Civ V Designer Jumps to Stardock

Civ V Designer Jumps to Stardock

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The lead designer of Civilization V jumped ship and is now working for another PC strategy outfit, Stardock.

Two weeks ago, we reported that Jon Shafer had left Firaxis a scant few months after he shipped his first major product, Civilization V. Shafer could be called a young designer, he got his first job in videogames at Firaxis in 2005 as a programming intern after he cut his chops in the mod community of Civilization III. Shafer said that he amicably split with Firaxis, wishing his former employer success. At the time, I wondered where he would end up and I didn't have to wait too long to find out. Shafer has reportedly taken a position at Stardock to continue work on the fantasy turn-based strategy game Elemental: War of Magic. There's no word on his specific title, but he will soon lead his own team on an unrelated game in the near future.

Shafer didn't exactly spell it out, but he did say that he took the job at Stardock (after fielding offers from a number of companies) because it will allow him to work on the kinds of games that he wants to make. He repeated that he left Firaxis on good terms, but Shafer may have felt stifled by the many sacred cows of the Civilization series. When I spoke to Dennis Shirk, producer at Firaxis, at E3 I got the sense that he thought of Shafer as a brilliant young whipper-snapper that would be a great designer one day, and that attitude might have grated on Shafer enough to have him look for opportunities elsewhere.

For Stardock, makers of the space strategy games Sins of a Solar Empire and Galactic Civilization, the addition of Shafer to the team is a pretty big deal. The company, led by CEO Brad Wardell, shipped Elemental last August to poor reviews and lukewarm reception from fans. Wardell admitted that he botched the release of Elemental, but is committed to getting the game to where it needs to be.

Perhaps the hiring of Shafer to "fix" the game with patches and expansion will offset the failure. Stardock also hired the creator of the popular Civ IV mod Fall From Heaven, Derek Paxton, to serve as senior producer on Elemental so perhaps Shafer and Paxton will be able to right the ship with their Civ-modding chops.

Or maybe Shafer should just get cracking on a new and less-broken game?

Source: Big Download

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Color me interested. I always had a mild interest in the Civ games, and Sins of a Solar Empire was just fantastic. I see this leading to good things.

This must be one extremely talented guy, to not only get offers from game companies but offers to be a lead designer, at such a young age. Looking forward to whatever he makes next.

Grey_Focks:
Color me interested. I always had a mild interest in the Civ games, and Sins of a Solar Empire was just fantastic. I see this leading to good things.

I just want to point out Sins of a Solar Empire was only published by Stardock. It was developed by Ironclad. Stardock has itself worked on Galactic Civilizations, Elemental, Corporate Machine, and the Political Machine. That said, if he can keep up the quality Stardock usually make, I foresee a great game.

so he left fireaxis for fireaxis... IN SPACE!! sorry :P but stardock does follow many of the designs set up by the civ series.

Sure beat up on Elemental again. 1.1 is more then playable it is fun. I would urge everyone who took a look at it at launch to take another look. If you are talking about it in it's current state well I respectfully disagree that it is 'broken'.

As to Jon I am sure he would not have taken the job if he did not see anything in Elemental. Particularly given the other jobs I am sure he could have taken.

This is the funniest news I've read in a LONG time. I mean, he goes from one game with huge release issues... to a different game with huge release issues? Sorry guys, I can't fix the huge AI flaws, poor balance, or gameplay problems... so I'll go help Stardock with their Huge AI flaws, poor balance, and gameplay fixes.

Seriously, is this a real thing?

Hm, well makes me wonder if Kael wasn't working out for them as much as they hoped if they just took on a second person with the job title of "senior designer." The last Elemental patch was a step in the right direction, and it has run pretty stably for a couple patches now, but I think it is also fair to say the last patch was underwhelming and not what the fan base was hoping the game would eventually be. Well anyway, Paxton just started so he cannot be judged by patch 1.1, but in some ways the game has gone in a worrisomely worse direction by simplifying abilities and stats on top of what was already an overly simple tactical combat system, for this genre of game.

I'm also not totally sure if the lead designer on Civ 5 is the right match for Stardock since Civ 5 wasn't a flawless release, stability or gameplay-wise, and Stardock has two highly-flawed releases now with Demigod and Elemental. What they need is a lead designer from Blizzard or Valve.

