I have been designing video games for 15 years. I got my start at Firaxis Games in 2000, working as a designer/programmer on Civilization 3. I was the lead designer of Civilization 4 and also wrote most of the game and AI code. I founded Mohawk Games in 2013 as a studio dedicated to making high-quality and innovative strategy games. Our first game, Offworld Trading Company, came out on Steam Early Access in February. It is an economic RTS set on Mars, and you can read more about it at http://offworldgame.com.




Finally, here is a peek at one of my board game shelves: https://twitter.com/SorenJohnson/status/576372877764796416

Comments: 983 • Responses: 100  • Date: 

dwhee388 karma

What do you think about Civilization 5's "one-unit-per-tile" mechanic? Do you think it's possible to have a middle-ground between this and Civilization 4's "stacks of doom?"

SorenJohnsonMohawk409 karma

I am very glad they tried it as it was certainly on my short-list of ideas for Civ that hadn't been done yet. Obviously, 1UPT creates some serious AI challenges, so I think your opinion about the mechanic is largely colored by how important a competitive AI is to you. (A lot of Civ players just want to walk their way through history and don't even like fighting wars.) I will say that I am very curious about what happens to the mechanic in future iterations of the series.

Deggit453 karma

I think Civ5 shows why you cannot have military strategy and military tactics in the same game. (Here "tactics" is things like Napoleon outmaneuvering the enemy at Austerlitz, and "strategy" is things like the USSR building the right tanks for years before Germany invaded.)

To see why they are incompatible consider a case where your civ is invaded by a much larger AI.

If a small group of units can hold off an arbitrarily large enemy using the right maneuevers and tactics (Civ5) then there's little point to all the infrastructural effort the AI put in to build his large army.

Conversely, if 30 units always beat 10 units (Civ3&4), then there's not much point to modeling all the maneuvering on the battlefield because even the most gifted tactician can't change the outcome.

In other words one of these factors will always dominate. If strategy can beat tactics then by definition tactics cannot beat strategy.

edit: to restate that better: in a game where strategy reliably beats tactics, that necessarily means tactics reliably loses to strategy.

It comes down to asking, which is more relevant to civ as a game genre, strategy or tactics? And I think the answer is clearly strategy. The military subsystem interacts with the rest of the game in strategic terms. It's all about opportunity costs, building a unit means not building a temple or lab, researching a military tech means not researching an infrastructure technology and so on. The stack of doom is a natural phenomenon and the only "problem" is it took too many clicks to manage compared to the gameplay relevance of what was in each stack. The answer was to simply make stacks an explicit gameplay element - "armies" would absorb "units" as you built them and you would only have to think about 5-10 "armies" on your map at a time. I think Civ5 went in the wrong direction. Tactics dominate and the strategic tradeoffs become less relevant.

Civilization series is ultimately a game about producing things... units, buildings, cities, technologies. The game is about snowballing your capacity to produce and prosper. A too-tactical focus takes away the whole point of the game. Playing battlefield general is fun, but when I play a civ game I want my civ to rise or fall because of the broad opportunity tradeoffs I made that define my civ's "character." I don't want to be able to battlefield-micromanage my way out of a war that I should lose because I didn't do like Stalin and order tanks built 10 years ago.

edit2: A lot of people have suggested examples of games with a strategy overview screen and separate "tactical" screen or simulation for resolving battles. The application of my point here is, the easier it is for a small army to beat a large army in the "tactical screen", the less the size of the armies ultimately matters on the "strategy screen" level. The more reliably tactics can beat strategy, the less strategy matters and vice versa. For example if you have some maneuver or army-composition tactic that you know will reliably run circles around even a much larger AI enemy, then by virtue of that very fact you start to care less about outproducing / outrecruiting the AI because you know you can beat the AI at the tactical level instead of the strategic level. This is why a tradeoff between strategy and tactics is inevitable.

SorenJohnsonMohawk151 karma

I think that was a very good analysis.

Marquis95345 karma

I have 1 questions.

  1. How does it feel knowing that Civ4, the project where you was the boss, has the best title song ever made for games?

Baba yetu is such a beautiful song.

SorenJohnsonMohawk486 karma

Music is a big passion of mine, so I am unbelievably happy that Baba Yetu became such a phenomenon and won a Grammy and was written by my college roommate/buddy Chris Tin. It's just unbelievable, really. (I am also very happy that the first video game Grammy went to a STRATEGY GAME! Take that, rest of the industry!)

christophertin309 karma

Hey Soren! Do you ever pick up the cello and play these days? :)

SorenJohnsonMohawk159 karma

Hi Chris! Every once in a while - wish I did it more often or had an orchestra to play with... definitely miss making music.

suaveitguy266 karma

What is Sid Meier really like?

SorenJohnsonMohawk467 karma

Sid is awesome. First of all, unlike a lot of well-known veteran developers, Sid prefers to keep his hands dirty and spends most his time doing what he has always done - writing code. He was always very supportive of my work when I was at Firaxis and is just a very nice person overall... BUT I should say that he also has a wicked sense of humor that doesn't necessarily come out too often (he's just too nice) but I've seen glimpses of over the years. A lot of that humor goes into his games, I think.

DeftMunky167 karma

Why is there still nighttime in Offworld? This is not the guy in the next office. Not at all.

SorenJohnsonMohawk132 karma

Basically because I love squeaky wheels.

Frajer153 karma

why did you name your company Mohawk?

SorenJohnsonMohawk331 karma

So, I lost a bet back in college, and the cost was that I had to shave my head. Naturally, since I had to shave my head anyway, I thought it might be fun to try a mohawk for a few days.

Years later, I needed a picture on my Twitter account (https://twitter.com/SorenJohnson), so I used one from shortly after cut. Over time, people started to associate that image with me, so much so that they would ask me at GDC where was my mohawk?!?

Once it was time to name the company, we considered a lot of options, but Mohawk seemed like a great name because I already had that association and - more importantly - it also just seemed like a great name for a game company. One top of that, Dorian Newcomb, our VP and Art Director is part Mohawk by ancestry, so that sort of sealed the deal.

Eraser1024118 karma

Thank you for hours and hours and hours of fun with Civilization 4. Are you planning to get back some day to making civ-like games?

