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  1. #1
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    Pandora: First Contact

    Its got a post on the main site, it looks perfect but I have no idea about Slitherine published games. I know there are a few fans of them here, they always seemed to be hardcore/old school war games.

    Pandora: First Contact is a science fiction 4X turn-based strategy game on a planetary scale a spiritual successor to Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.
    Game site - http://pandora.proxy-studios.com/

    RPS launch trailer article with hard hitting journalism - http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013...w/#more-176578

    Has anyone jumped on it? Anyone have experience with the studio - proxy studios?

  2. #2
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    I've played a few hours of Pandora (still haven't finished the playthrough). It seems pretty decent, although it's definitely less polished than Civ V. There are also less game mechanics than in Civ V.

    Never played SMAC, although I've seen a few LPs. Pandora feels kinda similar to the SMAC LPs.

    I think the $30 price tag is a bit steep. However, they did offer me a discount code for signing up for the beta program, so I decided to get a copy.

  3. #3
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    Does look interesting but the price and lack of demo do discourage me from trying. Even damn pirates can't steal it in a timely manner.
    Quote Originally Posted by levictus View Post
    I've played a few hours of Pandora (still haven't finished the playthrough). It seems pretty decent, although it's definitely less polished than Civ V. There are also less game mechanics than in Civ V.
    Well, it's an indie title vs big studio. Also, Civ 5 is quite cluttered imo.

  4. #4
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    I took the leap for all of you. :)

    The tldr; version - good, but not great. Stable and ok, needs some work, could be great eventually but not now. Get now if you're a big fan of the genre, otherwise wait.

    The long version:

    Let's get this out of the way. It's certainly not a SMAC clone and the game can stand on its own two feet. It may be inspired by SMAC, but this game is different.


    The overall package's production values are excellent, especially for a first-run game. This includes a bunch of items - things like graphics, sounds, interface and overall stability are quite good. The game is visually appealing, the interface is a Civ V clone (which is a good thing), the unit graphics are neat, the sounds ok, the music unobtrusive (maybe a little too forgettable) and the game has only crashed on me once. Other things work really well - stuff that's not so simple like map scripts and the combat AI. These things can sink a game (FE:LH's map scripts are still awful) and here they're just nailed.

    I like the flavor of the descriptions. Inspired by SMAC, they help breathe life into the game. A couple of other concepts that seem to work well are the semi-random tech tree, the unit editor and the global pool of food, minerals and the like. I didn't see the impact of migration from one city to another, but supposedly it's there. Because of these concepts, the game starts off a little slower than other 4x games, but it makes up for it later. Each civ has its own personality and that's generally a good thing (more on the downside of this later), and between the descriptions, the AI and some of these other factors the game had some unique flavor. It's not faceless and that's a good thing.

    It does all the 4x stuff well - research, buildings, units, etc. It has a couple of neat mechanics like shared resource pools amongst all your cities, population migration, operations and a decent unit editor that helps the game feel unique enough to not be a clone. If you're a fan of the genre, it's worthwhile to get it now.

    To elaborate on the unique points of the game - all cities share resources and grow from this shared pool. This really encourages city specialization. City borders grow only after a city hits size 8 and with shared resources you can grow some massive cities. Population will move from one city to another if it's more appealing, so you can plop down a new city and it can grow dramatically.

    Operations are neat and can be used to devastating effect. I found out that the hard way when my massed army was bombarded repeatedly due to an AI operation. There's nothing like losing half of your killers stack of doom to an aerial bombardment to make you re-think your strategy. Other operations can give your units more experience, perform aerial surveys of enemy territory or even call in a nuke strike.

    Like SMAC, it has a unit editor to create your own units. It's what you'd expect. You really don't have much of an option - you have to use it - but it's not so detailed that you have to spend a ton of time using the editor.

    I played last night and got that "just one more turn itch" and finished my first victory this morning. That itch is the hallmark of a good game. My first impressions are favorable.


    I have some concerns about this game long-term though. I think these are all fixable, some pretty easily. But some of these need fixing before I'll give it my recommendation.

    - The game needs some more flavor. While I like the Operations, I'd like to see more city specialization (which means needing Wonders) and unique landscape tiles. They're greatly needed.

