Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor
By Brad Wardell
Designer and AI Developer
Title: Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor
Expansion pack to the award-winning PC strategy game, Galactic Civilizations II
Galactic Civilizations II: Gold Edition or Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords + Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar
Windows XP or Windows Vista on a 1 GHz PC with a DirectX 9 capable video card, at least 64MB of video memory. Recommend 1 gigabyte of total system memory.
Stardock Entertainment (www.stardock.com)
$29.95 for expansion or $59.95 for the Ultimate pack which includes the original game and both expansions integrated.
Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor is the second and last expansion pack to the award-winning PC strategy game, Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords (2006).
The first expansion pack, Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar (2007) was an immense commercial success and won Editor’s Choice awards from G4 X-Play (5/5), GameSpy (5/5), UGO (A), Gamespot (9.1), PC Gamer (90%), 1Up (9/10), IGN (9/10), and many other sources. Dark Avatar introduced two new civilizations, a new campaign, super-abilities for civilizations, asteroid mining, unique planetary environments, and more.
This second expansion pack, Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor (2008), aims to top Dark Avatar in terms of game enhancing features. It adds a new campaign concluding the Dread Lords trilogy, adds hundreds of new features, and also gives every civilization its own unique technology tree and therefore unique ships, unique planetary improvements, unique starbases and more. It also introduces a new victory condition option called Ascension, which provides a whole new way of playing the game. All of these features are wrapped in a massive graphics overhaul that takes advantage of a new technology that actually significantly reduces the memory and hardware requirements. In other words, it’s not just a lot prettier, it runs even better on lower-end machines with better graphics.
Our Story So Far…
In Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords, the galaxy is on the verge of war. The evil Drengin Empire is only held in check by the might of the ancient Arcean Empire, which is nominally allied to the fledgling Terran Alliance. The Drengin fear the up and coming Humans from Earth because while the Humans claim to be diplomats and merchants, they also have seen evidence that Humans are lethal when it comes to war. Moreover, the Humans are rapidly spreading their influence across the galaxy, leading the Drengin to conclude that time is working against them.
In a desperate search for an advantage, the Drengin unwittingly discover and free the ancient precursor civilization known as the Dread Lords. The Dread Lords quickly wreak havoc across the galaxy, while the Terran Alliance builds a coalition that fights the Dread Lords off. Just as victory appears imminent for the Humans and their coalition, the Drengin Empire, which had stayed out of the war, strike with a massive fleet. The Arcean Empire is quickly overwhelmed and the exhausted coalition is no match for the fresh forces of the Drengin and their allies. The Humans, however, recover the collection of artifacts that the Drengin had taken and discover that one of them is a planetary force field that makes a planet completely impervious to attack (though it also means nothing can leave the planet either). The Humans use it to protect Earth and then use the second artifact they found to send their main fleet to a pocket universe that had trapped the Dread Lords in the hopes of finding additional artifacts to even the odds.
In Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar, the galaxy is on fire with the Drengin Empire dominating. However, the Drengin are conflicted as to what to do with the defeated. The Drengin shock troopers, known as the Korath, feel extermination is the best way. By contrast, the Drengin high command feels that extermination is wasteful and wants to use the defeated as a neverending supply of slavelings. This leads to a galactic civil war between the Drengin Empire and the newly independent Korath clan. The Korath, however, are merely pawns of the Dread Lords. The Drengin manage to successfully fend off the Korath assault on the Drengin homeworld leading the galactic civil war into a stalemate.
In Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor, a deep space expedition force of the Terran Alliance has found the last known survivor of the Arnor – the precursor civilization that had battled and exiled the Dread Lords in the first place. The last Arnorian explains that the source of Arnorian power (the Dread Lords are of the Arnor as well) are a series of shards scattered across the galaxy. The Terran Alliance must collect and destroy these shards. Only then will the Dread Lords be forever diminished and the galaxy free to determine its own destiny. Twilight of the Arnor includes the campaign to conclude the fate of the Arnor – both the Dread Lords and the Arnorians.
Our goal with Twilight of the Arnor
As a gamer, I often feel like developers are milking me by the time they do their second expansion pack. Am I getting my money’s worth or am I helping pay for someone’s boat? And if so, is it a good boat? Does it have one of those cool fishing thingies in the back? Either way, it’s not like I’ll get to try out their boat, I’ve just purchased an expansion pack to a game I know and love. The point being, often times gamers tend to get less and less with each expansion pack.
Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor was made by gamers who love the series. We just happen to know how to code (poorly) and have some art talent available to us. We wanted to make something that is really special.