SorenJohnsonMohawk109 karma

Seriously, though, I love 4X games, and history is my favorite subject, but I have nothing to announce. :)

SorenJohnsonMohawk15 karma

I love history-based games. Indeed, making a sci-fi game like Offworld is kind of a big exception for me.

abortionsforall113 karma

One feature I wish Civ games had was a better start seed mechanic. I'm always tempted to keep reloading for a better initial seed, which leads to using a mod to exploring the whole map and picking the best spot to speed things up, which leads to using a mod to make a perfect start location.

Maybe let the player design the starting plot when customizing a ciz? Give so many points to spend and have bonuses/rivers cost so many points? Just having starting plot point customiztion as a selectable option would probably let me better restrain myself and prolong game life.

SorenJohnsonMohawk121 karma

That's... actually a pretty interesting idea, and I have heard a lot of ideas about Civ, so take that as a compliment!

daphan86 karma

As a video game designer you probably have seen hundreds of video games, what video games do you wish you played a part in creating?

Also, what is your opinion on free to play games that have micro transactions versus buy to play games and subscription games? Which model do you personally think is better?

SorenJohnsonMohawk212 karma

In recent years, the games which have impressed me the most are Spelunky; Papers, Please; Crusader Kings 2; Mark of the Ninja; FTL; Unity of Command; and Brothers. Of those, CK2 is probably the only one I wish I had made. :)

I wrote up my general thoughts on how free-to-play is changing games here: http://www.designer-notes.com/?p=372 The upside is that as the AAA publishers are forced to embrace microtransactions (and thus, screwing up their games), smaller studios like Mohawk can just focus on making a great, uncompromised with a single price, which is hitting a market that the AAA pubs are now ignoring.

keith-burgun60 karma

Hey Soren! I've been enjoying Offworld. I'm wondering what measures have you been taking to deal with the "starting randomness"?

In a multiplayer setting in particular, it seems like there's going to some inequality in terms of surrounding nearby resources for each player. I get that there inherently has to be at least asymmetry in this, otherwise the trading aspect doesn't really work, but asymmetry and inequality are two different things. I like that I start with different resources than another guy, but I don't like starting with fewer (or with the same amount of a less-useful resource). In a sort of "social" setting, this might be OK, kind of in a Cosmic Encounter sort of way. I can imagine the game being a fun social game if everyone was playing in the same room on tablets or something. But for an online multiplayer game I feel like having any of that kind of starting inequality isn't acceptable. I personally am not sure how you would go about fixing this problem - but perhaps you don't even consider it a problem, I'm not sure.

SorenJohnsonMohawk92 karma

In Offworld, you get to choose your starting location, so you aren't stuck with a bad starting location as you would be in a Civ game. Instead, you have a timed decision to decide whether you should found now or keep looking for a better spot. Of course, sometimes people find great locations very early and that can be a little unbalancing, so we added some bonuses for founding later - basically, an extra claim and a shorter initial cooldown on the black market.

s-c53 karma

Hey!

Offworld seems like an incredibly cool game.

1- How are you going to foster multiplayer growth and lock in a competitive scene? Is a competitive scene even necessary for the game's health and longevity?

2- How do I convince my friends (who aren't as interested in business) to play the darn game?!

3- Is Offworld comparable to AOE?

SorenJohnsonMohawk57 karma

1) I would love, love, love to see a competitive scene emerge for Offworld. Via Twitch, I already have a sense of who the best players currently are (such as Zultar or PBHead), and I am hoping more people will emerge to challenge them. Hopefully, Tachyon will make that community more robust.

2) Good question - have you shown them videos or streams of people having fun?

3) AOE is one of my biggest influence. Indeed, you could say that Offworld is a game just about the Market building mechanic (where you can trade food, stone, wood for gold and the prices are dynamic and global) from AOE.

MindlessMe1344 karma

Hey Soren! First off thanks for doing this AMA for all of the fans out there. Just had a few questions for you to answer, if possible.

1) When did you first realize that you wanted to depart from the normal combat stlye RTS and go with a fast paced economic RTS?

2) What factors led to the decision to release the game into Early Access instead of just releasing the finished product?

3) Overall, has it been a positive or negative experience dealing with Early Access?

Thanks again for doing the AMA and we hope to see you around!

SorenJohnsonMohawk79 karma

1) My inspiration for Offworld comes from many games in my past that had interesting bits of economic gameplay (Belter, M.U.L.E., Railroad Tycoon, Age of Kings' market) as well as the fact that I loved the RTS format but was somewhat bored by the combat-based RTS's which are all more similar than they are different.

2) The number one reason we went to Early Access is to get feedback on the game. For example, I often check out Twitch to see who is playing the game, either to just observe them quietly or to actually jump into their games in multiplayer. Sometimes, I'll end up on a Skype call with players to discuss what they think of the current balance and what we can improve. I believe the game design has improved already just based on one month of feedback. (The team knows that I wanted to go up on Early Access last summer, but I admit that would have been too early...)

3) Early Access has been a very positive experience overall. A+++++ Would sell to again!

SorenJohnsonMohawk42 karma

Thanks for reading, everyone! I'm going to have to take off, but I enjoyed answering all these questions. I will come back tomorrow to try to answer some of the top level questions I missed!

celebdor39 karma

Is there going to be Linux support for Offworld Trading Company?

SorenJohnsonMohawk39 karma

It's something we are considering.

tallandlanky37 karma

Why is Gandhi such a dick?

SorenJohnsonMohawk88 karma

I think because no one expects Gandhi to be less than a saint? (Actually, I think there was a bug in one version that made him act psychotic? It's sort of a running joke now...)

not_a-bot28 karma

It seems to me that the advancements in AI didn't keep pace for example with the advancements in graphics. (Obviously AI is not easy) Are there some advancements in AI that are really substantial compared to AI years ago?

SorenJohnsonMohawk44 karma

Most game AI is really pretty basic - if you took a look at my Civ4 AI, the only real "technique" you would find is A*. The Offworld AI doesn't even have that! Instead, I try to write fairly simple functions that help the AI make decisions based on the current game state. The problem with using more advanced techniques is that you lose control of WHY the AI is making the decisions it is making. I would much rather have an AI perform poorly but I know why than have an AI perform well but the reason is hard to grasp (because it's using a very complicated, somewhat unpredictable AI technique). If you don't know why your AI is working, it could suddenly stop working once you make a small rule change to the game, and then you are in big trouble.

