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Lead a barbarian kingdom to glory during the final days of the Roman Empire. An empire builder by Jon Shafer, designer of Civ 5.
Lead a barbarian kingdom to glory during the final days of the Roman Empire. An empire builder by Jon Shafer, designer of Civ 5.
3,009 backers pledged $106,283 to help bring this project to life.

Project & Personal Update

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Hey all,

You may have heard, you may not have, but recently I've parted ways from Paradox. In the end it really was creative and cultural differences - I can't go into details and will simply leave it at that. I still love Paradox and its games, but things sadly just didn't work out. I'll still always be rooting for all my friends over there, and wish them the best of luck.

So what's next?

I'll be focusing on At The Gates again. I can honestly say it'll be nice to go back to working on it full-time now that I've had some space and can return with fresh eyes and enthusiasm.

So what's happened with AtG?

I got burned out, to be honest, and ultimately wasn't really sure how to wrap things up in a way I could be proud of. I'm a perfectionist, and at times that trait definitely works against me. It sounds obvious of course, but when you're years deep in a project, have a task list a mile long, and run your own company with one full-time employee it's easy to lose sight of the fact that actually finishing something is more important than making sure it's perfect. Needless to say, it's been a hard lesson. I'll probably always lean a bit too far in that direction, but at least now I'm aware of that and can fight against it.

I made a few attempts at getting back into things but it became truly overwhelming at a certain point, so I stepped away. I'm not proud of that, and I apologise to all of the people I've let down. Making a full-scale 4X game mostly by yourself is an insane undertaking, and not one I would recommend. I thought I could pull it off within the time frame of a normal game's development cycle, but that was an incorrect assumption.

I had hoped my time at Paradox would serve as a source of inspiration, and fortunately I was definitely right about that. I learned a lot even in the short amount of time I was there, and have a clear plan on the design front for how I want to finish up AtG now. I've also recruited new help on the production and AI programming side to assist in shipping this bad boy, so it won't all be on my shoulders any more.

So what's the plan then?

The main places where AtG still needs attention are the mid-game (somewhat) and the late-game (a lot). The first few hours are very solid (aside from bugs and an outdated tutorial), so the goal now is a complete experience from start to finish.

To achieve that we're going to modify the arc of the game from what was originally pitched. I kept banging my head against the same wall over and over again, but the time away has allowed me to explore a new approach I'm confident will be superior. Instead of just migrating around the map for ten hours as resources run out all around you, roughly a third of the way in you'll start to settle down before building a secure kingdom and eventually confronting the Romans directly.

While this might sound ambitious the mechanics actually won't need to change much. 90% of what's in the game now can stay exactly the same, though we will be incorporating permanent structures in order to foster this new approach. I've also brought borders back in a related change (the main challenge right now is how exactly to transition between transient and permanent ownership of map structures), but we have yet to fully playtest the change - I'll keep you guys updated on the results.

Speaking of which, from here on out I'll be posting a project status update on the 1st of every month. I've been bad about this in the past, I know. I basically stepped away from social media last year, but I'll be active again here and on Twitter so if you have any questions (or justified rants) I'll be around to answer them. As for when the game will be done, I can't say for certain until I've built a task list based on our new, final objectives and had a couple other folks double-check things, but the target is mid-2018. Estimates from the last year or so have been based on part-time work, which is incredibly hard to get right with a big project like this, so I'm optimistic that things will turn out better this time. Could the game slip again? Of course, but I'll make sure to let you know if it does along with what progress we're actually making along the way.

Thanks to all the backers and fans who've hung around over the years. I promise there truly is a good game here, we just need to finish it. It's been a long road, both for the game and me myself. But now it's time to finish what we started. Thanks for sticking with us!

- Jon

Nelson Bergen, Peter Gerheart, and 72 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Missing avatar

      clayffo on November 28

      I would like to start seeing things in game, however I cannot due My tier

      Being that we're coming up on 5 years, I think that the beta testing should be extended to all backers. I think you should also unlock the private forum threads so we can all read about what you're doing

    2. Missing avatar

      Peter on November 27

      Thanks for responding Jon. Please don't interpret my comment as a request for further task lists. I agree with clayffo; I'm far more interested in seeing the actual game.

      I don't even care if it's the same 2.40 alpha build you last posted on your YouTube channel many moons ago. Just seeing a little footage (5 minutes!) of you showing off the game and talking about what you plan to do over the coming months would be enough to convince me that you're back on the horse and taking it seriously.

      A number of people have soured on this project, and not without reason: time and patience are both finite resources. However, I'm still convinced that you have an acutely innovative perspective when it comes to game design, and even after everything this project has gone through it remains one of my most anxiously anticipated games.

    3. Jon Shafer Creator on November 27

      The planning I spoke of will take place over a week, but won't be the only thing done over that week. I have a detailed design finished for the midgame that I'll be detailing here in a few days, and started implementation on it this past weekend. You'll start seeing things in-game very soon.

