Video Game: Starbase Orion
is Turn-Based Strategy
developed by Chimera Software, LLC. Originally advertised as a port of Master of Orion
, the game has since evolved. One marked difference from the get-go is the focus of gameplay and any enhancements on multiplayer. Like MoO
, the player takes control of a starfaring race (Cyban
, human, Isather
), colonize and improve worlds, research new technologies, design and build ships, conquer enemy worlds, engage in diplomacy and espionage, etc. The initial release of the game did not include some of these features, but they were added in subsequent updates.
By far, the largest different between Master of Orion
and Starbase Orion
is tactical combat. Tactical battles in Starbase Orion
are, basically, real-time simulations. When two hostile fleets meet at a star system, the players set battle behavior for each ship or ship type. Behavior includes maneuvering (close to short-range, maintain medium range, maintain long range, stay close, evade, retreat), targeting (largest, smallest, weakest), primary target and primary escort. Beyond that, players have no effect on the battle, the results of which are displayed at the start of the next turn. Already knowing the final result, the players may watch the battle simulation. A battle may last more than one turn if not all ships of either side have been destroyed or if reinforcements have arrived. All non-missile weapons always hit, so firepower is usually the deciding factor. This was likely done to speed up multiplayer games, as turn-based tactical combat between large fleets can take a long time.
Planetary improvements are done in the style of Master of Orion II
, although each planet has a limited number of building slots (depending on planet size). Each improvement requires a different number of slots. Most require 1. One requires 2. Orbital structures require 0. Unlike MoO
, only one starbase may be built per system, and it protects the whole system. Certain structures are improved versions of existing ones and do not take up extra space (e.x. Trade Port II replaces Trade Port I). The number of slots may be increased after researching and building certain improvements.
Research is divided into three categories: astrophysics, civic, and military. However, it's not always clear how they are subdivided, as starbases are placed in the astrophysics category despite being military structures. Each technology has a colored indicator by it, showing how many technologies can be researched in this category before it disappears. Red means that, if the player chooses to research a different technology from this category, this one will be lost, although it may re-appear later. Yellow means you are 2 technologies away. Green means 3.
Ship types are identical to Master of Orion II
, except Doomstars are called Mammoths. As before, Titans and Mammoths need to be researched. However, Battleships need to be researched as well. Freighters are not built separately, but extra food is automatically transported between non-blockaded colonies at a cost. Extra food that is not used is sold for profit. Instead of size, each ship type has a certain number of weapon slots and a certain number of equipment slots. The number can be increased through research. For example, Frigates can initially fit only one weapon and two pieces of equipment, but can be increased to three weapons and four pieces of equipment. Equipment can be faster engines, larger fuel tank, thicker armor, shield generators, etc.
There are only six types of weapons, although each type of weapon has three stages of improvement unlocked through research. Lasers are the Jack-of-All-Trades
of weapons: average damage decreased with distance, equal damage to different types of defenses (shields, armor, structure). Gauss turrets are close-range weapons that completely ignore armor but are terrible against shields. Plasma turrets are for long-range fights (i.e. damage increases with range) and are more effective against shields. Nuclear missiles have extremely long range but limited ammo. Photon torpedoes have a slightly shorter range but travel faster and do more damage. Missiles and torpedoes can be countered with point-defense
and ECM systems. Ion pulse cannons are, usually, the last to be researched and are short-to-medium range weapons that deal devastating damage to structure but reduced damage to shields or armor.
Military and colony leaders can be hired at auctions. Auctions last for several turns but can be extended due to fierce bidding. A player is initially limited to 3 leaders total, although that number can be increased to 5 with research. Upon reaching the limit, the player may not even place a bid on any new leader. Leaders are pretty unique in their effects on planets, ships, fleets, or the whole empire.
Unlike Master of Orion II
, fleets underway may not be redirected. The only exception is for a race that hires the colony leader Morph, although that feature is known to be buggy.
The game contains examples of the following tropes:
- Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Each player is limited to 3 leaders total. This number can be raised to 5 with research but no higher. Likely, this is done to prevent a wealthy player from unbalancing the game further by hiring all possible leaders. Ship command points are a soft version of this trope. More ships can be built than the points allow, but they become a drain on the economy. Alternatively, the number of points can be increased by colonizing/conquering more planets, building starbases, or hiring Morph.
