. Larry Kuperman
. . . . . . . . . .
A turn based space strategy game that
focuses on replayability and depth.
A game with a history…
Galactic Civilizations was originally developed for OS/2 in 1993. On the surface, it was just
yet another 4X strategy game set in space. But it was what was underneath the surface and
how it was executed that led it to become the best selling consumer product on OS/2 (OS/2
was a small market but not that small) and to winning the 1994 “Game of the year” from the
Internet PC Games World Charts (Beating DOOM, Masters of Orion, and Descent at
www.worldcharts.com for most highly recommended game).
The game mechanics were relatively straight forward. What made it special was the depth of
the game. At the time, no one had ever tried to design a computer AI that seemed almost
human in how it behaved. Nor had they developed a strategy game that had a complex
economic and political engine. Stardock was able to do this because the game was the first PC
game ever to use threads (multitasking within itself – a feature of OS/2 that didn’t exist yet in
The result was that the game provided an unprecedented level of replay ability. Each game
felt like its own epic. Players would write their own stories. To this day, a search on Google
for “best computer game AI” will bring up Galactic Civilizations. A search on Dejanews will
do the same thing for Usenet posts. This is all despite the fact that the game seemed destined
to fade away with the demise of OS/2.
But Stardock didn’t fade away. Instead, it moved to Windows and over the past 3 years has
become a major developer for Windows (one of the companies invited to display software at
the Microsoft launch of Windows XP). With its increased resources and development talent,
Stardock is now prepared to properly recreate Galactic Civilizations from scratch for a whole
new generation of gamer. In a world where multiplayer has largely crowded out AI
development, the time for a single player, turn based strategy game that has an immense level
of depth and intensity has returned.
This document will discuss the general design of Galactic Civilizations as well as why
Stardock believes it will be successful.
The basics of the game
In Galactic Civilizations, you are the leader of Earth. You must guide humanity into the future
as it expands into the galaxy. Using a combination of military tactics, political insight and
economic prowness, you hope to ensure humanity’s survival in a hostile galaxy. The game
cane be won in several ways:
1. Galactic Military Conquest – conquer everyone, you win.
2. Political Conquest – you use your political influence to unite the galaxy
under your benign rule.
3. Economic Conquest – the galaxy becomes so prosperous and so peaceful
due to your trading empire that you win.
4. Technological Conquest – Hold off your enemies while you research
technologies that will bring humanity beyond mortality and into the next
level of existence.
5. United Galaxy – ally with your friends and exterminate your enemies
leaving only the allies in control of the galaxy.
The Major Game Elements
Starting a game
When a player starts a game, they have the choice of playing it single player or on
Stardock.net. If they play on Stardock.net, they can chat with other players and their games
are made part of the overall “metaverse” (we’ll discuss this in detail later).
From there, the player chooses what political party they want, what advantages they wish to
give, what opponents they want to play and what sized galaxy to play in. The galaxy sizes
determine how long a game will likely last (tiny = around an hour, gigantic = months).
The main map
Once in the game the player starts with a single colony ship, a single scout ship, and of course
the Sol star system (that contains Earth). Every type of ship has its own sensor range. This
sensor range determines how far they can see into the “fog of war”. Scouts have a larger
sensor range than colony ships. Technologies and improvements can increase this.
On the right is the mini-map that displays the entire galaxy. It also has several modes for
displaying galaxy information such as sector control, tactical star ship display, population
densities, manufacturing centers, etc.
Below the mini-map is the graphs display. It displays real time information on the
civilizations you have relations with. In this way you can see how well your civilization is
keeping up with the rest.
These two screens make up the main context window. It changes depending on what is
happening. For instance, right click on a star system and these two items disappear and are
replaced with the planets in the star system. Click on the ship list display and all your star
ships will be displayed there. Click on the planet display and all your planets will be
displayed there and so on.
The bottom contains the main game controls along with information on the selected star ship.
The items on the bottom allow you to get to the main interfaces of the game:
Main map view
Star ship list
. Planet list
Moving your ships is a matter of selecting them and then clicking on where you want them to
go. Or you can select a ship and use the cursor keys to move them one move at a time.
Selecting a star system is a matter of right clicking on that star. If you click on a planet with a
colony on it, it will bring up the planet display.
The planet display
Your planets are the source of your power. The more you have and the better they are, the
more powerful you are. A planet inherits an influence rating from the star it is in. This rating
can be modified through the building of social improvements. Planets are designed to be
relatively simple in nature. They are rated on a scale from 1 to 30 (higher the number, the
better). They can be improved through improvements that increase production or
manufacturing or technology research as well as morale improvements. The details screen can
be accessed from this screen from which more information can be displayed as well as
making specific tweaks to the given planet’s production priorities.
