Strategic eXpanse #26: Chris Keeling of Wargaming

Join Rob and Nate as they sit down with Chris Keeling, the Director of Product Vision at, about the Master of Orion reboot and its impending Early Access. Many of the community’s questions are asked and his answers are enlightening and thorough!

Music by Mangadrive for eXplorminate

13 thoughts on “Strategic eXpanse #26: Chris Keeling of Wargaming

  1. Just finished listening to this excellent podcast and took a few notes while doing it that I will address below. Thanks so much to Rob and Nate for hosting this and for gathering the interest of Wargamming on eXplorminate, and thanks a bunch to Chris Keeling for being so open and thorough with his explanations.

    And of course, to Wargamming and NGD for putting your reputation at stake by risking a Master of Orion reboot. j/k

    Listening to Chris talk so passionately about their game made me feel much more relieved and positive about the outcome of their project. Honestly, before this podcast I was on the fence. I could say even a moderately hostile towards this project. Not so much because I have some kind of dogmatic view towards MoO that I felt Wargamming couldn’t address. That is not the case. Despite being a fan of the original since the day it was launched, I don’t hold particular views on MoO and am always open for any project that tries to redo the original, change it completely, or just a little. Instead, I was distrustful of Wargamming capacity to maintain a positive attitude towards the 4x genre, after you guys moved to free-to-play platforms. Some weeks ago I also received the news you were not doing open beta testing and that sort of cemented my mistrust.

    But on this podcast I could feel now how serious and passionate you guys are about the project. And that lift a good deal of my mistrust. I’m happy, I can tell you guys are are happy too. Everyone’s happy!

    I think you will eventually turn around and decide that placing exclusive content on collectors edition, is something that can only really serve the company and not its fans. I get it why you are doing it, but I’m confident, after enough collector edition are sold, you will give us that race in a DLC or future update. This isn’t some non essential artwork, or, I don’t know, Master of Orion coffee mug, you are putting in the Collector’s Edition. It’s a full playable race that ultimately comes at the full cost of the game plus a some more. The Collector’s Edition is already worth every penny for the rest of the “box” contents. Adding important but exclusive gameplay content is what your audience expects of DLCs. Not special editions. If by any chance I can’t wait but don’t have the money for the Collector edition, you will be forcing me to buy two copies of the game (one of them at a premium price) because I want to play the exclusive race. This type of business model irks me a lot.

    Totally agree with star lanes. This is yet another area where I don’t have a position to defend. I just think that whatever map style you would choose, the game would have to adapt to it. I have played and enjoyed many games on different types of maps. But I do tend to favor star lanes, exactly for the reasons you mentioned. They add another strategic element to the game that would be otherwise totally absent if the map was roam free. And I am all up for 4x games that offer multiple layers of strategy to player decisions. And, for certain, star lanes greatly contribute to better AIs.

    And, in that context, consider the possibility of adding tech to the research tree that adds or even removes lanes.

    The game will feature RT combat. And here I felt saddened. I can understand you guys worked over several TBC iterations for an year and couldn’t come up with something that satisfied you. I just think that some of those would have probably satisfied me a lot. Your vision of how you wanted to engage your customers is perhaps what limited your choices. I almost feel that in the back of your heads you already knew you wouldn’t be able to address a large community with a TBC game.

    But I still think your decision is wrong. It didn’t prove that there isn’t a satisfying TBC solution to modern space 4x games. It just proved that you couldn’t find it. And you took the way out. But I can totally understand that you just couldn’t pursue that goal forever. I really do. It’s just that the game already lost a lot of appeal to me for that reason.

    You know what bothers me about your decision? The implication made that modern players don’t want the complication of TBC. That the strategy genre is moving away from it. That this is what people want. I don’t know exactly what games you guys have been playing over there, but I see TBC a bit everywhere and a whole lot of interest for it. Games like Civ or Endless Legend sold like water in the desert despite being TBC. I don’t see this market shift, you seemed to imply.

    But more importantly, RT combat (with out without pause) removes a certain tactical element to the game that should be a good part of the 4x experience in my opinion. I don’t want games that limit the strategic element to what planet I shall attack, what shall be the size and composition of my fleet, and how should I interact diplomatically with the other factions. I would like to also have a strong strategic and tactical element present in combat resolution too. TBC offers this option in spades. It offers games with deeper and more distinct strategic elements, not dumbing down the experience but instead strengthening the fact I am indeed playing a game of strategy.

    As a final note, we need to stop using the argument that an Emperor wouldn’t do this, or that is what an Emperor should be doing. I don’t even fully realize that argument in the context of TBC, since you can in fact expect some emperors to command a whole fleet into battle from their capital ship. However, more important that argument is a slippery slope. I can as easily argue that an Emperor doesn’t want to spend time designing different types of ships, or deciding how many factories go into planet X. In the strategy genre, it is best if we just focus on the game mechanics and don’t try to justify certain decisions on the basis of what the player character persona would do. If we were to one day make a MoO game that fully respect the tasks of a ruler, heck you would probably do nothing in the whole game.

    Anyways, don’t take my criticism as hand waving. I really am a lot more excited about the reboot than I ever was. And wish only the best to you guys. I am excited. But also felt the need to address those areas where I cannot agree.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice comments mariofig

      I was majorly on the fence before listening to this, and now I’m cautiously excited for many of the reasons you outline.

