October 21, 2012 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Aurora is an 4X simulation game in which you start from a civilization barely on edge of the Space Age, and guide them to galactic domination---or possibly crushing, painful defeat at the hands of your equally-ambitious neighbors or grumpy elder civilizations. It is the labor of love of a single dedicated designer (Steve Walmsley), and its depth and attention to detail rival that of the perennial Mefi favorite Dwarf Fortress. (Also much like Dwarf Fortress, the UI has a learning curve, being primarily based around what appears to be a series of spreadsheets.) The main game, and most recent patch, can downloaded from the Aurora forums here and here respectively.

And here is the Aurora thread on the Dwarf Fortress forums. It is currently 807 pages long. Hat tip to m@f for DF thread link.
posted by Upton O'Good (30 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds awesome but I'm pretty sure it's the kind of game I would rather enjoy reading about than actually playing.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:53 AM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not for this crowd. Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress are the stick by which all other games are measured.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:29 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Re "spreadsheets in space": It's past time for someone to coin a buzzword genre descriptor for games that share this property with DF, since the world-modeling aspect is so much more important than what the UI looks like. My vote is for "rich simulation" (or "thick simulation" by analogy with Geertz's "thick description"?), or "deeply modeled world game," or something like that.

Isn't the basic assumption for games that unless otherwise noted, it's always Windows only?

Are you posting from 1995? These days when I see someone talking about a neat new indie game I assume it's either on the Web or for iOS until they say otherwise. I'm pretty glad Aurora is Windows-only, though, because it means I can get some work done this week.

posted by RogerB at 11:32 AM on October 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

Glancing around the game wiki made this look interesting. If it grew beyond Windows I'd love to give it a try.
posted by Forktine at 11:45 AM on October 21, 2012

Somehow, the graphics actually look better than I expected.

As far as platform portability goes, I think you have to realize just how much of a labor of love this sort of thing is. It requires a love not just of the concept but of the tools you're using too and as we all know, sometimes you don't have a lot of control over when and with who you fall in love.

As a software professional I could reel off a dozen ways you could to this that would let you have cross-platform clients and web interfaces and all that, but I also know just how much real heartbreaking effort it takes to build something this complex.

When I build things of this nature myself, I use the environment I am absolutely most comfortable in, with the lowest possible friction and the fastest possible turnaround time. It's a bummer that this restricts it in this case, but it's the nature of free software that sometimes you have to jump through hoops to use it. I guess you have to go to the museum to see the painting. Let's not make this an argument about operating systems, that just demeans us all.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:14 PM on October 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Thanks for this. Downloading now.

And version 6.10 is out already...
posted by zephyr_words at 12:44 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

So this is what Stars! 3.0 looks like.
posted by Yesterday's camel at 12:48 PM on October 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Some say it has the graphical charm of an income tax assistant software from the late nineties, but a playing depth that more than rivals any commercial 4X game.

The graphics are not an issue for me. Nethack keeps kicking my ass and I keep crawling back for more.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:51 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Seriously, please shut up about "windows only" stuff. There is an open MeTa thread, you can go complain there, it's derailing here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:51 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

I was just thinking about how Spore's later stages had so much promise but were so disappointing an hour ago.

I might have to check it out, but if the game has a bad interface, it's really hard for me to get into it. I really, really wanted to like Dwarf Fortress, but the fact the game is near-unplayable without a numberpad and is unapologetic about having a weird, inconsistent interface makes it hard for me to do more than read about crazy playthroughs.

Lately, my game of choice has been FTL, which is not that deep (and is a roguelike and not a 4x game) but hits the right notes for a person who likes the idea of space adventure.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:02 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

For people using something other than Windows, Aurora seems to install and run without errors for me under Wine on Ubuntu Linux so presumably it also would on other unices that support Wine like OS X.

I happened to have an Xubuntu 12.04/Precise system handy (on a 32-bit machine) and all I did was:
  1. Installed Wine through Synaptic (Ubuntu/Debian's package management installer)
  2. Downloaded the Aurora .zip file (I used this one from the forums, haven't tried applying the latest patch yet) to the "Desktop" folder and unzipped it with the default Ubuntu archive manager
  3. Ran Setup.exe
  4. At a prompt about overwriting DLLs, answered "No to all" (which indicated that I wanted to overwrite existing files with the older DLL versions from Setup.exe)
  5. At a prompt about some problem registering an .ocx file clicked "Ignore"
  6. After getting the message that the installation completed successfully, I started Aurora from the Ubuntu applications menu (Wine → Program Files → Aurora → Aurora)
I haven't run through any of the game tutorials yet, so I don't know what I'm doing, but I clicked around through several different screens and dialogs and didn't get any errors or crashing. It looks like fairly old Windows technology, which bodes well for running successfully under Wine.
posted by XMLicious at 1:06 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

