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Galactic Saga

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame series (from 1979). Brøderbund Software (BS). Designed by Douglas Carlston.

Of the four games in the Galactic Saga, by far the best known is the first, Galactic Empire (1979 BS, TRS80; 1980 AppleII; 1981 Atari8; rev 1994 Mac). This is perhaps the earliest commercial Videogame in which the player's goal is to build a Galactic Empire by means of unprovoked interstellar warfare (see War) and careful Economic development, a theme which became much more popular with the appearance of 4X Games. Unusually, in this game the player leads their own personal fleet into the unknown, conquering (or being defeated by) planets they encounter while dispatching scouts to other worlds and ordering their possessions to supply new spacecraft and conscripted troops. (In later works of this kind, or in contemporary board and counter Wargames dealing with a similar subject, the player would typically take the part of a universal commander who could control ships anywhere in the simulated galaxy.) Galactic Empire is also more sf-literate than most contemporary science-fictional Videogames, with a three-dimensional galactic map and a background in which starships can only move slower than light (see Relativity). This, combined with the impossibility of communication with ships distant from the player's fleet, gives the game's strategies a unique feel. Players must plan their fleet's route hundreds of game years in advance so that they can meet with reinforcements dispatched to prearranged stars at Sublight speeds, often putting their crews in Suspended Animation to wait for rendezvous. While the game is quite slow to play, and its combination of two-dimensional displays and paper map sheets somewhat primitive, this kind of slower-than-light strategy remains unusual and intriguing today.

The remaining three games in the series are all direct sequels, developing a single story which becomes markedly more sophisticated over the course of the sequence. In Galactic Trader (1979 BS, TRS80; 1980 AppleII; 1981 Atari8; rev 1994 Mac) the player is assumed to have completed the first game's programme of galactic conquest, and to have become unemployed as a result. The player's character therefore acquires a tramp Starship and becomes an interstellar trader. Gameplay is similar to that of Star Trader (1974) (see Space Sim) within the interface of Galactic Empire, with additional complexities caused by the need to avoid assassins sent by the player's previous employer, the new Galactic Emperor. Galactic Revolution (1980 BS, AppleII, TRS80) provides an identity for the series' previously nameless protagonist: Julian du Buque, a military genius and future philosopher king reminiscent of characters from such works of print sf as Gordon R Dickson's Dorsai sequence. The gameplay is essentially a much complexified version of that seen in Galactic Empire, with more emphasis placed on political manoeuvring and less on military action. Single players must attempt to instigate a successful rebellion against the Emperor, using such rarely seen commands as "collectivize farms and factories" and "abolish the draft". Optionally, two additional players can participate, adopting the roles of the Emperor and the leader of a third faction. Arguably, this work is a precursor to such highly political 4X Games as Sid Meier's Civilization (1991). Finally, in Tawala's Last Redoubt (1981 BS, AppleII) the eponymous Emperor, assumed to have been defeated at the end of the third game, has fled to a remote and isolated world. As in Galactic Revolution, an extensive framing narrative is included in the manual, here describing the new protagonist, who will become du Buque's lover in the ongoing Future History (see Interactive Narrative). The design resembles that of the first game, except that the player's travels are confined to the surface of a single world; there are similarities to the rather more popular UK game Lords of Midnight (1984) (see Computer Wargames). [NT]

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