4X 4 Real: AI War Devs Announce Stars Beyond Reach

Hexes mandatory.

If you’ve pressed your ear to Arcen Games’ door, read their lips through their window, rummaged through their bins and taped together shredded documents, planted microphones to record their nocturnal mutterings, or browsed their forums, you might know that the AI War and The Last Federation developers have been working on a 4X strategy game. They’ve super-properly formally announced the game now, ditching its working title for the super-definitely final name of Stars Beyond Reach (it’s set planetside, see). As well as regular 4X stuff, it has a few interesting ideas about language and combat. The game doesn’t have units, for starters.

It’s set in the same universe as AI War and The Last Federation, bringing races from both together with a few new ones on a planet which seems sentient in a Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri-ish sort of way. It can help or hinder civilisations, and it speaks and everything. Speaking to the other factions will be tricky unless you know their language, though. Here, doesn’t this sound nice?

The languages are literally transcoded text, so as you use linguists to unravel the languages you don’t know (if you care to), then you can better piece together what is being said. At the moment my intent is to make it so that you can take a guess at diplomatic discussions by kind of mashing buttons in languages you can half read. ;) And then see the results if you want to take that sort of gamble. That may not work out in practice, but I have some interesting ideas there that I want to play with, anyway.

That’s only a piece of the game, but one that jumped out at my eyes and said “read me because you’ll enjoy this idea!” or at least implied it. They’ve got interesting ideas about diplomacy in general too (at the bottom of that forum post).

Arcen’s short pitch is “Think Civilization meets SimCity meets AI War meets New Stuff.” Why SimCity? That’s partially because building placement and adjacencies matter, but also because it doesn’t have units. Given that eXterminate is a core tenet of 4X games, combat’s a little different. It’ll focus on buildings, through territory control and direct missile strikes from silos. Arcen founder Chris Park explains:

… I feel like most 4x games bog down in the late game because of all the tedious combat. And I don’t feel like automating that is the solution, I feel like a model that is actually fun and direct and fast and more in keeping with the rest of the game is the solution.

Oodles more details are splattered across Arcen’s forum, announcement, and blog posts. They plan to release Stars Beyond Reach in April or May 2015.


  1. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Oh Arcen. If I had infinite money I would buy the studio and see what wonders they could perform when their crazy ideas are given AAA polish.

    Also, if you don’t read their patch notes, take a skim. Their patch notes for AI War show a deep and abiding love of games and they’ve given AI War more post-release development than some games get pre-release.

    I think Arcen’s games are a cry for help from people who can’t stop making games they find interesting.

    • RedViv says:

      I encourage everyone to further finance their self-torture.

      • Kempston Wiggler says:


        Through browsing Arcen’s website I found the full AI War bundle on sale – base game and all DLC – for $4.99 at IndieGameStand. That’ll do me for now. :)

    • daver4470 says:

      That is the best description of Arcen I’ve ever read.

      I loved the whole process around “A Valley Without Wind”.

      (1) Hey guys, here’s this new game with totally new concepts and stuff and things and stuff!
      (2) (bunch of development)
      (3) Hey guys, it turns out this game isn’t the game we really wanted to make. So we’re going to make that other game and give it to all of you for free. Also, we’ll keep on updating this version for a while, because we do kind of like it, even though it’s not the game we meant to make.
      (4) By the way, we’re also doing an expansion for AI War. Surprise!

      I have no idea whether this game will be successful or not… but I do know that it will be completely unique, probably slightly batshit crazy, patched/updated/improved/repatched about every 15 minutes, and have epic blog posts discussing esoteric design considerations that betray ridiculous amounts of thought and work put into it.

      • protorp says:

        Yes to all this praise, I’m happier giving my money to Arcen than to any other developer out there.

        They’d have to turn out many turkeys in a row to unbalance the amount of enjoyment their games have given me; goodwill enough has been earnt that I find myself still buying and playing their few games that don’t quite fundamentally grab me as much, simply for the interest of finding out what they’ve been working on and the supporting their being able to make whatever the next thing might be.

