GalCiv III: Lord of the Frogs

Posted on Monday, June 12, 2017 By Frogboy



GalCiv III: Crusade + the GalCiv community = unlimited strategic replayability.

In preparation for v2.3, I'm testing out the various new gameplay features and improvements. And what better way to do that than to put myself up against 9 random civilizations from the Steam workshop...


The land of toads

My aquatic race has risen to the dominant species of the planet Toadling.  Now, we are going to explore the galaxy...


I have no idea what I'll encounter


The planet Toadling in the year 2242.


First move is to build a Central bank and a Shipyard.  That's because Toadling has two special resources that lend themselves to wealth generation.

First Contact


Ah the Vulcans

The First planet


Yea, I want that Bio replicator component.


This shall become my research world.

My first ideology choice


Free constructors!

My First War


To ensure I can get the other planet in the Ribbit system, the Vulcan colony ship had to be destroyed.  It is turn 7.


My first starbase


Each asteroid provides +1 to raw production of a planet (by default, my capital world starts with 2 to give you how big a deal this is). So getting an early starbase around some asteroids and mining them is a huge.


My second starbase


Elerium deposit is now mine! Elerium is used for energy weapons like lasers.

My first citizen

Every 10 turns a citizen is born.



I train him as an Administrator so that I can hopefully get a third colony.

My third colony

And sure enough, on week 10, my colony ship reaches Leaper.  This time, we will take the benevolent path.




This planet will become my manufacturing planet


I have, I believe, a pretty unbeatable start!

Technology strategy

My home world is really good for wealth generation.  So I am going to go and get Xeno Commerce early.



Xeno Commerce gives me access to Market Centers.


Which, when placed around the Central bank that was placed on top of a gold deposit, will make this planet rich! Richer than astronauts!

More aliens


I...have no idea who this is.


Oh dear...god.


Not sure who this is.


Not..sure...Mech race?


Oh I'm sure they'll be friendly...


These seem familiar...

The wild East


If the AI "cheated" and knew where the planets were, it would definitely have gone after these. Sigh.


The United Planets meets


War without consequences


The Vulcans have no wish to fight us. Peace in our time.




My Fleet


Thanks to the community, nearly every imaginable hull design is out there.  The Little tiny Frogs, however, choose the Grasshopper.  Not easy to be green..or to make a ship that looks cool and neon green.

I don't like you



Strategy matters


Take a close look at my home planet.  I have focused on wealth generation which is now generating 66bc per turn.   The default would have been around 14 if I hadn't strategically placed my planetary improvements.  That's a 5X difference.  This is a part of the game that many new players don't recognize as being a big deal.



Over on Ribbit, I have sent two scientists there to help with it along with carefully placing research buildings.  It's not about how many planets you have, it's how you use them.  Some people coming from the base game tried to play the "colony spam" game.  It didn't end well.   It's a fine balance between the quality of your worlds and quantity.


The First REAL war


Ok, I should probably find out who these guys are...

The Etherian Kingdom declared war.  Is that She-Rah? 


It's odd they picked me.  They have a relatively weak military...


Except, crap. They are allied with the Vol who are the top military power in the game.


So I design the "Dart" class ship.  Now, I only put a single Disruptor bank on it (I've been busy researching better weapons) because I only have 5 elerium resources.


The Vol have not yet declared war but it's only a matter of time.

Fortunately, the Vol are really far away.


The Etherians are tending to focus on missile weapons which means I'll want to get some counters to that if this war is going to last awhile.

The first battle


This won't even be close.  The Etherians are just too primitive.


Which isn't to say that their primitive missiles can't damage my first generation fighters (the Grass Hoppers)


But they're no match for the Darts


Not even close


The weak fleets of the Etherians are no match.

I will admit this, their hull technology is better than mine.  But their weapons are pathetic.


If I can destroy them before their ally gets involved, I may have a chance.

The only thing saving me is that the Vol are locked in a war with the Predator civilization (Yautja).


My invasion fleet is on the way.  In Galactic Civilizations, a planet's orbiting defenses must first be destroyed. Then you can land legions to try to conquer the planet.


I'm not evil!


The first planet goes down with almost no loss of life (well, my life.  Lots of them died).

Eventually we reach the Etherian homeworld.


This planet has ten full legions (a massive defense).


The first wave of invading troops is defeated


Second wave is landing on the outskirts of the capital to destroy as much infrastructure as possible.


Still a defeat but they are crippled.


The Etherian become a protectorate of the Vol. How fitting.

Vulcan scum

The Klingons have an idea.


Yes.  I agree.



The minor powers are being absorbed.



