Jon Shafer and Paradox’s recent break up was sad news, even though we never found out what the Civilization 5 designer was working on, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that he’s now able to invest more time into his Kickstarted 4X game: At The Gates. Yesterday, Shafer posted the first update since May, revealing a slight change in direction and promising more consistent updates.
At The Gates is a Civ-like empire builder, but it hones in on a specific time rather than presenting all of human history. So instead of the goal being to create an empire that stands the test of time, it’s about co-operating with, or conquering, the Roman Empire as a barbarian tribe.
Shafer admits, in his update, that he burned out and wasn’t sure how to wrap the game up.
I'm a perfectionist, and at times that trait definitely works against me. It sounds obvious of course, but when you're years deep in a project, have a task list a mile long, and run your own company with one full-time employee it's easy to lose sight of the fact that actually finishing something is more important than making sure it's perfect. Needless to say, it's been a hard lesson. I'll probably always lean a bit too far in that direction, but at least now I'm aware of that and can fight against it.
His sojourn at Paradox seems to have revitalised him, however, and he’s got some new ideas about how to create a “complete experience from start to finish”. That’s where the aforementioned new direction comes in. The tribes were originally pitched as largely migratory, moving around as the seasons change and resources are depleted. During winter, for instance, rivers freeze and fertile fields become useless, forcing the tribe to move on. The new direction will see them eventually settle down and build a kingdom that can stand up to the Romans.
Shafer says that most of the mechanics are already in place, aside from things like permanent structures, and 90 percent of the game will remain unchanged. He also mentions that he's now working with two other people with the hope of finishing the game sooner. Shafer will also start posting updates at the 1st of every month, and he’ll be more active on Twitter, too, in the hopes of restoring people's faith in the game.
Adam had a chat with Shafer about At The Gates when he joined Paradox in May, where he name checks a diverse list of inspirations, from Crusader Kings 2 to Spelunky. Here’s a snippet:
Everything influences everything. For example, in At The Gates, the characters – the clans – are in a lot of ways inspired by games like Crusader Kings 2 and King of Dragon Pass where you have individuals that spice up the game. In part that was a response to playing the game as I’d been building it and realising that because you move your tribe around rather than staying in one place, you don’t get to build infrastructure and settlements that become your stamp on the map. You’re not leaving that trace of yourself on the map in the form of a kingdom or an empire.
At The Gates has been in development for years, and honestly I’d given up hope of seeing it any time soon, but this is the most reassuring news I’ve seen in a long time. Hopefully Shafer won’t burn out again.