Chris, I can't wait to see what twists you can bring to the traditional 4x arena. In the meantime, I have two suggestions for 4x done well (and in space).
Question though - you seem fairly adverse to modding in your other titles, though you certainly implement user suggestions and keep the features rolling out. With most of the 4x/grand strategy games I enjoy, one key component is the ability to do total conversions and mod the game far from what the developer originally conceived.
Do you think it is possible/likely that an eventual Arcen 4x would include mod support?Aurora
: narrative driven, procedurally generated, and perhaps the most complicated thing I have ever put my mind to. I have heard that it is quite rewarding. I am still at the head-scratching stage. Think: dwarf therapist (the spreadsheet overlay to dwarf fortress), in space, as a 4x, with no automation of micromanagement. You want to fire a rocket at an alien? research the tube, the fuel, the engines, the guidance, payload, and launch system, make a prototype, tool up a factory, get the rockets in place, and launch. You may be rewarded with a radar blip and a bit of text about the launch/impact :-) http://aurora2.pentarch.org/
I am not doing it justice, as I haven't really wrapped my brain around it, but the people who enjoy it? Wow, read some of the AARs. Oh, and free, closed-source, written as an exercise in visual basic :-PDistant Worlds
: solo dev out of new zealand, working with matrix games (strategy publisher), 4 years, 5 expansions, just about to release a standalone compilation of all previous content. They are going with a mixed-Steam release and actually pricing it affordably. You can automate as much or as little as you want. Diverse races, interesting tech trees, great ship design, solid fleet posturing (strategy) and ship control (tactics). (http://matrixgames.com/products/515/details/Distant.Worlds.-.Universe
Three missing things: 1. you shouldn't be able to talk with other races when you first meet them. Babelfish are a fun conceit, but I'd love to see a 4x that actually handles "The Other" well. First contact - you shouldn't be able to communicate and you shouldn't know whether a smile and handshake mean "hi, I'm a friend," or "this meat looks tasty, let me grab a piece."
2. unique research trees: in the base game, there is very little customization of the research tree. I really enjoy how SoTS made each species' research options unique and how that drove ship design, empire functioning, etc. Modding will certainly improve this, but there is talk of a feature update post-ship.
3. extreme moddability. Universe certainly improves on it, but modding is mostly cosmetic and you certainly can't touch things like the AI. I really enjoy what Taleworlds did with Mount & Blade, and Paradox with CK2/EU4 - where you can create a fundamentally different game using the base framework of the developer. It really extends and expands the life of these titles.