When I think about it, 1993’s Master of Orion was probably the first AND last “4X” (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) space game I’ve ever played. And yet I really and honestly do love the genre — I just haven’t met any title as compelling as MOO. Even its sequels were disappointing, and I have cried more bitter tears about the wasted opportunity of MOO3 than I like to think about.
Words cannot convey how much I loved MOO. In my final years of high school, this one game became the most-played on my new 386 computer (which came with the little-mentioned Windows 3.0) and to this day still evokes feelings of megalomania within my soul. Back then I was firmly into my Star Trek phase, and as such, any thought of space exploration and combat was high up on my priority list. Certainly higher than algebra and chemistry, I can tell you that. So when I got my hands on MOO, it was like coming home.
MOO was pretty simple to grasp. You picked a species (each with their own bonuses), started out with a planet and a few ships, and then went on to conquer the galaxy (or be elected its unified leader, but what’s the fun in that?). There was lots of exploration as you tried to find the other races and colonizable planets, war and colonization as you expanded, and research and building as you constructed a Death Fleet and strengthened your planets’ infrastructure.
MOO certainly was no fast-paced; it was turn-based, so you had as much time as you liked to make your moves. Instead, the focus was on making tough choices, planning ahead, and multi-tasking like crazy. Securing enough unoccupied planets at the start of the game was crucial to a fun experience for me, so I’d push hard to get my colony ships out there as soon as possible. By the time the late game rolled around, it was often 2:00 am in the morning and I’d be cursing the necessity of school.
Looking back at it today, I’m still charmed by the design that went into this game. As I said, it wasn’t fast-paced — the space combat was pretty basic, and the ground combat invisible — so the burden of the game’s feel had to come from its art and fonts. I bet it would play great on an iPhone if someone took the time to port it.
The biggest appeal for me was, like with any 4X game, the inner story that I’d create while I played. Without a game narrative, I had to provide my own to fill in the blanks, and it enriched the experience immeasurably. I’d name each one of my fleets and mutter to myself as I launched campaigns to conquer a rival race. My planets eventually had “personalities” of a sort, because I’d know which were my good ones, my rebellious ones, and my challenging ones.
Maybe there have been good 4X space games since then and I just have lost the patience for trying them out. But what I do know is that MOO will always be entrenched as part of my teenage years and another great Microprose title for the ages.
Did any of you play? I’d love to hear your memories!