Jon Shafer, the lead designer of Civilization V, started working on At the Gates in 2012 and it almost ruined him. In a long, and very open, blog post, Shafer details the harrowing journey he took in the seven years since he started working on the game. Medical and financial issues mounted until he hit rock-bottom midway through the project. In a November 2015 Kickstarter update, Shafer confessed that things were not on track and that he’d resorted to selling his house and emptying his retirement fund to pay for development.
“And it finally sunk in. It was over. Everything was over. I had destroyed everything. There was nothing left. Of the game. Of my career. Of my life. Anything. It was all gone.”
A pause for reassment, a side trip in 2017 as a Paradox hire, and a “reboot” of his life habits put him back on the right path. Thankfully, Jon Shafer is doing much better now, and with At the Gates almost ready to launch on January 23rd, he’s got something to look forward to.
Jon Shafer has changed the way diplomacy works in his indie strategy game At the Gates. As outlined in his design a year ago, diplomacy was going to be very similar to the way other 4X games handle the feature. A player would bump into an AI leader, get a general rundown of that leader’s personality traits, he or she would make a request like send gold or food, and things would progress from there. It’s a solid if unexciting formula. Shafer revealed in his latest update that he’s thrown out that whole system and has rewritten diplomacy to emphasize the personalities of the people involved. Leaders will deliver appropriate demands or requests based on their leanings and situation. The before and after images of the diplomacy screen are instructive.
Personality. Everything comes down to personality. I kept reminding myself throughout this process, and continue to do so. To bring this out I would have the AI leaders ask you questions relevant to their unique situation and philosophical leanings.
There should be no mystery as to whether or not Genseric and Attila like each other. They should often make comments about one another and trade barbs through the diplomatic channels.
To keep things interesting for each new game, AI leaders will no longer share personality traits. Instead, Shafer wants to draw from a pool of traits appropriate for each leader, and no doubling up will be allowed between them. No more cookie-cutter diplomats!
Along with the focus on individual quirks, Shafer has introduced a global “respect” metric to quantify the player’s diplomatic weight. Gain enough respect, and the player unlocks better diplomatic options with all leaders. Lose respect, and the AI leaders will be less inclined to do your bidding. I guess I’ll be naming all of my rulers Rodney Dangerfield.
At the Gates is currently in development and is projected to launch in 2015, but an early access package is available now.