Master Of Orion 2

By Shamus
on Aug 21, 2008
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Master of Orion 2
For those of you who don’t go in for all that turn-based strategy business, allow me to put this game into some sort of context. Master of Orion 2 (which leads to the unfortunate abbreviation of MOO 2) belongs to the 4X sub-sub-genre of strategy games. The 4X’s being eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Which makes about as much sense as referring to Doom as the IEH: The famous fIrst pErson sHooter!

You start off with a single homeworld in a hostile galaxy. You have to build ships, colonize worlds, research technology, grow your empire, construct warships, defend your colonies, and (eventually) subjugate the other other players to become the dominant species. It’s sometimes referred to as “Civilization, but in space”.

Some people celebrate Master of Orion 2 as the pinnacle of this sort of game. And just so you know what you’re getting into here: I am one of those people. The game came out in 1996, the same year the original Quake hit the shelves. MOO2 turns twelve this year, and I still think it’s the best of its kind. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Galactic Civilizations series is outstanding, but it never matched the MOO2 perfection for me. (Sadly, while I celebrate MOO2 as the best of 4X games, the sequel not only failed to live up to the greatness of its predecessor, it failed in a more general sense to be entertaining at all. MOO3 was the worst 4X game, and should only be sampled out of curiosity and masochism.)

Master of Orion 2
My original copy of the game was long gone, but a friend was nice enough gift me a new one. This is the first time I’ve seen the game in almost a decade. I was worried that it had been gilded by nostalgia and that re-visiting the game so much later would reveal that my long-standing appreciation was little more than childish whimsy. Having played a few games now, I can say my fears were unfounded: This game is absolutely legend, and its appeal remains undiminished.

Like my Starcraft review, I want to examine this classic and see if we can figure out what made makes it so great, and why its charm has never been duplicated.

Preamble thus complete, let’s get pedantic:

At the heart of a 4X game is the strategic decision making. The interface needs to clearly convey information, and then allow you to act on it as seamlessly as possible. It’s very easy to flood the user with too much data, or to muddle it. I think these games can be judged on the strength of how well they communicate with the user. A 4X game is its interface. On one hand, the game involves juggling tons of numeric data. On the other hand, the more it looks like a spreadsheet the less fun it’s going to be.

For example:

When administrating any one of the many planets in your empire, you have to decide what proportion of the inhabitants to assign to each of the three jobs: Farming, Production, and Research. They can spend time making food to support the population, working in factories to construct buildings or space cruisers, or researching technology to make more bountiful harvests, better buildings, more powerful space ships, etc. Anyone who’s played a strategy game will recognize these tradeoffs. On each planet, there can be several different type of inhabitants:

  1. Conquered and rebellious alien slaves: Like, you just invaded this planet a few turns ago and their technological distinctiveness has been added to your own. Because you’re the magnanimous sort of conquering tyrant, instead of exterminating the populace you’ve clapped them in irons and set them to work. Rebellious slaves have terrible output no matter what job you give them.
  2. Assimilated or subjugated slaves: After spending a few turns under the whip, the unruly slaves accept the inevitability of your iron-fisted rule, and begin working for you in earnest. Their inherent racial bonuses kick in at this point, so if you’ve enslaved the brainiac race you’ll get the most out of them by handing them lab coats and making them come up with new zap guns or whatever. If they are more of a mechanized Borg-like race, then the factories are the best place for them. But, you know, whatever your malevolence desires.
  3. Androids: Depending on the needs of your empire, you can “build” robots instead of “growing” people. They eat no food, they don’t have morale problems, but they don’t get any fancy bonuses to their output and they incur an ongoing cost to maintain. Depending on the makeup of your empire, you might find it useful to build some.
  4. Indigenous tribals: Once in a while you’ll run into a planet with an existing tribal population. They join your empire without hesitation, but their simple primitive minds can’t handle the complexities of your jet-setting, space-faring lifestyle. Ergo, they can only farm.
  5. Your own people: The eventual and rightful rulers of the galaxy, assuming you don’t botch your job and end up losing.

Master of Orion 2
The population of a planet can be a mixture of any of these races, and you have to choose which groups will work which jobs in order to ease your ascendancy to supreme ruler of the galaxy. Which types will farm, and how many? And so on.

This is actually a bit tricky from an interface perspective. In a more modern game, you’d probably allocate people to these jobs with sliders. Maybe they’d throw a drop-down box in there. But MOO2 just has a bunch of icons that you can pick up and shuffle around, like moving stacks of poker chips. This makes what would otherwise be a very dull bit of accounting into a visually appealing and tactile experience. When you click on a worker, you grab them and everyone to the right of them, making it easy to move huge numbers of people from one job to another with minimal cursor calisthenics. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it’s been replaced in modern games with sliders and buttons and scrollbars. Think of it this way: If you were playing Risk, would you rather scoop up armies and place them by the handful, or enter numbers into a grid?

