I'm still not entirely clear on what an "economic RTS" is, but I like the concept of a game that encourages and rewards predatory economic policy on a large scale, especially one being made by the lead designer and AI programmer of Civilization IV. That fellow, Soren Johnson, announced that a prototype his new game, Offworld Trading Company , is now available to play, although there are a couple of catches.
The Offworld Trading Company prototype wasn't actually expected to be ready until the fall, but as Johnson revealed today, "Fall has arrived early this year." It will be available to anyone who preorders the game via the Founder's Elite Edition, which goes for a not-insubstantial $80; in the FAQ , OTC studio Mohawk Games says the high price is to ensure the prototype goes to "people who want to get their feedback into the design process as early as possible, either out of love for the concept of Offworld Trading Company or respect for Soren Johnson and the rest of the Mohawk team's previous work."
There may also be a desire to limit the field to gamers willing to respect the non-disclosure agreement required to access the prototype. It's an unusual restriction, but Adam Biessener, the brand manager at publisher Stardock, said it's necessitated by the incomplete state of the game, which the FAQ describes as "fully-functional" but "not at all polished."
"The NDA is to avoid having people talk about a game that isn't done (or share screens/video of unfinished/placeholder assets)," he explained. "The whole idea is to get Mohawk a feedback loop so they can iterate on the game for as long as possible to make Offworld Trading Company the best game it can be, without shooting ourselves in the foot from a marketing perspective by having prospective customers' first impression be of rough-looking prototype art."
The Founder's Elite Edition also offers the soundtrack and "game almanac," an extra game key and access to more keys at half the regular price of $40. The regular Founder's Edition offers a $5 discount on the list price and a copy of the Steam Early Access release when it's available.
When you think about it, the concept of Offworld Trading Company is far more objectionable than your average military shooter. Set on Mars, it's a game about corporations competing to claim and develop swaths of off-world landscape. But instead of going in and shooting up the place, the dirty work is done economically, through both legitimate means and off-the-books work. You're not the tool but the wielder, using "auctions, espionage, sabotage, patents, stocks, even pirates" to create, and then take advantage of, uncertainty and instability in the world around you. It may take place on Mars in some neo-dystopian sci-fi future, but it still sounds pretty close to home, doesn't it?
No release date has been announced.