Having said that, keep in mind that my thoughts are about AI for strategy games. I think the general graphic-quality-outstrip-game-depth issue is a big problem for our industry.

WildWeazel26 karma

Hey Soren! Congrats on the Offworld launch!

My questions are all pretty retro since I know of you from the Firaxis days.

What was it like going from a programmer on Civ3 to lead designer for Civ4? Was that your first technical leadership role and if so how did you learn the ropes?

With you on OTC and Jon Shafer on At The Gates, are there any other Firaxians making games on their own?

Can you tell us anything about the Civ3 AI that Civfanatics haven't already deciphered? I known it's a long shot.

I recall you working on some kind of web based strategy game prototype back in the Civ days, whatever happened with that and did it influence any of your later games?

You should definitely check out Civcraft sometime. You know, for research.

SorenJohnsonMohawk32 karma

I was also the co-designer of Civ 3, a role that I sort of worked myself into as I took on more and more gameplay code responsibilities, so I did have practice for Civ4. The most important part of that experience was just seeing the response to the initial release of Civ3 and then going through multiple patch processes to improve it.

We are co-located in our office with Oxide Games, which is making a sci-fi RTS called Ashes of the Singularity, and the core of their team was the core of the Civ5 engine team, which was - of course - a beautiful game, so expect Ashes to look incredible. (Indeed, their company's primary focus is the Nitrous strategy game engine, with which Ashes is being built.)

Yeah, I spent a year working on Strategy Station although there is only bits and scraps of that project lying around the Web now. It was built to focus on asynchronous strategy gaming from multiple devices, an idea I still want to try someday.

zombies123826 karma

Hello Soren! Currently playing Civ as it stands! Anyway I did a personal year of game development and found out that it is much harder/stressful than it appears. How did you cope with the schedules or did you enjoy the entire process of making it a living?

SorenJohnsonMohawk56 karma

I would making video games, but the process is indeed very stressful. I also hate dealing with schedules, much the chagrin of my various producers. (Somehow, I always get more energy working on stuff I'm not supposed to be working on.)

I think the trick is making sure that your time and work is not wasted, and the best way to do that is to make sure you expose your game to other people as soon as possible so that you learn quickly what your game actually is instead of what you think it is.

zombies12388 karma

At the studios you worked at how do you feel they helped you in terms of stress? Do what they allow you to do your own various projects like you have stated or do you do that often in your free time?

SorenJohnsonMohawk8 karma

When I've worked at companies, it's usually not ok to work on personal projects. Is that what you meant?

marcee26 karma

Hi! Fellow dev here, great to see you making an AMA. I have many questions, so let's see:

  • Who are the designers that you'd absolutely love to have in your podcast someday?
  • What are your thoughts on the recent piece by Bogost on system-centered games as opposed to character-driven ones? (This one: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/03/video-games-are-better-without-characters/387556/)
  • How do you see the tensions towards free to play as a model for games going forward? Do you see it reaching staples of the traditional core market in a significant way?
  • What mobile game are you currently playing?
  • What are your thoughts on the evolution of the developer-player relationship in light of the arrival of new ways to surface games (streams, youtubers...) and interact (social media, mainly)? What do you think is the impact of the recent turbulence in that space?

Thanks! And best of luck with Offworld!

SorenJohnsonMohawk32 karma

I have a bunch of podcasts stocked up with great designers (Brian Reynolds, Bruce Shelley, George Fan, Chris Avellone, Jamie Cheng, Brad Muir, Nels Anderson...), so I've been able to speak to everyone I'd like to so far. Of course, at some point, I'll need to do one with Sid. Probably a three-parter!

I was just reading Clint Hocking's response to Bogost piece yesterday and pondering my own response to the response. I am aligned with Bogost's general perspective that games are best at doing systems. HOWEVER, I actually think one of the biggest problems with games like Civ and SimCity is that they DO NOT put you in the place of a person, which means you are faced with all sorts of absurd situations (when you can be essentially the unchallenged dictator of a civilization for 6,000 years). Crusader Kings is the game that points the way forward here.

I wish I was playing more mobile games. I love the format but am somewhat disappointed by the games which have appeared. Business model affects game design, and - in this case - business model has basically ruined game design. I am looking forward to playing Auro and Starships. Choice of Robots was very interesting.

SorenJohnsonMohawk12 karma

What do you mean by turbulence?

asianwaste26 karma

Were you there while Leonard Nimoy read all of the Civ 4 Science quotes? If so, how many takes did he have to do for Sputnik?

SorenJohnsonMohawk41 karma

I was on the phone when he was doing the recording (he was doing it from Tahoe). I wish I had the chance to meet him in person, but he did a great job. I think we had to do one extra session for redos, but he got a lot of it right the first time. (And I enjoyed getting him to read the pig iron lyric.) He definitely seemed like a pro. My strongest memory of it was how many time we got him to say "Civilization" for the intro speech (which was, btw, the same one from Civ1) because we couldn't quite get the inflection right. Someone at Firaxis later took all of these different versions of Nimoy saying "Civilization" and turned it into a great techno remix although I'm afraid it's probably been lost to time (not to mention dubious legality).

A_BURLAP_THONG24 karma

Hi Soren! I have a couple questions about the making of CivIV, a game that I still play regularly:

  • I really dug the callbacks to CivI (the opening narration, selected musical themes). Were these put in as sort of an Easter Egg to longtime fans of the series?

  • Whose job was it to find all those technology quotes, and how did you decide on Leonard Nimoy as the narrator?

SorenJohnsonMohawk26 karma

yes, we indeed used the opening narration from Civ1 as a sort of callback/Easter egg for longtime fans of the series. Glad you noticed - only a few people did. (Btw, did you notice a similar callback to Civ2 in the printed manual?)

It was a team effort to come up with all of the technology quotes. I think we had a spreadsheet with all of the technologies, and everyone who had an idea for a good quote would just add it to the list, and then we made a final decision when we got close to recording.

