Aurora is a 4X science fiction strategy game. Players develop their interstellar empire from the humble beginnings on their homeworld to conquer the universe, or be pummelled into the ashes of history by opposing races. The game is extremely heavy in menus, with the potential for having over ten windows open at once, each granting the player precise control over some detail their empire's fleets, economy or astronomical information. The game is turn-based, with the player choosing to advance time forward in intervals as small as five seconds or as great as thirty days. The game is graphically minimal, with a simple graphical display providing tactical information of a star system. Every ship or planetary base can be designed by the player to meet their exact tactical needs, balancing offensive and defensive capability against weight and cost.
The game is free to download here.
Aurora's technological conceit is the existence of eleven "Trans-Newtonian Elements," which transcend the laws of physics and allow starships to exhibit characteristics similar to classical ships in the sea, as well as permit a variety of more traditional sci-fi technological advances including anti-matter based power generation and plasma cannons. These eleven elements form the primary basis of the game's economy: every world has a chance to contain some number of the elements, each with a specific quantity and rated at a level of accessibility between 0.1 and 1, which dictates how quickly the mineral can be harvested with any given quantity of mining equipment. Very massive planets are likely to have large number of minerals available at very high quantities but low accessibility, while smaller worlds, moons and asteroids are progressively more likely to have fewer minerals at higher levels of accessibility.
Other resources of interest are "Wealth," which requires players to balance their productive activity against various form of tax income, and "Crewmen/Junior Officers," which requires a player to balance the size and scope of their fleets against their construction of military academies on various worlds under their control. Ships also require fuel to move, which must be refined from Sorium, one of the Trans-Newtonian Elements.
In addition to the player's state-controlled activity, empires also play host to at least one civilian shipping line, which builds its own ships and transports trade goods and colonists between the empire's colonies. While this activity passively generates tax income for the player, players can also contract the movement of various installations like mines and factories out to the civilian sector, allowing them to harness their civilian shipping fleets to quickly move equipment between worlds.
Aurora's Faster-Than-Light conceit is the presence of hidden wormholes that naturally form in the presence of a star's gravity well called "Jump Points." These points must be discovered through a gravitational survey of the system conducted by a ship with the appropriate sensors. Once discovered, a ship equipped with a Jump Drive can traverse the point to the new system, or a ship equipped with an appropriate construction module can construct a gate over the point allowing any ship to transit. New systems are generated either entirely from scratch, or are optionally derived from actual star system data with only the planetary bodies being randomized.
Any system can potentially contain alien life. Most basic, randomly-generated alien races require roughly earth-like conditions to arise, though they can stray into relative extremes of gravity and temperature as well. In addition to these random races, three non-random races exist: The biological ships of the Star Swarm, which can infest any system at all, the robotic Precursors standing silent vigil over the remains of their creator's long-dead civilization, and the menacing extra-galactic Invaders, which threaten to bring their extremely advanced technology to bear in a massive galactic purge.
Once discovered, a geological survey can be conducted on each planet, moon, asteroid and comet in the system, revealing the mineral content of that body and potentially any abandoned alien ruins on the planet. Alien ruins can be exploited to recover installations and technologies, including some technologies not discoverable by any other means.
Any planet known to the player can be "Colonized" with the push of a button, although this is initially a purely administrative label. In order to actually have a working economic presence on a world, some installations must be put in place. Freighters, a word that refers to any ship with weight allocated to cargo space, can be ordered to life installations from one world and drop them on another. Most installations, with the main exception being the "Automated Mines" which allow the extraction of minerals from uninhabitable worlds, require living population running them in order to function. Colony Ships, which contain Cryogenic storage units, can transport large numbers of people from one world to another.
Whether or not these people can actually survive on their destination planet is a matter that must be considered. Each world's habitability is dictated by its gravity, atmospheric makeup and temperature. A world with inappropriate gravity cannot be settled at all, except through the use of Orbital Habitats which entirely ignore a world's conditions. Other problematic issues such a toxic gasses, freezing temperatures and lack of oxygen contribute to a world's "Colony Cost." Colony Cost dictates how much infrastructure (often envisaged as "Domes" by players) must be built or placed on the planet to support a given level of population. A planet's colony cost can be driven down by terraforming, which utilized installations of specialized orbited vessels to alter the planet's atmosphere over time.
As an example, players starting the "Sol" system, Earth's own solar system, often colonize Mars early in the game: while Mars initial requires a fair amount of infrastructure, the addition of substantial amounts of Oxygen both makes the planet's air breathable and, through the greenhouse effect, lowers the temperature. Eventually the player can switch to adding a more potent greenhouse gas to accelerate the effect. At roughly -26 degrees Celsius the planet's hydrosphere shifts from being primarily ice-based to being water-based, which reduces the planet's albedo ("reflectiveness") and in turn substantially increases the temperature. At 0 degrees Celsius the planet is considered to be within the human species's general habitable range and infrastructure is no longer required at all.
