Jon Shafer

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About Jon Shafer

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    Unoccupied Pollex

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    A Quiet Thicket
  • Interests
    Making games. Learning. Food.


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    Game Designer
  1. Episode 328: King of Dragon Pass

    Haha, yeah, I probably should have squeezed a TGDRT plug in somewhere but there was already so much to talk about that it slipped my mind. - Jon
  2. Episode 328: King of Dragon Pass

    Glad you guys enjoyed the show. And yeah, we had to keep it close to an hour so there was a ton of stuff we didn't even get into, and no doubt every fan of the game will be able to cite something important that we missed! - Jon
  3. At the Gates

    Oh, I definitely would. In fact, I've been planning on it from day 1! Shortly after the game comes out I'll be posting all of the code files for the game's AI, interface, and map generation. - Jon
  4. At the Gates

    My pleasure guys. Let me know if you ever have any other questions about the game. - Jon
  5. At the Gates

    Ah, gotcha. Yes, there are definitely events like that, and in fact they're a fair bit more in-depth. Instead of a single event, Clans can start feuding and you'll have a few different ways of addressing that. You can give one side or the other what they want (e.g. kicking one Clan out of the Settlement via a new job), ignore them and hope they don't get too upset (the viability of this strategy varies based on the situation), shut them up using Alcohol, whip them back into line, etc. The focus really is on the Clans themselves and the strategy of how to deal with them. I didn't want events to be one-off "Hey, make this one random decision that won't tie back into the rest of the game in any way aside from the bonuses/penalties!" We still have work to do on the system, but it's shaping up nicely. I didn't get it to show it off at all in this Let's Play video, but that also varies game to game. - Jon
  6. At the Gates

    Glad you enjoyed the video guys! I'd say roughly 90% of the portraits are still placeholder. Units of the same profession will use the same on-map art. As much as we'd like to have as many unique sprites, the unit animations are already eating up the majority of the project's budget, so we have to cut a few corners where we can. There will definitely be events. The events system is more focused on the clans you have as opposed to the world itself, and there probably won't be a lot of (if any) "go on this quest and as a reward Clan [x] will join you." If you can clarify for me specifically what you mean by "CK2-style events" I should be able to provide a more detailed answer though! Currently the main way you acquire new clans is through Fame, but that won't be the case forever. When you capture a neutral structure you also get the resident inside, but finding those is fairly rare (this playthrough notwithstanding!). I'm also planning on fleshing out the bandits so that you can have more dynamic, nuanced interactions with them. Maybe they show up and ask for something specific, and if you give in they return home. They might also act as mercenaries, and allow you to buy them off permanently. The seasonal change is mostly predictable, but there can be particularly warm/cool seasons, and I'll also be adding weather events like blizzards and droughts which will affect specific regions. My rule of thumb is that you'll get the same weather about 85% of the time, as that's predictable enough to plan around but not so predictable that it gets boring. Yeah, sorry, I've heard that comment a few times. I'll try to make sure future videos are more action and less, you know, me thinking. Look on the bright side, at least you're not part of my regular gaming group! Rumored locations are in fact always real. This wasn't the case earlier in development, but I changed it because it was often frustrating, especially when you'd built up an entire strategy to take advantage of something that didn't exist. I agree that having some rumors turn out to be fake sounds cool, but the concept really falls apart once you actually play the game. We haven't nailed it down yet, but probably in the 200-300 range. That might sound like a lot fewer than most 4X games, but (as you know all too well having watched that video!) in AtG there's a whole lot more to think about during each turn. It's actually a pretty good analogy for our overall approach with AtG: quality over quantity. - Jon
  7. At the Gates

    A super rough, basic form of diplomacy is in but it's definitely the feature that still needs the most fleshing out. Right now my current priority is getting the AI to apply more pressure to players (exploring, migrating, harvesting resources, etc.) as we've found that to be the game's biggest 'impediment to fun'. Partly by association, diplomacy is next on the list. I've already implemented the architectural framework for it (i.e. the hard part), so most of the remaining work is simply adding content, playtesting and polishing. - Jon
  8. Episode 216: Lost in Space

