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News Trailer Hype Galactic Civilizations IV - Announcing the real next-gen in gaming with the focus on A.I.

Rikkori

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Stardock Announces Galactic Civilizations IV

The biggest space 4X game is getting a lot bigger

Plymouth, MI. – May 11, 2021, 12:01 AM GMT – Stardock announced Galactic Civilizations IV today. The newest installment of its award-winning space 4X strategy sandbox game series takes the best of what its predecessors had to offer and adds to it with many new and exciting features.

As the all-powerful leader of a spacefaring civilization, the player must seek out new star systems and discover the exciting potential of the subspace realm. There are thousands of worlds to colonize and dozens of civilizations – both old and new – to encounter.

The new game, scheduled to go into early access later this Spring, aims to vastly increase the game’s scope and depth by introducing AI characters, star sectors, ministers, central control, a much bigger technology tree, and more.

The new art style is seriously impressive!
“The focus in Galactic Civilizations IV is the player actually dealing with AI characters,” said Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock. “In previous versions, the computer AI meant other civilizations. Now, every civilization is made up of hundreds of characters who have their own agendas. In 4X terms, it’s like dealing with Civs of Civs.”

To go along with the greater depth in the way civilizations are handled, the game’s galactic scale has been vastly increased.

“In previous games, players would pick a map size and the game would generate a cluster of stars with planets. This time, those same clusters of stars and planets will be connected to other clusters via a new concept called Subspace Streams,” said Wardell. “Each cluster is known as a sector. It’s like having a map of maps.”

Battles look gorgeous!
To deal with the much greater number of stars and planets from previous games, the concept of “AI governors” has been thrown out and replaced by the Core world / Colony World metaphor.

“There’s no point expecting players to micro-manage dozens, let alone hundreds of worlds,” said Wardell. “Instead, virtually all planets are simply colonies – worlds that simply output raw resources to their associated core world. The player assigns one of their precious leaders to a particularly good world in order to turn it into a core world. The core worlds are the ones the player directly manages, with the leader character providing various bonuses and unlocking various features based on the attributes of that character.”

Much of the game deals with the player carefully balancing their personal power versus that of the leader characters they’ve recruited. Leader characters are what unlock many features of the game – from research, to planet management, to diplomacy – but they also have their own agendas and individual stats that can lead them to do things to the player (or to each other). Moreover, the player can bypass their leaders and issue executive orders using control points.

“Executive orders work a little bit like say a ‘spell’ would in a fantasy game,” said Wardell. “One executive order might be to fast build a ship on a target planet, and another might be to draft armies to invading planets. But these orders are paid for via the new ‘control’ resource.”

Citizens and leaders will play a huge part in GC4
Acquiring control points typically involves actions that result in reducing the loyalty of various leaders. Thus, the player has to carefully balance their desire for control with getting along with their leader characters.

“We are a long way away from the old raising and lowering taxes to affect approval,” said Wardell. “Our goal here is to make use of AI to give players the experience of foes not just being foreign, but potentially domestic as well. It’s been interesting to see how much insolence play testers have taken from an AI leader if that character provides really good perks to their civilization.”

With the entire galaxy now being part of the game, Galactic Civilizations IV includes several new canon alien civilizations to play as or against each with their own unique abilities, lore, and features.

Popular features from the previous versions of the game have also been greatly improved, including ship designs, planetary invasions, combat, diplomacy, research, planetary improvements, and more.

Replacing the traditional campaign system of previous Galactic Civilizations games is the new “Missions” feature. These story-driven elements allow players to feel like every game is effectively a unique, compelling campaign unto itself.


“We eliminated the ideology tree we had in previous games,” said Wardell. “Now, players will find themselves choosing between personal liberty and collectivism, authoritarianism and anarchy and seeing what kind of civilization they want to create. These choices not only unlock additional gameplay features, but determine what kinds of ‘missions’ will spawn.”

Because of the dramatic changes from previous Galactic Civilizations games, the early access program for Galactic Civilizations IV will start at the Alpha phase rather than the more typical Beta phase, so that player feedback can be incorporated early.”


Wow, first off, Rob called this in his “Most Anticipated of 2021” video many months ago, well before he was given the heads up that it was happening this year. Second, that GalCiv 4 is going to be available in just a few months, via an Alpha build, is extremely exciting.

