Galaxy-Guardin’ – Star Lords Is A New GalCiv Rival

By Alec Meer on November 20th, 2013 at 4:00 pm.

“Human-like AI that doesn’t cheat and plays by the same rules as human players” shouldn’t be a boast, surely. It should be a given. HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING, VIDEOGAMES? But still, this is one of the claims made by Arkavi / Iceberg’s upcoming scifi 4X game Star Lords. That’s a name which has me wishing for a turn-based Guardians of the Galaxy game, and probably has Arkavi and co hoping Marvel don’t catch wind of this.

There’s not much to go on for now, although the team is planning for a – heavy sigh – Early Access release at some point next month. The promise is “an epic-sized complex and dense 4x strategy game with a deep economic and political layer”, which is pretty much what the also upcoming, but further away, Galactic Civilizations III promises. Hopefully we’re being spoilt for choice.

Here trailer here:

There’s a smattering of details over on its website, confirming the likes of randomly-generated, ‘living’ universes, a ship designer, spies, 8 playable races and multiplayer. Screenshots suggest a somewhat sparser-looking game than the trailer might imply, but hey, depth over gloss and all that.

Arkavi are a Portugese outfit which formed just this year, although before that they were known as Neogen2 Creations and were formed in 2005. Star Lords seems to be quite the leap in ambition for them.

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57 Comments »

  1. Solidstate89 says:

    I kept mentally replacing every mention or “Arkavi” with “Akaviri” each time I read it. Hell, it took me two tries just to write “Arkavi” in this comment.

    Damn you Elder Scrolls!

  2. mtomto says:

    Most of Iceberg Interactive’s games are mediocre at best – so my expectations are mediocre at best :)

  3. DuneTiger says:

    Early Access as an idea is great. As a practice, it’s starting to get really out of hand, like post-release patching.

    That being said, I still have to wonder why space 4x games continue to put themselves on a 2D plane. I thought that Homeworld might steer devs into exploring two-axes (axii?) space games, but even moreso I believe that turn-based games would be perfect to manage it. Maybe it’s out there and I just haven’t seen it?

    Either way, this game looks interesting, but as I said in the Mandate article, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get behind the promise of promise. Hopefully these fine people will achieve what they are going for as I’m always up for sinking hours into a good 4x.

    • BTAxis says:

      The Sword of the Stars games have 3D maps, and you wouldn’t believe how much flak they get from players on that account. It seems a lot of people can’t deal with thinking in 3 dimensions. Me, I’ve found 2D maps restrictive ever since Ascendancy.

      • Sharlie Shaplin says:

        I didn’t mind the 3D maps, I don’t have any trouble with 3D spatial awareness in games like some unfortunate souls. I just hated those purely graphical nebulas, they put in the most view obstructing positions.

    • Tssha says:

      Until the day when we develop 3D holographic imaging and user interfaces (and put it into mass production), it will always be a trade-off to control space games in 3 dimensions.

      Homeworld’s control scheme was unwieldy, every imitator since then has tweaked those controls and somehow managed to make an even less intuitive control scheme every time, and I don’t fancy having to hit M every time I want my ships to move, and holding shift to move up and down seems…pointless. Point-to-point, that’s all I need. And when you don’t need more, 3D control schemes (using 2D input devices) just seem cumbersome.

      Sword of the Stars, at least, has about as much 3D as one can easily manage. They seem to have found the sweet spot between 3D environments and control schemes in that environment. And yet, there’s still a subset of the population that can’t even handle a 3D starmap, and they have to be accommodated as well.

      Though SotS does have a 2D map you can load if you happen to be 3 dimensionally challenged.

      • DuneTiger says:

        Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that Homeworld’s control scheme was anything other than unwieldy. More that it came out so long ago and tried to do 3D space that I would figure that someone out there would have found a better way to do it by now. Even the amazing Sins of the Solar Empire was stuck on a single horizon laid out in space.

