Great article on the retro 4X games Master of Magic and Master of Orion II

I think the author of this article makes excellent points about the factors that make MoM and MoO2 classics that have still not been surpassed (in my opinion) by modern 4X games:

http://www.explorminate.com/#!Why-Retro-Rules/c15kj/209B957C-CFA4-41C7-B83A-B3C81576750D

I really don’t agree with just about any of his points. You could replace just about everything he says with “viewing the past through rose colored glasses” and it’d be more accurate.

Master of Magic in particular is hugely overrated now. The AI was nearly non-functional. All the challenge in the game came from environmental challenges, like taking out a tough monster guard on a magic node. If it were published today, with no history or nostalgia, it’d get roundly panned because the AI simply doesn’t know how to play. It’s very influential, yes, but it was also deeply flawed.

Is mechanical elegance valuable? It certainly is. Do Master of Orion II and Master of Magic posses that? Not remotely. Both have lots of problems if you’re just looking at the rules. If he wanted to make that point, he should have gone further back, to Master of Orion I. There was a game that bordered on board-game elegance, since it was heavily influenced by actual board games like Metagaming’s (later Avalon Hill’s) Stellar Conquest.

Modern designers are perfectly aware of the value of asymmetry. It’s a frequently discussed topic. It’s not something that’s been lost.

“Easier” does not apply to modern strategy games. Beating either game on the hardest difficulty was much easier than, say, beating Civ 4 on the hardest difficulty. Modern strategy games are hardly dumbed down. In fact, the suggestion is directly at odds with the point he claims earlier, that these games were better because they were simpler and easier to understand.

In short, it’s a terribly shallow article that doesn’t really understand the games it’s discussing.

I think Master of Magic succeeded for many of the reasons people knock it for. It was easy, and broken and full of terrible exploits. That’s what made it fun. It was a messy sandbox of fantasy strategy elements that could be assembled and broken in lots of interesting ways. I know I eventually played it like how some do low level runs in something like the early Final Fantasy games. How can I exploit the games loopholes to conquer everyone else with ridiculously small army or limited resources? Can I take over the world with my starting unit, a hero, and a summon?

Yeah as a strategy game it’s really not so good, but as a toy box with a strategic flavoring it’s still pretty darn fun.

Said it before, will say again, right now, Starbase Orion is the best 4x out there, and it’s a clone with serious upgrades, I love it to bit. What I like with it is choice matters, you can’t have everything in the tech tree, you can’t build all the buildings, you can’t build the perfect spaceship…and it’s has kick ass matchmaking, so AI troubles are not so much of issue.

Galciv 3 might still dethrone, but it’s I-go u-go is troublesome in mp and it still lacks a bit of character, and fancy ship building, well I’m not so huge on that when it’s just cosmetic, but clearly some love it…v

Hmm link and webpage isn’t working btw