Sure, Rob wasn’t 100% accurate, as the game will fully release next year, but we’ll be playing this game in just a few months! Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, wrote this nice overview up here: A History of Galactic Civilizations. He’s also written an article EXCLUSIVELY for eXplorminate that we’ll be publishing tomorrow, so be sure to come back tomorrow around midday EST.

More information to come as it’s made available!​

 
Oct 26, 2018
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Not sure what the difference is between GC4's new AI, and let's say playing a sports game where you let the AI handle trades, contracts and rosters moves, while you focus on the core gameplay.
 
Mar 6, 2016
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I bought GC3 at launch and was highly disappointed by how bare bones it was.

I expect this one to be missing features and content from 3
 

Rikkori

Member
May 9, 2020
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Brad Wardell on the Galactic Civilizations Series​

On May 11, 2021 9:00 am, by Brad Wardell

In early 2021, eXplorminate wrote a retrospective on Galactic Civilizations III. Titled Galactic Civilizations 3 Final ReeXamination, it took a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Stardock’s popular 4X strategy game.
Here were the strengths Rob listed:
  • Future proof 4X specific game engine (64-bit, core neutral, entity component system, etc.)
  • Colony management
  • Strong AI
  • Buying Mercenaries
  • Citizens
  • Strategic Resources
  • Planetary Invasions
  • Governments
  • The Bazaar
  • Artifacts
  • Big Tech Tree
Here were the weaknesses from the article:
  • No tactical combat
  • Includes races are pretty similar in playing
  • Diplomacy is bland
  • Commonwealths (this was a dumb feature, we admit)
  • Hypergates
  • Bugs and Typos

Where We Came From

By Brad Wardell
If you’re reading eXplorminate or you’re on r/4xgaming then you already know the state of 4X games. If you’re not reading eXplorminate and r/4xGaming, you should be, if you’re interested in this style of game.
The only difference between Stardock and the people who frequently announce their own space 4X game is time. In my case, I was 22 years old in 1993 when I put out the beta of Galactic Civilizations for OS/2. I just wanted a game that told the story of what happens in Civilization after the spaceship leaves Earth. That’s where Galactic Civilizations starts.
Fast forward to 2003 and now Stardock is an actual company that’s been around 10 years and I wrote the Windows version of Galactic Civilizations with two interns, Cari and Scott.
A couple years after that we made Galactic Civilizations II which had Cari, Scott, myself and added Paul for the art lead and Jesse for the graphics engineering lead as GalCiv II wasn’t sprite based.
Galactic Civilizations II came out in 2006. It holds up remarkably well. You can play it, today, on a 4K monitor and it still runs fine. Stardock in 2006’s main business was desktop enhancements — particularly UI enhancements, and we used our internal tech (DesktopX) to do the UI which is a big reason why that game holds up so well because it’s resolution-independent (i.e. it doesn’t “Scale” graphics up, it is just as sharp at 4K as ever).
The big thing about Galactic Civilizations II is that I played it 7 days a week. It wasn’t a product to me. It wasn’t a job for most of the team. We played it ourselves and if no one had bought the game, that was fine because we enjoyed playing the game.
Making my “ship” with the Locksteed N-1200 Stinger nuclear missile.

Invasions in GalCIv II
AI players could get pretty snarky

GalCiv II AI was really…really snarky.

GalCiv II (2006) had a resolution independent display engine even though, back then, that meant 1024×768. But you never know, maybe someday people would have higher resolutions so this was put in “just in case”.

What most people don’t realize is that if a Stardock game, particularly back then, sold 0 copies, it wouldn’t have mattered because Stardock’s main source of revenue was software. There’s a good chance that your PC, right now, has some piece of Stardock software on it somewhere in the bowels in some driver or some app. This meant that our games were made for ourselves to play.