But ease of input is just half of the equation. As fun as it is to put your minions to their work, you need lots of information before you can make those kinds of decisions. It’s one thing to look at the list of numbers associated with a colony and see the number for “economic output” is really big and the number for “research” as much smaller. It’s quite another to look and see this huge stack of glittering coins over a meager handful of beakers. It builds a sort of procedural face to go with the sterile numeric data. The colonies themselves become more iconic and memorable. The numbers are there too, if you need them, but most of the time you’re just looking for information like “which is bigger?” and “who has the most?” If I’m deciding if I want to have the cake or the pie, I’d rather look at the desserts in question than see a listing of how much each one weighs.

Space combat is far and away more interesting than combat in any other turn-based series I’ve played. The ship designer feature of Galactic Civilizations is tremendous fun, but once you get into a fight the two sides just float about blasting each other like armadas of jellyfish. In MOO2, the ships move about on a grid in the best tradition of tabletop strategy games. Different weapons have different damage outputs at different distances, and this mini-game offers incredible depth for anyone who enjoys moving their pieces around the board and making the other ships go kablooey. (It reminds me a bit of how Battletech has been described to me.) Me? I’m impatient, so I usually hit the “auto” button and let the AI go to town. It still makes for a fun show.

Master of Orion 2
MOO2 has leaders. You can hire up to four unique individuals and assign them to governing different star systems, where they will impart some sort of bonus onto the colonies in their charge. As I said in my Starcraft review, having faces and characters in a game – even a strategy game – gives it a certain degree of personality and brings you that much further from the sensation of playing a spreadsheet.

New engine and shield technologies are automatically applied to all existing ships. This is a little unrealistic, but it really eliminates a ton of busywork other games impose on you as you scroll around, upgrading each unit manually. This can turn into a huge time sink if you’re in the middle of a war and are racing up the tech ladder in an attempt to beat your foe with brains instead of brawn. In MOO2, you only need to upgrade when you want to roll out new weapons.

This is not to say that MOO2 is flawless or that it should be imitated in all ways by later games. The Galactic Senate screen is hopelessly shallow. The diplomacy is so primitive as to be nearly useless. And while I’ve dumped on the GalCiv AI from time to time, it’s lightyears ahead of the schizophrenic idiots running your rivals in MOO2.

But in the end the MOO2 gameplay has endured. MOO2 has levels of fun not found in later strategy titles, because newer games have moved away from the blocky icons and “game piece” style interface as they tried to put a more grown-up face on the old gameplay.

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  1. Robert says:

    I enjoyed MOO2 very much, although I would argue for the original MOO being a slightly superior game, in terms of design and depth. (The MOO2 interface is better, and the ability to customize races makes for more compelling gameplay for people who like to tweak.) They’re both very good, though.

    The main problem with MOO2 is that the game doesn’t have much of a middle. You tend to be developing colonies and expanding and getting ready to be a serious galactic butt-kicker…and then the game ends because someone gets a majority in the Senate. If it’s you, you win, yay! But it feels kind of like getting three rounds into a combat in D&D and having the DM say “ok, and you guys sweep the floor with the rest of the enemies and you’ve won. now, here’s your treasure…” It’s better than losing, but it’s gamus interruptus.

  2. Ben says:

    I saw the title of this article in my RSS feed and immediately clicked on over to your site.

    This came is the single thing that got me through my college career. Countless hours of playing head to head with my roommate, or soloing the Universe with my custom characters.

    Your review nailed it. I love this game! Now I have to go dust off my cd and figure out how to get it to run in Vista. If I was not at work I’d be digging through my desk right now.

    -Ben

  3. Martinl says:

    In my opinion, the best spiritual successor to MOO & MOO2 is Sword of the Stars, not GalCiv (and certianly not MOO3:The Quickening).

    That said, it has sliders. Tons of personality, but sliders.

    MOO1 was all sliders, and I like it slightly more than MOO2, if only due to the faster endgame.

  4. guy says:

    I never really got into MOO2 very much, but i think i’ll fire it up again.

    edit: say, can you turn off victory conditions? i can’t recall.

  5. MintSkittle says:

    I’ve heard many good things about MOO 2, and if I wasn’t busy replaying X-COM I’d go get a copy.

  6. Dinsdale says:

    Thanks for the reminder about MOO2.. It was one of my all-time favorite games and like Ben, I immediately clicked over when I saw the title in my RSS ticker.

    This weekend, I actually just reinstalled its sister game, Master of Magic (MOM). Once I’m done replaying that into the dirt, I’m definitely dusting off my MOO and MOO2 CDs.

  7. Carra says:

    I never really got into the 4x kind of games.

    But it does look like a nice game, might try it out one day

  8. GreyDuck says:

    I just got done playing the second of two back-to-back games of Space Empires V… I think I should reinstall GalCiv2 again and see how they compare for me.

    SEV is good, but it does suffer from a tendency toward information overload in the interface. (Yes, I can use Ministers. No, I don’t trust them.)

  9. Factoid says:

    Best 4X game ever. Probably my favorite strategy game ever.

    It had enough “exploits” in it that it was easy for people like myself that suck at strategy games but still like to conquer the galaxy. Research Turtle strategy 4 Life!

