We had a big press day yesterday as we released our first video of Offworld and lifted the embargo on a bunch of interviews I did this month. I’ve collected some relevant bits from the articles below. Additionally, I was on The Game Design Round Table podcast this week talking Scott Hamden, one of our earliest and most active play-testers, about his experiences with the game since last summer. Finally, I am answering questions about Offworld on our subreddit right now! You can preorder here.
“I’d say the gameplay is 100 percent complete–only in the sense that there isn’t something that I have yet to implement; that I want to implement,” [Johnson] said. “It will become less than 100 percent complete once I see how people play the game. And what is wrong with it and what assumptions I made that didn’t work out. But it’s impossible to know that until you release a game, which is why Early Access is so cool.”
“Each game is different. The tricky part is getting an intuitive feel for how the prices change over the course of the game,” Johnson told Polygon. “In StarCraft you see set build patterns: these are the first ten things you should do, in this order and by this time, otherwise you’re not going to be competitive. Nothing like that can exist in Offworld because there can never be a best resource. It totally depends on how every specific game plays out.”
As you might expect. Soren has opinions on the state of real-time strategy genre. “As the games get more and more expensive, there is less and less room for risk taking,” he says. “The RTS is in danger of dying off. There are not that many RTS brands that are really healthy any more.
“They found a formula that works but it’s a narrow formula and there are a lot of people who are not interested because they are extremely demanding on players. It’s an experience a lot of people don’t think is fun but there is a good chance that they might enjoy a real time strategic experience that is not around finagling units.”
“RTS games have hit a very set pattern. They may have a different setting, but in many ways, they’re kind of the same game,” Johnson said. “This is coming from a team that really likes RTS Games. We like Company of Heroes, StarCraft, Age of Empires. We love that format. We think that’s a great way to play games.
“So we wanted a game that fit that format but used an entirely different mechanic. And the one that we thought would be the most interesting to try is basically borrowing mechanics from like the Tycoon games. It’s about running a business, about using your claims to commit to certain types of resources, buying stuff on the free market and then eventually buying people out on the stock market.”
“There’s nothing really like it, so when you’re trying to convince publishers to make something like this, they don’t know what to do with it. They’re naturally conservative,” Johnson said.
“Even as I became more well-known in the industry, it becomes more and more difficult to get a game like this started up,” he said. “It’s too small for publishers. It’s harder to take risks. They’re really only interested in something blockbuster size.”
“There’s a lot of advantages to setting it on Mars, as you says there’s the blank slate, it’d not be quite as plausible on Earth. There’s the assumption that you’d have modern commodity markets, the stock market and all those kinds of things, we have a bunch of futuristic techs and patents in the game that could change things, things like teleportation for example changes the way the map works. But also one of the nice things about Mars is that there’s the assumption that you’re going to have to support your own people, you have to find a way to protect them, to feed them and keep them alive. There’s an element that you might be making some of the really expensive resources, your electronics, your chemicals or whatever but if you’ve fallen behind the life support curve you can end up going into so much debt that someone can buy you out. Events also tie into the Martian landscape that really shake up the market things like dust storms and solar flares. We’re trying to integrate as much Martian flavour as we can.”
Since capitalism is your warzone and the real-time markets are your battlefield, Offworld requires different strategies than most RTS games. It’s not about building the largest army or racing to the end of a tech tree. Offworld requires you to think about the resources you have and how you can use them to maximise your profits while keeping your opponents’ low.
“The game is different,” says Johnson. “It’s map-based, but it’s also market-based. A lot of the conflict happens inside of the market. You might have a very good supply of water. If the price is good, you can sell the water to make a lot of money, but you might be better off holding onto that water and making sure the price stays high to prevent your opponent from being able to buy water for cheap.
No fightin’, see? There’s not even any unit building – just bases, and market manipulation. What a great concept, in theory. Of course, the great test is to then making money-juggling and corporate espionage as exciting as blowing up tanks, but if this is quick and punchy enough about that stuff I daresay it can pull it off.
I’m relieved to hear that the spread of resources will be random each game, so it won’t be a matter of rote-learning a precise strategy that you have to enact within the first minute of a match or it’s all over.
“We don’t want to develop this game in a vacuum. In fact, we believe that players understand games often much better than their designers do,” [Johnson] says in the video. “We’ve been playing Offworld for a long time, we’ve been having a lot of fun with it, but we feel like there’s no way we’ll be able to bring it to the next level until we’re able to see what happens once players out in the wild start playing it.”
Offworld Trading Company is the economic real-time strategy game from Civ IV designer Soren Johnson and his new company, Mohawk Games. It has been shrouded for a while now. Not that no one’s been able to play it or talk about it. On the contrary. Early builds have been circulating and the people who’ve played them have been very vocal describing the experience. But no one has posted videos or screenshots. Why? Because they were asked not to. It was easy to imagine some sort of hideous Frankenstein monster placeholder graphics that developer Mohawk Games didn’t want us to see.
But now the shroud has been lifted, with screenshots and even a video on the official site. And I’m delighted to say that — surprise! — it’s an absolutely lovely game, clean and simple, with a shiny but quaint hard sci-fi vibe. Well played, Mohawk Games.
In Offworld Trading Company, military action is a distant third priority behind the exploitation of Martian resources and the new markets based on them. The colonial setting, and the thoughtful way that Johnson approaches it, makes OTC into a study of capitalism unhinged from Earthly regulation. It’s as much thought experiment as game, and equally enticing as both.
The most efficient way to crush your enemies–excuse me, yourcompetition–is simply to outcompete them. Whereas most RTSs top out at just three gatherable resources, OTC offers 13, ranging from energy and oxygen, to raw metal ores, to food and refined chemicals. If you produce any of these in abundance, the market price will crash. If nobody acts to produce them, prices shoot up–and then think of poor Benny, won’t you, with his five kids to feed.