The Galactic Civilizations Thread

While my DSL modem (capacity: 90 KB/sec) is downloading the 336 MB GalCiv multimedia pack from Stardock’s faster server (actual speed: ca. 10 KB/sec), I have lots of online time to share my initial experiences with the esteemed forum public.

I don’t need the box with CD and printed manual, and it would be too expensive anyway, so I bought the download-only version from Stardock. Just GalCiv, not Drengin.net, because I don’t care much for economy sims.

And that’s where the trouble started.

You see, Stardock can’t really deliver GalCiv outside of Drengin.net, although they do sell it separately. You still have to download and run their “Stardock Central” server, which is the only piece of software you get when you buy GalCiv. They also send you a confirmation e-mail with codes which has a text attachment with different codes and a link that you must click on to activate the Stardock account.

Now if you had already started Stardock Central without clicking on that link (for instance, because the confirmation e-mail had not yet arrived – Stardock’s e-mail server is curiously slow), Stardock Central will say that it couldn’t log you on, and that is that. The program does not seem to have a function to retry the logon, but I discovered that it will try again automatically when it’s restarted, which I did after finally receiving that e-mail and clicking on that link.

So now I’m happily logged on and see… the entire product line of Stardock, which I’m not in the least interested in, without Galactic Civilizations. It’s doesn’t have a dedicated tab page, and it’s not on any of the other tab pages. After five minutes of desperate searching, I randomly clicked on the “Tools -> Register Products” menu item. Lo and behold, after some searching a combo box indeed offered the choice “Galactic Civilizations” in addition to Drengin.net, and more searching turned up the GalCiv registration code hidden in some of those e-mails.

So I register GalCiv, which nota bene I don’t even have at that point, and now suddenly a GalCiv entry pops up on the Drengin.net tab page of Stardock Central. Never mind that I don’t have or want a Drengin.net subscription; apparently Stardock considers GalCiv part of Drengin.net, and that is that. Now I try to download the 84 MB for the main program… and make my first acquaintance with Stardock’s 10 KB/sec server. They have two servers, and both are that slow.

Waiting for the download gives me ample opportunity to wonder why I wasn’t asked for an installation path for GalCiv. Looks like the game is always installed in a folder named “Drengin.net” which is always in the same folder as the “Stardock” directory that hosts Stardock Central. Later I discovered a “Prompt for installation directory” option which Stardock apparently considers so uncouth and unusual that it’s disabled by default. Never mind that every other installation program on the planet asks for the directory by default.

The game manual is available for separate download. It’s a surprisingly big zip file (~9 MB) that decompresses to a downright gigantic Adobe PDF file – circa 53 MB for a mere 46 half-sized pages! The reason becomes apparent once you open the manual in Acrobat Reader: it’s not a text file with embedded fonts, it’s 46 pages of vector graphics! People who know about Acrobat’s “Smooth line art” display option can produce a readable (if slow) display on the monitor; the others see a blurry pixelated mess and must print the file in order to read it. Stardock tells you neither about Adobe Acrobat in general nor about the “Smooth line art” option in particular, apparently assuming that everyone knows this stuff.

Oh yeah, the manual also contains screenshots and tech charts which are completely undecipherable with any output device or display option. Not that it matters much, the manual is marked as “not final” anyway, despite the fact that the game has been released to production for quite a while, and it contains little more than a vague overview of the game. Most interface pages (and there are lots of them) are completely undocumented.

On to the game itself, initial impressions aren’t any better. The game is locked at a display resolution of 800x600 which is just way too low for such a text-heavy game and looks like shit on my LCD monitor (1280x1024 native resolution). There’s a windowed version but it works only with 16 bit desktop color depth. Dialog boxes that show a single “Done” button must be dismissed with Escape, not with Enter. There doesn’t seem to be an “Always wait for end-of-turn command” option which caused me to lose many a possible ship movement because the ship in question was still in orbit. The sector map does not reappear automatically if it’s covered by another view, even when the game is waiting for ship commands or showing ship movements. The planet sidebar listing is not updated automatically, you have to reclick the button to get current statistics. There’s no button to colonise a planet, and no description in the manual – in my second game I finally discovered that you have to hover the mouse over a planet in the planet view for the “colonise” icon to appear. Planetary governors are not indicated on the planet screen but only on a “Details” sub-screen, and apparently there are no build queues without governors (?). There also doesn’t seem to be any breakdown of the income produced by planets before installation costs are deducted.

So my initial impressions were those of a rather dilettantic effort that hardly justified a price point of US$ 44.95. On the other hand, there’s that strange thing – I still kept playing for three hours! The gameplay mechanics appear to be sound, everything you’d expect in a space 4x game is there. There are really nice features such as trade routes that must be set up using a manually controlled freighter, and then continue to bring in cash while being serviced by auto-controlled ships – but those ships can be shot down to disrupt the trade route! The game text is quite literate and humorous, and follows genre clichés just far enough to make you comfortable. The diplomatic AI is nothing short of phenomenal from what I’ve seen so far – clearly inferior nations will suck up to you while those you attacked hold ancient grudges, and only agree to a peace treaty after you gain at leat military equality. Having the playable factions represented as political parties that compete with your own party once you switch to a democratic government was a stroke of genius. Those random “ethical” decisions look like gimmicks at first, but they are actually useful if you want to ally with alien nations of a specific ethical alignment. (The Drengins loved me at the end of my second game!) There are also terrorist factions and rebellions that form independent states, probably a first for 4X games.

