I’m A Backer: At the Gates
As many of you know, I have had a hard time finding a project I could support whole-heartedly the last few weeks. I continued to back projects, it’s true, but at low levels and without the kind of enthusiasm that would be needed for a real recommendation.
Fortunately this week that has changed for the better, and I have found a quality project to share with the rest of you. This week I am a backer of At The Gates, an innovative new strategy title on Kickstarter.
Jon Shafer, the creator of the project did not have to try very hard to win me over on this project, admittedly – I am his target audience. Regardless, he had me with this section near the top of his project pitch:
“A single play through of At the Gates becomes more interesting the deeper in you get, unlike many strategy titles which lose steam when victory becomes assured midway through. Over time, the world’s resources are slowly but inevitably consumed, forcing you to seek out new sources of food and wealth if you hope to survive. The most satisfying victories are those which are hard-earned!”
This is a problem I see with most strategy games these days. Civilization (and I love all the iterations of this most classic of games,) is largely unchanged since I first started playing it on a 386 20 years ago. With each generation it has gotten prettier, and a new layer or two of management has been developed, but by the middle of the game choices become inevitable as you either easily over-match your opponents or they do the same to you. The most important choices in the game occur at the very beginning, and all the rest is rote.
Considering that MOO2, another ancient game is still the best 4x game out there, the strategy category is certainly crying out for innovation and I think this is the game that might do the trick. It’s easy talk about new revolutionary features, half the projects on Kickstarter claim that very thing, but to explain what is wrong with the current feature, and how you want to improve it, as Jon has done in his updates – that is truly revolutionary.
Enough about the project though, how about the execution The project pitch for At the Gates is a polished, informative, and clear. Likewise, its team seems professional and capable, with a resume that seems consistent with their stated goals. The creator has only backed three projects, but I am pleased to see that those projects are spread out over a very long period of time; it’s obvious to me that he didn’t just stumble onto Kickstarter yesterday and decide to try his luck.
I had a chance to sit down with the creator and ask him a couple questions:
Moving cities? Changing climate (map tiles?) These are radical changes, Jon. Any concern they might be too radical for such a stable genre?
There will certainly be some people who aren’t fans of what we’re doing in At the Gates, but our goal is very much to innovate, and that requires taking risks. We’re a very small team and the cost of developing At the Gates won’t be anywhere close to most big, complex strategy games. That offers us the flexibility to go out on a limb with our projects and really try out some new ideas.
Do you think the success of dynasties like the Civilization is part of the reason we have seen so little change in this genre?
That is certainly a factor, but I wouldn’t call it a major one. Franchises in general don’t often innovate unless forced to for financial reasons.The bigger issue is that there just aren’t very many empire builders being made. The handful which are released each year are typically developed by smaller teams with smaller budgets, giving them less freedom to iterate and switch things up. Your first goal has to be to build *a* game, and once you’ve managed that you can then worry about less important goals like making it fun!As for why so few titles have trying pushing the envelope more – honestly, I couldn’t say. However, this definitely leaves an opportunity for us with At the Gates and future strategy titles, so I won’t complain too much!
It’s obvious you’ve given this a lot of thought. How long has this project been simmering in the background.
For the past couple years I’ve been bouncing around ideas for a new strategy game that prominently features map evolution. In the spring of 2012 one of my designer friends told me about a scenario he was creating based around the fall of the Roman Empire, and some of the concepts he talked about really piqued my interest.At his recommendation I’d actually already been listening to Mike Duncan’s excellent History of Rome podcast for several months. The prospect of creating a strategy game unlike any other seemed very exciting. There have certainly been games about Rome and even its fall, but the barbarians who helped bring it about have always been relegated to serving as antagonists, rather than being the stars of the show.Initial brainstorming for At the Gates got underway in mid-2012. My friend Jonathan Christ, our architect, had been working on an“engine” built in C# for quite some time by that point. Later in the year we got to talking about doing a project together and before long we had a basic map with some terrain. I’ve been working on At the Gates full-time since October.
How will you be distributing the game upon completion. Steam?
Hopefully! Getting on Steam is definitely a goal of ours – but ultimately that’s up to Valve.Either way though, we’ll be providing a DRM-free installer on our website to all contributors. There will likely be other distribution options beyond these, but those haven’t been fully worked out yet.
You mention how many tribes there will be, but not who they will be. Would you like to correct that now, or at least tell us HOW different they will be from each other in mechanical terms?
The full list hasn’t been finalized yet, but will definitely include at least the Goths, Huns, Vandals, Franks, Alemanni and Picts.The goal with all of the factions is to make them very distinct from one another. For example, the Huns will be heavily based around mounted units, and may not even be capable of owning fixed structures of any kind – they must instead constantly remain on the move and pillage what they need. The Vandals will be naval specialists that are best when constantly on the move. Some of the Germanic tribes will have supply bonuses in the winter.As with everything though, these aspects are by no means set in stone and will probably change before the end of development. We’ll see where things ultimately end up!