At The Gates is another case of a developer leaving a big company to work on his own project with the help of Kickstarter. Jon Shafer, previously known as the lead behind Civilization V, created the campaign back in February of 2013. Sitting in the same “4X” genre as the Civilization titles, Shafer has painted a picture through project updates of a new title improving on the self-described mistakes he made when designing Civ 5.
Just before time of writing, there were no signs of life since November 24th 2015, with an extensive update detailing progress and the roadmap for the future. As well, Shafer made brief mention in this update of suffering from a personality disorder, though this is not framed as an explanation for delays, but rather described as something that motivates him to keep working on big projects like this. Mental health has been used as an excuse, valid or not, in numerous Kickstarter project delays before, but this was a new one on me.
However, though I did not receive a reply to my request for comment, not long after I reached out to Shafer a new Kickstarter update was published. In addition to providing more detail on Shafer’s health struggles, it also outlines a plan for improved communication going forward by hiring someone to manage it for him. In addition, his twitter feed has also shown signs of life as well, promising to finish the game no matter what.
It’s funny just how intimate project creators often end up getting with their backers when it comes to personal details and difficulties. When all the middlemen are removed, and the only people who are funding a project are presumably those who also want to play it, there are no bureaucratic obstacles, no pushy publishers making unreasonable demands or rushing out unfinished work. Simply the creator and the audience. While hidden behind major companies like Firaxis and 2K, we might never have heard about Shafer’s mental health struggles and delays like this might have just meant him being replaced without any of us ever knowing why. But Kickstarter affords both an openness with future players, as well as opening up a void into which time and money can be thrown indefinitely without guarantee of results.
Personally, I don’t like playing the, “is it legit?” game when people cite health as a reason for delays in their projects. Results speak for themselves, and as a fan of Civ 5 and the genre in general, I am very happy to see an update even if there isn’t major evidence of progress to go with it. This project already has a great deal of work put into it that would be utter madness to abandon. My instincts incline me towards a hopeful diagnosis of the game’s future, inspired by Shafer’s professional tone and openness, as well as simple desire to see it released, but it is not clear just how much longer backer patience will last.