Thursday, 11 April 2013

Master of Orion (MS-DOS) - Guest Post

Master of Orion is a game I’ve heard mentioned many times. I’m slightly rule breaking with this one, as there was actually a section in a game guidebook that I had in the nineties which broke down this game, alongside others such as Masters of Magic and Sim City 2000. However, I don’t remember any of the pearls of wisdom from that guide at all.

Well… except for the fact that this is a game about SPACE.

As I load the game up, the title screen certainly goes along with this one thing I know. At this point I still don’t really know what Orion is. A planet? A galaxy? Wait, I think I remember ‘Orion’s Belt’ being a space thing.

No time for speculation however, as without a moment’s pause this fiery giant is attacked by a space armada!

Apparently the denizens of some other planet have beef with Orion, thus have sent their war-fleet to sort the problem out. For some reason these alien peoples have chosen a toilet seat as their insignia for their ships. It takes all kinds to make a world space I guess.

My resolution of late is to try to enjoy some spacey themed things. I’ve avoided it for many years, deciding that fantasy was more my bag. Lately I’ve been feeling that I’m missing out on a whole cultural, multimedia-spanning genre however, so aside from watching the Star Wars movies at some point this week, I’m also going to be throwing myself into some high-octane, blaster-fuelled, space romps!

Anyway, back to the action as the toilet-banner fleet drop their missiles onto a domed city. Thankfully they aren’t a very good aim, and instead destroy a nearby mountain.

The domed city survives and launches a counter-offensive, blowing one of the toilet-fleet’s planes to smithereens. The others chicken out and flee the scene, or retreat victoriously – I don’t know their initial objective so I can’t really make a judgement. Losing one ship to destroy one mountain might be a good trade-off in the galaxy of Orion!

Right, I guess this is a game about dropping things onto cities from space. Sounds pretty fun so far. I’m pretty sure there’s some resource management or something in this game though, as the guide I had only covered strategy games. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of strategy in dropping things onto other things.

I get a choice between a variety of space-races, ranging from “Typical Star Trek nerd” pictured above, to what I think is the villain from the original Care Bears series. Also present in the roster are: Furries, slugs, Battletoads, classic grey alien looking guys, bird-men with really creepy hands, ant-men, bull-dudes, and some kind of guys made of crystal. Each has its own racial speciality, which tells me that my initial fears about this game being too simple are ready to be assuaged as heck.

I pick ant-men as they’re hard workers, which makes a lot of sense. I then get to pick flag colour, homeworld, and a name for my guy. I select the defaults for all of these, except for flag colour, because purple is the proper colour for imperialism. Even in space.

Right, on with the game itself then I guess. I’m treated to a map of my home planet, Kholdan, near to some other flashing icons which I think represent planets. There are a lot of stats, and many menu items on the bottom of the screen to select. I notice that my worker ant fellowship have a high industry rating, but very low tech and economy. We also apparently don’t have any ships, even though I can see some just off the coast (what’s the correct space word for this?) of my planet.

Ok, wow. Looking at the map to get myself acquainted with the area yields a huge array of other planets. There’s also a map key to show which planet is controlled by each race, but as I inputted them into my head using descriptive terms rather than by their actual names, I don’t really know who some of the races are. Humans were the star-trek guys, Silicoids were the slug people, and my brilliant ant-dudes are the Klackan, but the other three remain a mystery to me. Diplomacy may be the key!

While the ‘Races’ button does allow me to use diplomacy I think, I unfortunately haven’t managed to meet any of the other races yet. Apparently I know which planets each race controls in our galaxy, but the ant-people of Kholdan have never interacted with any of their Orionian brother races. This will be my first priority then!

To aid the ant-people in our noble goal, I decide to build a spaceship. I don’t understand costs or the economy yet, but I figure that the ant-people have a fair old amount of money squirreled away from all their apparent hard work.

I want to impress the other races, so I decide to build the biggest ship I can. I pop a colony base on there, so that we can spread our message of peace across the galaxy like a commune of space-hippies. Then I throw some nuclear missiles and bombs on there, just in case those Star Trek guys pull any of that “We come in peace / Shoot to kill” crap.

Nothing seems to happen when I click build, but it didn’t give me an error message either, so I assume my flagship will be built accordingly.

