Offworld Trading Company, The Fighting-Free* RTS

It’s impossible not to be interested in whatever Civ IV designer Soren Johnson is up to, despite a disconcerting dalliance with wait/pay/spam social games at EA a while back, but even so his next project, Offworld Trading Company, is pressing even more of my buttons than I’d already expected. A real-time strategy game which isn’t at all militaristic, but instead focused on colony expansion and economy, and the Machiavellian manipulation thereof? Gimme! While a prototype has been available since July to anyone who feels comfortable throwing $80 at speculative projects, Mohawk have just now broken cover with first footage for everyone. It looks out of this world no no no I’m so sorry, I mean it looks like a very interesting and attractive game from this world.

Lots to talk about here, but one thing I’ll say straight off is that it’s full of UI porn. Since Endless Legend, I’m mad keen for strategy games with designer interfaces.

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. Instead, according to this elaboration on Polygon, you’ll need to assess the lie of the land and work out what you’re going to focus on.

Not long to wait to find out whether this new frontier for build’n’bash is a safe one to settle on. It’s due on Steam Early Access (I KNOW I KNOW but come on it’s a mainstay of PC gaming now, we can’t just will it out of existence) on February 12th. I’m going to be all over it as soon as I possibly can.

* Though you can hire pirates to go indirectly mess up your opponents’ stuff for you

51 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    SuddenSight says:

    I am so hype for this game. My belief in the promise of multiplayer economic games was solidified by M.U.L.E., which had some minor real-time elements. This game sounds like a modern take on similar ideas.

    Also: hurrah for an RTS with singleplayer! Hopefully they will make that part of the game feel good, too.

  2. Sardonic says:

    Woah, the art style and a little bit of the gameplay remind me of an old classic, Fragile Allegiance:
    link to gog.com

    • Tycow says:

      Agreed. I definitely got a Fragile Allegiance / K240 vibe from it, which is a good thing!

      I wish someone would remake FA or K240 with a modern day engine. :(

  3. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    This looks pretty great actually. Had heard of it before, but didn’t sound very interesting. Like the style, the UI and the the no-unit RTS approach. The key for me is the strength of the SP AI, since I don’t do much MP.

  4. mtomto says:

    Isn’t Soren just using his name to sell a generic game in a weird setting? Would you even be slightly interested if it was made by anyone else?

    • Undermind_Mike says:

      Yeah I’d still be interested. I’ve been reading a lot about economics and a good game simulating realistic market dynamic could be a good way to learn by ‘doing’ instead of just reading theory.

    • Rich says:

      Probably. Some of us play the Anno games with no enemy or pirates for fun, and this looks a lot more interesting.

      • Villephox says:

        I had no idea other people did this, actually! I always felt like a huge dork for it, but the whole appeal of the game for me was crafting balanced cities and efficient trade routes.

    • Eightball says:

      I don’t know about generic. But everybody uses their name to sell games. That’s why they put their names on it.

      • mtomto says:

        My point was that he is linked to Civilization 4 – a game almost 10 years old. Add the fact that 2K and Sid Meier only allows for a certain amount of innovation in each new civilization game. Everything after civ4 hasn’t exactly been stellar for Soren… EA, Zynga etc… now this?

        Maybe I should have said, that he is using civ4 (again) to sell a game. Any civilization game is almost destined to be a success. Maybe it’s just me, but this kinda accolade only works on me if it is current games (if there hasn’t been a sequel like civ5).

        I like economic, strategy games… but this honestly looks like a dud sold via name dropping…

  5. Duke of Chutney says:

    If i remember the ThreeMovesAhead episode on this, the game was inspired by GDW’s Belter, so im pretty hyped too.

  6. draglikepull says:

    It bums me out to no end that Brad Wardell is co-founder/president of Mohawk Games because this looks right up my alley, but I’m not giving money to anything he’s involved in.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Auughhhhh why whhhyyyyyy that’s like baking a delicious cake and deciding hey, it might be nice if I added turd to the recipe.

      Brad Wardell is a turd, in case the analogy isn’t clear.

      Like, a human turd.

      The worst human turd.

      Yes, worse than that.

      • RodeoClown says:

        Why so down on Wardell?
        Is it because of Kotaku’s article from a few years back that prompted death threats to his children?
        link to littletinyfrogs.com

        • FriendlyFire says:

          Yep. Wardell’s name seems like it’s forever tainted by that, even though on the whole he’s been involved in mostly excellent games (Demigod is the notable exception, and then again only because they dropped support so fast). Elemental was a turd on release but they’ve more than compensated by giving people Fallen Enchantress, which was a good game (though not great).

        • bonuswavepilot says:

          If the original claims were true, he’s still a turd, regardless of the fact that the people making threats to his kids are bigger turds. Two wrongs etc.

