We recently had the opportunity to ask some questions of Chris Keeling, one of the main men behind the upcoming Master of Orion reboot, about their highly anticipated entry in the series and genre. Here’s what he had to say:
First, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Chris. We can’t tell you how excited we are to get our hands on the reboot to the godfather of 4X gaming, Master of Orion. The original game literally gave birth to the term 4X, so we walk on hallowed grounds here.
eXplorminate: Can you tell us a little about what you do at Wargaming.net and your role with the Master of Orion project?
Chris: I am the Director of Product Vision, which means I work within R&D to create new game ideas, find external studios to make new games for us, and supervise the design and development of new games outside of our core IP. On Master of Orion, I am responsible for overseeing the production of the game, which is being done at NGD Studios in Buenos Aires (Argentina), and making sure the design, gameplay, pacing, features, and assets meet our high standards for quality and fun.
eXplorminate: What is your personal experience with the 4X genre?
Chris: Like everyone else who was a computer nerd in the early 90’s, I cut my teeth on the original Master of Orion and Civilization games. Of course, I also play a lot of other games, and I have a family and a job, so long weekends of Jolt cola and Master of Orion haven’t been possible for many years, but now that I have an excuse, I’ve been playing every 4X game I can find for the past two years since we bought the IP from Atari. They’ve come a long way in the last 20 years, but I still feel like there’s something missing that we had back then. Maybe just that combination of sarcastic humor, enormous space empires, and the constant fiddling with the details that made the original so much fun, and that’s what we’re trying to bring back.
eXplorminate: What do you think is the single biggest challenge you guys have in rebooting such a beloved series of games?
Chris: The hardcore 4X Master of Orion audience. To that hardcore and diehard fanbase we had a lot to get right and as fans of the game ourselves relished the challenge. Also, the hardcore 4X gamers of today don’t know that we made strategy games for a dozen years before striking it big with online free to win in World of Tanks. This is our blood, our DNA – we started as tabletop wargamers (hence the company name and the logo of strategic encirclement). We have the experience, the resources, and above all the passion to make this succeed. You can bet on it!
eXplorminate: The field has suddenly become very crowded with AAA space 4X games (Stellaris from Paradox, Endless Space 2 from Amplitude, Galactic Civilizations 3 and MoO). What will set Master of Orion apart aside from its name?
Chris: It does seem like 4X space games are enjoying a resurgence. Each of the games you mentioned has its own unique view on what a 4X space game should be, and we respect that.. We’ve taken a fresh look at both the current crop of 4X space games and the original Master of Orion series, brought in some of the original team to help us see how they might have done things if they had the resources and technology that we have now, and added a few things designed to rectify some of the most common issues with these kinds of games. Things like flat characters, cumbersome interfaces, constant number-juggling and micro-management, and no real borders to your empire. We think the enjoyment, quality, beauty, and depth of the game will resonate with the core audience, and invite as fresh, new audience to play as well.
eXplorminate: What can you tell us about the eXploration phase of MoO? Will there be unique planets, events, or minor factions to discover?
Chris: We have a lot of different kinds of planetary combinations based on size, atmosphere, resources, and rare elements, plus of course artifacts and other unique qualities they can have. We have many different kinds of events – from things you find (anomalies and black holes) to things that happen to you (as reported by GNN’s snarky robots) and things you make happen (like defeating the Orion Guardian). And finally, we do have non-spacefaring independent planets that you can barter with, bribe, or conquer, depending on the mood you’re in.
eXplorminate: What can you tell us about the research tree? It appears to take some strong cues from the research trees from Civilization!
Chris: The research tree interface seems to be an easy way for people to understand what is required to reach the next level of technology, unlike the complex structures in many 4X games. Like the original Master of Orion, we have also categorized technologies, but we don’t force a specific path for each type of tech. This way you can sort the tech tree by type without being forced down a road along which every step is more expensive and leads to only one place. There are always some techs you can research more quickly or which could benefit you in more than one way, while leading to the peak of technological advancement you are pursuing.
eXplorminate: What will fans find that will feel familiar in the new MoO? What part of the game might be considered the biggest departure from the first two iterations (we don’t speak of the third iteration)?
Chris: Oh, lots of things! We’ve brought the original ten races to life with over 100 dialogue lines for each of them, voiced by professional actors and shown in 3D with realistic animations. We’ve included the GNN newscasts, and punched them up with a lot more humor than the originals. We’ve kept most of the same technologies, weapons, and ships (and even all of the names of the planets!) to help bring back that familiar feel, while the whole of the game is encased in a cleaner, simpler user interface that makes it easier to access (or, if you choose, ignore) the vast depth of numbers that can be tweaked to the smallest level.
eXplorminate: What can you tell us about combat? We’ve heard via German gaming sites that you’ve made the move to real-time. Is their truth to that or bad translation? Why the move?
*Wargaming was not ready to answer this question at this time*
eXplorminate: Will ground combat be represented? Will the player have an active role?
Chris: It will be represented, and expect something a bit more… dynamic, epic and cinematic in our version.
eXplorminate: Ship customization was listed as a feature. Can you tell us anything about how detailed ship building is?
Chris: We feel that some games have become a thin 4X wrapper around a detailed ship construction game. The emperor should certainly have a say in what ships are built, where they are sent, and how they are armed, but all work and no play makes the Alkari emperor a dull boy. There will be a simple automated system for those who are interested in conquering the stars, and a reasonably detailed ship design system with custom combinations possible for those who want to delve a bit deeper into the job of the admirals and focus more on their space battles. In fact, as I am sure you know, the majority of battles will be decided by the number and size of ships and their overall technologies, not by how many of which class of laser are mounted on them. I rarely enter a battle where I am not sure who will win, and then it is generally not by choice.
eXplorminate: The screenshots seem to represent a game very far in development. How far along are you? Can we expect an Early Access release? If so, when?
Chris: We have been working on Master of Orion for about a year and a half, and it is in late Alpha right now. You can expect an Early Access release, just don’t expect me to tell you when, except “when it’s ready”. We are making this game out of love for the original, so will release when it is at the level of quality that will please the army of 4X players out there.
Thanks again, Chris. We can hardly wait for your take on Master of Orion and look forward to diving in (hopefully) later this year!