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CRUSADE DIARY 4: What is a 4X strategy game?

Posted on Thursday, February 23, 2017 By Draginol

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4X strategy. You may have heard of the term. It stands for: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate.  They are a specific genre of strategy game.  Today we are going to talk about them and how Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade, aims to innovate the genre.

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Besides 4X, there are other genres:  Real-Time Strategy games (RTS), such as Ashes of the Singularity and StarCraft, focus on harvesting resources to build units in order to destroy the enemy with it all happening in real-time.  Grand Strategy Games (GSG), such as Stellaris and Europa Universalis, tend to use continuous turns (similar to real-time) with the action focusing at the nation state (or galactic state) level.

The best known 4X game of all time is, by far, Sid Meier's Civilization.  4X games are typically turn-based (with the exception of Sins of a Solar Empire) and typically revolve around balancing finite resources in order to make "interesting choices."

The ideal 4X game would be one in which each turn presents an interesting choice to the player.  In Sid Meier's Civilization, the player is quickly confronted with a series of interesting choices when it comes to the first technology they research, the first unit they build, where they settle their first city; each decision leads to the next. Each game develops a natural evolution from exploring the world in order to know where the resources are, to expanding into the world to capture those resources, to exploiting the resources you have - and then exterminating all those who oppose you - 4X.

Sid Meier's Civilization is a historical 4X that starts with the first humans leaving their hunting and gathering ways.  Galactic Civilizations begins the moment people leave the Earth to colonize new worlds. Unlike with a historical 4X, a future-based 4X has the challenge of making the alien approachable. For example, not only do we have to explain what antimatter is, but why you would want it.

Today, we will talk about how Stardock's mega expansion, Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade (Crusade), will tackle the nature of future resources; but also how such resources allow us to explode the final act of the genre to resolve the age old "late game grind" problem.

Explore

If I were to describe the fundamental difference between Crusade and Galactic Civilizations III, it would be that Crusade is all about resources and how you use them.  Where the base game was largely about building a galactic civilization and the productive capacity of your people towards your strategic ends, Crusade couples that with the importance of resources and having access to them. 

As I am fond to saying to my fellow World War II history buffs, it's not like Germany could just rush buy another Panzer division.

In Crusade, almost everything requires access to a resource; colonizing a bunch of planets and having a huge population won't be enough.  You will have to own, beg, borrow or steal critical resources to succeed.

 

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NEW in Crusade: You can see what resources are on a planet before you colonize it.

In the base game, the planet class (a number from 1 to 20) was the driving factor of whether you wanted that planet or not.  The higher the number, the higher the population it could support. The higher the population, the more it could produce.  In Crusade, players can also see what special resources are on the planet before colonizing.  Suddenly, that class 9 planet with Techapod Hives on it might be more valuable than the class 14 planet next door.

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Turn 1

No more starbase spam and no more colony rush

The first thing a GalCiv III player will notice is that Constructors, Colony Ships, and Survey Ships now use Administrative resources.  Your time, or I should say, the time of your various minions, is finite.  This should be obvious but we have not included minion time (administration) as a resource in this manner before.  Thus, the early part of a Galactic Civilizations game was two fold: Rush build as many colony ships as you could provided you had good planets for them to go to, and rush build constructors otherwise.

But if I start with only 4 administrative resources, what should I build first?  Now you have to make some interesting decisions, especially since Survey Ships are now buildable from the start and the galaxy is littered with cargo-containers containing trace amounts of resources waiting to be picked up.

How do you get more administrative resources? In the Galactic Citizens article, we discussed how you can now train citizens to be Administrators.  Every so often, a citizen emerges and you can specialize him or her into a particular category based on what technologies you have.  If you want to have lots of starbases, survey ships and colonies, then you will need to train a lot of Administrators.  But training an Administrator means not training a Spy, or a Diplomat, or an Engineer, or a Scientist, or a Commander, or a General or any number of other specialists.

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Citizens determine how your resources are used.

Now, still on turn 1 I look at my randomly generated map playing as the humans.  In this game, I got a great start: Earth and Mars both have rare resources on them (or like those reading this, I restarted the game until I got my super mega awesome start...).