        I just feel that with an added vertical dimension, you would be able to open up a lot of new strategic advantages (and disadvantages) for approaching from above or below. It doesn’t even need to be that robust, but essentially what i’m getting at is that I’d like the setting to be a little more than cosmetic. Maybe that’s just me.

        But yes, I will have to give Sword of the Stars a go and see if I’ll enjoy it.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        Homeworld 2 managed to clear up any unwieldy bits from Homeworld 1′s control scheme without losing any control complexity if you needed it. They even managed to get precise 3D movement controls without having to hold or press a keyboard button to do it.

    • arisian says:

      The major problem with this is that for most of the kinds of “tactics” in space-battle games, there’s really not that much you can do in 3 dimensions that you couldn’t do just as well in 2 (or, for many games, even just 1). In order to actually make that 3rd dimension tactically interesting, you need to do something unusual to your standard attack/damage mechanics.

      For example, Flotilla actually has meaningful 3D tactics, but only because of a mechanic that says ships are invulnerable on the top and front. It made for some interesting 3D tactical problems, but it also made no sense at all; if I have armor that can do that, why not put it on the whole ship? Additionally, the ships were able to move freely in any direction, ignoring which way “front” was, also and ignoring momentum.

      I’m not aware of any videogames using a system like it, but the “mechanics” of battles in David Webber’s “Honorverse” novels also allow for interesting 3D tactics due to the ships being effectively invulnerable from certain facings (in his case, the top and bottom are invulnerable, the sides are moderately well protected, and the front and back are totally unprotected; he explains this as being a result of the drive systems, though actually it appears designed to let him more accurately recreate 18th-19th century naval battles, where things like “broadsides” and “crossing the T” have tactical meaning again. Later in the series, this sort of goes off the rails with the introduction of newer weapons technologies, which mostly reduce combat to having only 1 meaningful dimension (distance) (I’m looking at you, missile pods)).

      Even if you introduce things like shield-facings and limited weapon firing arcs (see Master of Orion 2, for example), it’s pretty difficult to really make the 3rd dimension tactically relevant without having your mechanics come across as silly. In practice, a 3rd dimension tends to be used for “realism” or “look & feel” rather than for anything it adds to the gameplay, so anyone following the Sid Meir school of game design tends to axe the 3rd dimension as needlessly complicating the interface without providing any new “interesting decisions.”

      Homeworld is actually a good example of a game that includes 3D for “flavor” without having mechanics that make the 3rd dimension terribly interesting (nearly any 3D tactical problem in Homeworld could be reduced to a 2D tactical problem without loosing much).

      • Baines says:

        I want to recall Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series played around with 3D space combat ideas as well. But it also ran with the idea that the main character was a man out of time, who came from a period before combat tactics had completely calcified.

        Lost Fleet combat was more about the effects of objects moving at speeds approach light speed and engaging at distances of millions of miles. Rather than 3D space, it was more about time difference and detection advantages and disadvantages.

        • BobbyDylan says:

          The Battles were the only bit about those books that wasn’t duller than watching paint try, and even they got tedious and repetitive after the 3rd book.

          the characters were one dimensional, the “romance” was laughable, the twists predictable and the interpersonal drama was infantile.

          All in all, the lost fleet were not good books.

    • vecordae says:

      A 3D space in a turn-based space-bound 4X game doesn’t really offer much to the player. Our galaxy is basically a flat disk. Unless one also intends to model millions and billions of stars and planets, you are going to be operating at an abstracted level anyway. If one is going to abstract millions of stars into a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand points, why not present that abstraction in a form that is easy for the player to navigate?

      It is land-based combat that honestly benefits the most from a third dimension. After all, planets have things like terrain, gravity, water to navigate over, and ground to tunnel through. Land-based combat has multiple mediums by which attacks can come and many different ways to exploit or hinder attacks from those mediums. It has, built in, multiple strategic layers.