Elemental: War of Magic & Impulse​

This is the game that changed Stardock as a company. It started just like GalCiv II. We were making this game for ourselves. We developed an ambition engine for it so that we could fit what amounted to an 8GB game into a 32bit (2GB for Windows) game.
However, we had two things happen during its development that changed the company.
First, there was Demigod. This was a game we published for Gas Powered Games. During the end of its development, it was clear we’d need to take over the multiplayer part of the game. So I had to assign my best developer from Elemental to develop the multiplayer for Demigod — at the 11th hour. That was Cari. And as amazing as she is, this was a tall task. I even had to move Jesse off of Elemental to Demigod to help get it to work.
Demigod: The first commercial stand-alone MOBA.
In addition, we had a digital distribution platform called Impulse. It was #2 behind Steam at the time which still meant millions upon millions of users and that forced me to focus on developing that which meant I wasn’t on Elemental either.
Elemental had an in-game design editor.

Elemental: Cities would change based on your allegiance.
The result was that when Elemental was released, we just didn’t have the bandwidth available. We were working insane hours across these projects. Thus, Elemental came out, and it was something of a disaster for us.
After a lot of reflection, we decided to sell Impulse. Impulse made a lot of money but no one here had signed on to run a store. Soon after, Cari went on maternity leave and the rest of the team was split up on various projects.
Impulse: 2009. Could organize the in game store based on # of active players, user ratings and return any game within 30 days.
Impulse 2009: Watch recorded streamed games or watch games live. Nah, game streaming will never take off (killed off by GameStop after they bought it).

Galactic Civilizations III​

After selling Impulse to GameStop, Stardock’s strategy changed. It would use its newfound wealth to fund new start-ups. Two of those companies were Mohawk and Oxide Games.
Soren Johnson (Civilization IV fame) and I put together Mohawk with him as CEO and me as President. Together we brought in a bunch of talent to make their first game, Offworld Trading Company.
The other founders of Oxide Games were, in essence, the Civilization V leads. There, I was the CEO and worked with them on their first game, Ashes of the Singularity.
This meant for Galactic Civilizations III I needed someone else to be in charge. I had become friends with Jon Shafer, the lead designer of Civilization V and he joined Stardock and wrote the initial design for GalCiv III. Eventually, Jon left to work on At the Gates and his design was updated by Paul (art lead from GalCiv II) and that led to GalCiv III.
Ashes of the Singularity

Offworld Trading Company

Remembering Where 4X Gaming Was in 2012​

When the development of Galactic Civilizations III began, it was a very different world than now. Steam was highly curated and GalCiv was the only serious space 4X game on Steam at the time. Endless Space 1 might have shipped by then?
The concern back then was making GalCiv III more approachable for “casual” players. This resulted in a lot of the “unnecessary” details from GalCiv II were removed. But I’d argue those details were what gave GalCiv II its soul. Did we really need to know who manufactured the Tridus Mark IV Phasor Array with an output of 13.3GJ for the Terran Alliance or could we just call it a “Phasor” that does “8” damage?
Similarly, GalCiv II had events that could completely change the game such as invasions from other dimensions, civil wars, galactic plagues. But during GalCiv III’s development, it was considered “breaking” to have an event like that have such an impact on the ultimate victory/defeat of a given game.
Thus, when GalCiv III was initially released, it was pretty light.
Let’s review Rob’s strengths list:
  • Future proof 4X specific game engine (64-bit, core neutral, entity component system, etc.)
  • Colony management
  • Strong AI
  • Buying Mercenaries
  • Citizens
  • Strategic Resources
  • Planetary Invasions
  • Governments
  • The Bazaar
  • Artifacts
  • Big Tech Tree
When the game shipped, it didn’t have any of those strengths. Thus, when the game came out, a lot of fans were pretty disappointed by the lack of meat and when Stellaris came out, never looked back.
You can argue that Stellaris was rough when it came out too but here’s the difference: Paradox was very fast to improve upon it. By contrast, GalCiv III: Crusade didn’t come out for two years after GalCiv III shipped.
Thus, today, it’s Stellaris, not GalCiv III that dominates. And in terms of sales, Endless Space 2 outsells GalCiv III as well.
Best-selling isn’t the only indicator of course. Distant Worlds: Universe is a pretty great space 4X and doesn’t sell anywhere near what Stellaris, ES2 and GalCiv III sell.
The fundamental problem with GalCiv III is that no matter how many expansions you add, you are still tied to its original design decisions which were made during a different time.
GalCiv III: Crusade
In 2021, we have games where I can eat the pope (Crusader Kings III). A game that tries to be all things to all people is doomed.
GalCiv III: Retribution started to introduce new races that were less “balanced” but more interesting.
Now, GalCiv being a turn-based game is fundamentally not going to directly compete with Stellaris (which is real-time). When the time comes to talk about Sins of a Solar Empire II we can get into that more. But what GalCiv needs to do is focus on embracing 4X more fully which means more depth and more story.
In short: GalCiv, like the 4X genre, needs to evolve.

