1993 was a splendid year for PC gaming – perhaps the very best there’s been – with Dune 2, Syndicate, X-Wing and Myst all establishing or championing their respective genres. Today of course we’re teased flickers of X-Wing in the forthcoming Star Wars Battlefront DLC and with Obduction, released just last week, Cyan Worlds is seemingly back to its old Myst tricks. More substantially we’ve had a remastering of Day of the Tentacle, a rebooting of Doom and now this re-imagining of strategy classic Master of Orion – surely the most persistent of all the genre titans that were there to witness the birth of the Atari Jaguar.
If you’re not aware of the importance of Master of Orion you’re clearly not a fan of the 4X genrette that MOO has been singularly inspiring – almost stiflingly so – ever since it was first released. Like Doom it wasn’t the first of its kind (most would attribute that to 1983’s Reach for the Stars), but coming off the back of Sid Meier’s Civilization, it was the first to set firm the ideals of interstellar empire building: explore, expand, exploit, expunge.
As with Sid’s Civ, the 4X “Civ in space” formula hasn’t fundamentally changed much since the 90s, just had more stuff added; more planets and peoples to discover, more elaborate tech trees and diplomacy dialogue, more bits and bobs from which to design an armada, etc. In recent years there have been laudable attempts at implementing 3D, at cramming in real-time battles and trying to nail multiplayer for a genre that has a notoriously high drop out rate. Yet in spite of all the tweaks and upgrades, what is more curious is that frequently a 4X developer has cited MOO’s inspiration as if it were a feature of the game rather than mere design contemplation – more so than any FPS studio would enthuse about Doom or Quake – which goes to prove what a significant hold Simtex’s game has had. Unfortunately, with the name now reassigned to NGD’s release, Master of Orion can no longer command quite same level of reverence, at least not without alluding to the original.