This is part two of my guide on how to play Aurora 4X, a complex, deep space strategy game. The first part can be found here. My objective for this second part is to go over the very basics of how to start a new game and explain a bit about how Aurora’s screens are organized. Navigating the vast amount of information available is a big part of the learning curve for players, whether blind or not. I'm also going to touch on some important game mechanics, such as how game turns work, and a bit about research. I assume you have managed to download Aurora from the link in my previous guide and have started the program. What happens now?
You’re greeted with the “Game Details,” screen. Aurora stores its saved games, and a ton of other information, in a giant Microsoft Access database. This is important because occasionally errors related to access or the database will occur, and it’s worth keeping backups. The database is stored in the file SteveFire.mdb, and if you choose to use the aurora Wrapper program, it is automatically backed up every time you start the game. For now, hit alt+n, or tab to New Game, and activate the button.
The Game creation screen has a lot of controls, which you can explore with the tab key. This is one of a few areas where you can tab, so enjoy the chance to read over all the options. Many of these settings are fine if left at defaults, and the New Game page on the Aurora Wiki, explains all of them in great detail. For now, I will only mention a couple. For the purposes of this guide, I would turn off "Assign starting tech points automatically," if only because it will let me explain research and start us off at a consistent place in the tech tree. Also, don’t turn on "Create ship systems and ship designs," because we’ll eventually be walking through the ship design window. Finally, don’t be tempted to turn on the Extra-galactic invaders, they’re as dangerous as their name suggests. Just hit "“Create Game," after supplying a game name, and let the game do its thing. You’ll have about 40 seconds or so, during which you’ll have to hit okay on a couple of dialogs, and then be back at Game Details. Pick the game you just created and hit alt+E, or tab to "select."
I’m going to take some time now to explain the way a lot of Aurora windows are set up. They tend to be divided into a few areas, with information and controls at the top, a bunch of tabs in the middle, which you can cycle between, and a row of buttons at the bottom. The Population and Production window, which we’ll meet soon, is pretty much like this. Some of the tabs contain mostly reference information, some of them are big tables, some you’ll almost never touch. You’ll be using the Jaws cursor to review all of these, because the controls aren’t laid out in any sensible way when you use the Tab key to go through them. There are a few exceptions, mostly in smaller windows, which I’ll note as we come to them.
For now, press F2, or go to the Empires menu and choose Economics. This is the Population and Production window, and it’s probably the most important window in the game, and arguably one of the most cluttered. Jaws will land on a button it calls "5 seconds." This gives me a chance to explain how turns, and time, work.
Basically, in Aurora you’re playing out the life of a civilization in, almost, real-time. The game divides up into seconds, minutes, hours, and so on. The catch is that you have the control over the clock, you can choose how much time passes, from 5 seconds all the way to 30 days at a stretch. No time passes until you hit one of the buttons on this window, or a near-identical set on the System Map, which I’ll get to later. You can design ships, give orders, arrange for research and so forth, before hitting a button to pass time. The wiki page has more info on times, turns, and interrupts. I’ll just note here that events in this game generally follow a realistic time-scale, research projects can take years, and terraforming a new world can easily take a decade or three.
Moving back to the Population and Production window, if you route the Jaws cursor to the PC cursor and explore around, you’ll find that you’re at the top of what turns out to be a pretty large screen. This is the summary tab, and it’s displaying all the information about your population on Earth. Once again, the wiki page on this window has more information. For now, just get used to navigating around and explore the way Jaws lays out the tabs. Find the Research tab and click on it to follow along.
Research is, of course, a fairly complex subject in this game, but for now I’ll just say that research projects are lead by chief scientists, who are all named. You can assign a number of research labs to a particular project under a particular scientist, and they will eventually finish work on it if you give them enough time. There are many areas of research, but for now the one I’m interested in is Power and Propulsion. You might run into an unfortunate Jaws bug at this point, and find that you aren’t able to move down past a certain point in the research window. I don’t know what causes this, but the solution is easy enough, just go to the bottom and climb up instead.
Find the selection box for research categories, which starts out looking at “biology/genetics.” If you click on it you’ll find that it’s actually a combo edit box. This method of selecting categories for things, ships or research projects or whatever, is pretty common in Aurora. Scroll down with the arrow keys until you find Power and propulsion.
At this point, I can’t guarantee you’ll have a scientist with this particular specialization, but basically what you want to do is to click on Jump Point theory, find a scientist on the right who specializes in it, and click on them. Ideally, you want to give them all your labs, or at least as many as they can support. Click Create near the middle-bottom of the window, and you’ll be asked to confirm that you really want to start this project. Press Yes.
That’s it for part two of the guide. I’ve just walked you through the basics of the way the interface works, and tried to explain a bit of game mechanics along the way. The wiki is a valuable resource, and is worth exploring on your own. You can always create test games to try things out, or back up your database if you want to do something drastic.
I’ll work on part three over the next while, which will hopefully cover ship and component design.