  10. Zereth says:

    As for the “4x” name itself: Pronounce “X”, then pronounce the first syllable of each of “expand”, “explore”, “exploit”, and “exterminate”. Things should become clear.

  11. Deoxy says:

    Best. Game. EVAR. I LOVE THIS GAME. Anytime I comment here on good games (especially old ones), I mention this game. GREAT to see you giving it its due.

    I agree with almost everything you said. I’m moderately sure that you actually need to upgrade shields and armor, though (could be wrong – been about 3-4 years now since I played, sadly). Basically, I think the drive was really all you got for free.

    Other nitpicks:
    -you left out Ship Officers: 4 more unique leader-y types that can be assigned to ships
    -The AI’s worst feature is what it does with the already-poor diplomacy/Senate stuff. It’s general game-playing behaviour isn’t TOO awful (even today). Just make sure to use the highest difficulty setting…

    MoO 3: The PERFECT example of this: “It’s very easy to flood the user with too much data, or to muddle it.” They took the individual good parts of MoO 2 and made whole games out of each, then spliced it into ONE game with a poor interface. WAAAAAYYYY too much detail for the interface strength. Each ssytem can have more worlds (good), each world has regions (which is basically… more worlds), worlds can also have moons (which are basically… more worlds)… yeah, it gets crazy. Also, the different races have different ecological needs (a neat idea)… but the interface and understanding on that was poor, as well. Yeah, ouchie. Very sad. :-(

    MoO 1 was also quite good, as has been mentioned, but I think MoO 2 was an improvement in ALMOST every way. The ship-stacking in MoO 1 was a particularly dumb way to do it, though it did allow for much larger fleets (which did make more sense).

    Oh, and leaders in MoO 2 gain experience over time, and they level up, giving bigger bonuses. It’s a nice touch.

    By almost universal agreement, the Creative racial advantage is too strong, since you got everything at a tech level (normally, you could only get one, then trade or steal for the others) for the price of just one of them. The last patch (which I have, if you need a copy!) bumped the price on that from 6 to 8 (and you only get 10, and can get up to 10 more by picking penalties). Even with that, I heard that many groups simply didn’t allow it.

    I do believe you could turn off some victory options, but I don’t recall for sure – I know you could turn off Aantaran attacks (which would block one route to victory – defeating the Aantarans). The whole Galactic Senate thing was certainly quite dumb – why would any race ever vote for any other, no matter how close their relations?!? A human player never would…

    Oh, another flaw: the “score” was utterly and completely manipulable, in the following manner:
    1. beat everyone down, until there’s only one foe left, and they’re wussy.
    2. Give this foe a planet with nothing on it but lots of population.
    3. Retake said planet and assimilate the population.
    4. Lather, rinse, repeat.
    Since you get points for population assimilated… Yeah, oops.

    But I spent many an hour on “just ONE more turn until…”. Fun game.

    Favorite way to play:
    -Largest universe size
    -Mineral rich
    -Aantaran attacks on
    -hardest difficulty setting
    -industrial age start (or whatever the “low-tech” option is called)
    -custom race:
    –creative
    –democracy
    –artifacts home world
    –research bonus (only 1 – out of points)
    –several penalties (food, ship offense, maybe? forget the exact)

    Stategy: TURTLE. Quality over quantity when the battles come (it’s fun having class X shields when they’ve got class I or even none, for instance).

    Early-to-mid game fun: make one ship with maximum durability (weapons not important), then several ships with NO durability (not even shields) but with LOTS of 2-shot Emissions Guidance missiles in small stacks and with the special equipment that lets you fire missiles twice. First round: fire all missiles at enemy ships (the “small stacks” is so you can allocate the missiles properly), then retreat the missile ships. Lots of boom! :-)

    Favorite end-game tactic: phasing stealth field and Time warp facilitator. Yay, invincibility (well, not completely… they can self-destruct their ships next to yours to hurt them :-) )! Oh, except for planets… Hope the enemy doesn’t attack before you annihilate them.

    Stellar converter = death star. Fun! With advanced tech, I’ve put double-digit stellar converters on one ship… yes, it’s completely silly, but wiping the Aantarans on the first turn with one ship takes a little silliness.

    You KNOW you’re an addict when… you get the stage mentioned in the population-assimilation exploit above, and you use that chance to wipe any planet smaller than Large (and Large planets that are poor or ultra-poor in mineral) or toxic, the rebuild the resulting asteroid field into a Large planet and terraform it back to perfection, just so you can have a larger population…

    Yes, I may have played this game too much back in the day…

    Edit: OK, seeing how long that comment is, you can replace “may have” with “DEFINITELY”. Whoa.

  12. Woerlan says:

    Best turn-based strategy game I ever played, bar none.

  13. Heph says:

    Hmm…I’m a fan of 4X games, and somehow never gotten around to playing MoO2. Guess I’ll have to pick it up somewhere. Is it abandonware yet?