The Showdown

So at this stage, you're really entering the main event.  There's only 4 civs left (Jar Jar didn't survive).  From an engineering standpoint, the area I have a real hard time with is dealing with transports.   Transports are very precious and the AI has to handle them very delicately.  Too conservative and the AI never invades.  Too aggressive and it loses valuable legions to destruction.

It is also very challenging to decide how big a fleet the AI needs to build before heading out.  Too small and the ships get picked off piece meal.  Too big and the AI can't respond to opportunities.


Down to 3. Everyone hates each other.


Down to 2.


Not looking good for the Frogs

The War to End All Wars



The battles were becoming bigger


My citizens were very..diverse


From here the final war would begin.  But, that would have to wait until another day. :)


Galactic Civilizations III v2.3 (base game) update

Posted on Sunday, June 11, 2017 By Frogboy


Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade is the future of Galactic Civilizations but we haven't forgotten about the hundreds of thousands of players who play the base game.  We are busy working on version 2.3 which should be coming out soon as part of a major update to both the base game and Crusade.  This article details some of the highlighted areas we're focusing on.



Some of the improvements to the diplomacy system in Crusade have been brought back to the base game.  While it's not nearly as sophisticated as what's in Crusade (the whole underlying system in Crusade was rewritten to support the new economy) it is substantially better than 2.1. This means the AI is much better at bargaining with the player and makes much better trade offers.

The improved AI diplomacy features will likely be the most obvious improvement because the AI is much better at finding things to trade rather than begging for things. 



We have done a balance pass on the planetary improvements to give them a bit more oomph but also make them cost quite a bit more.  Similarly, we have also made it so that specialty ships like constructors and colony ships are much expensive.  While expert players know just where to set the production wheel and what to buy and when, new players are often frustrated because it takes many turns to naturally construct a colony ship using the default values.



There are a lot more anomalies to explore early in the game than previous.  And in fact, we have also substantially increased the number of planets, stars and habitable planets on the default settings.



You can't really take a screenshot of performance.  While we couldn't bring over the core-neutral AI engine from Crusade, we were able to bring over some of the optimizations we made.  The result is that the turn times, already quite fast, are better and the general framerate has been improved as well.  When combined with the improved strategic AI, the galaxy definitely feels a lot more alive.


The AI got a major uplift as well in terms of how well it plays the game.  While I wouldn't say it's as good as what is in Crusade, players should notice a pretty substantial improvement in how the AI plays the game during times of war. should probably just skip right to GalCiv III: Crusade

Posted on Sunday, June 11, 2017 By Frogboy


With the Steam Summer sale coming up, we wanted to make sure that the base game of GalCiv III gets a nice refresh.  It's proving difficult because while GalCiv III: Crusade is sold as an "expansion pack" to GalCiv III, under the covers it's more like a sequel.


The screenshot above is just some of the changes to the diplomacy screen.  The underlying code base is very different.

Pick 2: Polish, low price, sophisticated gameplay

Posted on Tuesday, June 06, 2017 By Frogboy


This is a response to the excellent article over at one of my favorite sites, Explorminate. In the article, author Oliver Kiley laments on what he sees as the current unpolished state of the modern 4X market.


He defines what he defines what he means by polish:

Before going further, I should clarify what, in my mind, a “polished” game has:

  • No major imbalances or exploits in the game that undermine its intended gameplay
  • No major bugs – particularly the obvious and game breaking sort
  • No major performance issues (late game lag, memory leaks, poor optimization, etc.)
  • No underdeveloped mechanics that leave you thinking that something was only half-implemented
  • An iteratively refined gameplay loop and an engaging overall game pace

I agree that the above is a good start to what would constitute polish. But the devil is in the details.  For example, I would argue that Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade was unpolished at release yet it it would have passed this definition by most standards.  Thus I would also add:

  • Gameplay systems are intuitive and highly usable
  • Documentation is complete and easily accessible
  • The tutorial is both informative and inviting
  • The game has no obvious "how could they miss that?" [typos, missing assets, etc.] bugs

So why are so many recent games having a hard time delivering a polished experience out of the gate?

The short answer is: cost. People pay for gameplay, not polish.


Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade shipped hundreds of amazing features including free-form ship design..and then misspelled "infidel"


Offworld Trading Company is an excellent game that was extremely polished upon release.  And yet, many players balked at its initial price point of $39.99 even though it's an excellent game and one of the few economic RTS games on the market. Polish is very expensive and generally undervalued.  Whether we like it or not, people buy games based on feature checklists and not polish.

Budgets vs. Sales

Now, let's have a cold, hard look at the game industry.  Galactic Civilizations II cost $600,000 to make.  Sins of a Solar Empire cost $800,000.  By contrast, Galactic Civilizations III cost 5X as much as GalCiv II and not only has the market not gotten bigger but price pressure is greatly increased. 

