Aurora is a freeware 4X space game designed by Steve Walmsley and released in 2004. It is constantly being updated and the latest version is V7.1. A new version re-written in C# and containing most of the intended V7.2 content was released in April of 2020. And long awaited C# version 2.0 followed in August 2022.
Originally just a simple program to augment pen and paper space battles and role-playing, it has since evolved to something more, with the game being playable with the addition of AI, and many other features.
Aurora allows the player to create a procedurally generated galaxy, consisting of detailed, accurately scaled star systems connected to each other via warp points. A player starts off as a space faring nation, discovering the secrets of Trans-Newtonian technology and uses it to expand and create an interstellar empire. Aurora is a sandbox game, with no goals, but nearly every setting can be edited in a designer mode for creating custom scenarios. The game is played in increments, where time is advanced from between 5 seconds to 30 days as chosen by the player. So it is a mix between real-time and turn based gameplay.
The game takes great attention to detail, with vast star systems many billions of kilometers wide across along with orbiting planets, moons, asteroids and secondary stars. The game also has a complex combat system, with minor stats such as radar resolution, missile tracking speed, turret rotation speed and custom, programmable missiles all playing vital roles in battle. The game also comes with a fully functioning private economy with private freighters and colony ships carrying goods and colonists between your planets.
The creator of this game is also currently working on a sequel, called Newtonian Aurora which is to faithfully follow Newtonian physics and laws of inertia.
This game contains examples of:
- 2-D Space: The entire game is 2D, and is played through a 2D display map.
- Abusive Precursors: The Invaders are more involved than most.
- Adventurer Archaeologist: If you want to research alien ruins and survive, you'd better carry a big sidearm on you!
- Because of this, xenologists and their staff actually tend to have a bigger Ground Combat Bonus than most military commanders...
- A.I.-Generated Economy: The game lets private companies transport civilian passengers, mine planets and asteroids and buy and sell goods, alongside the Empire, who can actually subsidize them.
- Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Averted. There are scant few limits on anything in game - you can stuff dozens of shipyards on the planet, each with hundreds of slipways ( basically docks that can build one ship at the time ), your fleet can consist of as many ships as you want ( and can support ), your industry is only limited by the minerals and number of people living on the planet ( racial population density can be easily changed when creating a race to the point even small moons can be home to billions of people which you can hardly reach because eventually population growth slows down to a trickle ) etc. Your only limit are non renewable minerals and your ability/inability to set up actual logistic chain to support everything. There is also a 9999 date limit due to technical limitations of coding.
- Archaeological Armsrace: Xenological excavations are a steady and relatively safe source of applied technology... But as mentioned above, remember to bring a competent military unit with you.
- Artistic License Physics: Game pretty much runs on it with its Trans Newtonian minerals allowing faster than light travel, terraforming and such.
- Planet tenperature can go below Absolute Zero if you drop enough nukes on its surface.
- Asteroid Miners: Mining Moons, Asteroids and Comets is necessary for your empire to avoid a mineral crunch.
- Arbitrary Maximum Range - All weapons have maximum ranges, even missiles, which explode after running out of fuel. This even occurs for long range missile drones that don't carry warheads.
- Beam Spam - Beams are a staple weapon for space ships.
- Boarding Party - With a fast ship you can drop troops on an enemy ship and capture it. You'll probably need to cripple it first however, or all your soldiers are likely going to die.
- Bug War - The Swarm
- Colony Drop - One can remove all mass drivers (A device for capturing mineral payloads) from a planet via edit mode while a payload is incoming. Hilarity Ensues.
- Complexity Addiction - You have to be someone with this to play this game. Or go mad from the frustration.
- Deflector Shields - Shields can be designed and installed onto your ships.
- Design-It-Yourself Equipment - Taken to a new extreme, with all traits for weapons, shields and sensors required to be researched independently, before said components are designed and researched again for use in ship design.
