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Soren Johnson joins Stardock, Lots of Titles in PreProduction

By on March 1st, 2013 7:08 pm

So, in a Friday weekend tease post, Brad Wardell, Stardock CEO, announced that they hired Soren Johnson (Sid Meier’s Civilization 4 lead designer) to oversee the design of all their games, “at least for awhile”, says Brad.

“There’s a lot of game projects floating around here and as I’ve said many times in the past, I don’t like designing games and Kael [Derek Paxton] has crazy amounts on his plate and Jon [Shafer] is full-time on At the Gates. So we’ve gotten some help…”, wrote Brad.

So, now look at this. Stardock has Derek Paxton, the developer of the famous Fall from Heaven mod for Civ4, apparently running the show as senior designer and producer; Soren Johnson (Civ4 lead designer) is now on-board; Jon Shafer (Civ5 lead designer) was there and still seems to be in a way; Brad Wardell himself is the designer of Galactic Civilizations 2: Dread Lords. So, now, you tell me what sort of games do you think these fine gentleman are working on? :) 4X games of course! They must be. And they seem to have a lot on their plate.

“Right now, we have a lot of titles in pre-production in various places and Derek apparently wants to be able to go home once in awhile and Soren, having recently left Zynga, gave us an opportunity to work together for the next few months and so here we are.” ~Brad Wardell.

So, in summary.

Stardock hired Civ4’s lead designer: Soren Johnson. Jon Shafer worked on Fallen Enchantress and on another game (that hasn’t been announced yet!). They say to have “a lot of titles in pre-production in various places” and they also say to have used “a lot of the money from the sale of Impulse back in 2011 to create a fund to help launch new start-ups” and to have “a lot of game projects floating around”.

Ok, I know, besides Soren’s hiring (which is still big news in my view) there’s nothing concrete here, but I would prepare for announcements. Maybe in Stardock’s annual report we’ll see something, which is “coming out soon”. That or in PAX East this month. Could it be GalCiv3 maybe? Sins 2 perhaps? Could they be using some of that Impulse money to go after Homeworld’s IP and Homeworld3 maybe? :) I believe we’ll see soon enough.

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  1. Jeff P says:

    This is great news. Stardock has always been one of my favorite gaming companies. Right after the launch of Galactic Civilizations (the first one) gamers could communicate directly with the programmers who would implement desired changes on-the-fly. Stardock Central was also one of the first sites that would track your purchases and allow you to re-download games long after the original sale.

    It will be exciting to see what this new Stardock team comes up with.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Yes, those were great times indeed. Stardock showed an unparalleled openness to accept user feedback by then and implement it right away. I’m still convinced to this day that that was one of the reasons behind Stardock doing so well back then, and these days, and for the very loyal fan base they have now.

      But that was before the dark times. Before the Empire. Just kidding :) They still do these long open betas and incorporate lots of feedback. So, it’s similar in a way I guess. However, the post support isn’t the same. GalCiv’s evolution (and GalCiv2 also, no?) was indeed a fun time.

  2. caekdaemon says:

    Galactic Civilizations 3 please.

  3. Alexodia says:

    Dont they own the IP for MOO

  4. t1it says:

    Let’s go Gal Civ 3 shall we? Oh no we need more distractions ala Fallen Enchantress :\

  5. OneManAndTwoCats says:

    There’s an early Three Moves Ahead podcast in which Soren Johnson talks about how keen he is to develop on-line (as in web, not MMO) strategy games. That was not long after he moved to EA (4 years ago?). Then he moved to Zynga a year or two after that.

    Isn’t is possible this is just Stardock moving into Facebook games? A –> :-/ <–for me.

    Found the podcast, episode 21 from July 2009:

    • Adam Solo says:

      That’s a very pertinent observation you make. I also get the impression that Soren is much into the online side of games. In a recent podcast with Jon Shafer he talked a good deal about multiplayer aspects, showing in a way his interest in the social/multiplayer/online aspects of games.

      Being Zynga (his former employer) a social games provider and all, I think your remark is more than pertinent. Could Stardock be moving towards online games? Facebook as you say, or even MMOs of some kind? Hum.

