Master of Magic
|Master of Magic|
Box cover art for Master of Magic
|Programmer(s)||Stephen Barcia, Ken Burd, James Cowlishaw, Grissel Barcia|
|Artist(s)||Jeff Dee (art director)
Shelly Hollen, Amanda Dee, Steven Ray Austin, George Edward Purdy, Patrick Owens, Grissel Barcia
|Release date(s)||September 1994|
|Genre(s)||4X turn-based strategy|
|Distribution||3½" floppy disks (8), CD, download|
Master of Magic is a single-player, fantasy turn-based strategy 4X genre video game created by Simtex and published for MS-DOS by MicroProse in 1994. The player is a wizard attempting to dominate two linked worlds. From a small settlement, the player manages resources, builds cities and armies, and researches spells, growing an empire and fighting the other wizards.
Master of Magic's early versions had many bugs, and were heavily criticized by reviewers. The last official patch version 1.31, released in March 1995, fixed many of the bugs and implemented updates to the AI. The patched version was received more positively by reviewers.
A world is randomly generated each game, with player input on land size, the strength of magic, game difficulty, and other features. The player can customize the skills, spell choices, and appearance of their wizard, choosing one of fourteen races for the starting city.
The gameplay starts as units explore surroundings, pushing back the strategic map's fog of war. Among the exploration goals are defeating monsters guarding treasure, finding the best locations for new cities, discovering the Towers of Wizardry that link the planes Arcanus and Myrror, and locating the cities of enemy wizards.
Cities are established by settlers, then upgraded by adding buildings improving the economy. Cities produce food, gold and mana. Military units require food and gold upkeep; spellcasters consume mana in combat.
At the same time as colonizing territory, new magical spells are researched. Spells are either used in or out of combat.
Battles for squares in the strategic map are resolved in an isometric turn-based view that shows unit positions and the effect of magical spells.
Master of Magic splits spells into six schools of magic: Life Magic, which heals and protects; its antithesis Death Magic, which drains life and creates undead; Chaos Magic, which warps targets and spews destructive energies; Nature Magic, which controls the weather and turns it against the enemy; Sorcery, which manipulates the air and subverts the effects of the other schools; and Arcane Magic, which is a general school and free for all.
Players select spellbooks from desired schools, allowing them to research and cast spells from those schools. There are global spells that can affect targets all across the world. Unit or city enhancement spells can boost the potential of its target, such as increasing the movement and attack speed of units, enabling them to regenerate wounds, and increasing the power of their attacks. Wizards can summon fantastic creatures related to their schools. The player can research combat spells, which include direct attacks, debuffs and traps. The final spell learned is the Arcane Spell of Mastery, which takes enormous resources to research and cast but instantly wins the game for the casting player.
A tactical battle begins when two armies occupy the same square on the global map. The battle takes place in an isometric map that expands the contested square in detail (including fortifications and terrain aspects that affect movement and combat). The two forces are arrayed at opposite edges of the map, and the battle is conducted in a series of turns. The battle ends in victory for one side by eliminating the other or forcing it to flee the combat, or a draw if both sides remain after 50 turns.
The player can recruit 86 unit types from the cities to build their armies. A few (such as swordsmen and archers) are generic, while others (such as troll shamans) feature racial bonuses (such as regeneration or flight) that make them more valuable or more powerful than generic units. Most city-recruited units are unique to the city's region or terrain,and have special abilities like magic use, ranged attacks, or an ability to always strike first in combat. Mercenaries can seek employment with famous wizards, allowing them to recruit units which their cities are unable to produce. The player can even summon fantastic creatures, such as demon lords, enormous monsters like dragons, and griffins, among many others. The variety of units with unique special abilities offer many options when building an army.
Thirty-five distinct heroes are available for players to hire or summon. Heroes' special abilities boost the efficiency of other military units (like bestowing offensive or defensive bonuses), or allow the hero special attacks, immense strength or toughness, among other abilities.
Plot and setting
Master of Magic takes place across two worlds, Arcanus and Myrror. Arcanus is a land much like our Earth, with climatic zones and varied terrain like forests, oceans, grasslands, and deserts. Myrror is a parallel world to Arcanus, featuring heavier magic use and fantastic flora and fauna not found on Arcanus. The two worlds are physically linked to each other by special portals called Towers of Wizardry, allowing units to travel between worlds.
Magic nodes - which are sources of magical power - are scattered throughout both worlds. The worlds are populated by traditional fantasy races like elves and halflings, plus races unique to the game like the insectoid Klackons.
