I'm probably not the only person with the desire to write a
series of books. In my case, I have, in my head, a series of 12 books that take
place in a universe that I've been shaping for as long as I can remember.
The stories revolve around, unsurprisingly, people. Or more to the point,
humans. The story begins near the dawn of the 23rd century. Earth is
united. Humans come into contact with an alien civilization called the Arcean
Empire. The Arceans are humanoid but look nothing like humans. They are tough
warrior like beings whose skin has the texture of an elephant. From this, they
are introduced to other alien civilizations and invited to join a league of
worlds called the United Planets which overseas interstellar trade and acts as a
forum for different civilizations to peacefully coexist. More importantly, being
part of the United Planets allows use of the interstellar stargate network.
In the story (unlike the game), humans become part of the
Stargate network. Stargates are huge city sized things that have their own
orbit around a star. Ships pass through them and are transported at very high
speeds to other parts of the galaxy. Earth joins an organization called
the United Planets which consists of the Altarians, Arceans, Drengin, Vegans and
Torians. Our story begins with a human probe observing the long expected
Drengin attack on the Arcean Empire. Both are immensely powerful but the Drengin
have the advantage (and in fact as later stories show, they have some unfair
In these stories, Earth has incredibly intelligent leaders. But
Earth also is at a disadvantage -- it has basically no military. The
Drengin and Arceans in particular have immense fleets of well armored ships that
took thousands of years to build and amass. Humans, by contrast, have only had
space travel for a relatively short amount of time. But this also works to
Earth's advantage -- humans are constantly underestimated.
The clever humans though devise two new technologies to offset
the advantages of the Drengin and Arceans. Shields and hyper drive. You
see, the leaders of Earth recognize that once the Drengin conquer the Arceans,
they will inevitable seek to enslave the others who are much weaker. There is no
trace of naiveté on Earth when it comes to dealing with the alien civilizations.
And shield technology, which creates an energy field around a ship can
deflect immense amount of energy and combined with hyperdrive, and is faster than
star gates for traveling distances provide a real equalizer. The net result is that humans can
project force where they want, when they want and each ship can take on several Drengin or Arcean capital ships.
Which brings us to the plot of the first story - the prototype
ship that has these new technologies is stolen and our main character is an
Lieutenant on the ship assigned to get the ship back. Luckily, the team who
stole the ship are not aware of the capabilities of the ship they've stolen
(their master knows, of course, but didn't entrust this information to his
minions). Through a series of adventures that includes the first meeting with a
mysterious race known as "The Arnor", the protype is recovered.
Ultimately, the humans enter the war on the side of the Arceans
to try to defeat the evil Drengin Empire. The war takes time and the
Arceans are eventually crushed by the Drengin. The Drengin are later
discovered to be led by an Arnor (beings of immense power) but the humans are
able to counter this by the lucky finding of an artifact called the Orb of
power, an ancient weapon used by one of the Mithrilar, the guardians of the
universe, who disappeared eons ago.
The GalCiv universe involves a great deal of complexity in
dealing with the destiny of the main character who is the hero of the stories
and yet has been prophesized by the Arnor to be the ruin of all life. The complex
interactions between humans and the alien civilizations combined with the
presence of beings that are seemingly magical (such as the Arnor along with the
Altarians who are somehow related to humans as they seem have nearly identical
DNA) provides a rich universe to play in.
The titles were/are:
Book 1: The Defender
Book 2: Defender's Destiny
Book 3: Revenge of the Defender
Book 4: Twilight of the Morningstar
Book 5: Plague of Yor
Book 6: Corruption of the Shard
Alternative Universe: Legacy of the Orb
Prelude: Guardians of the Telenanth
Prelude: The Precursors
Prelude: Remnants of the Cataclysm
Prelude: The Last Mithrilar
If I ever find time, I hope to write these. I have hundreds
of pages of manuscripts scattered around that outline these stories. The first 6
all take place in the 23rd century. The other six mostly take place before
humans even walk the earth and deal with the Mithrilar, Precursors (Dreadlords
and Arnor), and Altaria and explains why the natural state of all but the
Mithrilar look human. Alternative Universe: Legacy of the Orb, explains how the
dark Mithrilar, Draginol, came to be.
When it came to making the game, I wanted to bring in this
universe. Because it's a strategy game, the story couldn't easily revolve around
a main character. The humans, therefore, became the main character. And
the story had to be tweaked a bit to fit being a strategy game.