Galactic Civilizations IV​

So now Cari is back from maternity leave and we have Scott, Paul, Jesse and many Stardock alumni now working on Galactic Civilizations IV. It’s a wonderful reunion from the GalCiv II days. Plus, we roped in Derek Paxton (Fall from Heaven) to be the lead designer.
Moreover, the GalCiv III engine (Galactic) is awesome for 4X games. Anyone who has ever played the late game on GalCiv III vs. any other game knows exactly its advantages. When GalCiv III was made, 6 core machines were pretty exotic. Now, lots of people have 8 or 12 cores and some (like me) have 64 cores! So we can get into all kinds of shenanigans.
So when we sat down to decide what we wanted to do with his amazing engine and make a 4X game that we personally wanted to play. While I’ve played a lot of GalCiv III, it never really felt like my game. I was playing a game that was based on my game (GalCiv II). That’s how I felt, anyway. It’s a really good game but it could be so much better. That’s what GalCiv IV’s goal is: Be so much better.

So What Should 4X Games be Like Now?​

Even back in the initial OS/2 versions of the game, I always felt the story should be part of the game. Each game should feel like an epic story.

Not a Converted Board Game. Tell a Story Instead.​

Here’s a thought exercise: GalCiv II was designed to tell stories. GalCiv III is a board game made into a computer game.
4X games need to quit trying to be board games. Or at least, board games should not be the only defining factor. Do you want to make a 4X game that plays like a board game? That’s fine. But I don’t want GalCiv IV to feel like a board game.
Stories have characters. They have plots. They have unexpected twists. In Crusader Kings III, your game can end because your character gets the plague and dies. I think that’s great as long as it’s not out of the blue, there are ways you can mitigate the odds, and so on.
Similarly, there should be characters and events that the player gets invested in. In eXploriminate’s examination, Rob said the diplomacy felt bland (in essence). That’s what you get when you’re trying to be “balanced”. There’s no emotional investment when everything is always “fair”. If everything is always “‘it’s just business” you never become attached to the outcome. Instead, it should sometimes be made quite personal.

4X Doesn’t Have to be Serial​

Explore. Expand. Exploit. Exterminate. Here’s the problem I have with 4X these days: It’s the same game experience over and over and it turns out, it’s really only 3X’s because you don’t bother with the last X because you know you’re going to win eventually so why bother?
The answer also doesn’t include tacking on new victory conditions. Each game should have both set and dynamic achievements that players can go for that are interesting and worthwhile.

4X Doesn’t Have to Mean Spreadsheet​

One of the biggest lessons from Stardock’s 2012 game designs (Sorcerer King and GalCiv III) is that even if it is, ultimately, a number, the cause of the number, even if “cosmetic” should be given.
GalCiv II event: The USS Columbia investigates the remnants of an ancient starship. Aboard, they find a tube of what is soon revealed to be a type of organic armor covering. The ship now has [Organic armor] <+1 defense>
GalCiv III event: You explore the anomaly and receive +1 defense.
The first example requires more reading but is more satisfying.

Complexity isn’t Bad​

In GalCiv III, the team was very concerned with having too many resources because it would scare off players. But in reality, not having more resources resulted in more tedium because you’d ultimately have to mix and match different resources (like money) to do something.
Case in point: You want to upgrade your starbase? Well, you need to have 150 credits plus 1 Durantium. That doesn’t seem terrible until you’re wanting to upgrade 30 starbases due to war breaking out or some other technology being uncovered. How do you even plan for this?
Instead: Let your Shipyard produce Starbase modules that take time and require say 1 Durantium to construct. The module is then a global resource that can then be used when it’s time to upgrade a starbase. You can prepare for that and it’s satisfying.
Imagine that kind of thinking taken throughout the game. Sure, you have more resources but we live in an age where games like Rimworld make a distinction between various types of meat. It’s not that big of a deal and the main benefit is that players are rewarded for planning out future strategies.