We chose Nimoy because he seemed like a perfect choice for both our audience and the content itself (quote about science). We were happy with how positive everyone responded to his work as often the use of well-known actors as voice talent is sort of a waste.

allthegoodweretaken21 karma

Hi! Thank you for this AMA, i love your games!

My name is Søren too. My question is: are your name actually "Soren" or are you just not using "ø"? :)

SorenJohnsonMohawk28 karma

Officially, I am just "Soren" as the US system (not to mention my keyboard) doesn't really support that letter. I am named after my great-grandfather who immigrated from Norway and then, as was typical, changed his name to Sam. I am pretty sure he had a ø.

mm0421 karma

What advice would you give to people who wish to become strategy/4X-game designers? What to study in college, how to get into the industry, that kind of thing.

SorenJohnsonMohawk38 karma

I wrote a general How to Become a Game Designer post awhile ago: http://www.designer-notes.com/?p=455 although it doesn't really address how to get into the industry. The exciting thing about right now is that there is really no excuse for not making a game yourself. Download Unity and start something up, or start working on a mod for a well-known franchise like Civ or Total War. Even if your work is not a huge success, it will make you stand out when applying to companies.

crasher_pt20 karma

YOU ARE A GOD

Do you know Civ 4 mods? What do you think of Rhys and Fall? A New Dawn? Realism Invictus? Caveman2Cosmos? Are they following designs you once rejected? If so why?

Thanks for making Civ 4.

SorenJohnsonMohawk26 karma

The mods I thought were most notable for Civ4 were Rhys and Fall, Fall from Heaven, Planetfall, and Dune. Rhys was particularly interesting for me because it was able to explore historical issues that were too tricky to fit into a mainstream Civ release.

Athole20 karma

Do you think that you could make a real successor to Alpha Centauri? Civ:BE was pretty good, but I still prefer SMAC and SMAX.

SorenJohnsonMohawk30 karma

I like SMAC/X a lot, and I borrowed a number of ideas for Civ4. I haven't played BE enough to give a verdict (nor would I probably do that publicly).

shal517 karma

  1. What's the most important skill in game design?
  2. When did you realize you wanted to make games?

SorenJohnsonMohawk33 karma

1) The most important skill is humility, which in this context means that you can focus on how other people experience the game instead of what you imagine it is.

2) I programmed games when I was a kid, so it was clear pretty early. Having said, that I thought I was going to be a chemistry major because I didn't know what "computer science" meant until I went to school. The path to game development was a lot more murky back in the '90s.

BreadProduct17 karma

What's a day working on Offworld Trading Company like?

SorenJohnsonMohawk23 karma

Everyday is different. I keep my own task list of things I need to address, which usually comes from direct feedback from the team or the forums or my own experience, so I usually try to handle as many of those things as I can. Right now, I am rewriting the campaign, which is a multi-day task. If other, er, Mohawks are reading, they should reply as well.

tenpn16 karma

Hey Soren,

I've seen and heard you say several times that you wrote "most of the gameplay and AI code" in Civ 4, as well as designing it. Not doubting you, but that sounds incredible to me. Did you not have a team? How did you find the time? What were the advantages and challenges of working in this way? Would you do it again?

SorenJohnsonMohawk25 karma

There was a core team of about 5 programmers for Civ4, who handled everything from the graphics to the UI to networking to general systems (like modding, load/save, localization, etc.) I didn't get involved with much of this code (although I often can't stop myself from messing around with the UI). What I wrote was the core code that controlled the game rules and AI. So, if you look at the SDK, the main classes which are "mine" are Player/AI, City/AI, Team/AI, Unit/AI, Map, Tile, etc. The only real gameplay code that I didn't write were the map scripts, which were written by Bob "Sirian" Thomas.

I love working this way as I am able to try out my design ideas immediately because I just write them myself. Indeed, a lot of my ideas the team never sees because I try them out myself and kill them if they are obviously not fun. The alternative of writing up a design doc and having a bunch of meetings to make sure everyone know what I want (even if I'm not 100% sure myself!) sounds like not much fun. It's the way I'm writing Offworld, and I will probably always write my games this way.

suaveitguy14 karma

I also did a history undergrad. What was the transition to a CS Masters' like? Any one skeptical you could go from one to the other?

SorenJohnsonMohawk30 karma

I actually was a CS/history double-major all through college and only dropped the CS major so I could graduate a quarter early (allowing me to go work on Civ3!). I actually tried to combine the two while in school - my CS senior project was the same as my history honors thesis (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6EedPhe_2HTdE1HWHhTd0U1Znc/view?usp=sharing). Everyone was actually very supportive since Stanford encourages cross-disciplinary work.

SaltTM13 karma

Some offworld specific questions:

  1. When will the game be stable enough for users to enable replays, every game disables replays because of lag, but as a noob learning the game, replays would be extremely beneficial to learning how to play the game.

  2. Will there ever be a way to see active games in progress in OWTC?

  3. Why the 35-40 price point for early access? I feel like for an rts game, it hurts the population of testers a lot. Other genre's I could understand that a higher price would warrant better feedback, but this isn't your casual game that anyone can just hop in in my opinion. I feel like you actually have to think about the feedback you give in a game like OWTC, plus I'd kill for an active 1k player base during the early access. Maybe a sale?

SorenJohnsonMohawk12 karma

  1. I don't actually think that replay affects lag since it is saved locally. I have played games with it on and off and haven't seen the difference. Having said that, the new patch (just released!) has huge network optimizations, so I am hoping that lag is going to be improved significantly in general.

  2. We'd liked to show how many games are active and how many players are in games.

  3. As you said, this isn't a casual game, so we don't really want people to jump in who aren't generally interested in RTS or economic games while it is still not polished. (The tutorial is just a placeholder, for example.) Thus, the price point helps ensure that the players who buy are committed and have thought through their purchase decision. We are honored by everyone who buys the game, but we also don't want people to have a bad experience if they don't have the right background for the game. If we wanted to sell more copies, we could, but that's not our priority right now.

enenra6 karma

Regarding #3 - Does that mean you guys plan on reducing the price for a future release version (or even earlier, if you feel like enough progress has been made)?

