The Skeptic's Question and Answers to GalCiv
These questions are meant to address some of the more common questions we get and are meant to be “hard hitting”.
Q: Who are you and what is your background?
A: My name is Brad Wardell, I’m the designer and lead developer of Galactic Civilizations at Stardock Entertainment. I’ve previously designed Te Corporate Machine, Entrepreneur, and of course the original OS/2 version of Galactic Civilizations from back in 1994.
Q: What makes Galactic Civilizations special? There are a lot of 4X strategy games out there already, what does this one bring to the table?
A: For lack of a better term, our goal is to create a truly organic feeling game. Most strategy games come across feeling a bit like a spread sheet. Or they get so complex that casual strategy gamers are turned off by them. What we hope to do is make a strategy game that has an almost role-playing feel to it. We want each game to feel like an epic story. That’s why we’re putting in so many plot events. You may play the game for many months and still run into new events that give the game a fresh texture. In GalCiv, we want you to truly feel like you’re building a civilization. You can make it a good one or an evil one. You can make it a war-like one or a peaceful one. One that manipulates others behind the scenes or wins by winning the hearts and minds of the other civilizations’ citizens.
Lots of times games will come out and boast how they allow players all these paths to victory. And then you sit down and play it and it turns out that there’s really only one way to victory that’s any fun and the other ways are either virtually impossible or incredibly not fun. What we’ve done in GalCiv is work especially hard to make sure the different paths are enjoyable. In fact, the star bases, for instance, weren’t in the original design. We put those in along with the modules to upgrade them just this past Fall in order to ensure that winning through cultural and economics was as enjoyable as building fleets of ships and sending them into battle. Kind of a competitive “Simcity” type feel to it when you start building up your civilization and watching the little trade ships going back and forth by your star bases and such.
Q: GalCiv has no multi-player. How do you answer those who feel multiplayer is a key feature in strategy games today?
A: This is actually the first Windows game I’ve worked on that isn’t multiplayer. Stardock, on the game side, is actually best known for making multiplayer games so it is a bit ironic I confess. But having 7 years of experience in making multiplayer games, I was convinced that there were much greater benefits to making a single human player the star of the show. The time that was put into multiplayer was put into making computer players that behaved like humans (minus the disconnects, swearing, and cheese tactics). We still allow people to compete with other humans, just not directly via the Metaverse.
Q: What part of the game did you find the most enjoyable to work on?
A: I really like working on the computer players. Particularly the dialog. Often times I’ll play games where I’ve clearly creamed the computer player but it doesn’t act like it’s losing. So we made sure in GalCiv that when you’re kicking butt the AI actually will say things like “You’ve crushed us! Have mercy, we appeal to your humanity..” and other such things.
Q: In GalCiv you play exclusively as the humans. Most games let you pick their own races along with a large assortment of aliens.
A: This is true. Most games let you pick any race and then pick aliens to play against. Galactic Civilizations supports up to 36 different civilizations in the game at a time. I think that’s more than most games. But we do focus on the 6 major star faring civilizations.
But what most games do is have each alien civilization relatively hard coded as to what they can do. Whereas in our case, you can heavily customize not just your civilization but the alien civilizations you choose.
Does it really matter that you can’t play as an alien when you can customize the humans to have pretty much any trait you’d like? The reason we have players take the role as leader of humanity is so that the game plot can be much richer. If we let players play as anyone, then all the plot stuff would have had to be divided amongst the other civilizations. By playing as humans, we can cater to them exclusively which we think makes for a much richer experience in the long term.
Q: How does playing as good and evil affect the game play?
A: For one thing, it helps determine what technologies are available to you. The types of things an ethical civilization is going to research is likely to be very different than an evil one. There’s also a lot of behind the scenes diplomacy calculating that occurs based on your ethical standing. It’s particularly enjoyable to play as an evil player in a galaxy full of good guys because they’ll likely eventually launch a crusade against you which can be quite fun to crush those goodie goodie AI players.
Q: Can you explain the Metaverse in more detail?
A: Sure. Essentially when you play GalCiv, your game is recorded and can optionally be submitted to the metaverse when the game is done. This has two particular advantages: 1) It lets you compete indirectly with other players in the GalCiv universe. And 2) We can update the AI based on the top players. So as time goes on, when you play a computer player you’ll be really playing against the strategies employed by the top players.
Q: Does the game use a 3D engine?