For example, Galactic Civilizations II sold over 3 million copies during its lifespan (over 700k on Steam where it wasn't added until it was over 6 years old).  That's more than all the current crop of space 4X games combined.  We're a long way from the days of games being on the shelves of Walmart and Best Buy and Steam has not filled that void completely yet (especially given its discoverability issues).


Patron_and_the_Patriot_Pirates (1)

Stardock's popular, MULE-inspired RTS, Offworld Trading Company is loved by many...but frequently down-voted over its price.

So what is the answer?

Each game has its own unique story. 

Galactic Civilizations III, when it first came out, had nearly half its budget consumed by the development of a brand new, multi-core, 64-bit, engine.  That meant throwing out all of the GalCiv II source code base (in multicore, you're not even supposed to use pointers to give you an idea of what's involved).  So the design was a lot more conservative than it otherwise would have been. 

Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade is outstanding and only cost $400k or so to make because its focus was purely on innovative gameplay additions.  It wasn't nearly as polished as I would like it to be but it does mean there's hope in the future (I felt GalCiv III need a lot of gameplay additions and I chose to sacrifice polish for more features) to being find a better balance between polish and innovation.


Stardock is hoping that modding, rather than DLC, is the future.


Which brings us back to the question: What is the answer? Fundamentally it involves an understanding between developers and players about the strategy game market:

  1. No, gaming is not "big business".  Let me put this right out there: Endless Space 2 + Stellaris + GalCiv III combined will almost certainly never make as much money as Start8.  Enterprise software is big business.  4X strategy games (outside Civ) not so much.  There is a huge disconnect between players and developers on this issue.  I see the term "money grab" regularly used in response to a $4 DLC.  Do these same people give their barista this kind of grief? In an age where Steam Spy exists, there's no excuse for people not knowing that niche game development, especially today, is not a get rich scheme.  Developers make the games because they love making them.   
  2. Understand the trade offs. I am not privy to the budget of ES2 or Stellaris or MOO or what have you, but I would bet that the budgets for each of those were well over $5 million.  If you want to know how much a game makes, take the list price, divide it in half for the average price, then multiply it by 0.7.   So imagine a game with a $5 million budget. Let's say its list price is $40 and it has sold 200,000 units.  That means it is only about half way to breaking even on the development cost (let alone marketing, etc.). 

    The new Master of Orion game has sold about 200,000 units. paid $2 million just for the trademark.  Or put another way, the game hasn't yet sold enough to pay back the cost of the trademark acquisition let alone the development budget.  But as anyone who played it can tell you, it was very polished at release and relatively in expensive.  The criticism directed towards it is that it wasn't ambitious enough.   Would the new MOO have sold better if it had been less polished but more ambitious? I think so.

    The point being: Developers have to be very careful where they invest their resources.  
  3. Understand why timing matters.  Have you noticed that May is the new release date for many games? That's because in the Steam universe, if you don't release your game by mid May, you have to wait until September. June is the Steam sale month and July and August are dead months effectively.  If your studio has a $500k per month burn rate, you are asking them to lay off employees to delay.   I delayed Sorcerer King until August specifically for polish (and it's one of Explorminate's favorite titles).  But polish hasn't made Sorcerer King popular. It's sold only around 60,000 units on a $2 million budget.  Instead, Sorcerer King would have been better served having a lot more depth and features rather than going smaller and more polished.  Thus, if you have a game that is basically done but could use more polish and your choice is to release it in May or wait until August and polish it, then you should release it in May (we waited until August and had to lay people off when it didn't sell as well as we hoped -- if we had released it in May and sold the same quantity, the studio wouldn't have had to lay anyone off).
  4. Patience.  As an industry, we are migrating from a 32-bit, single core code base to a multi-core, 64-bit code base.  It's worth noting that the most "innovative" game the author calls out is the one that hasn't begun that transition yet and thus could take advantage of a mature code base.  But ES2 and GalCiv III both had to make that transition and it's non-trivial.  It just means that the next set of games will be much more polished.  Going from from single core to multi-core is very hard.  All that code where you're passing around pointers? Yea, that's gotta go for the most part.  That's a really bitter pill to swallow.


So the good news is that I think players will see a substantial improvement in polish going forward as the transition from 32-bit, single-core to 64-bit multicore is completed.  But in the meantime, we had to pick between gameplay, cost and polish and we can only pick two. 


GalCiv III: Crusade. Some argue this is what GalCiv III should have been.  But many of those players never played GalCiv II (the base game) but rather started at the Ultimate Edition.

