Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Master Of Orion 2 - Possibly the best game ever

    I never did play the first Mater Of Orion, and I only played the third one once - it did not impress me.  However, Master Of Orion 2 is a game I have played off and on for I don't know how many years.  It, along with Starcraft and Diablo 2 and others, are games I have cherished and periodically returned to, despite all the newer and prettier games I've played since.
    For anyone who might not know the game, a quick rundown.  MOO2 is a 4X game, that is, explore, expand, exterminate and something I can't remember.  You start with one little planet in a big, less than friendly galaxy.  You have several options for victory.  You can get elected as president of the galaxy, or you can wipe out to the last being (and/or enslave) every other race in the galaxy.  Or you can fight the dreaded Antarans, a very unfriendly race that lives in another dimension and pops out occasionally to attack anything in sight.  To win, by whatever means, you have to produce food for each colony, research and build technology, juggle colonizing new planets while supporting and protecting the ones you own.  You have some basic diplomacy (mostly placate your enemies to keep them from attacking until you're ready to crush them later).  There is a lot of mouse-clicking, oh goodness is there a lot of mouse-clicking.  Pouring over menus and trees and buttons to micro-manage your colonies only gets harder and harder as the game progresses.
    For the second time now I've achieved my goal of populating the entire galaxy.  That's been my own, unofficial victory condition.  Every planet has a size, limiting how many people can live on it, and a terrain type.  Barren worlds are like the moon, airless.  Terran worlds are like Earth, while Ocean and Arid worlds are wetter or dryer respectively.  Radiated worlds are like Barren but they also get hit with radiation that makes maintaining your colony more expensive, though you can research a radiation shield that turns them into just Barren.  The type of planetary terrain can be improved through Terraforming, which is a semi-difficult research project.  Terraforming moves any world from Barren one step closer to Terran.  Then, a much bigger research project allows Gaia Transformation, which turns the planet into a veritable garden of eden.  But then there are the Toxic worlds, which you can't do anything with.  Oddly, Toxic is the only type that cannot be improved, no Terraforming, no Gaia, nothing.  Some time back, when I was playing more often, I got the idea in my head to turn every planet into a Gaia paradise.  You can also turn Gas Giants and Asteroid Belts into Barren planets, so I decided to do that too.  Every world must be perfect and fully populated, that was going to be my own victory condition.  I ignored the Toxic worlds since I couldn't do anything with them (you can colonize them, but barely).  It takes a really long time during which you have to fend off, and eventually defeat, any other races plus weather the Antaran attacks (which become negligible late-game).  Mostly, you have to micro-manage a whole heck of a lot of colonies, setting up each one just right to be self-supporting and armed to the teeth.
    For some reason I decided to play it again.  Amazingly it works fine on my Windows 8 laptop (it's a Win95 game, am I dating myself or what?).  I always make a custom race.  You can build a race by spending points, taking some disadvantages gives you more advantages.  For disadvantages I took reduced farming, and penalties to spying, ground combat and ship defense/offense.  Farming is a big deal at the beginning of the game, but it's pretty easy to research tech that lets 4 farmers feed 42 people (mind you, each "person" is 1,000,000 individuals).  Ground combat is something that never happens to me, I arm my colonies with the most advanced weapons so few ships survive trying to land - plus I can off-set this with another advantage and build it up with technology.  Spying is another that can be off-set or built up easy enough, and I play with few enemies so I can make my own spies to counter theirs before we meet.  Ship combat is a negligible penalty, it's really easy to build advanced targeting computers that hit anything you want, or just build more ships than the other guy can field.  For advantages I always take Creative, I've never played the game without it actually.  MOO2 has a pretty big research tree, and normally you only get to select a few things to invent/develop.  With Creative however, you get everything - and while investing in technology is slow, by the end of the game it makes you very, very powerful.  I also always take Subterranean, it lets you have more people on every planet, since your race lives partially below-ground; it also off-sets the ground combat penalty.  That leaves enough points for one more advantage, and it varies every time I play.  Telepathic is nice, you can mind-control enemy colonies and instantly take them over, and it gives a bonus to spying that off-sets the penalty I take.  Cybernetic lets you eat only half as much food, the other half comes from your production/industry, which helps off-set the farming penalty, though its mostly just useful at the start of the game.  Omniscient lets you see every planet without having to fly a ship to it, and it makes it a lot easier to plan how you want to grow for the future.  Which I take depends on my mood, I went Cybernetic for this last game (plus something else).
    For this last game I fudged a bit, I made the game as favorable as possible.  While there is a difficulty setting, and I always play Hard (the Impossible level is aptly named), the biggest challenge is how many races are in the game.  I set it at only 2, so me and one AI opponent.  That is very favorable for a Creative race, since it takes a long time to meet the other guy I was able to build up my tech tree much higher than he did.  Also, my opponent turned out to be the Bulrathi, who are great ground combat fighters, but his ships were pathetic and had no chance of getting past my colony's defenses.  You can see every star, but not the planets in that system until you fly there.  Some systems however, the ones with the biggest and best planets of course, are 'protected' by space monsters.  Crystals, dragons, worms, amoebas - all kinds of mean critters who like to munch on starships.  But a long time ago I read a little hint that has worked great.  Normally you would wait until you could build a bigger and better ship to fight the space monsters, but there is a way to do it with just a few little ships.  You can arm your ships with missiles, and they have a certain number of shots.  But if you take only 2 shots, you can buy the MIRV advantage, where each missle carries 4 warheads - thus doing 8 shots worth of damage in only 2.  Turns out almost no monster can survive being hit by 5 of these ships (destroyers, each with 6 of these missiles, so a grand total of 240 missiles worth of damage) and they are very easy to make.  That's not really a cheat, just the most efficent way to get to the best planets.
    So after 695 turns I had colonized the entire galaxy (except the nasty toxic planets) with a total population of 3,976 (the largest planet had only 42, I didn't count exactly how many planets I had colonized).  Each planet was a paradise, fully built and equipped with protective armaments, heavy industry, scientific research, more food than anybody could eat, and zero taxes.  I am a benevolent dictator.  I wiped out the Antarans in a fairly tough fight, but I only took 12 ships against them, and not the biggest I could build, just to have a bit of a challenge.  I could have easily flown 20 Doom Stars with Stellar Converters (read: Death Stars) and wiped the floor with them in half the time, but that wouldn't have been as interesting.  I shudder to think of how many hours I played in real time, but it did only take 3 days (which I did do other stuff in).  And while this was the second time I've colonized the entire galaxy, I've played this game more times and years that I can count.  It's just so much fun.  I've never been able to find another game like it that I've enjoyed as much, though for some time now I've been focusing on free games and this style is pretty complicated for an indie developer.  There is a Free Orion, that re-created MOO, but it does not like my computer (think I need to try updating my video drivers, and so far I've had other things to do the limited time I have with the library's internet).  Still, this is a good reminder that super cool graphics are not the end-all be-all of a fun computer game.  I have a few old DOS and early Windows games that I still like to play.  Star Craft, Diablo 2, Wasteland, Planet's Edge, Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2 are way more fun than their MMO counterpart, IMHO.
    Anyways, just a note of affection for an old game, one that I'll no doubt be playing even more years from now.

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