game or board game, is an rare feat to pull off.

During this conversation we talked briefly about Offworld Trading Company‘s first DLC pack they released for the game “The Ceres Initiative,” but since then they have also released a new pack titled “The Patron and The Patriot.” It is in their hope that they can continue to support the game as the community continues to support them.

  • I really enjoyed this discussion, especially the nuts and bolts of making the game. Nice podcast!