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Star Control II: 25th Anniversary - On the Shoulders of Giants

Published on Thursday, November 16, 2017 By Frogboy In Star Control Journals


This week, the first beta of the Star Control reboot is unleashed on an unsuspecting universe.  25 years ago, Accolade released Star Control II.


Back in 1992, Accolade was a major game publisher.  Some of the best games of all time came from them, including Test Drive, Power at Sea, Hard Ball, Steel Thunder, and many, many other games.  During the late 80's and 90's, they were a match for Electronic Arts and Activision. 

Eventually, Accolade was acquired by Atari. Stardock acquired Star Control from Atari in 2013.  But, 25 years ago this month, Star Control II was released making gaming history.


When Giants walked the earth

Many fans are familiar with Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford's contributions to Star Control II.  Paul was the guiding hand and mentor while Fred was the programming genius. After Star Control II, they would go on to form Toys for Bob, which was later acquired by Activision.  But Star Control wasn't the last thing they worked on of note.  They led the team that made Skylanders, which you may have heard of.  

What most people may not realize is that the team who made Star Control II later went on to create other things that you are probably quite familiar with.  These legends came together in a moment in time and created one of the greatest games ever.

Let's take a look at some of the industry legends who teamed up to create Star Control II.

Greg Johnson, who designed the Starflight series, worked on Star Control II. He also worked on Deluxe Paint!  He later joined Electronic Arts back when it was only a couple dozen employees and worked on the Adventure Construction Set.  He also was the lead on ToeJam & Earl. Today, he leads HumaNature Studios.

Mat Genser and Robert Leyland also worked on the writing for Star Control II and have gone on to have careers in games and movies.

Speaking of movies, Iain McCaig, who worked on Star Control II as an artist and writer, is an industry legend today in movies and film. He designed Darth Maul and countless other Star Wars characters.  Recently, he worked on character designs for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  He also worked on Terminator 2, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Iain McCaig, one of the writers for Star Control II, would later go on to design Darth Maul

You can find more of Iain's Star Wars related work here.

Another writer on Star Control II was John Estes, who went on to work in the film industry and today is an active producer and director of documentaries.

Prominent science fiction artist, George Barr, also contributed his work to the art of Star Control. He was best known for those "pulpy" sci-fi images you'd see on book covers.

George Barr was the artist behind many classic science fiction scenes.

If you want to see more of his work, visit here.

Another legend, Erol Otus, was one of the leading artists on Star Control II and was even the voice of the Chmmr.

Artist Erol Otus may be familiar to you from his work in Dungeons & Dragons, as well as his art in Star Control II. 

Erol Otus also did music for Star Control II as well.  Here's a fantastic interview with him.

Erol Otus designed the Zoq-Fot-Pik for Star Control II and is also known for his D&D fantasy art.

Kyle Balda worked on animation for Star Control II.  You may not recognize his name, but you've seen his work. A lot.  He is the director of Despicable Me, Minions, The Lorax, and led the animation department on Monsters, Inc.

You've seen Kyle Balda's work somewhere besides Star Control II we suspect.

Another legend who was part of the art animation team was Greg Hammond.  Most recently, he produced The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.  Before working on Star Control II, he was a producer on Loom and Wings of Fury.  After Star Control II he went on to work on games such as Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE-Fighter.

Armand Cabera was the artist who designed and created spaceship art and the spaceship animations on behalf of Accolade and Toys for Bob, and has gone on to have an amazing career.

The music for Star Control II came from a contest in which anyone could submit a proposed track to a given description. Riku Nuottajärvi was one of those who created music for Star Control, most famously the Hyperspace sequence. He is now the lead composer for
Star Control: Origins.

This is by no means a complete list of the men and women who worked on Star Control II.  25 years ago, Star Control II served as a nexus of amazing talent.  

For a full listing of the Star Control II team, visit the credits page.

Winning Inspiration

It is no secret that Star Control was influenced heavily by Starflight.  Starflight's lead designer, Greg Johnson, helped write the dialog for Star Control II.  David Brin's science fiction series about the Uplift Universe and Larry Niven's Known Space universe were influential in creating the setting. 

In the Uplift universe, a patron species will genetically modify a pre-sapient client species until it is sapient and then have it serve the patron for a period of time.  This concept found its way into the Star Control classic games lore and helped create a universe that felt well lived in. 

What made Star Control II so special?

