PCG: Soren Johnson

Soren again.

And the remaining fragments of my interview with Ex-Civ4-er Soren Johnson interview emerge as PCG republishes it online. Here he talks about influences, the future of games, Why Guns, Germs and Steel would make a rubbish strategy game and why he was attracted to work on Spore. He says stuff like…

“It’s a field where you’re writing the rules right now. Some day 100 years from now, they’re going to writing about the stuff we do now, because this is the crucial moment for games. Beyond that… well, 100 years ago, if I’d been born, I think I might be making board games. It’s not just games for me – I come from a real board game, strategy game backdrop.

This is what I’m about. I feel that games are such a broad category. You can do so much with games. People put it up and compare it to… well, are games like music or movies or books? I see games not like a new medium, but a new way of communicating – a new language, so much broader than a specific artistic medium.”

More here.


  1. Jim Rossignol says:

    The interview that cannot die.

  2. Nuyan says:

    Are you sure these were the last fragments?

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    No more. Really. Honest.


  4. Dinger says:

    Awesome. Seven Cities of Gold was magical.

    Wow. That fragment was great for the multiple strata of tension between a teleological view of history and a the desire to escape it.

    The problem with history and game design is that, as my boy Harry once noted, the past is necessary. “What-if” situations do not exist.

    For example, it’s not valid in writing history to argue from a hypothetical situation, such as “Civilization was never written”. If that were the case, the past would not be the past, and any statement that follows would be impossible to validate.

    In historical games, you need to maintain the feel of historicity while allowing the player to engage in a number of hypotheticals. (The Spanish Main went through a 20-year period where they always got looted at Cartagena, every season). They usually accomplish this by removing a large part of historical development. Or they add it in, but make it mercilessly teleological (You must build a Cathedral before a University; SimEarth always finishes by colonizing another planet). Games end up reinforcing the false notion that technological progress implies moral, social and artistic progress.

    At the same time, we know it ain’t so (well, many of us do), and we try to fight it. A computer game may be a work of art, but as a group, they’re no more a valid expression of the human artistic impulse than the Lescaux paintings.

    It’s a field where you’re writing the rules right now. Some day 100 years from now, they’re going to writing about the stuff we do now, because this is the crucial moment for games.

    The rebellion surfaces. The future has no guarantees. Everything could disappear tomorrow. Our actions have meaning because we don’t know how things will end (well, the movements of the heavens are necessary, and 8 billion years from now, the Earth will be swallowed by the Sun, but outside of that, we don’t know), and we don’t know whether our role in things will be central or a sideshow.

    That’s the illusion historical games need to aim for. That was the genius of the Seven Cities of Gold: when you sailed west, you didn’t know what you might find. You might even sail right past the “continents” and never be heard from again. And the game’s mechanic captured the Columbian explorer mentality: here’s this new land populated with incomprehensible people. How can it make me rich?

    The feeling SJ describes for game development exists in most creative fields. And in most of those creative fields (movies, novels, history), the lucky few get to search for those Cities of Gold while most people in the field watch jealously from their dismal corner of the Old World.

  5. sepp says:

    dan button? puh-lease!
    link to bbrathwaite.wordpress.com

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    Sepp: Yeah, but I was quoting. I suspect in Soren said Dan just because in 84 it was Dan, and he was talking at high speed.


  7. Troy Goodfellow says:

    “Dan” is fine. But “Button”? Dude.