Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.

The process of getting a new player into your game and making that process an enjoyable experience can be the difference between success and failure for your game.  If you make a game for a publisher, you can assume there will be a milestone that involves the onboarding.  Let’s take a look at how GalCiv IV does it and what has changed since GalCiv III.

Title Screen


We went through many iterations for the title screen.  How many buttons should there be? Which buttons should be where? How should color be used? 

I would argue that we could have dispensed with the Exit button in the menu here and instead had some sort of X at the top right or something.  And we might still want to do that so we could fit a Tutorial button there. Let us know in the comments what you think.

New Game


There was a lot of kvetching around this screen (by me) until we got to this version. It’s still not ideal (the tiny tiny scrollbar on the right is a problem). But it is a huge step up from the past. Here it is very clear what you’re getting and it’s an enjoyable experience.



GalCiv III included vast customization options, but they were somewhat buried.  This time, we wanted to get these features front and center. That said, still not ready for prime time yet.  The drop-downs need a a tooltip to explain what these other traits mean.


But again, the player is being guided into what their civilization is about.


This screen should be called “Galaxy”.  Now, ideally, we would have fun, visual ways of changing the galaxy size, the size of your starting sector, and so on.  In fact, all these options, ideally, will get some sort of visual cues rather than be just drop-downs.


In short, this screen is not ready yet.  But when done, this is setting up the map.


So now we’re picking opponents. The point of this screen is to allow the player to really get to know who the various species of the galaxy are.  There’s no real need to show your player in this screen so it’ll likely be going.


The main difference in GalCiv IV is that we have a lot more screens than we did in previous games.  The reason for this is onboarding.  We know from player research that many players enjoy the setup process and that this can be a fun experience.

The entry into the game

Let's get into the game. We need paragraphs here instead of a wall of text, and this should have VO reading this.  The goal is to get the player invested in their new civilization.


In a few years, we hope that the text to speech tech will be such that people’s custom civilizations could have auto-generated VO. We’re still far from that.

So what do you think? What can games do to give you a better first impression? Let us know in the comments.


GalCiv IV Journals


on Oct 06, 2021

Music and ambient sounds are very important for a good first impression. Important for me: the music should fit the genre and never end. So one track follows the next. If there are music gaps in a new game after a short time, it doesn't make a good impression. Ambient sounds shouldn't be disruptive. If you scroll and they get activated, they should either not be activated in the first place or if they are then played to the end. In any case, there should be "smooth" transitions. This occurs to me right now because I'm playing a game where I turned off the ambient sounds after a few hours of play because the sounds of rivers were implemented in a disruptive manner.

When starting a new game, I always go to the options first (i.e. before a tutorial or similar).

Control & hotkeys: based on the genre standard or flexibly adjustable.

Intro videos can create a (very) good first impression.

The basics / first steps have to be taught while playing. Details can be read.

A well designed user interface. That means: tidy but also appealing in terms of design. If information is presented too "squashed / too small", I don't like it.

There are probably an infinite number of things that are important to me when I am onboarding but which I cannot think of at the moment, or I do not want to write a novel with trivial things

One more thing: many games show game tips or information about the lore while loading and after loading the loading screen will automatically close without confirmation from the player. If the computer is too powerful, you cannot read the tip to the end. Especially when it comes to onboarding, you want to read these tips and that's annoying. I always ask myself why the following is not Game Design standard: if a text that is interesting for the player is displayed: always have the player confirm before continuing.

Edit: Well written tooltips are very important too.

on Oct 06, 2021

I think that new game process is mostly good.

I think making a clear exit button is important. I would argue that all options should be buttons, but thats my preference.

I would do away with the customize screen. GalCiv 3 did well without the customize step (or I somehow have missed it). In GalCiv 1 & 2, picking the right or wrong traits could make or break a game. I think customize should be restricted to custom civs.

Also, I wouldn't call racial traits, 'racial' traits. I don't like using 'race' when 'civilization' is a better fit. It gets weird when you add new 'races' that are somehow members of the existing species, just different factions. For example, the Terran Resistance and the Korath Clan.

on Oct 06, 2021

Great stuff!

When I start a new 4x game I like to know what changes to advanced options are going to do. For example, if I choose slow tech progress, what does that mean exactly? Does it take 8 turns for your initial research vs. a standard 4? 

I've also never liked how you can both scroll up and down the opponents list with the mouse wheel AND scroll through their difficulty on the same page. I've lost count of how many time I was just trying to flip through opponents and accidentally changed their difficulty level. It's still like this in GalCiv3. I'd love to see it changed in 4.

on Oct 07, 2021

Explaining things in the set-up is a good idea. This way the new players that have no idea of what is what can still have fun.

on Oct 07, 2021

I think the Exit Button should stay,,,, But that me

on Oct 08, 2021


I think the Exit Button should stay,,,, But that me

Less thought; less movement.

on Oct 08, 2021

On the traits, I think these need more than just a tooltip. I'd recommend taking the user to a dedicated screen where they can explore the traits properly. 

Also, I think rather than just some copy when you first arrive in your new game (last screen), I think giving each race a dedicated cutscene introducing the player to the lore and motives of the race would really help improve the immersion and set the scene for the game. 

on Oct 24, 2021

I would like two buttons at galaxy settings: reset all to 1) last game 2) default values

My second point has more need for discussion and probably less benefit but I want to share my thought non the less:

I think it would be more convinient to label all default values as normal/common. What lies behind normal/common can be what is today rare or whatever.
For example: new normal/common black holes = todays rare black holes. A click on default values would put it to normal/common.
Tooltips can specify that normal Habitable Planets means more than normal Extreme Planets.
No reduction of flexibility is intended - just to be sure.

The combination of the other labeling scheme and the button "default vaulues" could be a fine change.

Player Proximity: One value could be labeled "normal" to be more convinient as well.