Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.
Published on May 10, 2021 By Frogboy In GalCiv IV Dev Journals

And so it begins…

Make sure you check out www.galciv4.com, and in particular the FAQ and Game pages, which will give you a lot of details on what’s coming.

A little background

Before we start, I should introduce myself. I’m Brad Wardell. I designed and programmed the very first Galactic Civilizations game back in 1993 for OS/2. I literally programmed it out of my college dorm room after picking up “Teach Yourself C in 21 days”. 

While OS/2 didn’t take off like IBM thought, it gave me the opportunity to make a game that focused on really good AI and a unique style of gameplay. For the past 30 years, I’ve been making space strategy games, albeit with more resources than back in 1993 when I was hand drawing space ships with an icon editor.

Two philosophies

While I was programming on my 386SX and talking on Usenet, the guys at Simtex  were making a game called “Sar Lords,” which was eventually released as Master of Orion. These games represented two main philosophies on how to do a space strategy game – the free form movement style of Galactic Civilizations, and the phase-lane/star to star method of Master of Orion.

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Most space games seem to have taken the MOO route of point to point. It’s not hard to understand why. Every tile, even in space, uses RAM. Think how small Civ maps were back in the 90s. Since GalCiv was on OS/2, we had entire MEGA-bytes of memory to work with.  Even in GalCiv III, those huge maps consume a lot of RAM.

Modern Space Games 

In the early 2000s, we became friends with a company called Paradox.  They were our European distributor for Galactic Civilizations II.  The guys at Paradox and Stardock worked like peas in a pod. In 2012, the Master of Orion IP went up for auction. Both Stardock and Paradox were eager to get this IP. However, we were both narrowly outbid by Wargaming.net, who later went on to make a new Master of Orion.

Instead of a Stardock or Paradox Master of Orion game, we ended up with Galactic Civilizations III and Stellaris.  While one can speculate how things might have gone if either of us had acquired the Master of Orion IP, I think most people are glad with how both games turned out.

Galactic Civilizations III preludes

After Stardock sold its Impulse platform, I decided to focus my energies into co-founding a couple of start-ups. The first, Oxide, was made up of the lead Civ devs over at Firaxis.  They had recently finished Civilization V and some of them had interviewed over at Stardock to investigate what came next. We ended up hiring Jon Shafer, who was the lead designer of Civilization V - he did the original design for Galactic Civilizations III.  A whole bunch of our internal terminology is based on some of his UX innovations (such as the “Shafer button”).  

The Oxide team was focused on making a next-generation game engine.  Stardock had tried to make a 4th generation engine for Elemental and it was a disaster. Oxide developed Nitrous, which powers Ashes of the Singularity.  Today they’re working on a big secret project.

Meanwhile, Soren Johnson and I were putting together another studio made up of some Firaxis vets called Mohawk to create Offworld Trading Company.  Today they’re about to release their second game, Old World.

Being the CEO of Oxide and the President of Mohawk (and President and CEO of Stardock) meant I wasn’t available to work on Galactic Civilizations III. Early on, Jon left to make At the Gates and Cari, the lead developer of GalCiv I and II (for Windows), was on extended maternity leave. So, GalCiv III was quite a challenge to develop.

Launch

The GalCiv III that launched in 2015 is a very different game than the one in 2021, as the two screenshots (launch and current) make clear.

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At release, Galactic Civilizations III got great reviews and was a good game at launch.  But it wasn’t a great game.  We had our work cut out for us.

Lessons from GalCiv III

To understand why some people felt GalCiv III was a step back from GalCiv II, we need to look at GalCiv II.

GalCiv II was filled with story-driven events.  I hard-coded these in C++, but made a lot of them and they could be very in-depth and interesting.  This meant that every game of GalCiv II could end up feeling like an epic story.

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But it wasn’t just the events, it was hundreds of tiny touches that increased immersion. For example, the player could look on any species ship and get a readout of its equipment with race-themed named for these components. The Altarian weapon names were always super passive aggressively named like “Not necessarily friendship giver Mark IV”

Plus the stats. The endless, unnecessary stats.

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Even the combat seemed more interesting.

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But, Galactic Civilizations III was a design of its time.  Designed in 2012 and released in 2015 the goal was to make it more mainstream.  "Streamlining" was the word of the day. GalCiv III wasn’t the only casualty of this line of thinking.  Elemental: War of Magic might have been buggy, but it had depth. So many details. 

