Dan Dare The Automator: Distant Worlds – Universe

An exciting day. Even more exciting than an ordinary Friday. Even more exciting than an extraordinary Friday that marks the beginning of a long weekend (lot of those recently in this part of the world). Today is exciting because Distant Worlds: Universe has arrived, a standalone sequel/collection containing every previous release in the series as well as various improvements, new modding tools and a brand new storyline. If that’s not enough, take note of the fact that you can also build planet destroyers. Distant Worlds is one of my favourite space strategy games, mainly because it convincingly simulates conflict and empire on such an enormous scale while allowing for minimal micromanagement thanks to smart automation. Lovely.

Universe is available via the Matrix Games store or through Steam. Owners of previous Distant Worlds games receive discounts as follows:

In order to thank the Distant Worlds community which has been supporting the series for years now, we are pleased to announce that players will be able to get a $10 discount for every Distant Worlds game/expansion they own. All Universe owners are also eligible to receive a Steam Key. For a limited period of time, there is also a launch discount of $10 off the regular price on both stores in order to celebrate the release and the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Distant Worlds.

I’m tempted to write a good deal more about this since the original release happened before I’d chosen a life of gaming criticism. For those who haven’t encountered the series before, the figures and details in the following paragraph provide the information you need.

Vast galaxies are made to order: up to 1400 star systems, with up to 50,000 planets, moons and asteroids. Galaxies are so deep, fun and immersive that you won’t want to finish the game. Build, expand and improve your empire while playing through one of the storylines, with victory conditions or in an open-ended sandbox mode.

Each galaxy is packed with life and activity. Encounter other empires, independent alien colonies, traders, pirates and space monsters. Explore star systems, asteroid fields, gas clouds, supernovae, galactic storms and black holes. Discover evidence of civilizations long since past, uncovering secrets about the galaxy’s troubled history…

Or you could always refer to the first paragraph and the mention of planet destroyers.


  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Don’t know about this, but the Dan Dare games on the Speccy were a miraculous achievement of graphical prowess. Game play was pretty stellar too.

    *drowns in nostalgia*

  2. Ich Will says:

    Distant worlds is just wonderful – Its shocking that no-one else has even attempted to simulate the civilian population and independent businesses. It’s expensive, but honestly for 4x fans, worth every penny! Promise I’m not on the payroll!

    • Jomini says:

      Aurora does iirc.

      • Velthaertirden says:

        Holy spreadsheets, Batman! And people throw this at EVE…

    • Tacroy says:

      Is it at all like Stars!

      Because if so I might buy it, $50 price tag or not.

      Edit: jesus christ it looks like this is Escape Velocity crossed with Stars! I don’t know if I can resist it oh god

      • Philopoemen says:

        Stars! is still my benchmark for 4X . Ah, the old 16 player PBEMs…pity about the horrible AI.

  3. Gyro says:

    It’s good and worth getting, but even my 4.8ghz OC’d Haswell with 16GB of 1866mhz RAM starts to seriously chug on the largest maps after a while.

    Each expansion comes with improvements, though, so maybe they’ve upgraded the engine a bit? And normal sized galaxies still consist of hundred of systems with many planets.

    • frightlever says:

      Over on the RPS forum thread trjp described it as the Dwarf Fortress of 4X (technically he described it as the Dwark Fortress of 4X which was either a spelling mistake or he’s gun shy after being sued for Trademark infringement one time too many), which seems quite apt considering your hardware struggles. Funny how we get used to being GPU bound and seeing our CPUs brought to their knees is a bit of a rarity in gaming.

      Not that I’ve ever even attempted a large map, never mind largest.

      Also, obviously the Space Empire games had planet destroyers. And actual Dyson spheres.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        I played SE2 back in my younger days, indeed I think it might’ve been my first space 4x, but I only recently rediscovered the series with SE5. I… have played nothing else for the past few days. I honestly think it beats MOO2, GalCiv2 or anything else you care to throw at it. Which is why I’m so surprised that I didn’t hear a thing about the series for so many years that I completely forgot it existed at all.

        And now I come here and find ANOTHER space strategy that I had absolutely no idea existed. My wallet will never forgive me.

        • frightlever says:

          If you’re enjoying SE5, and are actually lucky enough to be able to run it, you should look for the demo for SE IV, (a) because it had a short tutorial campaign which I don’t think the main game ever did, and (b) it’ll let you see if the main game will run on your hardware/OS of choice. SE4 was, for me, a far better game than SE5 but they’re both pretty spotty on new hardware AFAIK.

  4. Antsy says:

    Gah, I thought someone was making a Dan Dare game and got excited. Curse you Adam!

