Dev Game Club on Civilization 3

I was a guest on the Dev Game Club Podcast, with Brett Douville and Tim Longo Jr., talking about the history of Civilization 3, which took me back a long time to my first full-time job in the industry. (Indeed, I believe I started at Firaxis exactly 20 years ago this month!) It was a great conversation, and we had a little bit of discussion on my next game, which is the first time I’m returning to historical 4X gaming since Civilization 4. Thus, I have a lot of thoughts about what ideas in Civilization 3 are still worth pursuing and which ones are (or perhaps should be) dead ends.

http://www.devgameclub.com/blog/2020/3/4/dgc-ep-201-bonus-interview-with-soren-johnson

Designer Notes 51: Michał Drozdowski and Przemysław Marszał

In this episode, Soren and Leyla Johnson interview Creative Director Michał Drozdowski and Art Director Przemysław Marszał of 11 Bit Studios, best known for their work on This War Of Mine and Frostpunk. They discuss why This War of Mine does not judge the player and why Frostpunk does.

Games discussed: Anomaly, Anomaly: Korea, Anomaly 2, Funky Smugglers, Sleepwalker’s Journey, This War of Mine, Frostpunk

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/michal-drozdowski-and-przemyslaw-marszal

Designer Notes 50: Alex Hutchinson

In this episode, Soren interviews game designer Alex Hutchinson, Creative Director at Typhoon Studios and best known for his work on Spore, Assassin’s Creed 3, and Far Cry 4. They discuss how they both would have screwed up SimCity, how working at Ubisoft is like Brewster’s Millions, and what happened with Spore.

Games discussed: Pepper 2, Sensible Soccer, SimCity, The Urbz, The Sims 2, Spore, Army of Two: The 40th Day, Assassin’s Creed 3, Far Cry 4, Journey to the Savage Planet

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/designer-notes-50-alex-hutchinson

Designer Notes 49: Adam Saltsman – Part 2

In this episode, Soren interviews game developer Adam Saltsman, who co-founded indie publisher Finji and is best known for his work on Gravity Hook, Canabalt, Hundreds, Capsule, and Overland. They discuss how Mario speed runs are the original infinite runners, why Canabalt is in 6 shades of grey, and when does Permadeath make sense for a game.

Games discussed: Canabalt, Captain Forever, Jetpack Joyride, Alone, Hundreds, Portico, Overland, 868-HACK, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/adam-saltsman-part-2

Designer Notes 48: Adam Saltsman – Part 1

In this episode, Soren interviews game developer Adam Saltsman, who co-founded indie publisher Finji and is best known for his work on Gravity Hook, Canabalt, Hundreds, Capsule, and Overland. They discuss how Cave Story showed him that he could make games on his own, why he thought he worked with the guy who invented Boggle, and his many failed attempts to join the video games industry.

Games discussed: Super Mario Bros. 2, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Cave Story, Tower Blocks, Boggle, Gravity Hook, ThrustBurst

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/adam-saltsman-part-1

Designer Notes 47: Brendon Chung – Part 2

In this episode, Soren interviews independent game developer Brendon Chung, best known for his work on Atom Zombie Smasher, Thirty Flights of Loving, and Quadrilateral Cowboy. They discuss why Xbox Live Indie Games didn’t take off, what exactly happens at the end of Atom Zombie Smasher, and how streaming game development made him work harder than ever before.

Games discussed: Flotilla, Air Forte, Atom Zombie Smasher, XCOM, Thirty Flights of Loving, Quadrilateral Cowboy, Cursor 10

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/brendon-chung-part-2

Designer Notes 46: Brendon Chung – Part 1

In this episode, Soren interviews independent game developer Brendon Chung, best known for his work on Atom Zombie Smasher, Thirty Flights of Loving, and Quadrilateral Cowboy. They discuss how to make an adventure game inside of Doom, why he won’t read text popups but will read the back of cereal boxes, and what does the ending of Gravity Bone mean.

Games discussed: Sierra Adventure Games, Doom, XCOM, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Planescape: Torment, Hexen 2, Strife, Thief, Company of Heroes, Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, Gravity Bone

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/brendon-chung-part-1

Designer Notes 45: Rami Ismail

In this episode, Soren and Leyla Johnson interview independent game developer Rami Ismail of Vlambeer, best known for his work on Super Crate Box, Ridiculous Fishing, Luftrausers, and Nuclear Throne. They discuss why he started a company with someone he couldn’t stand, how to make games in a place without electricity, and why the world “inclusivity” can still be exclusionary.

Games discussed: StarCraft, Urban Assault, Final Fantasy XV, Nier: Automata, Star Wraith, Evochron, Super Crate Box, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, Ridiculous Fishing, Luftrausers, Nuclear Throne

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/rami-ismail

Free Offworld!!!

Today is a very big day for Offworld Trading Company – the multiplayer is now free on Steam! To get a key for a MP-only version of the game, simply sign up to Mohawk’s mailing list.

Offworld was born as a multiplayer game, inspired by my own multiplayer experiences with a variety of economic-minded games, like BelterM.U.L.E., and Age of Empires. Mohawk started the game’s development with multiplayer, usually playing the game at least once per day and usually never playing under the same rules twice. If someone came up with a great idea – like picking one’s HQ after starting the game – we figured out a way to test it out the next day.

Once Offworld came out on Early Access, the multiplayer community became the backbone of our testing and feedback group. We ran a number of tournaments (organized by my wife who remains a dedicated player to this day) that were the crucible for deciding which ideas did and didn’t make it into the final game. This community has stuck together for years now, the best place to find them is on the official unofficial Offworld Discord server.

However, multiplayer games are hard to make work because they have the biggest gap between games that take off into the stratosphere (League of Legends, Fortnite) and games that die off spectacularly from the negative feedback loop of a dying userbase (rhymes with Jawbreakers). There is very little middle ground between those two extremes, which is why multiplayer games have increasingly moved towards free-to-play as the default model as a hedge against the possibility of the player base death spiral.

Offworld never had quite this issue because the game has robust single-player, with a dynamic campaign and competent AI. Having said that, players who went to look for a multiplayer game often couldn’t find one, which is a tragic situation for a game built from and built for multiplayer. The obvious solution was to move to a free-to-play model for multiplayer, but of course, that could mean many different things.

I’ve had a long-running lovehatefear relationship with free-to-play games; indeed, I even made one! However, after they did end up either eating or expanding the industry (depending on one’s perspective), it is clear now that there are different types of free-to-play games and different reasons to use the model. Our model is the simplest, dumbest available. Multiplayer is free, and we are developing new DLC and retrofitting old DLC to be mutually exclusive so that players can buy whatever parts of the game they like. The most obvious purchase is the base game itself, which unlocks all sorts of things, but there are other attractive options which can be bought and played without the base game:

  • Blue Chip Ventures, a series of scripted scenarios and challenges that help teach the game
  • Market Corrections, three scripted campaigns that give access to that side of the game
  • Limited Supply, an alternate version of Offworld which takes away the market in favor of resource puzzles

There’s even a cosmetic-only set of skins for special buildings called Conspicuous Consumption. (See, we were thinking ahead!)

I’m very curious to see what will happen. In the two hours since the free version came out, our player base has already quadrupled. Hopefully, multiplayer games will now always be available for budding tycoons.