Within the expansive realm of 4X gaming, where empires are forged and great perils conquered, a distinct sub-genre captures the vastness of the universe and science fiction – Space 4X.
While Master of Orion stands as a titan of the genre, another contender that was born just before has carved its own celestial legacy. This is the story of Stardock’s Galactic Civilizations series, from its inception as a young man’s passion project through to the latest iteration in the series – Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova.
The story begins in the early 1990s, with a young Brad Wardell emerging as the protagonist. As a college student engrossed in IBM’s OS/2, Usenet forums, and the world of video games, Brad decided to write his own strategy title to show off OS/2’s multi-threading capabilities.
One small step
With a determined spirit and a copy of Teach Yourself C in 21 Days, Brad coded Galactic Civilizations in his spare time. The result was a public beta launch in 1993, followed by a full release in 1994, and characterized by OS/2’s high-resolution graphics and wide color palette. The game also boasted a robust, fast-acting AI that planned its turn as the player took theirs, ensuring gameplay was uncharacteristically fast-paced for the period.
Following the eventual failure of OS/2 as a viable platform in the late 90s, Stardock shifted focus over to Windows and released Galactic Civilizations in March 2003. This coincided with the troubled launch of Master of Orion 3, granting Galactic Civilizations an opportune moment to shine. Although the ship design feature from the original game’s Shipyards add-on was missing, the Windows iteration improved on the original, with its captivating narrative and game design that still holds up even to this day.
Galactic Civilizations II soon followed on from this success. Infused with a new 3D engine and a scalable UI that ensures the game still looks amazing today, alongside expansions such as Dark Avatar and Twilight of the Arnor, the title secures its status amongst the best of the space 4X genre.
After a long break from the series, Stardock returned with Galactic Civilizations III in 2015, a feature-filled new iteration with newly streamlined mechanics, expansive maps, and unparalleled ship design freedom. Several expansions added new features and improvements to the original design in response to community feedback. Crusade and Retribution are considered to be essential gameplay features, and are now packaged with the base game.
The next adventure
The saga continues with Galactic Civilizations IV, a reimagining of the classic series formula and marking the return of the original development team behind Galactic Civilizations II, under the stewardship of Derek Paxton.
Addressing longstanding space 4X genre issues, Galactic Civilizations IV introduced a distinction between core worlds and colonies to cut down on excessive planetary management, and a detailed leader system to transform some of the series’ more opaque mechanics into something more fun and accessible for the player.
This iteration also added a new resource called Control, to provide various boosts to your empire’s development, Cultural Progression trees to further shape your civilization’s playstyle, and the splitting of the map into Sectors, bringing a whole new way to organize and conquer the galaxy.
And now, Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova is here. Headed by Brad Wardell himself and working to integrate criticism and feedback provided by the community, this is a comprehensive overhaul of Galactic Civilizations IV. This new version of the game features notably improved AI and invasion mechanics, and the integration of AlienGPT, a large language model technology used to create unique civilizations fresh for each playthrough.
The Galactic Civilizations series has carved its own path through the ever-evolving, expanding universe of 4X gaming, and each title in that series offers a unique take on that style of gameplay. The older games in the series still hold up today, and Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova brings in many modern design innovations to keep the series on the cutting edge of the genre.
Galactic Civilizations IV: Supernova launches October 19, wishlist now via Steam.