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Video Game / Distant Worlds

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Distant Worlds is a vast, pausable real-time, 4X space strategy game that allows the player to experience the full depth and detail of large turn-based strategy games, but with the simplicity and ease of real-time, and on the scale of a massively-multiplayer online game.

Vast galaxies are made to order: up to 1400 star systems, with up to 50,000 planets, moons and asteroids. Galaxies are so deep, fun and immersive that you won’t want to finish the game... Build, expand and improve your empire endlessly. The galaxy is packed with life and activity. Encounter other empires, independent alien colonies, traders, pirates and space monsters. Explore star systems, asteroid fields, gas clouds, supernovae, galactic storms and black holes. Discover evidence of civilizations long since past, uncovering secrets about the galaxy's troubled history...


Enough of the sales pitch, Distant Worlds is a 4X game that innovates by using an automated macromanagement system that allows the AI to take control of as much of the game as the player wishes: one can delegate large swathes of gameplay to the AI which will automatically manage it, or so that the AI will make suggestions of the player, asking for only a thumbs-up. The game has three expansions (Return of the Shakturi, Legends and Shadows), each of which improve the game so much that playing without them is like night and day.

An Updated Re-release titled Distant Worlds: Universe was released on Steam on May 24th, 2014. This release includes the base game and all of its expansions in a single package, as well as modding support and a historical scenario of sorts that covers the first war of the Freedom Alliance with the Shaktur Axis, made as an example of what can be created with the game's modding tools.


Distant Worlds provides examples of:

  • A.I.-Generated Economy: The universe contains a vast private economy that the player cannot directly control. This economy does many things that other games abstract out, such as the physical transportation of resources from one point to another (be this within your own economy or through trade with other civilizations), tourism and emigration. These are then taxed by the player's government. It is always financially beneficial to arrange things so that a private economy can develop with minimal disruption, even if you can't micromanage the details. This means ensuring the ships are well protected, and that trade with other empires is as open as possible.
    • A major source of income comes from private entities using your unused spacedocks to build their starships. Interestingly enough when things go poorly and pirates and enemy factions start ripping into your empire, the constant need for private fleets to replace their losses can be a huge boon to your treasury. That is, until your economy starts to suffer for it.
  • All Planets Are Earth-Like: Averted. Many Planets can't ever be inhabited, and most of the inhabitable planets in the game are quite different from Earth.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Though there's no set rule that says they must be this way, the insect races all lean heavily towards violent conquest and casual genocide, especially the Shakturi.
  • Anti-Armor: Compared to Pulse Blaster weapons, Phasers are twice as effective at destroying armor, making it easier to damage the components underneath with each shot.
  • Archaeological Arms Race: With all the ancient, advanced, and still useful precursor tech lying about, this was bound to happen.
  • Artificial Brilliance: Distance Worlds is rather unique in the fact that you can have AI take over the entire game if you wish, and it tends to do a pretty good job of running things. That being said, the AI tends to make quite a few dumb choices when it comes to high level strategy.
  • Asteroid Miners: Both specially designed ships and space stations can mine asteroids. Lots of mining stations will be built during the game, and they can easily become a source of conflict when built inside a territory that someone claims later.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Space Pirates are treated as these. They have their own populations, and sometimes even have entire planets of billions of citizens to themselves.
  • The Battlestar: It's possible, while accessing the ship designer, to add fighter bays to your ships that are larger than a frigate or turning your carriers into dedicated assault platforms, but at the cost of leaving less space for your equipment. This could likely result in a case of Crippling Overspecialization (see below).
  • Beam Spam: A large variety of beam weapons will insure this.
  • Big Bad: The Shakturi in the 1st expansion
  • Big Good: The AI in the 1st expansion.
  • Body Armor as Hit Points: Each individual piece of armor will be destroyed in turn as it takes damage. Due to their low durability, early armor techs tend to obliterate instantly when hit.
  • Character Alignment: Your empire's overall reputation affects diplomacy an awful lot. Reputation can range from "diabolical" to "heroic" depending on certain actions, such as honoring your treaties and bombarding planets. Empires that lean towards the more evil side of this are generally hated and their enemies are progressively allowed to use more extreme methods in dealing with them without any reputation penalties.
  • Civil Warcraft: The citizens of any empire can revolt if they become unhappy enough, which often results in this trope. If a sufficiently advanced planet revolts, they can become their own empire.
  • Comically Small Bribe: Can occur in diplomacy quite often due to the fact that AI limits their bribes to 20,000 max.
  • Command & Conquer Economy: Averted. The presence of a thriving, realistic economy outside of player control is this game's biggest selling point.
  • Conflict Ball: The tensions between the races which hate each other (bugs vs humans) can seem like this
  • Colonized Solar System: You start the game as one of these, trying to expand beyond that system into the larger galaxy.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Rather easy to do with the ship designer if you don't know what you're doing.
  • Death Ray: A weapon with this name appears as a superweapon obtainable from ruins. Access to it can greatly shift the balance of power among races as you now can easily destroy ships with a One-Hit Kill weapon.
  • Deflector Shields: Most every ship in the game will have shields unless it is designed before shields are invented. It's entirely possible to deliberately avoid using shield defenses, and in some rare cases it's encouraged to avoid them.
  • Design-It-Yourself Equipment: Thanks to the existence of the ship designer system. Leads to a Lensman Arms Race.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The weapons that can do this are a Lost Technology installed in some desolated space hulks. During the modded scenario depicting the first war against the Shakturi, you can build them.
  • Easy Logistics: Averted hard. Every single ship and every single space station in the entire game requires money and a sufficient supply of various (more than 40) differing materials for each individual component involved in it's construction. This includes different types of fuel, active and inert gases (argon, hydrogen, helium, caslon, krypton, etc.), different metals and building materials (steel, lead, chromium, gold, iridium, carbon fiber, polymer, aculon, etc.), various rare stones (osalia, emeros, nekros, dilithium, etc.) all of which need to be mined and processed for use. There is no hard or soft unit limit to anything... except being able to pay for them, fuel them, resupply them, and pay for any repairs in both time, money, and materials. Especially in the early game, this can be a real hassle.
  • Enemy Civil War: Internal war can occur for a number of reasons related to population unrest. It can also be directly caused by espionage.
  • Experience Points: Every character in your civilization can and will earn experience through their actions that gradually make them more effective at their jobs.
  • Fantastic Racism: Insectoid species tend to hate absolutely everyone except other insects for no real reason.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: This game explicitly uses the "warp drive" variant: all ships going faster-than-light generate a bubble of warped space around themselves to do so, and can travel in any direction at will.
  • 4X: But of course.
  • Galactic Conqueror: Naturally, this is how you win a military victory: by conquering the galaxy. The Boskarans and Shakturi match this trope by nature.
  • Glass Cannon: Thanks to the in-game ship designer, it's very easy to make a ship that fits this trope: just load up weapons and leave no room for shields or armor. Thanks to the cost in material, this typically isn't a good idea, but ships like this can be used to great effect under the right circumstances.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: The Securans.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: If your military power is great enough, other races will send you tribute even if they hate you.
  • Humans Are Diplomats: Humans get boosts to espionage, diplomacy, and research.
  • Humanoid Aliens: The Kiadians and Securans are distinctly humanoid.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: Lots of ships and other goodies can be found while exploring.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: With enough money or resources, it is possible to pull this trick on another Empire by conceding a war, only to resume it almost immediately.
  • La Résistance: Planets revolt against their government if and when the populace becomes unhappy enough. Citizens don't like ongoing war, resource shortages, or living near species they deeply dislike (example: Gizureans hate everyone except other Gizureans). Revolt becomes more likely to happen if your government is opposed to the values of the dominant species living in it (example: Humans don't like autocratic governments, such as Military Dictatorships and Despotisms). This is also likely to occur if you enslave or exterminate other races on your planets: be prepared for them to fight back.
  • Lensman Arms Race
  • Lost Superweapons: You can discover these game-changing weapons from ruins and have them reverse-engineered to fit into your bigger ships in order to prove your technological superiority.