    (This post is also a reply to some of hexgrid’s earlier comments. I didn’t want to write two epic posts - I have, you know, a game to make after all!) I'll admit my wording in the block you quoted there was a bit strong. In fact, I really failed to convey the actual point I was trying to make. So let me step back and define some terms so that we're all on the same page. As for chess - guilty as charged! I don't really enjoy playing chess, as the strategic side of my brain works better when the situation's at least a little fuzzy and I don't have to plan eight moves ahead. (Three moves ahead is fine, however.) However, as a designer I have a great deal of admiration for the elegance and strategy chess features, and I could say the same about many other "abstract" games. In fact, all games I really get into are those with solid mechanics, and once I'm out of the honeymoon stage the "theme" is almost irrelevant. I might be a "theme first" designer, but only in the sense that I believe you need a strong, unified scaffolding upon which mechanics are laid. Just as with scaffolding surrounding a building, without mechanics you have nothing. A structure without scaffolding can still be built, but it's going to be a lot harder and you need to be more than a little bit lucky. Theme is more than just, "Is it history, fantasy or scifi? How many names and dates does it explain in detail?" In my book, "good theme" simply means having a cohesive vision for the design. What is this game about? How does it make you feel? What priorities do players need to have in order to build successful strategies and win? In this sense, the theme of chess is caution, positioning and planning. It roughly simulates medieval warfare (slow, weak pawns in the front, mobile horsemen in the back) along with a few wrinkles that were introduced later (a super-powerful queen that is to be feared and protected). It’s not a bloated, mish-mash of mechanics and details, but instead a streamlined design that expresses itself beautifully. I would say the same thing about Agricola (a game I too happen to love), which, in the traditional sense does have a very weak "theme." However, by my definition its theme is superb, and exactly the sort of approach I’m advocating. There’s no “rich backstory,” but the game feels like you are doing the sorts of things that would make sense if you were running a small farm: you have a limited amount of space to work with, you must carefully plan your layout, you acquire resources and goods from a variety of places, you’re slowly improving your facilities, etc. Are you deciding which tool should be used to hoe your fields or deciding which of four strains of wheat to plant? No, but you are making decisions that make sense given the universe you’re playing within. That is what I mean by “good theme.” Ironically, being fast and loose with the details can be more thematically evocative than pure realism. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and one I’ve written at length about in the past. Anyways, I hope it’s now clear that we’re basically advocating the same thing. I do think having a concrete theme (like the fall of Rome, or Star Wars) is helpful, as this serves as a powerful guide that helps keep you on track. “Is this something that makes sense in late antiquity? No? Okay, throw it out.” More detailed themes like this are easy because there’s a ton of material to work with, and people have fairly clear expectations. Scifi is quite a bit harder because there’s no collective record or agreed-upon conventions. One might argue that “vision” is a better term for describing what I’m talking about, but I don’t think it’s a good fit because it emphasizes process rather than results. If someone sits down to play chess for the first time they wouldn’t inquire, “What’s the vision for this game?” … almost nobody really cares. But they might very well ask “What’s the theme of this game?” And if you replied, “It’s a strategy game that rewards caution, positioning and planning” everyone would immediately understand what you mean. We’re accustomed to a more specific use of the word “theme,” but there’s more to it than that! I agree that is a big issue, although not one I’d say is as crucial as theme. At the end of the day mechanics are far more important than theme, but if players don’t buy in to begin with then the details don’t even matter. Additionally, theme helps direct the number, frequency, type and importance of decisions that are to be made... Is this a space strategy game where combat is the #1 focus? Are you concerned with political schisms and backroom dealing? Are you serving as part-time economist and bean-counter, ensuring that trade the trade ships are arriving on time and local allocation of construction materials is efficient? What feelings do people have as they play? How are they spending their time? The high-level collective answer to these questions is your theme. Your target might be feeling like you’re a viceroy in the Star Wars universe - or it might be serving as fleet admiral and architect, pimping out your armada and watching from afar as it and an enemy fleet blast the hell out of one another, not concerning yourself with production meters ticking up. If you use the traditional definition for “theme,” Gratuitous Space Battles is historically bad. But if you use mine, it’s clear why the game one of the best space games ever made. Don’t get me wrong, coming up with a good theme and working towards it isn’t a silver bullet that automatically leads to good mechanics - but it’s almost always the starting point. Everything in a 4X game is intricately woven together. For one to be good it needs to be crafted from the top down, ensuring every hole is filled and every bit of excess is removed. But if you don’t have that guide, it’s easy to fall into the trap of copying every other similar game that’s been made before. - Jon
  9. Episode 216: Lost in Space

    Excellent episode Rob and Paul! (and not just because I was name-dropped as having a potential solution for the problems brought up ). This is a post I typed up (as i was listening to the episode) for a thread over at Quarter to Three discussing basically the same subject: I do honestly believe the 4X genre has become a bit stale, and a big reason for that is because the games do borrow so much from Civ. The core idea of 4X is still strong, but we really need to start seeing new interpretations of that. **** And now to completely change gears... Just for the record, I too hate unit workshops. They offer a neat creative outlet that I know some people really enjoy, but from a game design perspective they're an absolute nightmare. I've actually designed one before (for a game I can't talk about, sorry!), and it was one of the most challenging features I've ever worked on. It's just incredibly difficult making such a self-contained system rich enough that it never boils down to a simple recipe you use every time you play. If you are going to make it work, you need fewer, more meaningful choices. Most designers mean well but, alas, instead tend to lean in the opposite direction. The fewer slots available for customization the better, and any title that includes a workshop probably needs a low cap on the total number of units one can have, or at least engage with - making it almost an X-Com style tactics game. If each side is able to commit only 10 units per fight, then facing an enemy with 7 battleships, 1 carrier and 2 destroyers will make for a very different battle than one with no battleships, 5 carriers, 4 destroyers and a cruiser. Without limits, it boils down to the classic 4X bias for economics, and, unfortunately, this usually renders the more granular tactical decisions of what-shaped wrenches to carry completely moot. What goes into these decisions also needs to be heavily based on your environment. This might mean crazy map elements with a ton of variety, hard counters that can't simply be boiled down to basic archetypes, or something completely different. Hard counters are super important with a system like this, but you need to find a way to prevent the same basic blueprints from working all the time. Players need to adapt, and shouldn't be able to do everything, all the time. Anyways, just some food for thought from a designer's perspective. - Jon
  10. At the Gates