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Still Turn 1 you have access to some interesting resources

Techapods aren't space horses.  For one thing, they're on planets.  For another...they, um...well, shut up.  That's what.  Seriously, Techapods aren't new in the GalCiv universe but they were previously just an abstract trade resource.  In Crusade, a resource is a resource is a resource.  The idea behind Techapods is that if we could find a super robust alien creature that was highly trainable we would totally use them. 

The early part of a 4X is about exploring.  As I uncover the galactic fog I begin to see various types of interstellar resources, as well as some planets that have their own special resources.  Should I rush buy a colony ship to get the planet or rush buy the constructor to claim the precious interstellar resources?

Expand

The second act in a 4X game is expanding - that is, claiming territory; this is done through colony ships and constructors.  In Crusade, constructors build starbases but are not required to upgrade them anymore. 

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Administrators are required for both colonies and starbases.

Colonizing planets gives you ownership of that planet's resources and starbases give you control of nearby interstellar resources.  Planets produce a variety of resources based on what you build on the planet. 

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The 6 standard resources of a planet

Crusade changes the way food is used:  In the base game, food is a local resource that determines a planet's population cap.  In Crusade, food is a global resource that is consumed by cities that can be on other planets.

 

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My Food planet

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My City Planet

 

And then there are the rare resources found only on planets.  Techapods is a rare resource mentioned earlier.  Below is an incomplete list of some of the other resources you might find.

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There are a lot of resources in the galaxy. You may play many games before you find them all.

We'll talk more about these in a bit.

The Expand phase of 4X games ends when most or all of the planets and resources have been claimed.  In a well designed 4X game, the Explore and Expand phases are very enjoyable and make the player feel like he's had to make some challenging decisions.  The next phase is when players begin to execute their particular strategies for victory:  Exploitation of their resources.

Exploit

The lines have been drawn. The territories claimed. Through diplomacy, warfare, trade or other means players must begin executing the strategy they believe will lead them to victory.  Exploit represents the exploitation of resources human or otherwise.

 

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In Crusade, starbases construct their modules locally. If you have the necessary resources, you can build it.

Your planets are now producing resources each turn that go into your global inventory.  Similarly, your starbases are mining resources to go into your inventory as well.

One big change from the base game is that in Crusade, starbases are upgraded directly.  Since resources accumulate each turn, players can, over time, upgrade their starbases provided they have access to the necessary resource.  A good player may stock a lot of resources, build a group of constructors with a large fleet, and build a massive forward base as a prelude to war.

But what happens if you don't have legitimate access to a given resource?  Fear not, Crusade has a new strategy: Scavenging.  The galaxy is littered with cargo containers that have...been misplaced.  When one is collected, another one is usually spawned somewhere else.  Thus, constructing a fleet of survey ships is now a viable strategy for obtaining resources because these cargo containers often contain trace amounts of various resources. The player who wants to win via other means than direct warfare can be competitive this way.

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Cargo containers often contain trace amounts of a given resource.

What resources you have access to will impact what strategies you employ.  Each interstellar resource has a particular purpose:

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Suddenly, a good trade agreement providing resources per turn suddenly makes sense.  Diplomacy stops being about ripping off aliens for their money and instead negotiating resource treaties that, by their nature, cannot be exploited by humans.

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As much as you might want to build that cruiser with 35 moves per turn, doing so might consume most of your antimatter.  On the other hand, suddenly strike forces with constructors that can build hyper lanes, start to make more sense provided you can protect the starbases that provide them.

As cool as the Citizen system and resource system is, it has the added benefit of drastically reducing micromanagement.   You can hyper-specialize your planets without feeling like you're cheesing the game because you are doing it through means you earned and doing so in a way that doesn't require constant tinkering.

 

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With Citizens, you have much more direct control of your resources without the micro-management.

 

At this stage you have leveraged your resources to execute your strategy.  Victory means destroying the opposition.  You can win in Galactic Civilizations through a variety of means: Ascension, Conquest, Diplomatic and Culture.  But in any case, victory means eliminating those who oppose you one way or the other.