With all that said, Elemental did give me a good solid couple months of enjoyable gaming. They promise a demo soon so I would at least recommend that, if not an outright purchase if you are sitting on the fence and like fantasy/strategy kinds of games. The only really bad part of it now is looking upon so much potential in a game, so much depth that isn't fully realized, and figuring, at this rate, it is going to take months to get there.

Emphraim:
This must be one extremely talented guy, to not only get offers from game companies but offers to be a lead designer, at such a young age. Looking forward to whatever he makes next.

Grey_Focks:
Color me interested. I always had a mild interest in the Civ games, and Sins of a Solar Empire was just fantastic. I see this leading to good things.

I just want to point out Sins of a Solar Empire was only published by Stardock. It was developed by Ironclad. Stardock has itself worked on Galactic Civilizations, Elemental, Corporate Machine, and the Political Machine. That said, if he can keep up the quality Stardock usually make, I foresee a great game.

Did not know that. Thanks for the heads up. Only one of those I got was GalCiv2, and I did like it, but it got old pretty fast...Still curious to see where this goes, though.

Saying Jon Shafer "jumped" to Stardock is like saying I "jumped" into freelance writing after doing an embarrassingly poor job as a telemarketer.

Have you seen the user scores on Metacritic for Civ 5? Or the user scores on any gaming site? It was the most disappointing game of 2010, never shaking the feeling of "this is an honest-to-gods giant step backward from Civ 4 in terms of AI, gameplay mechanics, and, y'know, being able to press "next turn" on a pretty damn powerful gaming PC and not ending up having enough time to order a pizza, have it delivered, eat it, digest it, and poop it out before the next turn starts on any map size larger than "tiny" in the lategame."

Yeah, the patch helped (still takes too much time between turns late in the game, but it's more like "get up and grab a soda from the fridge" rather than "order a pizza"), but I feel bad for Obsidian catching all the flak for releasing an "unfinished product" when New Vegas wasn't nearly the most unpolished release of the year.

Jon Shafer is no Soren Johnson, who in turn is no Brian Reynolds, considering that ultimately Alpha Centauri is still the most fun game in the Civ series and still my go-to 4X game.

Given how broken Civ V is (I've had two different instances of gamebreaking bugs, both pre and post-patch) that seems like a match made in QA hell.

SimuLord:

Jon Shafer is no Soren Johnson, who in turn is no Brian Reynolds, considering that ultimately Alpha Centauri is still the most fun game in the Civ series and still my go-to 4X game.

To that I will just say

yes.

But, for the record, when it's not crashing on me, Civ V is a pretty darn fine game. Which only makes it more annoying that it's broken. At least elemental has the decency to kind of suck as well as being a mess.

SimuLord:
*snip*

Actually, I'm sure most of the game's problems (long load times, bugs, crashes, piss-poor AI) you could pin on the programmers. The game design itself was pretty solid. Switching to hexes, and getting rid of stack-of-doom gameplay, and many other changes were brilliant ideas. When it runs, it's an exceedingly fun game.

SilentHunter7:

SimuLord:
*snip*

Actually, I'm sure most of the game's problems (long load times, bugs, crashes, piss-poor AI) you could pin on the programmers. The game design itself was pretty solid. Switching to hexes, and getting rid of stack-of-doom gameplay, and many other changes were brilliant ideas. When it runs, it's an exceedingly fun game.

Key phrase there being "when it runs". Again, I feel bad for Obsidian, catching all the flak when Firaxis put out the buggiest mess of a game this year.

SilentHunter7:
Actually, I'm sure most of the game's problems (long load times, bugs, crashes, piss-poor AI) you could pin on the programmers. The game design itself was pretty solid. Switching to hexes, and getting rid of stack-of-doom gameplay, and many other changes were brilliant ideas. When it runs, it's an exceedingly fun game.

Being "Project Lead" for any group in any industry means your the one shaking hands, accepting awards, and recieving praise when your team succeeds.

It also means your the one who gets the flak and ridicule when it fails miserably. It all comes down to you.

That being said, I'm sure theres more to this then just leaving due to negative press. Shafer, judging by his history, is really passionate about the Civilization series. The article says it goes back to his teens when he was a modder for Civ3 (which must mean he was active on the forum community too, etc)

For him to be leaving...well something messed up must have happened.