For example, in the story, the Dreadlords are gone by the time
humans are running around, the the Arnor are still in the story. In the
game, none of the Precursors are to be found except in random events. Similarly,
there are no artifacts of power in the game. There are anomalies but there are
relatively wimpy. And the race to colonize is a big deal in the game
whereas in the story there are only about a couple dozen inhabitable planets in
the galaxy so there's not much of a "race". The "Terran Alliance" has 3 planets.
Earth, Paridias, and Haven. The Drengin "Empire" only has 9 planets. The Arceans
6, and Altarians, Torians, and Vegans only their home worlds.
In some future sequel, artifacts of power and the Precursors and
heroes are things I'd like to get in there. I also wanted to have ship
design in GalCiv but GalCiv on Windows was scheduled to come out near the time
of Master of Orion 3 and our budget was less than a third of its budget so we
figured it would be wise to not go head to head on a high profile feature.
But ship design is something that is crucial to the story because humans clearly
took the route of having fewer but more effective ships which made a big
difference. Drengin and Arcean ships were big on armor. Humans are
big on shields and very little armor (and in fact, no one else even has shield
technology for the course of the Drengin war).
As time goes on, I hope to introduce more of these elements into
the game to provide a richer game experience for players and for players to feel
like they are part of a truly fleshed out universe.
The OS/2 Days
Anyone remember IBM's OS/2 operating system? Back in 1992
I was in college and got into OS/2. It could multitask. Which effectively meant
you could format a floppy disk while doing something else. I was also a big fan
of Civilization. I was a regular on the Usenet group
comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.strategic. I was also a regular on
comp.os.os2.advocacy. I wanted to combine the two together somehow.
I wanted to show that OS/2 could be a great gaming platform but wanted to also
make a game Star Trek meets Civilization type game. Something that had
elements of its own but would make use of the stories and such that I had put
together over the years.
What was compelling about doing it on OS/2 was that I could make
the game be multithreaded. This meant that the game's computer AI could
multitask within the rest of the game. So while the player was taking his turn,
the computer players could be calculating theirs. So I began work in 1993 on it.
The problem for me is that I didn't know how to program. I
understood the high level concepts but ultimately, I was just a gamer who also
happened to be a loud mouthed OS/2 fanatic. So I bought the book "Teach Yourself
C in 21 days" along with a "Programming for OS/2 Presentation Manager".
That pretty much represented my entire "budget". I was in college and
didn't have any money. But I made a decision that was to have long lasting
effects: Instead of doing the game as "Brad Wardell" I did the game under
"Stardock Systems". Stardock was the company I had started in my dorm room
to build computers for faculty at Western Michigan University to help pay for
school. My reason for doing this was part of my OS/2 fanaticism. I wanted it to
look like "real companies" were supporting OS/2. After all, it's a lot more
impressive if "Stardock Systems", a company, was making a multithreaded strategy
game that supported up to 16.8 million colors in 1993 than "Brad Wardell"
I got some help from my friends (Andy Arvanitis and Chris Dailey
and Bill Zalenski). Andy already was a C expert and wrote a lot of the
helper functions in the game that made it easier for me to write the AI. Chris
Dailey helped with other areas and Bill Zalenski did the alien artwork.
Not all the alien names matched the faces but back then I
was just happy to have some graphics for the aliens!
At around this time IBM began to hear about this game and saw
that it was being made by a "real company". IBM sent me better tools (I was
using GNU C at the time) and other goodies to help me out. I asked them whether
any other games were being made for OS/2 and they said "Oh yea, there's another
one but it's being made by a college student.." To which I said "Oh yea, those
college kids, can't trust them.."
But I wasn't the only one able to use the Internet to mask the
size of my "company". IBM hooked me up with another company called "Advanced
Idea Machines" to publish the game. The owner of AIMs went to great lengths to
convince me of how large his company was and its vast resources. But in truth,
it was essentially a 1 man operation. Nothing necessarily wrong with that if
they get the job done. But unfortunately, as I was to learn, being a 1 man
developer is a lot easier than being a 1 man publisher.
Now, by early 1994 I had gotten pretty far along on the game.
But I only knew how to code what was explicitly taught in the book I bought. For
instance, the book I bought didn't get into graphics. That's right, here was a
game that actually didn't contain any drawing routines at all. Instead, every
graphic in the game is actually a window of either type SS_ICON or SS_BITMAP.
Every ship in the game was an icon on a window.
But thank to IBM, this worked. IBM was working on a new version
of OS/2 called OS/2 Warp (v3) and they changed the OS so that it could support
programs that had...ahem, thousands of windows (a normal program might have 10).
And so in Fall of 1994, Galactic Civilizations was released at
the same time as IBM's OS/2 Warp 3.
Oh yea, look at those graphics.