    Anyway, I’m now trying to think of the name of a pretty similar Star Trek game. It was one fo the best, though it did suffer from information overload quite a bit. On the upside, you got to play with the Klingons or Romulans :D (no, not the borg. This was from the time the Borg were still considered superpowerful, as they should be).
    There’s also Star Wars: Rebellion, which, in its own way, was quite good. Not exactly the same overall game type, but it is a 4Xer.
    Does it show that I like games in known universes? :-P

    Edit: the Star Trek one I was referring to is “Birth of the Federation”, and dates from 1999.

  14. Deoxy says:

    One thing I always found silly about the game: population units are MILLIONS, and the max size possible is like 45 (and that’s after terraforming it to “gaia” and adding “advanced city planning, etc).

    So, yeah, the earth is currently home to 2 orders of magnitude more people than any planet can hold in MoO 2, yet earth should basically be a “medium” planet in the game. :-/

    Of course, if that’s one of the WORST things about the game…

  15. Jeff says:

    I always get MoO confused with Star Control… SC is the one with the storyline and the eyeball aliens, right?

  16. Jon says:

    Coming from Starcom II, I really tried to like MOO2, but I could never get into it. I usually like 4x games, and to this day I have a regular LAN group of CIV4 players, but the point to this post is to mention another game that came out around the same time as MOO2, directly competed, and lost.

    Still, this is a game I still occasionally play today, and to me it was a much more enjoyable game.

    The game, you ask?…Ascendancy. Anyone remember it? Likely not, and that is a shame.

  17. Warstrike says:

    MOO2 was also one of my favorite games as well, except for one change from MOO1 that drove me nuts. In MOO 1 your 6 types of ships stacked, so your 1200 small fighters made a difference. In MOO2, especially on huge maps (I like the space). I would get into fights of 200 of my large/titan class ships vs 400 of the computers polyglot. I could win by micromanagement, but even on auto it would MOVE EACH SHIP INDIVIDUALLY. It would take a half hour+ per round of combat with the computer set to auto-move, more if I was actually using the ships tactically. I think I at least once started a combat and went to bed. As far as the diplomatic victory thing you could always just abstain if you had too many votes.
    For that reason I have to go with MOM as the best 4X ever – it kept combat manageable while having the same strategic elements (and more) as MOO2 did.

  18. Rick says:

    SC : Yes, SC2 had a great storyline exploration and imo was one of the best games of all time, while SC was a fun arcade game with a simple yet effective strategy mode.

    MoO was also great, I liked MoO2’s custom race building

    Another little-known sorely underrated classic is BattleZone2 with its mix of FPS action and RTS the likes of which has not been matched since imo.

  19. Illiterate says:

    MOO2..

    I’ve got the userguide, but no CD anymore..

    I think it can be obtained used on amazon fairly inexpensively… I would just about call it abandonware these days.

  20. Jeff says:

    Ooh, Ascendancy… I still have the poster of the races on the wall behind my computer. Got both the boxed game and the strategy guide, although I’ll be darned if I remember where the guide is…

  21. Illiterate says:

    Sorry to post again so quickly…

    Tune in next week for a retrospective review of Homeworld, and Shamus describing the magical ballet of a group of interceptors swooping in to attack while maintaining claw formation, and the mountain of confused code which most of us mere mortals would produce if we were to try in vain to reproduce the grace and artistry of fleet maneuvers.

  22. Kevin says:

    There goes Shamus again, all gushy fan-boy love over yet another game. Dude, is there anything you don’t like?

    Seriously though, this sounds like an awesome time. Anyone know if there’s a playable version out for OS X.5.4 or Vista? I love turn-based games… being old and slow and not… um… thinky.

  23. Derek K. says:

    Ben: Dosbox.

    Works like a charm for me.

  24. Illiterate says:

    I either need to start posting in IE or get my thoughts in order first.

    If there was one element of MOO2 that always got me, I mean aside from the fantastic gameplay, was the music. The sound.

    It was classy, classical, rhythmic. It was hypnotic, to the point where I didn’t notice spending 10 hours clicking the “Next” button.

  25. Shalkis says:

    I only have a few gripes about MoO2, none of them show-stopping:
    -Micromanaging gets a bit tedious when you own a quarter of the galaxy.
    -You can at most build one ship per turn, per planet. You can’t churn out large groups of small, expendable ships like in MoO 1.
    -Managing large fleets in combat takes a lot of time, some grouping of units would have been nice.

  26. ATMachine says:

    On a completely unrelated note:

    Shamus, did you ever play the 2004 remake of Sid Meier’s Pirates?

    I quite liked it myself (me being an old Monkey Island fan, it hit many of the same chords on my proverbial nostalgia-guitar), but of course your mileage may vary.

  27. Cuthalion says:

    I must mention that if you include the subtitle in the acronym, Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares becomes MOO2:BAA. Two livestock sounds for the price of one!

    (Ok, now I’ll jump back to the top and read the post.)

