Stellaris is Civilization in a Massive Sci-Fi Universe

In Stellaris, progress is measured in light years, and empires are built between the stars. As your civilization leaves its home planet for distant solar systems, through wormholes and across slipspace vectors, developer Paradox Interactive wants to make the journey meaningful every step of the way.

“The best stories are the ones you just happen to come across,” director Henrik Fahraeus told me during a recent demo. In the past, the developer’s focus has centered around historical periods, such as Europa Universalis III’s French Revolution, or Crusader Kings’ holy wars. And although Fahraeus wants to tell similar sweeping stories in Stellaris, all of these are steeped in speculative future fiction.

Much like its grand strategy predecessors, Stellaris blends the macro and micro elements of empire building. As you settle new planets and engage alien militaries in turn-based strategy, you’ll also manage local governments, design starships, and analyze floating space debris. Expansion amounts to little if you lack a stable foundation.

This won’t be simple, either. Although Paradox’s games are always dense, Stellaris generates its galaxies randomly, creating a learning process in not just the first few hours of playtime, but throughout the game. And in Stellaris’ larger maps, as many as 1,000 stars could be present, each with their own celestial bodies surrounding them. If any of the systems are as big as our own in real life, that could mean 8,000 individual planets to explore.

Combat is one small part of a much bigger formula.

“Much like it might happen in real life, you’ll never discover every star there is to find,” Fahraeus said, smiling. “Each galaxy you’re dropped into will have different star clusters, different planets, different alien races to find. Maintaining an empire requires a lot of choices, and because it’s all random, those choices will always be different in each playthrough.”

Take Stellaris’ tech system, for instance. While similar titles such as Civilization present the same tech tree across every playthrough, Stellaris changes on the fly. It asks you to invest research across three categories: physics, engineering, and society. Each of these gives you three specific technologies to choose from in an ever-changing array of options. Fahraeus compares it to “getting dealt a hand of three cards, and it’s up to you which card you play.”

This randomness has the potential to upset balance between empires when it comes to Stellaris’ 32-player multiplayer. But Fahraeus said Paradox is focusing on making sure that each technology is valuable, so you won’t be frustrated when you encounter a group of techs you don’t find useful, and lag behind other human players.

Paradox is also taking pains to make Stellaris more accessible. Even by Fahraeus’ own admission, the developer has never held your hand as you figure out the mechanics of its games. And while Stellaris does have an optional tutorial system, loyal Paradox players will still find a layered experience in this space faring 4X title.

Each planet has randomly generated climates and biomes.

“We’re not really trying to bring in people that aren’t traditionally into these types of games,” the director said. “But we are trying to make it more friendly. We want to give you the option to learn up front, and let the rest of our experience speak for itself.”

With Paradox’s earlier titles, and Firaxis Games’ Civilization series, the late-game turns often become monotonous: you’ve researched useful technology advancements, established your major settlements, and covered the map in your military forces. But in Stellaris, which sometimes may have planets numbering over 10,000, expansion is one of the main draws. Managing all that territory could be overwhelming.

“That’s where administrative sectors come in,” Fahraeus said. “They keep the late-game turns interesting, and lead to emergent situations when you thought everything was under control.”

These smaller governmental territories let you expand farther without much of the micromanagement that was engaging in the early turns. By assigning local governors and administrators to control established sections of your empire, you can focus on further expansion, out to the rim colonies you might otherwise ignore.

Stellaris’ solar systems are home to unique planets.

Administrative sectors also lead to surprising situations, in which a governor attempts to wrest his territory from your jurisdiction. Secession is hard to ignore, and when mutiny occurs, you’ll have to find balance through diplomacy or an iron fist. These choices can morph you into a peace-loving civilization, or a militaristic dictatorship.

Problems can arise from outside of your empire as well. Paradox is creating what Fahraeus calls galactic crises. These catastrophes affect your entire civilization, and can disrupt many late-game plans you might have.

Fahraeus lists a few: “robot revolutions, xenomorph uprisings, and problems with too many Warp stations between star systems.” He didn’t expand on this too much, only saying that some technologies lead to repercussions as well as advantages.