SorenJohnsonMohawk5 karma

$40 is going to be our final price. If you need a sale price, wishlist Offworld, and you'll be notified when it is on sale.

TheInternator12 karma

What advice do you have for the kids out there that dream of making video games, yet feel they aren't smart enough? Or for anyone, for that matter, who dreams about it but hasn't started.

SorenJohnsonMohawk37 karma

I don't think "smart" is a good metric to define oneself. I was often called smart growing up as I tended to get good grades, got into a good college, etc, but I would also be absolutely terrible at the vast majority of activities and careers. Indeed, even in the GAMES INDUSTRY, I think I would be mediocre to bad at 90% of the jobs. I am terrible at art, can't create a believable story to save my life, am pretty bad at graphics programming, and would bankrupt a company as a producer. Futhermore, I don't think I would even be a good game designer if I had to make MMOs, sports games, fighting games, platformers, shooters, and so on. I am good at making strategy games, and I am very lucky I got to start my career on a big one.

All of the above is a long-winded way of saying, don't put yourself down. Instead, try to find the thing that you can do easily with which other people struggle. Focus on that. Hopefully, it's something that is useful for making a game.

KimmoS12 karma

I have a long lasting hate/love (mostly hate though) relationship with the Civilization series, starting with the first one on my Amiga. I loved the Culture mechanic and how it worked in Civ4, especially being able to capture cities without firing a single shot. Shame they done away with it in Civ5.

Do you have any regrets concerning Civ4, anything you wanted to include but it didn't work/there wasn't time or resources/other reasons?

SorenJohnsonMohawk24 karma

I was pretty happy with Civ4 when it was released - I pretty much got everything I wanted into that game. Having said that, I think that some of the core tenets of Civ are problematic for making a tight, well-balanced strategy game, which are clear in Civ4 as well as all the other games of the series. If nothing else, the game has the best theme ever, which goes a long ways. As a designer, your most important job is to just not screw that part up.

KimmoS15 karma

Thank you for the reply!

I think that some of the core tenets of Civ are problematic for making a tight, well-balanced strategy game,

Im sure a bunch of us would be grateful if you could elaborate on this? ;-)

SorenJohnsonMohawk25 karma

Basically, the game has such sprawl - how can you balance a 500 turn game so that when modern units appear, the game is still meaningful with a full map and well-developed cities. The game is just too long for the core mechanics.

tobyps11 karma

Just wanted you to know that Civ 4 is my favorite game of all time and so I'll definitely have to check out your new game.

That being said... I've been trying to understand the Civ 4 SDK so I can mod it and I have one question: why did you guys barely comment any of the code?!

SorenJohnsonMohawk10 karma

Haha, sorry! Most of the game code was written by myself, so I guess I didn't feel the need to comment it. Apologies!

top_koala10 karma

Do you have a favorite tech quote?

SorenJohnsonMohawk23 karma

"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." - Oscar Wilde

Certainly sums up our modern age.

chuzztastic9 karma

Looking at your board game shelf, it seems like board games may have influenced Offworld. If so, which board games and how?

SorenJohnsonMohawk13 karma

I LOVE board games. The biggest ones that have influenced Offworld are Belter, Settlers of Catan, Agricola, and Power Grid.

TickleSurprise9 karma

Did you also program for sins of a solar empire (probably my favorite RTS) while working with Stardock? Off-world is sick, any reason for making the AI so damn brutal? I cant even beat the first missions in the campaign.

SorenJohnsonMohawk8 karma

How does the AI beat you? I may have gone overboard with it... (although it certainly has its weaknesses)

I didn't work on Sins, which is a great game for sure.

maskedmartyr9 karma

Is mod support going to be a prime development focus for any future games in your studio? Civ4 still blows everything out of the water a decade later.

SorenJohnsonMohawk7 karma

Yes, mod development is still very close to my heart, so it is going to be a major focus for our studio. I am very excited to try out the Steamworks tools for mod support and to hear that they are moving towards allowing players to sell mods. In some sense, however, we need to get our feet under us first as a studio with Offworld before we can really do some radical stuff with modding, but it's always been my favorite part of game development.

suaveitguy9 karma

Is there a potential for more narrative in video games? e.g. Monkey Island, but fuller and more robust? I am not a big gamer, but my understanding is that there isn't too much of that out there - a few exceptions?

SorenJohnsonMohawk18 karma

That's a big question, so I'm not quite sure how to tackle it. I did do a post once on the question of narratives in games (http://www.designer-notes.com/?p=459) - short version is that setting and character and tone is wonderful but narrative itself is limiting. Having said that, there is interesting work being done. Check out Papers, Please or Firewatch (by the guys who made the first season of The Walking Dead).

Nickwojo5319 karma

Hi Soren! I just want to say I love Offworld Trading Company and Civ 4, they are both very well done and incredibly fun to play! So my question is, do you have any plans to make games in Offworld Trading Company last longer? I feel like the "Getting Started" part of a game - "making good money" parts take a decent amount of time. But once an AI buys one stock, the clock starts ticking and companies start dropping like flies. It just seems like once the game starts getting good, and everyone finds their niche, it's over.

SorenJohnsonMohawk8 karma

Have you tried the Marathon Mode? That's my first stab at encouraging longer games, but the balance is tricky so if prices go up too fast in that version, the game could potentially end faster. Would love feedback on that mode.

Also, the Campaign is meant to create a long-term experience, and I am still putting a lot of work into that.

nictheuNICorn8 karma

I understand that you no longer work at Firaxis, but since Firaxis mentioned the "one third" rule some time ago about creating sequels for games, which "one third" do you believe should be kept, improved and replaced for Civ VI as a player?

SorenJohnsonMohawk19 karma

That's a very good question which I probably shouldn't answer! :)

JChubacca8 karma

How would you describe your relationship with Chris Tin?

SorenJohnsonMohawk8 karma

Chris is great - he's very talented and wonderful to work with. Plus, I was his friend back before either of us had done anything, and since we both helped each other out at crucial points in our careers, we will always have a strong connection. Wish he lived closer!

Slimerbacca8 karma

Any chance of civilization 4 being on the ipad? I want to go back!!!

