Master Of Orion is a turn-based 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) strategy game set in space. Players select a race and make decisions that would spell either the supremacy of their race or its destruction. They are not alone in the vast ocean of space, with other races controlled by the AI (or other players) attempting to do the same.And throughout the galaxy, there are worlds filled with the Lost Technology left behind by the Precursors. Legend still speaks of the lost capital of their empire, Orion itself, filled with technological treasure for the taking of whoever can defeat its Guardian...The game is famous for its ship designing feature, where everything from the hull to the components available are taken from the research decisions that the player makes, which is dependent on the selected race's bent toward a particular mindset, and thus technological focus.Victory is achieved by winning a popularity contest, or by conquering the galaxy. The second and third games feature a third winning condition.By default, the entries below refer to Master of Orion II, easily the most popular of the series nowadays; though many of them apply to one or both of the other games as well.A port called Starbase Orion was released for iOS based on the series, which has since been expanded thanks to player feedback.
The game series provides examples of:
Acceptable Breaks from Reality: MoO 3 demonstrated very well just why many aspects of running an empire are simplified or abstracted in 4X games, and almost as well why the rest aren't.
All There in the Manual: While all of the game manuals contain backstory that has little to no effect on the game itself beyond establishing things like Orion (and later the Antarans), the manual for MoO 3 includes an expansive and intricate history of the galaxy, complete with a complicated system for establishing the galactic date, leading up to the events of the game.
Arbitrary Maximum Range: In MoO 2, lasers and almost all other energy weapons have range-based damage penalties due to bloom, but mass drivers, gauss guns, Disruptors, and the Stellar Converter do not. However, all weapons in the Master Of Orion series do have a maximum range that's not a direct function of ship's hit probability.
Armor-Piercing Attack: In MoO 2, some weapons can be made in armor-piercing variants (and some in shield-piercing, for that matter) so that damage that passes through armor/shields is applied to the target ship's internals immediately. The piercing effects of guns with the Armor Piercing mod can be negated by heavy and Xentronium armor, but neither can protect against an attacker equipped with an Achilles Targeting Unit device. Shield piercing weapons can be stopped from bypassing existing shields with the Hard Shields device.
The AI couldn't design a good ship if its life depended on it, and its vessel designs invariably tend towards the Master of None.
The autobuild option in the second game. It seems to have some sort of priority system, but they rarely align with yours — if you wanted a colony to stop building things and produce trade goods instead, you'd surely have done that yourself.
A major factor behind the third game's failure was attempting to force the player into a top-down managerial role, leaving the details of planetary development to an AI that honestly wasn't up to the task. Because of this, instead of reducing micromanagement (which was the goal), the game ended up multiplying it exponentially.
Awesome but Impractical: The Death Ray in the first game. It can deal up to 1000 points of damage, but only against one ship at a time. It's also bulky enough that until very late in the game you can't fit it into anything smaller than a Large hull, which makes it extremely ineffective against the giant stacks of Small or Medium ships the AI likes to throw at you. Averted with the Death Ray and particle cannon of the second game, both of which are also randomly awarded upon defeating the guardian and both of which are useful for most of the game. There, mauler devices and stellar converters are the flashy but horribly inefficient late-game weapons.
Beef Gate: The Guardians in all the games; each one an incredibly powerful automated warship left to guard Orion from any intruders.
Big "NO!": In MoO 2, you hear this when a ship bearing a leader is killed in battle, and the dead ship's owner hasn't researched Survival Pods tech, which allows you to retrieve a leader as long as at least one ship survives the battle.
Bizarre Alien Biology: The Silicoids are able to land on and colonize hostile environment planets without the need to research specialized habitats. They are mineral lifeforms, after all. On the other hand, they reproduce very slowly and are virtually unable to communicate with other races.
Blob Monster: One of the game's random events is being attacked by a space amoeba.
Boarding Party: Enemy ships that have had their engines disabled and space stations can be boarded and captured. A ship can be boarded at distance without immobilizing, using transporters (if shields are down) or assault shuttles (though they're vulnerable to point defence). Like captured colonies, captured enemy ships can give you access to technology you either chose not to research or have not researched yet, when you scrap them at one of your systems.