There are many answers to this question.  I can only speak for myself.  The "cute" art style of Star Control II contrasted nicely with the quite dark story.  There is something unnerving talking to a seemingly pleasant alien whose theme song is "DIE! DIE! DIE!".  Star Control II broke all the rules for a 1992 game.  You played Star Control? Great. Guess what? You lost. The human race is stuck behind a slave shield.  You discover that within minutes of the start of the game.  In an age where every game seemed so happy, this was quite a change of direction. 

To put the innovation behind Star Control II's story in perspective, imagine if you went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens only to learn that after Return of the Jedi the Empire had won and had killed the main characters.  That's how startling the beginning of Star Control II was. It was unexpected.

Nowadays, players are a little more jaded.  But in 1992, the Star Control II opening was downright dark.  Moreover, the "bad guys" of Star Control -- the Ur-Quan -- were actually the lesser of two evils.  Their cousins, the Kohr-ah, weren't satisfied with merely enslaving everyone.  They wanted to cleanse the galaxy.

Star Control II's lasting influence

Some people consider Mass Effect a high budget remake of Star Control II.  That should give you an idea of its influence.  Stardock's own Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar took inspiration from Star Control II as well.  In that game, the primary villain, the Drengin Empire, had been victorious in the war against the Terran Alliance and its coalition.  The Dregin's shock troops, the Korath, weren't satisfied with enslaving the enemies -- they wanted to exterminate them.  Thus, when Galactic Civilizations III came along, several of the species from the previous game were gone -- exterminated forever. 

Mass Effect and Galactic Civilizations aren't the only games that Star Control II influenced.  Many games today have a concept of Precursors.  Was Star Control II the first game with the concept of an all powerful Precursor civilization? It's hard to say.  Babylon 5 had "The first ones" but in terms of games, I am not aware of any game that touched on it before Star Control II.

Happy Anniversary

One of the greatest gifts ever to befall the gaming community was the creation of the Ur-Quan Masters.  In 2002, 3DO's version of the game assets were turned over to the fan community allowing any fan to use the ships, source code, aliens, etc. as they saw fit, provided it was for non-commercial use.  The result: The Ur-Quan Masters.

And so, here we are, 25 years after the release of Star Control II.  Happy anniversary!



November Balance Testing

Published on Wednesday, November 15, 2017 By Zultar327 In Offworld Dev Journals

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



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


  • 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)

Star Control: Origins - The Lore We Know So Far

Published on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 By Draginol In Star Control Journals

Players have been contributing questions to the Lore Google doc.  There is a lot even we don't know yet about this universe.  It's a strange, complicated and ancient place and many of those who do know are not very cooperative with us for various reasons including excuses like "You're just meat" (whatever that means) and "Seriously, you're just meat".

So let's go over what we do know as of November 14, 2087.


A few assumptions about you

If you have access to this Star Control intelligence document, we will assume you are already familiar with the universes we already have some familiarity with.  Thus far, Star Control Universe Intelligence (SCUI) has categorized information from what we refer to at the 6000 series of universes. Specifically, the 6014 universe, the 6058 universe, the 6015 universe and of course our universe which is designated at 6091.

Answers to Questions from the Google Lore document Q&A:

Are the Orz in our universe?

Not that we are aware of.  Thus far, the Orz have only been seen in the universes that also feature the Ur-Quan.  We do not know if there is a connection.  But thus far, none of the aliens from that universe have appeared here.

What do we know about the Faction of Eight?

Very little so far.  What little we know comes from the Tywom Science Council.  They existed approximately 11,000 years ago.  We don't even know what worlds they were on.

How big is the known universe?

There is known and then there is known.  With modern telescopes, including the Hercules that orbits Neptune now, we can see a lot.  However, we still can't see most brown-dwarfs.  The star charts we've received from the Tywom don't go out very far.


We can reach approximately a thousand star systems with the Tywom Hyperdrive.  Unfortunately, most stars are too dim to see until we are relatively close.  After all, only 50 years ago we only knew about 8 planets in our own solar system.

What do we know about "Jeff"?

We aren't even sure that's his real name.  The only race that even speaks our language are the Tywom and without their universal translation technology, we wouldn't be able to interact with anyone.  Jeff is simply the name the translation software converts his name to.  What we do know is that he's incredibly powerful but also not particularly interested in any of us.

What is Jeff helping the Mowlings?

