Galactic Civilizations I vs. Galactic Civilizations II

Published on Friday, March 10, 2006 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv Journals


by Brad Wardell (designer of both)

Updated: 3/11

So what is the difference between Galactic Civilizations II and the first Windows version from 2003?  This article will take a look at that and offer some editorial criticism/comparisons between the two.

A long time ago...

In 2003, Galactic Civilizations ( was released.  The total budget for the title was $600,000. But in reality, it was less than that. Far less.  The development budget for the release version was approximately $240,000.  The rest was post-release updates, the expansion pack, and increasing support of marketing and support.

The game got very positive reviews:


Review Score







PC Gamer






Firing Squad




Overall it averaged between 4 and 4.5 stars (out of 5).  The reviews were pretty consistent. 

The game did reasonably well selling approximately 150,000 units worldwide. 70,000 or so in North America retail (I don't have the exact number), nearly that # overseas plus electronic.  At the time of this writing, GalCiv II in its first 10 days have exceeded that North American # and by the end of the month may exceed the # of units sold electronically.  We will be looking into what precisely caused such a huge difference in sales and report the findings. But so far -- word of mouth is king. Simply put, people seem to like GalCiv II and tell their friends. 

So what makes the sequel so much more popular than the original? What improvements were made? Here in this article we'll start exploring.  If you played both, feel free to comment on what changes we made that mattered to you.

Flaws in Galactic Civilizations I

Not that we were completely happy with it.  While most users liked the game, a number of users did not and often shared the same criticisms:

  1. The game forced you to play only as humans.
  2. The graphics were pretty awful
  3. The user interface was awful and unintuitive
  4. The tech tree was bizarre and didn't make sense (research Impulse Drive to invade planets???)
  5. The overall game was a little bland and generic at times.
  6. The combat was a little lifeless - research tougher and tougher ships faster than your enemies and win.
  7. The game itself didn't age as well as it could -- reader reviews on the game slowly decline over time
  8. It forced you to play as a particular resolution
  9. The planets were basically all the same and made little sense.
  10. There was no real strategy to colonization, just get the best planets and you win.
  11. No story or "soul".

We had a couple of years to think about how to solve these things.  From here on out, we'll talk about how we attempted to make the game a lot better than the original while still sticking with the spirit of the original game.

Setting up the game

A UI only a mother could love. And even then...

For a game that forced you to play as humans, you didn't get very many options. Just some numbers.


So where to start? First off, now you can have pre-canned maps. The first one only had random maps.  Moreover, there are now specific scenarios to choose from rather than simply the random setup. There's a lot more control over the galaxy as well than previously.

Secondly, you can choose which civilization you want to play as. Not good enough? Fine, you can also create your own from scratch.

Third, customization isn't just about numbers. You can control your logo, your portrait, your ship style, your ship color. Heck, you can even control what the actual game interface looks like! And it's all moddable.

Being able to pick your race also matters because unlike in GalCiv I, the new relations system takes into account which race you are.  The Torians and the Drengin don't like each other, for instance.  The way different races react to you depends on who you pick.

We had to develop a special dialog editing system just for this feature because there was so much to do in order to make sure different races weren't just cosmetically different.

Your opponents

You had 5 opponents to choose from. That's it.  Each race was fairly interchangeable.


Now you have 10 opponents and each opponent has its own set of dialog and personality based on which player you play as making sure that the game feels different each time.  And in v1.1, Stardock will be making is to that you can simply select opponents and in intelligence range and the game will provide a mystery of who you play against.

Moreover, while GalCiv I had multiple AI engines, this time around, the AI engine is far far more sophisticated.  With ship design, enhanced diplomacy, fleet management, social management, and of course the new tactical AI, different players will blatantly play differently.  The AI is much better as using things like star bases.  So much of the improvements can't really show in a screenshot unfortunately.

First Impressions

Your home solar system.  Besides the aesthetics of the game map only having blobs on it to represent stars, interacting with planets, which you did all the time, required clicking on the right star, then double-clicking on the planet you wanted to interact with. Over a period of many hours, this could be a pain.


Your home solar system is presented on the map cleanly and with much better graphics. Moreover, despite being 3D, it actually is smoother and performs better on average than GalCiv 1 did (I can attest to this having taken these screenshots today, GalCiv 1 is slower on this machine because it's all software-accelerated vs. GalCiv II's hardware acceleration).