Boring but Practical: Since weapons become cheaper and take up less space as you climb the Technology Tree, a ship with a lot of weapons a generation or two behind current technology will often be cheaper and have vastly more firepower than one with a few ultimate weapons.
The original game abstracted management enough to avert the trope. MoO3 was a deliberate experiment to subvert the trope by forcing players to only give high-level orders and rely on AI subordinates. For most, the experiment failed.
The second game plays this straight (in the style of Civilization). You have to give orders to construct any particular building (from barracks to space station). On the other hand, you could let the AI handle construction... in which case you end up with a planet full of farmers trying to build a Doomstar.
The third game tried to find a middle ground, where the player could set general, empire-wide "Development Plans" for different categories of worlds while leaving the AI to manage the specifics. It failed.
Death Ray: One of most powerful beam weapon techs in the game; the Infinity+1 Sword the player (hopefully) wins for defeating the Guardian of Orion.
Demoted to Extra: The fate of many playable species in the second game that were axed from the third. They weren't removed from the game entirely, but rather demoted to "Magnate (minor) Race" status, meaning that although their colonies could be added to your empire, they themselves weren't playable.
Disc One Nuke: In the second game, defeating the Guardian not only gives you access to the planet and several unique technologies, but also the highly advanced battleship Avenger, commanded by Admiral Loknar, the Last Orion. With some effort and a few specific tech choices, it's possible to accomplish this early enough in the game that the ship alone can wipe out entire enemy empires.
Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Stellar Converter weapon in MoO 2 gives your ships the ability to to turn enemy planets into asteroid belts.
Easy Logistics: Subverted by the nature of the game. While the fleet itself is automatically supplied, the need to get reinforcements to it forces the player to think in logistical terms; for instance if you have a raiding fleet cutting a swath through the enemy a long ways from your home worlds, you often need to order it to a rendevous point to meet incoming reinforcements. If done well the rendevous can be the same world where you plan to launch a strike.
Rantz also clashed with Alan Emrich, one of the original MoO designers (and at the time, lead designer on MoO 3), over which direction the game should be taken in. Emrich favored a traditional approach similar to the previous games, while Rantz again wanted a more "realistic" depiction of how a complex galactic empire would really be managed (this at one point resulted in a build of the game which used over 100 different GUI screens to keep track of everything). Emrich was eventually forced out early in the game's development, the various gameplay mechanics he had proposed (such as including systems of religion, government corruption, and the ability to explore neutron stars and black holes) were cut, and things went downhill from there.
Software piracy was a big concern around this time, and Atari took steps to prevent it; unfortunately, the copy protection software they packaged with the game was so draconian that it actually prevented the disk from being read on optical drives that were capable of burning CDs, which meant that a number of paying customers who had legitimately purchased the game couldn't even install it. If you still want to buy it, MoO 3 is now available, DRM-free and fully patched (see below), at GOG.com.
After the game was released, Atari created two bare-bones software patches that addressed only the worst of the outstanding technical issues; afterward, support for the game was quickly dropped. The developers claimed this was because many of the programmers who had worked on MoO 3 had either left the company immediately after the game was finished or had since moved on to new projects; as a result, the staff who were brought in to replace them didn't actually know how most of the game code worked, and were unable to fix any bugs.
Of course, fan-made patches were issued on FilePlanet that fixed many of the issues with the game. By then, however, it was too late.
Extra Turn: In MoO 2, ships equipped with the Time Warp Facilitator get an extra turn in the ship combat screen, before the other side gets to take their turn. Makes a very deadly combination with Phasing Cloak (if the ship doesn't attack, it becomes untouchable at the end of its turn).
In MoO 2, planets with a mixed population of races (from moving colonists between worlds) gets a morale penalty that can be fixed with an Alien Control Center. In MoO 3, there are hardwired bonuses and penalties to diplomacy between certain races. Everyone hates the Harvesters, except the New Orions, who only mildly dislike them.
The Meklar in MoO 3 were so convinced that they were perfect in every way that they came to hate all organic life forms.
Game Mod: One of the few strengths of the third game was its ease of modifying the game, as most of the game data is stored in spreadsheets that (once you figure out how to access them) are fairly easy to modify.
