Design Starts with a Problem (Master of Orion 4)

April 24, 2009

Let me tell you a story. Once a long time ago, in 1993, a game called Master of Orion was released, such a wonderful game it was that it spawned two sequels, Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares and Master of Orion 3. The original was far simpler than its successors in many respects but the gameplay was also tighter and faster, the problem is that whilst many who enjoy a game like Master of Orion might want more complex gameplay it might not necessarily be whats best for them.

The problem? How to create a game like Master of Orion that can appeal both to players who want quick fun games and players who want a slower/deeper experience.

Heres one possible solution to the problem, in the medium of dance imagery:

Master of Orion 4 Modules Diagram

Master of Orion 4 Modules Diagram

Ooh, pretty pictures! Think of the above image as being part of a ‘new game’ menu screen, yes, thats right, let the players choose how deep they want the gameplay to be, by choosing the complexity in a system of modules that interact with the central/orchestrating core of the game. Obviously getting the modules to work together without a pile of headaches would be the next problem to solve, but lets focus on this solution for now.

This method breaks the game down into 7 modules, as you can see above, the only one that needs explaining is Combat Presentation, the three different levels of representation are Calculated by AI (No actual presentation of combat, except for a Dialogue box informing the player what happened as a result of the decision to attack/defend), 2D (Like the original Master of Orion) & 3D which would be more akin to the combat system used in Birth of the Federation. Tactical complexity meanwhile affects things like the impact of shield arcs (Where an empire can research multiple cell shielding rather like how an X-Wing has front & rear shields that opperate separately), I’ve got a slightly hefty table which I won’t be posting up here, which has a break-down of all the modules by complexity.

So why go to all this effort? What we have here in effect is several games in one, where the player can choose either a fast game (Say for multiplayer or to kill two or three hours) or go for something far more involved. Additionally, if a player finds that they don’t enjoy one particular aspect of gameplay then they can tone that one down whilst maximising those elements they do enjoy.  Most important of all, in a world where it seems most choices can be reduced to numbers what I have here appears (As far as I can tell) to be mostly free of that problem. In fact you could even save several of the highest complexity modules for an expansion as well.

One final comment I can make with regards to this, by default, the game creation screen would default to the modules that most closely match how the original Master of Orion played and let the players tweak it from there as they desire.


4 Responses to “Design Starts with a Problem (Master of Orion 4)”

  1. […] Design Starts with a Problem (Master of Orion 4) […]

  2. Luke Says:

    Dude….. Im building a star strategy game. I don’t think you understand the scope of what you are suggesting. Its near impossible to build a agent capable of competently playing a star strategy game, let alone a customizable one. I know, I’ve tried.

    • Robert Farr Says:

      Yeah I’ve never imagined it as something that would be easy to do, the first step is to figure out which elements have minimal interaction with each other and which ones interact more heavily and designing from there. For instance ship building & combat will interact quite heavily but ship building and politics will have almost no interaction, makes things a bit easier. The most awkward link would be research, ship building & combat.

  3. Will A Says:

    By the way, there is a new project at IndieGoGo to remake this (and to save other titles from their bankruptcy auction as well). more info can be found on the SaveAtari site.  I know the plan is to open source a lot of the Atari code and support collaborative development.

    SaveAtari project to save and open-source a number of titles:

    Master of Orion franchise page:

    Broader project to save a number of titles:

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