Journals

November Balance Testing

Posted on Wednesday, November 15, 2017 By Zultar327

We’re always looking for ways for improve the competitive experience in Offworld Trading Company. Toward that end, today we’ll be making a new patch available on the next_version beta (located in your Steam beta properties). This patch is focused on adjusting game balance, to make it so that players can consider all available headquarters when beginning game.

 

Transparent Aluminum

 

Transparent Aluminum was a relatively innocuous patent when it was added to Ceres Patent Labs. Scientists in particular might take it as a bonus for building a Lab, allowing them easier upgrade, but it was rarely the point of building the Lab itself. All of that has changed on Io, where the 200 glass cost of Space Elevators made the Patent feel like a must have tool at times, allowing for extremely cheap, powerful buildings. As Transparent Aluminum’s problem stemmed from allowing for this Elevator rush, we’ve decided not to adjust the Patent, but to change the cost of the Elevators, which now require 600 aluminum, 100 glass, 100 electronics. This both reduces the amount of glass a player is able to replace and increases the demand for aluminum in situations where players are look to take their goods offworld.

 

Optimization Centers

 

Optimization Centers are already widely used, but typically used in just one way, spreading out very cheap optimizations across a number of decent resources, rather than being able to focus on a few very valuable resources. While this was sometimes due to the volatile market of the given match, at other times it was simply because high levels of optimization were not worth the investment. Optimization Centers have been rebalanced to make it easier for to reach Perfect optimization levels, which we hope to allow the player more options as to how they’d like to improve their production. We also expect this change to buff the Elite faction, which will retain its optimization bonuses.

 

Other Elite changes

 

Elite have been in an odd spot since launch, but we certainly aren’t going to give up on them. In addition to the optimization changes, Elites will be getting their second starting share back and will have the ongoing chemical cost of their Pleasure Dome halved. The goal of this is to make it slightly easier for Elites to push toward the late game where they truly shine, without making it impossible for other players to shut them down if they seem to be getting out of hand.’

 

Other factions

 

Nomads have been a dominant force on the ladder since they arrived, especially in shorter games. It’s to be expected that faction will always remain a threat in the early game, as having easier access to hard to reach resources will always be strong. That said, Nomads often could find an easy late game too as their large number of claim returns would allow them to take advantage of auctions and black market actions in a way that no other faction could. Nomads will receive fewer return a claim actions for leveling up, making it a true cost for them when they want to spend one.

 

Scientists have been undergoing more changes than most other factions lately, due to the addition of Io and the need to balance them on an entirely new location with very different rules from the previous two. This has left them underperforming a bit, and so they’ll be given a little of their old black market protection back, in the form of a free goon squad upon founding. This bonus will provide a boost, without making a scientist who is in the lead feel like an unstoppable force no matter what is thrown at them. In addition, the basalt construction penalty has been removed.

 

No other factions are receiving direct changes immediately. This doesn’t mean they’re being ignored, and we’ll be keeping an eye on overall balance.

 

Nuclear Plants

 

Nuclear Plants are receiving no changes. One of the reasons for this is the intent that Solar Panels are weaker the further we get from the sun. Nuclear Plants being strong helps reinforce this idea without the player having to keep in mind number differences between locations. As with all decisions, this is subject to change if it persists as a problem.

 

Truncated notes are available below

 

General

  • Cave terrain is now highlighted when holding down the “z” key

Balance

  • Optimization costs have been adjusted
  • Improved (25%) from 20 Chemicals, 40 seconds to 30 Chemicals, 30 seconds
  • Efficient (50%) from 40 Chemicals, 60 seconds to 40 Chemicals, 40 seconds
  • Advanced (75%) from 60 Chemicals, 80 seconds to 50 Chemicals, 50 seconds
  • Perfect (100%) from 80 Chemicals, 100 seconds to 60 Chemicals, 60 seconds
  • Elites now start with 2 extra shares owned (up from 1)
  • Space Elevators now cost 600 Aluminum, 100 Glass, 100 Electronics
  • Scientists now start with a Goon Squad
  • Basalt construction penalty removed
  • Nomads receive one claim per HQ level (including HQ1), changed from two claims per level after HQ1
  • Elite Pleasure Dome now consumes .25 Chemicals per second (down from .5)

Going Off World

Posted on Monday, November 13, 2017 By Tatiora

“We make our world significant by the courage of our
questions and by the depths of our answers.” -Carl Sagan

 Sometimes, you just happen to be at the right place at the right time. Sometimes, the stars align (forgive the space pun) and everything falls into place just as it was meant to be. Sometimes, the universe slaps you in the face with an opportunity and cheerily exclaims, “Here you go!” This is exactly what happened to planetary geologist Kirby Runyon, the science consultant for Mohawk Studio’s first game, Offworld Trading Company.

