I’m a big fan of strategy games of all kinds; From my earliest memories playing old Avalon Hill games like Blitzkrieg with my father to burning away countless weekend hours playing the likes of Civilization, Master of Orion and StarCraft. The more robust the better in my opinion, and with Stardock’s epic Galactic Civilizations II, I dedicated quite a few hours to conquering the universe with economic might, technological prowess, and customized fleets of warships.
So you can imagine that I’m expecting great things from Galatic Civilizations III, the long awaited sequel that so far promises to have more of everything I loved from the first game. Previously, the game’s alpha build was only available to select dedicated few who pre-ordered the game, but today Stardock is taking advantage of Steam’s Early Access program to launch the beta of GalCiv III, making the new version of the game available to everyone who pre-orders the game. In preparation for its release, I spoke with Paul Boyer, GalCiv III‘s lead designer, about the upcoming beta and what players should expect in this early version of the game – and in the updates to come.
“The first thing that’s different is that the game is actually fun now,” joked Boyer of the game’s transition from alpha to the beta. The alpha was a bare-bones framework of Stardock’s goals for GalCiv III, but Boyer said that “most of the game dynamics are in now,” some of which were designed with the help of fans who put down money for the Founder’s Elite Edition of the game. “One of the advantages of doing the Founders’ program the way we did was that we got this hardcore, core fanbase that really cares and they’re constantly giving us feedback.” he said, adding how some features – like orbital shipyards that can be supplied by multiple planets – were included out of discussions with fans. “A lot of it is really good.”
The first thing players can look forward to with the beta of GalCiv III (and the full game) is having much bigger galaxies to explore and conquer. “The largest galaxy is twice the size of the largest galaxy from GalCiv II,” and for players with 64-bit operating systems, the potential to have humongous maps filled with dozens of aliens races will certainly keep them busy for months – although such massive maps may not be available for GalCiv III‘s new multiplayer mode. With the addition of nebulae, dust clouds, planetary resources and other cosmic terrain, galaxies will also feel less empty than those of GalCiv II. “If anything,” Boyer said, “I may have [added] too many black holes in the beta.”
Another feature from the alpha, the highly anticipated ideology system that represents GalCiv III‘s new take on morality, is getting significantly fleshed out as well. During the alpha, players would accumulate points in benevolence, pragmatism or malevolence based on their responses to random events, and then could spend those points to earn empire-wide passive bonuses in one of three corresponding trees. “Before, it felt a little bit too much like another tech tree, whereas now it’s essentially rewards,” Boyer explained of the changes. “You get enough ideology points in something, and bam! You get a big bonus.” Depending on where players sink their points, they can now get access to instant benefits, such as free colony ships or doubling their empire’s influence.
Each faction now has their own tech tree, with specific race technologies or the ability to research general technologies earlier than others. The Iridium, an ultra-capitalist race, has access to specific techs that provide them with extra economy improvements, while the aggressive Drengin can pick up military sciences like “Planetary Invasion” way ahead of the competition. While many of these new mechanics are still subject to balancing, they’ll hopefully go a long way to ensuring no two games of GalCiv III play the same.
Despite many significant additions and tweaks over the alpha, there are several core features of GalCiv III that are still in the works – Less-militaristic options like diplomacy, trade and treaties are slated for an October update. The United Planets (think an intergalactic version of the United Nations) is making a return from GalCiv II, but has been reworked to allow for more player agency and control. “You can use it almost as a weapon – You can be elected to the chair of the United Planets, and then you propose the bills that get passed,” Boyer explained of the new UP feature, which will make for some interesting chat logs between players in multiplayer matches. “So it’s like ‘I really hate the Altarians, I know they’re the richest race in the galaxy right now, so I’m going to pass this bill that taxes them.'”
On the warfare front, the hands-off combat viewer that’ll give players a front row seat to each battle will be enabled in the next beta update, followed by the game’s campaign in a third planned update just before launch. There’ll also be weapon augments and support modules for your starships, allowing you to create a variety of ships with different roles. Boyer said there will be a great deal more strategy involved in space combat and players will need to “build [their] fleet like a deck of cards” in an almost “Hearthstone-esque” manner. Minor races will also make a reappearance; AI-controlled civilizations that pose no real threat to your quest for dominance but can provide extra opportunities for trade or target practice.
Also in the works are modding tools and options for players to share their customized races and ships through Steamworks and other methods that are still under construction. “My goal is for you to be able to – I’ll be playing you, and I look over and go, “Damn, that’s a cool ship he’s got,” said Boyer. “And I should be able to go to the ship detail screen and say ‘save as template,’ and now I have your ship.” Another possibility being explored is allowing the game’s AI to “mine the internet for ships” and bringing in customized starships that other players have uploaded to Steamworks. With the plan for giant galaxies featuring multiple races and a vast suite of customization options, “Modders will be able to go crazy,” Boyer said.
The full version of Galactic Civilizations III doesn’t have a solid release date just yet, but Boyer is hoping for a Spring 2015 launch window. Until then, aspiring empire builders can check out the game via Steam Early Access, or follow Stardock’s Twitch channel.