Space Empires is a series of Turn-Based Strategy 4X games by Malfador Machinations. First released in the early '90s, it's currently on its fifth iteration. It has been called "a spreadsheet in space" because of the grid system it uses — which isn't really all that different from other games of the genre.
Its main selling point is its moddability and multiplayer, as the AI sometimes leaves something to be desired.
The series also includes Starfury, a Gaiden Game of sorts set in the Space Empires universe.
According to Malfador's own page, the first Space Empires was made in 1993 by Aaron Hall. Two years later, Malfador Machinations was formed, and Space Empires had been polished enough to become Space Empires II, released as shareware.
Another two years later in 1997, with the help of a friend-turned-coworker, Space Empires III was released, again as shareware. It was in Space Empires III that detailed orders, increased map sizes and simple graphical modifications, were introduced.
In the summer of '98, work began on the fourth offering of the series, and it was completed two years later in July 2000. Space Empires IV massively expanded upon the third game with new unit types, diplomatic relations, political relations, graphical enhancements, and improvements on the features of Space Empires III.
Based on information from The Other Wiki:
Space Empires Starfury was released in 2003, and was a Genre Shift from 4X to placing the player as the Captain of a single starship. Campaigns and other systems allowed them to develop their character, ship and so on whilst following a general plot. It was not as well recieved as the main series, no doubt in part due to the shift.
Three years later (in 2006) the fifth 4X, Space Empires V, was released. Expanding into 3D strategic and tactical views, it also brought real-time tactical combat to the table, helping to offset some of the inherent flaws in a Turn-Based Combat system. The fanbase is somewhat divided over V (They Changed It, Now It Sucks! syndrome) and some insist that modification is vital to improving even basic gameplay... but that could be said of all
religions of the games in the series.
Due to customization, it's possible to find all sorts of scifi tropes in the Space Empires series. Let's try and focus on the ones in the stock games, okay?
Space Empires provides examples of:
- 2-D Space: Never truly escaped, even in the fifth game, though ground and space combat has a certain degree of it.
- Action Bomb: Drones become this if set up with a Warhead, effectively making them smart bombs that come in Anti-Ship or Anti-Planetery varities. In addition any ship can become this if they use a ramming action while equipped with a Cobalt Warhead.
- Airborne Aircraft Carrier: While you can have carriers, they only launch fighters and then scurry away to the edge of the map. The fighters themselves can attack planets.
- Large enough ships can be genuine Battlestars if you set their AI properly and outfit them with shields, armour and weapons. A truly viable tactic in the fifth game, where a dreadnought with a full bank of weapons and its own fighter escort can be a terror: the dread trashes big ships (like other Dreadnoughts) whilst the fighters take out smaller ships like Escorts or Frigates and enemy bombers.
- Anti-Air: More like Anti Space. In SE3, units gave planets space capable weaponry. in 4, that purpose is served by weapon platforms.
- Apocalypse How:
- In an inversion, you can destroy black holes, clear out nebulae, create stars, and form a planet out of the chunks of asteroids left over from the kaboom. And they are instantly viable worlds ready for colonization, even if you blew them up just a month ago.
- Don't like the type/atmosphere combo you got from reforming the planet? Blow it up again!
- Arbitrary Weapon Range: Weapons have a maximum range that is baffling. Most direct-fire weapons just conk out and don't do decreasing amounts of damage the further they are from their target. This is usually hand-waved to some extent by "maximum viable range": that round CAN go much farther, but you have little hope of hitting the target either from decreasing accuracy or the target moving; doesn't explain why it's so hard to hit a planet...
- Armor-Piercing Attack: Some weapons can skip armor, shields, or both.
- Artificial Atmospheric Actions: The AI players will send random general messages to you. They'll exclaim surprise at how fast you're expanding, even if you're still on your homeworld and haven't done anything.
- Artificial Stupidity: Malfador themselves don't recommend turning on the political AI minister, as it doesn't let you see outgoing messages. You could be declaring war all over the place and wouldn't know it until a few hundred ships start glassing your homeworld.
