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Civilization V designer Jon Shafer joins Paradox - under a cloud

Shafer will be game director on new Paradox projects, but his Kickstarted empire builder At The Gates is still years behind schedule

Jon Shafer, the lead designer of Civilization V, has joined the Paradox Development Studio to work as game director on unannounced new projects.

In six very productive years at Firaxis, Shafer contributed to the writing, programming and design of Civilization IV and its expansions, Warlords and Beyond the Sword. He was then lead designer and principal gameplay programmer on Civilization V, before leaving Firaxis to spend two years at Stardock Entertainment.

Since 2012, Shafer has been running his own studio, Conifer Games, and working on At The Gates, an empire builder for PC and iOS devices. Shafer raised $106,000 for At The Gates' development on Kickstarter, and he will continue making the game separate from his new duties at Paradox Interactive.

"Bringing Jon Shafer onto our team is exciting for all of us; there's probably nobody here who hasn't personally played and enjoyed his work," said Johan Andersson, EVP of Creative Direction at Paradox Development Studio, in a statement.

"Everything is fine, just hit a burnout point and needed to step away for a bit. We're taking the scenic route, but still very much intend to finish the game"

Jon Shafer on At The Gates, April 2017

"Adding a new designer to our studio is always a significant challenge. Our fans have very high expectations for us based on the games they play - deep, complex titles with long-lasting, replayable experiences."

The Paradox portfolio includes IP like Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron and Crusader Kings; all of them are noted for their depth and complexity, for which Shafer offered fulsome praise.

"I've been a fan of Paradox's games for years now, and moving onto the team behind some of my favorite titles is an exhilarating moment for me," he added. "I've been drawn to strategy games for as long as I can remember, and it's harder to find a better selection of rich strategy experiences than at Paradox."

However, while Shafer has stated his commitment to finishing At The Gates, the comments on the game's Kickstarter page are scattered with dissenting voices. When the campaign first launched, the stated launch target was the "first half of 2014," a date that was described as being "pretty far off."

"We believe in setting realistic deadlines and being honest with you all about what to expect," the studio said. "A game like this can't be built in six months."

More than four years after the campaign launched, the game's community seems to have grown weary about the lack of updates on its progress. Out of 42 updates listed on At The Gates' Kickstarter page, only 6 were posted since March 2015; the single biggest gap between updates was 8 months, between August 25, 2016 and April 25, 2017.

In the April 2017 update Shafer assured backers that "everything is fine, just hit a burnout point and needed to step away for a bit. We're taking the scenic route, but still very much intend to finish the game." In another update posted last week, Shafer published the remaining tasks to get At The Gates finished, which would be broken down into "four two-month milestones."

He also teased his new role at Paradox, and said that he would be dividing his time between At The Gates and his new role. The reaction from the game's Kickstarter community was understandably mixed.

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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