Okay, so after all I really like the game. But Brad Wardell should perhaps ensure that his user interfaces are created by actual user interface designers rather than inexperienced interns or GUI-hating system programmers… the initial impressions are really off-turning before you get to the gameplay gem that’s hidden in there.

First off,I completely agree with you about the download and the Adobe manual-I went through exactly the same things you did in both instances,and some of the charts are still illegible to me in the manual.Unless you’re talking about something else,don’t you colonise by just selecting(left clicking) a colony ship,and right click on the planet to colonise?

Planetary governors are not indicated on the planet screen but only on a “Details” sub-screen, and apparently there are no build queues without governors (?).

It appears so,but you can set up a different governor for each planet if you’d like,can’t you?I’ve not had a lot of time with the game yet,so I’m no authority…

Those random “ethical” decisions look like gimmicks at first, but they are actually useful if you want to ally with alien nations of a specific ethical alignment. (The Drengins loved me at the end of my second game!)

Naughty boy…

Okay, so after all I really like the game. But Brad Wardell should perhaps ensure that his user interfaces are created by actual user interface designers rather than inexperienced interns or GUI-hating system programmers… the initial impressions are really off-turning before you get to the gameplay gem that’s hidden in there.

I agree,I especially wish more information was available by right clicking,or by mouse hovering.But it looks like a great game once you start to get a handle on it.

First off,I completely agree with you about the download and the Adobe manual-I went through exactly the same things you did in both instances,and some of the charts are still illegible to me in the manual.Unless you’re talking about something else,don’t you colonise by just selecting(left clicking) a colony ship,and right click on the planet to colonise?[/quote]

Hmm,I just checked it out,and you’re absolutely right.And there are rather a lot of other interface items which aren’t documented,either.

You sure about those resolutions? I could swear the readme mentions a bunch of options for the res. Not sure how you set them though, I havent played the game yet. Just read the readme and downloaded the bonus pack.

olaf

We are currently in the process of allowing people to download just a big old ZIP file with the retail installer in it. Users can still use Stardock Central to get updates but won’t have to use it to download the entire 500+ megs of stuff.

This should be available to all GalCiv players in about an hour or two.

So you will have a choice.

As for GalCiv UI, actually, I was involved on the UI. I realize you may not like it and I can defintely agree that it’s not perfect, most beta testers did like it. As for UI experts, well, actually in the fairly well known UI design book “Elements of GUI design” I’m featured in there.

UI enhancement software is actually Stardock’s primary business.

Like I said, that doesn’t mean GalCiv’s UI is perfect or great, but that I don’t think it would be fair to characterize it as bad in any absolute sense. Different people have different preferences.

BTW, I totally concur with you on your experiences with Stardock Central. It’s come a long way but I really would have prefered allowing users to download an ISO option (and we may eventually do that).

What Stardock Central brings to the table is easy to do updates. But I think it was a mistake to try to have it be the only way of downloading the full game, especially without having taken it through more usability time.

SDC is really neat once you get used to it but I think most users are just anxious to download the game and get started and SDC gets in the way.

I’ll post here when the alternative download method is available.

Thanks Brad. All I want to be able to do is download a complete file or ISO and make a CD. It’s the easiest way.

Brad - you need to get your response time down. 1 hour and 25 mins. for a reply to a post on a non-Galciv forum…for shame. :wink: [size=2]Lead designer, my ass.[/size]

Still working on getting the file up there. 35 megabits of dedicated bandwidth just for downloads and it’s saturated. Unbelievable.

Servers must be busy. It doesn’t matter what I try to download with stardock central download manager, I’m timing out after every file. Guess I’ll try again at 10a.m. Romania time or something.

8.4/10 from GameSpot

Yeah, but they didn’t have to go through the stardock download manager to get their copy.

Sorry, cheap shot. I’m just itching to play something that doesn’t involve 3d first person warfare, and Bass fishing 2003 doesn’t cut it.

Actually, they did have to go through Stardock Central. That’s how they got the BonusPak which you can tell was in use by the screenshots.

SDCentral works pretty reliably before several thousand people jumped on at the same time. ;) It’s kind of lke the first days of Diablo II, took a day or two to work out kinks in Battle.net.

At least the game itself is solid. Can you imagine what would have happened if those who have elected to download the whole thing then found the game was buggy? Yikes!

Is the res really locked at 800 x 600? I actually don’t mind that on a monitor, but on an LCD it’s gonna be a problem.

No, it’s 1024x768.

And that’s being very kind. It was more like 2 months.

What does this mean from the readme?

Memory needed to run the game in a given resolution:

Resolution | Video Memory

640 x 480 x 16 | 4 MB
800 x 600 x 16 | 6 MB
1024 x 760 x 16 | 8 MB
1280 x 1024 x 16 | 12 MB
640 x 480 x 32 | 8 MB
800 x 600 x 32 | 10 MB
1024 x 760 x 32 | 12 MB
1280 x 1024 x 32 | 18 MB

Thats why I thought it could run in multiple resolutions.

olaf

It’s wrong. Strategy First added that. No idea why. I think it also mentions somethign about epilepsy too (seroiusly).

And on a day where he was supposed to be moving, too… Sheesh. I tell you, some people are such slackers…

ASJunk

LOL.

Yea, actually we closed today on our new house.

Went to bed last night at 5am, got up at 9am for the house closing, went to work, beat up on SDCentral guys, sweated out the hours before the Gamespot review showed up with a betting pool on what the review would be.

Next week we’re supposed to release WindowBlinds 4 too. Not sure where we’re going to cough up the bandwidth from.