Soren Song: Civ IV Designer Founds Mohawk Games

By Graham Smith on November 6th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.

Soren Johnson named it after his hair.

Soren Johnson is a clever man. He was a programmer on Civilization 3, the lead designer on Civilization IV, and then he moved over to Maxis to work on Spore. Now he’s building himself a new home by founding Mohawk Games, a studio dedicated to creating “core strategy games”.

The team’s first project is codenamed “Mars”, and it’s a real-time strategy game designed for 2-8 players, but one where its players compete using tycoon game mechanics. Johnson told IGN about his intent to get the game into Steam Early Access as soon as possible, so players could be part of the balancing process.

Over on the company’s new blog, Johnson outlined the company’s philosophy, which includes “extensive mod support”, and the heavy implication that Mohawk’s games will either use procedural generation, or at the very least not rely on long, expensive cutscene-driven campaigns. “In other words, we are building Spelunky”, says the post, before I stopped reading and drifted blissfully away into my happy place, where time stands still and there is only me and my favourite game stretching in all directions.

Mohawk Games has been founded by Johnson in partnership with Dorian Newcomb, art director of Civilization V and Brad Wardell, the founder of Galactic Civilization’s developer Stardock. Wardell is on board in a business capacity, acting as Mohawk’s president and funding the studio through his development fund. The money for the latter came from Stardock’s sale of digital distribution service Impulse, and its formation was announced in Stardock’s most recent annual report.

Wardell and Johnson last worked together at Stardock itself, where Johnson is a consultant on games like Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes. Presumably that consultation process didn’t stretch to telling them their game’s name was a meaningless mess of generic fantasy words.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve started to look at Sid Meier as strategy gaming’s kindly grandfather, handing out Werther’s Originals and evenhanded teachings to a new generation of designers, including Johnson, At The Gates‘ Jon Shafer and XCOM’s Jake Solomon.

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44 Comments »

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  1. luukdeman111 says:

    Wow…. This looks like a fantastic team. We really need more Sid Meier style games.

    Or at least I do.

    • Chalky says:

      SMAC sequel please.

      • SephiRok says:

        This might be something like it http://pandora.proxy-studios.com/

        • airmikee99 says:

          Interesting, very interesting. I’m probably going to pick that up next week.

        • Leb says:

          what’s up with that slitherine portal for beta sign up? I’m interested in the game but that portal is too inconvenient for me to push further

          EDIT: I finally decided to sign up on slitherine (not giving my phone number or address though – WTF..) – and Pandora isn’t even on the list of games I can beta test :/

          • SephiRok says:

            Unfortunately it appears you can no longer sign up for the beta. Just one of the quirks as it transitions from beta to release next week.

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      I had to do a double take on the name, I got Loren Sorenson initially. Took me back to sat on the sofa watching Charlie and Lola on a morning with little!

  2. Cytrom says:

    I prefer firaxis’ more streamlined take on civilisations (and xcom), and can’t say I’m a hardcore strategy fan, but i’d welcome some more quality strategy games, and this looks like a strong team capable of greatness.

    Now all I need is the resurrection of *GOOD* FPS games, and down with theese mcdonalds grade genero-shooters, and I’ll be a happy gamer.

    • Captain Joyless says:

      “I prefer firaxis’ more streamlined take on civilisations (and xcom), and can’t say I’m a hardcore strategy fan”

      why so redundant

  3. Bull0 says:

    God speed. I don’t believe we can ever have enough strategy developers, particularly, as you say, those that have worked with Sid Meier, as evinced by the excellent firaxis XCOM game.

  4. Stuie says:

    > including Johnson, At The Gates‘ Jon Shafer and XCOM’s Jake Solomon

    Too bad Brian Reynolds doesn’t warrant mention anymore.

    • luukdeman111 says:

      Oh yeah, I totally forgot about him too! He also founded his own company after leaving Zynga didn’t he?

      • megazver says:

        He implied he was working on mobile games now and that he wasn’t going to do a 4X game anytime soon. We’ll see if his new project is more BigHugeGames or Zynga, I suppose.

    • Captain Joyless says:

      Yeah, and it’s too bad because he’s 1000x better than Shafer and Solomon combined. Even Shafer admits he ruined Civilization.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      I dunno, once you have created The Perfect Game, where do you go from there? Frankly, you could just remake SMAC with a cleaner interface, shallower learning curve, maybe updated graphics, and it would still be incredible. It’s a shame that SMAC was something of an evolutionary dead-end; I’ve never played another 4X quite like it.

      • Sheng-ji says:

        You may be interested in Pandora, which is basically a modern remake of SMAC – very nicely polished too at the moment and distinctive enough that it’s not a clone but similar enough that you get to enjoy it all over again.

    • Graham Smith says:

      Always thought of Reynolds’ as a brother to Meier more than a grandchild, to continue the familial metaphor, what with him being a co-founder of Firaxis with Meier.

      EDIT: Probably they’re both sons themselves of Microprose. Microprose is the unsung grandfather of the games industry, for sure. Not just Civ, but Railroad Tycoon, Crammond’s Grand Prix games, publishing the original XCOM, Rollercoaster Tycoon, and about a billion flight sims. I mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_MicroProse_games

      EDIT EDIT: Stunt Car Racer! Carrier Command! Rick Dangerous.

  5. Stevostin says:

    Ok, that’s a beautiful logo.

