Civilization IV designer Soren Johnson starts new indie studio Mohawk Games

Mohawk Games , a new independent studio, has been formed under the leadership of Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson. Based in Baltimore, the studio is already hard at work on a new real-time strategy game code named "Mars." Mars will be an economic strategy game in which players found colonies and compete to buy out the other players.

After working on Civ IV, Johnson left to work at EA and then social games powerhouse Zynga . When the Zynga Baltimore office closed, however, his project was shut down and he left the company. Since then, he's worked to get Mohawk Games started with an eye toward giving the real-time strategy genre a jump start.

“I love RTSs,” Johnson tells PC Gamer. “I'm just bored with what's out there. I want to see the genre stretch and expand. I feel like it's a genre that should be as varied as board games.”

For Mars, Johnson hopes to take the gameplay ratio common to civilization builders like Age of Empires and flip it: less war, more hostile economic conflict. The game, which is currently slated to run on Oxide Games' new Nitrous engine, is inspired by competitive economic games such as M.U.L.E. Players will be charged with founding and maintaining Martian colonies, and must strategically manage resources. While the game will include a single-player mode, Mohawk's real goal is to tailor the game for 2-8 players over a "hyper-competitive" 45 minute play period. "This is a game where the mechanics are economics," says Johnson. "The end game is to buy out all of the competition."

It might be a niche idea, but the age of digital distribution has made that less of a liability, according to Mohawk studio president Brad Wardell, who says that not having to compete for shelf-space and retail attention has made games like Mars a way forward for indie studios. “The cost of making a game was sufficiently high that you couldn't make that. You had to make a safer bet,” Wardell says. “There's a real opportunity for a Renaissance in real-time strategy games.”

Johnson will also use his new-found indie flexibility to interact directly with fans, because there's not much advantage to holding back information from your most dedicated players. “The people who are most interested in your game are going to play it early, give you feedback early,” Johnson says. “You want to use as many opportunities as you can to talk about it, to get [the game] in front of people.” This sentiment is pretty similar to what Payday 2 director David Goldfarb told us last week: the die-hard fans are allies, and being more engaged is better for everyone.

Mohawk Games is funded by the Stardock Strategic Investment fund, which also recently helped start Oxide Games. But Mohawk isn't a Stardock studio, and will remain fully independent. “We are living in the age of the independent game studio,” Johnson wrote in a press release. “[N]ever before have the development tools been so powerful, the distribution channels so accessible, and open development so valuable.”