Gameplay Automation: MoO 3 attempted to place more emphasis on top-down management through empire-wide Development Plan categories that could be customized to an extent, leaving the AI-controlled planetary governors to actually build improvements. Unfortunately, the AI was not up to the task.
Genesis Effect: Planetary Construction tech in MoO 2, which turns asteroid belts and gas giants into colonizable Artificial Planets.
Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: The Biology tree thrives on this, and of course Evolutionary Mutation takes the cake by actually allowing you to change one or more racial traits for your species.
Giant Mecha: Battleoids, a mid-game construction technology replaces tanks with these. Awesome but Impractical, since due to the way ground combat works armor barracks are thoroughly useless whether they're producing tanks or battleoids.
In Master of Orion II, the Silicoid are a borderline case. They have the Repulsive flaw, which limits their diplomacy option to war, peace and surrender, and the Agressive and Expansionist traits. In practice, this meant they wouldn't ally with anyone, declare war frequently, and nothing but the most crushing military steamrolling of their fleets/worlds would get them to sue for peace or surrender. And since they had no diplomatic options like offering money, worlds, technology or tithes, (nor demanding them) once war is declared things tend to stay that way.
Master of Orion III has both the Antarans occupying the Orion system, and the Harvesters. Neither can be effectively negotiated with. The Harvesters (who use other alien species as food) will declare war on any neighbor (even other Harvester factions) fairly quickly, will refuse any offer for peace, and never make alliances. The Antarans generally stay in the Orion system and never expand or settle outside of it, but occasionally will send a huge fleet to attack a planet or system outside the Orion system, for no stated or apparent reason, then withdraw the fleet back (unless the attackee or other power destroys it). They will not engage in or respond to any diplomacy.
Healing Factor: If your race is cybernetic, or you have the Automated Repair tech (or both), your ships can repair damage during a fight. In the second game, leaders having the Engineer trait can also repair the ship they're assigned to, as well as giving an increase to the shield regeneration rate. Generally speaking, however, the percentages of improvement are low enough, without stacking repair powers, that many feel it's not that likely to save all that many ships, particularly given more powerful weapons later in the game.
Homing Projectile: Missiles track their targets, and in MoO2 with modifications can switch to a new target when the original is destroyed or specifically attack the target ship's engines, disabling it for capture attempts.
Another government option, and the preferred choice for the insectoid Klackon race.
The iOS port has an interesting take on this. The Vass are a collective consciousness, but only as long as they're close. This means that planets with low populations receive a penalty to all production, while planets with high populations receive a bonus. Interesting, this has no effect on ships. This ability can also be picked for a custom race.
Hyperspace Lanes: In the third game, a ship technically could go "off-road," but doing so took far longer than using the predefined star lanes. On occasion it would allow one to bypass chokepoints, like systems defended by a Guardian.
Instant-Win Condition: Defeating the Antares Master of Orion II instantly wins the game even if you would otherwise be crushed by enemy forces. There is also the option of diplomatic victory through the galactic council (although you can choose to defy the council if you'd otherwise end up losing.)
In the original game, while energy-based weapons don't have particular weaknesses, in their tech class, particle/ammo-based weapons halve the effectiveness of shields. A side effect of this is that projectile weapons take longer to become ineffective due to the onward march of technology.
In MoO 2 the only mass-based weapon that can pierce shields is the particle beam, and that's only available if dropped from defeating the Guardian or salvaged from captured Antaran vessels. Projectiles, however, have inherent No Range Dissipation property, which is good in itself.
Last of His Kind: Loknar, the last of the Orions, can join your civilization as a leader in the second and third games.
Living Gasbag: Master Of Orion III added a class of races called "Etherians" to the series, consisting of two races, the Eoladi and Imsaeis, who inhabited gas giants. The Eoladi were whale-like gas bags, while the Imsaeis were more like gigantic gaseous jellyfish.
Master Of Orion 2 has quite efficient rail guns (called mass drivers) and coil guns (called gauss cannons).