SorenJohnsonMohawk10 karma

Civ4 on the iPad sounds like fun! If I were to make TBS games again, I would definitely think about tablets (although the mobile market is such a disaster that I would be making them as PC games first, I'm afraid).

tucumano1 karma

Civ Revolutions, while simplified, is a decent entry in the series.

SorenJohnsonMohawk4 karma

Indeed, Civ Rev may be the tightest, most elegant Civ game ever made.

ScatmanDosh7 karma

What do you think of the paradox grand strategy titles? Games such as Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron. Personally, I absolutely love the civilization games because it's always fresh, but the depth and historic premise are why I like Paradox.

SorenJohnsonMohawk18 karma

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Paradox, and I think Crusader Kings 2 is one of the most important achievements in video game history. Having said that, I do feel like their games have a little too much stuff in them and could use a little editing, but that's perhaps a question of taste. I sometimes imagine making a stripped-down version of CK that focused primarily on just the dynasties and people without as much of the combat or other map-based stuff.

isitnaptimeyet166 karma

Do you have a secret for scoring better than Simon Bolivar at the end of a Beyond the Sword game?

SorenJohnsonMohawk14 karma

Is Bolivar the highest level? I'm afraid I didn't spend a great deal of time thinking about the Dan Quayle screen (as we called it internally)

Grizzled_Veteran6 karma

First off, I am a huge fan of your work. When I think of my all-time favorite games, yours are nearly always at the top of the list. Thank you so much for doing what you do.

Secondly, given the climate of the industry, is game design a discipline that you would encourage others to get into? In terms of compensation, work-life balance and the future of the industry?

Lastly - how much experience would you require someone to have within the industry to even consider hiring them at Mohawk?

SorenJohnsonMohawk10 karma

Thanks for the kind words. I love my job and assume that others would love it to. I usually encourage aspiring designers to learn to code as that's a huge difference maker for employers. As for work-life balance, we keep a regular 40-hour week at Mohawk although I know that some people put more time in because they are passionate about Offworld. Compensation in the industry is better than average for an artist and worse than average for a programmer (compared to other industries). Our average time in the industry at Mohawk is about 10 years; we are able to make Offworld with a small team because we are veterans. I would recommend aspiring developers who need the stability of a job to at least cut their teeth at a large studio.

Remcy6 karma

What are the two most important lessons you've learned during your career?

SorenJohnsonMohawk15 karma

1) Players understand your game better than you do. 2) The final game mechanic is always far simpler than your first idea.

Yetkinler6 karma

Do you ever find yourself with the "one more turn" metality like other Civ players during your games? What's the longest you've ever played your civ game, or any game?

SorenJohnsonMohawk8 karma

I can definitely still get that one-more-turn feel and have spent many nights that turned into mornings with the game!

Zorak50006 karma

Question here:

Are your words backed with NUCLEAR WEAPONS?

SorenJohnsonMohawk6 karma

Absolutely

Jarnagua6 karma

Do you know Tabitha Soren?

SorenJohnsonMohawk6 karma

I saw her speak once in college! Don't think that counts... I have never met another Soren in person, btw.

rabbitlion6 karma

What changes are planned for OTC from now until the actual release? Just tweaks and fixes or any new exciting features?

SorenJohnsonMohawk11 karma

Tachyon integration will be a huge deal because then we will have matchmaking and rankings and leaderboards and a bunch of stuff.

I am making big changes with the Campaign right now so that it will feel more like running a single corporation (with a cash flow and balance sheet and persistent stock price and so on) over multiple sessions.

We have a big internal list of features we want to tackle, but we don't want to promise anything that we don't know for sure that we will be able to deliver.

Also, I am expecting a lot of new features will be driven by feedback from the Early Access community. The new Seven Days mode is directly a result of their feedback (and is now influencing the campaign rewrite).

agitat0r5 karma

Soren, thanks for making what's still my favorite game of all time, Civ IV. I've spent so much time with that game. Thank you!!

A question:

I'm a turn based strategy kinda guy, and to me Civ IV BTS is pretty much perfect. It's interesting in a sort of board-game-y way that the game holds up so well after all these years. However, if you were tasked with updating it, or make a 2015 version of the game, taking into consideration new cpus etc, would you change anything? What?

SorenJohnsonMohawk14 karma

Thanks for the kind words. I don't think I would change anything significant about Civ4 as it is now. Indeed, if I were to make another 4X history game, I would try to start over from scratch as much as possible.

TwelfthRed5 karma

In Civ IV, what AI did you feel lived up the most to their historical counterpart? Also, you have given me an unrelenting hatred towards Montezuma.

SorenJohnsonMohawk11 karma

Well, there has to be a bad guy! I'd say we got Tokugawa done well, but that was easy because all we had to do is make sure he didn't want to make trades. Making Isabella care a great deal about religion while Asoka favored Free Religion were also, I think, nice touches.

UberLambda5 karma

Heya! I'm a programmer and I'd like to jump in the gamedev train... I'd have some questions for you:

  • If you had to program a resource-hungry game without using some third-party engine, would you consider functional (maybe even reactive?) languages like lisps or Haskell, maybe with some C parts inbetween, to be ready for this?

  • Do you think that real-time code hotswapping is a possibility for a full-scale game during its development?

  • Now that machines and toolsets are getting faster and faster, do you think that language as low-level as C/C++ are to prefer to higher-level languages that could be ~5 times slower at runtime, but with which you can be much more profuctive? E.g. do you think that the developer's productivity is to sacrifice if a runtime speedup on the user's end can be made?

SorenJohnsonMohawk8 karma

  • What does resource-hungry mean? I don't have much experience with Lisp or Haskell.
  • I know that Klei uses Lua to enable real-time code manipulation.
  • I am generally in favor of making language and engine choices that enhance developers' productivity above all else. I will often write my code in ways that I know are not optimized for speed or size but are more flexible and readable because I know there is a high likelihood that I will have to revisit and change that code months in the future.

pastacat5 karma

How has working with Stardock been? I know that they are publishing the game, but what does that entail?

SorenJohnsonMohawk5 karma

Working with Stardock has been great. They are fully committed to making great strategy games, so selling Offworld to them was very easy. They handle the distribution, marketing, testing, and a bunch of other things for the game while we at Mohawk do the development (art, code, design, etc).

