E3 2005: Galactic Civilizations II

By Scott Parrino 24 May 2005 0

E3 2005 Impressions

As more and more strategy games seem focused on World War II, it?s nice to see another chance to take to the stars and conquer planets with tremendous space fleets. This is what Stardock is giving us a chance to do in their sequel to the acclaimed Galactic Civilizations, known currently as Galactic Civilizations II

The original Galactic Civilizations was a great game, but it wasn?t without its limitations. Unlike similar 4X games, for example, players couldn?t choose their race nor could they custom design their own ships. Galactic Civilizations II addresses these shortcomings, and much more. We got a chance at E3 to meet with Stardock?s CEO Brad Wardell, and several of his co-workers, to get a sneak peek at this upcoming feast of galactic conquest. 

While Brad was breaking out his laptop to show us the game, he explained that Galactic Civilizations II was meant to be released in February 2006, but in true Stardock tradition, anyone who preorders the game can participate in the open beta that?s set to begin this June. This means that we?ll soon be able to take the game for a spin ourselves.

One of the main selling points to this game ? one that permeated the entire presentation ? is customization. This time around, players can build their ships in detail (more on this in a moment). They can create their own custom race AND import a picture to represent it. The interface of the game itself is ObjectX driven, so it is possible to create whole new interfaces. Players can create and import their own 3D models, so it?s inevitable that we?ll be seeing Enterprises and Star Destroyers in the game. Ship designs can be shared with other players as well.

The first place we saw this customization in action was the creation of custom races, which gives the player a wide variety of choices when creating a new race. Players can choose from a slew of attributes when creating their race, and this will all have an impact on the game. Once Brad chose a race, it was off to the main map screen, where much of the conquering business happens.

This is also where we first saw one of the biggest improvements to the game?the graphics. While Galactic Civilizations had top-down 2D graphics reminiscent of Master of Orion II or Space Empires IV, Galactic Civilizations II has a luscious 3D engine that reminded me of a mix between Ascendancy and Imperium Galactica II...a very good thing indeed.

The new 3D engine present in Galactic Civilizations II is very impressive, even at this early stage. Planets fully rotated with full lighting effects coming from the sun, and planets had moons rotating around them. A nice feature of the engine is its zooming capability. Brad was able to zoom in very close to a planet or a ship, and then zoom all the way out until the map looked like a more traditional board game, with symbols representing the actual planets. This gives the player the opportunity to play in the style they choose. The engine is also resolution independent, which means the game can be played at 3000x2000 resolution if players wish to see the entire galaxy.

Brad then moved onto the actual planets, which is like territory in a 4X game. Rather than having a static set of planet types as in the first game, Galactic Civilizations II has varied planet classes that are unique, and this helps determine what can be built there. A planet was laid out in a grid fashion, and different colored squares clearly showed what could built there. This adds a lot more strategy and forethought to the game, as players can?t simply build whatever they want on a planet anymore.

Once we were shown some planets, Brad moved onto the real exciting part of Galactic Civilizations II - ship design. As a 4X fan myself, I know I love tweaking each new ship class as much as possible. While games like Space Empires IV and Master of Orion II excelled at this, Galactic Civilizations was left wanting in this regard. This has all changed with Galactic Civilizations II.

Ships have three different types of attack and defense, namely Beam, Missile, and Mass Driver. This will help players when designing a ship. If an enemy race has strong shields and heavy armor, players can build ships with more mass drivers since shields don?t stop mass drivers, for example.

It seems that rather than having specific designs, like a colony ship or a scout, the entire design is left up to the player. Ship pieces are placed together like LEGOs. Players can either drag and drop pieces onto a bare hull, or double click the pieces and the game will place them on the hull automatically. The result of our demonstration was a very asymmetrical ship that looked incredibly odd, but was built in about a minute or two. 

Unfortunately, our preview didn?t show any actual gameplay, such as battles, colonization, and so on. The press kit indicates that the game will handle fleet design and implementation intelligently based on logistics, and that the game will include a story-based non-linear campaign as well as the traditional random sandbox mode.

Even without playing the game, I can say I?m very excited about Galactic Civilizations II. The amount of customization and randomness ensures tons of replayability (which is very important in a game of this type), while the thought and care evidenced in the design means it?s accessible to new players and veterans alike. 

I?m sure we?ll be bringing readers more coverage of this game once we?re able to play the various betas ourselves. For now, anxious fans such as me can only wait to delve into the new galaxies that Stardock?s latest game will give us.

About the Author

Brian Rubin is a freelance journalist currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Brian has been writing about computer games for many years, and has been playing them since he was six. When not at the helm of a virtual spaceship, commanding robotic armies, or flying simulated F-16's, Brian likes to read books on military history and aviation, and dabbles in Karaoke. Brian's full time job is in Search Engine Optimization.

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