  6. ViktorBerg says:

    Civ 4 is what netted us a great amount of mods, including Rhye’s and Fall of Civilization, as well as the almighty Fall from Heaven. If the Mohawk games allow at least the same amount of moddability, I am expecting great things from them. Their intent to go on Steam Early Access also implies their wish to use Steam Workshop for mod distribution (which is not a perfect system by any stretch, but can still be pretty useful and centralized for Steam users).

    • karthink says:

      “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.”

      From their blog post.

  7. LionsPhil says:

    THIS IS HIGHLY RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS.

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      I am foregoing strategy games till someone brings Wacht am Rhein to the PC (with the original rules, units and maps!)

  8. Premium User Badge

    draglikepull says:

    I saw “Soren Johnson making core strategy games again” and I was super excited because Civ IV is one of my favourite games ever and his game design column is great. But then I saw “with Brad Wardell” and I immediately lost all my enthusiasm because I will never give money to Wardell, whose response to claims of harssment in the workplace was “it’s my company and I can behave however I want.”

  9. GamesInquirer says:

    Didn’t Stardock already start an ex-Civilization guys studio, Oxide? I guess they plan to output games more frequently? That could be a good thing assuming they don’t all end up half baked.

    • Lord_Xia says:

      Oxide created the 64 bit engine that Mohawk is using for their codename “Mars” game. RPS has the codename wrong, Brad just said it’s codenamed “Mars”. Not that the codename is all that important…

  10. Sic says:

    So, Transport Tycoon meets Starcraft?

    I am so in.

  11. stampy says:

    heres hoping he puts together engine and AI teams that have had absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with the civilization series.

  12. weary_scientist says:

    Hooray for Cultural Appropriation!

    I’m going to start a few companies named after groups of people too:
    African-American Apparel
    Caucasian Waste Disposal
    Hispanic Investment Services

    • sventoby says:

      What an outrage.

    • Lord_Xia says:

      You know what would be a bigger insult, if a mascot was a dorky little leprechaun and we called them the “Fighting Irish”, man, I bet Irish people would flood the streets in protest…or not. The only one that I can really agree on as being offensive is the Redskins, the others…not so much.

    • pepperfez says:

      Apparently Mr. Johnson is renowned for his down-the-middle hairstyle.

      • dE says:

        “Word on the Street is, you’ve got work for us, Mr.Johnson”, Jam put the Ares Predator on the table. No need for threats. He just likes it in plain sight.
        “If you’re the best”, Mr.Johnson replies. He’s all company man but tries to hide it with a touch of chrome on his sunglasses. In a nightclub.
        “We’ve got the Decker you asked for and then some. Top quality, second only to Dodger”, Jam leans back and nods to Spikey. She didn’t get that name, because of her spikey hair. No sir, no. Jam knows it had to do with redecorating a lamppost with a troll and the only other nickname about impaling folks on long metal rods was a tad too cliché for anyones tastes.
        “Uh, Decker?”, Mr. Johnson asks, visibly surprised. Blergh, Beginners.
        “The Hot Whizz Computer Kid?”
        “Ah, yes, delightful. Does he have any experience in games?”
        “Combat Biking? Urban Brawl? Doubt you’d want to see a skinny elf in there”
        “Videogames, I used to work on Civilisation 3 and…”
        “As in BTL?”
        “What?”
        “What?”

        And this concludes todays random wtf post on RPS. Proudly presented by reading too much Shadowrun at the moment.

    • MacTheGeek says:

      “Caucasian Waste Disposal”

      So… they only pick up the white trash?

    • airmikee99 says:

      Just for grins and giggles I put some of those into Google.

      “Hispanic Investment Services” isn’t an exact company name, but it’s close enough to a few hundred others. Like ‘Latino Credit Union’ and ‘Hispanicsurf’.

      Caucasus is a geographical region, so it’s not that hard to find references with ‘Caucasian’ in the business name, since a person from Caucasus is a Caucasian, regardless of skin color.

      And while I can’t find a company even close to ‘African-American Apparel’, a lot of clothing websites have ‘African-American Apparel’ sections.

      Your post reminds me of a civil rights attorney that sued the University of Utah because their mascot is ‘The Runnin Utes’. The lawsuit was moving forward until a group of actual Utes threw their support behind the university. If a minority feels upset about their culture being appropriated, how about you let them complain about it before whining that they’re being disrespected? I’d guess with 99.999999% accuracy you don’t know a single Mohawk, let alone one that has complained about the name of this company.

      And considering that in the Mohican language, ‘mohawk’ means ‘cannibal’ I don’t think they’re going to rush out to defend that name, and since they don’t even call themselves Mohawks (they refer to themselves as Kanien’kehá:ka) it probably won’t ever become a real issue.

      • Tssha says:

        This is probably the wisest course. It’s up to those who are feeling oppressed to make the complaint, and it’s up to the rest of us to support that complaint and stand up for them when they demand their rights.

        Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch some Russell Peters and then play some Cards Against Humanity.

  13. ahmedabdo says:

    I’m waiting for someone who could produce a “Civilization-Call to Power” mix game. There is really good concepts and ideas in the CtP series that Civilization developers just tried to ignore.

  14. malkav11 says:

    Real-time doesn’t say “core strategy” to me but I suppose at least he’s not making Facebook games anymore. I’m not going to actually be interested until we’re talking turn-based or at least strongly singleplayer/coop centric RTS, though. (For an example of how that can work while still being procedurally driven and story light, one need only look at Arcen’s excellent AI War.)