Civilization V Lead Designer and Programmer Jon Shafer has apparently left his job at Firaxis and moved to Plymouth, Michigan, to join Stardock Entertainment – makers of the Galactic Civilizations series and, more recently, the somewhat disastrous Elemental: War of Magic. For starters, Big Download reports, Shafer will be helping the Elemental team get that game up to some semblance of snuff; later on he’ll helm his own dev team at Stardock on another game.
That’s not the only Stardockian change, however: writer/novelist Dave Stern has signed full-time with the company to head creative implementation and storytelling for all games. Hopefully one of his responsibilities will be to write a proper instruction manual for Elemental.
This isn’t the first time Firaxis saw a very-high-up depart after a Civ game shipped. Soren Johnson, Project Lead on Civilization IV, famously left the company to work with Maxis on Will Wright’s disappointment Spore just a few years back.
Firaxis has a knack for attracting top new talent; it’ll be fine. It’s the effect this will have on Stardock that’s interesting.
Historically Stardock Systems, of which Stardock Entertainment is part, has not been short of quality programmers. The AI in GalCiv 2 was simply unbelievable, and all their games were technically stable and well-polished… except Elemental, of course. So I don’t think Stardock brought Shafer in to beef up the group’s coding prowess. Instead, I think Stardock CEO Brad Wardell is already looking down the road, toward a time when Stardock has recovered from Elemental and is able to leave that bad memory behind. Shafer’s presence will certainly help with Elemental patches and expansions, while the overt promise of his own team and his own game in the years to come indicate that Wardell hasn’t given up on making great games his own way.
Dave Stern is a more obvious choice (though I’m hurt that they didn’t even ask me. I live down the road!) as an addition. Stardock has historically fallen short in fiction and even writing, so someone with this skill should hold the company in really good stead. Stern already collaborated with Stardock on parts of Elemental, so they know they can work with him, and as the company’s franchises grow, a single lore expert can become indispensable to an organization.
So the Elemental saga continues, for now, with Stardock still trying to make things right for gamers. I suppose these two big-ticket hires aren’t much consolation to those who were laid off immediately after Elemental’s horrible launch, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.
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