We don't know yet.  The Mowlings technology is less advanced than even our own.  They don't even appear to have Hyperdrive (well, technically, neither do we yet but we're working on it).  Clearly, the only reason the Scryve haven't wiped them out is because of Jeff.  Why is he helping them? We don't know.

How did we first learn of the other universes?

Mostly through the Tywom. They have not encountered an Origin yet but they have researched the various oral histories from non-uplifited species who seem to have originated elsewhere.

What do we know about the Scryve and their empire?

Unfortunately, not a lot.  They are the primary power in this sector of the galaxy and their empire has thrived for thousands of years.

What do we know about the Precursor starbases?

They seem to be automated which allows for upgrading and refueling of ships provided that they provide the necessary resources. 

What happened to the Precursors?

We don't really know.  Something pretty awful happened around 250,000 years ago. We humans were still messing with stone tools back then.

Can you elaborate on the rumors that there is a powerful being called "The Ancient One" roaming this sector?

We know it's powerful and that it fled from the galactic core.  It hasn't yet come anywhere near this part of the sector.

What is the current policy regarding the Synths?

The technological singularity was as good and as bad as we thought.  As a species, we had to make some tough choices.  One of those choices led to the flight of the artificial beings referred to as "Synths".  There has been no contact with them since.  However, as they were the impetus for the Star Control program, we remain committed to finding out their fate.

Are there any more comments regarding the artifact found on Mars?


What is the ETA on us being able to manufacture our own Hyperdrives? What do you have to say to those believe that our tax dollars are better spent simply purchasing more from the Tywom or the Menkmack?

Star Control's policy has not changed.  The generosity of the Tywom is appreciated as well as the...eagerness of the Menkmack.  However, for Earth to survive what is obviously coming, we cannot rely on others to supply our fleets.

Is there a comment regarding Gliese 942 vanishing?


What about the rumor that something sent two Mars-sized objects into it at near relativistic speeds?

There is no evidence for that. That is a baseless rumor.

Can we really trust the Tywom?

Yes. Probably.

Going Off World

Published on Monday, November 13, 2017 By Tatiora In Offworld Dev Journals

“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.

Continue Reading...

Ashes: Escalation and Sins: Rebellion Weekend Community Events

Published on Friday, November 10, 2017 By Island Dog In Stardock Dev Journals

There are a couple of community events happening this weekend for Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion! 

We have an Events page that highlights current events, videos, reviews, and more! Be sure to check that page each week as we add items often.

Detail for both the community events are there, so check them out!


A Guided Tour of Star Control: Origins BETA 1

Published on Friday, November 10, 2017 By Draginol In Star Control Journals

It has been over 20 years since the last Star Control game was released.  Today, we open up Beta 1 of Star Control: Origins in the form of Star Control: Origins - Fleet Battles.

While the main game of Star Control is about exploring the galaxy, meeting various aliens, investigating strange new worlds all within a living universe, we also include a combat mini-game that we call Fleet Battles.  In Fleet battles, you assemble a fleet from a group of ships and then engage in battle with an opponent controlled by the computer, a human online, or a soon to be former friend sitting next to you.

Not only can you take your ships into battle but you can also design your own ships with the in-game Ship Crafting system.  Design your own ships or download ships created by others and see how they perform.

Here is a guided tour of how Fleet Battles works.


When you load up the game, the "New Game" option is disabled since this first beta focuses strictly on Fleet Battles.  Choose Fleet Battles and you will be presented with this:


Your options are:

  1. Play against the computer
  2. Play against the person sitting next to you (either sharing a keyboard or with a game controller)
  3. Custom match (this will be enabled in Beta-1A) will let you try out your custom designed ships in multiplayer
  4. Unranked play (the game automatically pits you up against someone of similar skill online with the results not being counted)
  5. Ranked play (same as above but your wins and losses are counted so that you can see your relative rank.

Assembling your fleet

Next up, you set up your fleet.  Here you have 100 points to set up a fleet.  Each ship costs a differing number of points.  Think of your fleet as a deck of cards.  Each ship has strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited.


Into the fire

Once the battle is joined, each commander picks a ship to send into the fight.


When one of the ships is destroyed, the losing player picks a new ship.  There is no "perfect" ship for all situations.  A really fast ship is vulnerable to mines and other obstacles.  A ship with a great ranged weapon is often very vulnerable to someone getting in close. 


Each ship to ship battle is relatively short. Maybe a minute or two.   A given fleet might have somewhere between 6 to 12 ships depending on the selections. Thus, a given fleet engagement is typically over in around 10 minutes.