- Arbitrary Maximum Range: All weapons have a maximum range, beyond which they won't fire. After that, damage typically decreases with distance to target. Exceptions included missiles and torpedoes (same damage regardless of distance), as well as plasma cannons (damage increases with range).
- Artificial Stupidity: Given the developers' focus on multiplayer, it's not surprising that the game's early AI was, shall we say, not up to par. Computer players would consistently make stupid mistakes, such as only ever building one large fleet. After that was destroyed, they would constantly send single ships at the enemy instead of massing them into a fleet first. Additionally, they would keep sending unarmed transports or colony ships at planets that are obviously protected, or only include one transport ship with its fleet, even though a single transport's worth of marines can't capture a world with even one defending marine present. Much of this behavior has since been corrected, although the sending-one-ship-at-a-time problem does, occasionally, show up. There is also a rare case of the enemy sending a large fleet of cruisers and destroyers... with absolutely no weapons.
- Attack! Attack! Attack!: Retreating from a battle wasn't an option in the early version of the game but was added later. When Mortis Wretch is present in a battle, no ship can retreat until his ship is destroyed.
- The Battlestar: Any ship to which Captain Jack Gentry is assigned is equipped with Raider Launch Bays that launches several Gauss turret-armed Frigates during battle. Gorzhons's ship is equipped with Dark Matter Incubators, periodically creating Dark Matter units. The Hatchery would be this if it had any weapons.
- Bee People: Overlord Terminifera and its people.
- Binary Suns: Planets in binary systems get farming bonuses due to increased solar radiation.
- Brain in a Jar: The Cerebrums have drifted in space for millennia in a broken-down colony ship, evolving into large brains without limbs. Their leader, First Cerebrum offers their services as researchers to the highest bidder.
- The Captain: Captain Jack Gentry is the ultimate Boy Scout. He lied to join the Confederate Navy at 16, proved himself ruthless in catching smugglers (including Tyrrhenius), rose rapidly up the ranks until he was given command of the Confederacy's first Mammoth, and refused promotion to the War College (likely Admiralty) in order to be A Father to His Men.
- Cat Folk: The Felinoids are a race of warrior cats. Most of their commanders were Glory Seekers who thought that the only way to fight was to close with the enemy. Admiral Kzzt was the only one who insisted that long-range missile engagements were the only way to fight. As a result, he was the only commander who survived the next battle.
- Colonel Badass: Colonel Hanifer turns the hull integrity of any ship he commands Up to Eleven, effectively giving him Plot Armor until his is the last surviving ship. Only then will he finally succumb to the enemy. He also increases the damage resistance of the entire fleet. In his backstory, he is the sole survivor of humanity's first battle with an alien fleet.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: In early versions of the game, Artificial Stupidity was everpresent. In order to give the computer players a chance, the developers have allowed them to have any number of ships regardless of command points or to have those ships pretty much spawn above planets that don't have the industrial capability to build them. In later versions, this became an option alongside AI difficulty level. Should the option be turned off, the computer players would not cheat (as far as we know).
- Conjoined Twins: Governors Faye and Faun were hatched conjoined due to radiation exposure while in their egg. They developed unique for the Draske Psychic Powers, allowing them to sense any ship in space as well as to feel the needs of the population.
- Deflector Shield: Different-strength shield generators can be placed on ships. Different weapons affect shields to a different extent. Nebulae cause shields to fail, unless an additional device is mounted on a ship.
- Energy Being: The Vass are a conglomeration of sentient plasma specks with a Hive Mind of sorts. They receive bonuses in large populations and suffer penalties in small ones.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The Isather are a violent and brutal race prone to tribal warfare. Their one taboo is the slaughter of women and children. Mortis Wretch was imprisoned for violating the taboo before the Isather were invaded by a race of slavers. The other tribal leaders were forced to free Mortis, and he defeated the invasion within a year. He is a recruitable ship commander with an Attack! Attack! Attack! mentality (neither the enemy nor your own fleet can flee as long as he's in command), and his ship is equipped with planetary bombs.
- Fragile Speedster: Frigates. At the beginning, they can only be fitted with one weapon. With Warlord research, this number can go up to 3, giving them more of a punch. They can quickly close in or move away from the enemy, depending on the chosen tactics. However, given the "weapons always hit" mechanic of the game, and the fact that ships have 360-degree weapon arcs, its maneverability gives it little else. They are most effectively used when Zerg Rushing an enemy and can be cheaply replaced.