Exterminate

How a 4X game handles its last act determines whether it will be remembered as a classic or as a boring slog. One classic 4X - Master of Orion 2 - is well loved 20 years after release, partially because of how well it handled its final act.  In that game, they meant extermination quite literally as players would race to various planets dropping biological weapons.  Good times.

Crusade provides new strategic avenues to execute your strategy...decisively.

To recap:

  • Crusade introduces Citizens.  These are units that occasionally arrive that you can specialize into a number of different areas based on your strategy. 
  • Crusade also introduces accumulating resources of varying degrees of rarity. 

Late game, you are probably either in a desperate fight for survival, looking for a miracle, or in a position of power looking for a swift and satisfying triumph.  To deliver your miracle and/or decisive blow, we combine citizens and resources together to deliver a series of super abilities that can be activated by sacrificing a citizen along with a lot of resources.

 

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Pick a Citizen and...retire them.

We euphemistically refer to this as "Promoting" but in essence, you can spend a bunch of accumulated resources and based on your ideology, sacrifice a citizen to activate a one-time super power.

Note: Screenshots here are still a work in progress, the final game will look a bit different and have different descriptions.

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Have a scientist? Spend some nanites and antimatter and instantly get that technology you previously needed 90 turns for in exchange for retiring him. 

 

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Fighting a desperate war? Sacrifice your Commander for the cause by having him single handedly destroy an entire enemy fleet (provided you have the resources and the right ideology) .

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At last, you can finally work your people to death in a video game...

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...Doubly true if you play as the Drengin Empire.

 

 

 

And of course, Spies. We'll have a whole Dev Diary dedicated to them.

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Depending on your ideology, there are some pretty horrible things you can do with your Spies provided you have the right resources.

Every Citizen specialty has multiple super powers that they can use.  Often, using that power means sacrificing them or at least retiring them. Sometimes it's a power that can be used over and over. It just depends on what resources you have, how much you have, and what your dominant ideology is.  The ideology part matters because a benevolent civilization will not be able to use their spy to poison the atmosphere of a target world; and a malevolent civilization won't be able to access some of the cool influence super powers.

Through this combination, rather than the late game being a slog, it instead begins to wrap up in a very satisfying manner.  The player dominating the game will be able to use their resource advantage to bring the game to a swift conclusion. Or the crafty underdog may be able to make a bold move through sacrificing their citizens to bring them back into the game or alternatively act as a spoiler.

Aftermath

What has made the 4X genre so compelling over the years is that they are a sandbox for the imagination. Each game is a story complete with a beginning, a middle and an end with the narrative told not through in-game tidbits, but through your actions and deeds.  What Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade aims to do is give you more pages for your story. 

Your story is told through your choices:

  • When your scout ship first finds that antimatter node slowly revolving around a black hole, what will you do? Will you rush to construct a starbase so that you can claim it before someone else? If you do, does that mean you're going to focus on being the civilization with the faster ships? Or maybe the civilization with greater manufacturing production?
     
  • When your colony ship arrives at Proxima Centauri and discovers there is a race of primitive, but intelligent creatures, are you going to leave them alone?  Even if it means giving up the Aerilu crystals they currently worship, but would be incredibly useful to your Engineers now and your Spies later?
     
  • How will you vote when the United Planets decides whether a refugee Scientist from the Arcean Empire wants asylum with your enemies, the Thalan?  Voting no means certain death (but better relations with the Arceans), and voting yes means the Thalan now have another scientist to use against you; and you happen to know that the Thalan have access to Ithix spores and probably a spy on Aven Prime?

Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade will be coming out this Spring.  Please feel free to ask questions and comment below.

Further Reading

Guns Germs and Steel

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Wealth and Poverty of Nations

Sid Meier: 4X games are a series of interesting decisions

About the Author

Brad Wardell is the founder and CEO of Stardock.  He designed Galactic Civilizations I and Galactic Civilizations II and has returned to co-design Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade.  His home page is www.littletinyfrogs.com.


CRUSADE DIARY 3: Galactic Citizens

Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 By Draginol

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Sliders. Knobs. Checkboxes. Such is the spread-sheet roots of strategy games. Let's fix that.

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Going back 15 years to Galactic Civilizations I for Windows, players managed their economy like this:

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GalCiv I: Sliders.