You had to post this on the same weekend FM2013 also went public, did you? This is the sort of game I could become addicted to quickly; I've always liked games like this ever since Master of Orion.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:20 PM on October 21, 2012

So this is what Stars! 3.0 looks like.
I kinda disagree with this. I've always felt Stars! was pretty simple at it's core with an easy to understand UI, yet still had tremendous amount of depth. Anyone could get into Stars! and just play it, even without knowing all the fancy stuff.

Aurora looks like I need to take a week-long class just to learn how to play it.
posted by yeoz at 1:40 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is that Visual Basic I see?
posted by spiderskull at 2:11 PM on October 21, 2012

Is it supposed to take 10 minutes and counting to start a game? Or did it crash on me?
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:13 PM on October 21, 2012

Also, I couldn't get it to work like in the tutorial until I downloaded and installed the latest patch. The full version linked above has a different interface.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:15 PM on October 21, 2012

Here is a PCworld review from last year. The ding the game for a lack of documentation and the bugs, but are otherwise positive on it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:32 PM on October 21, 2012

Anyone could get into Stars! and just play it, even without knowing all the fancy stuff.

True, but that's because the game was deceptively deep; you didn't have to read all the Reports or micromanage every planet every turn, but that playstyle definitely paid bigger dividends, especially in multiplayer. And the whole species-design aspect could be refined down to a science, if you didn't mind trawling through Usenet archives and Geocities sites for the perfect FAQ on how to tweak your factory throughput.

Stars! was the first of many videogames for me where I realized, only when it was too late, that the time spent mastering it could have been invested in learning a foreign language or some basic carpentry...
posted by Yesterday's camel at 2:50 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there an Aurora equivalent to the Dwarf Fortress Lazy Newb Pack?
posted by Yesterday's camel at 2:52 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I haven't touched Aurora in a while, but I was playing it with minimal bugs through Wine on OS X 10.7. Can't imagine the recent updates would've changed that.

It's definitely hard to approach -- I never really got out of any of my playthroughs' starting solar system, due to the difficulty cliff and number of ways you could screw up / render yourself a technologically backwards boondoggle waiting to get overrun by alien nasties, but it's definitely a labor of love, with all the depth/detail that implies. I wish I had more time/energy/attention to get deeper into it.
posted by Alterscape at 5:07 PM on October 21, 2012

And a tip o' the hat back at you!
posted by m@f at 8:50 PM on October 21, 2012

Progress Quest has gotten way more complicated since I last played.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:05 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

" I really, really wanted to like Dwarf Fortress, but the fact the game is near-unplayable without a numberpad and is unapologetic about having a weird, inconsistent interface makes it hard for me to do more than read about crazy playthroughs."

I had similar feelings, which is why I am really looking forward to "A Game of Dwarves", which is being released by Paradox, the people who do the Europa Universalis series.

Did I mention it's being released tomorrow, and is currently pre-orderable with an extra DLC for the remainder of the day? Amazon's price sounds like about the best way to spend so little on a PC game since the Minecraft Beta... or perhaps Humble Bundle.

So, yeah... between AGoD and Firaxis' reboot of XCOM, I'm probably going to be a bit too busy for Spreadsheets in Space. Hopefully, they'll get the kind of attention needed to get a game designer to give their backend a real interface, though.
posted by markkraft at 1:50 AM on October 22, 2012

(Oh, and Lewis & Simon @ Yogscast played the alpha version of AGoD and loved it, apparently.)
posted by markkraft at 2:12 AM on October 22, 2012

This looks cool, but not really anywhere near as cool as the galactic 4X board game I'm constantly designing in my mind.
posted by newdaddy at 9:13 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

So tempted by the AGoD. Dwarf Fortress for dummies!
posted by Justinian at 6:15 PM on October 22, 2012

You don't have to be a dummie to want an GUI.
posted by markkraft at 3:35 AM on October 23, 2012

I don't think that's the only, or even the primary, difference between the games.

But I meant it is a compliment. Dwarf Fortress is needlessly and unapologetically obtuse.
posted by Justinian at 12:19 PM on October 23, 2012

Some of the For Dummies books are really great, FYI.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:40 PM on October 23, 2012

Like, for example, Economics for Dummies, lauded by our own mutant, and also Bass Guitar for Dummies, just to name two examples.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:40 PM on October 23, 2012

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