I don't want to make it sound like I thought the first Galactic Civilizations was a bad game. It was a good game, especially for the time.  But the things we bring up make the difference, I think, between a good game and a great game.

The new engine allows for some really cool stuff too.  For instance, you can zoom in:

zoom out a bit.


Zoom out a bit more..

Zoom out a bit further..

Zoom out until..

The map is presented as icons.  Bear in mind, you can do this even with a roller-mouse so it's completely smooth.

The first one didn't have anything like this, it was fixed camera.  Here it's 3D so you can rotate the map and zoom in and out at will.  It is also resolution independent.  You can play it on a wide-screen monitor and it'll take advantage of the extra width. And by that I mean it doesn't just stretch, I mean it uses those extra pixels.  If you have a swivel monitor, no problem, you can have it run at (for example) 1200x1600.

Again, a screenshot doesn't really give justice to how much of a difference this makes in game play.

Why resolution independence matters

Games get dated mostly by graphics.  Stardock has no delusions of grandeur. We'll never be the top selling game out there.  We simply don't have the distribution clout to pump enough units out there.  But we can sell a lot of units -- over time.  That is, if we can make sure the game doesn't get dated. 

A lot of time went into inventing technologies that are counter-intuitive in the game industry.  We need our game to not look dated. We need it to still look "state of the art" two years from now.  So we invented a technology called smart-scalling. It makes use of Stardock's DesktopX.  DesktopX comes from the other side of the company, the non-game side.  DesktopX has been used in movies and TV to create faux-computer UI.  Next time you're watching a movie or TV show that has some fake computer UI, it might have been done with DesktopX.  So we used DesktopX to create the in-game UI.  The game's Direct3D engine reads in the .dxpacks and then the data files tell the game how to scale them based on your specific resolution.  So things don't just get bigger, they get used based on the UI designer's intent. 

So in a couple years when people are running 2800x1600, Galactic Civilizations will take advantage of that.

Also, the game's textures were developed using vectors instead of bitmaps.  That means we can increase the detail and resolution of the in-game models very easily without it losing quality.  The 3D engine itself has no polygon limit. Modders have already discovered that they can take 3D models intended for movie production or cut-scenes, export them as .X and put them into the game and they run.  So ships with a million polygons are very possible.


In Galactic Civilizations I, the planets were all the same other than the sprite and the umber that determines how much of a bonus all your planetary improvements are.  Players effectively built the same stuff on every planet in the same order.  We would have been, in hindsight, better off eliminating the whole planet development and streamlining things with simple sliders.  A lot of the numbers also were hard to figure out.  Why was my approval 40%? Players sometimes felt like they were at the mercy of some voodoo economics.

By contrast, in GalCiv II, all the high quality planets are unique.  You see the surface of the planets and build on them.  The planet quality number determines how many useable tiles there are. And if there are GalCiv II players that don't like some aspect of the economics, bear in mind, in GalCiv I, all resources were wasted, the approval rating was total voodoo, and so was how much production, money, etc.

Now, a factory does X units of production when funded. A research center does Y units of research when it's funded.  This is a big change from GalCiv 1 where research centers did a 15% bonus to the voodoo number that planets naturally generated in research which was based on a whole bunch of different criteria. So the new system is much cleaner.  It could still be cleaner yet, it's something we plan to explore as we do updates. But compared to the first, it's quite straight forward.

The result is that planet management involves strategy. Some reviewers have already commented that this, not ship design, is actually the most significant difference in actual game play.



The original had a really strange tech tree that probably made sense when I originally made it back in 1993.  But by 2003, it just was jumbled.  When I was playing it today to make this article, I couldn't remember how to get transports to invade planets. Oh, yea, Impulse Drive. Huh? What was I thinking? In Galactic Civilizations II, the tech tree is utilitarian. Yes, it's bland. But that's because it's basically designed to be a tool shed.  You want to invade planets? You pick out Planetary Invasion and research it.  You need better beam weapons, then go up the beam weapon trunk. 

The techs are designed to be relatively cheap but have baby steps between them to keep good pacing.  So you do have Laser I, Laser II, etc.  But it sure beats researching "4D Phasing" in order to combine that was "Energy Combination" to get some new ship.  The tech tree isn't the game. The game is a strategy game and the tech tree should be a tool to implement your strategy.

The tech tree is radically different. Rewritten from scratch. 