We’ve tried to address every pet peeve we, as gamers, have ever had with second expansion packs such as:
1) The Graphics. Graphics aren’t that big of a deal but often times, a second expansion pack feels “dated” because the game engine is “aging.”
So check this out:
The left is the Survey ship from Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar (2007) and the right is the same ship from Twilight of the Arnor. Look at the detail difference - and the one on the right uses less than half as much memory because of the way the textures were done.
The idea is that a user getting Twilight of the Arnor should feel like they’re playing a 2008 game, not a warmed over 2006 game (when the original was released).
2) The Universe. One of the big things we wanted to make sure we did was to really expand the game universe. Giving each civilization its own technology tree allowed us to make each civilization truly unique. Before, they all shared the same tech tree so the races were a bit generic. Now, we can tell their story, give an idea of their culture and history, etc. To us, that’s the whole point of an “expansion” pack.
3) Features & Tweaks. This document won’t be able to remotely touch all the features and tweaks that went into Twilight of the Arnor. If I didn’t get to work on Galactic Civilizations (i.e., I’m actually paid real money to work on this – well, not technically anymore as I’m paid in US dollars...) I’d be a modder. Same with most of the team - we just love the game. If we could, we’d keep doing updates and expansions forever, but we have other games we still have to get to.
The Features: Stardock Went Insane…
This expansion pack is what happens when the people love what they’re working on, but know they won’t have an opportunity to do another expansion pack and that a sequel is many years off. There’s no real justification for all the features we have in here; we just wanted to make something really special.
With our first expansion pack, Dark Avatar, we added a lot of new features, but with Twilight of the Arnor we knew this was the end of the road, so we had to put in as much as we could possibly fit. While I can’t say I’ve tried every expansion pack that’s ever been made, I suspect that Twilight of the Arnor is the largest (in terms of new features and game changing content) expansion pack that’s ever been made to a traditional PC game.
If you’ve seen expansion packs before, you know the drill - they usually include some new units, some new maps, a few new scenarios, and a few new features. We have all that but it’s really just the beginning and barely worth mentioning.
Here are our primary new features:
· Each civilization gets its own unique technology tree. This is huge. There are 12 major civilizations each with over a hundred technologies. No PC strategy game has ever attempted this kind of thing (and in hindsight, it’s obvious why, as it added months to our development time, but it’s worth it!).
· Terror Stars. These giant starbases move slowly but can wipe out entire star systems. Plus, they look incredibly cool.
· Unique planetary improvements per civilization. This is also a huge deal. Like the techs, it’s not just cosmetic differences. Each civilization has its own history that results in different philosophies of how to succeed. It also means massive replayability and visual richness.
· Lots of new types of ships. Once again, because of the unique technology trees, you end up with different weapons and other components which results in unique ships. Or, as the accountants put it, “So, how much thought did you really put into this giving each race its own tech tree? Did you really consider the logical consequences of that?”
· New victory condition: Ascension. This optional victory condition will cause five ascension crystals to be placed in a given map. Build a starbase on them and collect one ascension point per turn for each one you control: gather 1000 points and you win. Of course, other players will attempt to annihilate you in the process.
· New features / polish for new players. Inevitably, this game will be packed up into some super mega GalCiv bundle, so a lot of small features have been added to make it easier for new players to get into. For instance, players can now choose to have the computer design their ships for them.
· Map Editor. Players can now make their own maps.
· Scenario Editor. Players can design in-depth custom scenarios that change the overall game rules. It’s been designed to be very easy to use.
· Tech Tree Editor. Players can now create their own technology trees or modify ones that come with the game with a very easy to use editor.
· Planetary Improvement Editor. Add your own planetary improvements to the game.
· New invasion screen. The planetary invasion screen in GalCiv II looked like something out of an Apple 2 game. That’s partially because it was inspired by an old Apple 2 game. Regardless, we’ve replaced it with something that brings the graphics quality from the 1980’s into the 1990’s.
· Metaverse tournaments. Custom tournament maps/scenarios are being provided with their own online scoring so people can compare their playing ability to others directly.
· New galaxy size: Immense. Due to the memory optimizations, Stardock was able to create a ridiculously large galaxy size called Immense.
· New soundtrack. Lots of new music in the game.
· Tons of new content. It would take pages to list all the new small additions we’ve added.
· Massive graphics overhaul. Just about every graphical element has been redone. Moreover, it’s been redone to use less memory at the same time. We’ll discuss this a lot more later.