  28. Tyrel Lohr says:

    I am of the opinion that MOO is overall a better game than MOO2. MOO2 did add some interesting features, and I classify it as an “all right” game overall, but the added micromanagement that was added really is more of a burden than anything else. I preferred the slider-based settings to the “MOM in Space” city/planet management window. The ship design and tech system in MOO2 is also not as effective than the one in MOO; however, I am biased, as I hold the belief that the MOO tech system was the best tech model to appear in any sci-fi 4X game I have yet played. Good diversity, no guaranteed technologies — you never knew what you were actually going to end up with.

    The strangest thing about MOO2 is that the elements I don’t care for in that game are the ones I actually like in its spiritual predecessor, MOM. I had no problem with city management in MOM, but planet management in MOO2 was just a complete bore.

    I still had fun playing MOO2 back in the day, despite all of its failings, but I haven’t reinstalled or played it in ages. When I am feeling like playing a 4X space game on the computer, I go back to MOO instead.

    Someone mentioned Ascendancy; that was a really neat game that was crippled by a horrible AI and even worse micromanagement. Still, it, too, was a fun game to play.

    Probably my favorite 4X space game of that period, though, was the old shareware game Stars!. It definitely wasn’t visually engaging — looking like a game that crawled out of the bowels of a Microsoft Office application (which is appropriate, given that the authors were originally Microsoft programmers) and it wasn’t much fun to play against the AI, but it was set up for great PBEM play, and was a lot of fun — even though its tech system tended to become woefully unbalanced past TL 12.

  29. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Lost empire:Immortals.First time I saw it,everything screamed MOO2(sadly,Ive never played the first one,just the second).You should give it a try.And a touch about leaders in this game is that they age and can die.

    http://www.paradoxplaza.com/lostempire/

  30. Heph says:

    @ATMachine: I quite liekd it too, though, to be honest, after a while it got a bit repetitive. Even on higher difficulties there was fairly little challenge and no matter what time period, no matter what difficulty, you could always get the second-biggest ship in the world in about an hour, tops (by taking out the #1 pirate, who’s always in the same region.). It was great fun while I played it, but there wasn’t enough extra game there. It’s still fun to take out of the box again once every couple of months for one or two games, after which it goes right back in.

  31. The Defenestrator says:

    Nitpick: When you research a new type of shield or armor, it’s not automatically applied to your ships. You have to replace or refit them. Engines are applied automatically, though.

    I have the game disc sitting next to me right now. I don’t actually think MoO2 is a very good game, objectively, but 4X is one of those genres where the fans have to settle because only a few games came out in the last 10 years. GalCiv 2 was okay, but I have my own gripes with it.

  32. Gothmog says:

    MOO2- brilliant game!

    I vote for a Twentysided Space Empires V game!

    Anyone want to join me?

  33. Factoid says:

    Re: The “creative” racial bonus.

    It wasn’t overpowered in my opinion, especially when they increased its cost for custom races and nerfed the Psilons (who are the only stock race to have it, I believe).

    For those that don’t know how custom races work, there is a screen where you get 10 points worth of attributes to choose, and there’s a whole screen of bonus and penalty items.

    You could have a bonus for food production which allowed your population to grow rapidly, or you could get a bonus for industrial output, etc… You could also get a negative for something like Low-G homeworld, which would give you -25% to -50% industrial output on normal or high gravity planets you colonized.

    You could take negatives and then gain some extra points to buy more bonuses.

    The second most expensive bonus was Creativity (8 points)

    Each tech you researched would have 3 items you could potentially gain. Usually a ship component or planetary structure. You usually get one or two of these three at random, but with creativity you automatically got all 3. It alleviated the worst part of the game for me, which was wasting time on the god-awful diplomacy screen trying to barter for techs, which usually meant giving away my research advantage.

    It’s been a couple years, but if I recall my standard custom build is something like

    Creative 6
    Industrial Output 4
    Low G Homeworld -5
    Artifact Homeworld 3
    -10% Ground combat -2
    plus 1 Research 3
    Large Homeworld 1

    This combination makes you amazingly good against the AI. You can out-research every other race, and if you turtle up for a good while, you’ll eventually research techs to offset your weaknesses, such as artificial gravity and powered battle suits.

    Sometimes instead of LowG Homeworld I’ll take a bunch of combat minuses, since I’m usually so far outclassing the AI tech-wise, it never seems to matter.

    EDIT: Oh, and I remembered how you make ships auto-upgrade for all items, not just drives. If you turn off Tactical Combat they do this automatically, but then every battle is handled by the AI. Personally I always do this because I hate the tactical combat.

  34. Rick Tacular says:

    Am I the only one who thinks that title screenshot looks like the one from Privateer?

    Yeah, I got nothin’. ;-)

  35. Oh yea, MOO2, that brings back memories… I could spend hours in front of the computer playing that game over and over again. As mentioned above, the music was just the right touch to make for great background without being annoying. The interface was so smooth and easy, and yet allowed for a great deal of micro managing that really didn’t need to happen if you didn’t want to think about it.

    MOO3 was such a disappointment when it came out. I tried it once and uninstalled it, I wish I could have tried a demo beforehand… waste of money that was. I may have to find a new copy of MOO2, that’d be worth buying again.