      - Jon

    4. Missing avatar

      clayffo on November 24

      Jon, I think I speak for the majority here when I say we don't want to see any more detailed reports or task lists. The fact that you want to take a week to do this is infuriating

      We want to see version number changes, screen shots, let's plays, and change logs.

      Most importantly we want to see a little honesty and transparency out of you.

    5. Jon Shafer Creator on November 23

      @ Aatu & James:

      Totally fair.

      @ Peter:

      Going to be redoing the tasklist a bit, as it was based on a different design, different timeframe and different people. Next week is planning week though, so I'll have an update regarding what's left to do very soon. As I mentioned in this update it mainly comes down to making sure the midgame and lategame are solid, and rather than just iterating I'd like to break down what that actually means. Stay tuned.

      - Jon

    6. AKASlaphappy
      Superbacker
      on November 22

      look forward to seeing how the game progresses.

    7. James Sunderland on November 22

      @ Aatu

      Very well put, talk is cheap, so the lack of any regular communcation speaks volumes in this case. I've had many backed projects where there were (sometimes significant) delays, but due to regular and honest communcation, I didn't mind in the slightest.

    8. Aatu on November 21

      Nice to get an update about this once again, I'm still looking forward for this. But even though I would like to be excited about this update, I think I'll wait till 1st of December to see if you this time have any intention to actually hold on to even the simplest of your promises. I know it's in no way easy to create a working software product, but it's actually quite easy to keep up on promises related to updates, if one just wants to do so.

      That being said, I hope you come through and find the passion to complete this project.

    9. Missing avatar

      Peter on November 21

      Can you let us know how much progress (if any) has been made on the tasklist you laid out in your last update? You said you would be "posting an update for AtG every few weeks" back when you made that post and this is your first update in over five months. Please let us know if you're still using that tasklist as a guide, and if so, how it's coming along.

      Best of luck!

    10. James Sunderland on November 21

      This project and Mighty No. 9 are my biggest Kickstarter mistakes, but even MN delivered something eventually. Not so here.

    11. Geof Aberhart on November 21

      You'll have to pardon me if I don't jump for joy just yet, given the track record. I hope things actually happen this time, but I'm going to remain thoroughly skeptical until we start seeing actual progress rather than occasional posts.

    12. Jon Shafer Creator on November 21

      Thanks everyone! Even the skeptics - hope to win you guys over in the coming months. :)

      - Jon

    13. Missing avatar

      Allison Galloway on November 21

      I back stuff on the premise that "I bet X dollars this will be really cool!" and sometimes I get a cool thing, and sometimes I don't.

    14. ZDreamer on November 21

      Well, i see no problems here, good luck with the project. It is very interesting to see the process of creating 4X from inside and how it just can not be done in a straight line.

    15. Missing avatar

      saluk on November 21

      Welcome back! I like to think I summoned you, I'd forgotten about the project completely but your name and the civ series came up in a backlog of podcasts I was listening to (ludology if you are interested, I think it was the episode where they interviewed Soren Johnson... not sure). I was like "oh yeah, wonder if he ever got back to Gates? And here you are a few days later! Good luck finishing the project.

    16. pharmac on November 20

      Actually I have written this off. Four years since funding, promises, elaborate explanations, and long stretches of silence have left me unmoved, unlike some others who still keep the hope alive/I gave up and went back to Civilization.

    17. Jared Wheeler on November 20

      Thank you for your candid honesty. I know from experience how easy it can be to get burned out and almost give up completely. I wish you all the best in being able to get back on track, and finding the fun that will help you across the finish line.

    18. James Sunderland on November 20

      What I can gather from recent events-

      "This game is totally not vaporware, because I got canned from paradox and will work on it for a month before getting bored with it again."

      I'd be less pissed if Jon bought a car or something with the funds and issued an apology.

    19. Missing avatar

      Benjamin Vandergrift on November 20

      Glad to hear from you, and I'm glad to hear this project still has life.

      The number one thing I've observed to be true about Kickstarters over the years is that keeping the backers in the loop of what is happening, both the good and the bad, the hard and the easy, etc. is the most important thing a project can do. The more honest and open, the better.

      So thank you for being open about this, and I hope your monthly schedule is something you can stick to. It really is important.

      Oh, and I'm still looking forward to playing this game. :D

    20. Mark L
      Superbacker
      on November 20

      Appreciate the update. As others have said, regular updates would be appreciated, even if there is little new to report. Might I also suggest that regular updates can help act as bit of a motivator, in a way? It might add a bit of encouragement to make some kind of progress on a semi-regular basis. I continue to harbor hope that this project will eventually evolve into a playable, enjoyable game at some future date.

    21. Missing avatar

      Joseph Ross Cornell on November 20

      Hey Jon, good luck on it mate. Keep to that once a month update even if you got nothing and I think people will react positively.

    22. Missing avatar

      geitnerbahn on November 20

      We're still with ya Jon! Looking forward to regular updates again. Good luck!

    23. Missing avatar

      Dtolman on November 20

      @Jon - I'd prefer honest, regular updates, over nothing. If you're really stuck on a design decision and its burning you out, why not prototype a few ideas, and let the backers try it? Or ask "the wisdom of the crowd" for ideas?