A: No. This was heavily debated internally. Since Stardock is pretty well known for using the latest in cutting edge technology with our other software (we are, afterall, the ones who created XPBench – www.xpbench.com which some game sites use in reviews) such as Object Desktop. But it really came down to being a marketing decision – as soon as you make the game require a 3D engine you eliminate a lot of people from being able to play the game.
And since the game takes place in space, there wasn’t that much of an advantage in going 3D. Afterall, what are we going to do? Force the player to rotate the galaxy map around to navigate through it? While that looks neat for the first few minutes, after a short time it gets very tedious.
That said, the graphics in the game are 3D. We have our own internal engine for displaying 3D graphics called “Pear”. So when you see planets rotating and units on the screen, they’re all 3D based units. There’s no “hand drawn” art in the game . It’s jut a matter of whether to pre-render the 3D or render it on the fly via a 3D engine. Visually, the game runs natively at 1024x768x32bit color so it’s definitely up to date graphically.
Q: The game seems to have a lot of humor in it, what made you decide to do that?
A: On the one hand we want the game to have an epic feel to it. We don’t want the game to have camp. But at the same time, we don’t want the game to take itself too seriously. We want the computer players to say things that are interesting and unexpected. We want players to feel that we understand the type of game they want to play.
Q: What’s so special about the GalCiv AI?
A: The AI is multithreaded. What this means is that while you are taking your turn, the computer players are generating their strategies. That’s why there is no “please wait, computer players moving” screen when you hit the turn button. They’ve already calculated much of their moves. The only thing you have to wait for is the actual moving of units on the map.
The real benefit though is that it gives computer players much more time to “think” about their strategies. It means we can implement much more sophisticated strategies for them so that they play more intelligently.
None of this means that the game is “harder” to beat. But what it does mean is that we don’t have to dump tons of free money or whatever to the computer players in order for them to be competitive. They can play the same game you’re playing. We think many players gain a certain satisfaction knowing that when they’ve destroyed an Economic Starbase that it really did hurt that player. Most games I play I have to wonder whether blowing up some key building or unit really affects the AI or not. But in GalCiv, there’s no doubt because it’s playing the same game you are.
Q: How do “random events” help the game? Sometimes games have random events that completely mess up the game. How are you going to avoid that?
A: Like our AI, the events that occur in GalCiv have intelligence behind them. While the event itself is chosen randomly, how it is actually played out in the game is not. It calculates out the event such that the event won’t have an over powering effect on the game while at the same time not being trivial.
For instance, we DO NOT have events like “Your power plant has exploded taking out planet Y” in GalCiv. That’s the sort of stuff that’s just frustrating because there’s nothing you could do about that.
Instead, something like that would be handled as a growing terrorist threat that you could deal with and the longer it goes without being dealt with (by someone, not just you because these events don’t make a distinction between you and other players) the worse it gets. For example, one event might come up and talk about how some minor thing got destroyed by a group called the “Calorians”. Well if you look on the map hard enough, you’ll find that there’s a planet called Calor that is a minor race that wasn’t there before. If you or someone else takes it over, then the problems caused by these guys goes away. If they’re allowed to linger, things get tougher. But you always have the ability to avoid or prevent anything that could be really game changing.
The choices you make in GalCiv combined with the status of the galaxy help determine how these events get played out so that they fit into the unique story of each game.
Q: Stardock has mentioned that the game is going to be developed for an additional year after release. A cynical person might argue that you’re just saying that so that you can release an incomplete game.
A: If GalCiv was our first game, there might be reason to be concerned about that. But going back and looking at reviews of our previous games you find them consistently saying that the games were very solid and feature rich.
We found on our Object Desktop suite (www.objectdesktop.com) that by continually updating the software that it attracts new buyers long after the release and builds a loyal customer base. So we’re doing this on our games as well. The released version of the game will be fully featured and very solid. And in fact, in a pinch we could have moved the ship date up a full month.
Releasing significant, meaningful updates after the game is released allows the game to remain fresh. I am sure I’m not the only one who subconsciously won’t buy a game if it’s been out more than a month or two. But if people are reading about GalCiv 1.1 with significant new features, it keeps the game “new” longer.
Plus, we’re exploiting a unique advantage we have over most game developers. Our development budget is funded by the sales of our other software. Even if GalCiv didn’t sell a copy, it would not have a significant impact on us. We developed GalCiv with zero advances on royalties. In short, we can afford to keep developing it as long as it makes economic sense to do so. We think that will help make the game more successful at retail by keeping it on the shelves longer and maybe in some small way encourage other developers to start supporting their games after release in a more meaningful way. Afterall, one way to prevent piracy is to keep updating your game after release.