      • OneManAndTwoCats says:

        I listened to that podcast with Jon Shafer after reading your post (I spotted it the other day, but had forgotten about it). There’s nothing in what Soren said that suggests he’s changed his mind about the future of strategy games. So yeah, just confirms for me that his involvement at Stardock will be in projects that will have no interest for me. But then, there’s a lot of money in that market and if it keeps Stardock in business to be able to do more traditional games alongside the on-line games, that’s a good thing.

        (I haven’t listened to the other Game Design Round Table podcasts, it was bookmarked to listen to when I get to it. But … are they all so dry?!)

        • Adam Solo says:

          I only listened to that one with Soren and liked it. There’s also one about XCOM, maybe I’ll check that one out also. I liked the one on 4X games with Soren, but don’t know if I’ll become a regular listener.

    • TimmY says:

      I don’t even have a facebook account. Sigh.

      It will be a waste of talent if they go this direction.

  6. Noosphyra says:

    Same people in, same people out. Cloned games out. Ruminating the same cud. Civilization, Galactic Civilization, Fallen Enchantress, Pandora… Well, schoolboys are screaming, dads are opening their wallets, Steam is counting profit…
    My only hope is the indi devs. Though StarDrive is a secondary compilation thoroughly. See the last comment in:

    • Adam Solo says:

      Hi, welcome to the blog.

      You make a valid point, which I think does fit in this post’s context to some extent, although absolutely not related to the post’s subject but more on the comments generated from it. And, particularly regarding my own suggestions for future Stardock titles (as Stardock has not announced any new title yet).

      Lack of novelty can be worrying yes, I agree with you there. At least that’s what I think your point was about. And this applies to all areas of entertainment in my view, not only in the games context. And, that’s one thing I always keep in mind when analyzing games, and I also suggest game designers to have that in mind when designing them.

      Borrowing (picking up from previous concepts) is ok, and ultimately unavoidable, but I suggest one to always ask this question when designing a game or creating other piece of entertainment: “Is this something that I’m creating novel enough?”. If the answer is no, you feel it’s not novel enough, then I think more effort should be put to create more novelty elements. I don’t think plenty of novelty is required though, but some is.

      However, you do realize that there’s actually a market for clones (which come in many degrees) and remakes, right? So, I don’t think there’s a point in over dramatizing this issue.

      • csebal says:

        What one person calls clones, the other calls an upgrade, a sequel, a reboot or just a game “heavily inspired by”.

        People who like a given game, will like to have an updated, maybe slightly improved version of it. People who do not like a game however will complain how it is a clone of an already existing game, and quite understandably as they will be mad that it was made instead of something “new” that they might like too.

        What is “new” anyway?
        When we are talking about games, then there are several aspects where we can judge originality separately and each of those vary in importance depending on the genre. I’m talking about aspects, such as mechanics, visuals or story.

        Now the mechanics and visuals are technical aspects of the game and anyone having any idea about how technical innovation works knows, that it is 95% copying and improving already existing ideas with 5% of originality sprinkled on top for flavor.

        There is only so many ways to build a wheel and while you might try to make your wheel fancier, at the end of the day, it will just be a wheel.. unless you go completely mad and make it a square wheel just to be original. Thing is.. even then there will most probably be some idiot somewhere on the world who has made the same mistake of trying to reinvent the wheel before you did, you just never heard about it, as – let’s face it – failed ideas get way less publicity than good ones. (which is a shame tbh, as there are just so many mistakes we could avoid otherwise)

        So with that said, you will most probably not create anything really new in the mechanics or visuals department of a game. This pretty much leaves the story for you to be truly creative with.

        Apart from the fact, that for some genres, the story is simply secondary in importance (the success of a game of monopoly or civilization or stardrive even is not determined by how elaborate the story of it is), creativity in storytelling is also highly limited. It is not limited by practicality, but by how our brain works. It is the reason why you do not see too many original movies or TV series being made.. Not because the original scrips are swept under the rug in fear of innovating (though it might also be a factor in that case), but because we are not naturally wired to come up with things that are completely new. We just take things we know and combine them in different shapes and forms. Even some of the more successful creative works are heavily based on other things.. Avatar for example was a mixture of several different stories, Martin’s novels are based on medieval human history, he merely twisted the world and added some fairytale elements to it.. we could really go on..

