Preview by Ala Shiban
This is our Galactic Civilizations preview...
Since the original Master of Orion (Moo), few games have had the chance to be named unique or different than the genre Moo introduced to us back in 1992.
In this preview, I will try and cover the ideas and concepts that are being introduced into Galactic Civilizations, some of which will be new to the genre, some of which were optimized and perfected.
Galactic Civilizations is not entirely new, back in 1994, Stardock released the original Galactic Civilizations for the OS/2, running on 1024x768 resolution and 16.8 million colors, it was truly a new experience for the genre, showing off both exquisite code (multithreaded, giving the CPU background time to choose its destiny) and great graphics for that time and age.
I will be previewing the Beta 2 version, dated somewhere around October 2002, the game has another six months of development time (lifetime of features...), so I'm merely previewing what has already been implemented.
Unlike most single player experiences, Galactic Civilizations (GalCiv from now on) does not try to build on trendy Hollywood scripted, event-based triggers that push the story forward, instead GalCiv is going for a more generic mini-campaign feel, and giving each game you start its own unique presence, texture and events.
GalCiv introduces a lot of new features, some born from innovation while others reborn from its prior classic roots, only profoundly better; Domestic affairs is one such feature. Having to satisfy your own people was never an issue in 4X games, you were the supreme leader, and whoever didn't like that much would, in the worst case scenario, riot or even rebel against you whereas in GalCiv, there's much more to it.
By much, I mean to meet different needs for staying in power, just like Civilization 3, GalCiv gives the player the ability to choose his government type, with each government having its own strength's and weaknesses; Strengths such as giving bonus for growth or productions, and weakness by simply reversing that effect.
So what's the difference between Civilization 3 and GalCiv? Well, for starters, elections; by choosing some of the 'improved' governments, you have to get reelected, and to be reelected, you must please enough parties, whether they are nationalists, technologists and other different inner political parties that build up your empires' government. If you for one second think that's a burden and not a new feature, don't, its one of the more needed challenges put into strategy games, the player will have to both please his own people as well as his aspirations to conquer the universe.
With that in mind, Stardock implemented another concept, evil vs. good, some decisions you make will define whether you are more good than evil or the other way around, affecting different aspects of how the game runs, whether its public opinion, party support or unseen statistical differences, it does make a difference.
One of the decisions would be to decide on whether to clean the native population off of a newly colonized planet, removing them would give you a significantly high bonus while nurturing them would leave you loosing some points, in both cases, you might want to decide on being neutral and simply choose the compromising way out, which is working around them and not modifying the good/evil ratio.
Interface wise, I was more than happy to find the detail GalCiv throws at you, while still being tidy and rationally organized, you will find the most important information easily accessible through the main navigation star map, giving you maximum fun, tidiness, accessibility and overall control on what you're doing, and why you’re doing it.
The main interface (check out our screenshots) is divided into several portions, with the main 'window' being the star map; the star map is pretty old fashioned, simple point-and-click navigation, star selection and decision making, pretty much the standard. The second portion is the tool-bar if you like, located at the bottom of the screen, you can find out how much money you have left, you're population count on the empire-scale, and the ability to choose one of the various other screens that will help you project your wills and desires into your little minions called, people.
Next comes the information bar, depending on which tool-screen you're on, it will present you with various tid-bits, like ship names, planets, and the more detailed aspects of what you have selected from the main window; for instance if you choose a star system on the main star map, you will be presented by the planets that are held within that specific star system in the right bar section of the screen...
Innovation is quite important in the 4X genre, without that the game would be a mere clone or even less, subjecting the gamer to such gameplay that was suitable for 1994 or even less with games like Master of Orion that had similar qualities. Fear not, Stardock made sure even the most notorious 4X gamer will enjoy new innovative features, one of them is the Domestic Affairs portion.
Domestic affairs will affect your decisions directly, whether you're forced into changing your policy to please others (and stay in power, you wouldn't want to loose that would you?) or to better suite your strategy.
By choosing your course of action your different parties will approve or disapprove, in the end it is a game of numbers, and if you fall short on approval rate, you might not get reelected, we wouldn’t want that surely.