    Thanks sir! You bring up a really good point, and one developers often overlook. There's really not enough attention paid to introducing games to players, and even I fall into that trap sometimes. - Jon
  11. At the Gates

    As promised, here's the final update before our Kickstarter campaign ends, laying out the road ahead. Thanks for your support everyone! - Jon
  12. At the Gates

    So, yeah - I'm making a 4X game where you play a barbarian kingdom during the fall of Rome! I figured it would probably be good to have a thread dedicated to the game, rather than continuing to use the one for the TMA episode. Our campaign ends tomorrow and we're getting close to 100k. If we keep up the current pace we have a real shot at the 125k stretch goal, which adds more map/game setup options and an Earth map. If you haven't checked out the updates (lately), here are the last few I've posted: The social classes system - which was later removed How the Romans fit into the game The process I went through when founding Conifer AtG's unique take on diplomacy How combat and supply work Tomorrow morning I'll be putting up a final update outlining what's in store for AtG over the next year and a half. It should be a fun ride! - Jon
  13. Imperialism v. Imperialism 2

    I haven't played a ton of 2, but I preferred 1. The construction of rail lines and depots was what the first game was built for, and the second one (based in the era of Colonization) is kind of an awkward fit. The exploration of the map didn't really work for me, and there definitely seemed to be some resources that were almost required, and if you didn't get them it was basically game over. That having been said, the balance of 1 isn't great, and I was able to boil certain aspects of the game down to pretty rote, boring strategies (e.g. trading with minor powers). I really need to revisit them both though, as it's been several years since I've played either one. - Jon
  14. As has already been noted, there's one game mode where you can see the terrain (which will probably be the default), and another one where everything is completely black, as in a traditional 4X game. I know people will want it both ways, and it's easy to accommodate. I actually included the "start the game with the map visible" mode for more for gameplay than realism. With the importance of the seasons you really need to have some idea of what you're getting into, otherwise you might march an army into a completely hopeless situation. Sure, that might be realistic but it isn't very fun or strategic. If you don't have enough information to work off of it's basically impossible to make meaningful decisions. The entire map isn't uncovered at the start, just the basic geography. We might also take the approach where you can see the outlines of the terrain, but nothing else. Gonna have to play around with some things and see what works! And victory is very linked to extermination, as the only way to win is by capturing one of the Roman capitals. I've actually had to assure quite a few people that ATG isn't a wargame, but instead a full-fledged 4X game like any other. Knowing what's going on in the world around you is very important in ATG, so I very much expect Scouts to be more than "armed cartographers" - although I really like that term. And to be fair, Scouts are basically useless in combat, so you really don't want to be using them to hold the line long enough for the cavalry to arrive! - Jon
  15. Thanks for the support everyone, and sorry for the late response! The past couple weeks have been, uh, intense. Oh, this is just the beginning. I'd be shocked if you didn't start to see a lot more strategy games on Kickstarter here soon. That was a busy week, let me tell you. By the end of the circuit I actually lost my voice for an entire day, so I was fortunate that I didn't have any more to do!. Glad you like the setting! I really wanted to break some new ground with ATG and not tread the same path that's been done a million times already. I have some ideas for future games along the same lines, so if ATG is right in your wheelhouse you're probably going to be happy gamer! As for supply, the basic concept is the same as Unity of Command (radii that extend from nodes), but the specifics are a bit different. In ATG, every tile has a supply rating which is based on the type of terrain and whether or not it’s within supply range of one of your settlements or supply camps. Timing when your invasions take place is critical, and success usually comes down to holding out or cutting off the enemy’s supply, rather than the positioning of your front or who has the biggest stack of units. Think of it as a well-developed game of chess where each side is waiting for the other to provide an opening, and once one is exploited resolution comes fairly quickly. Never read Pulse of Asia but it sounds like I probably should! There's definitely a strong incentive in ATG to fight limited wars - I need that iron mine, or to pillage a few cities for the wealth, but that's it. Biting off more than you can chew can really hurt you. As for historical features, my focus is definitely on gameplay first. I'm drawing a lot of inspiration from history when deciding what mechanics to include, but ultimately the mechanics have to be fun! - Jon