Civ V Lead Designer Branches Out with Indie Strategy Kickstarter

| 6 Feb 2013 10:30

War will be kept on a strategic level. Shafer doesn't want the game to become too incremental or involve complicated rock-paper-scissor relationships between unit types. "I'm planning on there being roughly 20 unit types in the game. The focus of the game is more on the strategy than the particular tactics, so the classes are fairly basic, e.g. Infantry, Scout, Light Cavalry, Heavy Cavalry. I want all of the units to be very distinct in their strengths and weaknesses." Even though the game will focus on the lands to the north of Rome, navies certainly won't be ignored. "The naval game is an important strategy available to players," he said. "Becoming a sea raider ala the Vandals is very much possible, and very likely profitable. You first have to obtain the ability to construct boats though, and you really have to invest a lot to make it work. Or... you can just try to capture someone's city that has some boats in it, and commandeer them for your own hodge-podge navy."

Keeping your units in supply will be a huge endeavor, but At the Gates tries to model how barbarian armies lived off the land. "It's possible for a small army to completely satisfy its supply needs by sticking to fertile tiles and pillaging farms and cities, but once winter comes around you're probably in trouble," Shafer said. Supply camps will provide support a certain number of hexes away, as will cities and settlements.

Looking at the assets for At the Gates isn't very impressive; the art style focuses more on symbols instead of providing photo-realistic graphics. Shafer assures me the decision to use graphics which could be produced under his tight budget is all you really need for a strategy game. "The more detailed and realistic the art, the harder it is to actually tell what's going on," he said. "In games where immersion is absolutely vital this is an acceptable tradeoff, but I don't feel that's the case in a strategy game. Our art style isn't completely locked down, but our goal is absolutely a representational, almost board game aesthetic."

The art is created by one of Conifer Games three employees, Kay Fedewa. Shafer and Fedewa, and At the Gates's "architect" Jonathan Christ all live in the same house near Detroit, Michigan. When I heard that, I imagined the house as some kind of MTV's Real World: Game Design, but the group seems to have a very zen approach to making games. "We're all big fans of nature, Kay especially," Shafer said. "We have about 50 plants around the house, which is on a wooded lot that's about an acre stuck in the middle of the metro Detroit area." Other than Tweeters, the little blue parrotlet you can see on Fedewa's shoulder in the final shots of the Kickstarter video, it doesn't get too loud in the house. "We all get along really well, so there's rarely any drama. Usually just me bugging people about needing to get more work done towards a deadline that only I understand."

A lean team means Conifer Games can work together quickly to iterate on the design of At the Gates. Based on the 15 min. playthrough video released with the campaign (see embedded video below), the game looks like it's in a playable state and Shafer will just be pushing along the project until it's up to his standards. It helps that Shafer is an incredibly well-spoken and amazingly driven individual. Shafer is just 29 years old - he said he's been in the industry for 8 years now - and he's probably accomplished more in that short span than I likely will when I'm fifty. At the Gates is his chance to make his personal mark on the strategy game genre he loves and the industry as a whole. Many of you will only recognize him as the lead designer of Civilization V, but he's doesn't really care about all that.

"Maybe I'll always be the Civ 5 guy, maybe not - there's no way to say right now," Shafer said. "But honestly, I'm not too concerned about what I'm known for, as long as I'm able to continue doing what I enjoy and can keep dinner on the table!"

If the campaign to raise a mere $40,000 is successful, he should have no problem putting a few steaks on the grill.

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