          • asret says:

            Thing is though, the original claims were not true.

            He comes across a bit like Derek Smart at times, it’s good to see him engaged with his community though :)

          • jalf says:

            If we’re talking about the sexual harassment thing, then they settled the lawsuit. That does not mean the allegations were not true (nor does it mean that they were true, of course).

            But more recently, of course, his behavior in connection with The Hashtag certainly paints him as someone who’s not opposed to others being harassed.

            Yes, he’s scum. Whether or not he got death threats. And regardless of what happened between him and the woman who tried to sue him.

            I’ll probably pass on the game because of his involvement. Not because of any old Kotaku articles, but because of the behavior I’ve actually witnessed from him on Twitter and elsewhere.

        • AngoraFish says:

          Wardell had a history of gratuitously flaming anyone he disagreed with well before the harassment lawsuit, as well as having put offside a fair few people because of his vocal advocacy on behalf of a range of politically extreme causes and positions. Because he’s pissed off a great many people over time, it is true that commentators have tended to jump to the conclusion that Wardell is the one at fault whenever he manages to tangle himself up in another controversy. The fact that it does sometimes later emerge that the original assumptions had less substance than first appeared to be the case doesn’t change the fact that many who’ve associated with him over many years have found him to be unpleasant and obnoxious.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            None of which strikes me as any reason to refrain from buying a game.
            Look, I know the money we spend on videogames doesnt get divided up and shared out equally amongst everyone who worked on them, I know it doesn’t work that way. But it’s still fair to suggest that if nobody buys a studio’s games, the studio goes bust, and if the studio goes bust, a lot of good, talented people who just want to make fun games are out of work. I won’t deny those people my money just because one of them is potentially an ass. Or even more than one of them.

          • AngoraFish says:

            For what it’s worth, I’m not sure if you and Wardell would necessarily see eye to eye on that argument. You might, although his position on the topic has been somewhat contradictory.

        • Stellar Duck says:

          Nah, for me it’s more about his recent behaviour.

          I certainly will not be buying this as a direct result of his involvement. Which is a shame as it sounds interesting.

      • Premium User Badge

        KRVeale says:

        I have personally been sea-lioned by Mr Wardell, and you are correct in every particular.
        I’d say he’s like the internet equivalent of Bloody Mary in that if you speak his name three times he appears… but that would be lying.
        It can just be once.

    • Premium User Badge

      KRVeale says:

      Well bollocks. I thought this looked interesting until you mentioned that.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      I am sure there are no a-holes, or poor working conditions involved in the construction of your electronic devices…

      I never understand people who get all up in arms about things like this.

      • Premium User Badge

        KRVeale says:

        It’s really simple. The question is: “Do I want to give money to a person who is actively involved in a mob of scumfucks who have attacked my friends?”

        Answer: oddly no.

        What an unexpected result!

        • Joshua Northey says:

          Yeah definitely painting a wide variety of people as a “mob of scumfucks” because of the actions of the worst few members is a great strategy Mr. Robespierre. You are making great progress towards the revolution!

          Have you actually read what he wrote? It is pretty level headed.

          • DumbparameciuM says:

            I had not read the original Kotaku post, and was unfamiliar with the case and the allegations against him. Reading his response, he seems like a real shitlord. I’ve seen dickheaded teenagers on forums and facebook pages using the same or similar excuses. “oh, we were all just kidding around!” etc etc.

            It’s not on that he got death threats and people approaching his house. It also seems like Kotakus post went too far. That’s definately inappropriate. He definitely seems to understand that you are entitled to boundaries, and that those boundaries should be respected by everyone without having to explain them first. Shame he doesn’t seem to understand that it applies to everyone all the time, not just him and his family.

          • Premium User Badge

            KRVeale says:

            When a mob of scumfucks forms around the core idea of attacking people, and then others look at that mob and say “I like the cut of their jib so I’ll join up,” I’m pretty comfortable calling them scumfucks too.

            Plus, there’s that whole example where someone on twitter was linking women game critics to comics he’d drawn where *they were being raped,* and Wardell contacted the guy over Twitter to say he should apply for work at Stardock as an artist: link to pbs.twimg.com

            I don’t care if Wardell’s written something level headed elsewhere. I don’t care if he’s written the perfect solution to the questions of the universe. Offering that guy a job based on the scumfuckery that the dude was doing couldn’t have given the scumfuckery a bigger I Am Brad Wardell And I Endorse This message if he’d tried.

          • RodeoClown says:

            Oh, you mean the comic that was removed from the guy’s site weeks before he was told he could send in a resume (not offered a job) as a direct response to a tweet?
            link to littletinyfrogs.com

        • RodeoClown says:

          It’s good thing he doesn’t get paid for his work on it, so you can safely buy the game :)
          link to twitter.com

          • Premium User Badge

            KRVeale says:

            Useful to know, but I don’t want to offer the company the endorsement of my time and attention when the guy running it offers people work based on the fact they were drawing comics for the express purpose of harassing women in games.