    - I'd also suggest either some random events (SMAC had 'em) or just a way to make the game feel more "alien". Once I was halfway through, the alien species were gone and I could have been fighting on Earth. That's not good for a Sci-Fi game on an alien planet. The flora/fauna has no chance of survival in this game currently and the planet just doesn't have the tools to fight back. In SMAC you could strike a balance with Planet and the planet was an extremely tough opponent to take head-on. Pandora is a pushover.

    - The AI and the diplomacy needs some work. Imperium and Divine are simply awful and overall the AI is far too aggressive. A player using someone like Togra is at a massive disadvantage early in the game because some civs are like the Civ 2 Mongols on steroids. At the same time, Noxium and Terra are diplomatic pushovers. Moderate these a bit and provide a bit more clarity as to why civs like / don't like you. Also, the ability to have one civ attack another would be nice. But the game needs work here ASAP. While Rob said that Togra may be the "one to watch", that's not really the case. The tech group is always trouble in late game if they've been left alone. But surviving the beginning of the game was incredibly rough because of Imperium and Divine's hyper-aggression.

    - Players need a manual and more information regarding how they're doing. I won a tech victory and I couldn't even tell it was coming. The devs don't have to do a ton here, but the players need some guidance on the mechanics and some better information as to the winning conditions.

    - The speed of the endgame seems to go a bit haywire. I was researching techs every turn. Buildings were being produced in one or two turns. It was nice to see things happen, but it got old after a while. I'd love to play Pandora on a huge map to keep the exploration aspect going longer, but I can't imagine how long the endgame would take on such a map because there seemingly aren't penalties for city spam and unchecked growth.

    Overall, it's cool. It's a good, solid 4x game. It has issues throughout though. The entire opening third of the game is dictated by the psychotic AI and absurd civ bonuses contribute to this. It doesn't matter who you are, you better just churn out units to fend off the inevitable attacks or you're done. There's just no option. The mid-game gets bogged down because there's no "alien world" remaining and there's a decided lack of events and wonders to keep things fresh. The endgame becomes a bit of a slog with city-spam and incredible production speeds. Luckily, many of these things can be fixed with relative ease because much of this doesn't require new gameplay mechanics (wonders and events would).

    If this ends up being the final and complete product, I'll be disappointed. I'll get a few games out of it, but I'll ultimately return to Civ V, DW and other games for my 4X fix. I will get my money's worth, but it won't be something I could recommend. However if it continues to get developed (and it won't take a whole lot), Pandora could be a great one. YMMV.

  5. #5
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    I agree with all of the above. I stole the game recently to try it, and I must say it is a very competent Alpha Centauri-style game. It runs well, the mechanics feel sound, it is pretty.

    While it has some of its own interesting flavour, I agree it could use a lot more. For example, the interaction with local flora/fauna was much more interesting in SMAC. Here you just eat them. The planet feels much less alien too - there already are forests, plains, whatnot. I loved the pioneer feel of SMAC, where hacking the fungus away was long, hard and dangerous.

    I really like the resource sharing between the cities, although I feel it shouldn't be as simple. As it stands, the main function of cities is grabbing the special resources regardless of what the surrounding area is. Then again, it does makes sense. I just wih it wasn't as simplified.

    Overall, the game is not far away from the sweet spot between simpilcity and complexity. It is more complex than, say, Warlock but is not a bloated theme park of features that Civ 5 is. Note I am not bashing Civ 5 here, haven't played BNW yet - just giving perspective.

  6. #6
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    I wanna play a space based 4x strategy game that is similarly streamlined, but deep as Civ 5, but i just can't find one. One is either super deep, but there is no gameplay (or at least I wouldn't call the interaction you do with the game "playing"), or there is gameplay but the 4x elements are weak, or the combat is weak / unsatisfying, or the games are just super old.

    Actually, the best thing for me would be a "Total War: Space" if you get what I mean. User friendly, light, but engaging 4x element + epic real time battles.. in space. (preferably in 3D. Since you know.. space is 3 dimensional. A surprising amount of the space 4x games I sampled were fully 2D games)
    Is there any upcoming games like that? (or already in existence?)

  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus pakoito's Avatar
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    but deep as Civ 5
    Yeaaah. That shouldn't be difficult.

    Sword of the Stars, Galactic Civilizations 2, Sins of a Solar Empire, Masters Of Orion 2, Endless Space and Aurora just top of my mind.

