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Old 06-08-2005, 05:16 PM   #1
Eagle of Fire
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4X

Not the Queensland beer - 4X is actually an acronym that has become part of the space turn based strategy lexicon: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Its an offshoot of the Empire model of strategy, except instead of conquering the world you set out to conquer a map full of star systems.

4X games hark back to the earliest days of computer gaming, and they really haven't changed that much except to become fiendishly more complicated. This is old skool computing, where gameplay comes first and everything else second, including good looks and special effects. And by gameplay, we don't mean high speed interaction or immersiveness in a 3D environment. The fact that your typical 4X game - even the new ones - has dreadful graphics and looks as interesting on the surface as a spreadsheet is beside the point. Take note you console kiddies! Patience, foresight and a bit of scheming cleverness are mandatory requirements, plus an imagination to make it all work. Epic turn based games frequently glue people to their computers, as anyone who has played Civilization into the middle of the next day can tell you. 4X takes the Civilization concept and extrapolates it to an entire galaxy. You don't just have the history of one planet, you have the tale of entire star spanning empires colliding.

eXplore
All these games give you a small galaxy or cloud of stars and/or planets to explore. You get to see wondrous sights, and meet new and fascinating cultures along the way. When you start, distances seem vast and your ships' operational ranges are limited/ You slowly start surveying worlds and establishing diplomatic relations with your equally small neighbours.

eXpand
The player represents the collective identity of a space faring galactic civilization with considerable ambition. You get to build some funky space ships, establish new colonies, grow them into massive planetary powers, terraform lifeless rocks into paradises, research and develop new and wondrous technologies. Most of the 4X strategy games have tech trees with hundreds of different tech's, and many of them offer players the capacity to design their own shipping with their freshly researched trinkets. But the ultimate aim is to conquer the universe.


eXploit
Your burgeoning empire needs ever increasing resources to sustain itself and grow. Your people learn the not so subtle art of stripping planets and beefing up their planetary economies. Technologies start producing more and more planet bonuses and increasing production. You can set global policy options and empire wide taxes, with the proceeds usually plowed back into R&D, military, spending, economic developing and keeping the population in check.

eXterminate
Did we mention this before? In these games there's only one winner. Big space battles, planetary bombardments, mass extinctions, planet-wide invasions and even the occasional vaporised planet are the required norm. On top of that, players - both AI and human - circle each other constantly in the diplomatic menus, establishing treaties, pacts, relationships and other exchanges of gifts, threats and bribes, but deep down everyone knows, there is only one winner. Treachery and devious schemes lurk at the heart of 4X, and frankly, if the diplomacy or AI cleverness isn't that good, then the 4X game your playing is usually a waste of time. Your tech's are what keep you alive; but if your space fleet is lacking then your diplomacy is going to make or break you.


This is usually a single player game genre requiring considerable patience, long term planning and lots of effort building your space empire. Its tricky to play as a netgame, since the game runs at the speed of the slowest turn: and a group of finicky micromanagers can take forever to do things. Unless - you're into long term games that may last anything from a few sessions to a few years. 4X is the domain of the obsessed micromanager with too much spare time on their hands.

As a strategy genre, 4X is well established with some iron clad conventions. Woe betide any developer that tries to buck them! Oddly enough, while developers in most other genres are constantly trying to come up with new angles and twists and features to keep their concepts fresh, the basic elements in 4X strategy are remarkably unchanged from its earliest beginnings. Many of the fans get pretty uptight if the basic recipe changes too much.

For some definitive examples of the turn based 4X space empire game, see Masters of Orion, Spaceward Ho!, Stars!, Space Empires, Galactic Civilizations, Reach for the Stars or Starships United.

Source: RTSC Glossary
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Last edited by Eagle of Fire; 31-12-2008 at 03:36 AM. Reason: Fixed souce linking.
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