Soren Johnson has taken something of a trip around the industry over the past few years.
Perhaps best known as lead designer on the fourth installment of Sid Meier's incredible Civilization series, Johnson also worked on Will Wright's ambitious but flawed Spore, and has since dabbled in the social gaming market with the surprisingly solid but now defunct Dragon Age Facebook game for EA. Now he's back doing what he does best: making unapologetically core-focused strategy games, this time with an all-new independent team known as Mohawk Games.
Writing in his inaugural blog post for the company, Johnson explains his company philosophy as "gameplay first" -- his team aims to make games that you can play for years on end, with each new session providing a new experience, and games that evolve over time. "We are building Spelunky, not Uncharted," he says.
Acting as an independent developer leaves Johnson and his team free to follow a more flexible development plan, and he intends to take full advantage of this through rapid prototyping and iterative development -- a process which he hopes to involve the community with. Johnson intends for his teams to be kept small and to keep a tight rein on their budgets, enabling them to get something playable out of the door quickly and subsequently iterate on it to make it as good as it possibly can be over time rather than wasting time and money on feature creep and bloat.
Johnson plans to leverage community support in several ways -- firstly, through crowdfunding and early access programs for new games, enabling the public to go hands-on with the studio's new games as soon as possible and help shape the direction of development; and secondly, through making all their games inherently mod-friendly.
"Communities often understand a game better than the designers themselves; they discover what the game actually is by witnessing how the gameplay changes as stories and strategies spread online," writes Johnson. "Modding is the ultimate expression of a community’s commitment to a game, by working hard to extend and improve the company’s official work. 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."
Mohawk was founded with the support of publishing partner Stardock, who have long been supporters of smaller studios. The company's inaugural title is known as Mars, and makes use of the new "Nitrous" engine from Oxide Games, who are also funded by Stardock. Nitrous is a 64-bit multithreaded engine designed specifically for rendering huge numbers of 3D objects and light sources on screen at the same time -- so it sounds as if we can expect some epic conflicts in the new game.
Johnson is joined in his new endeavor by Civilization V's art director Dorian Newcomb and Galactic Civilizations designer Brad Wardell -- a fine pedigree that bodes well for Mohawk's focus on core strategy titles. You can find out more about the company and keep abreast of progress on its projects at the official website.