- Asteroid Thicket: They damage fighters and missiles in tactical combat, and some can damage ships in strategic movement.
- Baby Planet: A mod adds miniature gas giants.
- The Battlestar: Since ships are customizable, you can make any combo of weaponry and fighter hangars you see fit. You can even tow a starbase (or bring a baseship, rather) into battle!
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Airsurfing slugs, triple-helix DNA, energy beings...
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Don't even try to wrap your head around the AI's behaviour, it's just no use.
- The Bridge: An essential component in designing starships. You can also put in an auxillary bridge.
- Casual Interstellar Travel: At a high enough tech level, you can create wormholes for easy access to far-off systems.
- Cloning Blues
- Colony Drop
- Command & Conquer Economy: You have to set production queues yourself, otherwise your citizens will just happily reproduce away.
- Crystal Weapon: A sci-fi variant; accessing the Crystallurgy branch of the Tech Tree will allow you to build spacecraft fitted with crystalline armor and armed with crystal shard torpedoes.
- Cyborg: A couple of the races.
- Death from Above: Oh the myriad ways. Napalm, radiation bombs, plague bombs, smart missiles, death rays, all to rain down on a hapless world. Unless the planet is shielded.
- Death World: Any planet which has an atmosphere your race can't breathe.
- Deflector Shields
- Depopulation Bomb: Neutron bombs. Wipe out the population without damaging the planet's conditions or facilities!
- Design-It-Yourself Equipment: Starships and units. You'll need to, because there aren't any default designs.
- Disintegrator Ray: The high energy weapons branch.
- Drop Ship: How else can you get your troops in and conquer that world?
- Dyson Sphere: Yes, you can make one. And their smaller cousins, ringworlds.
- Easy Logistics: All you need for your ships are resupply depots, and for your troops and units, cargo holds.
- The sequels are getting increasingly complex, however. In the third, ships lose supplies in a fixed rate, regardless of whether they move. In SE4, the concept of supplies is expanded — most things on a ship now cost some amount of supply to use, like weapons and engines. By the fifth game, weapons need ordnance that is separate from general ship supply.
- The Empire: You, of course. And your competition.
- Energy Absorption: Emissive armor absorbs weapons fire and radiates it harmlessly into space. Crystalline armor does much the same, except it sends the energy it absorbed into shields.
- Energy Weapon: The Energy Pulse and Energy beam weapon branches of the tech tree. Surprisingly, no Lasers, or at least things called Lasers outright.
- Fantastic Race Weapon Affinity: The Drushocka have a particular fondness for energy-depleting weapons. Their homeworld is prone to intense lightning and plasma storms, which inspires their scientists with the desire to create weapons that manipulate energy in its purest forms.
- The Federation: You can make either an eponymous Empire, a Federation, and everything in between. In SE5, a federation is a possible political system. But since the game operates under a Generican Empire system, you can call your Federation an Empire and have it be an Oligarchy, or whatever combination of terms you want.
- Fish People
- Fog of War: You can't see any ships, colonies, or the like in a system unless you have a physical presence there (like a ship, colony, or unit of your own). You can turn this off in the settings and have omnipresent view.
- Game-Breaking Bug: Space Empires V runs on a 3-D engine that is exceedingly dated nowadays. The reason why this is bad? If you aren't running the game with a Windows XP OS, the game drops to single digit FPS levels. This makes the game neigh unplayable and since the developers shut its doors its unlikely a official fix will ever be published.
- Gang Up on the Human: This will happen if you grow too large. You can also set a game to have the AI behave like this by default.
- Genesis Effect: You can recreate planets that you've blown up.
- Had to Be Sharp: The Sithrak, who have a reputation for being war-mongers and a Proud Warrior Race because, in the world they come from, they're at the bottom of the food chain and behaving aggressively towards all other life-forms is the only way they can survive.
- Hive Mind: The Cryslonites from SE4.