        Once you start analyzing stories that you might consider to be original, you will find that they are based on already existing ones, borrow from human history, culture, etc..

        Hell.. an original character in a book might be and 1:1 copy of the neighbor of the writer. It is a pretty common practice of making characters modeled after people you know, as you can more easily make a believable character that way. For you or me, that will be a completely original character, as we never met the model for it, but is it really creativity then?

        I would say yes, but for those complaining about copies of games being made, I hardly doubt they would accept that form of creativity if the character was modeled after a figure they know.

        Bottom-line here:
        True creativity is a rare commodity and while you can certainly hope for a game to show something new, expecting every game to be a totally fresh experience is highly unreasonable, what you can and should hope to get is a game that is an improvement compared to its peers and predecessors.

        • Adam Solo says:

          I think you said it all and I particularly agree with your bottom line. I would just emphasize a bit further the need to include novelty elements when you’re in the design process.

          However, bear with me with just a further thought.

          In the story telling business in particular (sci-fi for example), it’s almost impossible to try to come up with a totally fresh and new idea that nobody else has thought about, or wrote about before you. Someone already DID write or conceptualized something you’ll come up with. And, if you try to go after 100% originality I think you’ll be mad in a very short time.

      • Noosphyra says:

        As you could remember from history, markets always were quite squalid places that noble men tried to avoid…:)

        • Adam Solo says:

          I fail to see the parallel. But, in a way, I do see it :) and feel I know where you’re coming from. I have no problem with either that or gamers who come from “squalid places”. And, I love (real) markets by the way.

        • Shaftoe says:

          Your elitest self image bores me and is almost certainly incorrect.

    • zigzag says:

      Lead designers need to do more than design games. They need to manage teams of developers. It makes sense that Stardock would hire someone with Soren’s experience and, more generally, that studios in general would hire the same people.

      Also, watch yourself. Comparing Civ 4 to Civ 5 is dangerous in some places. ;)

      • Adam Solo says:

        Oh, I’ll be more careful from this point forward when talking about Civ5 and Civ4 in the same context, thanks for the tip.

        By the way, I think Civ5:G&K’s experience today is equivalent (not equal though) to Civ4:BTS in the day. Should I be worried? ;)

        But, I do agree that Soren’s hiring goes a long way more than just strictly for the purpose of designing and working on 4X games. But it’s a tempting thought isn’t it? :)

      • zigzag says:

        I’m even more of a heretic than you, actually. In general, I enjoy Civ 5’s approach more than Civ 4’s.

  7. Eno says:

    A while back Stardock was talking about reviving Star control. Super Melee would lend itself well to a browser/social media environment.

    • oldMooFan says:

      and MOO franchise as MOO 4

      i remember to read it on the stardock forum

      • Adam Solo says:

        The Master of Orion franchise still belongs to Atari Interactive, Inc, to my knowledge. Atari US (the US part of Atari) filed for bankruptcy in January of this year. However, the MoO IP belongs to the mother company. So, unless they go under too, the possibility for a MoO4 seems unlikely. But, who knows.

        • Eno says:

          I cant see them competing with themselves…Stardock’s 4x space game is Galciv. While not the same as Moo2 I doubt they’d develop both.

        • Adam Solo says:

          I think you have a point there. They are both turn-based titles and while radically different in many ways it does seem strange to develop both. And, GalCiv3 would make more sense for them.

          Maybe Master of Orion is done, but a part of us doesn’t accept that because we feel MoO3 didn’t give the franchise justice as final title. But, hardly any sequel is better than a previous title, so. (I still feel that the original MoO does some things better than the MoO2 sequel, see? But, overall I’m not sure which I prefer.).

  8. Ashbery76 says:

    I look foward to new games as great as Spore and Dragon Age Legends.

  9. RedArgo says:

    When does Brian Reynolds join Stardock?

  10. LeaderOne says:

    CovertAction SSI , SunDog FTL , Adventure Construction set EA …old school baby but not on point im sure…just wanted to throw around some great titles that never got a remake or anything like them on the market..but exceptional titles

  11. Serge says:

    Can I have Alpha Alpha Centauri 2 please?

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