      Space-bound combat has exactly one medium through which attacks can come, no real terrain to speak of (except for oddly-convenient and unrealistically dense nebulae and asteroid fields) and that’s it. Strategically, the setting has only one, much simpler strategic layer to deal with that is reoriented whenever two or more forces collide. It does not really benefit from adding a third dimension except to aid in local unit maneuvering, something that Sword of the Stars managed to do reasonably well enough.

  4. SuicideKing says:

    “Human-like AI that doesn’t cheat and plays by the same rules as human players” + Space = (*drumroll*) FreeSpace 2.

    • Guzzleguts says:

      The context here is 4X

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        FriendlyFire says:

        Galactic Civilization with Homeworld combat and Freespace 2 manual unit control?

        • SuicideKing says:

          Well, there was at least an RTS mod for FS2.

          Though yeah out of context fanboyism on my part :P

        • Tssha says:

          If I want manual starship control, I’ll play a space sim.

        • DatonKallandor says:

          That’d be Enemy Starfighter, coming out soon. The visuals and combat of Homeworld, the unit control of Freespace, plus the pre-mission planning of a SWAT game, in-mission Homeworld style RTS controls and you’re fighting a 4X (though a very low complexity 4x) war between missions.

        • Sharlie Shaplin says:

          Cramming as many genre’s under one roof as you can, is a recipe for disaster. You end up pleasing no one.

  5. Askeladd says:

    My trust in promises made by a company for 4x game will never be the same.

    • Tssha says:

      …the same since when? How did you manage to futz up the past declarative tense?

  6. killias2 says:

    There are a lot of 4x games coming out from small and indie developers. Sadly, I’m not sure any of them are really worth the time. Between GalCiv 3 and Age of Wonders 3, you have -huge- competition in two of the three main domains of 4x (the three being History, Space, and Fantasy), and, of course, Civ V is still around.

  7. BTAxis says:

    It may be right in GalCiv’s niche, but GalCiv 2 didn’t feature satisfying ship design or combat and I have little faith that the sequel will be any better in that regard. As such, I’m hoping this game can provide a good alternative.

    • Tssha says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure what the appeal of Galactic Civilizations 2 is…it was just so utterly banal. Plus, frustrating. I have no hope at all for GalCiv 3. That hope was shattered with GalCiv 2.

      • Zenicetus says:

        I enjoyed Galciv 2 and kept it on my hard drive for years. I think a big part of the appeal was the quality of the strategic AI. It gave me the feeling that I was fighting intelligent opponents, and that’s rare in games.

        One reason many people bounced off it, I think, is that it was a purely strategic game with no effort at all spent on tactical space battles. You have to give that up, to appreciate the game.

        The other big thing with Galciv 2 was the different tech and economic development trees for each faction in the final expansion. It meant each faction had to be played differently, and I love that in a strategy game. it’s something that seems to be gradually disappearing in games like this, as they move into multiplayer support where every faction has to be “balanced”. I think Endless Space is a pretty good game, but it also suffers from a bland tech tree with little differentiation between factions, and part of that is multiplayer balancing.

  8. dE says:

    You see that? That’s quite the nasty burn I have. Now you might think it was an unfortunate accident, an isolated incident, but that’s not true. It’s years of getting burned by the promises of 4X games. I’m a slow learner when it comes to these kind of relationships, but you and me, 4X, we’re gonna go have to go our seperate ways until I can see clearly reviewed signs you’ve changed.

    • Tssha says:

      Heh, I’m still a sucker for 4X space strategy games. I’ll probably fall for this one as well…I can only hope that it catches me and sweeps me off my feet!

      Oh dear…I think I’ve caught the vapours… *swoons* *fans self*

      • dE says:

        The sad thing is… you’re probably right. First glimpse, the tinyiest of winks from 4X and I’ll be there. I hate myself for this, at times.

  9. Moraven says:

    “Human-like AI that doesn’t cheat and plays by the same rules as human players”

    Not like I have heard that claim before…

    Wait until I see it at release.

  10. nillenille says:

    “Star Lords” has been the name for the predecessor to “Master of Orion” btw.