On the domestic policy screen, players can adjust their tax rate (high taxes affect morale) and
spend rate (what % of your manufacturing capacity you utilize). It is also on this screen that
you can access the government management features that can automate the production of
ships and improvements later in the game.
From the foreign policy screen you can find out how your relations are working out with the
major galactic powers. These relations range from war, to neutral to warm to allied and
various degrees in between. With foreign policy, the player can initiate contact with alien
civilizations they have encountered (diplomacy screen).
On the diplomacy screen, the player can trade virtually anything (or give / demand anything).
One unique example of this is lend-lease. A player can give a friendly player money and ships
to fight wars against your opponents without the player having to be directly involved in the
war. Technologies, weapons, and trade goods and be negotiated from this screen as well as
declarations of war, peace, and various forms of groveling.
From the technology policy screen, the player can select which technology they want to
research. New technologies provide the player new star ships and new improvements to be
The Game Mechanics
It is through the game mechanics and emphasis on replay ability, depth, and execution that
make Galactic Civilizations a great game.
Many strategy games have attempted to provide players with multiple ways to win the game.
However, Galactic Civilizations really delivers in this regard by making each pathway to
victory equally attractive. This is a key point, for most strategy games tend to have the various
paths to victory be dependent still indirectly on one thing – military power.
For example, the political conquest victory is very dependent on influence. Influence is
largely independent of military or even economic might (as it quite occasionally is in the real
world). Star systems have an inherent level of influence that can very widely. This means that
a player going for this victory path needs to only ensure that they control a handful of very
influential star systems, build up influence modifying improvements to their planets, and use
the United Planets Security Council effectively while holding onto these planets (which
means ensuring your political skills are more effective than the military might of your
opponents). Let’s talk about the United Planets at this point:
The United Planets is one of the more innovative features of Galactic Civilizations. It allows
the major civilizations to vote on a wide range of laws. Strictly speaking, these laws are game
rule changes that can drastically affect the course of a game. From a software development
perspective, the United Planets serves as an almost “what-if” game play scenario. All those
good ideas that don’t get to be part of the game can be turned into United Planets “issues” to
be voted on.
Let’s illustrate this with some examples:
1) Sectors are controlled by different players. But within the sector can be star systems that
are controlled by different players. Should, after a time, star systems controlled by
civilizations who don’t control the sector have to hand over the planets to the player who
does control the system? Not by default but certainly it can be voted on in the United
2) Should trade routes between civilizations disappear when they go to war? They do by
default, but that can also be changed via the United Planets.
3) Should trade goods be managed by a “trade manager” civilization whereby 1% of the
gross of all trade deals go to that empire? Not by default but certainly could be voted on.
4) Should planetary bombardment be allowed to decrease the resistance to invading troops?
Not by default but again, with a single vote a new type of star ship can be made available
to “soften up” the planets before invasion.
5) Should genocidal tactics be allowed? That is, should we be able to build Terror Stars?
Not by default but with a vote, Terror Stars (huge ships that can stop the fusion reaction
of stars) can be built.
GalCiv has been developed in a way that not only allows for these kinds of issues but is
expandable. A player can create their own and copy it into their GalCiv \DATA directory
(any .ISSUE file will be automatically picked up and used by the game and AI players).
GalCiv.com will have a library where users can submit them.
So how is voting done? Each influence point a civilization has represents a vote. Hence, the
civilization with the most influence can wreak havoc. And influence points can be traded for
money, ships, technology, etc.
Events are where a lot of effort is being put into. Events don’t tend to be very well
implemented in most games because they don’t tend to help in reviews or improve first
impressions. After all, a properly designed event system should keep the player seeing new
ones for months to come.
Stardock’s strategy with events is to communicate that this is a major aspect of the game.
There are two types of events – random events and anomalies. Random events occur
(randomly) when a player colonizes a planet or later in the game randomly. Anomalies
populate the galactic map and can be investigated by moving a ship into one. They
automatically pop up on screen.
These events can range from “you got money” type events to game altering ones. For
instance, one rare one is an anomaly in which a wormhole is found that instantly transports
ships to another part of the galaxy. Another event might introduce another alien civilization
into the game.
Other events might just move the overall story along. Each game is designed to feel like an
epic and a great deal of time is being focused on trying to make the game have a story feel
(with each game being a new story). For that purposes, numerous micro events are being
made that don’t change the game mechanics so much as giving you a new back story for that
Trade is one of the most abused features of strategy games. That is, the developers will argue
that a player can win the game by being a trade mogul. But in reality, it is usually virtually
impossible to do so.
In Galactic Civilizations, the goal is to make trade domination a very realistic victory path. To
do this, trade goods are built almost like one builds ships. Different technologies bring forth
the ability to build different types of trade goods. Trade goods are built on planets and when
built go into a centralized warehouse. They provide no value to your civilization but when
traded can bring forth wealth, technology, influence, and power.