Sartan0:
Sure beat up on Elemental again. 1.1 is more then playable it is fun. I would urge everyone who took a look at it at launch to take another look. If you are talking about it in it's current state well I respectfully disagree that it is 'broken'.

As to Jon I am sure he would not have taken the job if he did not see anything in Elemental. Particularly given the other jobs I am sure he could have taken.

Ive heard the basis for elemental is master of magic, can you tell me how it stacks up? now that its been patched a bit?

as blasphemous as it may sound i wish Sins of a Solar Empire would come to steam! XD

just not a big fan of Impulse :(

Well good for him to find an unorthodox RTS developer. :D

Worgen:
Ive heard the basis for elemental is master of magic, can you tell me how it stacks up? now that its been patched a bit?

The irony that MoM was initially panned and bug ridden then ended up being a gem is not lost on me. I would say Elemental is on the same path. They are past the bug stage and it is being polished. The tactical battles could use some work and the AI in general but I think it is shaping up just fine. Last I heard there was going to be a 1.2 and a 1.3 eventually.

I can't address multi-player as I have yet to try it.

Bottom line: I could understand someone waiting a bit to get a copy but I think this is a fine time to get in and try it.

DTWolfwood:
as blasphemous as it may sound i wish Sins of a Solar Empire would come to steam! XD

just not a big fan of Impulse :(

I can understand that but I support impulse (and GoG for the old stuff) anyway so steam does not end up the only game in town.

Sartan0:

DTWolfwood:
as blasphemous as it may sound i wish Sins of a Solar Empire would come to steam! XD

just not a big fan of Impulse :(

I can understand that but I support impulse (and GoG for the old stuff) anyway so steam does not end up the only game in town.

best of luck to the smaller distributors for sure.

If he was the main driving force behind the debacle that is Civ V, I feel sorry for Stardock.

Greg Tito:
Perhaps the hiring of Shafer to "fix" the game with patches and expansion will offset the failure. Stardock also hired the creator of the popular Civ IV mod Fall From Heaven, Derek Paxton, to serve as senior producer on Elemental so perhaps Shafer and Paxton will be able to right the ship with their Civ-modding chops.

That's probably the funniest thing I've ever heard. The game designer who worked on Civilization 5, a game that's STILL (non-system-specifically) unplayable and is indeed possibly the buggiest, the worst optimized and the most technically repugnant thing to ever be referred to as a triple A title is thought to fix... anything?

edit: fun fact, if you search Escapist articles for the word "unplayable" this is the first hit, note the picture on the second page:
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/writersroom/8252-Open-Letter-to-People-Who-Make-Games.2

Vrach:
*SNIP*

Another fun fact, since we're busy educating each other here, Shafer was the designer. He'd have very little, if anything, to do with the programming of the game. It wouldn't be his fault at all for the game being buggy to the point of unplayability, that would be either the programmers for a clusterfuck of biblical proportions, or the investors for pushing an early release date.

theSovietConnection:

Vrach:
*SNIP*

Another fun fact, since we're busy educating each other here, Shafer was the designer. He'd have very little, if anything, to do with the programming of the game. It wouldn't be his fault at all for the game being buggy to the point of unplayability, that would be either the programmers for a clusterfuck of biblical proportions, or the investors for pushing an early release date.

You wanna look up the responsibilities of the job you're quoting? Cause it requires pretty extensive knowledge of programming and it makes him the person in charge of coordinating and keeping an eye on everyone else, the programmers very much included.

This is not a few major flaws, a bug that happens on certain systems or due to RNG situations. This is a game literally being unplayable. This is a game that has a memory leak in the save function at least 3 major patches have tried and failed to fix. This is a game that introduces problems with every patch it ships out while fixing irrelevant issues and worrying about balancing the game when literally every system running it crashes the game in a multitude of situations.

This game is, from every single technical standpoint a complete and utter failure and a flagship of bad game design. Note the last word. And that's putting aside the number of awful design choices like an indefinitely postponed and already promised and not delivered on hotseat mode, the absolutely awful AI that has functions that are simply never used and others.

I'm not saying it's all his fault. But he damn sure didn't do his job right and it's simply a laughable notion that he'll save any game out there that's been plagued by bugs and an awful release considering he's leaving a project that has less stability than the beta version of most games more than 3 months after it's release.

 

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