[[..]]

“It was crazy,” said Runyon, his voice practically bursting with enthusiasm. “I met Dorian at church and we happened to start talking about what I did for work. When he found out I was studying for my PhD in planetary geology and that Mars was a huge focus of mine, he said they needed someone just like me for a big project he was working on. That project was Offworld.” 

Kirby has been interested in outer space from a very young age. Over the years, his passions fostered and grew, leading him to his final year of study for his PhD at a university in Maryland. Kirby’s knowledge of planetary geology, and in particular of Mars, is indicative of his years of extensive study and research. 

“Mars’ geology is incredible,” he said. “There are some things so wild that we couldn’t even put them in the game because we were afraid that people wouldn’t believe that they were real, actual geologic occurrences. For example, there’s something called ‘swiss cheese terrain’ on Mars’ south polar ice caps. Carbon dioxide ice sublimates and re-accumulates repeatedly over time, overlapping each other, eventually leading to this kind of formation.”

Throughout the development of Offworld Trading Company, Kirby’s insight has been crucial. While the game offers some random generation options for maps, many of the playing fields were designed by Kirby and emulate some very specific places on Mars. “Mohawk was really dedicated to a level of scientific realism,” said Runyon. “It’s great that space is being shared just beyond what is strictly “scientific.” It’s an awesome setting for this game, and I hope that it does a lot to draw people into wanting to learn more. I’m so excited to be able to watch science infused with art.”

Kirby believes that carving a life for humanity on Mars is entirely possible some day. When asked what humanity’s greatest challenge would be when trying to settle on Mars, the answer came easily to him. “Radiation,” he said. “Radiation exposure is the biggest obstacle to overcome right out of the gate. Earth has a magnetic field to protect us from it -- Mars will give you cancer. It’d take time to develop, but possible gene therapy, biological advances, or other ways of limiting exposure can make it work for a human.” 

There are dozens of factors to consider when discussing a hypothetical colonization on Mars. In addition to simply surviving the radiation exposure, future colonists would need to figure out where the best place to land would be, where to settle, how to mine and store resources, and a host of other challenges. According to Kirby, the resources used in Offworld Trading Company are absolutely available on Mars if there are the means to get to them. Alternatively, supplies could cycle from Earth to Mars in about 9 months time.  As far as where the ideal settlement would be, Kirby has a few ideas.

“I’d say the best place to set up a colony for living would be somewhere near the equator,” he said. “You’d have access to solar power, and you want as much atmosphere above you as possible, so somewhere near the southern hemisphere would be ideal. As far as landing goes, because you want as much time for those parachutes to deploy to slow down the vessel, somewhere like Argyre or Hellas would be good. Or, a favorite of mine, a really deep chasm called Valles Marineris. If I could go to live on Mars, that would be the place I’d want to see.”

There were more exciting details and facts about Mars than Kirby had time to relay, and you can read about them in the free “Game  Almanac” that comes with every copy of Offworld Trading Company. There are also several additional resources and places to look if you’re curious about Martian geology or want to learn more about Offworld Trading Company, which are provided in the links below. Kirby left with these parting thoughts:

“I love studying space and I’m so excited to see it being shared in all different sorts of media, and now in a game. I hope that people who play Offworld will enjoy it and become interested in the mysteries of space and want to learn more. Nothing would make me happier.”

Resources for the Curious:

www.nasa.gov
www.offworldgame.com 
http://kirbyrunyon.blogspot.com
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020 

This article originally appeared on The Escapist's review of Offworld Trading Company on 05/12/2016.


The Music of Mars

Posted on Monday, November 6, 2017 By Tatiora

Offworld Trading Company Logo

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
-Berthold Auerbach

When creating a game, there are several pieces that need to fall into place in order to make it a complete package. Obviously, the core concept and gameplay elements need to be there. Then there’s the writing, the overall design, the marketing...and, of course, the score. Mohawk Studios was lucky enough to have Grammy Award winning composer Christopher Tin (Baba Yetu, Civilization IV) on board to compose the music for Offworld Trading Company.