But by 2016 we were making Sorcerer King, which had streamlined all the “rough edges” out. In a pre-Unity world, this strategy made sense. We wanted to make sure these games would appeal both to hardcore gamers and also more mainstream gamers (not “casual,” but people who might not appreciate a half dozen modifiers on a weapon).

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Once Unity games started to flood the market, GalCiv III found itself to be too complicated for the casual market, but too light for the hardcore gamer who now had options like Stellaris.

New Directions

If you ask someone if you should get Galactic Civilizations III today they will say “YES But you have to make sure you get Crusade”.   After Ashes of the Singularity and Offworld Trading Company shipped, I was able to come back to GalCiv.   I had had my own design document for GalCiv III back from 2010 which focused heavily on the concept of citizens and civil wars. Some of these ideas went into GalCiv III: Crusade.  We were able to begin adapting GalCiv III for the new market reality.

Updating GalCiv III’s design via expansion packs, however, is a bit like trying to find new missions for jet aircraft whose designed mission has become obsolete. This is where GalCiv IV comes in.

Where we want to go

With GalCiv IV we now have enough memory and processing power available to build what amounts to a simulator behind the scenes while presenting it in a nice, easy to understand, turn-based strategy game UI.  What this means is that we want a game of GalCiv IV to feel like you’re actually running a space faring civilization filled with interesting characters. Rather than having an AI just for each alien player, we want an AI behind every single character in the game – and your civilization is made up by a lot of characters. And every character has a potential story to tell.

This means, from a gameplay point of view, that the player is still in charge of a vast, interstellar empire that is exploring, expanding, exploiting and exterminating things, but the galaxy is a livelier place than it was in the past. There are many more mechanisms in play that can affect things, a lot more moments of “Well crap, in hindsight, I feel like I should have seen that coming..” which results in players feeling like they keep getting better and better at the game each time they play.

The gang is back together

So Cari is back from maternity leave, I’m back from managing Oxide and Mohawk, we have Derek (Kael of Fall from Heaven fame) as the lead designer. Paul is back to being able to focus on UI and space ship making, Jesse is back to make sure our graphics are amazing, Sarah is back to make sure our underlying UI system is insanely powerful and useful, and we have new people on the team who previously worked on games ranging from Star Control to Sins of the Prophets. 

It’s going to be a good time!

 

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Comments (Page 1)
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on May 10, 2021

I was one of those folks who played 3 less than 2, though that was a combo of the criticisms you mentioned, and kinda what I wanted in the genre changing.  I didn't like the 4X games of the last decade for the most part, though I think GalCiv 3 was the best of the bunch.  (Planetfall was technically sound but very annoying to play, AOW3 was awesome but technically primitive which hurt it)

 

In regards to what you said, here's what I want:  I'm going to try to give this feedback more in terms of what I think would be fun, then specific requests, because I think it might be easier for you to figure out what I'd find fun from that from asking for too many specific things.

 

I like your ideas for now/returning old stuff thematically.  It's what I want out of the game.

 

I'd like to see less emphasis on this

-sliders.  I felt GalCiv3 was a little too micromanagey, with Crusade really fixing most but not all of it.

For planets I want to just pick the buildings and production for the most part, not micromanage tax rates.

 

 

I like unique shinies, whether it's characters, artifacts, or weird events.   This is what made AOW3 and Sorcerer King fun, and part of the  reason I didn't like Planetfall.

I'd like the commanders of ships to have personalities.  It would be nice to get an Ivanova as a lucky bonus, with the occasional sucky Arnold Rimmer to make up for it.

 

I want my choices to influence but not totally control events, instead of just being a fount of points which determines what bonuses I get.  There's a reason I liked blind research in Alpha Centauri.     Also, I think ideology should be more a ratio between how much you spend on each, with higher ratios impacting diplomacy and events more strongly (both positive and negative)

Splashing one malevolent event to get a bonus felt gamey, and not in a good way.

 

I'd like a rebalance of combat- maybe even fundamental changes in how the weapons and defenses interact, and fleets should be encouraged to have a mix of big and small ships.

 

I think I'd also like to see an overall ship so micromanagement of large fleets doesn't become a chore.  If you do this, planets will likely need inherent garrisons , similar to what Iconians had in GalCiv 3.

 

I guess the overall theme of my feedback is I want less micromanagement, less exploiting the systems in a cheap way, and more of what your goal is for IV in terms of personality and uniqueness.

