We recently reached out to Ray Fowler, the man behind Java MoO, a reboot of Master of Orion. Java MoO is a two-man (Ray and an artist) effort to bring back the magic of the original Master of Orion by updating the art and maintaining the original gameplay of the classic. Here is what he had to say:
eXplorminate: What’s your background in game development?
Ray: None. I have been a professional software developer for about 25 years, mostly involving engineering and business applications. I currently work in the email security and encryption business.
eXplorminate: In your own words, what is Java Moo?
Ray: Java MoO is, simply put, a reimplementation of the original Master of Orion in Java. It originally started out as a “learn Java” project about 12 years ago and then dropped after most of the game was functional, but with butt-ugly GUIs. It was my first Java program, after all. Some people are happy with “Hello, world”, but I had to go and tackle Master of Orion.
After some years of doing other unrelated personal projects, I decided to take another shot at the project this February. I recovered all of my original code and decided to completely reskin it with new GUIs. Most of the new GUIs are done and are a noticeable improvement from the original MOO1.
eXplorminate: How close to the original material are you staying? Do you plan to add your own twists or is this mainly just a modern translation?
Ray: How closely? Extremely. This is intended to feel like a clone of MOO1. The GUIs will obviously be improved, but the game layout is the same. Of course, the illustrations are being updated to get away from the pixelated graphics of the 1993 original. In addition, considerable attention will be spent enhancing the writing to create a more immersive experience for the players that was simply not possible with the original game.
There are plans for twists, but I nevertheless need to present a faithful representation of MOO1. There will eventually be three rulesets, one representing MOO1, another including elements from MOO2 (Antarans, additional races), and another with various custom changes. Like everyone else, I have ideas about what would make a game better but I will include those only as an optional ruleset for those gamers who think my ideas suck and would rather stay closer the original game.
The hope is that MOO1 afficionados, like myself, will play this game and still enjoy that MOO1 experience albeit with an updated look and a less-exploitable AI. Fans of the later games in the series already have many updated options available to them, including the greatly anticipated Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars from Wargaming.
eXplorminate: How are you going to distribute this? Do you plan to sell it? If so, how will you avoid IP issues with Wargaming.net?
Ray: That is the $64,000 question, isn’t it? First off, I want to make it absolutely clear that this is a hobbyist effort with absolutely zero intent on generating revenue from the game. In fact, this project will cost me money as I am paying for the illustration and writing out of pocket. It is being done purely out of a love for both the original game and for programming, as well as the frustrating realization that a modernized version of MOO1 is never going to be made. So, in that respect, this game would be serving a very niche market of gamers not being reached by current 4X games.
I am excited that Wargaming stepped up and is bringing this franchise back to the forefront of 4X gaming where it belongs. Hopefully they will see Java MoO for the fan project that it is, much like FreeCiv for the Civilization series, and allow it to co-exist in some space with the official game. Of course, they have every right to choose otherwise and, if they do, I will obviously respect their huge investment in the Master of Orion intellectual property and avoid infringing. Fortunately, all of the code, artwork and writing is being redone so this should hopefully consist of avoiding their trademarked names within the property. Many existing 4X games already do this within the genre, so hopefully that would be sufficient.
I would like to add that, for me, doing this as a non-commercial project is far preferable to trying to make money. I don’t have to worry about kickstarters, gofundmes, setting up splashy websites, hyping the game online or otherwise spending a lot of time doing non-coding activities in order to recoup my investment. Instead I can focus solely on making a good game, with no sacrifices to features necessary to meet a business deadline or to satisfy mass market expectations for features.
eXplorminate: How far in development are you? Where is your focus now?
Ray: At the start of the project, I informally divided it into 4 phases:
- Play the game with a single colony… this required the re-integration of old code (perhaps 25K lines) as well as setting up the colony development and research UIs.
- Play the game completely with multiple colonies.. this required the addition of ship design, fleet management and most of the remaining UIs. This was a significant effort and finished in mid-May, after which I held a brief alpha test of the UIs with about a dozen interested gamers.
- Play the game against computer opponents… Where I am currently at now. This stage requires the addition of diplomacy, spying, the galactic council, GNN, updated racial artwork, plus of course a lot of AI work. The artwork is what everyone seems to be most interested in (kids today…). You can see examples of the Meklar, Silicoids and Bulrathi sprinkled throughout my development blog at java-moo.com, with the Psilons currently in work. The game “plays” now, with computer opponents expanding throughout the galaxy, declaring war, spying and generally trying to win. They’re just currently kind of stupid about how to do certain things.
- Tactical Combat, Ship Graphics, Random Events, Sound and polish.
eXplorminate: Do you plan to open up to alpha/beta testers?
That’s the hope. I would like to have another limited alpha test after Phase 3 is completed. The artwork currently seems to be the long pole in the tent so it could be as far away as 2Q next year, based on the known amount of work to do and the current progress. We have one illustrator but he’s amazing, so I have no problems letting the process play out normally.
You can’t really have a beta until the game is feature complete, so that would be after Phase 4. I guess I’ll need to find a sound guy before we get to that point.
Anyway, I would like to thank you for the interest and the questions.
eXplorminate: Thank YOU, Ray! We appreciate what you’re doing and your willingness to answer our questions! We can’t wait to see the final product. Good luck in your development and your continued hard work!