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Master of Orion III
February 18, 2003 | Jay Swartzfeger

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How many game series have the staying power to last more than ten years? Once you count Civilization, Might & Magic and the Wolfenstein/Doom/Quake triptych, it gets harder to name A series with true longevity. Once Master of Orion III is released this quarter, it too will join those series that have entertained gamers for over a decade.

Master of Orion III, much like Civilization, is a turn-based strategy game that owes a lot to its predecessors. The series is known by its fans to be a ‘4X’ game: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. The original Master of Orion was developed by SimTex and published by MicroProse in 1993 and quickly hooked thousands of gamers with its addictive mix of interstellar strategy, conquest and diplomacy. Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares was released in 1996. Although more robust and engaging than the original, many gamers complained that the sequel didn’t have the pacing of it’s predecessor.

Fast forward to 1998 and it becomes a bit of a soap opera. MicroProse shuts down SimTex, then MicroProse gets bought out by Hasbro. Through all the corporate wrangling it’s amazing that the series wasn’t completely forgotten; MicroProse made a deal with Quicksilver in 1999 to begin work on the newest Master of Orion installment. Fans of the series will be glad to know that Master of Orion III was under the direction of Alan Emrich, who also worked on the first two games.

Before diving into the game itself, let me state upfront that this is my first foray into the Master of Orion universe. I’m diving into Master of Orion III as a strategy lover with no hopes, biases or preconceptions of what the game would (or should deliver).

Master of Orion III (MoOIII) starts out not unlike other strategy games, and the premise is similar. You begin with a home planet, a handful of ships and the ambition (or is it megalomania?) to rule the galaxy. It’s apparent from the start that MoOIII is more than just Spaceward Ho! on steroids. It would be easy to paint MoOIII as “Civilization with spaceships”, but MoOIII is truly an original game that has a breadth and depth that equals or surpasses Sid Meier’s creation. MoOIII is a game, if you’ll pardon the pun, of galactic proportions.

Space is big. Really big
16 different alien races, up to 256 star systems, dozens of technologies to research, virtually unlimited number of ship designs… it would be very easy to drown in a morass of options and information in MoOIII. Thankfully, MoOIII delivers all of this detail in a clean and logical manner.

After choosing your race and initial game options, you’re presented with the galaxy map. Besides mapping out the stars and the various star lanes that interconnect, this screen also contains critical information for running your empire. Along the top of the screen are icons that represent your empire’s output – farming, mining, industry, production and research. These are just visual indicators of the health and wealth of your empire.

The true meat of the game is delivered via a tabbed interface at the bottom of the screen. These eight tabs are the portals to managing your empire: technology, finance, empire, personnel, foreign office, planets, shipyards and victory. The bulk of MoOIII’s management is tucked away under these tabs, making it easy to access key functions.

At the beginning of each turn you’re given a situation report, called the sitrep. Think of this sitrep as your personal assistant, keeping track of events in your own back yard and to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Here is where you’ll receive updates on tech advancements made by your scientists, or receive notification of incoming diplomatic messages. The sitrep is invaluable because it contains hyperlinks connecting directly to what it’s reporting on. For example, when the sitrep notifies you that a new bill is being proposed, you can click a link that takes you directly to the senate. The nice thing about the sitrep is that you can set filters to weed out low-priority messages and only see the ones that immediately concern your empire.


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