- In the new C# iteration of the game, ground forces are also designed by the player from the ground up, with individual pieces of equipment being researched and used to create custom templates for formations.
- Easy Logistics - Mixed. Ships need to have fuel, and maintenance supplies for repair as well as regular overhauls for military ships. In addition to the maintenance requirements, military ships also have player-set intended deployment times. Going over this limit, as well as other situations such as combat losses and overcrowding, reduce morale, which adversely affects combat performance.
- In C#, ground units now consume supplies during combat, with all units only having enough ammunition for a few days fighting. Resupplying forces during and after combat is one of the new features of the C# edition.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Travel between star systems is done through warp points by vessels carrying jump engines or traveling through warp gates.
- First Contact - Obviously happens a lot. Often ends up in all out shooting war.
- Guide Dang It! - The game has no tutorial except scant tool-tips with little information. The player is likely to be overwhelmed by the amount of information they receive.
- Hostile Terraforming - Terraforming can add or remove any gas into a planet's atmosphere. Hilarity Ensues as well.
- While it is possible to remove the entire atmosphere of an inhabited planet, it is far more effective (and much faster) to just add something like chlorine to drive up the colony cost.
- Lensman Arms Race - You can start off on a planet with another country or faction. AI aside, you probably would want to get off the planet as soon as you can.
- Lost Technology - Some planets come with ruins that can be identified and recovered by your nation. Unfortunately, much of that technology is Combat Drones built by the local Precursors. The thing that destroyed their creators was a war with another race, so they are under standing orders to eliminate unauthorized individuals. You aren't authorized. Do the math.
- Macross Missile Massacre - Missiles can be designed to any size, from small decoy missiles to MIRV missiles. You can create mines consisting of multiple missiles that all activate when detecting an enemy, or you could create missiles that carry MIRV missile mines.
- More Dakka - There's no limit to fleet size, with the only constraining factor being ship size and computer processing speed. Having thousands of different weapons and missiles fire simultaneously is not impossible.
- Point Defenseless - Thankfully averted. Missiles of all sizes can be destroyed but only by weapons that can track them. Lasers, guass cannons and interceptor missiles all work.
- Recursive Ammo - All missiles can carry an optional payload as a second stage missile, and the payload itself can also carry further payloads.
- Running Both Sides - A main feature of the game is the ability to create multiple factions and also to change between them, giving all sides orders and directions as a form of role-playing. A notable example includes a game starting off with NATO, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, seen here.
- Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale - Averted. Every system is proportioned to scale, and the system map can be magnified from a few thousand kilometres across to whole light years.
- Settling the Frontier - Vital part of the game. You will need to settle on new worlds to search for their resources and to expand your influence.
- Space Clouds - Some systems consist of nebulas that restrict sensors, rendering long range missiles ineffective.
- Space Is an Ocean - The entire game is inspired by all kinds of Sci-Fi naval battles, which in turn is inspired from Earth-based naval battles.
- Space Mines - Mines can be designed to contain multiple missiles, activating upon detecting a hostile contact.
- Standard Sci-Fi Fleet - There's no specific classes, instead having the player designate custom classes based on the type of ship they create, but you can create ships that fire lasers, railguns, all varieties of missiles, carry large sensors, carry fighters and much more.
- Stealth in Space - Sensor ranges in-game are surprising low, with normal sized sensors having only ranges of a few million for ships and even less for missiles.
- Terraform - Terraforming ships can change the composition of gases on any planet or moon, making it habitable for your species, or uninhabitable for your enemies.
- Video Game Caring Potential - You can provide financial aid to AI empires, you can turn Venus-like planets into paradise with sunny beaches and palm trees. Many players design dedicated Search and Rescue ships that are used specificaly for the task of picking up lifepods left by the destroyed ships.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential - Player can glass entire planets, making them uninhabitable for centuries, can leave crew stranded in a lifepod to die a slow and painful death or just simply fire salvos of hundreds of antimatter warheads against unshielded and unarmed civilian ships.