- Idiot Ball: Weaponized. The Mental Flailer subsystem, researched from the Psychic tech tree, delays all existing weapons of the victim ship for several turns, provided the ship is managed by a living crew instead of a master computer.
- Infinite Supplies: Bizarrely, you can build a base in the other end of the galaxy and it has infinite supplies. Ships do not, and may need refueling just puttering around one system. Eventually you get a perpetual energy source and resupply depots become obsolete.
- ISO Standard Human Spaceship: The Terrans in 4 have a blue and white color scheme, and seem to be made up of pieced-together modules instead of solid rectangular blocks.
- Kill Sat: You can fit a Wave-Motion Gun in a satellite, if you like. Who said they had to be aimed at the planet they're orbiting? In fact, who said they had to orbit planets in the first place? Just throw few dozen of them down at your local entrance to the Portal Network and give new visitors to your territory a really warm welcome...
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Unless you have a mod that puts them in, they're few and far between.
- Lensman Arms Race: Until you've researched the entire tech tree, you'll have to keep researching better and better weapons. Your enemies certainly will.
- Lightning Gun: Introduced in the Organic Weapon tech tree in 4.
- Macross Missile Massacre: A viable strategy to overwhelm point defences. Interestingly enough, the ones that make the best out of this are planets, and can launch literally hundreds of missiles if they're filled to the brim with missile-packing weapon platforms.
- Master Computer: They serve as AI for a ship, replacing its crew.
- The Milky Way Is the Only Way: There are no other galaxies, or wormholes leading to them. Justified in that warp points generally only take you a few dozen light years away. The most advanced warp point generators can still only make openings going a couple hundred or so light years away.
- Mind-Control Device: The Allegiance Subverter weapon, which you can get with more research on the Psychic Weapons branch, basically brainwashes enemy ships into joining your empire. Using the Master Computer instead of an actual living crew prevents this.
- Mind over Matter: They bash ships with telekinetic force. They can even make miniature psychokinetic black holes.
- Mobile Fishbowl: The Sergetti are an aquatic species that have established an intergalactic empire with their knowledge of crystalline technology. They build spaceships that carry the oceans of their homeworld into space with them.
- Numbered Homeworld: Homeworld planets are not automatically renamed when players are placed, though you can rename yourself if you want.
- Organic Technology: One of the major racial starting perks. Gives access to organic technology such as regenerating oragnic armor and Ordinance, as well as weapons such as short ranged bio electric discharges and seeking parasites. Outside of combat, their facilies focus on increasing populations and making them overall less likely to die or grow unhappy.
- Our Wormholes Are Different: They provide instantaneous travel. And you can make your own, eventually.
- Plant Aliens: The Organic Technology Racial Trait tends to be a staple of these. As for the races themselves, you get them to varying degrees.
- Point Defenseless: Point Defense is actually the best defense against enemy fighters, missiles, and drones. If the opponent doesn't use any of those, then you can put in more shields and armor instead.
- They become a bit more important in 4, where they are autotargeting and autofiring, and most other weapons can't harm missiles.
- Dedicated point defense vessels are an efficient way of defeating fighter swarms and Macross Missile Massacres.
- Might as well stick a couple on a Destroyer and up anyway, since they're among the smallest weapons out, and you'll almost certainly have to use the ships against someone who does use one of said weapons.
- Power of the Void:
- Black Hole Generators are built for one purpose, generating a black hole at the center of a star system. Once successful, the entire star system is saturated by the energy, completely eradicating anything nearby and replaces the system with that particular event.
- Null-Space weaponry also count, with its powerful abilities to ignore shields and armor on the spot.
- Precursors: Naturally, they left behind technology. Some of it is extremely advanced and cannot be ever traded to the other races once discovered. Other times you get something vaguely useful. Or something you already knew.
- Random Number God: Random events. They can range from something good (planet conditions spontaneously improve, a ship recieves a massive experience (and thus offense/defense) boost, etc.) to apocalyptic events like a star going nova in a certain amount of turns.