But from a game mechanic point of view and an AI point of view,
the game worked out really well. It was a hit. On a 386SX you could play
this game in which there might be thousands of ships with an AI that played
essentially by the same rules as the human player did and you didn't have to
wait long between turns. The AI made its calculations while you took your turn.
PC Gamer even gave it a 78% with the only major drawbacks being that it required
OS/2 and the graphics needed work. As ugly as the above screenshot is,
remember, in 1994 the typical DOS game was 320x200x16 colors. We're not even up
to MCGA (320x200x256 yet). GalCiv supported any resolution and color depth
your card could handle which meant up to 16.8 million colors and typically was
run at 1024x768.
It was about this time that I learned that you can't really be a
1 person publisher. For our publisher was more than a bit unscrupulous and just
didn't have the resources to do things right. For example, the box that the game
came in has to be the worst box in gaming history:
Worst game box in history
The closer you look at it, the worse it gets. You could actually
see where various parts were pasted on it because the "Black" wasn't a constant
black. The back of the box has several spelling errors on it. We should probably
have been thankful that there were no ads in the gaming magazines for it.
Our publisher's contribution to the game was basically manufacturing the boxes
and disks and sending it to the stores.
Despite the box, the game allegedly sold pretty well. I
say allegedly because we never got paid so we have no idea how many copies of
Galactic Civilizations 1 sold. At various times the publisher claimed big
numbers which seemed to get smaller and smaller as our requests for royalty
payments came up. The publisher made various kinds of excuses. Ultimately, we
never saw a cent from the final game. And because I was still in college, I
didn't really have any money to get a lawyer and go after him. And even if I
did, as I've learned much later, odds are, I wouldn't have been able to collect
much relative to the pain and suffering in trying to extract it would have cost.
Luckily though I was able to make an expansion pack for Galactic
Civilizations called "Shipyards". Shipyards let you design your own ships
for GalCiv. This $15 expansion sold several thousand copies and with that
income plus a licensing deal with IBM on a derivative game called Star Emperor
helped launch Stardock as being a "real" company (i.e. office, employees,
developers, etc.). We also decided we would go into publishing so that we
would never have to run into this problem again. Or so we thought.
So this led us to Galactic Civilizations 2/Gold for OS/2.
This time the graphics could be done better and we would publish it ourselves.
Galactic Civilizations 2
This time around we could create some decent graphics for it. At
least graphics that didn't look so bad.
Somewhat nicer graphics circa 1995.
Galactic Civilizations II was a lot more fun to make. Instead of
me working on it in my dorm room, I was working on it in an office environment
with other people in the office to help. It was still largely a 1 person job but
I felt that GalCiv 2 was a significantly better game from a quality point of
The game came out at the right time for OS/2. The game
would go on to sell around 35,000 copies worldwide. While not a huge
number, still pretty respectable for a game and phenomenal for something for
We also learned a lot during the course of publishing it. For
one thing, publishing games was a huge pain. It's hard to get distributors to
pay their bills unless you have a lot of clout.
Entrepreneur, which would be
the next game we worked on, would be the last game we would publish at retail
ourselves. Of the 35,000 or so copies that sold, we got paid for about 25,000
copies of them. The rest went down with two distributors that went bankrupt --
Blue Orchards and Micro Central. One reason so many indies go out of business is
that it seems so often they don't get paid. People wonder why indies "sell out"
to be part of big publishing houses, that's a big reason for it.
As for the game itself, the game mechanics of Galactic
Civilizations 2 were pretty similar to the first one. The difference was really
a matter of polish and overall quality. But compared to Galactic Civilizations 1
on Windows, it was downright primitive. GalCiv 2 had no space anomalies,
no star bases, no concept of influence or culture, no advanced diplomacy, a
primitive trade system, no space monsters, no random events other than the
ethical dilemmas, and no United Planets. Anyone who thinks that Galactic
Civilizations on Windows is basically just an update on the OS/2 version has
clearly not played both.
But games aren't judged in a vacuum. They are based on what else
is out there. In 1994-1995 time frame, Galactic Civilizations had some cutting
edge technology that directly translated to fun. Today, GalCiv on OS/2 wouldn't
hold up because we take much of what the OS/2 version did for granted. But
in 1994-1995, a game that ran at 1024x768x16.8 million colors (or any resolution
you picked), ran well on existing hardware, and was very responsive and fast to
play and could be played in a window was pretty compelling. Add to that an AI
that played by essentially the same rules as the human player and did so
effectively without having to wait between turns and you have the makings of a
game that went on to develop quite a reputation that would serve as the
launching point for a future Windows version.