Addressing Weaknesses​

So let’s talk about the reported weaknesses from the eXplorminate report:
  • No tactical combat
  • Includes races are pretty similar in playing
  • Diplomacy is bland
  • Commonwealths (this was a dumb feature, we admit)
  • Hypergates
  • Bugs and Typos

Tactical Combat​

GalCiv will never have this. Not in the Master of Orion sense. I’ll go further: I don’t ever want to work on a game where we even need to consider having an “auto” mode for something. That means no AI governors and no auto-resolve.
I think the real question is: What is tactical combat trying to deliver? In GalCiv’s case, is letting people see in more detail what their ship design choices result in.
In GalCiv IV, battles, on the map itself, can take multiple turns. ” Basically, instead of just doing “while(done==false) do {rounds of battles}”, we instead do 10 rounds of battle and at the end of that, the survivors of those rounds can decide what to do next turn.
Having more of the battle on the main map lets players see what the consequences are. This doesn’t preclude being able to review a given round in a great deal with lots of pretty explosions and graphics.

Included Races​

Sacrificed on the altar of balance and fairness in GalCiv III. The Star Control DLC races started to deliver more interesting races, but that was 5 years after release.
For GalCiv IV, the goal is for the included races to play substantially differently. This is less a technical challenge than it is just acknowledging that some races may be slightly better than others in a given situation and that we will have to recognize we’ll need to do StarCraft style balance updates as players discover how race X can do Y in Z situation.
GalCiv IV includes a lot more races that will play quite differently from one another. We don’t promise perfect balance between them.
The Drengin are unimpressed

Diplomacy​

Again, on the altar of “balance and fairness”. When everything is “just business” it’s hard to be passionate about the results.
GalCiv III’s tech trading is, from a technical point of view, really good. It values the different trades in lots of different ways. It’s not always well communicated to the player (i.e. It wants 3 of my techs for one of his?) but it’s very technically sophisticated. But it’s also very bland.

Commonwealths​

Yea… this was my idea. It was dumb.

Hypergates​

Now I like Hypergates a lot. I think if you play on small maps, their benefit isn’t obvious. But on big maps, they’re a game-changer.
Now, in GalCiv IV, we add Subspace streams. So picture a GalCiv III tiny-to-medium map being a “sector”. These sectors are now connected to other maps via subspace streams.
It’s a bit like having a really big GalCiv III map but with the hypergates already in place. Of course, it’s a lot more than that because owning a sector also involves lots of other benefits as well.
Traveling 1 tile at a time on a truly large map is pretty boring. Eliminating huge swaths of dead space makes the game a lot more interesting to play and provides more strategic choice.
The Hypergates in GalCiv III were a nice first step in that direction I think. But they’re pretty ugly looking.
In GalCiv IV, the equivalent of a GalCiv III map is a sector connected to other sectors.
Players can independently set up how big they want sectors to range and how many to have. But taken to its logical conclusion, you can have some truly epic scale galaxies.

Buglets and Typos​

Yea. Our main designer on GalCiv III is pretty amazing but is terrible at spelling. The problem with frequent updates is that we will fix a given set of typos and then new ones would come in. This is something we hope to not repeat in GalCiv IV.

Other Stuff​

I have my own, long, long list of things we are doing in GalCiv IV that I think 4X fans will like. But that’s for a future discussion.

The Journey to GalCiv IV​

We are going to start our “early access” in June on GalCiv4.com. This will be an ALPHA level early access so we won’t be encouraging people to join it. In fact, if you’re not into unfinished games, you will not want to join this as it won’t even be feature complete and we may end up throwing out certain ideas if they don’t pan out.
People who are really into 4X games may want to get involved even if it’s just to opine suggestions and ideas. What we want to do with GalCiv IV is take all the lessons learned from GalCiv III plus look at where other games have innovative including Stellaris, ES2, Distant Worlds, Remnants of the Precursors, the new MOO, Humankind, CK3, Old World, Civ 6, Pandora, Shadow Empire, Stellar Monarch, etc. I have no shame whatsoever.




Brad Wardell

Brad Wardell, aka Draginol, is the CEO of Stardock, a developer of some of the best 4X games that we know of. He’s the lead designer on a few of them, too, and is well known for his ability to code very capable artificial intelligence.