Master of Magic was recognized for its introduction of concurrent gameplay across two planes of existence, allowing for greater tactical play, which was later implemented in the Heroes of Might and Magic and Age of Wonders series. While the acclaimed Warlords series later allowed customization of heroes, Master of Magic was the first major fantasy strategy game to feature individually distinct heroes, with unique abilities, which could be equipped with customized items. This customizability extended to the creation of a unique persona/wizard with access to a variety of spells dependent upon the number of "ranks" or "books" of magic of a given school. Wizards could also be designed with specific traits, a feature which separated Master of Magic and the later Master of Orion 2 from Civilization.
Early versions of Master of Magic's were riddled with bugs and had a terrible artificial intelligence (AI), frustrating a lot of reviewers with its crashes and ignorant enemies. Despite that, it was announced as the Runner-up Strategy Game of the Year by Strategy Plus magazine, coming in behind its older sibling Master of Orion. A few patches later, version 1.2 corrected a lot of the bugs and added some tweaks but there were still game crashing moments. Bill Cranston of GameBytes also savaged other aspects of the game, constantly comparing it against the 1991 hit Civilization. He said the gameplay was mostly repetitive clickings of the 'end turn' button throughout several hundred eventless turns. Other complaints on his list also include Master of Magic's magic not being as crucial to winning the game in a straight forward manner, as compared to Civilization's technology. The potential of racial strife was less than fulfilled as military units of different races can co-exist harmoniously even though subjugated cities of a different race can rise up in rebellion. Coming Soon Magazine! however reviewed the same version and called it a must-have for strategy fans with great gameplay and lots of spells.
Master of Magic version 1.31 was released in March 1995. It rectified many more bugs, and implemented a few changes to the AI. IGN reviewed this version of Master of Magic in 2002, and stated that the ability to customize the player's character, random maps, and vast variety of spells and creatures give an immense replayability to the game. The dual planes concept and intense tactical battles spiced with spells, encouraged them to name the latest version of the game as the best fantasy strategy game ever made. Computer Gaming World called this version fantastic, and named it as one of their "150 Best Games of All Time". Similarly, IGN placed the game as one of their "Top 25 Games of All Time" in 2000 and "Top 100 Games of All Time" in 2003, praising it for its innovative simultaneous play of two worlds. Tracy Baker wrote in Computer Gaming Classics named it as a strategy game classic for its success in implementing the mechanics of Master of Orion in a fantasy setting.
Master of Magic was inducted into GameSpy's Hall of Fame in 2000, with the network describing it as a visually stunning game with "enduring replayability", due to its randomness and large variety of spells. GameSpy also credited the game with being more popular than Master of Orion, and responsible for making Steve Barcia and Simtex household names. Computer Gaming World also inducted Master of Magic into its Hall of Fame in 2005. The game has also been referenced as a representative product of Microprose in gaming reviews. The writer Alan Emrich, responsible for coining the "4X genre" term, has placed Master of Magic in the top position on his "Games of All Time" list in 2001.
Due to Master of Magic's impact on the fantasy "turn-based strategy" genre, the Age of Wonders series, considered almost identical in terms of gameplay, has received comparisons in reviews of the latter. However, it is believed that the games are significantly different, an opinion also shared by Lennart Sas, the lead designer for Age of Wonders. Other series that have been also compared to Master of Magic, including Dominions series from Illwinter Game Design.
As of 2011, a sequel to Master of Magic has yet to be produced; however, in 1997, Microprose released a Master of Magic "Jr." scenario, using the Civilization II engine, as part of the Civ II: Fantastic Worlds expansion for Civilization II. During the same year, Steve Barcia stated that Master of Magic II would be complete by spring 1998, with new features, spells, monsters and a spell designer included; however, Simtex was closed down in the same year. Microprose revealed that it would be developing the sequel on its own, but this plan was canceled when the company's financial situation deteriorated in 2000. Despite the later emergence of games that resemble Master of Magic (such as the Age of Wonders series), reviewers like Kyle Ackerman and GameSpot editor, Andrew Park, have stated that the game's essence has not yet been re-captured.
Further prospects of a sequel surfaced with the announcement that companies, Quicksilver Software and Stardock, had obtained the rights to undertake such a venture. These companies were unable to reach an accord with Atari's, as the latter negotiated complete control of the software's marketing. Game Informer reported in 2007 that Stardock aimed to release a remake of Master of Magic in 2009. However, a Stardock employee, Aaron Rister, clarified in the company's own forums that Game Informer was a mistaken reference to a 2010 game Elemental: War of Magic.
In April 2013, Wastelands Interactive launched a successful Kickstarter bid to fund the game Worlds of Magic and designer George Edward Purdy who worked on Master of Orion and Master of Magic joined the team.
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