    24. Gene Merrill on November 20

      Good luck! Would love to see updated builds again.

    25. Scott Tykoski on November 20

      Good luck Jon - burnout is a real issue, and making a game is a huge undertaking. Excited to see you come back and land this one :)

    26. Nekator
      Superbacker
      on November 20

      what clayffo wrote... but good to see Paradox still has standards...

    27. Missing avatar

      Samuel Morgan on November 20

      Glad to see you back on the project. Games development is always a hard, long road (also a game dev here), I backed an idea, I didn't preorder a game, so it takes as long as it takes. :)

      As another commenter mentioned, it would be great to have some WIP builds if that doesn't hit you too hard in your perfectionism.

      I would also be up for a second round of contributions on a post-KS site, like a lot of projects do nowadays.

      Good luck!

    28. Arthur Cormode
      Superbacker
      on November 20

      Well considering I had chalked this up to vapourware, I’m happy to see any reply at all.

      Look forward to the updates from the one man band.

    29. Missing avatar

      Marko Hladnik on November 20

      Well, hello! I'm glad you're back. Gospeed! Looking forward to the 1st of each month.

    30. Missing avatar

      Jon Huston on November 20

      Jon - it is apparent that you simply didn't raise enough funds for this project. Doing this game for a mere $106 K turns this entirely into a (mostly) self-funded labor of love. Consider running a second Kickstarter to finish this, there is a lot of peeps out there who didn't get a chance in on the first KS.

    31. Missing avatar

      clayffo on November 20

      just to sum this up:

      " I can't really get into details, however, Paradox didn't want me to piss off their customers by ruining a franchise ."
      "i'll be focusing on ATG again because, why not? I have unemployment for a year and i need to make an effort to restore my reputation for the next job interview."
      " i got burned out for the 3rd time and had no intention of being honest with anyone. I was going to just work at Paradox and drop ATG all together."
      "while this may sound ambition, 90% of the game is done. Unfortunately, I need to re-do 80% of that because it's not perfect, then i'll start on the final 10%, which will need to be endlessly revised for the next 4 years."
      "Speaking of which, from here on out I'll be posting a project status update on the 1st of every YEAR, maybe twice if i don't get burned out"
      "I'm optimistic about mid 2018, i mean 2022, if i don't get burned out or get a full time job by then"
      "it's a long road and i have every intention of finishing this game before the modern civilization falls, just like the Romans."

    32. Andrew Stewart on November 20

      Good luck Jon :)

      I've always enjoyed reading the updates, so getting them monthly will be awesome, even if it's just a simple progress report on what you've done in the month.

      I totally understand that feeling of working on something alone (fellow Kickstarter dev here, although a MUCH smaller scope game) and that trade off between finishing something or making it better. I hope you find a way to deal with that!

      Said it already, but I'll say it again: good luck!

    33. Missing avatar

      Sean Boocock on November 20

      Glad to see you're working on this project again and best wishes on the future.

    34. Flatfingers on November 20

      Thanks for this update, Jon. I believe in your ability to deliver an enjoyable game. My entirely personal expectation is that AtG v1.0 will be ready by late 2018, but sooner won't offend me. ;)

      Your experience seems to closely resemble that of Josh Parnell. His game Limit Theory was also ambitious, successfully Kickstarted, and proved to be too much for one perfectionist to achieve. After a couple of breaks, Josh returned to Limit Theory more pragmatic and with three other talented people to help with coding, community, and staying focused on building a satisfying game within reasonable expectations.

      He's making good progress now. I hope the same will be true for you and At the Gates.

    35. Missing avatar

      Grisold on November 20

      Nice to hear from you ; at this point, I had lost any hope that this still promising project could come to complission in any form one day or another ; of course, it is still to be done, but at least we have some news, so count me happy today. :)

    36. Christian Weisskopf on November 20

      As a software engineer and somewhat of a perfectionist, I can only imagine what "finishing" a game of this size takes. I wish you a fresh and productive restart and a successful marathon to the finish line.

    37. Chris Conley on November 20

      Thanks for your commitment to monthly updates. Looking forward to more.

    38. Daniel M
      Superbacker
      on November 20

      I'm one of those still hanging around. Keep at it Jon. As a software engineer myself I know how daunting doing an entire project on your own can be.

    39. Kevin Blank on November 20

      Great to see your back at it! Really looking forward to reading more development updates - they're always fun.
      Good luck with finishing up everything :)

    40. Jason Smith on November 20

      Best of luck getting this wrapped up in some way. If nothing else, please stick by your commitment to issue monthly updates.

    41. Adam Martin (Everyone Can Program) on November 20

      What's the plan w.r.t. builds? When a project is this late, I think the least you can do is share the builds with all backers - that would lend believability to your claims of which bits are done, and which are "almost" done.

      Otherwise, the evidence suggests its just more of what you've been saying in update after update - words, but no action.

      I'm looking forward to the game.