Pandor: First Contact - Just Announced Space 4X from Slitherine and Matrix


SMAC holds up very well for a 14-year-old game. In fact, I was playing it a couple of nights ago.

I decided to roll the dice and buy Pandora. With all due respect to the Proxy Studios people, I’m not going in with high expectations. We’ll see how it goes.

Props for publishing a Mac version on day one, but would it have been so hard to put an icon in the game’s application bundle? :P


By the way, I have a code for a $7.50 discount (25% for the mathematically challenged). It was sent out to all the beta testers. First person to PM me can have it. The catch is it can only be used to purchase the game directly from Slitherine’s site.


There is one, but I guess no one ever noticed it doesn’t show up. I checked, there’s just some permissions set wrong. Will get it fixed. Thanks.


I think what gets me is that it obviously has nothing to do with computing power and that makes it seem like a cheap shot. In fact, because of increased computing power, expectations for games are much higher and games are much more expensive to develop (e.g. graphics)–or at least I imagine it must be the case. Also there’s a fine line that remakes/spiritual successors have to walk, as has been discussed. Personally, I wouldn’t pay money for a game that was a feature-for-feature remake of SMAC, and the market of people who would must be pretty small. As soon as you start changing things (even “just AI”) it gets slippery. (I guess–I’ve never made a remake of a popular game.) Maybe in the quest to make a “fun” game the terraforming had to get the axe for one reason or another.

I guess I’m just saying I’m willing to cut them some slack until it comes out and we get some reviews.

That said, by going down the remake road, you are getting a good deal of free goodwill and buzz. You’ve got an easy, automatic pitch for the game. So you do open yourself up to these sorts of criticisms. So, carry on then, I guess.


I simply download all my non-Steam games and keep them in a folder on my computer and my online backup. I can understand the value when getting a new computer and only having to install from one vendor (would be easier) but then again that only happens every three or so years.


We cut raising and lowering ground due to time/resource constrains. As many have noted it’s an awesome thing to have, but a bit of a gimmick. We definitely had plans for it though and the engine supports it so it’s something we can add.

I find the amount of features and the cost of making a game now vs 10 years ago quite curious as well. While one would imagine technology has come far since then and tools have been much improved, the problem seems to be that the quality and expectations are so much higher. I give respect to everyone who still genuinely enjoys playing SMAC though, I can’t handle that old UI anymore, it buggers me out; I’m guessing it’s a matter of how familiar you already are with it, but I personally have a hard time imagining someone new picking it up.

Brian Reynolds, in a recent talk with Jon Shafer, also pointed out that he doesn’t think you can recreate SMAC with the same budget they had, mentioning you could just use pick up some crappy camera footage and it would work. I don’t recall if he estimated how much he thinks he would need now, but I have a vague impression of much higher numbers.

But also, Pandora really isn’t a big budget AAA game. While I think we’re quite resourceful at Proxy Studios and am proud of what we’ve achieved with our budget of < $100 k, I’m quite sure SMAC and Endless Space had at least $1 million, no clue about Civ games. Not an excuse, just something to consider perhaps.

As it’s probably clear by now we didn’t set out to recreate SMAC. It was definitely an aspiration, but it wasn’t the only inspiration, we did our own thing. In my humble opinion I think we were quite innovative with some of the core gameplay mechanics, like the global and pooled resource and growth systems or operations, some other mechanics we just took on a different spin, like the randomized research tree, while some we just polished and streamlined, like the unit design. It probably depends what you go into the game for. I’m proud of our mechanics and how they fit into the game, but our presentation and story is not going to make you think like SMAC did – they had insane writing and voice acting.


I love Steam as much as the next guy, but Matrix was THE FIRST (war)game company to make their entire catalog dowloadable. In my mind, Matrix ranks right up there with Steam and Stardock for innovation in this regard. Their strategy to providing niche games at a price they though was fair has never wavered in almost 13 years in the business. We would be up a shit creek if only one company sold games online.


James Allen at Out of Eight seems to think SMAC players will not be disappointed (but no new innovation).

He also feels the AI factions are decent (and browsing over the Slitherine forums I do see a bunch of beta testers saying they had a hard time on the medium difficulty setting).