Ships & Technology
Each ship under the player's control, from the humblest Survey Vessel to the largest Superdreadnaut, is constructed from a "Class" which is generally designed by the player. Each ship is a collection of components, with the actual shape and appearance of the ship left entirely the player's imagination. Many components, like fuel storage, crew quarters, cargo space and hanger decks are generic components which do not vary from vessel to vessel. More complicated technologies, like weapons and sensors, must actually be themselves designed by the player before being incorporated into a class design.
Every component is designed from a collection of technologies. Every world with Research Facility installations can conduct research projects to produce new technology and develop new components from that technology. In addition to ship components, technology can also increase the output of mines and factories, as well as provide advances for ground troops.
A laser, for example, is composed of four technologies. "Focal Length," which is comparable to a modern gun's "Calibre," ranges from 10cm at the least advanced to 80cm at the most advanced with the larger focal sizes doing more damage but having a longer recharge time, as well as increasing the range of the weapon. "Laser Wavelength" ranges from Infrared to Far Gamma Ray, increases the range of the weapon with no downside apart from mineral cost. "Capacitor Recharge Rate" is a number which determines the rate at which the weapon recharges. The last technology is not always implemented: "Reduced Size" contains a number of options to make the laser physically smaller at the cost of greatly reducing the recharge rate, allowing the weapon to be mounted on fighter-sized vessels.
Ships, once built at a planet-based shipyard, are assigned to a "Task Group." Task groups are given orders which all of their ships follow as a single unit. Ships can be detached into sub-groups or assimilated into new groups at will.
Military & Combat
Space Combat in Aurora is very detailed, with every action being controlled by the player. Two main weapon types dominate combat: missiles, which must be built on a planet, loaded onto ships and launched by missile launchers, and beam weapons, which (somewhat confusingly) includes virtually all non-missile weapons, even technically projectile-based weapons like Railguns. Missiles are overwhelmingly longer-ranged than beam weapons, but have the drawback of being both economically burdensome and susceptible to point-defense: an effective fleet will have an array of beam weapons and even small missiles specifically designed to shoot down incoming missiles before they impact. Beam weapons, on the other hand, require no costly ammunition and are more difficult to avert, but require the attacking ship to close to nearly point-blank ranges before they can be used. A truly effective navy combines the two and utilizes them according to the situation, although missile combat is the typically dominant form of warfare.
Missiles must be designed by the player like any other technologies, with tradeoffs between warhead strength, missile speed and range. Missile speed is necessary for avoiding an enemy's missile defense as well as for striking fast-moving targets, while warhead strength and range have obvious tactical benefits. Other elements that can be utilized include maneuverability, which helps for hitting fast targets, and sensors, which allow the missile to acquire its own targets without guidance. Missiles can also opt for laser warheads, which prioritize armor penetration over damage, or radiation warheads, which are designed for total denial of planet by destroying its habitability.
Beam weapons, in addition to being individually designed, come from a variety of categories with different strengths and weaknesses. The versatile Laser is applicable is any situation: it has good range, and its damage decreases linearly over that range with solid recharge times. The Plasma Carronade, on the other hand, as a vastly larger base damage but looses that damage very quickly over its range and has a long recharge time, making it most useful as a point-blank anti-ship weapon. The Gauss Cannon is small and fires extremely quickly, but deals only 1 damage per shot and has a short range, making it an excellent anti-missile weapon. The more exotic Meson Cannon also deals only a single point of damage, but fires more slowly: its advantage comes from the fact that it completely ignores armor and energy shields, allowing it to directly damage ship components without being blocked in any way. Other weapons all have unique properties as well.
A ship's eyes are just as valuable as its fists. Without proper sensors, no weapons will function. Active sensors detect ships at long ranges based on size and are the only sensor precise enough for combat targeting, but can reveal the sensing ship's location. Passive thermal and EM sensors can be used by ships less interested in revealing their position. All weapons must also be paired to a fire control, a special sensor designed to function as a targeting system. Insufficient targeting systems can limit the range and accuracy of even the most potent weapons.
In contrast, Aurora's ground combat is quite simple. Ground troops are transported to the warzone and directed to attack the enemy. Every few days the player will be notified of casualties and combat results in a brief progress report. Ground troops not protected inside planetary bases are extremely susceptible to missile bombardment from ships, which can easily wipe out a world's entire ground military at the cost of causing long-term damage to the planet's habitability in the form of sun-blocking dust clouds and deadly radiation.
Every empire has an array of people who provide bonuses to the entity that they are assigned to lead. These are divided into Scientists, who lead research projects, Civilian Administrators, who govern worlds and sectors, Naval Officers, who captain ships, and Ground Commanders, who command Ground Units. Each leader has an array of bonuses relevant to their field, and will grow over time in their positions. The names of these leaders, as well as their military ranks, are drawn from a theme selected by the player, which can be as simple as "English" or "Japanese" or as exotic as "Tolkien" or "Machine Race."