  11. sandplasma says:

    Ship designs look like EVE and story starting to sound a lot like Mass Effect…

    • BobbyDylan says:

      That story is the stranded story for all modern space games. Even Mass effect rips from Star Control, which came out in 1992.

      Hell, it’s kinda the same with Babylon 5, really. Only their Precursors / Protheans / Shadows are still around.

  12. Zenicetus says:

    I hate the “Ancient All-Powerful but Mysteriously Disappeared” trope in space games. After all these years, can’t someone come up with some new ideas?

    About the only thing it has going for it, is a way to explain why different races who have never met each other start the game at an equal technology level. They discover the old star gates, or relics, or whatever. It papers over the problem of spacefaring races having vastly different levels of advancement before they meet (which would likely be the case otherwise). It also allows a game developer to give everyone the same tech trees, which simplifies programming. It’s still lame, because it’s been so overdone.

    For once, I’d like to see a 4x game where different spacefaring races just stumble across each other with their own unique techs, and it’s survival of the fittest. You could hand-wave away any massive tech differences by saying that all the more advanced races have moved beyond spaceships and colonization, and just aren’t relevant to the game. And they’re not leaving any damned artifacts around, either.

    • arisian says:

      The issue with this is, as you point out, that people want their 4X games to be fair and balanced. As long as that constraint is in place, it’s nearly impossible to come up with a reasonable explanation for *why* everyone gets a fair and balanced start that doesn’t involve some form of divine intervention (ancient “progenitor” aliens, cyclical destruction a-la Mutineers Moon or Mass Effect, etc.). Sword of the Stars makes an attempt, and quite frankly its premise is pretty darned silly (even if it *is* less cliche); I haven’t played the sequel, but my understanding is that they went back to a conventional “ancient aliens” explanation for that one.

      To get away from this premise, you would need to move from a “fair and balanced strategy game” to a mindset more like Dwarf Fortress. This would let you have wildly different tech levels and empire sizes at game start, and might make for an interesting experience, but would basically make it impossible to have any sensible notion of “winning,” especially in a multiplayer setting. See the Dwarf Fortress wiki on Fun for why most developers don’t choose this route for their 4X games.

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        darkChozo says:

        Well, I can think of two relatively simple alternatives:

        1. A splintered empire of one sort of the other. Rebels vs. empire is a sci-fi trope unto itself, but you could very easily go for a Fallen Roman Empire IN SPACE instead.

        2. One race is uplifted by another, or one race makes contact with more powerful race, technologies even out because economics, then you have 2+ superpowers that hate each other.

        However, I suspect the real reason for the ancient aliens thing is that sci-fi with aliens is usually glorified fantasy, and unknown technology is a useful stand-in for magic.

    • Diatribe says:

      Surely the advanced races you hand-waved away would leave a featureless black monolith or two behind. And a space baby.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Not necessarily! Precursor races in the galaxy might make a sudden tech discovery where they all decide to map themselves into cyberspace, or find a door into the multiverse, or any other sudden “singularity” event that leaves nothing useful behind as an artifact. Every back-story that has Precursors leaving behind Star Children or monoliths assumes they had a smooth, continuous advancement into ever-higher levels of recognizable tech, but it doesn’t have to be like that. It ignores how rapidly a singularity-type change could happen.

        The way I’d write this type of 4X scenario would be to suggest that every race that achieves interstellar space flight is very close to whatever their version of the singularity is, and just hasn’t quite hit it yet. That automatically flattens out the tech between races that meet each other in space. Anything less and they wouldn’t be in space at all, and anything more and they’d have already gone “poof” into whatever their version of the singularity is.