Trade goods can help the civilization you trade with. Some can help morale, others
manufacturing, and still others help in technology research. Or put another way, your
civilization can not only become rich in this way but ensure that other civilizations are
dependent on your good will. At that point, the United Planets may vote you trade emperor of
the galaxy and you win. This is an over simplification but trade empires are much easier in
GalCiv than other games because they are not geographically sensitive. You build trade
goods, not control them. So one can start the game with the intention to become a trading
empire early on (as opposed to wanting to be a trade empire and discovering that it is a
No strategy game is complete without military power. And Galciv is no exception. New
technologies provide access to new types of star ship classes. Ships become more powerful as
they gain experience and the game focuses on quality over quantity (to decrease micro
management). So one Avatar class battle ship can destroy dozens of battle cruisers and
frigates with barely a scratch. This is a double edged sword – there is no second best in the
conquest of the galaxy. Fall behind in military technology and you can soon find yourself a
slaveling of the Drengin empire.
Ships have attack, defense, hit points and experience variables. Experience modifies your
overall values by a percent per point (i.e. have 40 experience points and all your values are
increased by 40%).
Military might is largely a function of manufacturing might, not tactics. Galactic Civilizations
is a strategy game, not a tactical game. The winner of modern wars is not the side with the
cleverest generals. It is the side that can mobilize their manufacturing, technical and moral
resources to produce the bestest/mostest stuff and get it to the right place at the right time.
There is no Endor and the rebels aren’t going to pull off a miracle victory in GalCiv. The
empire doesn’t just strike back, it wins almost every time. That is, of course, assuming that
their opponents haven’t placed all sorts of new galactic laws (influence) upon them keeping
them from doing anything and assuming that they aren’t totally dependent (trade) on their
opponents for the happiness of their people. And of course, if their opponent has been left
alone long enough to focus purely on technology, that first attack upon them may be the last.
The single most innovative feature in Galactic Civilizations is the Metaverse. It combines the
popular “clans” concept found in first person shooters with “ladders” seen in strategy games
together under a general framework that is similar to massively multiplayer role playing
games such as Everquest.
The basic idea behind the Metaverse is for every player to feel like they are part of a truly
organic galaxy. When someone plays on Stardock.net, their game is made part of the overall
epic of the Metaverse. Their score, the game itself.
In Galactic Civilizations 1, this will remain a single player concept. That is, when a player
wins or loses their game, their game against the computer is added to the overall galaxy via
their score and stats. In Galactic Civilizations 2, it is planned to be a multiplayer experience
where players interact via the metaverse (which like Stardock’s Object Desktop technology, is
SQL driven). It also means no need for “save games” because the entire game exists on
Stardock.net. Friends could get together on weekends to play for a few hours each time and
the game would not only be “saved” on Stardock.net, but other players would be able to view
that game, look at the statistics, the story generated by the game. But that is in the future.
For the initial release of Galactic Civilizations, the metaverse will be intimately part of
GalCiv.com. Games will be saved onto Stardock.net and optionally the player can allow
Stardock’s computer AI to look at strategies used by the top players to automatically make the
game smarter (this is actually a lot simpler to implement than it sounds).
When a user visits the Metaverse page, they will see the top players, top empires, and
statistics on almost every aspect of the game that they could possibly want. A graphical
display of the galaxy will display the various empires in size and scope. Each player will have
an account on Stardock.net from which they can enter in logs and information about empire.
Additionally, empires can band together to control even larger parts of the galaxy. This
provides an additional advantage in that when one player scores points, the player who
recruited them gets a fraction of those points as well.
Eventually Stardock hopes to allow players to “purchase” with points items that would show
up in the game (when played on Stardock.net). Extra ships, technologies, improvements, etc.
are examples of purchasable items.
Players would also be able to submit new ships, technologies, improvements, events,
anomalies, UP issues. If they are accepted, they will gain points for every download by a
fellow Stardock.net player.
While much of this has little to do with the actual game, the goal is to create a strong Internet
community for the players and empower them to enhance and extend the game over time.
This sort of thing has helped games like Counterstrike live long past their initial release. It
also allows the game to get better and better over time, keeping it fresh, extending replay
ability and shelf life.
Putting it all together
Stardock expects to have Galactic Civilizations completed by October of 2002. With an
increasing demand for games that focus on the player playing the game (rather than
multiplayer) with good AI and a lot of replayability Stardock hopes to combine that with its
experience from Object Desktop in helping build a strong community of gamers who are
empowered to keep the game fresh for years to come and make it a unique experience for all
Stardock’s home page is:
The GalCiv home page is: