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E3 2005: A Meeting with Stardock, an hour with Galactic Civilzations II: Dreadlords
game: E3 2005: A Meeting with Stardock, an hour with Galactic Civilzations II: Dreadlords
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: TBA
developer: Stardock
date posted: 12:00 AM Mon May 23rd, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Mon May 23rd, 2005

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Click to read.While deep in the recesses of the South Hall at E3, I received a phone call from Monica Hafer here at GamesFirst! to come and meet with the creators of Galactic Civilizations.  Immediately I dropped what I was doing - ogling the preview for Ghost Recon 3 for the second time - and blitzed for the doors, knocking over some game players as I weaved in and out of the crowd.  You see, I fell in love with Galactic Civilizations ever since my roommate introduced us, glancing protectively over his shoulder as he did to make sure I would never steal his game.  Of course, I got my own copy, and we ended up playing not with each other - there was no traditional multiplayer - but alongside each other.  We glanced at each others' screens to see what we did differently, what military we boasted, what enemy we revered.  Galactic Civilizations was a deep 4x space strategy that featured not only great gameplay and loads of replayability, but an irreverent sense of humor that brought personality into the deep reaches of space.

Upon meeting Brad Wardell, Chief Executive Officer of Stardock, I knew how this kind of humor had manifested.  Mr. Wardell and gang are casual, friendly faces who enjoy their work in a way absent from big budget developers - they think of it as fun.  After I sat and shook his hand, Mr. Warell opened a laptop; he booted up Galactic Civilization II: Dreadlords.  The music was immediately recognizable - the theme to Galactic Civ I, though I only had a moment to listen to it, took me back to my roommate showing me the game for the first time.  It was a familiar, invigorating song that began to spur my impetus of adventure once again.  I hadn't been introduced to the game five minutes before I asked if the sense of humor from GCI had returned in Dreadlords.  The humor returns. Of course,? said Wardell with a knowing smile.

Galactic Civilizations II: Dreadlords is ambitious in many ways.  First, it hopes to be infinitely flexible.  Mr. Wardell posed a situation to me - if someone who plays GCII has the ability to make their game better (visually and ergonomically) than the developers, should they be allowed to do it?  The answer, he told me, was, Yes.? GCII sports the ability, if one is capable, of making the game completely individualistic.  First the game's GUI can be skinned, resized and reordered however needed.  And then the game's races can be customized to the nth degree.  If you want to upload your picture and make you the picture of your race, do it.  You see, not only are all the races from the first game (and the expansion) now playable, but there are feasibly an infinite number of them - just create your own. Next, GCII has a new ship building feature that puts Master of Orion 3's to shame.  Take any prefabricated ship (or create your own outside the game using 3D Studio Max and save it to a file) and add an unlimited number of parts to it.  Each ship model has little red marks on the hull that signify where an additional part can be placed. Each part that you attach has more of red marks that signify more parts can go there as well.  In theory, you can make your dream ship - an enterprise, anyone? - or one from your nightmares.  The abomination we created had spiky appendages sticking way, way out so that it looked like a reject from the Pokemon games.  One nifty little detail about the game is that there is no polygon cap.  That's right, you can add as many appendages or hubs as you want to your ships.  The ships will size down if you make them too massive though, keeping them at a reasonable size.  You can also customize the colors; ours was an eye popping orange/green concoction.  Or if you want to have all of your designs look similar just save them, load them, change them?customization in GCII is already - in beta 1 form - extremely deep.

After we got into the game, Brad Wardell showed off the lighting engine.  The planets are lit realistically from their suns.  The ships aren't source lit because they became too dark on the screen and it became increasingly difficult to locate them, said Wardell.  Thus, they've been balancing the game for playability.  You will see such phenomenon as eclipses (which is what we saw), and more when the game gets closer to release.  In the game demo many of the main features (such as battles) had not been implemented.  Also, the team isn't sure how they're going to present planetary surface battles in Dreadlords - many new concepts are still up in the air.

One solidified aspect is the planet generator.  Each planet is uniquely textured and built.  Randomly, that is.  You'll never see the same planet twice,? said Brad Wardell with a smile.  Galactic Civilizations alums will recognize the interface for planet production, except for one major change: now a rank 19 planet is not always more powerful (useful) as, say, a rank 5.  How they implemented this change is in the planet build interface.  Each planet's random texture is mapped to a grid in the planet menu, and that grid is where you build your facilities, wonders, and other buildings.  This allows each planet to work in its own unique way.  Say your planet is rank 17 but has lots of water - well, you'll have very little room to build, despite having a very prolific planet.  Tradeoffs like this work to stimulate expansion and exploration for better planets.  The highest ranked planet is not always the best.  You no longer can build everything on one planet.

On top of this change, the game has had a graphical overhaul.  And space is rendered in beautiful, movable 3D.  The ships we saw, while not textured in the early build, looked sharp and exotic, and remember that they are fully customizable.

The team at Stardock was gung-ho about addressing the problems from the first Galactic Civs, meaning that you could control only the humans, the tech tree was a mess, and there was no ship customization.  There was also a problem with planet building, since each planet could build everything - when left to its own devices - which broke the otherwise brilliant societal building aspect.  On top of this, GCI progressed in a tediously linear manner, as each civ would tech until they reached a super ship, which would just trounce everything else the other civs had.  Naturally, this is the kind of problem Stardock felt they had to resolve.  Now, instead of just humans, you can control any of the 10 races which have individual techs and specialties.  Though Galactic Civs I was rather good (especially after patches) it had enough problems to keep it from greatness.  Galactic Civilzation II: Dreadlords is Stardock's fresh start, their big fix; the team has listened to their fans (via email and forums) and have addressed these bugs and breaks first and foremost.

One of the stranger aspects of Dreadlords is the reluctance by Wardell to implement multiplayer.  Traditionally, for Galactic Civilizations, the community aspect is handled in something called the Metaverse, where games and stats can be compared between the top, or all, of the game players.  Wardell has stated his resistance to multiplayer, but he mentioned the possibility of it making an appearance in an expansion.

On the whole, the game looked early, but similar enough for Galactic Civilizations I gamers to just pick up and play.  Brad Wardell demonstrated the interface at this stage, which looked very similar to Galactic Civs I's.  Most of the new stuff wasn't in the build I saw, but rest assured Wardell said, this will not be a recreation of the first. They're shooting for an advancement of the franchise (and 4x space strategy) in new and innovative ways.  The game looks, from what I saw, to be doing just that.  We will have more information and impressions on Galactic Civilizations II: Dreadlords when we get our hands on the playable beta.

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