 

In Galactic Civilizations I, you would set your tax rate. Your tax rate affected the approval rate on your planets.  You could then decide how much of your GDP the government would take control of with the spending slider.  From there, players would direct their civilization's output between Military, Social, and Research.

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In Galactic Civilizations III, we had changed it to the Production Wheel: Manufacturing, Wealth Generation, Research.

 

I actually don't have a problem with sliders to be honest.  But they have a serious user interface limitation: The more sliders you have, the more confusing the screen and the more difficult it is to communicate the results.

 

 

Let's talk about economics

Our economies are a lot more complicated than Money making, Research and Planet manufacturing and Fleet construction.  Obvious real-world examples would include food production, consumer goods,  social programs and international affairs.  In a space game, there are even priorities you might have: Mining, espionage, soldiers, Precursor archeology, and so on.  Imagine all that as sliders. Oye.

 

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What are Galactic Citizens?

Across your entire civilization, an individual of great potential will rise up and join your government.  When this happens you decide an area for he or she to specialize in.

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A new citizen has joined you. What will you do with them?

Now, there are some...provisos here that will make each game play a bit differently. 

  1. How often you get a free citizen is not dependent on the size of your civilization.  It is, by default, one citizen every 10 turns. So each citizen is pretty important. A 200 turn game will leave you with 20 natural citizens.  Use them wisely.
  2. The areas of specialization are based on what technology you have.  At the start of the game, if you are playing as the Terran Alliance, your options are a Leader or a Commander.
  3. You can choose to keep them safe in your capital providing a global bonus (great for large empires) or you can send them to a specific planet to really boost that planet's production in a given area (great for small empires) but also makes them vulnerable if they are assassinated or the planet is invaded (once they settle, they're not leaving).
  4. They level up over time. Thus, the order in which you specialize them matters.

 

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The govern screen with some citizens there. Leaders act as wild cards and can be placed in any category.

 

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Citizens can also be sent to planets to greatly boost it in a specific area.

 

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Citizens can't teleport. When sent to a planet, a VIP transport takes them from your capital world to the planet in question.

 

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Worried about micro-management? Don't. We also include easy ways to move citizens from your capital to your empire if necessary.

 

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Not just icons. Each citizen has a name and where they're from and a picture (and yea, we do this for all 12 races, Drengin females...you do not want to attend their march).

 

 

Citizen Specialties (so far)

 

 

Specialization

Strategic Benefit

Tactical Benefit

Special

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Leader

Provides 3% boost to target civilization priority.

Cannot leave the capital.

Can be moved around to any priority category.

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Administrator

Reduces all colony maint by 3%

Reduces target planet’s maintenance by 25%.

Increases administration resource by 1 plus 10%.

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General

Improves global planetary resistance by 3%.

Provides 5 legions to target planet for defense.

Can be converted into an invasion transport holding the General and his legions.

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Commander

Improves global starship HP by 3%

Increases planetary defense of orbiting ships by 25%.

Can be converted to a Flag Ship that is added to a target fleet to give it a combat boost.

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Spy

Improves global security by 3%

Can be sent to eliminate a spy on a planet.

Can be assigned missions targeting foreign powers.

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Worker

Increases global manufacturing by 3%

Can settle on a planet to boost its manufacturing by 25%

 

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Scientist

Increases global research by 3%

Can settle on a planet to boost its research by 25%

 

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Farmer

Increase global food production by 3%

Can settle on a planet boosting its food production by 25%

 

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Engineer

Increases global fleet production by 3%

Can settle on a planet boosting its fleet production by 25%

 

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Entrepreneur

Increases global wealth production by 3%

Can settle on a planet boosting its wealth production by 25%

 

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Celebrity

Provides a global 3% bonus to planetary goods and services.

Can settle on a planet providing a 25% boost to planetary goods and services.

 

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Diplomat

Provides a global 3% boost to influence.

Can settle on a planet and boost that planet’s influence by 25%.

Can be converted into an Emissary and sent to a target civilization boosting your relations.

 

 

 

A living civilization

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If you're a Galactic Civilizations player you might be thinking "This is going to require a lot of changes to existing balance."  And you would be right.  Take a very close look at the screenshot below.