          • AngoraFish says:

            Wardell may well not be paid a wage, but it’s unlikely that he ‘works for free’. As a minimum, he most certainly benefits from any increased value of the company if it’s ever sold (like when he sold Impulse), and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t also benefiting from such things as a company car and other expenses being churned through the business.

  7. Leucine says:

    It looks interesting but (and it’s a big ‘but’) the whole debacle with the NDA left a sour taste in my mouth. Charging money for an alpha while holding it behind an NDA so no one can see what they’re buying into? Very shady practice and not the actions of a company I’d like to support.

    • RodeoClown says:

      Soren talks about the NDA (which was purely for the visuals, people were free to talk about the gameplay all they wanted) in this podcast: link to thegamedesignroundtable.com

      Basically, any screenshots that are released end up showing up forever on the web, colouring people’s views on how the game looks. They wanted to hold off showing anything until they had something they were happy with people associating with the game. Understandable, but definitely relying on trust… but you didn’t have to purchase (I didn’t).

      • Leucine says:

        Yes, I do remember that, but from the lack of any concrete information about the game’s mechanics on their own site and no one on their forums talking about it (and no publication having any information, either), it was hard to shake off the idea that the application of the NDA towards the art was only the official line.

        In fact, if memory serves, the forum(s) for talking about the gameplay required one to have bought the game before accessing. I would’ve thought, if the NDA did only apply to artwork, I’d have seen someone on their forums talking about the gameplay mechanics so the buying public could be aware of what, exactly they’re buying. But there was nothing, beyond the most ambiguous descriptions that didn’t say much more than the likes of RPS were saying at the time.

        I mean, would it have been so difficult for the devs to put up a detailed description of what the game involves? They could’ve done that without releasing the artwork.

        And (this is mostly in response to Cinek, since I don’t want to make another comment) I don’t believe holding a product behind an NDA could be considered morally (and I would argue it should not be considered legally) defensible when you’re selling it to the public. Yes, yes, I know, “you don’t have to buy it” but that won’t stop others from rushing in and possibly wasting their money.

        It just rubs me up the wrong way.

        • Soren Johnson says:

          We posted the rules to the game back in June (link to mohawkgames.com) and gave players the right to talk about the game publicly, but I think most of them preferred to do it on our private forums. (I would have preferred they did it publicly, actually.)

          • Leucine says:

            Oh, I’m terribly sorry. My memory is evidently failing me quite badly.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Then maybe postpone releasing it?

    • RansomIblis says:

      I get where you’re coming from, but the NDA surrounding the alpha was intended to prevent people from talking about the graphics. They were pretty rough. We were encouraged to talk about everything else with other people. (I was an early backer.)

    • Cinek says:

      NDA makes perfect sense in this type of production. IMHO more devs should stop being afraid of using NDAs.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      No one is making you participate in the pre-order thing. Why would the NDA leave a bad taste in your mouth? Were people force to give them money?

  8. DRoseDARs says:

    I *really* wish someone good (No, EA Games. No, what are you doing? EA Games! Staaap! Stay away! Lukeiamyourfather. Nooooo!) would faithfully redo the original Outpost by Sierra Online and do it the justice its vision deserved. I loved that game, rushed, buggy and unfinished as it was, even after the 1.5 patch.

  9. Gap Gen says:

    The secret to macroeconomics is to reduce government spending / inflation / the deficit / body thetans. Sortéd.

  10. racccoon says:

    sorry its not free another one on the band wagon
    maybe once its complete and full release i might grab it.

  11. Gibster says:

    I hope its reminiscent of games like Anno 2070, I really liked that game.

  12. Cinek says:

    Hmm…. looks quite interesting. Hopefully it won’t follow towards the Anno 2070 shithole, but rather become something good on it’s own right, but so far I like what I see, and it really might be the game worth putting some money in!

  13. Noumenon says:

    What is the point of doing all their Twitter/press hype two weeks before you’re even allowed to give them your money?

  14. OffWorldTrader says:

    This game has the potential to be a serious entry into the RTS genre. I was a former professional StarCraft player, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been excited about any RTS game.

    This game makes me excited to play again! The fact that there are no military units definitely changes the playstyle; I couldn’t approach it in the same fashion as StarCraft.

    I think there are still some mechanics that need to be addressed, but overall I’m very pleased with how it’s progessing!

    I started a website to chronicle my journey from beginner to Master over at http://www.OffWorldTrader.com.

    You can check it out here:
    http://www.OffWorldTrader.com