The next version of Aurora 4X is coming later this month, and I am not ready05 Mar 2020 2
So, guess who’s recently discovered Aurora 4X? I’d always heard rumours about the game, most notably from the fine chaps over at Three Moves Ahead but I confess I’d never summed up the willpower to go seeking it out (especially since the first thing I heard about it was how insane it is).
Then, a few weeks ago someone I follow on twitter decided to post a very inspiring AAR base off one of their Aurora games. If there’s one thing to say about me, it’s that I’m a sucker for a good AAR. Since I was on holiday at the time I thought it’d be a great opportunity to download and play around with it in the evenings on my laptop (I was wrong, as it turns out - doesn’t work on smaller screens).
But the real motivation I had for playing around with it was that I’d also heard that a sequel was due out sometime soon. If you head on over to Aurora’s official forums there seems to be many planned sequels worked on at one time or another. For example, you’d be forgiven for heading straight to the ‘Aurora II’ board, but that’s in fact a trap. Whatever Aurora II is or was, it’s no longer a concern because the last post was in 2016 and it seems to be a dead project. There seem to be a couple like it.
What you’re looking for is actually the Aurora C# board, located in its own section below the ‘New Players’ area near the top. This is filled with active threads from developer Steve Walmsley talking about development progress, feature ideas, change-logs etc. Head to this thread, and you’ll see a couple of posts on Page 33 where Steve confirms a late March (2020) timetable for the release of the next version of his work.
So, Aurora The Second is coming, and I must confess I am nowhere near ready for it.
If you’ve made it this far but still don’t really know what Aurora is, it’s probably one of the most raw sci-fi 4X simulation experiences you’ll ever encounter. And it’s free! I don’t actually want to use the term ‘complex’ - yes, it goes into very intimate details over things like missile ranges, fuse timers and bunch of other oddly specific minutiae. This program allegedly started off as an aid for pen-and-paper space battles and RPGS after-all. No, I use the term ‘raw’ because this ‘game’ (if you can call it that) is mainly one big tool, one you have to figure out.
There are lots of menus, lots of buttons you can press and things you can put into action, but at no point does this game explain itself. Sure, you can find some tutorials, and there are some basic tool-tips but you’re essentially given a blank(ish) canvas and told to get on with it. You want to build your first ship? Cool, but first you must research an engine, which means creating an ‘Engine research project’, which means setting specifications for the engine you’re hoping to research… Considering most new-comers won’t even know the context of what an engine is supposed to do at this point, it’s a little intimidating. And that’s not even a massively complex series of actions - but to face such an alarmingly detailed choice, at a point where you know literally nothing about how this game works, sets a tone that’s hard to break-free from.
But the thing about minimalist designs like this is that it’s like plugging your imagination up to a nuclear reactor. All of the information is there for you, and if you let it you can create fantastic scenarios and stories in your mind as you slowly tinker your way around this ridiculous simulation. It’s what gave rise to the original AAR I read, and while I’m stumbling through this game incredibly slowly my mind is already writing the new grand narrative of Humanity’s first tentative steps into space.
If you’re a fan of games like Rule the Waves 2, this isn’t so dissimilar although there’s less of an immediate ‘war game’ focus, and definitely less of a ‘game’ design philosophy. You’re given a bunch of tools and principles with which to chart your own hard(ish)-science space opera. Yes, once any shooting starts there are a lot of other tools that are designed specifically to model how missiles and lasers work in space, but it's not always about that.
Aurora C# is coming. You can go to this thread for a detailed breakdown of all the changes being implemented to the new version of the game. I honestly have no idea if it will be that much more accessible, but at least my current tinkering with OG Aurora will give me some foundations to work from.
I'm oddly excited, if a little apprehensive - bring on the future.
Aurora is free to download from the official forums. We recommend going here for the download files.