  36. Micah says:

    Swarms of tiny shuttles armed with Bio Terminator FTW

    Nothing like launching an all-out biological attack and just exterminating your opponents. Morals and ethics are for the weak!

    (After all the years, I get MOO and MOO2 a little confused, so I can’t remember which one the Bio Terminator shuttle swarm was from…)

  37. Greg says:

    Shamus, I was wondering if you had ever played the Space Empires series? (I believe Space Empires V is the latest of the group.) It is one of the 4X games, and one I personally enjoy a great deal. It has a small footprint on my computer, runs well on my laptop (which is not a gaming behemoth), doesn’t have any of that obnoxious DRM (I believe I simply had to enter a CD key, don’t even need the disc in to play), and is genuinely FUN. If you have played it, I am curious as to your thoughts on it. If not, perhaps you might want to add it to your wish list ;)

  38. Syndic says:

    oh, how I love MOO 2 – my PC has a win98 partition just for this (somehow I suck at figuring out how to make dosbox do what I want^^)

    since this has been asked: sadly, you can’t turn off the senate-voting as victory condition… but regardless of outcome, you can decline to accept it. Everybody will turn on you for this though – so basically everybody votes you for supreme leader of the galaxy, and you say “hmm, let me think about it… NO.” And then… they’re so peeved over this that they attack you? ok, it doesn’t make much sense, but it DOES make for a more interesting endgame ;)

  39. Martin says:

    As a side note, the most fun I ever had in MOO2 was

    A. Making the worst -10 point race I could and playing on average difficulty.

    B. +20 ground combat, Heavy G, Feudal Elerians. (MWWG)

    Darn it, now I’m trolling through old MOO2 posts on csipgs. Good times…

  40. Patrick says:

    Oy, I love this game, but my copy crashes frequently. Tihs seems to be someting in the code, since it gets set of at various turns. But sometimes I can continue and it will work, and somtimes I hit a brick wall and can never continue. I own a legal copy, but my actual CD is defective, so I’m reliant on a downloaded version. (Running Windows XP, and a friend has the same trouble.)

  41. Jeff says:

    Stars!, at least against the AI, is broken.
    One of the default races is one that can spam colonizers everywhere and colonize something like 90% of planet types. The AI doesn’t touch your colonized worlds until the AI inevitably declares war on you. At which point you’ve got like 90% of the galaxy’s resources…

    Fun to steamroll and watch battles though.

  42. Casper says:

    SpaceEmpiresIV also suffers from bad AI and too much micromanagement. But it is great for PBEM games. Imagine a galaxy with over hundred stars (and ten times the planets)and a dozen players fighting and negotiating. Fun times.

    And have you heard of FreeOrion? It is fan made game currently halfway finished, intended to be the game MOO3 wasn’t.

  43. LintMan says:

    MOO and MOO2 were great, probably my favorite 4X’s. My biggest gripe about them was their interfaces, though. When you play a huge galaxy like I prefer, the micromanagement becomes incredibly heavy, and the MOO/MOO2 UI just wasn’t very efficient for that, so games got to be a drag.

    GalCiv2, the best modern 4X IMHO, had a rather lousy interface at first as well, but they kept patching the game, god bless ’em, and eventually it shaped up pretty well.

    SOTS was fairly disappointing to me, particularly after I discovered that the races were pretty much all identical except for their drive technology and which techs they were more likely to get (I think).

    Space Empires IV was OK, but like Casper said, the AI was poor and the micromanagement was heavy. I never had much motivation to get SEV.

    Does anyone here remember Spaceward Ho!? I fondly remember it. It was a fairly streamlined space 4X with a tongue-in-cheek cowboy theme. I’d love to see a modern version of that with perhaps a little more depth. It’d probably make a good web-based game.

    And someone mentioned Star Control 2 – that’s probably my favorite game ever. Too bad SC3 was lousy (though not nearly as terrible as MOO3 was).

  44. Louis says:

    I had a job interview today, for a User Interface Developer, and I was unexpectedly asked if I could do Design, instead of just implementation. I’ve never done it, but when asked about what I would consider, I mentioned some the things Shamus described in this post. About representing things to a user in an engaging and intuitive manner. I mean, I couldn’t give the exact example of this game, since I wasn’t applying for a game-related position, but the line of thought in this post actually improved my ability to talk about it, and let me speak better during my interview.

    Thanks, Shamus!

  45. General Karthos says:

    Master of Orion II is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of strategy games. Though the Civilization Series has always come close, Master of Orion II holds a special place in my heart. I am considering buying a much more primitive computer for the sole purposes of running Master of Orion II and the first two Escape Velocity games.

    It won’t work on Pentium macs, so I have been without my Master of Orion fix for a long time.

  46. Dane says:

    Possibly my favorite turn-based strategy game ever. I still play it hotseat with friends regularly.

  47. Gaping_MAW says:

    Shamus, you should really give Sword of the Stars a go. Get the collectors edition version (original+the expansion) and play that. It is more focused on fleet actions, research etc, rather than planetary control. The combat is real time, while the strategy section is turn based.

