READ END OF POST FOR INSTALLATION HELP
Recently I've stumbled upon an absolute jewel of a game called Aurora during my ongoing search for the best 4X game out there, and I think I have a winner. This game is an independent project by a man named Steve Walmsley; his income comes from online poker, and his spare time is consumed by developing and playing this game. The game is 100% free, immensely detailed, and absolutely brilliant.
The game is turn based with turns calculating anywhere from 5 seconds of the game to 30 days. There is a screen for the system map and a galactic map; most of the actual information is presented as columns and rows of text, but it is very well presented and not cumbersome at all. Don't let the graphics and interface turn you off because the game has incredible depth; after all there is a reason I called it the Dwarf Fortress of 4X Games.
It is a very open, almost sandbox like 4X game that takes place in a procedurally generated universe of his own creation. The universe has wonderful personality with orbiting planets, stars, moons, and asteroids; of course there are also ancient alien ruins and native life, from the hyper advanced and long gone precursors to modern earth like civilizations as well as other fledgling races just setting out to the stars.
Planets are very detailed with tectonics, atmosphere consisting of real gases, temperatures derived from the distance to the star, the axis of the planet, the warming or cooling effects of the atmosphere, and the reflectivity of the surface. Through terraforming you can actually alter the makeup of the atmosphere to better suit your life or you can land some terraforming ships on an enemy planet and suck the oxygen out of the atmosphere or pump it full of deadly chlorine. Some planets or other bodies contain any combination of dozens of minerals that are needed to run your industry and empire; they have an amount and an accessibility level that determines how fast you can mine them out.
Your empire is a living and breathing creature with civilians conducting their own business among the stars; they can form corporations and trade among both local and foreign colonies or transport population to where they want to go as well as founding their own colonies or mining operations.
Research and technology consists of major research projects for anything from improving industry to forming stargates or ICBMs as well as projects for designing and testing your own components, reactors, lasers, engines, turrets, missiles, etc. Research projects are headed by lead scientists of your choice, each with their own skills and personality, with research labs and additional researchers to back them up. Your colonies and ships can also be led by individuals with their own skills and personality.
Ships and defences are designed with the components and technology that you researched, and a great deal of thought must go into an effective design. You have to factor in the weight of the ship and how it will affect the engines and fuel, and keep an eye on the complexity making sure you have enough engineers and crew allocated to keep it running. Also, make sure those lasers have proper tracking systems, sensors, and power to keep them running at top efficiency, and don't forget that your 12000 speed turrets need fast enough tracking to keep up or those enemy missiles will fly right through.
Search the stars enough and you may make first contact! This may result in peaceful trade and alliance or you may be exchanging missile fire right from the get go. I can't say much about diplomacy and aliens since I've only come across one other species and all they did was decimate my ships with theirs that were 3 times as fast and 5 times as powerful (I think it may have been a precursor outpost).
Combat is also immensely detailed with targeting for individual systems on ships or projectiles. The game also looks at the spread of damage from your weapon of choice and how it affects the enemy's armor and individual components with missiles creating craters and lasers piercing through.
This is only short blurb about what the game has to offer, and since I am still very new to the game I'm sure it is full of holes and has some very important missing content. A better way to learn about the game would probably be to read some after action reports or just to try the game out for yourself, it is free after all.
Here is an AAR and some gameplay description that the creator posted on Wargamer:http://www.wargamer.com/forums/tm.aspx?m=397359
A short biography of the creator on the 3rd reply (very interesting by the way):http://aurora2.pentarch.org/index.php/topic,1194.0.html
A whole ton of fiction and AARs for the game:http://aurora2.pentarch.org/index.php?PHPSESSID=5aa51e65e5fe982513caf4b6070aa9f0&board=2.0
And the wiki where download information and tutorials reside:http://aurorawiki.pentarch.org/index.php?title=Main_Page#Links
When installing click YES to NOT override your dlls; the reason for the changes to sysem32 is because the setup file is as official Microsoft Visual Studio setup that installs some required dlls that windows doesn't come with; it is not the games setup. The actual game is in the AuroraUpdate475.zip, and you may try to play the game without setup if you already have the required dlls.
After installing you have to copy the contents of the AuroraUpdate475.zip to the Aurora folder,
If your running windows 7 or vista and are getting a missing MSSTDFMT.dll error:
Here's the fix for anyone with 64 bit win7 and probably vista, since this isn't documented anywhere specifically on their forums I'm going to post it here
If you're getting the MSSTDFMT.dll file is missing when you press F9 for necessary star system information:
1. Download the dll here http://www.dll-files.com/dllindex/dll-files.shtml?msstdfmt
2. Drop the .dll in C:/windows/syswow64
3. Open up the command line as administrator and type the second to last line outlined in red
It will now work upon restarting the game.