 

 

on May 11, 2021

I found GalCiv 3 too needlessly complicated. I found it hard to do what I wanted to do. For instance, if I needed to colonize a planet or build a starbase, I needed to use admin points. Thus, I needed to make my citizens administrators because they provide admin points. Then hypergates became a thing, and they also used admin points. So there was demand for admin points. However, because of how the game was set up (some resources didn't show up on some maps), it was possible to run out of empty admin slots and be unable to retire any administrators to make more room.

Resources were a pain. I didn't like using them. At times, it made galactic civilizations feel unable to do some basic tasks without it. Making legions (instead of using citizens) required 5 units of Durantium per. Making population for the Yor needed resources, 1 Durantuim and 1 Promethean.

As of late, I've gone back to playing GalCiv 2. It was simpler and more strait forward. If I wanted to do something, I could just do it. During the colony rush, I could send out a flurry of colony ships instead of being forced to restrain myself because I lacked admin points. I would pay for another update to that game. If you'd give me access to the source code, I'd update it myself.

on May 11, 2021

Really keen with all the big ideas going into this, and genuinely hoping it will be the next big step for space 4X. Definitely. The story/emergent narrative aspects are powerful things for these games that help piece this big systems into a more relatable context, something that Stellaris gets a lot of attention for through the anomaly and archaeology systems spread throughout the procedural generation of the galaxy state. Subsequent expac and content packs for Galciv 3 never seemed to realise the potential of these ideas in Galciv 3. I never played Galciv 2, so I can't comment there.

 

I also think it would be cool of civs developed technologies more unique to them. In ES2 and Stellaris, it is kind of weird for a industrial rust bucket fleet to be squaring off against a fleet of living space trees, using the same generic weapon tech, etc. Always felt like a lot of missed opportunities in that space with more recent space 4X games.

 

Can the devs speak to how the ship designer is looking like it will function this time around? Building unique ships for a custom civ was a big draw card for me personally. On the other hand, the component part felt like there were too many degrees of freedom that were not necessarily impactful or interesting. I think that fed into a fairly common criticism that building the lego ships wasn't worth the effort because seeing them in action wasn't all that engaging.

 

Looking forward to seeing more news diaries

on May 11, 2021

Excited about this:). I liked Gal Civ 3 also in the begining, tough for sure it became really good only with crusade. I loved the more complex resource management and the super planets (capitals and the precursor ones), I loved creating those superworlds with careful planing, adjecancy bonuses and improvements.

I hope GalCiv4 will be not only good but great from the start:). I am a bit worried about this super scale, from my gaming experience its very hard to make complex,  deep mechanics that  scale well, not ending up with turns that take 30 minutes on biggest galaxies. So some games go for scale and loose their deep mechanics and some go  for deep mechanics that then become hard to control on bigger maps.

I prefer by far the deep mechanics route and smaller galaxies, but we shall see. Seems alot of people love  big scale as shown by Stellaris.

Its not a deal breaker for me, but im curious if tactical battles will  make an appearance or not. I am a big fan of tactical battles, on other hand tough GalCiv never had them and  it was always good/great....

Good luck , will be following closely:)

 

 

on May 11, 2021

Always in for new Gal Civ. Is it going to be available on Steam?

on May 11, 2021

Lot of stuff here.  A few things:

  1. We don't have administrator points anymore.  Now that population is abstracted as a character (i.e. you don't have 8.3b people anymore, you would have 8 citizens) and that you use these citizens to found colonies and starbases, we don't really need an additional resource (administrators).
  2. The scale of a given game is up to the player.  A player could just have a single sector as their whole game.
  3. Similarly, you don't have "legions".  You once again use your characters on the planet and move them onto a transport which makes them into soldiers.  Same character, different job.
  4. You also won't need a transport to conquer colonies.  Only the core worlds.   
  5. No sliders except for tax rate (which we may end up having simply be "Low, Medium, High" to prevent min/maxing.

 

on May 11, 2021
Nice writeup Frog.. https://explorminate.co/brad-wardell-on-the-galactic-civilizations-series/
on May 11, 2021

DAMN. Just saw in the FAQ about the lack of the Founder's Access So, are you going to offer the Alpha to anyone that wants to purchase or are you just going to draw names out of a hat? Because YES! I'm in! And Yes, I'm also in if you guys ever announce the SoaSE 2 sequel and especially if you put that in a Founder's Access program (I'm the same guy who asked over in Neowin). So pumped for this. Brad, I can't begin to tell you how much I have played games like this so many years ago starting with MoO2 and then I remember a friend showed me Gal Civ 2 and I was blown away. Looking forward to this. Good luck and Godspeed!

on May 11, 2021

Cool news! I remember playing GalCiv on OS/2 back in the day! Looking forward to seeing where it goes!

on May 11, 2021

Sectors vs "open space".

