QT3 Classic Game Club #11 - Master of Orion

Qt3 Classic Game Club #11: Master of Orion

For this iteration of the classic game club I’ve chosen a game that’s 20 years old, and an improvement over all of its successors. Master of Orion is the prototypical space 4X game. Like all games that effectively ended up defining a genre it’s interesting to visit just from a historical point of view. But I think the game would stand alone even without that historical context.

In Master of Orion you pick one of a handful of different space faring races, each with their own special abilities and personality. You’ll expand to fill new planets, research new technology, design and build starships, and ultimately mash big fleets of starships into opposing fleets when battling for the combat of the galaxy. You can also cooperate with the other races by trading with them, allying with them, swapping technology, and so on. Or even get them to vote you the new galactic emperor. Along the way you might conquer the heavily defended cache of ancient technology in Orion, be attacked by a vicious giant Space Amoeba, or need to pool your whole empire’s resources together to avoid a star going Nova. The game is just dripping character.

But the best part about MoO is how amazingly focused the design is for the genre. You can play a full and satisfactory game to a conclusion in 2-3 hours. How many modern 4x games can you say that about? The resource management is streamlined to just 6 sliders per planet, that you mostly won’t touch. This is enough to give you some control but always making sure that you never enter a micromanagement hell. The game even gives you a primitive method for automatically adjusting the sliders on all your planets when discovering new technologies that affect production. The technology system is simple but can give a huge amount of variability.

The only concession in MoO to the usual 4x feature sprawl is the ship customization and tactical battles. You’ll make maybe 10-20 designs over a full game, so it’s not a huge burden, and does add huge amounts of character. No endless sequence of “laser I” and “laser II” here. The tactical battles are a bigger problem though, in the end game you can have a very large number of nuisance battles. They can be left to play on automatic, but you still need to watch through the combat animations.

When playing a game that’s over 20 years old, there’s always two things that’ll cause a worry: the graphics and the user interface. After having given the game a spin for the first time in ages, I have to say it holds up amazingly well on both counts.

There aren’t many 320x200 games that look good these days. Sure, you can play it, but ultimately everything is a muddled mess. Not so in MoO, probably because the art is so stylized and perhaps even a bit cartoony. The graphics have been optimized for clarity first, looks second, and realism obviously completely ignored. I can totally see some adorable indie retro game being published with these graphics.

The user interface is going to be more of a mixed bag. Many modern amenities are missing, like tooltips and scroll wheels. There are some
missing automation opportunities. But the UI stays out of the way, and thanks to the spartan game design that’s all that’s needed. (Hint: press F1 in the map view for a in-game help).

On a more personal level, MoO certainly has a special place in my heart – it was one of only three game boxes I rescued from being thrown in the trash when last clearing out my parents’ basement. It’s hard to say why. Maybe because it was the first game I acquired unambiguously through my own labor (from doing some photo modeling, if you can believe it). Or possibly since it was the first game that I got into due to internet discussions, after reading through the comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.strategic MoO faq over and over again while waiting to get the game. It was a lovely document, and was a first step on a path toward enjoying talking about games as much as playing them ;-)

You can get Master of Orion (+ an inferior sequel) for mere a handful of currency units from GOG: http://www.gog.com/game/master_of_orion_1_2

There are couple of podcast episodes on this subject that are worth listening to, if you’re into that kind of thing:

[li]3 Moves Ahead on SimTex games (with Tom): https://www.idlethumbs.net/3ma/episodes/lost-in-space/[/li][li]3 Moves Ahead on Space 4x games: https://www.idlethumbs.net/3ma/episodes/the-simtex-legacy/[/li][/ul]

Ok, definitely gonna have to give this a shot. Space 4x? That’s my bag. Never played any of the MoO games either. Space blasters are a perfect antidote to a crappy week at work.

Oh wow. This is going to be super challenging for me. I discovered MOO2 very late. It came out in 1996, but I didn’t hear of it until years later, and I didn’t actually play it until 2003 or so. But when I did, I was hooked. Seriously hooked.

Years later when GoG released the Moo1+2 package, I tried playing the original for the first time, and the low res graphics were just too much for me. I couldn’t tell if I was looking at a spaceship, and fonts at that resolution are painful to read.

