We got a chance to interview Chris Keeling Director of Product Vision at Wargaming.net about the upcoming release of Master of Orion. If you have missed the Early Access information article yesterday, you can click here to read up on it. Still, some questions remained unanswered, tactical combat and ship customisation. So it was no wonder I decided to take the opportunity to ask about these from Chris. Naturally, while I had a chance I asked him several other questions to get a better understanding behind the thought process for designing the game.
SpaceSector: What did you feel was the essence of the first two Master of Orion games that you had to capture for the new title?
Chris Keeling: The main thing was that feeling of “just one more turn” gameplay where you suddenly notice the room is getting lighter and you’ve been playing all night. This takes a lot of balance to create the right pacing, rhythm, and flow. The second was the feeling of being back among old friends you haven’t seen in a long time – bringing the races to life with new animation, voices, and deeper diplomacy. The third thing was to make the interface easier to grok, so it would be approachable to new players without losing the depth of interesting decisions that made the original so enjoyable.
SS: We know you’re only using the races from the first game, but overall which of the Master of Orion games do you think influenced the development of the new game the most and what inspiration was taken from the other titles?
Chris: Honestly, we looked not only at the original series, but also at all of the 4X games that have been made over the past 20+ years. We found what we thought were the most elegant systems, the most interesting features, and the ones that we thought fans would expect in a modern incarnation of a 4X space game based on the original series. While we took some from each game in the series, we generally consider MOO2 the peak of the genre.
SS: What did you like the most and least about the original Master of Orion games (picking something bad from Master of Orion 3 doesn’t count, too easy)?
Chris: While I would have been hard put to find anything good about MOO3 a few years ago, working so closely with the original games and even the members of the original team who helped us stay true to the spirit of the original legends has actually helped me to sort out bits of that game that were actually good, if only they weren’t part of a tragically unfinished game. In fact, while we had spent over a year working on a turn-based combat system, it was these consultants who suggested that real-time strategy was really the future of the genre. Anyway, the only thing I didn’t like about the original games was the feeling of juggling spreadsheets and crunching numbers all the time instead of just leading my Empire forward to galactic domination. We’ve done our best to present as much useful information to the player as they can stand in our version of the game, without creating massive lists of nothing but numbers.
SS: What effort have you put into the reboot to help it succeed with the old time fans?
Chris: We still have an extremely deep and rich universe in which to play, and plenty of different strategies and tactics they can use. Hundreds of technologies (including branching decisions) are organized into a searchable tree of tech clusters with clear icons showing what part of the game they affect – Production, Population, Research, Espionage, Combat, etc. The races are differentiated and diplomacy is deep with not only open warfare and espionage, but alliance, pacts, agreements, gifts, and trade. Population can be allocated to building structures, ships, or just cleaning up the environment – yes, pollution, morale, taxation, and similar factors are in there. All of the things that brought the original games to life are there under the hood, we’ve just changed the body style and the paint so it doesn’t look like the old jalopy you drove as a teenager (and had so much fun driving!).
SS: Now for the new players who might have only heard of MOO but never played it, what have you done that you believe will help them get into the series?
Chris: This is another area where we shine, and as I said earlier this was one of our core goals. We have brought the interfaces into the 21st century so they are simple, appealing, and intuitive. We provide more detailed feedback to the player if they want it, using tooltips and sub-pages to keep the information from interfering in their enjoyment of ruling the universe. We want to let them control everything when they are ready, but we understand how that can be overwhelming to the new player, so we are developing both an in-game tutorial and an online FAQ/help system to guide them. Plus, each race has a (voiced and animated) advisor to point out events of interest and give them some assistance.
SS: What mechanics did you feel you had to let go, if anything, because you thought you couldn’t get away with it in today’s market?
Chris: One example that the hardcore fans of the originals – myself included – enjoyed back then was the off-road travel across the galaxy. Fleets could sneak around in space sectors (see what I did there?) belonging to other races and even colonize behind enemy lines. When we went over this movement system, we realized that one of the main reasons it was fun was because you were basically cheating the AI by doing random things they couldn’t predict, forcing them to defend everywhere which, as Sun Tzu said, is really defending nowhere, making them vulnerable. Another problem with this mode of travel was that it left the galaxy too bland and level, with no strategic choke points where you could block an enemy and force them to fight. Other games have used this method successfully, so we gave it a try. As it turns out, it’s quite fun!
SS: What new feature unique to your game are you most proud of and which feature you tried to keep closer to the originals?
Chris: Well, I am justifiably most proud of the team and the efforts they made to make this game happen, but I know that’s not what you meant. I think we have come up with some very elegant solutions to the aspect of borders in outer space that have never been adequately implemented in 4X space games. Among the many features we have worked hard to reflect the originals, I would say the art, which has been overseen by the Art Director from the original Master of Orion, and the ambience, to include all of the animations, ships, music, and voices, really reflect the races they represent and bring the galaxy to life, just like it was (mostly in my head) over 20 years ago.
SS: What were some of the challenging decisions and choices you had to make in designing and making the game?
Chris: Every decision was challenging, especially since – as hardcore 4X gamers and fans of the original ourselves – we knew the community would analyze everything we did and let us know exactly how they felt about it. Frankly, we knew we couldn’t please everyone, so we made the game that we wanted to play, not only for ourselves, but also so our children could be convinced to play it with us, so they could have the same kind of experience that we had when we played the first Master of Orion.
SS: Now this is a question that has been on everyone’s mind and I have to ask it or I’ll be quartered, what is your approach to tactical combat or do we have to wait till E.A. release to find out?
Chris: As you have no doubt already figured out from my previous answers, it is real-time combat. You can speed it up, slow it down, pause it entirely, give movement and targeting orders, change squadron formations, view ship information (complete stats and weapon loadouts for your ships, only health and shields for enemy ships), and drag to select new groups and create squadrons on the fly. Personally, I prefer to only engage in battles I know I am going to win, which means I don’t have to micromanage my fleet much. But there is so much satisfaction in just watching the battle play-out in cinematic mode; to crush your enemies and see them driven before you…
SS: Sweet! I won’t be quartered! Now, what can you tell us about ship customization?
Chris: Ship design is detailed with multiple hull styles and skins for each race, different beam and missile weapons, shields, computers, armors, engines, and firing arcs which all have to be chosen carefully based on the player’s desired tactics. This should all be planned out far in advance with the appropriate techs being researched so you can increase the power of your ships. We allow multiple designs to be active in the Empire, but you can upgrade your ships to the most current design at any spaceport.
SS: Thank you for your time and good luck with the launch of E.A.
For those that are interested for more details about the ship customization, you may find this resource on their Steam Community page useful. Yes, they have Stellar Converters. Master of Orion will be available on Steam Early Access on February 26, 2016 for $49.99 USD. The game’s Collector’s Edition will also be sold on GOG.Subscribe RSS
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