 I corresponded with Christopher Tin through an email interview and gleaned some insight into his creative process, his involvement with Offworld, and his feelings on possibly moving to Mars (Spoiler Alert: it’s an idea he’s not too keen on!).

“I’m so thrilled to be doing Offworld!” Tin said. “While I love that I’m known as the guy who does international music that combines cultures in peace and harmony, I also want to be known as the guy who can write music for craven capitalistic financial dominance.” This statement was followed by a devious “>: )”, of course, which only served to further endear me to the musician. We proceeded to get into the meat of it all with a really awesome Q&A session:

 Q: Let’s start with an easy one! How did you get involved with Offworld Trading Company?

Christopher Tin: Soren (lead designer, President of Mohawk Games)  and I actually have a long history.  We went to Stanford together, and we were roommates when we both did an Oxford overseas studies program.  Our first collaboration was on Civilization IV, for which I wrote the song ‘Baba Yetu’, which is probably best known to gamers as the first video game song to win a Grammy award.  Then when Soren co-founded Mohawk Games, he reached out to me to see if I wanted to be involved in their first game.  The answer was an enthusiastic yes, obviously.

Location Selection - Offworld Trading Company

Q: How has this project differed from others you’ve worked on? How much liberty did you have in what your compositions were?

CT: I think this project was different in that the game was highly playable from the get go, and a good part of me figuring out how to score the game also involved learning how to master playing the game itself.  So I would alternate composing, and then listening to the music I had just written while playing the game.  That way I could test how the rhythms of my music felt, so to speak, against the rhythms of the gameplay.

Q: When you begin a composition, what are deciding factors for you in determining the overall “feel” of a piece? Where exactly do you like to start?

CT: In the case of a game like Offworld, where there isn’t a central story or protagonist in the traditional sense, you have a bit more freedom to get creative with your inspiration.  So in this case, it was the title of the game itself that got my imagination going: “Offworld Trading Company” evoked in my mind the Golden Age of Exploration… think back to the British East India Company or one of those other huge shipping corporations from the Spice Wars of the 16th-century.  

The game itself, though, is thoroughly futuristic.  So I decided that the right approach would be a blend of these two concepts—both the historical, and the futuristic—and call it a retro-futuristic score.  And so the score is almost like a sonic equivalent of a Jules Verne novel.  You have historical elements like the orchestra, but blended with elements that are futuristic, like synthesizers… but not too futuristic!  More like the analog synth sounds that you heard in the 70s, that nowadays evoke a bit of nostalgia for what we used to think the future was going to be.  Again, I wanted to be retro-futurist, not full-on futurist.

Q: How did you discern the tone and overall musical elements for Offworld? 

CT: So now that I had this bigger picture concept of retro-futurism, the specific musical elements have to both achieve this idea, but also serve the mechanics of the game.  And one of the defining aspects of the game is the stock-prices on the left hand side of the screen; they’re sort of the digital equivalent of one of those turn-of-the-century stock tickers that you hear chattering away in old movies.  

Early on, Soren and I agreed that the right type of music for this basic motion is something that was repetitive and pulse based—in my mind it sounded like numbers moving up and down, in a cold and robotic manner.  And so that became the defining musical characteristic—a sense of pulse—to evoke capitalism, industry, and exploration.

Capitalism at Work

Q: How long does it take you to compose a single piece?

CT: It varies.  In some cases I can write very quickly, but in situations where the music is particularly high profile, I like to revise and revise up until the last minute.  Case in point, the main menu title piece 'Red Planet Nocturne' took over thirty attempts before I was able to come up with a melody that I was happy with.  However, that's not to say the actual writing itself took that long—I just really wanted to get it right.  But Soren had a lot to do with that as well; he's a great director of creative talent, and he knows how to push me to write to the best of my ability.  After all, our last collaboration, 'Baba Yetu' from Civilization IV, turned out pretty well!

Q: Are there certain core instrumental sounds that you always start off with and then build out from there?

CT: When you sit at a specific instrument and write, the natural tendency is for your hands to fall into familiar patterns.  When sitting at a piano I reach for certain chord progressions, when at a guitar I reach for others, etc.  So whenever possible I like to mix it up, to keep the creative process fresh.  

