Wargaming had a major presence at PAX AUS this year, as they have in previous years, and we managed to have a sit down with several key individuals from different franchises. However, we really only had the chance to talk about one game, as the demo took up all of our time. We were very happy with this, as it was the recently announced reboot of Master of Orion, which will be released under Wargaming’s new “WG Labs” label (essentially a development label under which Wargaming plans to release titles outside of their World of... series). We were given a 15-minute demo followed by some discussion, and all with Executive Producer Randy King.
As a quick intro, Master of Orion is a turn-based 4X sci-fi title (4X is defined as “explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate”), in the vein of the Civilisation series (but of course, set in space). The original was released in 1993, so comparisons to other titles are unfair, as Master of Orion itself is considered one of the forebears of the genre.
In the game, there will be 10 races, as per the original game, each with their own pros and cons, and this means each will require a very different approach. For example, the Psilons are scientists, the Darloks are spies, and the Sakkra can reproduce extremely fast. Randy used the Sakkra in our demo, but given the brevity, it didn’t much matter which race has been chosen as we didn’t really get to see the perks in action. Most striking right off the bat? The character models were gorgeous – the detail and textures were very impressive.
Rather than opt for a random environment, the developers chose to go with what they refer to as a “seed” – where in the layout of the system and the AI within are always the same. This enables players to play the same game with friends if they choose to, but also allows for great variability, as there are 999,999 of them… Each seed shows the universe at a certain level of development, which could be small and spherical, or large and complex, with hundreds of galaxies to explore.
Every race has an intro video with voiceover, but we skipped these for the demo. Players are given an Advisor, much like in similar titles, but this is new to Master of Orion. This works to guide more experienced players, but also as a tutorial for new players.
The demo started with a scout, a frigate, and a colony ship – players move ships by selecting them with a mouse click, then selecting where they’d like to move them with a right mouse click, which is fairly standard for games of this type. Stars and planets are connected via Star Lanes; a new addition to the series that essentially creates a roadmap that helps players predict the flow of movement more accurately (and in particular, enemy movement). Players then scan the planets nearby to see where they would like to begin. The planets within the galaxy are created randomly across four characteristics – size, class, resources, and gravity, with numerous possibilities across each, allowing for a great deal of variation.
Randy then chose to colonise one of the planets, which begun a colonisation video. We were advised that they will vary from planet to planet, but players can choose to skip them, should they so choose. Each colony is managed individually, which was a distinct design decision as it was key to the original. Management was as simple as deciding where to apply the population – everything to research, everything to production, and so on, but population resources could also be shared across the different options (depending on the size of the population).
We were then shown the research tree, which was extremely detailed, as is to be expected. An idea that I did find interesting was that rather than simply selecting the next step along a research path in order to chase a desired outcome, players could choose an outcome at any point in the research tree, and the game would then work towards unlocking and researching all of the prerequisites required to achieve that. This greatly simplifies research, which I find to be complicated and often confusing in games of this genre.
Given some players may not like to get too deeply involved into the assigning of resources, they’ve also added an auto-build function, in which players choose an overall goal (such as research or food production), and the game will automatically work towards that goal – researching buildings, assigning population, and so on. This gives players the option of getting their hands dirty in the nitty gritty, or letting the game do some of the more granular management. Given the number of planets that payers might come across in a given game, I know which option I’m likely to use…
At the end of a turn, the game moves forward by a year, and other player moves are calculated and actioned. Galaxies could be large or small, depending on the seed, and Randy chose to explore for his next turn (and yes, there is an auto explore), which uncovered an anomaly – these could be positive or negative discoveries, but they are almost always worthwhile looking into. The player’s goal is of course to propagate throughout the galaxy, increase their population, and interact with other races (AI or real players online) – who are all working towards achieving one of the win states.
Interactions with other races involves diplomacy (trade, share research, declare war, and so on), and over time, a player’s relationship with other races can change – in the demo, Randy elected to speak with one of the other races he had been dealing with. While the relationship at the time of the demo was one of peaceful interaction, it was clear by the tone of the interaction that this other race was not a fan of Randy’s, and he explained that this was because they had previously been at war. I’m interested to see how deeply this mechanic affects gameplay, or if it is simply a nice addition in terms of player immersion. Other races can also make requests of the player, which can improve relations between the races.
We were then shown something new that was added for the reboot – Space Factories. These do two things – notify players of approaching enemies, and also build specialist technologies that are utilised in space – mines, Star Bases, outposts, and so on. All of these allow players to develop and strengthen their place in the galaxy in various ways. There is also a Star Gate that can be deployed – allowing players to place several of these across the map so that they can get reposition and flank enemies in battle.
In regards to win states, there is a screen in game that shows how each player is travelling in regards to the various methods of winning – players can be elected as Supreme Leader of the Diplomatic Council (if enough races like them enough to vote for them), for example, or they can dominate and eliminate the others, or win by achieving a certain research goal before other players, and so on. The beauty of knowing who is leading in each possible win state is that players can lead in more than one – that way, if the game reaches an end and no one has achieved any of the win states (players can choose for the game to end after a set number of turns, or they can set it to unlimited as per the original), then a winner is declared by way of “Excellence”. Basically, whoever is doing the best at the time that the game ends is declared the winner.
While at this point we did come to the end of the demo, we did manage to find out some more info on the game – it has been in development for about a year and a half, and is coming towards the end of Alpha, but is still missing some key features. For example, battles are simulated at present, but they do plan to include tactical battles. Ship design is another feature that is being worked on, but we didn’t press for more details as to how that would work as we were short on time. A final feature we were shown after the demo was the ability to change your decision. Basically, the game records everything that the player does across every turn, and players can roll back to ANY turn and start from there again (thus losing progress after that turn). It’s an interesting addition, but may be contentious to loyalists/purists.
There will be a Collector’s Edition of the game, which will provide the only way to play the game prior to release. Not only this, it will also include the original three Master of Orion titles (updated to run on modern systems), a digital artbook, soundtrack (composed by the same composer that scored the original title), early access, and a couple of additional perks. As yet, there is still no release date.