        PS tangential shout out for Tidalis, which ties with Spacechem as my favest puzzle game ever and surely deserves to be a lot better known and more played than it is.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, a friend got me The Last Federation, and it is just overflowing with developer glee.

      They seem to be the “curious spin on 4X” studio. Everything I found bland or overcomplicated in the AI War demo all those years ago is characterful and complicated-but-heuristic and introduced gently in TLF. Really interested in how this one turns out.

      Especially, being in the same universe, if I can play the space-hydras again. Or the owlballs. I will settle for owlballs.

      (Also, in a world of “you can’t have CHEATS, that’d meddle with the persistent unlocks and plans to sell you God-mode DLC!”, they implemented this difficulty level. Waiting for the Betrayed Hope expansion to leave beta…)

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Everytime a newly announced game strikes me as cynical, lazy, uninspired or just generally ‘safe’, and I get a little bit sad, I go play something by Arcen. It doesn’t really matter which one. Heck, there’s usually a NEW one to try.
      I do wonder if perhaps it’s a good thing they’re on a less colossal budget though? I mean obviously, I’d love to see what they’d do with unlimited money, you’re quite right. But I also feel like maybe having a much smaller budget would nicely shake up a great many devteams. Arcen don’t bother with unnecessary pretties (although I for one do find their games quite attractive in their own way), they don’t throw stuff in just because it’s expected that every game in the genre should have it, and if something doesn’t match what they’re going for or it just plain isn’t fun, out it goes. We just plain need that.

    • gnodab says:

      We need more people lost in a creative crazy which devours their live like this.
      Arcen are kinda the ADD variant of the Toady One. Bless both of them.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Damn, you nailed it perfectly there. Arcen really is what would happen if Toady released a totally new game like three times a year.

  2. yabonn says:

    you can take a guess at diplomatic discussions by kind of mashing buttons in languages you can half read.

    Maybe try to find an emulator for Captain Blood – it was a good game with something like this.

    • Kempston Wiggler says:

      As much as I deeply deeply love Captain Blood for the scrumptious mind-enthralling treasure that is undoubtedly is…those conversations always seemed like a form of slow torture to me. Mind you, regular human contact is like that as well so perhaps it was never going to work out for me.

      That said, I welcome another chance to talk to the monsters.

  3. Strangeblades says:

    Arcen Games’ games are Chris Park’s thought-constructs given digital form. “This is my idea,” he says. The strange, bumpy, interlocking-clockwork is put into your hands (our hands). Before we can ask what THIS is, Park is back in his laboratory.

    • stblr says:

      While we wait for the fruits of his next experiment, we have a few of his tooltips to keep us busy in the meantime.

  4. Kempston Wiggler says:

    We do have to treasure Arcen Games. Every concept they come out with is just so fascinating, even if it doesn’t succeed.

    Like the developers of Endless Legend, I love that Arcen are also willing to shake up the whole 4X mix bag, instead of trying to slavishly replicate MOO2’s vaguely defined magic (or SMAC’s in this case). I may not eventually buy but I do promise to be here for each and every step of the development.

    • daver4470 says:

      Amplitude is the dev of the Endless [fill in the blank] games. Good comparison, although Amplitude is better funded and more focused in their development.

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      keithzg says:

      While I do mostly agree with you, I’ve also been waiting for a replication of MOO2’s magic since MOO2 came out, and it’s kindof disheartening that nobody has managed to make a newer MOO2. The closest I’ve run into is Endless Space, in part because it adds a number of little things that shake up the flow enough to make it interesting (the “cosmic threads” and such, for example, which early-on make for almost In Death Ground style warp-point by warp-point wars), but even that mostly seems inferior to MOO2, and every other space 4X I’ve played hasn’t even come close.

      Seriously, if someone just reimplemented MOO2 with an interface that scaled to modern screen sizes they’d instantly have the best space 4X on the market (other than the whole copyright infringement part, of course).

      • LionsPhil says:

        I’m still waiting for Stars! Supernova

        (Actually, scratch that. I’m still idly dreaming that the devs will just go “sure, why not” and drop the original under a suitably permissive license so it can be fixed up to not be 16-bit. One advantage of a plain Windows UI is that it actually runs pretty great as high as you can crank it in a VM.)