With that said, I love your writeup praising the streamlined nature of the game and how you can finish the game in a short amount of time. I never knew that about the first Master of Orion. I was just thinking this morning about how I can’t afford to play 4x games anymore since they require too big a time commitment. If I get an hour of leisure time away from my wife a day, and I use half of that to watch something like The Daily Show, that leaves a half hour a day, so about 3.5 hours per week. If I played MOO2 to the exclusion of everything else, even giving up TV, it would still take me months just to finish a game of MOO2.

Coincidentally it was just this morning I was thinking of starting a thread asking people if there was a 4x game out there that could be finished quickly and wasn’t so damn addictive like the Civ games or MoO2. And here you are jsnell, an answer from the gods! I’ll have to give MoO another try once I get my PC back from Micro center in 2 weeks.

Best advantage MoO had over MoO2: Randomized tech. I loved that in some games certain things were just not available to research.

I neglected the MoO series for a very long time. Entirely too long. By the time I found a bargain bin copy of MoO2, I was never quite able to get it to click and filed it away with other space 4X games that I never really got into (Space Empires IV stands on that list, as well).

Then I picked it up again a few years later and dabbled while stuck with my ancient laptop and no other games available, and played the ever loving crap out of it. Enjoyed every minute, minor issues with the slightly clunky interface aside.

Since then I’ve familiarized myself with MoO1 but have yet to put any serious time into it. Sounds like it’s time to change that.

MoO doesn’t have a lot of the filler that plagues so many of these space 4X games released today. The first two games are relatively pure, distilled games that make few compromises in terms of gameplay. The second game adds layers of complexity (building queues and Civilization-style resources replacing the original game’s sliders, multiple planets per system, etc.) which makes the first game an excellent pick as it sidesteps most of the tedious stuff that can make the late game of MoO2 something of a drag and gives a more concentrated experience.

Yes! So glad you picked MOO1 here. My favorite version of Civilization is Civ:Rev, so it’s probably no surprise that I prefer MOO1 to MOO2.

To the stars!

MoO 1 was great. I have such fond memories. In my opinion, one of the best parts was the ship design. Different weapons, colony pods, drives that allow you to scout further. I loved the flexibility of it. I also thought the different races were very well designed. I doubt I’ll participate in this. My attempt at participating in the Sacrifice club went badly. I just don’t have the gaming time these days to play ancient games and while the outlay is inexpensive, I just can’t justify it.

Don’t need to ask me twice to fire up MoO.

Brian, will you please fire up MoO?

Brian, this may not be necessary, but how about firing up MoO?

Ah yes, Master of Orion. I have actually played very few Civilization or 4x4 space games, largely because I felt satiated after investing a lot of time in the early ones (same goes for RTS games). I was completely obsessed with a C-64 game called Imperium Galactum - played it for a year, even though there were really no graphics other than the planets, and simplistic sound effects. Later I played Empire for quite a while, and then Civilization, but the game that turned out to be the one I invested the most time in was Master of Orion, which I just loved for offering a more graphical, complex version of Imperium Galactum along with some of the aspects I like in Civ.

…and then, I never played another similar game. I bought MoO2 but never installed it. I never installed another version of Civ, or Alpha Centauri, or any game like it. I was probably most tempted to install and play Rise of Nations (which I have, along with one of the addons), and did install by never played Sins of the Solar Empire --never found the time. So MoO was not only the game in the genre that I spent the most time with, it essentially burnt me out entirely on that sort of game. I now find it really difficult to invest in anything other than more story-driven games, so I’ll probably pass on rebooting MoO, although I may contribute comments based upon my recollections. It’s also just really hard for me to invest in a new game every 2 weeks, when I typically only play 6-7 a year, so i have to be somewhat selective. Great choice though!

Nice choice, though I’m on the other end of the spectrum from Nightgaunt and prefer MoO2.
I’m willing to give MoO 1 a go anyway. Some tips for a person that has forgotten most everything about how to play? ;)


I love you guys! Group hug!

So here’s something bizarre I found while doing some due diligence googling for this pick. A fan-made bug fix + ui improvement patch:


I haven’t tried this yet and can’t wouch for it. But I love it when a game this old has people disassembling the code just to fix minor bugs. That’s a real sign of dedicated fans!

Vesper: Yes! The test game I played this morning was with the Silicoids, and I missed out on both the Duralloy and Zortium armors. My hit points were so low that there was no point in having an engagement longer than a couple of rounds (which I only found out through painful experience). If the opponent got within beam range, I was dead no matter what. As a result I ended up having to build a fleet consisting mainly of 2c missile launchers until fairly late in the game when I finally got the Andrium armor. Normally I’d never use the 2x launchers, it’s either beams of 5c missiles for the long engagements. But this time 2c turned out to be just the right tradeoff. These kinds of decisions are what make this system sooo good compared to a static tech tree, or the MOO2 approach.