    There is a demo out there, which gives you a taste of the game style. The game runs on the smell of an oily rag, and is available from Gamersgate, and from Impulse. Retail versions can be hard to find.

    If you like dealing with the minutae, then the Space Empires Series (currently up to 5 I think) is not bad. Available from Steam I think.

  48. Allerun says:

    I agree, SoTS is a lot like MOO2. I remember when MOO came out, a bunch of us were excited because it played a lot like VGA Planets, but looked a lot better. Then when MOO2 came out, we were ecstatic. SOTS actually got a lot of us playing against each other again in the same ways for the same reasons.

  49. Murphy says:

    MOO2 is one of those topics that always makes me cry a little, because it makes me think of MOO3, which could have been so, so good and wound up so, so bad. The original design document for it was a thing of grace and beauty, perfectly conceived in its entirety in one searing instant of genius. Then years went by, eventually everything cool got cut and they put an artistic director in charge of the game design.

    And what you’re left with is $4.00 shovelware that fills shelves at Half-Priced Books everywhere. No IFPs, no clever event system, no dynamic religions, nothing. May Rantz and Constantine burn in a special hell for it.

  50. GAZZA says:

    MOO2, Starcraft, and Star Control 2 are (in my opinion) the greatest games of all time.

    But just to nitpick Shamus: while your engine technology is indeed upgraded automatically, shield technology is not. :)

    Props also go out to MOO2’s predecessor Master of Orion. Despite it’s use of sliders, feeling tends to be mixed amongst fans as to which of the two is better (though I find you need DOSBox or something to play MOO on modern machines).

    To those above complaining about the Senate vote – I see this as part of the strategy. Your initial goal after survival is to secure 1/3 of the votes – that way, you can always deadlock the Senate. Of course, only wusses ever use the Senate to actually win – RealMen ™ wipe out every single enemy except one, leave that last one with a single UltraPoor planet that has been bombed into the Stone Age, and then go and tell the Antarans that they should surrender now before someone gets hurt.

    Or maybe that’s just me. :)

  51. Am I the only one who thinks that title screenshot looks like the one from Privateer?

    Yeah, I got nothin’. ;-)

    Now that was a great game!

    Not to mention, Starflight, another great game.

  52. Freykin says:

    Oh Microprose. You made such good games. I still pick up Master of Magic every now and then and play it. Have you ever tried Age of Wonders or Dominions? Dominions 3 is by far and away my favorite strategy game, and Age of Wonders is the closest to a new Master of Magic that’s likely to come out.

  53. Evlkritter says:

    Yay for Dom3! It is my favorite (and only) 4x game!

    A friend of mine said I should try MoO 2, offered to lend me a copy. Sounds interesting, maybe I should see if he still has it…

  54. MOO2 is still my all time favorite game. If MOO3 had of been better it probably would have lead to Masters of Orion Online (MOOO) ;)

  55. Shadani says:

    Spookily enough, I just picked up MOO2 a month or so ago. Now; unlike most people here singing its praises, I’m too young to get all nostalgic (I think I was seven or eight when the game in question was released. Yeah), but since I’m a big Grand Strategy fan who’s never afraid to check out classics most of my fellow teenagers would avoid on virtue of not being shiney enough (Philistines, I say!), I felt I owed it to myself to check it out. What with every 4X fan who remembers the 80s raving about it, and all.

    I was not dissapointed.

    Though it has its flaws (most glaringly the weak diplomacy, but I’ve loved games with worse), the game has a kind of timeless elegance to it that just manages to suck me in like very few ever do. It easily stands at least toe to toe with GalCiv2, IMO, which would be my pick for the ‘modern’ king of Space Grand Strategy games.

    I really can’t say whether I prefer one over the other, as one tends to be strong where the other is weak. GalCiv2 has good diplomacy, great AI and a great ‘flow’, so to speak, in the sense that every stage of the game is interesting and rarely stagnant. MOO2 has far superior combat and feel.

    One tiny little thing that gets on my nerves about it, though (and hasn’t been mentioned yet, I think), is how easy it is to terraform planets. I prefer all my worlds/settlements/provinces/whatever to feel as distinctive as possible, but in MOO they often end up feeling identical in short order. The way in which population is handled, though (again – an area wherein this game rocks, whereas GalCiv’s system for it is pretty lame) makes up for that.

    All in all, I’d say every grand strategy fan owes it to themselves to try this one out. Definately one of the best – if not the best – of its kind in its era.

    Which reminds me: I should really try out Master of Magic. I think it’s abandonware these days… Hm.

    *Rushes off*

  56. Tim Skirvin says:

    This thread has reminded me of the existence of excellent video games. Thank you!

    (Star Control II was the best game ever made. MOO2 ate huge portions of my adolescence. Alpha Centauri is the best of the Civ-style games. I want a good X-Com clone. Is there anything else? Oh yeah, we need space flight sims again!)

  57. Shadani says:

    Tim: X-com’s succesor is the UFO trilogy, which I hear is pretty good. Gamersgate.com has all of them up for sale for 20USD/EUR. Been meaning to try them, myself, but I haven’t finished the originals yet! So many games, so little time.