The diplomacy looks similar, except prettier.  But it's under the covers that it's much better.  The AI is more intelligent, the balancing much better, and the dialog much more dynamic than before.  Players can expect to keep seeing new dialog even months after release There's a ton of it..

Players can fight proxy wars. The Drath, for instane, regularly pay off other races to stir up trouble while keeping their hands clean. Thanks to ship design, you can make special "lend lease" type ships that are designed specifically to supply other players. You can become the ultimate arms dealer providing weapons to various races in exchange for their good will and protection.

One thing that can't be understated is that with 10 alien civs in a given game (plus several minor races) the political games can be intense and much more gratifying than the first game.



In the first one, there were starbases but they were all the same. You just built them up.  And they were prone to all kinds of cheese.  Now, players pick a type of star base they want to build -- Influencer, Economic, Resource, or Military. The graphics are different and the abilities different. It makes for a lot omore strategic options.

Also, starbases have an area of effect. They're not sector based anymore. Click on a starbase and you can see the area around them that they affect.


This represents and exciting and tense moment in Galactic Civilizations 1.  Lots of ships, lots of action.

In Galactic Civilizations II, you have ship design. You not only can design up your ships to do what you want them to do. You also have control over how they look in ways that no game has ever made possible.  When your ships or fleets battle it out, you can see them battling.  This screenshot I have here is actually pretty lame.  Picture one with dozens of ships involved -- fighters on up to capital ships.  Ooh. It's good stuff.

Battles are also a lot more sophisticated.  Now units have 3 types of attack and corresponding defenses. This puts a lot of real strategy into what technologies to research, how to design your ships, and which enemies to attack.  Your mega battle cruiser might be great against the Drengin with its mark IV phasors. But it might be useless against the Yor whose ships have Type IV shields that counter phasors.  It's hard to describe in words how significant this relatively simple change has on the fun/gameplay of the game.

It means having to adapt to the AI's weapons and defenses and watching them do the same to you.

Other additions

Ship design and fleet combat are two obvious new additions. The fleet combat is fairly unique we think in how it was implemented -- the number of ships you can have in a fleet is dependent on how many logistics points you have and the logistics value of each ship.  Fighters use a lot fewer logistics than say a battle ship. So you can have swarms of fighters going against a loan battle ship.  Or you can put all your effort into having more logistics points through researching logistics techs at the expense of not researching various weapons technologies.

But another new area in Galactic Civilizations II isn't as fancy sounding. It's the civilization manager:

It simply gives you a nice progress report on how you're doing.

And you can keep track of how you're doing in a bunch of areas.

With more data than you might ever want.


Good and Evil were in the first GalCiv.  But this time, you can research a new technology called Xeno Ethics and officially accept your..destiny.  The result is that each of the three ethical alignments -- good, neutral, evil, has their own pros and cons to them. 

Scratching the surface

These are just the obvious differences between the first Galactic Civilizations and the new one.  The real difference comes while playing as you see loose ends tied up and things polished up.  There's a campaign in Galactic Civilizations II that helps give players more info on the backstory of the game.  There's a lot more music, a lot more cut scenes, video tutorials, the Metaverse is integrated into the game and allows people to mod the game to their heart's content without it affecting the Metaverse.

Like I said, these are just some of the more blatant things that are different. There's tons of little details as users see ideas and suggestions they made after GalCiv I now make their appearance here. The Civ Manager is one such example.  The AI's behavior is another.

Gameplay announces that are gone

In GalCiv I, minor races were really obnoxious. First thing I noticed when I fired up the game was how Minor races were outcompeting me for planets. That really annoyed me. I didn't realize at the time how annoying that was.  In GalCiv II, minor races can't colonize (they can do everything else).

Also, in GalCiv I the computer players knew where all the good planets were.  In GalCiv II, the AI has to scout out planets just like anyone else.  They may make a guess that there's a good planet in a certain place but it's a guess and they can be wrong.  Same on transports, it'll guess whether the path is clear to send transports. Sometimes it'll decide it needs to escort them, sometimes it'll think the coast is clear.  But the fact that the AI has to make these guesses is a big deal.

The colony rush has changed as well. Many GalCiv I players will put their money into rush buying colony ships still but it's not necessarily the best strategy.  Also, since the computer players don't know where all the good planets are, there isn't this endless stream of colony ships going out.

And we're just getting started.  Like the original, we'll be releasing free updates with new features and content for a long time to come.

Stay tuned!