Such an option does have its benefits, no more will you have to shoot down rebellious parts of your empire that feel you're over-taxing them, but you would have to truly plan your strategy carefully and with much though, the soul-emperor option is there, but if you choose to be in a more democratic fashioned system, you will have yet another challenge on your shoulders.
The domestic policy screen handles most of the internal affairs, starting with taxation, spending rate for current military and social projects. Stardock even made sure to include a distribution bar so you could even micromanage how much from the spent money goes to what area, giving you all the more control. Although for a while there everything seemed fine, you would have to satisfy the approval rate, the less you go, the less people will like you, and do you know how to spell elections?
In the recent interview we held here at Gamer's Hell with Brad Wardell, the original One-Man-Crew that created GalCiv for the OS/2 and lead designer on the current Galactic Civilizations, he noted how much he disliked micro-management and it shows, you can automate a lot of the game's micro-management parts, making the game more of a global-scale vision rather than pesky what-to-build-next game.
That on the other hand does not prevent you from actualizing you micro-management needs; everything can still be accessed and handled anywhere in the progression of the game, giving you complete freedom on what you control and how you do it.
To handle planetary management, you can assign governors, each having their own unique Build orders, thus avoiding the need to direct each planet you colonize into building the basic/advanced things you would like to have, again, micro-management avoided.
No strategy game goes well without trade, after all, what are we all about if not exchangers of our own greatness? Trade holds a dear place in GalCiv's structure, it can reach 60% of your empires' income, becoming a major player on the political side of things, no trade might mean getting into debts, and debts doesn't buy you bread does it? The trade system is quite advanced, and thoroughly detailed on the domestic screen, allowing you to make the right political, economical and social decisions with statistical ease.
Trade routes are established using freighters, a concept similar to what has been implemented into Sid Meiers' Civilization series; multiple routes are possible, with various alien races, though not unlimited routes can be established, and that’s where the United Planets committee comes in.
Through out the ages, fake democracy has always been present; those who are more powerful usually dictate how things will look in the future (hint, hint) unless all the rest of the member's gang up against you, but that doesn't usually happen for interest's sake.
Galactic Civilizations emulates reality on a galactic scale, foreign affairs are how you'd expect them to be, and a bit more, with simplified bars and data sources. You do not have to dig deep to reach your desired action; after all, it is a large universe. It does need some kind of simplicity to be able to manage how you'll deal with it.
As I was saying, GalCiv does emulate real-life. Each race is by default a member of the United Planets counsel, similar to the role of United Nations, the counsel pushes forward planetary rules prompted by the various races, voting is not held in a vote-per-race manner but using a influence system, with influence being gained by controlling more and being more powerful altogether, similar to the system found in Alpha Centauri. It proves to be challenging and interesting at times of hard decision making.
No 4X game is fun without spying, although espionage does not hold a similar position in games such as the Civilization series, Call to Power series and surely not the Master of Orion series, though you are presented with two main 'influential' bars, both influenced by how much credits you're willing to pour into it; the first is the Destabilization bar, trying to make other species unhappy on some of their planets, giving way for a nice rebellious act. The other bar is the espionage bar, giving way to inside information about the selected race and occasionally, technology stealing.
Besides' the many statistical and informative screens, you'd have to talk to the aliens sooner or later, talking is usually done to conduct trade, not much more, though almost everything in the game is tradable.
The trading system is very much similar to Civilization 3's system, to parties negotiate a deal, anything from special types of foods (food units are named foods) to entire planets and star-systems.
Pretty standard issue. Researching new technologies open up entirely new possibilities for you to research and build, though you will never research the entire technology tree, you'll have to make the tough decision into paths of technologies you would like to take, making each technological breakthrough important not only for what it holds, but for what it prevents you from having.
I was 12 when I played Master of Orion for the first time, I remember it molding the way I like my games, made me love the 4X genre and thinking in general. Galactic Civilizations tries to do the same within the framework of the 4X genre, using a different approach than Master of Orion's' approach, not too different though....
If you like the genre, old school or not, this is a definite title that you'd want to have, the additional time in development will only make it better, the beta 2 copy played out very nicely with bugs being minimal and most of the core features implemented. A shout-out goes out to the Stardock team for creating a classic that every kid should have.