 

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Still early game and lots of new resources to play with

 

Look at the top of the previous screenshot.  Notice how many resources there are?  Your citizens are your principle lever for deciding what matters (and what doesn't) in your civilization.  But how you will likely use your citizens will change from game to game because of the new resource system and their connection to what improvements you can build, what planets you can colonize, what your starbases can and can't do.  Resources accumulate (unlike in GalCiv III) and they result in a vibrant galaxy for your citizens to play in.

Next week: Resources!


CRUSADE DIARY 2: The Civilization Builder

Posted on Thursday, February 09, 2017 By Draginol

Galactic Civilizations games have had ship building in them for almost 20 years.  And ever since, people have used it to create all kinds of amazing designs from robots to their favorite Sci-Fi ships.

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Ship designer from Galactic Civilizations II

With Galactic Civilizations III, players were able to share their designs with millions of other players via Steam Workshop.  Suddenly, players could download and play with almost any type of ship imaginable.

As much as players loved being able to design and share their ship designs, there was one thing they kept requesting over and over: the ability to assign ship designs to a Civilization and have them use it.  This way, if they wanted to create a race of giant robots, they could.  Or if they wanted to play their favorite sci-fi race (or play against it) they could.

In Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade their wish is fulfilled!

Civilization Builder

First, video. Paul Boyer and I sat down with the Civ Builder the other day. I wanted to show off the laser space sharks and aquatic race we built. Check out this exclusive video to see what we created.

Now, let's walk through the new Civilization Builder, screen by screen. From the main menu there is a new button - Civilization Builder.

 

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The Civ Builder exists outside the game.

 

Once inside, the player is greeted with a series of screens that lets them configure a completely new civilization.  With the Steam Workshop, you can download new logos, alien portraits, alien backgrounds, alien images, etc. 

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Players can put together a completely new alien race using assets shared by other users.

Once you have decided what your alien civilization looks like, you can move on to what their strengths and weaknesses are.

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The trait screen lets you assign the civilization various strengths and weaknesses. Many of these abilities give them unique gameplay features.

 

From there, you can decide what their ships will look like.

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Ship Visual Style

There are dozens of different color combos you can play with, along with a host of different textures and materials.  You can give your ship style a gritty, beat up look or a...well, completely outrageous look.

Once you finish deciding what visual style your ships will have, you can move on to assigning ship designs to each class of ship.

 

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Here you can assign a ship design to all of the auto-generated ships which is what the AI will use as well.

Here, you control every default ship in the game.  In the above example, I have assigned my colony ship to be a giant robot fish because...of course!

But let's say you don't like the choices we provide (and yes, we're going to include giant robot fish).  You can click a button and go onto Steam and browse the tens of thousands of ship designs that have been made by players already.

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Fans have created virtually every kind of ship you can imagine. 

Picking a cool ship design, it is instantly in the game.  The GalCiv ship designer is essentially a giant set of blocks that you can use to create anything. For the past two years, players have been busy making lots of ships.

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Downloaded ship design is mixed with the color and materials chosen earlier.

This is then repeated for each of the ship categories in the game. 

Next up, players will want to give their civilization some personality.

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Personality Editor

On the Personality screen, players can decide how the AI will use this player.  They can also set up what the AI will say in various common scenarios.  If that's not enough, the player can directly access that civilization's XML file to go crazy with how they will react in different situations.

Once you are done, you can save your Civilization and even upload it to Steam (if you use other people's designs, we ask that you get their permission).  Once uploaded to Steam, other players can download the entire civilization, ships and all, in a single click and play as that civilization or play against them.

 

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My Fish Civilization in game. They're hungry!

 

Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade will be released in Spring of 2017 on Steam and GOG.   You can follow it on Steam by going to its Steam page.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!


Galactic Civilizations: Ship Designer

Posted on Friday, February 03, 2017 By Draginol

Ship design has been part of Galactic Civilizations games for many years.  However, with Galactic Civilizations III, the designer has reached the point where user creations are starting to rival what you would see in movies.

The ship designs we included are wholly original creations based on the lore that's been developed over the past 25 years.

The ship designer itself lets people put together thousands of parts to create whatever they want.