        • MellowKrogoth says:

          Shedding a tear for Stars! Supernova here as well. Even though despite my initial fascination with Stars!, once I realized how much it was a game about mathematically exploiting supply chains and population growth I started liking it less. I like it more at a semi-casual level because of all the fun stuff you can do (design ships, lay mine fields, shoot planet-killing mineral packets/asteroids and so on). The tech tree despite being pretty basic compared to other games was so fun.

        • MellowKrogoth says:

          People still start the occasional Stars! game and track attempts at Stars! ports and remakes here btw link to starsautohost.org

        • overthere says:

          This so much this! I refreshed the Stars! Supernova website so many times wishing for a release. Not done it for a game since. If only Kickstarter had been a thing at the time :(

      • LogicalDash says:

        Keep an eye on FreeOrion.

        There was a project called Thousand Parsec which would have provided an engine in which one could reimplement MoO2, presumably to be published through email attachments and thumb drives, but it seems to have meen dead for a while now.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Stardrive 2 looks promising for channeling MoO2 :
        link to youtube.com
        (except that space combat will be in real time)

      • gi_ty says:

        Distant Universe is amazing, if your a fan of deep 4x space games look no farther.

  5. sinister agent says:

    I own every game and expansion Arcen have made, which I’m pretty sure can’t be said for any other developer. I love their attitude, and their respect for their customers and craft. Even when they get it wrong, they’re interesting, and always unusual. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with a civ-alike. Too many of them, even the good ones, become too much of a chore after a while.

  6. Arathain says:

    If there’s anyone that can shake up the genre it’s Arcen. I’ll watch this with great interest.

  7. SlimShanks says:

    As someone who is really into roguelikes/roguelikelikes, I found Bionic Dues to be a strangely addictive game. Haven’t been able to get into the Last Federation or AI War, but I intend to keep trying until I stop bouncing.
    Anywho, Arcen sure do get creative. Hopefully they become fabulously wealthy, and can continue to shower us with interesting projects.

  8. tangoliber says:

    I like the simple art style more than that of Civilization, Beyond Earth, Endless Legend, etc.

  9. Koozer says:

    Sounds great. Combat always, always just gets in the way for me, from Caesar III to Civ V. I hope that art is placeholder though.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I just had a peruse through the site and hold on, what the heck is the matter with the art? I think it’s utterly lovely…

      • LionsPhil says:

        Well, the sea tiles in RPS’ banner image look a bit too much like sky.

        I get their point about not blurring the hex boundaries with transitions, but I do not look at that image and parse it as a shoreline. This unreleased early-development game needs more work! D:

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          The proof of your point is that I didn’t realise those were sea tiles. I thought they were some kind of unexplored terrain.
          Yeah, that could use some work.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Arcen games’ art is the worst :P . They should stop dealing with whatever artists they are dealing with and get someone with actual artistic vision… it’s possible to make art that’s both simple AND looks good (and functional i.e. easy to recognize as what it’s supposed to represent) and not copy-pasted together from 5 different games and a magazine.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Jeez that’s… a little harsh.
        I mean if you really dislike it that much, fair enough, but I can’t be the only person who actually likes the art style in their games a lot. Can I?

  10. LogicalDash says:

    Isn’t that also how diplomacy works in Out There? It’s kinda primitive, you have to pick the right answer to get traders to trade and then offer them the right goods based on what you can read, but I could see it scaling.

  11. Rufust Firefly says:

    Not being able to fully understand who you’re talking to was one of the best things about Starflight and Starflight II. Arcen would get bonus points for adding in postures like hostile or obsequious.

  12. Cross says:

    I have played most of Arcen’s games, on account of their concepts being wonderful and falling within genres i like, and every single one has put me off, to the point where i now sigh frustratedly every time i see the studio name. Why? Because it’ll probably be a brilliant concept on paper, but the execution will be put together with crummy visuals and sound, and tipp-ex.