At The Gates: Roadmaps and Sacrifices

David Stark / Zarkonnen
10 Jan 2016, 11:11 a.m.

At The Gates is an under-development 4X game by Jon Shafer, a game designer formerly of Firaxis Games. In the game, you play as a barbarian tribe in the twilight days of the Roman empire. It got kickstarted back in early 2013 and has been making its way through the tortuous process of development ever since. I actually found out about it too late to join the Kickstarter, but I've been following its development nevertheless.

In his most recent update, Shafer sets out a roadmap for completing development of the game.

As is so often the case with Kickstarter games, this one turned out to be significantly more time-consuming and expensive to make than expected at the start. The original schedule had the game completed 15 months after funding, and it's been more than twice that long now.

Shafer does a good job of showing why development has been taking so long, and it's instructive reading for would-be game developers and Kickstarter campaign runners. A major theme is that some parts of the game design simply took a long time and a lot of iterations and dead-ends to be actually good. Also, design decisions are interconnected: each iteration has to be made to work with the rest of the game so it can be properly evaluated, and once you've settled on what to change, consequences ripple outwards to all other systems. Still, Shafer is optimistic that the major design decisions have now been settled.

But in the final section - "Budget" - things turn scary. Of course, the money from Kickstarter has run out. Shafer compensated for this by selling his house and car and emptying his retirement account! Now, granted, I don't have a house, a car, or a retirement account, but if I did, holding on to them would be pretty high on my list of priorities. I get that he's invested in having the game succeed and wants to complete it without the interference that comes from external funding. But what happens if it fails?

And that's why even as I am working hard on Airships, I still do the occasional bit of contract work to keep my hand in, make connections, and keep my CV from looking barren. I like having a fall-back plan, and I really don't believe in the motivational power of betting it all on one big thing.