If you play ranked games, you will find yourself slowly going up in rank until you reach a point where your opponents have roughly equal skills as you do.



Eventually one player will emerge victorious and the cycle repeats.  Unless it's  me and I lose. If that happens then I'm going to toss the floppy disk across the screen and take the game back to Micro World. (editor's note: Brad sometimes forgets that the age of the 1541 is long over)


Another cool element of Star Control is the ability to design your own ships.  A big part of the Beta 1 series and our focus on it is to find out what cheese you guys create.  Cheese is a term where someone discovers a loophole in the design and is able to exploit it with deadly effects.  Much of Beta 1 will focus on this as players will create and share their ships online with a warning that "this ship is over powered!".  This is why the multiplayer for custom ships is disabled for the first beta.  We think we've got this covered but we're not positive enough to unleash that on the unsuspecting multiplayer community.


Your ship designs are only limited by your imagination.


Another ship created by someone with skill.

As you can see, it's pretty easy.  So here is the ship I created:


Don't judge me.

You can take your creations and share them online as well as make use of other people's creations.  The system is relatively simple. Pick a ship size which determines what components are available.  Then pick a primary and secondary ability for your ship. Then choose an engine (for max speed) and a thruster (for acceleration).  We will be adding crew and reactors later for providing more control over crew count and max energy.

Once you make your ship, you can play it out in Super-Melee.




The goal of the Beta 1 series

The goal of the first beta of Star Control: Origins is to help us with balance, compatibility, eliminating cheese tactics and improving the user experience in designing ships and creating fleets.  There will be a lot of changes coming into these betas as we go forward.  For example, additional elements will be added to the combat arena such as salvage, temporary boosts to speed, crew replenishment, Precursor relics that help your entire fleet, etc.  The arena will be randomly chosen at the beginning of the fleet battle and we hope to have many different arenas available (and possibly an arena editor for players).

What we really want to emphasize is: DO NOT assume that beta 1 is representative of the final game.  It is a beta for a reason.  We think most people will really like Beta 1.  But every time I play it, I find something that has to be changed (the look of the planet or the variance in space backgrounds or a sound effect or a weapons effect or the way the planet interacts with something, etc.).  This is where you guys come in: Make sure that the final released version of the game isn't a 1.0 but is more like a 1.5 of a normal game.

Good luck! I'll see you online.

Star Control: Origins - Beta 1 Schedule

Published on Monday, November 6, 2017 By Draginol In Star Control Journals


Beta 1 is fast approaching and we want to give you a tentative schedule of what to expect.

BETA 1: November 16
This is the Super-Melee beta.
Super-Melee is a ship vs. ship combat game. In it, you assemble a fleet of ships. You have a total of 100 points to use for your fleet with ships costing between 5 and 20 points depending on the ship.
You will be able to battle against the computer with various difficulty level or against other players via the Internet in either ranked or unranked play.
The Ship Crafter will also be enabled in Beta 1 (yay!) which means you'll be able to design your own ships and share them via Steam Workshop and play with and against those ships. If you want to play with custom ships, you will be able to choose custom multiplayer where you will see a list of games where the host can set up the rules for that game.

BETA 1A: November 30
This will largely be a bug fix of Beta 1. Our Founders group have done amazing work in helping us iron out connectivity issues, lag, video card compatibility, sound effects, balance, etc.
This beta will about refining the experience. There will be endless "ship X is OP" posts and "game is broke" posts that this Beta 1A will address.

BETA 1B December 14
This will add some new ships to the mix. This build will have more balance and bug fixes too but it's main focus will be to incorporate some of the initial feedback we get. We believe this build will also support local multiplayer (2 people, 1 keyboard) and have refined game controller in.
The general idea is that over Christmas, we want you and your friends to be able to get together and play the game with your Steam/Xbox/PS controllers.
Speaking of friends. We expect to also have the taunting system in for this build.

As it stands now, it is looking like there will be no actual NDA requirement for this builds.  However, we do intend to make a few "hoop jumps" so that players understand that yea, this is really and truly a beta and not a demo.

The Music of Mars

Published on Monday, November 6, 2017 By Tatiora In Offworld Dev Journals

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

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


Take to the Stars Episode Thirteen: Joji-5

Published on Monday, October 30, 2017 By Tatiora In Offworld Dev Journals


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.

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