    • dE says:

      Remember, Tropes aren’t inherently bad. You just don’t like it. That’s cool. Me on the other hand, I love these scenarios. I love the idea of a story spanning unreasonable amounts of time. The concept of people who are long gone, having an effect on people that have virtually no connection to them. It adds a level of mysticism to the space genre and has the amiable side-effect of providing a basis for balance.
      It’s a tool for perspective as well. Space Games are always about something immediate and urgent, of grave importance for the universe. Someone is threatening the current world order. Someone is upsetting the gravitational constant of the universe and making everyone stupid. But these ancient remnants are like a message from the past – no matter what you do, in the end you’ll be a footnote. It’s the same why those size comparisons between planets are so awe-inspiring. It puts things into perspective.

      • Zenicetus says:

        “Remember, Tropes aren’t inherently bad. You just don’t like it”

        I’m not really complaining that the trope itself is bad, I’m complaining that it’s way over-used. It’s become the lazy way to set up games like this. I’d just like to see a little more creativity out there.

        It’s like the situation with cockpit-level space games. One of these days, someone will try something different than blindly following the George Lucas model of WW2 prop fighters in spaaaaace!. Turn ‘n burn, baby! Fire that fixed forward gun that only works at close range! Lead your target because lasers are slow, you know.

        There are so many interesting things you could do differently with a more realistic approach. Not just Newtonian physics but Einsteinian coolness like cloaking your ship with the effects of lightspeed delay at a distance. But no, we have to forever recreate Star Wars, for some reason. Yes it fun, but it’s been DONE! Let’s try something new for a change.

        • MajorManiac says:

          I-War did this really well

        • arisian says:

          Yeah, the trouble is that it *has* been done, and it wasn’t much fun. Kind of like how 2001: A Space Odessy, in showing a (mostly) realistic version of spacetravel, managed to demonstrate exactly why everyone else should use Star Wars style “physics” (because it made for high-speed, engaging cinematic action, as opposed to slow, ponderous space-ballets in which battles are resolved at ranges from which you can’t even see your enemy).

          The game that did probably the best job of physics-based space-fighter combat was XF-5700 Mantis, and there’s a reason no one has ever heard of it (it was practically unplayable). If you’re really interested in “realistic” space combat, go read about it on Atomic Rockets (http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacewarintro.php), but if you’re looking for one-man space-fighters, or any kind of cloaking/stealth-based tactics, you’re pretty much out of luck.

        • Diatribe says:

          I suspect the reason space games are all WW2 in space, is because in a realistic space game, the computer automatically handles everything other than choosing what to shoot (and it probably handles most of that as well).

    • BooleanBob says:

      If anything, I’d be more disappointed to see the ‘if you think these evil warmongering guys who are trying to enslave everyone are bad, wait ’til you meet their eviler warmongerier cousins who want to murder all life in the universe’ trope again.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Well, there are more creative ways to handle that type of threat too. Like the “Greenflies” in Alastair Reynolds’ novels; not good vs. evil, just terraforming run wild.

        The “Sowers” in the Endless Space game are a little like that, but much more heavily anthropomorphic and sharing too much common tech and economy models with the other factions. That pesky balance problem, again.

  13. dar830 says:

    its so cool..Google is paying 75$/hour! Just work for few hours & spend more time with friends and family. On sunday I bought themselves a Alfa Romeo from having made $5637 this month. its the best-job Ive ever had.It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out http://goo.gl/f6e95V

  14. mxmissile says:

    Is this turn-based or space-bar-pausible-and-still-give-commands-realtime?

  15. Soulstrider says:

    Portuguese making video games? I am surprised, besides one company who release a game for PS3 once our video game industry is non-existant.

  16. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    Human-like AI that doesn’t cheat and plays by the same rules as human players

    Hang on a moment. Is this actually desirable?

    Maybe if you want a multiplayer game with absolute balance between factions, but otherwise, is this honestly a feature that is good for the fun of a mainly single player game? I’m tempted to say no. I mean, simply speaking, it’s greatly constraining on what the AI designer can do, and the type of challenge that can be posed by an AI opponent.