    • frightlever says:

      My old school had a complete leather-bound (seriously – I assume it was an aftermarket mod) collection of Eagle comics in the library… as far as I know nobody ever looked at them. It was years later before I realised what I’d lost out on. On the other hand, coping with my own nostalgia is bad enough right now, without absorbing a previous generation’s.

      • Antsy says:

        They’re fantasic. In the early 80’s I inhereted my uncles collection of Eagles and also box loads of Look and Learns which had the excellent Trigan Empire comic strip. I’m still having to find room for them.

        One way or another we all end up having to deal with the previous generations obsessions :)

        • frightlever says:

          I always think Trigan Empire was in Eagle, though I should know better. I actually read Trigan Empire in re-print in Vulcan comic. Was really sad when they stopped publishing Vulcan – had a pretty short run IIRC.

  5. Syt says:

    The only space 4X game I come back to. Is it perfect? No. But it feels epic if you play in a huge galaxy with dozens of races (I use the Extended Mod: link to matrixgames.com ). And depending on mood you can either micro everything, or hand everything over to the AI, or any balance in between. It can look very intimidating at first, but this system lets you gradually ease you into the game. And there’s several good Let’s Plays out there.

    Matrix offers a $10 discount for each piece of Distant Worlds you own ($40 total if you register DW and all 3 expansions on their webpage).

    So the upgrade to Universe cost me only just under €10 incl. VAT. Main draw for me: you get a Steam key (though it’s not activated there yet).

  6. dubyabyeats says:

    A useful first impression here

    link to spacesector.com

  7. Pilcrow13 says:

    Have they fixed the font size problems?

    In some screens and resolutions the text was extremely tiny and blurred. I have better ways to blind myself prematurely than playing this game, no matter how good is it.

  8. Somerled says:

    A huge 4X game with deep micro? Yes please, etc. But I desperately want a huge 4X game that let’s me putter in micro while the macro game develops without my constant attention.

    • BlackeyeVuk says:

      Actually Somerled , in this game you can simulate everything. And if you want, play with ONE ship , and rest of your empire will grow automatically . Really offers you unique ways of dealing with both micro and macro.

  9. BlackeyeVuk says:

    This game is really something else. Unlimited potential, bit clunky engine , but if we care enough for game to grow bound to have one epic game for us strategy lovers.

  10. biggergun says:

    Distant Worlds manages to be both very complex and very accessible. It’s like the Holy Grail of 4X or something. I also wish more 4X games did that civilian life thing – after trying Distant Worlds GalCiv, Endless Space and other Civ-likes feel rather lifeless.
    I just hope a Steam release means an end to that ridiculous Matrix games attitude (no promotion, weird prices, etc). I really hope Code Force ditch Matrix and find a new publisher. Paradox will suit them just fine.

    • malkav11 says:

      No kidding. It seems to have worked for the Dominions games, so I have my hopes we’ll see this entering the realm of sales as well. Still, even if it sticks in the $50-60 range I might pay that eventually for all that content. Not so much that for the base game plus four expansions all at premium prices, like it used to cost.

      • Vinraith says:

        I’m sure it’ll be joining the race to the bottom now that it’s on Steam. The bought but never played stats should be even worse than CK2’s. It’s so much easier to bounce off a $5 game than a $50 one, I really do worry about the impact of this new model on deep strategy titles.

        • Tacroy says:

          Wait are those stats publicly available?

          • Vinraith says:

            You can draw some straightforward conclusions from the achievement statistics, which are. For example, out of the folks that play CK2, 11% have married. Being as that’s one of the most basic actions in the game, it’s straightforward to conclude that less than 11% of CK2 owners have played the game in any significant way.

          • tjrneal says:

            Vinraith you’re forgetting that achievements were added to CK2 long after the game was released. There are troves of people who bought the game, but were done with it before achievements were added.

          • Joe Deadman says:

            Actually from what I’ve heard the achievements in CK2 only unlock in ironman mode so that’s not a great example.

        • malkav11 says:

          I don’t see why they’d have a negative impact. People will bounce off these games, for sure. Probably in droves. But as far as I can tell they’re the same people that would have bounced off them to begin with, except that now those people actually own the game because it doesn’t cost two arms and a leg. And in the meantime, some other people, who would never have gone to Matrix Games or spent $60-80 on these things will pick it up and actually get something out of it. Crusader Kings II may be a game a lot of people own without playing, but it’s also been a game that a lot of people have gotten really obsessed with that don’t normally play big ambitious historical strategy games.

