Meet Civilization V Lead Designer Jon Shafer

by Adam Biessener on Jun 13, 2010 at 07:00 AM

Is he Steve Young replacing Joe Montana, or Quincy Carter taking over for Troy Aikman? Firaxis' Jon Shafer has big shoes to fill as lead designer on the next installment of the epochal Civilization franchise. After speaking with him, some of my reflexive paranoia about the big changes he's making to the game has been soothed.

Shafer is a gamer just like you and me, and there can be no doubt that he has a solid background when it comes to Civ:

The first games that I ever played were some old adventure games. In particular, there's a game called Hero's Quest, which was later renamed Quest for Glory. That was a series of games that I really got into when I was pretty young. From there, I jumped over to the consoles for a little bit. I got a Super Nintendo and played some of those games, but it wasn't too long before I found some of the strategy games on the PC. My father is a computer programmer, so he always had a computer lying around that was relatively modern and could run games. One of the first real strategy games that I ever played was Panzer General, and that was something that sparked my imagination from early on. From there I expanded into some of the other SSI games like Imperialism, which as I mentioned before is one of the sources for some of the city-state ideas that we've implemented. From there I found Civilization II for the first time. That was my first Civ game. From there, I became involved in the community. I was making mods; I was on the forums posting strategy articles and doing things like that. By that point in time I was in college, and I was thinking about going into games professionally. I was involved with some beta testing with Firaxis – I tested Civilization III: Conquests and then Civilization IV early on. In early 2005 I got the opportunity to be a programming intern on Civ IV. Trom there I've been working on Civilization games ever since, which is the Civ IV series and then Civ V. So, very exciting stuff. [Laughs]

Shafer immediately brings up the popular Fall from Heaven mod (which he has a "special thanks" credit on, even) for Civ IV when asked what his favorites are, and goes on to reveal that he's dabbled in modding himself:

I'm definitely a fan of Fall from Heaven, which it seems like everyone is. It switches things around and does a lot of really cool things. It's pretty hardcore, so it incorporates a lot of things that we didn't necessarily want to add to the main game. But that's something that we do think is really cool, which is the fact that the games are so moddable; you can have these experiences that are completely different built off of the same game. So Fall from Heaven is a big one. I'm also a fan of some of the more historical scenarios that are out there. There are a couple of Napoleonic and American Civil War scenarios that I've played that I've really enjoyed. There are also a couple of scenarios that I've put out there myself that have been downloaded, which is pretty cool too. After Civ IV was wrapping up and we had some time, I just gave the tools some exercise and put some cool things out there. It's nice to see that people are still posting and downloading them!

Check back next week (and next month's magazine) for continuing E3 coverage of Civilization V.