    There’s also a few fan projects out there, including a multiplayer addon for the original game. UFO2000, I think it’s called.

  58. Dragonbane says:

    Lintman: I *LOVED* Spaceward, Ho! In fact, I read all the way through this comment section to see if anyone else had mentioned it already. I was SO CLOSE to being the first person to bring it up, heh. :)

  59. LintMan says:

    Ooh yeah, I forgot about the Age of Wonders series – that was pretty good. I was really into Dominions 2 for quite a while – it has incredible depth and a really neat twist on the typical TBS gameplay. Impressively, the developer was just 3 people, but it did show in the areas of weak AI and barebones UI. I lost interest in getting Dominions 3 when the developers admitted they didn’t really give a rat’s a** about single player gameplay. Oh, and Freykin: rumor has it that Stardock’s working on a “Fantasy TBS” game, and they’ve professed admiration for MoM.

    X-Com was great, but drove me nuts because it was horrendously buggy, especially the inventory system. IIRC it also had an early bug where the difficulty levels were reversed. I started my first game on “easy” and was getting crushed, while others online were bragging how awesome they were, stomping through the game on “hard”.

    Shandani, you mentioned one of my favorite parts of MOO2 – how the conquered alien populations are handled. It’s vastly superior to Gal Civ 2’s “casual genocide” planetary takeover.

  60. Blake says:

    Heh, M002 was indeed a great game but it had some pretty serious flaws, mainly in terms of game balance.

    1) AI is garbage. Their ability to design ships (why couldn’t they just pre-make them ships that DON’T suck?) and use them in combat is terrible. Their empire management was only not as glaringly bad because they cheated. Alot.

    2) Plamsa cannons win. These things are waaaay too good. The only other remotely viable types of weapons to have on ships are H AF ion cannons, because you can soften the shields up with cannons, then snipe out their engines and cause a very useful explosion. Repeat for fun and profit. Also, some weapons and options were trash; like Mauler Devices or Scout labs.

    3) As mentioned by others, creative was overpowered. But really, thats small beans compared to other problems.

    4) As mentioned by others, diplomancy was near-useless. But its not that much better in recent games. For instance, in Medival: Total War 2 (that I just picked up last month, and is a very good game), if you actually don’t want to lose and let everyone push you around you will invariably end up 1) Being at war with 3-5 people at any given time.
    2) Everyone will hate you and think you are a horrible, evil person; even if you don’t do any really evil things.
    2) Being excommunicated, which sucks ass.

  61. Tim Skirvin says:

    Shadani: I picked up at least one of the UFO games, and it proceeded to never run on my beefy-for-the-time machine. That was enough for me. I also disliked X-Com 3 pretty intensely, and X-Com 2 was merely so-so.

    UFO2000 was all about multiplayer. I don’t want multiplayer; I want tactical combat against the computer. Thus, I play lots of Advance Wars when those games come out.

  62. Varil says:

    I…third? Fourth? Err…anyway. I concur that SoTS is a good deal like MoO(2) on the strategic scale. Diplomacy is usually consistent, if rather shallow. No tech trading, for instance.

    The only way to get tech is to steal it from the broken husks of your enemies using salvage technology. Or, y’know, research it yourself. Random tech tree, but every race has at least some chance of getting every tech. Except the drive techs, which are race-dependent.

    Every race moves differently. Humans are crazy fast, but have to use predetermined nodelines to get from point A to Point B. Liir are slower near gravity wells, but get faster in deep space. This applies to combat too, where the Liir are insanely maneuverable fighters in deep space, but a bit sluggish near worlds(but still more agile than most ships).

    Races are kind of similar on the strategic level. The different drives mean different kinds of army management and can mean different priorities in extreme cases(like the hiver, who move at less than lightspeed but can set up teleport gates from instant travel to anywhere they own).

    On a tactical level is where races get really different. Liir, as stated, are agile as dancers, and tend to have a powerful armament of beam weaponry, but are fragile as glass compared to most ships.
    Hivers are brutal tanks with a ton of raw firepower, crazy thick armor, and the ability to turn like a million ton of bricks rolling in a giant wagon down a hill with no steering wheel. That is to say, they make great tanks but terrible dancers.
    Zuul come with guns, guns, guns, guns, and a ship made of tissue and prayers. And guns.

    Etcetera because I’m tired of ranting. Anyway, you may want to try the demo. I’m just sayin’. It’s an entertaining game, with a good interface and some interesting innovations. The worst thing I can say about it is plotting a route as humans in a large, spherical galaxy is an exercise in futility and it’s okay to cry a little.

  63. F says:

    Good game. Good game.
    Even if i prefer

    Master of Magic

    and

    X-com (the first one of course, the second is a bit meh and i removed the third from the list)

  64. Insanodag says:

    I actually really liked MOO3, I am guessing that working a 12 hour week as an ESL teacher in China in a small town with quite limited leisure facilities gave me the spare time needed to tweak all the various mods in order to create a playable game.

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