    And if you want futuristic inland battles with a map between missions, Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. If you want the best Civ that happens to have a scifi theme you have Alpha Centauri.
    Last edited by pakoito; 10-02-2014 at 09:31 PM.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by cytrom View Post
    I wanna play a space based 4x strategy game that is similarly streamlined, but deep as Civ 5, but i just can't find one. One is either super deep, but there is no gameplay (or at least I wouldn't call the interaction you do with the game "playing"), or there is gameplay but the 4x elements are weak, or the combat is weak / unsatisfying, or the games are just super old.

    Actually, the best thing for me would be a "Total War: Space" if you get what I mean. User friendly, light, but engaging 4x element + epic real time battles.. in space. (preferably in 3D. Since you know.. space is 3 dimensional. A surprising amount of the space 4x games I sampled were fully 2D games)
    Is there any upcoming games like that? (or already in existence?)
    Have you tried the Sins of a Solar Empire games?

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by pakoito View Post
    If you want the best Civ that happens to have a scifi theme you have Alpha Centauri.
    I highly recommend Pandora: First Contact.

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus pakoito's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cardinaldirection View Post
    I highly recommend Pandora: First Contact.
    I was googling it and it received a lot of bad rep. Care to elaborate a bit?

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by pakoito View Post
    I was googling it and it received a lot of bad rep. Care to elaborate a bit?
    i just did the same thing you did (googled it), and noticed a trend: the most common complaint was that the game isn't smac 2. nearly everyone who criticized pandora compared it to smac; instead of actually reviewing the game. personally, i could never get into it... felt too much like work. everyone that likes pandora just loves great strategy games, and sees pandora in it's own light.

    it's not a wide game (yet), but it is deep. while it may be simple, it's also very refined. the tight game play, streamlined ui, and presentation are worth checking out. got me for a "omg is that the sun!?" one morn.

    plus the developers are quite active on the forums, and frequently update the game. a solid release with a lot of potential - 87 imo
    combat is great. ai is good, multiplayer is better. stacking drastically reduces micromanagement. plus, unit types (that have advantages and vulnerabilities), and operations (strategic commands), keep stacks of doom from growing out of control. put all your units in one stack and watch the ai nuke it (operation) to hell without even touching it.



    http://www.slitherine.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=173

    http://www.spacesector.com/blog/2013...ontact-review/

    http://www.armchairgeneral.com/pando...ame-review.htm
    Last edited by cardinaldirection; 11-02-2014 at 02:39 AM.

  12. #12
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    How could people not compare it when it looks like SMAC in the Civ5 engine. No games exist in a vacuum. And it's a good thing. SMAC was a triumph in strategy game design.
    Steam ID ; GFWL: alset85

  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Squiz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cardinaldirection View Post
    praise for the game
    You seem to be quite familiar with the current state of the game. What are the points that you would criticise about P:FC?

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by alset85 View Post
    How could people not compare it when it looks like SMAC in the Civ5 engine. No games exist in a vacuum. And it's a good thing. SMAC was a triumph in strategy game design.
    The reviews that I have read about it all compared it to SMAC yet haven't penalised it for not being SAMC 2. It looks to be a very simliar game to be honest.

  15. #15
    Oh it's an outspoken "spiritual successor", and although I didn't play much SMAC, I do think that Pandora does quite a good job of deriving it's general context. However Pandora is a newer, different beast. It's much more streamlined, and personally I find this a refreshing update. SMAC felt overly-"wide" in my opinion, too much like work. Although I do agree with the common sentiment that Pandora lacks SMAC's liveliness and depth of character; which I attribute to the much smaller development team. Pandora could use more content, and the dev's are actively bringing it. The base game-mechanics and presentation are very solid though. It's been my experience that these are much less common than "fluffy" games these days. By comparison, new, additional content is relatively easy to develop; and it will be fun to play the game as it grows.

  16. #16
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    Three Moves Ahead recently dedicated an episode to this. Haven't listened to it yet, but the TMA guys usually bring up pretty good points.