Although Paradox has ample experience with the grand strategy genre, none of its former titles have spanned galaxies. Stellaris, on the other hand, expands the developer’s scope exponentially. And by also implementing randomly generated galaxies, enemy empires, and technological advancements, Stellaris could stand out from similar titles.

“These games are all about discovery,” Fahraeus said, as he guided a trio of starships toward an unknown alien fleet. “Stellaris is no exception. In fact, in many ways, you’ll discover new things every time you play. That’s how the universe works, after all.”

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Author: Mike Mahardy

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Samsung Pay now works with Chase Bank

Samsung Pay just picked up support from Chase Bank, one of the more important banks the service needs in its push to work with all debit cards. Samsung Pay’s differentiating feature is MST, which allows supported phones to send payment information to magnetic swipe terminals without the need for NFC — though it works with that, too.

So, in theory, Samsung Pay has a leg up on both Apple Pay and Android Pay, since it lets users pay with their phone even if the store hasn’t upgraded its terminals or made whatever deals are necessary to work with those services. But that leg up requires that your cards actually work with the service. Credit cards from Visa, Master Card, and American Express are all supported, but getting debit cards to work…

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Author: Dieter Bohn

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Watch the First Full Clip from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There have been several short teasers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens released over the past week, and now the first full clip is online. It features young heroes Rey and Finn running from a First Order attack–check it out below:

In addition, two new TV spots have been released in the past few days. They follow the format of previous clips, by using predominantly already-seen footage but throwing in the odd new shot, and tied together to focus on a character or theme. Now we have one that puts the spotlight on Rey, played by Daisy Ridley:

While this one is filled with action, and reveals that Return of the Jedi‘s alien co-pilot Nien Nunb will be making a return to the Star Wars series:

Director JJ Abrams confirmed over the weekend that the film is edging ever closer to completion. According to The Verge, Abrams attended a charity event and commented that “at 2:30 in the morning, we finished the mix of the movie,” but did comment that “I left with six very small, but important things that [still] need to be done.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens on December 18, 2015. It stars John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill.

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Author: Dan Auty

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First Click: JJ, LA, and a preview of the week ahead

We’re smack in the middle of the holidays which means it’s time to start buying all the tech released over the last 11 months and start watching movies, lots and lots of movies. So stop binging on Jessica Jones long enough to preview the Thanksgiving week ahead.

Creed opens on Wednesday starring Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa who returns to the ring to train the son of his fiercest rival and closest friend. Wednesday’s also the premiere of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur which imagines a world where the dinosaurs had not gone extinct.

Thursday sees the premiere of The Danish Girl directed by Tom Hooper. Set in the 1920s, it stars Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) playing Danish artist Einar Wegener in his pioneering…

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Author: Thomas Ricker

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Payday 2 Dev Issues Apology After Weeks of Backlash

In the wake of a thunderous backlash to controversial microtransactions policies, PayDay 2 developer Overkill has issued an apology to fans and says it will hold meetings with the community in the hope of reaching a mutual understanding.

The dispute between Overkill and its community had become so envenomed that, in mid-November, the game’s Steam moderation team announced it would go on strike following a series of death threats. An open letter penned by a moderator, going by the name Ashley, stated that “I personally cannot sit by when they [Overkill] continue to promote immoral business practices.”

Now, in a response written by Overkill brand director Almir Listo, the developer has for the first time admitted making mistakes in the way it has engaged with its community.

“The past few weeks have been some of the most challenging in the history of this community. Players have been angry with us, media have written about us en masse and our volunteer moderators went on strike. For all the distress we’ve caused the past few weeks, I’d just like to take the time and say that we’re sorry. We’ve done a lot of things right in the past, but these past few weeks we screwed up.

“We need to get better at many things, and we will do our best to improve as soon as possible.”

While there are not yet any promises of changes to microtransaction policies, which is the issue that lies at the heart of the community’s uproar, Listo has already held a public meeting with PayDay 2’s Steam moderator team (video), and promises that more meetings will follow.