 

So it's occurred to me than then sectors could have attributes unique to that sector.  Bonus research, extra food, different resources, etc.  Which would be a neat strategic overlay to the metagame of there being sectors that everyone wants for bonus resources in addition to their strategic locations and base resources (planets etc).

 

Also there could be sectors where certain weapons don't work as well or ships don't move as fast etc. These types of attributes would make a lot of sense for sector-upgrade technologies.  Like fortifying your sector and everything's all nerfed inside..

on May 11, 2021

tid242

So it's occurred to me than then sectors could have attributes unique to that sector.  Bonus research, extra food, different resources, etc.  Which would be a neat strategic overlay to the metagame of there being sectors that everyone wants for bonus resources in addition to their strategic locations and base resources (planets etc).

 

Also there could be sectors where certain weapons don't work as well or ships don't move as fast etc. These types of attributes would make a lot of sense for sector-upgrade technologies.  Like fortifying your sector and everything's all nerfed inside..

I really like this idea.

on May 11, 2021

WHOOOOO

Will the founders Edition be making a return?  

I'm not a huge fan of the star-lanes and much prefer free exploration, but the way this looks to be implemented looks... interesting.

Looking forward to IV!!!!!

on May 13, 2021

These Dev Journals are one of the reasons I fell in love with Stardock to begin with.  It is so interesting seeing the thoughts and path of development instead of just blended up marketing material.  Thank you for continuing to spend the time on the journals.

I fall in the bucket of folks who spent a ton of time in GalCiv 2 but couldn't get hooked on GalCiv 3.  I never really knew why, until I read this journal.  Makes more sense now.  

Thank you again for the transparency and allowing us a look behind the curtain.  Good luck to you and your team during the rest of development.

on May 20, 2021

Everything that I have heard above and in the interview on eXplorminate sounds great.

Everyone has their thing that really gets them excited to play 4X games.

For me, it is uniqueness/realness.  

The more unique/real the experience, the better.  My number one issue with regular Civilization these days is that it feels like I am playing a board game.  That might have been fun the first 10,000 hours I put into Civ, but not any more.  With that in mind, here are some ideas.

1) "Unique" Planets/Star Systems - Give planets a half dozen categories of characteristics (distance from sun, angle of rotation, gravity, atmosphere, water prevalence, biodiversity, etc).  Generate characteristics in random combinations that make sense.  Use the characteristics to determine how the planet would behave in game.  That feels real and with enough different categories and combinations, planets would feel unique.  

Do the same with star systems.  The categories could include type of star, number of stars (binary, trinary), total mass of the system, dispersion of mass (number of planets), etc. Use the characteristics to generate the system, then the system to create the planets.  Again, use combinations that make sense.  That will feel real and will generate unique systems.

Farm it out to the community.  Ask for astrophysicist/science fiction volunteers to help with ideas/combinations that fit together.  

This is the number one thing for me as far as immersion and replayability.  

2) Economy - It is hard to do "real" with a science fiction economy.  It is easier for me to point out what I think would be a quantum leap forward for a gave like Civ.  Ditch the food/production/gold system.  It is a remnant from the board game roots.  Computers have the processing power to handle more complex situations.  Instead of the abstract food, you could plant a variety of different types of food/cash crops depending on the region.  In colder climates, that could include wheat (for eating) or barley (for processing into beer) or flax (for processing into clothing), etc.  Rural areas grow the crop, then cities would process the crop into a product for consumption/trade.

You get the idea.

That feels real.  If planets have different qualities when it comes to mining or growing or supporting people (to process the previous two), then you will get a unique experience with each play through.  Maybe one game you are the space equivalent of early modern France with enormous urban Paris processing the goods from the vast surrounding hinterland, while another you are the equivalent of early modern Netherlands with multiple urban city states and a small hinterland that focuses on cash crops and imports food.  

Okay, maybe the transition from early modern to space causes the analogy to break down.  In any case, the more real the economy feels, the better - in my opinion.

Thanks for reading!  

on May 29, 2021

Thank you for sharing the background story.

I am very interested in getting to know more about GalCiv4.

And kudos for adding Kael to the team. The Fall from Heaven mod made Civ4 my favorite in the series to this day and I still feel it deserves it's own game.

Are there plans for open/closed betas and early access?

Cheers

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