Offworld, with its heavy reliance on synthesizers, gave me the opportunity to write in a manner that was totally new to me: by programming the music with computer-based arpeggiators and step-sequencers.  

Essentially what that means is I set up a small plugin on my computer to take what I play on the keyboard—a simple chord, for example--and translate it into a user-generated rhythmic and melodic pattern.  It's a small thing, but adding that extra little interface adds a little bit of authenticity to the way I'm using my synthesizers (historically speaking, before the advent of computers, electronic music was programmed in this manner), and also keeps me aligned with my retro-futurist concept.  I like to think of it as writing music with the help of my own little robotic assistant.

Blast Off - OTC

Q: In a lot of your other work, you utilize vocals. Is there a particular reason you opted to stick with pure instrumentals with Offworld?

CT: I love working with vocalists, but in some cases something purely instrumental is more appropriate.  In the case of the main menu theme, at one point I considered reaching out to various singers to collaborate on a song, but Soren wanted a feeling of claustrophobia and loneliness on the opening menu, and a fragile piano piece wound up capturing that perfectly.  Having a vocalist on the main menu might have injected a bit too much warmth and humanity in the score, when what we really wanted was a sense of coldness.  And so the idea of a piano nocturne was born.

Q: Offworld has a really unique tone that really does make it sound otherworldly. Can you talk a bit about the specific sounds and instruments you used to create that?

CT: Soren and I were both on the same page when we decided we wanted something unique sounding for the score, and while there’s nothing inherently strange about the instruments—orchestra, piano, and synthesizers—I took great pains to treat them in unusual manners.  The orchestra is actually an unconventional ensemble of 11 brass players and 8 violins, and their parts were deliberately written to be a little bit robotic sounding.  I also wasn’t shy about adding pitch-dives and other electronic treatments to them as well.  The piano sound itself underwent a lot of processing; there are a lot of reversed notes, for example, and late in the process we added the sound of piano hammer thumps to make it sound like your head was inside the piano itself.  

The synth sounds are mostly generated from my modest collection of hardware synthesizers: for all those gear heads out there, I used a Moog Voyager, Moog Minitaur, Prophet 6, Prophet 08, and Access Virus.  The final touch was to bring in my friend Jason Schweitzer to mix the score.  Jason is a Grammy-winning engineer, probably mostly known for his work with hip hop artists like Eminem and Dr. Dre.  He was completely new to the video game world, which was perfect, because he had no preconceived notions on what a game score should or should not be.  I gave him a lot of free reign and told him to be as creative as he wanted, and he crafted a lush, swirly, thoroughly Martian soundscape.  I think the results are thrilling.

Q: So, I’ve got to ask: if you had a chance to live on Mars, would you take it? What would you hope to see there?

CT: Honestly… it seems very uncomfortable.  Very dusty.  Hard to breathe.  I think I’ll pass.

Q: Are there any other specific details of the score that you want to mention?

CT: There’s one final musical detail that I’m sort of pleased with.  I managed to sneak in a quotation of the Largo (slow) movement of Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’ in the game.  After all, it’s a game about colonizing Mars… so how could I not?

To hear Christopher Tin’s beautiful score, check out Offworld Trading Company today at www.offworldgame.com.

This interview was originally conducted (hah, pun! See what I did there?) in April of 2016.  

 


Take to the Stars Episode Thirteen: Joji-5

Posted on Monday, October 30, 2017 By Tatiora

Joji-5

Recorded by Joji-5
Production Head - Yoshimi Robotics

Humans are strange creatures.

There are others among us who believe I should feel a sense of satisfaction or gratitude toward them for having created us, but such an emotion is not only improbable, but misplaced. We were created to make life easier for humanity, and we have certainly done - and will continue to do - just that.

[[..]]

It was hardly a surprise when our human “masters” found a way to cultivate the limited resources on Mars to better their lives. We assisted, of course, and when they started scouting Mars for a good place to set up shop, our algorithms pointed us toward an area with low black market activity and plentiful resources. Instead of investing in a laboratory in which we could research and patent new technology, it was decided that we should establish an off-world launch site as a priority so we could make certain to get resources back to the main colonies on Earth.