From the original game, there's the Gauss Autocannon. Each round doesn't do much damage by itself, but it fires 4 times each turn, and unlike the sequel's Gauss cannons, they halve the effectiveness of shields, making them viable for longer than their energy-based contemporaries. 4X, meet More Dakka.
Gauss cannons are also an option in the third game, though earlier in the game their value is limited.
Mass Hypnosis: A telepathic race can capture a planet undamaged after destroying its defenses by mind controlling the entire population from orbit if there's at least one ship of "cruiser" size or larger in the orbiting fleet.
Massive Race Selection: 10 to 16, and in the second to third games, conquered populations can be assimilated into your empire. It's not impossible to have a Psilon empire where, aside from your homeworld, all your citizens are actually Meklar. This can be a tremendous help, since assimilated citizens retain their racial abilities. Klackons for the forge worlds! Psilons for the research bases!
Mechanical Lifeforms: Meklar started out as cyborgs, they ultimately split in two races in the third installment. Those who ultimately became purely mechanical kept the Meklar name, while their still partially-organic counterparts became the Cynoids.
Mutants: In Master Of Orion II, there's a tech called Evolutionary Mutation allows a one-time change to statistics of the race that discovers it, resulting in the second kind of mutant.
Naval Blockade: Master of Orion 2 allows fleets to blockade a hostile system, cutting all types of production in half and severing it from the empire's economy. This is particularly devastating to colonies reliant on imported food. A monster occupying a star system has the same effect.
Negative Space Wedgie: In Master Of Orion 2, some of the one-time random events screw with hyperspace to impair or outright denynote save for races with the Transdimensional trait space travel.
New Tech Is Not Cheap: Tech discoveries start out at their maximum cost, which in some cases can be a bank-breaker if you're short on funds, but as the tech tree continues, the older discoveries become cheaper over time to eventually become Boring but Practical.
In the second and third games, some planets are connected by a wormhole that allows a ship to travel between the systems in a single turn regardless of the race's propulsion tech. The wormholes can span distances anywhere from a few parsecs to going from one side of the galactic map to the other.
A one-time special event can also create a temporary wormhole for a ship/fleet in transit, letting them finish their trip at the start of the next turn regardless of how long they would normally have had remaining.
Planetville: In MoO2, the colony view shows a single sprawling city with all the structures you've built. MoO avoids this by abstracting planets into 5 sliding bars (Ship production, factory production, ecosystem spending, planetary defense spending, and research spending) and only an orbital view of the planet itself, with rows of icons to indicate population and industrial output.
Point Build System: Although used for building a race instead of a character, the second and third games give you a set amount of points to distribute as the player wishes, with positive and negative attributes. For the second game, a later technology, Evolutionary Mutation, allows the player to add four extra points, though there are some restrictions on what racial traits can be modified. Obviously enough, no amount of genetic alteration is going to add Precursor ruins to your homeworld.
Portal Network: In the first game, one of the later Propulsion technologies gives you Star Gates, which have to be specifically constructed by a planet. In the second game, however, one of the mid-game technologies you can research lets the player build one of these, though it only speeds up travel instead of making it instant. The late-game version really is instantaneous, and if you're successful enough you most certainly will need it to defend far-flung systems.
Bears Are Bad News: Bulrathi specialize in ground combat. Success in ground combat nets the invader a mostly intact colony. Conversely, it is good policy to bombard Bulrathi colonies, while researching better ground armor and weapons than theirs, before attempting to mop up on the ground. Except for telepathic races, which can just ignore ground combat and mind control the whole planet from orbit with even less damage to the colony.
Fish People / Cthulhumanoid: Trilarians, the aquatic race. In MoO2, where they first appeared, they were aquatic humanoids with fins and small tentacles, and in MoO3 their appearance was changed to look more like eels.
Winged Humanoid: the avian Alkari in the first game. In the second their wings appear to have mostly vanished.
Planetary Parasite: Master of Orion II has the space eel, a space monster that would target a star to use as spawning ground. This causes all colonies in the system to count as "blockaded", which applies a 50% penalty to food and production output. If left alone long enough it produces a second space eel, which picks another star and does the same there.
Planet/system names are frequently drawn from various sci-fi works, including Narn, Zhadoom, and Rlyeh (The game cannot handle punctuated names).