Last Bullet, a well known mod team for the game, will be flown to Overkill’s Stockholm studio in January, while the high-profile Russian player PeaseMaker will make contact with one of the developer’s representatives in December.

Meanwhile, the development team is also going to be more actively participating in community feedback, Listo claimed.

“For some time we haven’t been active in our own forums. We’ve been reading your feedback and clearing bugs, but we haven’t engaged you in discussions. This has alienated us somewhat, and for that we apologise,” he said.

“Starting next week, you will see the presence eight different Overkill members talking to you in discussions and taking an active role in the community. We’ll introduce these and what their role is in the studio in a thread in the forums during the week to come. We need to get better at communicating with you and this is one of our first steps in doing so.”

Despite previous assurances that Payday 2–a co-op first person shooter centred around heist missions–would “never” include microtransactions, in mid-October its developer Overkill introduced special safes that could not be cracked by conventional means. Only a special kind of drill, which costs $2.50, could be used to open these safes.

The rewards inside were weapon skins that provide various boosts to player performance. The move triggered outrage online, and in response Overkill introduced random drops of these special drills, giving those who continue to play a chance of unlocking the skins without having to pay.

Representatives for the studio also explained that additional funds would be helpful for the studio to achieve its ambition to support the multiplayer game until 2017.

But in mid-November, Overkill introduced the game’s 90th update, which includes further benefits to those who pay. “Team Boosts” provide in-game cash and XP bonuses to everybody who completes a heist, however only those with special weapon skins can benefit from this.

Hours after the update deployed, Payday 2’s communities across Steam and Reddit have expressed outrage at the decision.

The question of how Overkill can be funded to sustain support for its community also lies at the centre of this debate, but it appears that the proposed microtransaction route has alienated Overkill from its fans.

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Author: Rob Crossley

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Samsung's new Gear VR commercial adds normality to virtual reality

In The Verge‘s preview of the commercial version of Gear VR, Ben Popper said he came away from his time with the device “in awe [and] excited for the future of this new artistic medium.” Samsung’s new 30-second ad for the Gear VR doesn’t convey this sense of excitement, but instead presents the device as just another screen for doing normal things on. It shows a succession of hands clipping their Galaxy smartphones into the $99 Gear VR, with unseen actors pulling on the goggles and then watching a movie, playing a video game, and hanging out underneath the International Space Station. Virtual reality is kind of geeky, says Samsung’s ad, but hey, you can still watch Kung Fu Panda on it.

Perhaps this is for the best. After all, virtual…

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Author: James Vincent

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Star Wars Battlefront Awakens Atop UK Chart

Star Wars Battlefront, the online shooter built by Battlefield developer DICE, has outsold all competition during its first week in the UK, according to data from sales monitor Chart-Track.

Arriving just three weeks ahead of the theatrical release of The Force Awakens, EA’s shooter has recorded the biggest ever launch for a game based on Disney’s billion-dollar franchise. In terms of week-one performance, it sold 117 percent better than the series’ previous best, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Chart-Track calculates that Battlefront has recorded the fourth biggest launch of any game in 2015, in the process becoming what Chart-Track claims is “the fastest selling non-sequel PlayStation 4 title ever” (the group suggests that Battlefront is more a reboot than a sequel.) It is also the PS4’s fastest-selling online-only game, outstripping the previous holder of that distinction, Destiny.

The remainder of the chart is somewhat more familiar. Black Ops 2 holds second with a 50 percent week-on-week drop in sales, while last week’s top-seller Fallout 4 falls to third. Rise of the Tomb Raider continues its somewhat underwhelming performance in the chart; it holds fifth spot with a 37 percent decline in sales.

The full top-ten chart can be found below. This table does not include digital sales data, and thus should not be considered fully representative of all UK game sales.

  1. Star Wars Battlefront
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
  3. Fallout 4
  4. FIFA 16
  5. Rise of the Tomb Raider
  6. Lego Dimensions
  7. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
  8. Minecraft: Story Mode
  9. WWE 2K16
  10. Need For Speed

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Author: Rob Crossley

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