- Frickin' Laser Beams: Laser beams are the earliest weapons researched. They do average damage that decreases with range. No bonuses or disadvantages to different types of defenses. Point Defense Systems also use lasers to shoot down missiles and torpedoes, although those are automatic. Additionally, Ion pulse cannons are not lasers but look very much like them.
- Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: Like Master of Orion, important worlds are protected by space monsters such as Dark Matter (black clumps that move fast and are armed with Gauss turrets), Amoebae (battleship-sized monsters with lasers), and Crystals (Titan-sized creatures with Ion pulse cannons). With the introduction of Leaders, it's clear that they were created by the Gorzhons.
- Hit Scan: Since battles are only simulations, the outcome is already known by the time players view them. Additionally, all weapons except for nuclear missiles and photon torpedoes always hit (a ship commanded by Eesathu is the sole exception), and the result is registered on the shield/armor/structure scale even before the animation of the firing finishes playing. As such, it's not uncommon for an enemy ships to blow up before the shots that were supposed to destroy it even arrive. This is the same for missiles and torpedoes that the game engine has determined will hit (also before they are even launched).
- Hive Mind: The Vass have this, to an extent, being small plasma specks that join to form more complex structures. They are smarter in large numbers, but the connection doesn't reach to other worlds. As such, large populations gain bonuses, while small populations suffer from penalties.
- Lizard Folk: The Draske are "small, winged serpents with a natural affinity for aeronautics". They are ruled by a Matriarch and are the best pilots and navigators in the galaxy.
- Loveable Rogue: This is the human's hat in the game instead of the usual Humans Are Diplomats. Humans make excellent smugglers (i.e. their planets don't suffer from blockade penalties), and Tyrrhenius is the greatest of all, able to cloak an entire fleet while at warp, so the enemy never knows where and when he will strike.
- Macross Missile Massacre: Averted. Ships carry a very limited number of missiles and torpedoes. A piece of equipment can be used to increase this limit by 3, and Admiral Kzzt further increases it. On the other hand, Units Not to Scale means that a frigate can still fire half a dozen missiles that shouldn't realistically fit inside it.
- Magnetic Weapon: The Gauss turret fires a stream of armor-piercing projectiles at the enemy, although they are nearly useless against shields.
- Mechanical Lifeforms: The Cyban are a race of AIs created by a race of Precursors. They are the best scientists in the galaxy and are even occasionally able to learn two technologies at the same time.
- More Dakka: The idea behind the Gauss turret.
- Non-Mammal Mammaries: Despite being The Reptilians, Draske females still have boobs.
- Obvious Rule Patch: The game's battle mechanic means that a large enemy fleet can be almost indefinitely held at a system by simply sending a Frigate or two to engage them every turn. The game counts them as reinforcements and, thus, doesn't end the battle (although nothing prevents the large fleet from retreating). After the use of this tactic has annoyed a good number of players, the developers have made sure that a small force (a few Frigates) will automatically flee when confronted with a large fleet.
- Older Is Better: Averted with the Crystals. The ones present in several systems are actually weaker than the ones that are randomly spawned by the Hatchery that a player can build after recruiting the Gorzhons. Apparently, the Gorzhons have made some improvements over time, although spawned Dark Matter and Amoebae are identical to their older versions.
- Petting Zoo People:
- Governor Fve Bgeeep looks like a rabbit based on his headshot. The fact that his upgraded starbase is called Fve Bgeeep's Burrow only adds to that effect.
- Plasma Cannon: Plasma turrets are long-range weapons. They are unique in that they do more damage at their extreme range rather than up-close. The game explains this as the fact that the plasma cloud expands as it travels, although, realistically, this should reduce damage. They are also more effective against shields than other weapons.
- Point Defenseless: Ships or stations equipped with Point Defense Systems can destroy enemy missiles and torpedoes with Frickin' Laser Beams, although the system can be overwhelmed by multiple launchers. This, in turn, can be countered by equipping a ship/station with multiple PD systems. ECMs can also be used to counter missiles and torpedoes, causing 30% of them to miss.
- Orbital Bombardment: Unlike MoO, it's not easy for ships to rain Death from Above on colonies. For one, planets are not present in battles. Outside of battles, bombarding a planet requires researching the Orbital Bombardment Package and equipping ships with it. Alternatively, assigning Mortis Wretch to a ship equips it with the same.
- Playful Hacker: Morph became known across all of Draske space when he hacked the main government computer system and played a video for all to see. Since then, the Matriarch has ordered him trained to serve the Hegemony and he proved a master at communication systems, even able to contact ships at warp and order them to change course.
