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Jon Shafer was responsible for the critically acclaimed Civilization V (Civ V), one of the flagship titles in 4X strategy games. Still, from that experience, the man learned what went over well and what didn’t. It’s this knowledge that he’ll apply to his new indie venture called At The Gates, which has already acquired funding through Kickstarter.
In a postmortem post, Shafer explains where Civ V slipped despite some great implementations and what he’ll take from that into his new game. For starters, the interface will be accessible to both newcomers and advanced players with an expert switch that adds advanced tactics for those that desire it.
In terms of diplomacy, Civ V taught him that there is a fine line between making artificial intelligence (AI) too human and following patterns that players can understand. Not following a rationale at all upsets players as an AI leader seems too random and therefore unreliable. There is no use to build up a relationship, as this may fall out at any second. In At The Gates, players will be able to rely more on heavily favorable or unfavorable relations. More so, diplomacy reaches more depth through performing favors for leaders, instead of just hurling resources at them to win them over.
The prior issue with AI also translated into the coding. Shafer admits he lost track of the goal when trying to create an elegant code, which hurt the AI behavior in the end. With At The Gates, the team will purposely cut down on more complexity or rather too much of it, in order to allow for more streamlined, recognizable tactics that will create more impact and challenge as a result.
For resources, the impact in Civ V was not what he expected it to be. Since the model was lenient, some things like food were reduced as a priority and trading suffered because of it. For his new game, there will be a much larger critical focus on all resources. By providing less variety, Shafer also wants to try and ensure that any material is necessary to succeed, as shortages can cripple progress. This should spur players to trade goods and keep an eye on micromanagement.
Economics in Civ V felt too limited, plus it favored the wrong focus. Players could stay small and reap more benefits than larger empires, which is beside the point in 4X games. For the new indie project, Shafer still wants to make sure that players don’t spam cities (like in Warlock, for instance), but can still expand if they choose. Here, it will be much more important to stay fed and protect settlements, as opponents will be encouraged to loot camps to feed themselves.
Finally, while combat in Civ V introduced a much more complex system that only allowed one unit per tile, the result was stunted because of its complexity. It’s much harder to create a competent AI with these tools and these problems can be compounded when maps tighten the movement through bottlenecks. For At The Gates, players will be allowed to stack units once more. Instead, the map element will be increased. Units will need to rely on available resources on tiles in order to function and with changing seasons, this could heavily affect the possibility to stay in position. Therefore, management will overtake the priority of just having a ton of units and sending them to the battlefield.