There was a thread on the absence of terraforming so there are others pushing for that to change eventually.

What is the consensus of opinion: I would think that most SMAC players are more likely hard core strategy type gamers, so not sure if they will be as happy with a spiritual successor.

Anyhow, my philosophy is too support decent 4X, turn based games so I will get the game.


I can’t exactly take as a credible review a one paragraph write-up about a game. I don’t know when it exactly started but it seems Out of Eight went from writing game reviews into writing game write-ups.


Well he does have an embedded 39-minute video review. While I often prefer reading a written review to watching one, a 39-minute video review is going to be a lot more information rich than even a 1-2 page written review.

I don’t think you can ding him for credibility simply because his review does not use your preferred medium.


Thats … weird. You’d pay money for a remake where features were cut and others implemented imcompletely but NOT for a feature-for-feature remake?

That’s unsurprising, if a bit sad.

I agree without having played the game that the results are impressive for such limited budget, but maybe you should have (re-)made a simpler game to begin with?

Well, some things that have been posted in the thread gave a different impression - namely that in some parts it’s almost a slavish remake - but I can’t pass judgement before I have played it myself.
I AM planning to pick this up in a Steam sale. Err, I mean with my next Matrix order or when I know I have some time to actually play.

Just a guess, but in this case, isn’t the meat of the review supposedly the 40min video instead of the one-paragraph writeup? (I can’t watch it now to verify since I’m at work w/o sound…)



Ohh, I stand corrected. I didn’t know there was a video review included. All I noticed at the start was his one paragraph thing. Thanks for point it out.


Some of the features sound interesting and I wonder if anyone can comment on 'em to see how they really make this 4x game different (or if they do):

  • Randomized tech tree.
  • Shared resources between cities.
  • Population migration between cities.


I’ll quote a reply from our forum here:

It has a lot in common with games like CiV and SMAC but it does have a lot of new gameplay mechanics. The ones that stand out for me are

  • Randomized tech tree. This makes a huge difference to how you play. each game you have to really think about what to research as there is no preset formula to get to whatever it is you want.
  • Worker allocation and resource production. Resources are shared between cities so you can specialize. One city might produce no food at all, another might be entirely for minerals or you might go more balanced. You have to balance efficiency with the danger of losing a key city that produces all of a resource.
  • Migration - cities have a morale rating which effects how much people want to live there. Nice places attract people and unpleasant places lose them. Its a really interesting mechanic that adds some interesting decisions. Sometimes founding that new city next to a beautiful hot spring is not the best idea. It will be so appealing the population of your industrial cities will flock to it, depleting your workforce in these key cities, but if you don’t expand you’ll ultimately be overrun.
  • The workshop is great fun. You can design your units with different armour, weapons and devices. These really vary the roles and add lots of interesting strategies.

Obviously there is a lot more going on but these are some of the things that make Pandora feel really unique and new to me and why yesterday I accidentally spent 4 hours “testing” the final release without noticing…

Also, here’s a review:

The beta was on the Slitherine forum so most of the posts are there.

Forums are here:

The beta forum is now public so you can actually see all the beta tester comments too!


Thanks Eric for the links. Curious about this one.

Off topic: Can someone clarify the difference between Matrix and Slitherine. Is Slitherine the development wing of Matrix?


I think Slitherine actually owns Matrix.


They merged - One American company (Matrix) with one British company (Slitherine). Slitherine creates their own games as well as publishes.

Here is an article by Troy Goodfellow


I played for about three hours last night. So far, I don’t regret spending the $30.

SMAC probably wins on overall “atmosphere”, but there’s much to like in Pandora. The things quoted in Erik’s post above all stand out as things I would have mentioned, myself.

The randomized tech tree works. I’ve started two separate games, and the tech run-up was quite different between the two. I like this, because it means there is no optimal “Golden Path” for tech advancement. It looks like the randomness is constrained somehow, to keep things from getting totally zany; perhaps the Proxy folks can comment. Also, you don’t see the whole tree, all the way to end. There is a (generous) “horizon” of sorts, and as you move further down development paths, you see more possibilities open up down the way. It seems fairly well done, though I should like to finish a complete game to see how it carries through to the end.