After pressing ‘Next Turn’ a few times and wondering where my flagship is, I realise that what I’ve actually done is design a spaceship, not build one. I click to build one, and the game surprises me by telling me that I now have a ship! That simple!

...I’m mistaken. It actually seems to say, upon further analysis, that I WILL have a ship, but in 652 years time. I don’t know how long that is in game turns, but I’m going to divert a lot of resources away from other areas to speed in the progress. Success – only fifty-eight years to wait instead!

Clicking on my planet yields an inside view, much like some of the Civ games. It turns out that the ant-peoples have many mighty factories, but the fumes from this expansive industry has led to a green and sickly looking planet. I guess my second priority, after establishing contact with another planet, should be stealing a better planet away from them.

An ant-man scientist approaches me suddenly, wiggling his antennae, and asks which of the three technologies I should focus on next. I’m impressed both by his bombastic wedding ring, and his miniature painting-set that’s strapped to his belt, so I feel compelled to choose offense over defence. After all, are we not the mighty anti-people of Kholdan the smoggy?

As soon as I choose this though, the scientist sees this as a sign that I’d like to continue talking to him, so bombards me with other areas of research to focus on. I don’t understand a lot of it, as he keeps using terms like “parsec”, but I go for whatever sounds like it’s going to be better at dropping things onto cities.

Clicking on my pink fleet, I find out that I can send them to other planets. I suppose that’s the point of spaceships? I choose to send my colony ship to the nearest planet I see – maybe this will be the way that the ant-dudes escape their smoggy planet? Through simple, peaceful colonisation rather than nuke-wielding death-ships? Only time will tell.

Hmm, maybe I should have clicked on the red-planet before I sent my colony ship off. Apparently, each of these shiny objects are actually stars, rather than planets. I guess that makes a lot more sense, considering that the galaxy didn’t seem to have a central sun. I guess I assumed that the planets were floating around arbitrarily rather than orbiting? That’s one mystery solved.

However, even with this new knowledge, it turns out that I’m trying to colonise a rubbish solar system. The game informs me that I’m trying to colonise an old, dull star, and that all I’m likely to find are poor planets. A poor planet would be better than the Victorian London planet the ant-dudes seem to find themselves on though, so I won’t abort the mission. Besides, I found out what a parsec is thanks to this – a distance of measurement. Could be a big distance, could be a small distance though – I have no way of telling scale at the moment.

My new colony is founded! I call it New Antiland, because I’m rubbish at thinking of names and it’s entirely representative of what I hope to achieve with this new planet. It will be a new world, free from the smoke and terrors of Kholdan!

It doesn’t seem like I can do much with my new planet, rather than adjust the sliders. I go against my aims for the ant-people immediately and pump everything into industry, given that the new planet is basically just a steppe-wasteland. Have we not learnt the lessons of Kholdan?!

Kholdan is overpopulated. I guess I’ll have to build a colony ship to transport some more of our people to that red wasteland the new hope of the ant-dudes. Unfortunately, we still have twenty-two years to wait until our nuke-ship is ready, and that has to take priority really. I’m not being shanked by some space-slug because I wasn’t prepared to obliterate my section of the galaxy at the first sign of provocation.

The residents of New Antland toil under an angry, red sun in their eight factories, dreaming of return to their smoggy home-world. In actuality though, the population has gone up, so I’m assuming that the ant-dudes would rather live in this desert hellhole than starve to death in their overpopulated capital.

Yes indeed, New Antland is a place where an ant-man can really make his mark. Unless they’re hive mind like real ants, in which case individual glory probably doesn’t play a huge factor in their (lack of) decision to move.

My scout ships find a solar system that not only has good, green planets, but also isn’t poor in minerals. Everyone on Kholdan must relish the hope of moving to this new planet rather than the horrors of toiling in the desert.

At this point, the scientist ant informs me that it’s time to invest in reducing industrial waste technology. Hey, I’m sure there’s a message in here about respecting your home-world by fixing it up rather than trashing it, but in a game where I can just go and take a new planet when I need one, this sounds like more hard work than recycling or not dumping in the oceans or whatever. Still, I don’t see any reason not to invest, as it’s my only choice currently, so play on scientist!