- Ramming Always Works: Ramming didn't even exist until SE4, and you need explosive warheads on the ship to actually do some damage.
- On the other hand it can be incredibly broken in certain situations. Mods tend to adjust this so that the rammer takes much more damage than the victim.
- In atleast SE5, ramming someone does the exact same damage to the rammer and the victim, making armor and shields better for ramming instead of explosive warheads for ships, to the point where it is entirely possible late game to equip a ship with nothing but shields, and effectively 'glass' a less defended planet by simply ramming it.
- Regenerating Shield, Static Health: Both shield points and armor damage are static. You have to install a shield regenerator or organic armor (which is restricted to races with organic technology) in order for either to regenerate.
- Ringworld Planet: They have to be built around stars, but they're a thing.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Apparently, you can pack a few billion people on a starship with the proper application of cargo tech.
- Settling the Frontier: As with most 4X games, it's generally important to establish new settlements early and often.
- Shattered World: In SE3, you can colonize the asteroids that remain from an Earth-Shattering Kaboom. Of course, you can create planets as well, and if you happen to do that on an inhabited asteroid field, whoops!
- Shout-Out: Well-hidden one — in SE5, one of the distant-background nebulae looks suspiciously similar to a Federation insignia.
- Solar Sail: A ship component which grants bonus movement. Even when there isn't a star in the system.
- Space Mines: Given the reliance on the Portal Network, they're a fairly effective (if somewhat tedious-to-manage) means of securing your borders, along with Kill Sats and Space Stations.
- Space Orcs: The Sithrak are described as being in a constant state of warfare with all non-Sithrak lifeforms (in the lore, at least; in the actual game they can be negotiated and allied with like any other empire). Because they are natives to another dimension who invaded this universe, it's theorised that in their home dimension they're at the bottom of the food chain, so constant fighting and treating others as a potential threat are necessary survival tactics.
- Spinoff: Space Empires: Starfury, which is more like Privateer or Freelancer.
- Starfish Aliens: Since hand-drawn artwork or 3d models can portray more than just Rubber-Forehead Aliens, these are to be expected. They even come in actual starfish flavours, sometimes!
- Star Killing: You can blow up stars, turn them into nebulae, or collapse them into black holes.
- Stealth in Space: You can cloak ships. You can cloak planets. You can cloak Dyson Spheres. You would think that a structure a hundred million miles across would be hard to hide, but no...
- Tech Tree: More of a forest, really. Thankfully organized into neat categories, like Economics, Construction, Defense, Offense, and so on, but finding what you want can be Guide Dang It! inducing sometimes.
- Terraforming: In three years, you can turn that arid, desolate, or hostile world into the perfect planet for your citizens to enjoy. The maximum for atmospheric terraforming is around five years (fifty turns, in 4, ten turns to a year), and that's not connected to condition terraforming. Yes, your planet may be breathable now, but that doesn't mean the environment itself still isn't extremely inhospitable. Good conditions mean happy people and faster population growth. Bad conditions lower population growth and impact morale, sometimes significantly.
- That's No Moon: With the appropriate techs unlocked, you can construct artificial planets.
- Time Travel: The Temporal Technology Tree. You can't do time travel yourself, but a weapon can apparently send whatever it hits to the beginning of time.
- Videogame Cruelty Potential: Colony ships are rather defenseless, and will be destroyed by any random scout ship that flies by. They are, however, moderately bulky. Since the millions of colonists aboard are going to die anyway if the colony ship is attacked, why not set the colony ship's strategy to "kamikaze" and take out whoever attacked it as well?
- Weather-Control Machine: It improves the conditions of planets.
- We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: There are cloning vats that create clones solely for manual labor.
- Wave-Motion Gun: An actual component you can put on your ship. You can put several.
- Xeno Nucleic Acid: The Ukra-Tal, a race of worm-like aliens, possess a triple-helix DNA which is said to baffle geneticists of other races.