  17. #17
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Squiz's Avatar
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    Having listened to the above linked TMA episode, the main issues mentioned in the podcasts seem to be:

    - short tech tree,
    - winning conditions are very much centered around military victory,
    - stacks of doom, not sure about this one since above it has been mentioned that operations can counteract this to a point, still, large parts of the maps become irrelevant due to stacking,
    - units are difficult to differentiate based on details, it's hard to tell apart similar looking units with vastly different strenghts and weaknesses,
    - unit customisation could need some fixes, you have to re-name modified versions of existing units or they'll replace the original one,
    - (minor) the writing doesn't seem to be very good, also fonts make things hard to read,
    - diplomacy seems fresh but it is difficult to anticipate, religious factions apparently have no issues banding up with tech-centered factions.

    There could be more but that's what I got from it. If there's a demo, I might give the game a look but so far wouldn't shell out for the whole game without giving it a spin.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Squiz View Post
    Having listened to the above linked TMA episode, the main issues mentioned in the podcasts seem to be:

    - short tech tree,
    - winning conditions are very much centered around military victory,
    - stacks of doom, not sure about this one since above it has been mentioned that operations can counteract this to a point, still, large parts of the maps become irrelevant due to stacking,
    - units are difficult to differentiate based on details, it's hard to tell apart similar looking units with vastly different strenghts and weaknesses,
    - unit customisation could need some fixes, you have to re-name modified versions of existing units or they'll replace the original one,
    - (minor) the writing doesn't seem to be very good, also fonts make things hard to read,
    - diplomacy seems fresh but it is difficult to anticipate, religious factions apparently have no issues banding up with tech-centered factions.

    There could be more but that's what I got from it. If there's a demo, I might give the game a look but so far wouldn't shell out for the whole game without giving it a spin.
    Most of those points don't hold much water with my experience, and I think the writing is pretty good, albeit somewhat light. The tech tree is a bit more simplified than I would like (but the randomness is awesome), the winning conditions could use some balance tweaking, and unit models could use a bit more variety, but again these are all relatively simple additions given that the base game is so good. However I don't understand the complaint that large parts of the map become irrelevant due to unit stacking, or the issues with unit customization, or diplomacy.
    I was sold after watching a couple Let's Plays, and don't regret the purchase one bit.
    Last edited by cardinaldirection; 14-02-2014 at 01:50 AM.

  19. #19
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Squiz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cardinaldirection View Post
    However I don't understand the complaint that large parts of the map become irrelevant due to unit stacking, or the issues with unit customization, or diplomacy.
    I was sold after watching a couple Let's Plays, and don't regret the purchase one bit.
    The ability to stack units all in one hex creates a situation in which only that one hex matters because you can just amass your forces in one spot without having to worry about strategic decisions that take into account other possibly advantageous positions in the surrounding area. You don't have to think about whether you want your AA units in the back and your tanks in the front or if you want to keep a few units that can counter a certain enemy unit in the same hex as your main offensive force which may have a certain weakness and instead just put them all together in one spot.

    The complaint about customisation is a matter of user friendliness (and possiby a minor nuisance). If you have to rename every single unit you create or have it replace an older/basic version of the same unit, it quickly becomes a pain to do so.

    I think the issue with diplomacy was mostly down to a lack of character of the different factions. Basically, everyone is happy to bond with anyone else if the opportunity arises, there seems to be no/little reservation of ideologically opposing factions to side with each other (like the above mentioned religious/tech factions).

    I should have noted that the TMA guys liked the game quite a bit and also had some praise for other aspects of the game. Regarding the writing, I guess this is down to subjective experience/taste, however I personally trust the podcast panel when they say that the writing is blant/cheesy/bad. *shrug* The main issue with the winning conditions was that they are mostly (if not exclusively?) down to military victory, which (if true) would be quite a step-back in terms of complexity and game design. Finally, I am not sure how "simple" it would be to change the unit designs in later stages of development. What's problematic is that it often is difficult to tell apart if a certain unit has, for example, a flame thrower equipped, or some sort of gun. If you cannot easily make out important differences between units, unnecessary strategic missteps are pretty much guaranteed which quickly leads to frustration and lots of reloading.

    Again, I am not sure how these issues can be seen as "simple additions" to a finished product. It's not really a common thing to see post-launch unit redesigns or fundamental changes in complexity of a tech tree. These issues don't mean that it is a bad game but they suggest that it would be a good idea to try the game before buying. Sadly I wasn't able to find a demo, any input on that?