I’m informed that the ant-dudes have built so many factories that there literally isn’t any more space for them on Kholdan. Wow, I guess the hard-working trait really wasn’t lying earlier. My scout ships have discovered some more useless desert and jungle planets too, so I guess expansion is necessary to avoid stagnation. I’ve still not encountered any of the other races in our galaxy yet, but I’m beginning to become painfully aware of the fact that the only defences my two planets currently have are two scout ships, which are off discovering other solar systems, and the nuke-ship, which will be built in another nine years. Let’s hope that the slugs or Trekkies don’t show up to drop things on my domed cities before that point!


As the ant-dudes beam with pride that their flagship is completed, I’m struck with the realisation that, given my current productivity, it would only take one year to build around eight or so smaller ships of a different design. The united effort of the entire ant-dude population has kind of been devoted to the nuke-ship thus far however, and I’m pretty confident in the ship’s ability to defend our sector of the solar system. I mean, I haven’t experienced any battles yet so I don’t really know what I’m up against, but this ship took a long time to build. The correlation surely implies the possibility of battle most awesome when it’s engaged.

In fact, I seize on the new confidence and build a colony ship, which should only take five years.

Suddenly, the interplanetary news has a top announcement, which is that the figures have been released for advanced technology. It turns out that we’re the least advanced peoples in the galaxy, in spite of our new ship. Also, the slug people are apparently a people not to be underestimated!

We better get to stealing as many planets as we can!

Argh, the range on my actual colony ship is so puny that I can’t colonise Crypta with it either, so I guess I’ll send them to a nearby random solar system instead.

Bam, our one attack ship has apparently put us second in the galaxy for armada strength! This is quite a positive sign from the ant-dude’s perspective, as it must mean that everyone else sucks as much as we do.

I’m really enjoying exploration at this point, but you have to have a colony already near to the solar system you want to explore in order to send scout ships there. It’s all done really easily once that’s sorted though. The Excalibur nukeship is on its way north still (is there north in space? Up? Widdershins?), so we should be able to exploit that hellish mineral rich planet we found earlier. Hooray!

The sad thing is that I haven’t encountered any other races yet. Since we’ve been informed that the nukeship is pretty much the best thing in the galaxy, I really want to test it out on someone!

I get a message from the slug guys, saying they want no contact with us. They also use an adjective to give the message a whole spicy racist vibe. This is interesting to the mighty ant-dudes as we haven’t had any contact with them up until this message, so it’s odd that they’d choose to contact us to tell us they don’t want any contact.

Bugger. It looks like the slug guys have colonised all the solar systems nearby, and are perilously close to Ant City US(A). The inferno planet will have to wait – the nukeship has more important things to do now!

A good omen! The ant-dudes are first in the galaxy for advanced technology! Considering that I’ve been devoting everything away from research towards building ships and factories, it’s weird that I’m suddenly the most advanced peoples in existence. Especially considering that I don’t really know what I’m doing and this is on normal difficulty.

This bodes well for the mighty war on our doorsteps!

Sure? I don’t really understand the ecology ratio, especially as I thought that “eco” stood for “economics”. Ah, this might be the way to sort out the horrible gases rising from ant-dude homeworld though, so definitely in that case. I mean, if there’s a minimum amount to keep something clean, why on earth would I be paying more than that? And what exactly am I paying, considering that there doesn’t actually seem to be any form of currency? Who knows!

Hmm ok, the slug people finally showed up on the races screen. When my ships didn’t do anything when they arrived at their planet, I realised that I’d probably have to declare war using diplomacy or somesuch. On that screen I managed to find a comparison between our peoples.

It turns out that I’m compared unfavourably with them, but only just. In production and technology we’re similar, same with population. But apparently their fleet strength and total power are larger than mine. However, so is their number of planets, so hopefully they’ve left themselves perilously undefended. They sound ripe for an attack!

That’s more like it! Not so cocky with the racial insults now I have a few ships near your planet, huh Carnax? I threaten him for a bit, but he decides that I’m bluffing and throws my diplomat out. Well, I’m certainly not bluffing, but my inability to work out how to attack the guy means that he’s probably right to ignore my threats anyway.

I spend a few turns trying to work out how to attack, when randomly I get a message saying “Bomb the Enemy Planet?”

Yes. Yes. All the way yes. Result: one factory destroyed.