There’s also this interesting aspect where you sometimes end up staging an aggressive war only to conquer planets to steal a critical tech. (That was very hard for me – I didn’t have armor so my ground troops were crap, and since I was Silicoid it was hard to justify winning an assault by burying the enemy under a pile of my own soldiers. The low growth rate is a royal pain.)

Rezaf: Scout aggressively and colonize anything in range. Pour all resources into Hydrogen or Deuterium fuel cells (range 4/5) fairly early on if you can’t carve out a decent empire with the starting range of 3, but could with an extended range. If you lose the rush for the prime real estate, it’s going to be a painful game.

This is by far my favorite single player game of all time, and I’ll be grabbing that patch to try it.

This was one of the first video games I got really involved with, after Wing Commander. I have played hundreds of hours of this game, and it is still my favorite space 4X. I’m excited to have an excuse to go back to it.

400 pages of strategy gaming goodness, co-authored by Alan Emrich, who coined the term 4x, now a board game designer. My wife doesn’t even mind that I keep this on a bookshelf for all to see.

Oodles of charts and tables. Here’s one table, page 203: “Probability of Computer Player Choosing Equipment of a Particular Level of Quality for a New Ship Design.” They don’t make guides like this anymore.

The idea of playing this in half hour chunks is interesting, so I thought I’d try that.

A new game at Medium / Hard / 4. (Anything larger than Medium is a bit tedious, and IIRC hard is the difficulty where I don’t end up swearing too much at the artificial AI advantages). Since I’m feeling cocky, I pick the Mrrshan, useless as they are.

I get a decent starting setup, with 2 habitable planets withing 3 range, and a 4th at range 4. The range 4 is toward the center, so I rush for hydrogen cells before even finishing up the industry on my home planet. By 2350 I’ve settled all 4 worlds, and when a GNN update comes in at 2360 I’m shown as leading in population.

But there are only three avenues of further expansion: through Inferno worlds, through the Bulrathi (whose ships I’ve seen but not yet encountered), or with range 6. At around this time my scouts have found a trio of worlds that can be settled using one 6 hop: a 95 terran, a 60 steppe, and a 70 ocean artifact world. So I start another propulsion crash research program, which completes surprisingly quickly. By 2380 I’ve got 2/3 of those planets settled, and the last one well on the way. And I’ve even got Improved Robotics Control researched, everything should be looking great for a quick victory.

Unfortunately in 2378 the Bulrathis (who by now are within range) declare war on me. Their fleet of a few large hull Hyper-V missile barges plows through the few defenses I could build/gather on the size 30 barren world that’s the chokepoint on our frontier. The world falls quickly. A running 10-15 year battle over one of my original 4 core worlds ensues. At one point 12 Bulrathis manage to squeak past my defenses and slaughter over half the population. A few years later the I lose control of the planet completely, and the Bulrathi fleet is essentially unstoppable with my current resources.

The guaranteed victory has turned sour. The only hope comes from the boffins, who have come up with the idea of they’re calling the “Scatter Pack V” missile. Armed with those, even a handful of bases would stop the Bulrathi fleet cold. Whatever the lab needs they’ll get, even if the industrial upgrade program is still half finished. I can only hope that the stupid bears won’t press their advantage. I’m lagging horribly in tech, only minimally in production, but have a huge lead in population. This should be salvageable.

At this point I’m 102 turns in, but also 5 minutes over the self-imposed time limit so it’s time to stop for now.

I really wish MOO sequels had online/hotseat play :(

Ship design? Boo! I thought this was supposed to be streamlined. :)

This is an intriguing concept to me. I’m fascinated by backlogs and how to complete them. I’m trying to decide whether it lines up with my own experience. I feel more like I’m “sick” of 4X games (which is why I won’t be participating, unfortunately – if only this club had started a few years ago!) That term can describe an extreme level of satiation though.

I don’t think time investment is the only factor either. I’m immune to DayZ clones and survival crafters because I had my fill with the original DayZ mod and UnReal World. I loved both of them but I probably played them less than 30 hours each. On the other hand, I can’t shake other genres even though I don’t enjoy playing them!