By Joseph Leray
Jon Shafer is the youngest of Young Turks: while he working for Firaxis, the studio responsible for the “Civilization” series, he moved up in the ranks lightning-fast, working alongside Sid Meier as the lead designer for “Civ V” at the ripe old age of 25.
He’s since moved on from Firaxis and is now the president and lead designer at Conifer Games, the indie studio he founded in Farmington, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. The three-person team is trying to Kickstart their own strategy sim, a game called “At the Gates” that takes place in the twilight years of the Roman Empire.
“At the Gates” features strategy hallmarks like exploration, randomized maps, resource gathering, diplomacy, and abstract, unit-based combat. It deviates from the norm by taking a more specific, focused approach to civilization building — instead of guiding a group of pre-Stone Age cavemen to the moon in a handful of turns, “At the Gates” stays confined to the Later Roman Empire.
Instead of seeing decades disappear in the blink of an eye, your strategy will have to compensate for the changing seasons. As the leader of a barbarian tribe, when the winter comes, you could choose to relocate to more plentiful climes, or stock your storehouses in preparation. Or you could just kick down the walls of Rome and take their food.
A full list of detailed features can be found on Shafer’s blog, where he explains everything from managing your tribe’s relationship with Rome (it doesn’t necessarily have to be antagonistic) to taking out your enemies.
In his pitch video, Shafer explains that he believes “At the Gates” will be “important to the future of strategy games” because “it shows that smaller games, or at least games built by smaller teams with a smaller budget, can still have the same amount of depth as much bigger, more expensive games.”
According to the game’s Kickstarter campaign, “At the Gates” is almost finished — there’s a playable prototype and all of the major features and mechanics are functional. The campaign’s modest $40,000 asking price (which is well on its way toward full funding), will be used to improve the game’s artificial intelligence, polish the art, and iterate on its mechanics.
Shafer expects “At the Gates” to be ready “early 2014,” with the promise to add new features if the initial Kickstarter campaign raises more than Conifer Games is asking for.