    A lot of successful games actually *don’t* have AI players play by the same rules. It creates asymmetry and personality in the experience. For example, Master of Orion 2 had a ‘diplomacy’ stat that you could use to force AI to agree to your deals. This made the idea of a master manipulator faction possible. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri also had AI opponents nurse narratively appropriate grudges. Both the old and new XCOM had the AI use very different logic to that of a human player, and without that those games would be barely playable.

    I actually wish developers would more readily code up more interesting AI. Give them powers that would be utterly insanely unbalanced in players’ hands and have the player figure out tactics to deal with them! Make them pursue objectives that are different from the usual 4Xs, so that the player can work on manipulating them to his side! And on the flip side, you can give the players abilities that are too complex for the AI to understand, without breaking the game entirely. Why worry about symmetry at all?

    • Haplo says:

      I suspect that the motivation for their statement comes from a fairly routine practice in 4X games of making things harder by simply buffing up the numbers. In essence, I think they want to say that the difficulty in the game will come from smarter AI and not just number-tweaking.

      Remember the original Civ, and how very very much its AI cheated? Ignore ZoC. Could diplomat with any unit. Got research/build bonuses. And my personal favourite: not having to actually build Wonders, but instead have a random small chance per turn of just instantly getting one for free, whilst you slaved away.

      That said, I agree with your statements about asymmetry and the like- the comment about Diplomacy in MoO for example. It’s a bit like a P&P roleplaying game where PCs can coerce NPCs into doing what they want through skill tests- because between two players, that’s what normal words and negotiation is for. However, I just think they wanted to convey the idea that their AI could pose a threat without having ‘illegal’ bonuses to their mech ‘just because’.

  17. Mondaik says:

    Huh? Star Lords have been available for free here since forever:
    http://moo3.quicksilver.com/game/starlords.html
    Is this a… hangonaminute, this is game is called Starlords, not Star Lords! Change headline at once to avoid further confusion.

  18. nicolejscott says:

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  19. Quiffle says:

    Even without having read the article I thought to myself, “Oh great, another 4x space game has come to break my heart.”

  20. HyenaGrin says:

    I am increasingly skeptical about space 4x games, probably because I’m still bitter about the two or three hundred bucks I’ve wasted on promises of the next great space 4x. I have way too many I’ve barely played thanks to poor design choices, bugs that may or may not have been fixed, horrid AI making the game all but unplayable without human opponents, etc etc. The list goes on.

    I desperately want the next great space 4x game. It’s easily my favorite genre of game and I lose weeks to the great ones. I still play Distant Worlds from time to time, as it provides the vast majority of the features I want (just without the polish I’m hoping for). But I’m at that jaded, cynical point where I refuse to believe the promises until I’ve read some trustworthy reviews.

    What do I want? Homeworld style 3-dimensional combat with demanding tactical choices to be made, combined with a deep, elaborate 4x campaign that makes more than a pittance of an effort at simulating economies and scale. Basically Total War: In Space. I’m not sure why it hasn’t really happened yet.

    • Quiffle says:

      I don’t know – developers struggle in emulating the best qualities of either MOO2 or Homeworld correctly. And quite frankly, the thought of Total War: In Space sounds even more degenerative than the wave of disappointing “Civ in Space” titles that have been released as of late.

      Since this is a niche genre, easily replaceable with any arcade dogfighting space shooter, there will always have to be something that has to give, unless a project for a 4x game with the scope of Star Citizen were to come into the field.

      Quite frankly, I’d be happy as a star-clam if someone were to take my old copy of Space Empires IV and slap some new and challenging AI on it.

  21. namad says:

    most if not all 4x strategy games actually have AWFUL ai that cannot play like a human, doesn’t understand all of the games mechanics and can only provide a strategic challenge if it’s cheating mechanisms are well designed…. so yeah…

    it’s a boast that’s almost always a lie, let alone something standard. fallen enchantress/warlock master of the arcane/endless space/distant worlds/dominions3/4 the list of games with actually fairly quite bad ai is very long, includes most games.

  22. CaidKean says:

    Aww, here I come hoping it was the spiritual successor to MicroProse’s Starlord!

    Oh well!