Nostalgia Lane: Master of Orion

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!

9 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: Master of Orion

  1. codeblot April 3, 2012 / 8:48 am

    I spent countless days and nights with MOO. But rarely alone – I used to play it together with my neighbour. We were 11or 12 yrs old back then and the arguments about what move will be our next got pretty intense sometimes.

    The hours spent in MOO and X-COM: Ufo Defense and X-COM: TftD should be enough to get us a lifetime Steam rating of 10 these days. 😀

  2. Barona April 3, 2012 / 8:54 am

    MOO was one of the great unsung titles of the past. I personally liked MOO2 better than MOO since it was basically the same thing, only updated and done a bit better. As you say… MOO3 is best never mentioned.

    They DID do a port of MOO… kind of… to the iPhone. It is called Starbase Orion. It is essentially the same thing as MOO2. I cannot tell if I have just moved on, or there was more we got from the large screen than we thought, but the game is… not compelling.

  3. Zed April 3, 2012 / 8:55 am

    MOO was one of my all-time favourites. While I know a lot of folks preferred the Civ-like planet management of MOO2, personally I found the slider management interface of the original to be more elegant and less micro-intensive. There are still people out there who play MOO nearly 20 years later!

    As far as successors go I agree there have been more disappointments than not over the years, but I have found Sword of the Stars 1 to be a worthy spiritual successor to MOO and a great game in its own right. A shame that SotS2 was released before it was ready, but Kerberos is continuing to polish it and, in time, it’ll probably become another great game as well.

  4. thade April 3, 2012 / 10:22 am

    I’m one of those weirdos that prefers MOO2 to MOO…but that’s not meant to diminish the value of that epic, epic game. MOO3 made me really sad.

    Syp, if you find yourself jonesin’ for a MOO successor, Galactic Civ 2 did a pretty decent job of it. I think it’s cheap on Steam nowadays. I introduced a new victory condition which involved making a culture so freakin cool that people would rebel just so they could legally frequent your shopping malls. Of course, if you want to go super high tech and blow them all up, that still works too. 😉

  5. pkudude99 April 3, 2012 / 12:39 pm

    Loved MOO, liked MOO2 better. Didn’t bother with MOO3. I currently have a “Dos Box” emulator on my laptop and run MOO2 in it from time to time. As you said, there’s really not much to it, but there’s still something about it that makes that damn “one. . . more. . . . .turn . . . ” response in my head turn on and turn on hard.

    As far as good 4X games since then. . . .nothing actually comes to mind. That makes me a /sadpanda

  6. Mika Hirvonen (@Hirvox) April 3, 2012 / 1:23 pm

    I did play MOO2 a lot, but I had a nasty habit of stretching games further than they’d need to be; In the endgame I’d have half the galaxy either buying every planetary upgrade available or building Doom Stars if they ran out of upgrades. And that led to a lot of micromanaging.

  7. Jomu April 3, 2012 / 4:28 pm

    I loved MOO too; but very disappointed with MOO3. I’ve been looking for space turnbased strategey games ever since and haven’t found any.

    Loved the mecklars 😀

  8. Tesh April 6, 2012 / 8:42 pm

    I loved my inexorable Silicoid empires. Then I discovered the Psilon tech advantage and didn’t look back. I’m sort of a MOO1.5 kind of guy, though. I loved the ship system of MOO2 and custom races, but much prefer the colony and research “multitasking” management of MOO. MOO3 is dead to me.

    Master of Magic was great, too, as were the first two X-Com games. Man, those Microprose days were golden.

  9. Helena Khan December 22, 2014 / 1:05 pm

    It’s been a very long time since I played, but the most intense games I ever had were running the Ursa. Always behind in the tech tree, it often came down to could you conquer a planet and find the tech to keep you in the game for a bit longer.

    No other race had quite that ability to dance on the knife edge and pull out a win in the most unlikely of circumstances 🙂

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