- You Require More Vespene Gas: When playing Space Empires III without shield generators, either because you decided not to use them (which is a viable strategy due the high cost and large size of shield generators) or haven't researched them yet, not having enough shipyards can be a major problem.
Space Empires: Starfury provides examples of the following tropes:
- 2-D Space: Although the objects in the game are rendered in 3D, they only move and maneuver on a 2D plane.
- Artificial Stupidity: Patrolling ships can sometimes end up crashing into asteroids or each other, with Abiddon ships being particularly prone to this for some reason.
- The Battlestar: The final boss of the game is a Sithrak Mothership. It has the stats of a space station, but also moves at a good speed and carries plenty of weapons.
- Boring, but Practical: The Plasma torpedoes fall into this due to having the largest range in the game, thus making it quite easy to play hit-and-run with more powerful ships. This also makes them the best space-station destroying weapon: it’s possible to just park your ship slightly outside of space-station’s range, set the time to 8 x, hold down the fire button and wait until the station is blown to pieces.
- Disc-One Nuke: The Tachyon Cannons are the best early-game beam weapon due to their ability to bypass shields and go straight to armour. Not only does it negate an entire layer of defence for you, but it also removes the need to worry about shield regeneration. The Abiddon armor protects against this effect; luckily, they’re your allies and you won’t need to fight them at all if you follow the plot, while you can stock up on their armour to protect yourself against the rare Pirate ships with these weapons.
- Enemy Exchange Program: The fourth installment allows a player to capture enemy ships, steal enemy blueprints, and reverse-engineer enemy technology. So it's downright easy to get someone else's ships—though only capturing them outright will produce ships that follow the enemy design.
- Energy Absorption: One of the armor types will convert some of the damage you take into energy.
- Escort Mission: There are some side quests where you have to protect traders or frigates/destroyers in a certain star system until a given date. They’re a lot better than most examples, as the traders will move on their own and you’re allowed to fly around however you like as long as the ships are protected. Most importantly, the enemies after the ship you’re protecting will be present in the system from the get-go, and never spawn out of nowhere in front of your nose.
- Game-Breaker: The Amonkrie Toxic Torpedoes turn into this at high levels when their crew damage goes over 200. Given that unlike shields and armor, the number of crewmembers remains fairly static, you’ll be able to one-shot Destroyers and Cruisers with a volley of 2-3 torpedoes and finish Battleships and Aircraft Carriers with 6-8. You would need still to watch out for Amonkrie ships in case they have those torpedoes, as they’ll also destroy you in two shots unless you install medical bays and/or additional crew quarters.
- Generic Doomsday Villain: The Sithrak have little motivation beyond cleansing the universe, refuse contact beyond shouting words of intimidation
- Once per Episode: Every campaign has you destroy a starbase of the faction you’re currently fighting against near the end of that storyline.
- Ramming Always Works: Played with. The game takes the ship’s size and speed as well as the severity of collision into effect to calculate the outcome. As a Battleship, you can get lucky and score a glancing hit on a Destroyer, severely damaging it and only losing your shields in return. In contrast, a Destroyer ramming a fighter or a satellite head-first might easily end up with half its health gone and all of the frontal and center equipment wrecked.
- Regenerating Shields, Static Health: Played straight, although it's possible to obtain armour regeneration either through installing a repair droid on the ship or by installing Organic Armor, which will repair itself, though at a very slow rate.
- Rocket-Tag Gameplay: The battles against some Amonkrie and Sithrak ships turn into this if you have Toxic Torpedoes and/or Psychic Flailers. You’ll be able to destroy most of their ships in just a couple of hits with those crew-killing weapons, but their ships will inflict equivalent damage if they manage to land a shot.
- Subsystem Damage: A very good example. Once the armour and shields are breached, your or enemy’s weapons will inflict damage both on the hull structure and also on the equipment inside, starting from the direction of the breach. Attacking from behind will knock out or cripple ship’s engines first, leaving it unable to flee anywhere, while shots to the side will quickly reach the power generators and prevent the ship from shooting back.