I have always been a great fan of the 4X genre of video games, but over time I've come to realize that I play them a little differently than most. I have never been a great fan of prosecuting world-spanning wars. I don't want to take over the world. Global hegemony has never seemed like a worthy goal to me, even within the confines of a video game. A game which touts colonialism and imperialism as goals to be pursued is, to my mind, a deeply flawed game.
Phorex is my attempt to build a "4X" game, with all the lovely fiddly bits, that does not fall into the trap of glorifying violent domination. It does this is a few ways:
My Four Xs: Whereas most other games allow you to "eXplore, eXploit, eXpand, and eXterminate," I'm building Phorex to allow a different set of goals. In this game, you do eXplore, because slowly revealing a map is always fun. You eXtend your influence, your participation, your ethos, and even your helping hand to your neighbors. You eXchange resources, values, advances, and perhaps even ways of living and thinking and being with other people you meet. And lastly, you eXalt your own people and your neighbors, helping to make the whole world a better place--not just trample it under your heel. Call me a hippy-dippy idealist, but that seems like a worthy goal, even for a video game.
Social, Cultural, Religious, and Scientific Revolutions: This game doesn't have a tech tree so much as it has a tech forest, and only a small portion of the advances that you can discover increase your industrial or military power. There are also powerful forces of social change, cultural development, religious practice, and scientific inquiry that will shape the world you play in--and not just by giving you a new unit to kill other units with.
No Barbarians, No Bit Parts: There are no units in Phorex to represent simple barbarians who want to do nothing more than pillage your precious infrastructure. There are no third parties or outside influences or "secondary" players in the pageant of history. All you have is people, and any of those little virtual people might become a powerful dynasty, discover an incredible scientific breakthrough, or found a world-changing religious movement. Or they might just pillage your infrastructure. But you can never deal with them as if they will never and can never be anything more than what they appear to be today. Every population on the map has the potential for greatness. Deal with them accordingly.
No Frontiers: Most 4X games create a map that is empty save a handful of players, who then set about claiming that empty land and turning it to their purposes. While that can make for a fun game, in historical terms, the only time humanity claimed empty land was in prehistoric migrations, long before most 4X games are set. Instead, the "empty" land of the frontier was always populated, and claiming that land usually involved violence and bloodshed. Phorex will not let you live out a fantasy where the frontier exists for you to exploit it. What you call the frontier somebody else calls home.
People, not Powers: You do not play a world power in this game. You do not have a special ability that only your group has and others lack. You do not play an inexplicably immortal leader dictating every action of your slavish and apparently mindless followers. And you aren't contending with other weirdly mythic avatars of latter-day nationalism. Instead, this game is populated by people: lots of people, of diverse backgrounds and values and circumstances. Those people will do all manner of things, not because they stand united to live or die for the glory of their anachronistic nation-state, but because that's what they want to do. Your role as a vision of civilization is to guide and goad people into working together, and you will sometimes need to rely on their good graces rather than your dictatorial fiat.
And hopefully, that makes for a fun game!