· New Campaign: Twilight of the Arnor.
· Hundreds of tweaks and enhancements. Everything from animated ship components to new types of planetary governors to new options for ship handling, the expansion pack is literally an exercise in strategy gamer wish fulfillment.
New Feature Highlights
Terror Stars are starbases that after a great deal of investment can take out entire star systems. They’re great for the player who is dominating the game and wants to mop up – at any cost.
Unique Technology Trees / New Graphics
This is the feature that we decided to fully commit to – with all of its consequences. Ever imagine playing Civilization or some similar game where each race had a completely unique technology tree, which also meant unique units, unique improvements, unique capabilities, etc.? We’re not talking about a few minor changes, we’re talking fully unique civilizations now. With 12 civilizations, it means 12 different ways of playing.
Figure 1: By giving each civilization its own technology tree, we could give each its own unique story, history, and culture that players can learn about and enjoy.
Figure 2: Just one of the many tweaks to Twilight, the tech tree now displays icons telling you what the tech gives with mouse-overs. Seems obvious in hindsight...
GalCiv II / Dark Avatar: The 12 Civilizations Were All Basically the Same
In Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar, if I were playing as the Drengin my homeworld looked like this:
Figure 3: In GalCiv II: Dark Avatar, this is how the Drengin homeworld looked. Take a close look at the planetary improvements and the planet surface.
Figure 4: If I were playing as the Arceans in GalCiv II: Dark Avatar this is how my planet looked. Note how it's basically the same as the Drengin.
As you can see from these two examples, the planets previously looked the same and they have the same stuff to build. From a replayability point of view, each of the 12 races in GalCiv II were essentially the same.
But in Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor, the 12 Civilizations Are Truly Unique
Compare the two previous screenshots to playing as the Drengin and Arceans in Twilight of the Arnor:
Figure 5: In Twilight of the Arnor, the Drengin get their own unique planetary improvements and planet surfaces are truly unique looking.
Figure 6: Twilight of the Arnor’s Arcean starting planet. See the unique planetary improvements and planet surfaces. Each race not only looks different now but plays completely different.
The differences between races isn’t just cosmetic. Now, bear in mind, people can still play as the Humans which has a much more familiar feel to it, but now there’s 11 other civilizations to play as, which greatly enhances the replayability.
Moreover, the computer AI has been updated to handle these changes as well. Thanks to the extended public beta, balancing is being handled prior to release, so that these civilizations play well together despite being so different.
The Updated Graphics
Updated graphics are not normally that big of a deal. We think you may find some of the changes here to be very interesting because it may change the way you feel about what matters in computer hardware. It certainly made us re-assess what matters in hardware.
For years, we believed that the number of polygons a GPU could push out mattered the most, but we’ve discovered that it’s texture memory and texture quality that matters. It’s more important, in our opinion, to have a good texture artist than a good modeler. Consider these two images:
Figure 7: Colony ship hull from GalCiv II: Dark Avatar.
Figure 8: Same colony ship hull from GalCiv II: Twilight of the Arnor with the same model, just a different texture that uses less memory too.
Looking at these screenshots, one might think it’s the difference between an older console and a next generation one, but these two screenshots use the same number of polygons. Yet the one on the bottom uses less memory. That’s because of texture-sharing. GalCiv II’s previous models all provided each ship with its own texture. In GalCiv II: Twilight of the Arnor, each ship style gets one huge, highly detailed texture that all the ships share. As a result, you end up using a lot less (think hundreds of megabytes less in a lengthy game) memory even while the ships look vastly improved.
GalCiv II: Twilight of the Arnor actually runs better on the same hardware than GalCiv II: Dark Avatar despite having much better graphics.
Lesson learned: Texture quality can be even more important than the number of polygons.
Let’s Talk About YOUR Civilization
The first expansion pack, Dark Avatar, has had continuing success for features that we didn’t realize were that big of a deal at the time: The ability for players to design their own custom civilizations to play as and play against. In Twilight, we take it further:
Figure 9: Players can now design their own civilizations that even have their own unique technology trees - and players can create additional tech trees with the included editors.
New Victory Condition: Ascension
Part of the story for Twilight is the existence of ascension crystals which give the Precursors (the Arnor and Dread Lords) such an advantage. In sandbox games, players can now capture ascension crystals and try to win by collecting enough points. They work similarly to victory points in Company of Heroes – except here there’s diplomatic issues to consider since you’re not necessarily (or want to be) at war with other players.
Figure 10: Build starbases on ascension crystals to begin collecting ascension points. Collect 1,000 and you win. However, other players aren't going to stand by idly and allow that to happen.