  20. #20
    I'm not sure how much you get paid (per hour), but let's make sure this conversation doesn't cost us more than it's worth. The game is only 30 bux. You asked for my opinion and now you're playing devil's advocate on behalf of a podcast?..

    Quote Originally Posted by Squiz View Post
    The ability to stack units all in one hex creates a situation in which only that one hex matters because you can just amass your forces in one spot without having to worry about strategic decisions that take into account other possibly advantageous positions in the surrounding area. You don't have to think about whether you want your AA units in the back and your tanks in the front or if you want to keep a few units that can counter a certain enemy unit in the same hex as your main offensive force which may have a certain weakness and instead just put them all together in one spot.
    As I mentioned earlier, "stacking drastically reduces micromanagement. plus, unit types (that have advantages and vulnerabilities), and operations (strategic commands), keep stacks of doom from growing out of control. put all your units in one stack and watch the ai nuke it (operation) to hell without even touching it."

    In addition, "hot-tiles", due to resource locations, geographic influences, and developments, introduce many opportunities for strategic game-play. Not to mention terraformers that can reshape the land to your will. Every tile has unique modifiers that it applies to different unit classes, based on geography, and any developments on it. Positioning, tactics, timing, and general intelligent distribution of who, what, when, where, and why are all quite important decisions that must be made in Pandora.

    Quote Originally Posted by Squiz View Post
    The complaint about customisation is a matter of user friendliness (and possiby a minor nuisance). If you have to rename every single unit you create or have it replace an older/basic version of the same unit, it quickly becomes a pain to do so.
    You do not have to do this.
    Pandora's UI is one of it's best features.

    Quote Originally Posted by Squiz View Post
    I think the issue with diplomacy was mostly down to a lack of character of the different factions. Basically, everyone is happy to bond with anyone else if the opportunity arises, there seems to be no/little reservation of ideologically opposing factions to side with each other (like the above mentioned religious/tech factions).
    I'm pretty sure the factions do have innate relationships and tendencies towards each other, but actual in-game factors weigh much more heavily. In other words, each game doesn't have the same major alliances, as geography and position are major contributors in determining each factions' feelings towards their neighbors.
    I do feel that the factions could each use a bit more individuality though.

    Quote Originally Posted by Squiz View Post
    I should have noted that the TMA guys liked the game quite a bit and also had some praise for other aspects of the game. Regarding the writing, I guess this is down to subjective experience/taste, however I personally trust the podcast panel when they say that the writing is blant/cheesy/bad. *shrug* The main issue with the winning conditions was that they are mostly (if not exclusively?) down to military victory, which (if true) would be quite a step-back in terms of complexity and game design.
    I would not call the writing bland, cheesy, or bad. There just isn't enough of it.

    The winning conditions are each distinct. However they were not balanced last time I played (6~8 weeks ago).

    Quote Originally Posted by Squiz View Post
    Finally, I am not sure how "simple" it would be to change the unit designs in later stages of development. What's problematic is that it often is difficult to tell apart if a certain unit has, for example, a flame thrower equipped, or some sort of gun. If you cannot easily make out important differences between units, unnecessary strategic missteps are pretty much guaranteed which quickly leads to frustration and lots of reloading.
    I have absolutely no problem distinguishing a flame-throwing unit from a gun-wielding one.
    The game is also highly moddable..

    Quote Originally Posted by Squiz View Post
    Again, I am not sure how these issues can be seen as "simple additions" to a finished product. It's not really a common thing to see post-launch unit redesigns or fundamental changes in complexity of a tech tree.
    The tech tree is randomized each game, divided into three eras, with pre-game customization options. I'm also pretty sure that expanding it is simple enough that I could do it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Squiz View Post
    These issues don't mean that it is a bad game but they suggest that it would be a good idea to try the game before buying. Sadly I wasn't able to find a demo, any input on that?
    Nor was I able to find one either; but again, I was sold after watching a couple Let's Plays, and don't regret the purchase one bit. Especially after communicating with the devs a little on their forums. Proxy is the kind of quality company that I like to support.

    Edit: Reading down in this thread, others have provided very concise reviews as well: there should be enough info here for anyone interested to make an informed purchase.
    If you do, look up the Steam group a for healthy supply of multi-player partners.
    Last edited by cardinaldirection; 14-02-2014 at 11:36 PM.

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