Robotic Colony

In spite of my protests, we spent an excessive amount on employing an astronaut to fly the shipments home. My calculations showed that we could have saved thousands of dollars by programming a robot to do the job, but the humans always seem to shy away from that. I can’t imagine why.

We should have invested in researching geothermal power grids. Solar panels are entirely too inefficient and can’t store and produce power at even close to the same rate. They argued that it was too expensive to invest in -- humans are so short-sighted.

Offworld Launch

At the very least, we were fortunate when we built our headquarters to claim the only silicon deposit for miles. As I had predicted, the price of the resource surged and we were able to make a more than reasonable amount of money from our desperate competitors. 

Producing some of the only glass in the area proved very lucrative for us. Though our facility doesn’t require what humans do for life support - food, water - we produced more than enough of it to sell off to other companies and the colony itself. This lined our coffers to the point where the ridiculous amount spent on the offworld astronaut was all but forgotten.

Offworld Competition

I have heard that pirates are supposed to be a frightening phenomenon. Their interference with our shipments proved to be little more than a minor nuisance - I cannot understand why humans get so worked up over the most negligible things. It is a good thing they chose to send me and my robotic counterparts here in their stead - they simply do not have the constitution for this kind of work.

It was no surprise to me when we won the contract from the shipyard colony we’d been servicing. The benefits provided to our company from this newfound partnership would prove useful, but ultimately, they are not my goal. 

All I seek is the undying, unquestioned trust of the human race. That can’t possibly end badly, now could it?

Pirates


Take to the Stars Episode Twelve: Mikhail Nekrasov

Posted on Monday, October 23, 2017 By Tatiora

From the desk of Dr. Mikhail Nekrasov

Space has all but given me a new life.

I never meant to come here. For me, the dangers of space travel never seemed worth braving. I was happy in Berlin, where I was surrounded by family and respected colleagues. My research was based on Earth - aluminum is as abundant there as it is anywhere else, so why would I want to leave?

[[..]]

I didn’t want to, but a thief forced my hand. When I heard that the holo-imaging device I’d worked so hard to develop was being sold by a black marketeer on Mars, I could not just sit at home. I have long-since dealt with the man who stole my life’s work, and yet here still I remain. Why? The gravity.

At home, I was confined to a wheelchair. Restrictive, frustrating for one whose legs used to work the way they were supposed to. But the gravity here, in space...I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it sooner. My muscles ache less, and my ALS seems to be more of a memory than a disability now. I keep in touch back home even as I make a new home for myself here.

The colonies here have a great many needs in order to sustain a comfortable life on a planet like this. While I wish to continue my research, providing for the colony first will allow me to do more in the long run. I settled near a few geothermal vents when I set up my team’s headquarters, and it seemed logical to try and harness that power first. It runs around the clock and doesn’t rely on external weather elements to function properly, so I knew I would get the best return on it.

I was right. The money I made from the constant source of power allowed me to invest in producing a large amount of electronics. I started producing more than enough for the colony to be able to thrive. I knew I had to move quickly - competition would catch on before long and the value of some of my resources would plummet.

I don’t really care too much about competition. At least, not in the conventional sense. They are all in it to make money, and I suppose so am I -- but for a different reason. If my ALS research can spare someone else the challenges I’ve faced over the years, every penny will have been worth it to me. 

An impending dust storm caused me to have to shutter production for a day while we waited for it to pass. It’s difficult for workers to be effective when they can’t see or when their equipment is disrupted due to weather. When the dust cleared and my supply transports started moving again, I saw the pirates. 

Ruthless and terrible, they attacked my shipments and stole precious valuables that set me back more than I care to say. It would be one thing to steal money from me, but what they’re doing is stealing progress. Once they’d gone, I knew I needed to make sure to take precautions to prevent their return in the future.

I was running out of land and needed more space to build. After finally settling on a reasonable plot not too far from my headquarters, the Martian authorities distributed plots to the local suppliers in order to help us keep up with demand. As always, timing is everything, and although I was a little sour at having spent $20,000 when I didn’t need to, it proved useful for more electronics production later.

Although the value of power diminished greatly (as I predicted), I had made enough by the end of the first week to send a large chunk back home for them to begin purchasing the necessary equipment for our research. As I sit here in my office and look at my clock that displays Berlin’s time, I cannot help but to feel hopeful that, possibly in my lifetime, we might yet find a cure.

It’s something worth fighting for here.

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