      Regarding combat, I too am saddened by the lack of turn based combat. If they think you can’t make engaging turn based combat then they aren’t looking hard enough. Look at Age of Wonders 3, which I’d argue has some of the finest turn based combat in any 4X game ever, and the game has been a solid success … and in fact given the games focus on warfare is a better game specifically because the turn based combat is implemented so well.

      I would’ve loved to see some sort of turn-based solution. Maybe in battles with 100’s of ships it isn’t about issuing individual ship orders but having ships organized into squadrons/flotillas that you control, I don’t know … something.

      That said, I read through all the design documents for Endless Space 2 … and that game might have just jumped to the top of my interest list. Some really interesting ideas at work that in my mind takes the core MoO experience and builds on it in interesting ways.


  2. Excellent interview guys. Lots of depth and detail and discussion. Very excited about the game. I never played MOO1 or 2; but I did play some MOO3 and I think it is way over-scorned; mostly by people who never played it. Once patched it is a solid game of its kind. So I do wince a little when I hear it dissed. Just my personal thing.

    Overall everything sounds great; and I want to say I support the reasons for going with starlanes. In a uniform space with no lanes no ai could compete with a human. Restricting options makes the game more strategic and the ai more challenging (potentially).

    5star podcast

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > I never played MOO1 or 2; but I did play some MOO3 and I think it is way over-scorned; mostly by people who never played it. Once patched it is a solid game of its kind. So I do wince a little when I hear it dissed.

      But you validate the point.

      When MOO3 came out, EVERYONE who bought it had played MOO1 and/or MOO2 extensively (unlike you) and also did not have access to a patch that was created years later by the user community (unlike you).

      It’s really hard to explain how MOO was literally one of the most, if not the most, popular strategy game series of its time and how much the developers of MOO3 hyped their new release. Instead, it was an unplayable mess and, except for a bug fix, the game was completely abandoned by the developers soon afterwards, even to the point of deleting forums.

      It literally killed the franchise for over a decade and made room for an inferior GalCiv series to claim the space 4X mantle. When every almost space 4X game in development nowadays talks about being “inspired by MOO”, exactly 0% of them are talking about MOO3.

      So, in conclusion, MOO3 is still steaming pile of crap. I’m glad you enjoy it, though, but you will never convince gamers who played the MOO series before MOO3 that it is not a bad game.


  3. They’re clearly aiming to grab the largest chunk of the market with their design strategy.
    The influence of Civilization V can be felt just as much as any of the original three’s game systems.

    This can only be good; it’s very exciting imho.

    Let Wargaming fork the bill for a product that will tap into new consumers for the subgenre.
    These new folks can then be enticed by the other, more detailed, products on offer.

    Nice podcast!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. FYI feel free to ask me anything in here. I might even answer… ;)

    Mario, great comments. I feel your passion as well. Exclusive content is additional, not core – the Terran Khanate is new to the game (we felt it necessary to preserve the original 10 races without any additional purchase requirements), and the original games are available separately. The other items (music, art book, etc.) are really cool, but they aren’t the game. CE is for, well, collectors – the core game is entirely fun without it. Glad you like the star lanes – I took a ton of convincing but eventually I found them to be better than off-roading for the reasons I mentioned. One of the advantages of RT is that you can play it as a variable-length turn-based game simply by pausing the battle whenever you want to give orders, then start it back up when you’re ready. This kind of non-fixed gameplay is easier to follow and more interesting to observe and understand than turn-based games, which generally reflect a boardgame mentality and not a videogame mentality (FYI I am a huge boardgame fan!). I agree to some extent with your comments about being an Emperor – it’s a game, not a simulation – but changing “levels” of command can be confusing for new players. We make it more optional this way as the AI can handle both tactical battles and ship design, and the successful Emperor can just sit back and watch the newsreel footage from the Admiral’s GoPro.

    Oliver, we actually have a Squadron system implemented (with formations) to make it easier to control large numbers of ships. The focus of MOO isn’t on warfare, although it is a core part of the game, it’s on the grand strategy of Empire creation and galactic domination. Warships are only one tool in your arsenal, which is why we’ve added more victory conditions as well.

    David, with the help of the community, MOO3 has become a decent game, but as Ray pointed out, it doomed the franchise. We had to look hard, past all of our bitter memories of it, to find some good qualities in the fan-inspired mods, and we were able to see the value in things like the starlanes, when done properly.

    Ko and Troy, the more players we have in the 4X space strategy genre, the more likely we can create AAA games for this audience. This not only increases the likelihood of a sequel for us, but also encourages other studios to make better and better games, which helps us all have more choices and more fun playing games! :-)

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thanks for you comments Chris. You really are changing the way I’m looking at the whole project. Just yesterday I was suggesting elsewhere that you guys wouldn’t engage much with your community, and here you are proving me wrong.

    I’m still not convinced about the pausable RTC over TBC. But despite my lengthy rant on this, the fact is that I confess I’m guilty of being a tad bit dishonest about the whole thing. Polaris Sector is coming soon and that is a game that has got me excited and yet it has a PRTC system, just like your MoO Reboot. Paradox games are usually at the top of my expectations, and yet (with the exception of HoI) I’m not sure we can say they even have a combat system. It’s almost completely automatic.

    What I mean is that these games end up winning the heart with their other mechanics, to the point they offset any preferences towards the combat resolution system. And hopefully that is the direction you guys will be taking this reboot. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Spent two hours playing this last night. Looks fantastic, it’s so nice to play a game with such high production values after all the ‘indie’ space games of the past few years.

    This slaps Galciv3 around like a red headed stepchild. I’m giving up on Stardock… they just don’t know how to make a good UI or good gameplay.



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