Galactic Civilizations v1.07- by Chris Wenham

Please note: screen shots of Gal Civ do not reflect the true resolution of the game as they have been reduced to 16 colours.

Galactic Civilizations (gif 36k) is a game that marks OS/2's entrance into the arena of complex and technically advanced multimedia games. While most game makers are producing heavily bloated games that run only in DOS (and then often only after creating a special 'boot disk') Stardock Systems has put together a dazzling demonstration of what can be done with a solid multitasking and multithreading operating system like OS/2.

Galactic Civilizations is a strategy game based in a remote galaxy where you lead a fledgeling human civilization to domination, destruction, harmony or evolution depending on which path you choose. You compete with alien races (gif 25k) that can be benevolent, evil, or somewhere in between. In Galactic Civilizations you can just as easily forge alliances and peace with the other races as you can wage war and anihilate them.

Along the way you must colonize new planets and star systems, develop new technologies, build a military for offence and defence, and try to keep your population happy by building social improvements for your planets.

The game isn't simple, but marvelously complex with an abundance of depth and detail. While it does take a while to learn the controls and the tricks for survival, once mastered it draws you in with compelling addictiveness.

When you start a game you're treated to a raytraced animation of your first colony wagon, the "Santa Maria", as it is flung through a wormhole and thrust into this new uncharted galaxy. You're given a brief outline of what you must do and then you're left to your own devices. The first thing to do is find a planet to settle on, controlling your colony wagon with the mouse and moving around until you spot something promising.

Once established on a planet you can start to really build. Some of the first things you'll want to do will be to construct scout ships and find more suitable planets (and by that I imply that there are many UNsuitable planets) plus build more colony wagons to populate those you do find. Other necessities are building up your planet with schools and universities and putting together a navy for defence. Depending on how large you set the galaxy (at the beginning of the game) you're likely to bump into your neighbors soon.

Technology is a very important part of Galactic Civilizations. When you first start the game you are asked which breakthrough your scientists will strive for. At first, development goes extremely slowly, but as you build more research facilities like schools, universities, info-networks (some, like the info-networks, not being available until you develop the technology behind them), breakthroughs come faster. The technologies that become available also depend on whatever your political bent is, since the game can tell if you're playing to be evil, good or neutral.

Every time you complete the development of a new technology it presents a news-bulletin type report that describes the technology and the new improvements/techs that come with it. Some of these reports are highly amusing to read with tongue-in-cheek humor. You'll get a kick out of "Advanced Artificial Intelligence" and "Advanced Surveillance" technologies for example.

As you develop your technological base you'll see a wide range of ships and planet improvements open up before you. In many ways it is technology that gives you the greatest edge over your opponents in this game, not just military might. You can actually trade technologies with other civilizations if you're on good enough terms with them and you have something they want in exchange. When playing, I'm often tempted to adjust the financing and give the lionshare of my civilization's income to research just to see what cool new gizmos I get to play with once invented.

Under the Hood

Galactic Civilizations stands just as well on it's technical merits as it does on gameplay. Designed from the ground up to take full advantage of OS/2's powerfull multithreading and multimedia capabilities, this game is fast, responsive, chock full of high quality graphics and sound, and a joy to play even on a modest machine (mine is a 486/66 with 8 megs of RAM). Galactic Civilizations also does what very few other games will do, and that's scale the graphics and color depth to match your system's capabilities. I'll admit I can't hear the sounds or music (I have no sound card) but upon cursory glance at the game directory there's no dearth of .wav or .mid files either. If the sound is as good as the graphics then I can describe it easily: Rich.

The AI's that control your opponents are all run on seperate threads and as a result you'll rarely notice any delays between turns. With this level of multithreading Galactic Civilizations is one of the few games that lends itself well to SMP (Symetric Multiprocessing--more than one CPU). Run this on a dual-pentium box and you'll need more than a sixpack of Jolt to keep up.

The code behind the AI's themselves is feindishly cruel, but tameable. If you're a beginner you can set your opponents to 'Braindead' and enjoy an easy paced game. Masochists and those out to make a name for themselves may wish to try 'Incredible!', the rest of us can settle for any of the 6 levels in between.

Stardock Systems even claims that if you can beat the game at its hardest level (five alien civilizations, all set to 'Incredible!', and 'Evil') they will re-write the AI to beat you at your own strategy and provide an update for free. This is something I don't think is available with DOOM.

Galactic Civilizations isn't a game that limits you to just a destroy/be-destroyed outcome. There are several different ways to win, any of which is determined purely by what the player wishes to strive for. The game is intelligent enough to tell where you're going and end the game when you've accomplished your goal.

Don't get this game if you're an arcade freak; this is not a shoot-em-up, but it does contain a lot of heavy military. This game is very satisfying when you get what you want (after you build your first BattleStar class warship and take a look at it's stats, you'll probably exclaim, "Ooohh hoo hoo hoo hoo! Coooooooool!") and infuriating when you don't (many a time I've wanted to go to war with an alien civilization because their colony ship reached that juicy 'Excellent' class planet one parsec before mine did).

DOOM players who start their game by typing an "ID. . ." code, or SimTower players that meddle with their savefiles to get infinite cash will be pleased to know there IS a cheat available for Galactic Civilizations that gives you unlimited funds. Stardock Systems has also released a program called Shipyards for those who like to customize their navy. Shipyards will let you design new battleships that incorporate different combinations of features, for example a ship with extremely high speed but mediocre weapons. To keep the balance, Shipyards won't let you create super-vessels that you can deploy right at the start of the game.

If you're familiar with the game VGA Planets you've already got a good idea of what Galactic Civilizations is about. But just like you couldn't really describe a game like Descent by comparing it to Wolfenstein 3D, you can't do the same for Galactic Civilizations. I do confess that the lack of modem/network play is disappointing, though. Perhaps Stardock ought to consider that for a later version.


Installing Galactic Civilizations is a happily simple task. The installation program (gif 16.5k) gives you the opportunity of specifying which drive and directory to use, and whether you want the multimedia install or the normal install. A full install takes roughly 13 meg of space.


Galactic Civilizations is a 'must get' game to be sure. It's the first game to really show off OS/2's multimedia potential as well as its underlying power. But don't buy it just to show off, buy it to play too. Galactic Civilizations is just so-much-dang-fun.
Galactic Civilizations v1.07
Stardock Systems, Inc.
Gibraltar, MI, 48173
(313)453-0328 (voice)
(313)453-1480 (fax)
SRP: US$ 49.95 (preorder price for v2.0)
For an even deeper look into Chris Wenham, check out his home page. It changes regularly and there is plenty of OS/2 related info.

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