At first, city management confused me, because I expected it to work like SMAC’s, when it really works more like MOO 2’s colony management. As the city population grows, each point of population get assigned to a role automatically. So you have farmers, miners, workers, and scientists. You can reassign roles at will, and lock down roles to keep those assignments fixed, if you want to. You don’t place population units on city hexes directly; instead, the game seems to put each point in the best available hex (“territory”, in game parlance) for its assigned role. You still get to improve territories using formers, so you can also influence city development that way. Cities start with seven hexes and expand one hex at a time, Civ V-style. The game tells you how long it will take to acquire a new hex, and lets you specify the hex that will be obtained next, if you care.

Each city tracks a number of variables, all of which can be seen on the city screen. You have: habitat, population growth, food, minerals, production, research, credits, morale, and pollution. Mousing over the values brings up a tooltip breakdown that shows how the numbers are derived. Food, minerals, credits, and research go into a global pool. I guess research was always global in Civ-style games, but having the other resources in a pool helps reduce some of the micromanagement burden. In SMAC, you’d be running crawler caravans to shuttle production from one base to another if you needed to build something expensive quickly; with a global pool, you don’t need to do that so much; the minerals come out of the global pool, and the bottleneck then becomes the production rating of the city, which starts with the number of people assigned as workers, modified by buildings and productivity advances.

Instead of having discrete, unhappy drones, Pandora models happiness through the morale variable, which can be influenced through various factors like taxation rate, nearby terrain features, and I’m sure a bunch of other things I haven’t discovered yet. The effects of morale act as a multiplier on resource output, with lower values penalizing output and higher values providing a bonus. It also appears to affect migration between cities, which is an interesting dynamic. I had two very crowded cities; once I established a new colony, it grew very quickly, because of a large influx of people from the other two cities. All you need is enough habitat to house them, and food to feed them all (which comes out of the global pool). Habitat is a local city variable, related to the number of hexes the city occupies, modified by building improvements and technological advances.

Pandora’s production values are better than I expected. The graphics are clean and well-executed. Performance-wise, the game engine seems pretty snappy. If I had any complaints from a design or aesthetic point of view, it’s that there are maybe a few too many black-and-white elements in the UI, and that the result comes off feeling a bit bland as a result… but this is perhaps a matter of taste.

My main complaint so far has to do with documentation. The game’s “manual” is nothing of the sort. It contains installation instructions, and that’s pretty much it; the rest of it consists of pages and pages of faction lore which tell little or nothing about the game systems. Some of this information is conveyed via tutorial tips that pop up on a regular basis, and some of it can be found in the Compendium (basically, Pandora’s equivalent of the Datalinks or Civilopedia). In spite of these resources, seemingly important concepts go unexplained.

For example: There are different weapon classes (automatic weapons, missile launchers, flamethrowers, cannons, sniper weapons, anti-air weapons, beam weapons, etc.), but I don’t know how or even whether these classes are significant. While tooltips and the Compendium will tell you that a particular weapon has a bonus or penalty vs. biological or mechanical targets, there’s nothing to suggest why you should design units to use flamethrowers vs. automatic weapons, when both have the same tagged bonuses vs. target types. In other words, there is no description of “Missile launcher” or “Cannon” as abstract concepts in the Compendium. Should I care? Have I overlooked something?

Anyway, these are just initial impressions. Pandora is not a complete clone of SMAC, and it does try some new things. I suspect that how people react to it will depend on whether they’ve played SMAC before. Overall, the game seems like a solid effort, and I look forward to playing it more to see how coherent it is through the course of a complete game.


Well, that’s not what I said at all. I said I’d wait to see reviews and impressions before judging Pandora, and before buying it. If someone came out with a “SMAC HD” I probably wouldn’t get it. However, in the case of this game:

…so I’ll [B]wait[/B] and see how it pans out.


Has anyone got a science victory? I researched more than 75% and never got a science victory message. Earlier there was a message stating that another faction has made a lot of scientific breakthroughs, but it sure wasn’t worded like they won the game.
Edit-Never mind, progress percent needs to get to 100 to win.