Carnax of Slugonia sends me a message that any more sabotage goes on and our relations will worsen. Apparently he can overlook a little bit of sabotage, but from here on out I need to watch it. As I assumed we were at war, given my random bombings and positioning of my war-fleet, this is a really underwhelming response. While he’s here though, I figure it’s a good time to maybe mend our relations by proposing some treaties. The ambassador refuses all of them, claiming that they’re unfair. Carnax is clearly choosing to spit in my eye with all these mixed messages throughout, so I threaten and bully the ambassador a bit more.

Oh dear, it suddenly got a bit hot in here! I may have pushed them a bit too far with my latest outbursts, as the ambassador begins screaming about genocide.

Eureka! That’s how you send troops and colonists to enemy planets – there’s a button for it under the planets menu. I quickly send 25 million troops to Xengara. Finally, Carnax will pay for his verbal crimes against the glorious ant-dude empire!

Haha, another stroke of luck! It turns out that espionage isn’t a waste of time after all. I pumped the slider up the second I made contact with the slugmen and then forgot about it. Boldness pays dividends however, as now a planet has rebelled against their rule. The war is all but won!

I’d say RETREAT, but it looks like there’s no one left to run away. 25,000,000 ant-dudes just met their deaths.

I had the nukeship circling above, and its nuclear weapons apparently come in handy during ground invasions according to the text, but there was no opportunity to use one…argh.

Alright, finally some space combat! I’m transported to a tactical map the second the slugmen bring some troops back to their planet..

…Crap, after absolutely destroying my entire armada with their one ship, the slugmen try to invade Ant City US(A)! They’re beaten back, but not before they’ve destroyed half the inhabitants of the solar system.

For some reason the spaceship I’ve had orbiting another slugman planet has suddenly decided to attack the planet itself, represented on this battle map by a moon smaller than the spaceship itself.

The planet responds by smashing my spaceship to pieces before it can get close enough to use its missiles. Hmmm. The planet does the same to the next three spaceships which show up.

Right. So I’m basically now defenceless and under the threat of constant slugmen attack. Only one thing for it.

Hooray! The blood money pays off. I give the slugmen 25bc, which is basically less than I spend on spies to blow up their factories each year. This sum totally squares us apparently, according to the message, but then they decide against peace with me even so. I give them some technology, they decline. I ask for peace again, they say I’m playing them for gullible fools and storm out in a huff.

Even so, their opinion of me has gone from “HATE” to “TROUBLED”, so things are looking up! Maybe they won’t genocide us up after all. The ambassador did loom pretty menacingly back there though, so I’m not holding out much hope.

They decide to attack me after all. They failed at the ground invasion, but Ant City US(A) has seen better days. I’m beginning to become really worried at this point, as the slugmen are clearly outclassing me in every area except for rebellions – they lost another two planets while they bombed the hell out of mine.

Then at last, peace! We exchange tribute, and set up a trade agreement, and all is right in Orion again!

I think that’s probably a good cut-off point actually. I don’t think there’s anything else in this game to show – I could be missing whole swathes, but I don’t know. Final score: ant-dudes 0, slugmen 0. War…war never changes.


  1. That there's some heavy, heavy-assed shit. Funny as hell!

  2. Oh, one of my most favorite games of all time, but Master of Orion II is better. If you give it another try: Use the production bars at your planets a little better.

    First use the 'Ind' bar to pump up the factories to maximum. You will not get very much done without them. The Klackons can do this very quickly.

    The 'Tech' bar determines the amount of research points the planet produces. You need a lot of them, so I usually have planets that have everything in production or tech unless there is some other need at the moment. And have you noticed that you can distribute your research points over several areas? You need all kinds of things, not just guns and bombs.

    Then there is the 'Def' bar to build planetary defense bases. The more of them, the better, but of course there are more things for your planets to do, like building ships or researching.

    Last, your ship design was not really good. The colony base takes up most of the ship's space and some basic missiles as an afterthought don't really make it a battlestar. Research a few better weapons and build pure warships, unarmed colony ships and so on. Later in the game you will need far more ships and the best equipment you can get your claws on. But who's better at pumping out new ships than the Klackons?

    Use the 'Eco' bar at the minimum level that leaves your planet clean. Set it higher only when you want to improve the planet and allow more population and industry, but 'terraforming' must be researched first.


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