- Plot Armor: Through sheer tenacity, Colonel Hanifer keeps his ship alive until every other ship in the fleet has been destroyed.
- Portal Network: Like MoO, you can research and build warp gates in systems. Warp Gate I permits ships traveling between them to go much faster. Warp Gate II permits one-turn travel between them. Unlike Master of Orion II, gates need to be built by colonies.
- Precursors: The Gorzhons were the masters of the galaxy tens of thousands of years ago. Then they disappeared, leaving behind ruins and space monsters. Now several of them have returned and are willing to work with the younger civilizations in preparation for their Great Return.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Isather are very territorial, which is why they have been constantly engaged in wars among themselves. They are physically strong and are very industrious.
- The Felinoids are also described as this in Admiral Kzzt's profile, although he is their only representative in the game and is, actually, a Combat Pragmatist (which is the only reason he's alive while so many of other Felinoid commanders are dead).
- Shout-Out: Morph's quotes are straight from Mr. Universe's lips.
- Human ships look like they were taken straight out of Star Trek, especially the larger ones (e.g. the saucer-and-nacelles look).
- Word of God is that some Vass ships were inspired by the Protoss. Indeed, the Vass Mammoth looks very similar to a Protoss Carrier.
- One of Colonel Hanifer's quotes is one to Starship Troopers: "Everyone fights, no one quits!"
- Silicon-Based Life: Magister Xalon is a unique Cyban created from the rock of their homeworld. His natural affinity for elements allows him to sense precious minerals, improving planetary value to "Very Rich" while he's there.
- Space Clouds: Nebulae prevent shields from working, although an additional device can be installed on ships to negate this effect. Additionally, research may enable the construction of an artificial nebula surrounding a system.
- Space Elevator: Building these in colonies speeds up ship construction. Strangely, does not affect the construction of any orbital structure (e.g. starbase, weather satellite, orbital lab).
- Space Station: Starbases protect systems from attacks and repair friendly fleets in the system.
- The Spymaster: Magistrate X learned a lot from her father, including the ability to hide an entire star system from enemy sensors (technically, the system is still there but appears as neutral on the starmap, and fleets in the system are not visible). Through her extensive spy network, she knows the configuration of every ship in the galaxy.
- Stealth in Space: Unlike Master of Orion, there are no cloaking devices in Starbase Orion. The closest thing is Tyrrhenius's ability to hide his fleet while in transit. Also, any friendly fleet in Magistrate X's system is also invisible to the enemy. It's possible to research and build the Deep Space Jammer, but this piece of equipment takes up 6 slots on a ship and only prevents the enemy from knowing the composition of the fleet.
- Survivor Guilt: Colonel Hanifer was the only survivor of the Hopeless Battle of Proximo Prime. After coming back, he made sure that human ships were built to withstand any damage.
- Governor Fve Bgeeep is the Last of His Kind after watching his race destroyed from an asteroid tug. Since then, he became an expert on planetary defense. Fve Bgeeep turns any starbase in the system where he's assigned to into Fve Bgeeep's Burrow, an extremely-powerful starbase capable of holding off a large fleet.
- Teleport Spam: Eesathu's ship constantly phases in and out of normal space, causing 50% of all shots targeting it to miss.
- Terraforming: A repeating planetary project that "upgrades" a planet to the next more habitable level until Terran. After that, you have to use the Gaia Device to get to the Gaia level.
- Unexplained Recovery: When a ship or a colony with a leader are destroyed, the leader does not die. Instead, he/she/it shows up at the leader auction the next turn. This is likely done due to the significantly smaller number of leaders in Starbase Orion compared to MoO 2
- Useless Useful Non-Combat Abilities: Magistrate X's ability to hide a star system might work on a computer player, but won't fool a human player. Given that the game is primarily geared towards multiplayer, this is a serious flaw. The system doesn't actually disappear but merely appears neutral (i.e. uncolonized), and fleets in the system are hidden. However, tapping on the system still shows who controls the planets (if you have already visited it, that is).
- Violence is the Only Option: Diplomacy was nonexistent in the early versions of the game. This, destroying all enemies was the only way to win. However, even with the addition of diplomacy, destruction of all other factions is pretty much expected.
- Wave Motion Gun: Any ship to which Captain Jack Gentry is assigned is additionally armed with a Stellar Burst Cannon, a long-range weapon devastating against any type of defense.