  • Lightning Bruiser: A sufficiently advanced warship will generally be this compared to it's lower tech opponents. This makes salvaging the various ancient warships lying around the galaxy a valid method to tip the scales in your favor in the event of a war: in the early game, some of them can even win an entire war for you.
  • Lost Technology: There are countless precursor artifacts and temples scattered across all of space: ancient cities, space stations, starship graveyards, et cetera. Most of them have remnants of advanced technology that can be used by whatever civilization possess them. Some have extremely powerful weapon technologies that are only available to the first civilization that encounters them (presumably, the original technology is destroyed or deleted to prevent any others from using it).
  • Low Culture, High Tech: Exactly how the Atuukian race managed to develop space travel with their primitive, tree-dwelling culture is never explained.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Fleet combat, planetary invasions, orbital bombardment... most military actions in the game will result in many, many deaths. You won't even notice how many unless you make a point to keep count of the fatalities, and you'll likely lose count after 547 million or so (a relatively moderate planetary invasion).
  • Naming Your Colony World / Settling the Frontier: Once you have a colony ship settle an actual habitable world, you can name it to your personal liking.
  • Neglectful Precursors: Not "neglectful" so much as terribly unfortunate. The civilized peoples of the ancient galaxy were amazingly advanced and had mostly learned to coexist in (mostly) harmonious equality. Through no fault of their own, they were suddenly attacked by the Shakturi, a militant race from outside the galaxy who did their best to fracture the old alliances as the first step to exterminating everyone. Their manipulations were discovered, and quickly led to a a galaxy spanning war that ended abruptly when the Kiadians released the incredibly deadly Xaraktor virus to end the Shakturi as a species. It ended up working TOO well, wiping out all life in the galaxy so incredibly quickly that many of their cities and most of their technology was left intact, from fleets of dead ships to half-constructed planet destroying battlestations.
  • Non-Entity General: Averted as of the expansion Distant Worlds: Legends, where civilization leaders can be interacted with much like other characters.
  • Outside-Context Problem: There are several things a civilization can encounter that can create unexpected problems, such as making a new enemy before finding out that they have a working World Destroyer or other doomsday weapon, accidentally activating ancient nanomachine weapons that eat everything, or being unprepared when the Abusive Precursors decide to make a return to the galaxy.
  • Pacifist Run: This can be done, depending on the specific victory goals of that race. In fact, some races victory goals nearly require pacifism to complete.
  • Planet Destroyer: The World Destroyers are Death Star inspired starships the size of moons that can literally blast an entire planet instantly into very tiny fragments. With the right technology, any normal species can build them.
  • Random Event: The game is filled with these. Many random events come from exploring or just from normal play.
  • Regenerating Shield, Static Health: Any ship's shields will regenerate as long as it has enough power. Armor and components must be repaired manually, either by a construction ship or at starbases or spacedocks.
  • Scavenger World: Thanks to the many dead precursor civilizations surrounding your fledgling empire, a good portion of the game will involve scavenging wrecks and occupying old, decaying cities ravaged by time. Many of them are full of advanced technology to plunder.
  • Shout-Out: There are countless references to Star Trek, Star Wars, and other sci-fi properties.
    • Star Trek:
      • The first faster-than-light drive in the game is called a "Warp Bubble Generator", directly referencing star Trek's Warp Drive, which generates a "warp bubble" to propel the ship.
      • Phasers are available in-game as an alternative weapon to pulse blaster technologies, which fire more stereotypical laser-bullets ala Star Wars.
      • Plasma Torpedoes do very high damage - higher than any other standard weapon in the game - but lose energy and fade over time, as does the iconic Romulan weapon of the same name.
      • Dilithium crystals are a mineable resource.
      • The Securans are directly modeled after Star Trek's Orions, skin color, promiscuity and all.
      • The Kiadians are based on the Talosians from The Cage. Like the Talosians, they are a very intelligent humanoid race with huge brains and a penchant for holographic illusions.
    • Star Wars:
      • Each evolution of Pulse Blaster technology looks like Star Wars' blasters/turbolasers, with the Shatterforce Laser in particular closely resembling Imperial Turbolasers.
      • It's entirely possible to build Giant Ion Cannons on your planets that disable orbiting ships, just like the Rebels did in The Empire Strikes Back.
      • Planetary Shields deflect all orbital bombardment, but troops can be dropped on the planet through the shield, just like the shield on Echo Base in The Empire Strikes Back.
      • The Atuukian race seems to be based on the Ewoks from The Return of the Jedi.
      • The World Destroyers are very obviously based on the iconic Death Star battlestations.
  • Shows Damage: Everything in the game that can take damage, from Space Stations to Giant Kaltors will become progressively disfigured as it takes damage until it finally explodes or dies.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Besides the uninhabitable worlds such as the Gas Giants and Barren Rock worlds, the game has six habitable planet/moon types: Continental, Marshy Swamp, Desert, Ice, Ocean, and Volcanic. They generally follow the Star Wars example.
  • Space Pirates: Pirates are a major part of this game. They conduct the usual actions that pirates are known for: raiding, boarding, smuggling, etc. However, they can be bribed for information, and can also be hired as mercenaries to provide protection for your empire, attack your enemies, or various other jobs. However, be wary: they can and will betray you if given a reason, and if they aren't destroyed in a timely fashion they can easily become troublesome factions that can contend with powerful empires well into the late game. They can even grow into a proper empire of their own by becoming an N.G.O. Superpower. It's also an option to play as a pirate faction yourself.
  • Subsystem Damage: Every time a weapon impacts an unprotected target, it randomly destroys internal components equal to the damage being dealt. As a result, any ship or station that takes damage slowly loses functionality as the battle wears on. The ship is only destroyed once all components are gone: this includes sensors, shield generators, thrusters, hyper-drives, countermeasure systems, cargo bays, life support... this can make it a bit of a chore to recover and repair damaged ships after a battle, especially if the hyper-drive is broken.
  • Technologically Advanced Foe: The Shakturi. In addition, any war in the game can involve this trope if the tech gap between the combatants is wide enough.
  • Tech Tree: Three of them researching at the same time.
  • Terraform: Any livable planet will have a "quality" rating that determines how hard life is on that world. The terraformer building slowly incrases quality to 100%.
  • They Don't Make Them Like They Used To: Especially in the early game, the galaxy is full of artifacts that prove this trope definitely true.
  • 2-D Space: The entire game exists on a two-dimensional plane.
  • Universal Translator: Oddly enough, everyone seems to start the game with these: there are no difficulties in interplanetary or interspecies communications at all.
  • Unstable Equilibrium: An empire with more accumulated resources and better infrastructure can build more infrastructure and accumulate more resources even faster. Therefore, the better an empire does in the early game, the better it will do in the late game.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: Of a sort: you can choose to play the game with all victory conditions disabled to maximize the immersion factor.
  • Worker Unit: Your empire will mostly be made of these: freighters, constructors, miners, transports, colony ships, and so on. They are vital to the stability and success of a civilization.


Example of: