Those old generation geeks do not know what true EXploration means. Not only there could be invented rule that (thanks to stellar manipulation, see my astrophysics proposal here) „a player can change the map to his will” but also „the map changes to its own will, as player develops”. This basically means that the galaxy map develops/changes strategically as time and development goes on, and, as it changes, it is also at the same tame EXplored time and time again. Its just like you look at one and the same object (the galaxy map) with additional measuring instruments.
Take Sid Meier’s Civilization for example – the strategic resources there appear as player develops tech that allow to discover them. The metal at the very beginning is invisible/hidden and only when tech allows – it can be discovered. The same for aluminum, oil or uranium – pre-historic era savages had no clue of the riches beneath their feet. Only civilization with some knowledge sees and is able to use them.
The whole idea that Exploration phase ends and Expansion then starts is completely wrong – Exploration can continue even to the very end of late stages of the game if you put enough wonders, resources and phenomenas in the map that are waiting to be discovered. It is the task of the player to take effort to discover them. But this opportunity is ruined in GalCiv 3 – a player sees the whole map as soon as first ship travels through fog of war. It should be exactly the contrary – the universe (galaxy map) should be full with wonders, riches and surprises, waiting to be discovered.
The more stuff there is to be discovered, the more player must “fight” the galaxy map to change it to his will, instead of fighting other civilizations. For this aspect to work, however, it is imperative that true EXploration aint just wondering around in yet untraveled territories. True EXploration means to seek the things the other players have not yet discovered, not because they have not traveled that territory, but because other people are not even aware of them. Take ascension crystals for example. Why the heck they were supposed to be revealed at the very first day? Could these crystals, esoteric by nature, be seen only for those treasure hunters who are specially prepared? Definitely, they could.
Those yet-to-be-discovered riches also give new, additional meaning to influence area. Nobody really knows what could be discovered later in ones influence area, so there is real reason to care about influence from the very first day. Sadly, GalCiv3 is one of those rare „must-have” games in which “map full with wonders” principle is obviously ignored. But, given the fact that GalCiv is a cosmic game and the very size of the GalCiv 3 project, there is almost infinite room to turn that around.
Invent “Space archeology”. Space archeology is a actually existing, very arcane science, few 4X game players even have heard of. But true cosmic exploration cannot be imagined without it. In Starcraft 2 the 2nd mission with terrans starts with digging space artifact and this artifact theme continues throughout the whole starcraft 2 game. After all – if you think of it – the Universe is billions and billions of years old – it is more than possible that civilizations before present time could have left something, right...? Artifacts left by other civilizations/rare space phenomena offer multiple levels of benefits that can be studied even to the very end of the late game, they can be “war decisive”, if enough effort spent in them. A scientific player can escape “smash and bash” player with monster fleets in very late game if only he can make those projects happen. It is yet another level that could be in the game, making it extremly exciting but that is not there.
I do not mean to say that durantium or thulium shouldnt be quickly obtainable – I mean to say that there is no reason for them (and everything else as a matter of fact) to be visible in the FIRST day. Some resources could be obtainable only in very late stages of the game, like those existing only in other dimensions (see my “Astrophysics” proposal). Discovering basic strategic resources can be first steps in a principle that everything is hidden and the player has the pleasant task to reveal the secrets of the galaxy map. The less there can be seen in the very first day, the less you can have in the first turns, so “you cant have it all” and so the better. It is up to the player to decide what paths he will develop and what will leave to others, but he shouldnt be able to have it all. Even habitable planets may not be seen at the very first day because to know if a planet is habitable you have to examine the planet in question with quite sophisticated measuring instruments, so here you have even one more step the player must take before he can have it all.
The more you take steps backward from now existing all-seeing-eye the more room the tech tree can have for tasks and challenges so that player will look with wonder to one and the same galaxy map time and time again. Survey ships could have entirely different meaning for scientific player than “smash and bash” player. There could be projects and plans going on that neigbours have no slightest clue – what the other player is looking for, aiming at in the territory that was thought to be so familiar. With cloaking technology they could be even without a clue that there are entire fleets digging those artifacts in their own planets. Heck, even entire planets could be cloaked, making the military build-up efforts of those predatory warmongers pointless (at least for a while). Everybody can have their own projects, their own secrets.
EXploration can last till the very end of the late stages of the game.