I really enjoyed Mez's article. It also highlights the core disconnect between gamers and developers.  The best way to think of those of us making these games is that we're gamers who happen to know how to code.  We aren't in this for the money.  We're in this because we love the games and the gaming community.



GalCiv Journal: June 2017 [Summer updates coming!]

Posted on Thursday, June 01, 2017 By Island Dog


We are working on version 2.3 for Crusade and the base game simultaneously. We don't have a final date but I expect you will start seeing opt-ins very soon.

I want to make you guys aware of some important changes happening on Steam that will affect you.

Review Scores

Some of you may have noticed I've been harping about the Steam user review scores.

If you're noticing an ever increasing disconnect between your opinion of a game and the user review score of a game, it's because the discovery algorithm heavily penalizes any game with <80% user reviews (And <70% means the game is basically invisible via discovery). 

This puts immense power into the user's hands for good and for ill. It also puts a tremendous level of influence on the 0.7% of the user base who reviews.

Other games (not naming names) put a considerable amount of effort into optimizing their review scores. That's why you will see (via SteamSpy) games with fewer players than GalCiv III actually have 5X as many reviews (and a >90% review score).

Recently, Steam changed the review system such that those customers who pre-purchased GalCiv III during the Founders programs don't have their reviews count towards the review score. In the future, we'll be handling our founders programs differently, but in the mean time. it's a bit of a bummer for GalCiv III and in particular Crusade.

Understanding Steam's review system

Speaking of Crusade, it's review score average from Metacritic is 88 ( the highest of any space 4X game in recent years (and our highest since Twilight of the Arnor). However, it's Steam user review score is only 71%.

We can have a vigorous debate on what sort of score a game "deserves". However, from a Steam discoverability standpoint, it's all based on it's *relative* score.

Thus, GalCiv III, for instance, actually has a 39% RELATIVE Steam score. That is, games are rated on the curve. 

GalCiv III's Steam user score is 76% and its Metacritic score is 81. But its relative score is 39. So unless you think GalCiv III is a 2 out of 5 game, its Steam user review score should be much higher.

I personally believe that the *natural* review score of most games would fall between a 5 and an 8. Look at IMBD ratings as an example of how most movies score.

In other words, I don't think GalCiv III's score is too low, I think most games on Steam have too high a score versus what they would get naturally. This isn't to imply that developers are cheating but rather selection bias is very strong.

However, what this means is that unless the review score for GalCiv III perks up, it's going to remain largely invisible on Steam which affects its sales and that you, dear reader, have the power to make that score go up or down. 

In either case, I would rather the score be more derived on the reviews from the community than by 0.7% of the overall userbase.

So I am outright asking, whether it's an up vote or a down vote, please take a few minutes to review GalCiv III:

Bear in mind that on Steam 2.5 stars = 82% user review score (I kind of wish they'd implement a star system like that so that people reviewing it were grading games based on whether they think the score on the game is accurate or not).


Crusade vs. GalCiv III

We have finally concluded how the base game will evolve in a universe that GalCiv III: Crusade exists.

The first question we had to answer was what are the distinctly unique features unique to GalCiv III that were changed/removed from Crusade?

  1. The production wheel (easily)
  2. Planetary production wheels
  3. Planetary focus check boxes

The second question was which path was the best to take to reach that? The answer is that we need to start with the Crusade code base and port it back to the base game. 

As many have noted, GalCiv III: Crusade isn't really an "expansion pack" in the traditional sense. It's more of a sequel. I wasn't around to work on GalCiv III so you can look at Crusade as what my version of GalCiv III, having come from Twilight of the Arnor, would have been. 

We'd like to hear from you in the comments on what other sorts of things in the BASE game you'd want to keep that were changed in Crusade.

What's next for GalCiv III

From a story perspective, there are TWO more campaigns in the future:

Dark Avatar

Originally, the Crusade expansion was going to include Apocalypse but I nixed it for a variety of reasons one being the most obvious: It's the conclusion of the GalCiv III storyline and we, and many of our customers, believe that GalCiv III should have another major expansion to deal with politics, elections, protectorates, etc. and that would be where Apocalypse would go.

Dark Avatar, by contrast, would be updating the Dark Avatar campaign from GalCiv II. Dark Avatar was widely considered the best of the GalCiv II campaigns.

Those two campaigns would round up the GalCiv story line to this point:

  1. Rise of the Terran Alliance
  2. Altarian Prophecy
  3. Dark Avatar (which will combine Dread Lords + Dark Avatar + Twilight together)
  4. Return [base GalCiv III]
  5. Apocalypse [Concluding GalCiv III]

So that's all for now!

Thanks for your continuing support!


Originally posted by Brad on the Steam forums.


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