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GalCiv IV: Supernova Dev Journal #62 - We Are Not Just Numbers!

Published on Tuesday, June 11, 2024 By BATTLEMODE In GalCiv IV Dev Journals

I was reading some interesting feedback from a community member on Discord the other day, and that feedback read something along the lines of “Citizens seem like a superfluous system, they don’t really add much to the game and could probably be removed without much loss to the gameplay.”

I considered that statement for a while, and it was an interesting thought experiment to consider what GalCiv would be like without the Citizens.

I thought I’d talk today about why they’re important and discuss some of the reasons why Citizens go a long way towards making GalCiv’s gameplay really fun and exciting.


One thing that people might not consider is that these complex strategy games do ask the player to indulge in a hefty dose of suspension of disbelief. Without a vivid fantasy of taking the lead role in an epic sci-fi drama, guiding your people (or sentient rocks, catgirls or murder-droids) to victory against your opponents, you’re kind of just sitting there, responding to a series of algorithmic prompts from the computer, with more algorithmic prompts back.

In a previous developer journal, we covered the idea that 4X games tend to add diplomacy mechanics, often as a bit of an afterthought, to tick the “has diplomacy box”, as I put it. I was being a little hyperbolic there, perhaps, but this whole idea of maintaining a fantasy for the player to feel like they’re part of a living, breathing world and not just playing some sterile strategy game against a stone-cold, emotionless CPU is one (very good) reason diplomacy is usually included.

The same goes with Citizens: sure, we could abstract them away into numeric statistic sliders for the player to push around as you might do with some of the older genre classics, but a 4X game is very numbers-based and only a relatively rare breed of gamer (like myself, admittedly) enjoys staring at spreadsheets and data-heavy games for fun without the heady-candy you get from seeing little guys with faces and names on-screen.


So, Citizens kill two birds with one stone: we get more immersion for the player, and we still get the fun of manually handling economic and industrial modifiers on a colony-by-colony basis, with a system that’s a lot more fun to use than sliders and spreadsheets.

Several years ago now, Frogboy wrote a dev-journal covering the Factions system that described this very idea (and it’s still a great read in terms of how these mechanics have developed with each iteration of the GalCiv series).

In terms of gameplay, Citizens fulfill several critical functions: they represent the size of your colonies, meaning that they grow at a certain rate, and you can interact with that growth rate using various improvements. If this was all they did, then that could easily be replaced with a few numbers representing these ideas in a more abstract fashion, for sure.

That’s not all they do, though.

Citizens themselves have their own statistics and become a secondary form of industry that processes a Core World’s Planetary Input values into Planetary Output. Since each Citizen has its own Expectations and Approval score, keeping them happy is important since Approval is a direct negative multiplier that reduces your overall Research and Manufacturing scores, respectively.

Again, if we had a Core World’s industrial and research values solely represented as numbers generated by districts and improvements, for example, you could probably have Approval cut that production in the same way. Surely, we could just scrap the individual Expectations for the Citizens, aggregate them as a flat value, and do away with the Citizens completely, right?

What’s cool about the Citizens, beyond the immersion of dealing with little people in your empire, is partly that they’re a vehicle for other mechanics to be added on top that works thematically for the population (such as Pollution), and partly because they can be moved around from world to world where their individual Statistics can be used to stack heavy bonuses where they are needed.

Put simply, they are an entity in of themselves, and that gives the player more tools at their disposal when they’re making those interesting decisions you expect to be making in a good 4X game.

I’ll use the Baratak Grove to illustrate these points in one example.

The plant-like Baratak Citizens really don’t like Pollution, and they suffer a fairly big Approval penalty for living in a polluted world, as they choke on fumes generated by even a very light industrial development.


You can see here that what would be a relatively reasonable level of Pollution for other civilizations is reducing this guy’s Approval by 25%, a huge penalty.

This serves to give you some interesting choices when you’re playing the Baratak Grove: while you can just build your Core Worlds up into dirty, smog-ridden industrial hell-holes as you would with other civilizations, and just suffer through the Growth and Approval penalties until the Techs to reduce Pollution (or improve Approval) are researched, this is often a sub-optimal way to play them. That certainly won’t win you a game on the higher difficulties.

Since Citizens act as a kind of cottage industry, with their own Manufacturing values in themselves, they can work as a replacement for Manufacturing Districts and Improvements until those Pollution-cleaning Techs arrive.


Here, you can see I’ve avoided building too many Manufacturing Districts or Improvements on their homeworld, focusing instead on Population Growth improvements and Housing so I can cram more clean-living little Baratak Workers in to build all those warship parts we need. The low Pollution helps keep them happy, and the non-workers will generate a good amount of Income and Influence too.

Sure, you’re not gonna outpace the Yor in terms of Manufacturing Output, but don’t underestimate the power of cramming dozens of Citizens onto a single world to harvest the fruits of their labor!

Since you can shuttle your Citizens around using the Citizen Transports feature, there’s some interesting fun to be had in a developing Pollution-free world, perhaps a nice Arboreal or Paradise class planet, into a Citizen growing powerhouse.


It might look a bit like this one, although I’m sure you can do better than me. Getting these Growth planets up and running will require a lot of Supply Ships unless you’re happy to build a network of industrial improvements and then tear them down again once you’ve gotten up some critical infrastructure: more choices!

Then, as the Growth rate slows or you reach your Population Cap, you can shuttle them off to places with higher Pollution that can’t grow their own Citizens effectively. This can be handy if you decide you do want at least one big, dirty, heavily polluted manufacturing world from which to build your fleets.

Of course, you’ll want to send your Workers with the highest Diligence scores over to those manufacturing centers to make the most of their skills! And if you’ve got a couple of great Entertainers, those will be most welcome to keep those Pollution-hating workers a little bit happier (and more productive as a result) while they’re toiling away.

Another example of why Citizens are really cool would be the Drengin and their ability to gain big Manufacturing and Research bonuses from prisoners: again, you’ve got choices because that Torian you’ve captured might be better off contributing his other statistics to the output of the world he’s located on rather than toiling away in a Labour Camp.


Even so, if you’re role-playing the bad guy, it’s fun to do stuff like this, right? This Torian ain’t too happy, but he’s churning out ammunition for your battlecruisers to kill other Torians with, and so he’s doing his part for the Drengin Empire.


And who can forget the Festron’s most notorious ability, making Citizens of other species their dinner! Yum!

We’ve not even touched on Ideology or Invasions, or several other key features that Citizens partake in.

As you can see, tangible Citizens aren’t just there for immersion or to make the various civilizations feel a little more distinct from one another; they’re stuffed full of their own gameplay mechanics that give you multiple options in approaching how you play your campaign.

Hope you found this helpful, and I’ll catch you next time!