Hatlessspider4 karma

I started playing civilization at CivNet, and have played thousands of hours. I bought Civ 5 at launch and was appalled at some of the changes made and bugs and issues. Do you think that the issue with stacks of death could have been fixed a better way than by making one unit per tile?

SorenJohnsonMohawk4 karma

Both solutions have there own set of problems. As I think I mentioned below, the value of 1UPT kind of depends on the value of good AI to the player. Having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if someone comes up with a third way that is clearly better than either SoD or 1UPT.

zulbor4 karma

Is there a better way in Civ4 to win in the highest difficulty than praetorian-rush?

Never made it with any other tactic...

SorenJohnsonMohawk18 karma

heh, I'm not sure. I don't really try to play the AI at high difficulty levels because I'm sort of conflicted if I want to do well or if I want the AI to do well.

megazver4 karma

Any other big, fundamental-changing ideas you think would be worth trying in the Civ franchise, like 1UPT? (I agree with you that one needed to be tried, even if I don't quite think it works. Personally, I'd like to see a Civ game with army stacks and some simple, turn-based version of tactical combat on a separate map.)

SorenJohnsonMohawk12 karma

I think tactical combat on a separate map would be very hard to pull off because of the pacing issue. Indeed, perhaps the greatest innovation of Civ is that Sid slapped a tile-based strategic management game right on top of a tile-based tactical wargame. It doesn't always fit together, but it fits well enough!

As for other big ideas, I'm trying to focus on Offworld right now! :puts fingers in ears:

vortex3203 karma

What happened with Beyond Earth?

SorenJohnsonMohawk3 karma

I think there were a lot of interesting ideas in Beyond Earth. I haven't played it enough to give an actual verdict on it.

tfordp3 karma

When you were leading Civ 4, were the plans already drawn up for Warlords and BTS before development began, and was it necessary to code the game especially with that knowledge in mind?

SorenJohnsonMohawk4 karma

I didn't spend much time thinking about the expansions for Civ4 while working on it. In my mind, that was going to be someone else's problem, and I wanted to focus on just making the core game as good as possible. I think if you spend too much time thinking about the next part of the project, you'll get confused about what ideas should go in now or later.

bustanutmeow3 karma

Hi Soren, How do you go about making a good A.I. that would resemble a human? Is it possible at the moment to do that with the computational power we have available? or do you just have them scripted to a point of, If A happens then do B. And give them a few cheat bonuses?

SorenJohnsonMohawk12 karma

Having the AI respond like a human is more or less desirable depending on the game itself. For example, in the Civ games, you do NOT want the AI to be constantly checking with each other every turn to trade techs or to always try to knock down the top player, even if those are behaviors that a real human would do.

megazver3 karma

Dish dirt on Zynga!

Also, what did you think of Endless Legend?

SorenJohnsonMohawk7 karma

Actually, Zynga treated me very well, so I don't have any complaints.

I think Endless Legend is very fascinating. I'm not surprised they got a lot of mileage out of radically different faction. (As Tom Chick put it, they created multiple Chick Parabola within the game: http://www.designer-notes.com/?p=287)

Flawfinger3 karma

  • Which civ is your favorite to play as?

  • What is your favorite video game?

  • What can I do in civ 3 to make invasions easier?

SorenJohnsonMohawk5 karma

  • I don't really have a favorite Civ - I'd rather try out each on at least once.
  • My favorite video game is probably Sid's original Pirates (which I played on my Amiga 500). That game had astonishing scope for its time. I don't think there has ever been another game that was so far ahead of its contemporaries.

ricknewgate3 karma

What did you like the most about working at developing Civ IV?

SorenJohnsonMohawk3 karma

The best part of Civ4 was seeing the mods that the community developed for it; I love seeing how they extended the work that we did in ways I could never predict!

wargamer3 karma

I've played games like Merchant of Venus and Star Trader. I also noticed you're a board gamer. Was OTC inspired by either of those? And is there any chance of "backporting" OTC into a board game?

SorenJohnsonMohawk3 karma

Not specifically those, but it was influenced by plenty of other boards games (Acquire, Power Grid, Belter, Catan). I think a board game version of Offworld sounds cool!

pjaytycy2 karma

How much of your (and colleagues) current success as small-team / indie developers is based on your "fans" from previous work on big-budget titles?

I am trying to keep up with what you, Brian Reynolds, John Shafer, etc.. do, mostly because all of you worked on Civilization. I'd follow Phil Steinmeyer if he still developed games, due to what he did with Railroad Tycoon. However, there are probably many other developers doing very interesting things, which I will never hear about...

SorenJohnsonMohawk3 karma

I am very lucky that I got a small amount of notice from my work on the Civ series, for which I'll always be grateful. It is true that, without that, it would be unlikely that I would have been able to found my own game studio. I do believe that people following and supporting the developers they admire as the healthiest way for our industry to encourage innovation because then these developers have the leverage needed to pursue projects that major publishers wouldn't touch. (You should try pitching an economic RTS!)

Okichah2 karma

Are there good ways of telling the player about mechanics without spelling out a strategy for them?

SorenJohnsonMohawk3 karma

I try to describe my game rules in a very direct manner without suggesting a strategy. Indeed, often the strategy I assume is best is not actually best!

psi_entist2 karma

Hi Soren,

My question aims more at your implementation and coding of the games you have worked but, but specifically Civ4. It is said that a lot of Civ4 is written in Python. What was the choice for this versus a more traditional language for games like C++? Were you concerned about efficiency given that the game can get pretty computation heavy?

Thanks for doing this, it has been a very interesting read so far!

SorenJohnsonMohawk4 karma

Early on, we thought it might be useful to integrate a scripting language into the game for modding support (this was before we knew that we would be able to release the core C++ game code with the SDK). Our lead programmer (Mustafa Thamer) had experience with Python, so we went with that. Initially, it was intended to enable game triggers events (like with Civ2 or CtP), but we eventually extended it to cover other parts of the game to make them easily moddable, like map scripts and UI. (The UI was originally in C++, but our UI programmer, Pat Dawson, took the time to rewrite it in Python so that it could be modded.)

pbrand2 karma

Do you think that strategy/tactics games will fall to the wayside if VR like Oculus/Vive/Morpheus become dominant? They're my favorite genres and I can't really wrap my head around how they could be ported (to use that word loosely) to VR.