A new design

For the serious designer, they start from scratch.  This blank screen with a collection of parts is the starting point.

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In the beginning...

 

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As you add parts, you will see red dots where you connect other parts to it.

 

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In the hands of a clod like me, I can design something like this in minutes.  The controls in the bottom right let me resize, rotate, animate, etc.

 

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In the hands of someone with some skill, you can get something like this such as this Babylon 5 inspired Starfury like ship.  Because ships are hard surfaces, it's relatively easy for someone to create pretty much any ship.  Organic ships tend to be a lot tougher to make.   But most ships are ultimately a series of wings and cylinders.

What is part of the game?

Obviously, we don't include any of these designs, even inspired ones, with the game.  The point of the ship designer and the fans who share their ship designs is to create their own stories in their heads. 

There is a cottage industry of people who compare different ships sizes, write fan fiction regarding their favorite ships.

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Ship size comparison on deviantART.

Anyway, the point being, what people create and share with our tools is up to them.  Galactic Civilizations has always been about creating your own sandbox universe to play in.  It asks the question: What happens after we leave Earth? What is next? And leaves the answers up to the player.

If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments.


CRUSADE DIARY 1: Introducing Galactic Civilizations III: CRUSADE

Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2017 By Draginol

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Explore. Expand. Exploit. Exterminate.  This is where the term "4X" originates. 

The granddaddy of our genre is, of course, Sid Meier's Civilization. Where Sid Meier's Civilization leverages our common history from the dawn of agriculture to the moment we leave the Earth, Galactic Civilizations begins at the moment we leave our home world.

In Galactic Civilizations, players create their own histories.  Each game is a different possibility. 

When we released Galactic Civilizations III, we began taking notes on what players wanted to see in future updates or expansions to it.  Many of the features ended up in updates which culminated in the recently released 2.0.  Other features would take a great deal of time and thought to do. 

The biggest, most important features have come together in Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade.

Those features are:

  1. A Civilization Builder for creating and sharing full-fledged civilizations including ships, techs, custom diplomacy behaviors, etc.
  2. An economy based on citizenship that allowed players to macro or micro manage their civilizations based on their preferences in a way that didn't penalize either play style that eliminates sliders and dials.
  3. Espionage for spying and sabotaging your opponents.
  4. Interactive Invasions that make invading a planet a game unto itself.
  5. A better UX for managing large and small empires alike.

These aren't the only features in Crusade of course.  Far from it.  It doesn't even touch on the Crusade campaign, the new alien civilizations, the new graphics engine, the new resource system, the combat changes, the continued evolution of the AI (I am happy to say that the free update to GalCiv III in v2.0 now surpasses the AI in GalCiv II -- sorry it took so long, I'll be happy to discuss AI coding in another diary entry).

The Schedule

Each week between now and the release of Crusade, we will be posting Development Diary highlighting a major element of the expansion.  Here is a sneak preview of the first three:

 

CRUSADE DIARY 2: The Civilization Builder

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February 9, we will walk through how you can build your own civilization to play as or to play against including how to assign specific ships for different roles, share your creations, create diplomacy behavior and more.

 

CRUSADE DIARY 3: Galactic Citizens

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February 16, Take a tour of the all new citizen based economy. Gone are sliders and dials and in their place are your people.  Much strategy (and AI coding) goes around how to get the most out of your most valuable asset: Your people.

 

CRUSADE DIARY 4: Spies and Saboteurs

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February 23, The galaxy is a dangerous place.  One of the vocations your citizens can take is to be trained to be spies and sent on dangerous missions. We will walk you through how espionage works, its consequences and the importance of knowing who is doing what and when.

 

 

 

Lone Star

 

The Sabre

Civilization Builder

FAQ

Q: Will Crusade be a stand-alone expansion?

A: No.  It will be released as an add-on to Galactic Civilizations III (DLC).

Q: When will it be released?

A: Our target date is Spring.

Q: How much will it cost?

A: $19.99

Q: Will there be a public beta?

A: No.

Q: How will I be able to get it when released?

A: It'll be on Steam, GOG, direct and elsewhere as a DLC to Galactic Civilizations III.

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