In the prototype version of the game, called Star Lords the Psilons were called Mentats and the Darloks Nazguls. This is why their homeworlds are Mentar and Nazin, respectively, in the actual game and its sequels. And the font for the title of that 1992 prototype bears a striking similarity to the title font for Star Control.
One of the possible names for the Meklar leader is THX-1137.
Space Marine: Useful for either Boarding Party duties or defending against boarding parties of your opponent. Troop Pods double the amount of troops on board. A rather obvious, but interesting twist is that in space Low Gravity penalty does not apply.
Space Opera: The setting. MoO3 tried to approach the game in a more realistic manner.
Supposedly, the Antarans. Some of the space monsters, while looking fairly smart, are likewise unable to communicate with other races. MoO3 tried to make all the aliens more alien.
The Silicoids from the first game are supposed to be this - they're silicon-based whereas all the other races are carbon-based, and they can live naturally in hostile environments, but they're bad at diplomacy, reflecting how other races are put off by their weird biology. The Darloks could fit this too, for that matter, since they can shapeshift (although apparently their default form is just a humanoid in a cloak). The reason they're hated is probably more because they use their shapeshifting to steal everyone's technology, rather than the shapeshifting in itself.
Subspace Ansible: Control and diplomacy are obviously instant. In addition, Tachyon Communications (3 parsecs range), Subspace Communications (6 parsecs range) and Hyperspace Communications (unlimited range) allow ships within the specified range to be redirected while in transit.
Terraforming: Each type of planet (except Toxic) can eventually be turned into a life-rich Gaia World. High technology even allows you to transform gas giants and asteroid belts into solid worlds.
Plant a colony on the Toxic planet, populate it with one unit of some alien race you don't like. Gift the planet to an alien empire you don't like, then declare war. Hit the planet with a Stellar Converter, creating an asteroid belt. Then (assuming there is a second habitable planet in the system) go Artificial Planet, Terraforming, Terraforming, Terraforming, Gaia Transformation. Gardening the Galaxy in this way is a fun hobby while working on the Hyper-Advanced Physics technology needed to miniaturise your guns enough to take down the Antaran home fleet with a cruiser.
Transhuman Aliens: Play as Humans. Take a walk down the Biology tree and pick up Evolutionary Mutation (along with a host of other technologies like Heightened Intelligence). Humanity may now look human enough, but it sure doesn't have much in common with the beings that flew into space.
Underground City: In II the Sakkra are a reptilian civilization with a penchant for underground cities, effectively doubling the population that can inhabit a planet and making orbital bombardment harder, as well as give defending ground troops a +10 advantage over any invaders other than the Bulrathi, who get the same amount of boost due to their strength.
In MoO2, you can eliminate a planet's population after conquering it in a ground battle. Or just blow them all to bits from orbit, which is much faster than assimilating or eliminating large populations. On the other hand, conquest can give you new technology and averts the need to build everything from scratch.
Want the free tech and buildings but don't want the expense and hassle of troop transports? No problem! Just drop biological weapons on 'em. Population and defending ground forces are wiped out, while all the pretty pretty buildings remain intact. (However, you will take a major diplomatic hit, since all the AI players now regard you as a monster.)
If you want to really be a jerkass once the tech becomes available, the Stellar Converter in the second game can be used to blow planets up and turn them into a asteroid fields, if a world is of no use to you (toxic environment, ultra-poor, tiny). If desired, once the player controls the system, the resultant rubble can be made into a barren, abundant large planet with Planet Construction. From there on out, it's eligible for a couple of rounds of Terraforming and ultimately Gaia Transformaion.
Visible Invisibility: In the second game, ships with a Phasing Cloak device active show up on the tactical screen as a transparent outline. You can scan a ship using their Phasing Cloak, but are unable to target it for weapons fire.
Zerg Rush: In the later stages of the first game, the AI loves to drop tens of thousands of ships on your head. Changes to the later games prevent fleets quite that large, but the AI does still tend towards believing that quantity has a quality all its own. Which is probably just as well, given their ship design philosophies.
The Antarans in MoO 2 have an annoying tendency to do this as well, thoroughly wiping out your empire.