Alternatively: is Mohawk looking into VR, or will you be M&KB PC-only?

SorenJohnsonMohawk4 karma

I don't think anything that is a good game will disappear if VR becomes a big thing. New games and interfaces are ADDITIVE, not subtractive. Civ5 sold way more than any of its predecessors even in the age of mobile gaming.

We haven't really looked into VR as I don't think it's a good match for strategy games. (Where would the tooltips be? Wouldn't it just be easier to use a mouse/keyboard to control?)

ArkisVir2 karma

Where do 4x or Turn-based strategy games fit into the new paradigm of "quick matches" or sub 1-hour games, if at all?

SorenJohnsonMohawk8 karma

4X games don't fit into that paradigm, and I don't think people who play them want them too. I think that there should be games for all types of session lengths.

SickDick692 karma

Hey man, I loved civ 4 great game. I'm am engineering student right now and id be interested in some role in the video game industry. Do you know of any roles that aren't programming based?

SorenJohnsonMohawk2 karma

If you are able to program, that's a huge advantage to joining the games industry, so don't discount it. I moved from programming to design, so you don't have to be pigeon-holed either. (Or are you a more traditional engineer, like a mechanical engineer?)

OnlyIxon2 karma

Hi Soren! How'd you end up involved with the Dragon Age franchise? (if memory serves, you designed Dragon Age Journeys at EA2D)

SorenJohnsonMohawk7 karma

Hey, thanks for remembering! I didn't work on Journeys, but I was the lead designing on Legends. (I did a post-mortem on it on my blog: http://www.designer-notes.com/?p=560) I thought there were a lot of neat ideas in that game, which I actually want to revisit one day without the problems inherent with making a neverending, online game.

As for how I got involved, I got interested in browser-based games after Spore finished and also needed a new project while at EA, so someone (Lucy Bradshaw, perhaps?) hooked me up with Mark Spenner's EA2D group which was finishing up Journeys. The idea for Legends came out of that group trying to make something that fit the commercial needs of the time (which was all about Facebook games).

OnlyIxon4 karma

That's right! Were you involved with the Remix at all? (http://pixelante.com/games.php?g=dal_remix_01) Seems like it was kind of official, kind of not. Little hard to tell these days.

SorenJohnsonMohawk6 karma

That was an official project, but I wasn't involved with it. I do think it's a great idea to use already existing assets and code to make totally different games!

indczn2 karma

Whats the most surprising thing that has come about from the early access players and how has it altered the way you think about Offworld?

Thanks!

SorenJohnsonMohawk4 karma

The most surprising thing was how some of the Patents which we internally thought were the worst (Nanotech and Superconductor) were instead shown to be some of the best by the community! More generally, how quickly we discovered that some of our strategies were not very good (like building power far from you HQ or not doubling up steel before upgrading). Exactly why we wanted to go up on Early Access!

colewinkle1 karma

Hi Soren!

I love game development and have tried my hand at creating some games over the years. The problem is, I am an artist, not a programmer. I have tons of great ideas but in the end it all comes down to coding which is really not my thing. Any advice on how I can progress with my ideas?

SorenJohnsonMohawk2 karma

Have you tried modding? That's a great way to make progress if you don't have a strong technical background.

cylentwolf1 karma

In OTC you just recently added a new play scenario. Are you planning any others?

SorenJohnsonMohawk3 karma

I'm reworking the Campaign significantly right now and are always thinking about various option to mix up the game. Are you talking about the Seven Days option? Do you like it?

LeagueofSyndra1 karma

When did you first learn to make games and what advice would you give to a hopeful to-be game designer?

SorenJohnsonMohawk3 karma

I made games in a very crude fashion when I was a kid and learning to program, but I never learned to design in an official program. In reality, I learned to design only after Civ3 was released, and I got to see real user feedback for the first time.

Smallp0x_1 karma

Why did you leave in nuclear Ghandi? India always betrayed me.

SorenJohnsonMohawk4 karma

As you can see on my About page, I am a "friend to cats everywhere!" http://www.designer-notes.com/?page_id=2

Also, little known fact, but Civ actually started out as an RTS, but it was too overwhelming for players, so they switched it to a TBS.

afxtal1 karma

Does OTC use CoherentUI? If so, what do you guys think of it?

SorenJohnsonMohawk3 karma

Yes, we are using Coherent. It's a nice solution if you are coming from a Web-based background as it is built for people familiar with HTML.

Agnostalypse1 karma

I have several family members and friends who have designed board games, only to lose motivation when they got to the process of trying to find a publisher. No one seems to want to touch them anymore. Can you offer any advice for aspiring board game designers on that front?

SorenJohnsonMohawk2 karma

The board game industry is pretty tough. I'm afraid I don't have a lot of advice there - have you listened to the Game Design Roundtable podcast? (http://thegamedesignroundtable.com/) Dirk and Rob have a lot of experience with the industry and sometimes talk about getting published.

suaveitguy1 karma

Whats the best Settlers of Catan strategy you know?

SorenJohnsonMohawk7 karma

I wouldn't say I'm an expert Catan player (you should ask Brian Reynolds), but I always try to secure the resources that are going to be in short supply that game depending on the board layout because they are going to get you multiple cards in trades. (Sort of like claiming the rarer resources in Offworld!)

PrinceJupiter1 karma

Hey Soren! Would you recommend going into the game dev business? I just started to learn programming, but I keep hearing bad things about job security

SorenJohnsonMohawk2 karma

Job security can be spotty! I would recommend working in one of the game development hubs (Bay Area, LA, Seattle) so that if you do lose your job for whatever reason, there would be lots of good alternatives.

4floorsofwhores1 karma

Have you heard of plans for a new civ for xbox?

SorenJohnsonMohawk2 karma

nope

koj571 karma

Will off world trading come to OS X?

SorenJohnsonMohawk2 karma

Our page says we support OS X Yosemite. Is that what you mean?

liamquane-1 karma

Do you think there is a gender divide in our gaming society?

SorenJohnsonMohawk4 karma

In what way specifically? I know I sure wish more women play my games!