Civilization V Lead Designer Founds ‘Conifer Games’, Launches Kickstarter Project

Posted on February 6, 2013 3:00 PM by Rob Williams

As a big fan of Sid Meier’s Civilization V, the Kickstarter project for Jon Shafer’s At the Gates caught my eye quicker than Alexander the Great can change his mood. Jon began his game career developing mods for Civilization III, which led him to become a beta-tester for both that game’s expansion and also Civilization IV. Ultimately, he wound up working for Firaxis Games, and understood the series well enough to be appointed Lead Designer for its most recent iteration.

He then went on to work at Stardock and, no doubt thanks to the success of other Kickstarters, decided to break free from a bigger game studio and form his own. Conifer Games was then born, along with its initial title, Jon Shafer’s At the Gates.


So far, the game looks good, which is, as you’ve probably assumed, why I’m writing about it. Like Civilization, it’s a 4X-styled game that promises to differentiate itself from the rest. Weather doesn’t play a role in Civilization, for example, but it does here. You must be aware of your surroundings and how the passage of time will change things in order to best prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Depending on your actions, your army could be well-fed, starve – or better still, you could affect the opposition and cause them to starve. Another tweak is that resources run out over time – so you can’t plan on that iron mine supplying the goods for an eternity.

For its Kickstarter project, Conifer Games has set the goal at $40,000, although stretch goals are likely to be introduced if that’s hit (and in all likeliness, it will be). At the moment, the game’s native platform is Windows, so those stretch goals are likely to involve alternative OSes.

For those interested in exploring more of what the game offers, Jon has created a video to show the earliest part of the game. It’s of course an early build, so not everything is totally refined, but it does a great job in explaining the game mechanics and what makes the game unique.

I personally can’t wait to see this come out, and hope that it does eventually get made for Linux (and Mac).

  • Marfig

    if John Schafer is at the gates, shouldn’t we let him in?

    I say wait for it and in the kickstarter page pressure him to explain exactly what he meant on his Strategy Games are Broken article:

    Especially why he failed to realize that strategy games tend to break at the mid game (and that’s very true), not really because we’ve lost 2 of the Xs, but because it’s the game AI that really can’t handle the middle game crisis.

    4X games aren’t meant to offer eXploration and eXpansion throughout the whole experience. The term was coined at the onset of Master of Orion and that game clearly removed those two Xs at the middle game. Instead what we have is the constant failure of the AI to deal with the middle game. It doesn’t know what to do. How to keep the game alive from that period on. Civ V suffers from this problem too, but to a lesser extent than many other games on its category if you only play against aggressive civilization. However it becomes clear that the way a civilization advances against you is anything but a sound strategy. It’s a mess.

    I’m too very interested in Schafer’s first solo foray into game design. But I’m a bit troubled by his vision of what can capture my interest in the middle game.

    • Rob Williams

      Did you happen to watch the video? It explains a lot. I think it might be on the Kickstarter page where it’s mentioned that the game is meant to remain challenging right up until the end, and that “broken-in-the-middle” issue shouldn’t exist. I tend to agree that I am not THAT interested in those 2 X’s later on in the game, but I’m not opposed to the idea, either.

      I think the game has good potential. At least it’s trying to do things a little unique in a market that’s filled to the brim with 4X titles.

      • Marfig

        Of course I saw it! I saw the video and the have been following his blog for over 2 weeks now.

        My point is exactly that while I completely agree with his assessment, I’m skeptical of his solutions. This isn’t the first time the middle-game crisis in grand strategy and 4x games has been discussed, btw. It’s been a major problem to every designer out there. Paradox solutions have been so far the more elegant, in my opinion: they add a whole lot of gaming systems on top of the traditional trade/diplomacy/conquest routine of strategy games. Crusader Kings for instance has a complex rule geneology system and intra-diplomatic events. Hearts of Iron includes a complex army formation and politics system, etc… They then build “strong” AIs that can deal with these.

        I’m not rejecting At the Gates, off the bat. I’m merely skeptical and I think I need to see more to start trusting Schafer’s judgment on these matters… and of course, the quality of his development team.

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