In novels, there is always the competition about the greatest opening line. In movies, people are treated to strong first impressions. Why wouldn't the same apply to computer games?opens with a piece of music which immediately communicates that this will be something special. Beginning with slow, spheric tones, then moving into a somewhat more conventional structure of beat, baseline and melody, but boy, what an arrangement! Only to throw us off again with another break and shift, keeping prospective players on their aural toes the whole time, but nevertheless, even if unexpected, all the transitions make sense. All that in a strategy game. A genre not generally known for its audiovisual values at the time. Though times were changing.
It was particularly notable, because this soundtrack was greatly extended for the C64 port. Sacrificing the Amiga's introductory slideshow in return. Plus some other images as well. Though even on the smaller machine, the game's graphical fidelity shines. On the original commercial release, and even more so on the 30th Anniversary Edition made by fans which, among other things, restores everything previously cut. Therefore, combining the best of all worlds.
Why dideven inspire such a lasting following? It made what would later be called the 4X genre broadly accessible outside the hardcore wargaming nerd circles. Its contemporary Imperium catering exactly to that classic core audience. Being an amazing achievement in its own way. appears shallow in direct comparison. Though it simply followed different objectives.
Its core gameplay revolves around the expected: conquer a solar system, defeating one other overlord in the process. Four different ones can be selected, defining both the system's size and the opponent's intelligence. It is always one-on-one against the computer. Unfortunately, no two-player mode is possible.
The initial star maps illustrate the two games' different approaches perfectly. Wherelets its players zoom and turn in three dimensions, simply does away with this and presents its planets like a rope of pearls. Increasing intuitive overview immensely. Thinking about it, without actually sacrificing a thing, as this can be read as an abstracted representation of different orbits around a sun.
This is essentially how the game handles most things. Simplify where complexity would not actually bring anything. Simplify also where the then-unknown lead designer Dave Perry perceived the trade-off between realism and effort to manage to be negative.
Which leaves the game with managing industry at planetary level. Building basic ship models. Equipping them. Sending them to other planets. Terraforming and colonising them. Then deploying industry again for them to become self-sufficient. Where everything goes full circle. Population serving as form of income (taxation) and for army conscription. Which is then where battleships also come in. Because sooner or later, unpopulated planets will run out and direct confrontation will start.
All this taking place in real time, the focus on external empire management must be applauded. Nothing challenging the player's authority within the state, things become hectic enough as soon as a couple of planets are under control and several ships flying around.
Which, in its essence, is whereprimarily derives its challenge from. The core formula of terraforming, sending a cargo ship with settlers plus the initially necessary installations for energy, mineral and food production, then securing everything with battleships while building up and strengthening the surface army is simple enough. Some steps in it may even be a little too detailed, such as the need to manually manage the distinction between being in orbit of a planet and in space above.
Though finally, it is this constraint which is one of the main pillars of the game's elegance. I build up my power base. I beat the enemy fleet. I conquer their planets. This is universally understandable. And the game goes even further than that. The manual provides an excellent tutorial of how to play. In-game, everything is driven through fairly intuitive menus. With sensible shortcuts from one screen to related ones.
Where others imbued their games with more and more features, in some cases more and more subtleties,showed us the future of the genre. Foiling all those who complained about lack of depth, in the full knowledge that more features don't always equal more depth. As well as the knowledge that all those extensions simply alienated everybody outside the hardcore audience even more. With its play time rarely exceeding two or three hours, it hit a sweet spot which many strive for in the years after.