The AI Isn’t Just “Harder” It’s More Clever
It’s easy to make computer AI that can beat the typical player. What is harder is making a computer AI that plays the game like another person would, and makes it enjoyable for the human. The difficulty levels in GalCiv II: Twilight mean something. The computer players play differently, behave differently, and say different things based on the difficulty level. The AI is the core part of the game and for Twilight, it received a great deal of attention.
Figure 11: The computer AI is a lot more clever. To even the odds, lots of screens - particularly the trade screen - received user context help to make information more available to players, just click on the icon buttons to get info.
Players and Their “Big” Galaxies
What is it with strategy game fans and the ridiculously large map sizes they want?
Twilight introduces a new map size that might as well be called “Yea, you bloody loon, I’ve got your crazy big map right here!” but marketing said we had to name it “Immense.”
So how big of a map is immense? In my best Sicilian (from Princess Bride) imitation: “Supreme Commander big maps? Sins of a Solar Empire big maps? Civilization? MOO? All wimps!”
An immense sized map in Twilight has 576 sectors. It takes 12 moves to get from one side of a sector to another. It’s just insanely, ridiculously big.
Supporting that sick map size meant Stardock had to go back and reengineer a lot of the memory management and performance algorithms. The net effect is that Twilight of the Arnor uses about half the memory of Dark Avatar and runs about 30% faster on the same hardware. So there were benefits.
Now for the screenshot of the immense size galaxy so you can get an idea of how ridiculous it is:
Figure 12: Immense sized galaxies. I mean, what the heck. That'll take months to play!
But people want these huge maps so it’s our job to give it to them. Another thing about having a map this size is that the AI had to be updated to support different strategies since what works on a small map falls apart on a big map. That meant different ship design algorithms, different construction algorithms, different economic management algorithms, even different diplomacy algorithms (why bother declaring war on someone it would take you 30 turns to reach?).
New Ship Designer
Probably the most popular feature of Galactic Civilizations II was the ship designer. It’s like being able to play with LEGOS in public without everyone looking at me. I mean, without everyone looking at the guy playing with LEGOS in public.
People have created some crazy ships and posted them on the net. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a space cabbage patch doll.
The new designer makes it much easier to organize favorite pieces. Plus, the game now supports animated ship parts.
Figure 13: The new ship designer allows players to animate ships and organize their favorite ship pieces.
From the launch gadget, the third option is called “Editors”:
Twilight of the Arnor includes six editors. The idea here is to let people take over the future of the game in the years ahead to keep it all fresh and fun.
Figure 14: One of our favorite editors is the tech tree editor. Players can actually create their own tech tree and then assign it to different players.
Figure 15: Want to add your own weapons, defenses, and other goodies to the game? No problem.
HINT: All of the data is located in the c:\program files\stardock\totalgaming\galciv2\twilight\data\english directory.
Computer Designed Ships
In previous versions of Galactic Civilizations II, players had to design their own ships. This is great if you’re into that (which we are) but for casual players, this could be daunting, and for experts it could get a little old.
A new option allows the AI to design ships for you by default. It is on by default but can be turned off.
Figure 16: The AI will design ships, give them clever names based on what types of things are installed on them and do a pretty decent job at it.
Besides the graphics being improved, the ship weapon effects and sounds have been given an update (as well as the overall soundtrack). This is part of the goal to make sure the Twilight feels brand new (i.e., a 2008 game, not an expansion to a 2006 game).
More than that, a lot of new components have been added to ships to increase the strategic options for players (both human and computer): there are components that make your ships more lethal if fighting in friendly territory, there are components that give bonuses to all the ships in a fleet, there are components that give ships more hit points and so on.
Figure 17: Besides looking better, ships in battle have a lot more strategic options to their original design.
Figure 18: Players can zoom out to see massive amounts of territory at once. Meanwhile, the Torians are moving towards victory.
Designed ships have detailed information on them
Because each race has its own planetary improvements, different strategies are employed per civilization
The quality of the technology descriptions has been improved.
The new ships are gorgeous
The new planet surfaces are vastly improved
The new campaign completes the saga (hint, always take out the Dread Lords early in a mission!)
Ascension victories mean there's dramatically more strategic possibilities
Strategy grognards will appreciate the hundreds of small enhancements such as the Finance Management screen
Tournaments allow players to compete on-line indirectly
Never forget the power of a Terror Star!
We hope you find this information useful. To get the game, visit www.galciv2.com
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