          And maybe it’s just me, but I don’t accord a game more time just because it cost me more money. At best, I accord it more time because everyone -says- this game is really awesome and maybe if I just push on a little further I’ll figure out why. Now, I do think it’s possible that $5 games will interfere with uptake on something like Distant Worlds, but not because it’s being sold for that (if it ever is). Rather, it would be because people have so many games for so cheap that there’s little incentive to really invest in any single one if it’s not pretty immediately satisfying. And that’s certainly a concerning possibility, but it’s not like a particular game refusing to take part in the sale culture spares that game from getting lost in the shuffle. If anything, it ensures it because people won’t buy the game in the first place.

          • Vinraith says:

            That’s just it, though. A small, loyal group that actually plays these kinds of games still will buy it, and for them it’s not just lost in the noise of a thousand discount purchases. The only way deep, substantial, lengthy games survive the blizzard of discounts is by keeping a small audience and making enough money from them that the rest doesn’t matter. I had thought Matrix understood this, it’s an argument they’ve made themselves many times. Seeing Code Force move to Steam (and thus, I guarantee, joining the race to the bottom) means one more strategy developer is moving to an unsustainable model.

            I sincerely hope I’m wrong about all of this, of course.

          • malkav11 says:

            Well, two things:
            1) If selling at a high price to a small group of heavily invested superfans is good enough to keep producing these sorts of games (and to be fair, it seems like it has been), then if push comes to shove there’s always Kickstarter or similar crowdfunding approaches. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people would be happy to pay -more- than the already high going price Matrix has been charging, if afforded the opportunity. That said, it’s also possible that there isn’t strong overlap between the crowd for this sort of thing and the sort of people who are willing to do crowdfunding. I can’t really say.
            2) Ultimately, if you’re not adding new people to your fan base, that business model is not long term sustainable. I don’t see very many people getting into games that are sold primarily in corners of the internet that only people who are already invested even have heard of and that cost consistently well above average, but have very little shelf appeal. Steam and big sales both draw plenty of new eyes. I don’t predict a strong uptake from them, because these are not ultimately titles with wide appeal, but I would be very surprised if it wasn’t higher than from selling on Matrix, and revenue from people that never actually play your game is still revenue. It’s certainly worked for other niches – Jeff Vogel is doing very well out of Steam, for example. (Though his games have never been quite as pricy.)

        • thebigJ_A says:

          Paradox seems to be doing just fine, in spite of your odd prognostications.

          “Unsustainable”, he says. Harrumph.

          (and achievements only work in ironman for CK2, so whatever percent has an achievement is only a small fraction of those who performed the action to get the achievement. You’re drawing conclusions based on misunderstood data)

    • Vinraith says:

      Considering that Paradox has gone Steam-only lately, I sincerely hope they don’t swallow up yet another good strategy developer.

  11. Harlander says:

    Ah, now I’ve got it (with my big discount for buying the previous expansions) and transferred it to Steam, so with a bit of luck I’ll never need to go on Matrix/Slitherine’s terrible storefront ever again.

  12. dmastri says:

    Any interface changes? I have the original and xpac but my poor old man eye’s remember some serious strain.

    • dmastri says:

      Per SpaceSector.com:

      I’m afraid to say that one thing that has been haunting the series since the very beginning, and even after three great expansions have been released, which have addressed the issue reasonably well, is the font issue. The readability has been increasing with time, for sure. So, it’s not so much of a big deal as it once was. But, some parts of the UI are still not particularly easy to read, especially on the diplomacy and research screens. The readability at game customization time can also be a bit blurry at places.

      Some other areas like ship design are ok, but not great. Etc. I’d say that the font issue is not a critical issue anymore, especially after the font sizes have been addressed, the selection panel enlarged and many other important areas have been sharpened out, like the Empire Summary screen which is now presented crystal clear. I understand that the devs probably did the best they could, but it’s something that the player needs to be aware, especially if very high resolutions are used, as I’ve come to understand throughout this time. Personally, the fonts don’t give me much trouble, but I’ve seen many people complaining about this in the past, so, consider yourself warned.

      Not old man eye friendly. :(

  13. Boosh says:

    delighted to finally see a consolidated release for DW, and on steam too which is a bonus.
    I owned all the previous so got a very generous discount I thought (was expecting the worst because it’s matrixgames etc). Hoping this is the start of new era of accessibility and sensible pricing.

    Above all looking forward to the product of talented people using the new modding tools.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I’m tempted to write a good deal more about this

    Please do! It looks really interesting, but I’d like to know a bit more about it before I spend time and money on it.

  15. tormos says:

    thank god they finally ended up on steam. No doubt the jerks in the Matrix forums are decrying this as a sign of the end times or whatever.

  16. dr. fondles says:

    xoxo for the Dan the Automator inference