Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares
|Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares|
North American cover
|Publisher(s)||MicroProse (PC), MacSoft (Mac)|
|Series||Master of Orion|
|Platform(s)||MS-DOS, Windows 95, Apple Macintosh|
|Genre(s)||4X, turn-based strategy|
Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares is a 4X turn-based strategy game set in space, designed by Steve Barcia and Ken Burd, and developed by Simtex, who developed its predecessor Master of Orion. The PC version was published by MicroProse in 1996, and the Apple Macintosh version a year later by MacSoft, in partnership with MicroProse. The game has retained a large fan base, and is still played online.
Master of Orion II won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1996, and was well received by critics, although reviewers differed about which aspects they liked and disliked. It is used as a yardstick in reviews of more recent space-based 4X games.
Long before the time in which the game is set, two extremely powerful races, the Orions and the Antarans, fought a war that devastated most of the galaxy. The victorious Orions, rather than exterminate the Antarans, imprisoned them in a pocket dimension before departing the galaxy, leaving behind a very powerful robotic warship, the Guardian, to protect their homeworld.:iv
Some time after the game starts, the Antarans, having broken out of their prison dimension, begin to send increasingly powerful fleets against the players' colonies, to destroy them rather than to invade. The only way they can be stopped is to carry the battle to their home universe through a Dimensional Portal.:144:3
Master of Orion II is more complex than the original game, providing more gameplay options for the player. Three new alien races have been added, and there is the option for players to design and add their own race. Instead of the one planet per star system found in the original there are now multiplanet star systems that can be shared with opponents. Spaceships can now engage in combat, marines can board enemy ships, and planets can be blown up. Multiplayer mode includes one-on-one matches and games with up to eight players.
Victory can be gained by military or diplomatic means. Major elements of the game's strategy include the design of custom races and the need to balance the requirements for food, production, cash and research. The user interface provides a central screen for most economic management and other screens that control research, diplomacy, ship movement, combat and warship design.
Conquering the Orion star system does not automatically win the game; it merely provides the powerful Avenger starship and some non-researchable Antaran technologies. There are three routes to victory: conquer all opponents; be elected as the supreme leader of the galaxy; or make a successful assault against the Antaran homeworld. To be elected, a player needs two-thirds of the total votes, and each empire's votes are based on the population under its control.:145:2
Star systems have at most five colonizable planets, and a few have none. Players can colonize all solid planet types, while gas giants and asteroids can be made habitable with the planet construction technology. Colonizable planets vary in several ways, making some more desirable than others::47–52
The most desirable systems are usually guarded by space monsters, much less powerful than Orion's Guardian but still a severe challenge in the early game, when fleets are small and low-technology.
Without food, a colony will starve to death. If an empire has an overall food surplus, it can prevent localized starvation by sending food in freighters,:57 which are produced (in groups of five) just as any other ship and require a small amount of upkeep when in use.:75 However, a single hostile warship of any size can blockade an entire system, preventing the delivery of food.:139–140
Each player can change each of its colonies' outputs by moving colonists between farming, industry and research,:57–58 except that natives can only farm. All normal colonists pay a standard tax to the imperial treasury, but in emergencies a higher tax rate may be set at the expense of reducing industrial output.:137 Players can use surplus money to accelerate industrial production at specified colonies, but not to increase agricultural or research output.:35–38 The maintenance of buildings costs money, as does maintaining an excessively large fleet.:34 Ships of different sizes require different numbers of "command points". These are provided by orbital bases, which are major construction projects for small colonies. This severely limits the size of empires' fleets in the early game, where one can have only one frigate (smallest type of ship) per starbase or one battleship (largest type of ship in the early game) per four starbases without having to "buy" command points, which is very expensive.:137
Research, usually followed by construction of appropriate buildings, can improve all types of productivity, including cashflow and command points, and can reduce or eliminate pollution,:65–99:65–99 Falling behind in technology is likely to be fatal. There are eight research areas:64–65 divided into several levels, each of which contains one to four technologies. To research a higher-level technology, players must first have researched the previous level.:64–65 Players can also acquire technologies by exchange or diplomatic threats, spying,:142 hiring colonial leaders or ship commanders with knowledge of certain technologies, planetary conquest, capturing and dismantling enemy ships, random events, or by stumbling upon it in a derelict craft orbiting a newly discovered planet.:112–116 All weapons and some other combat-related components benefit from miniaturization, in which further advances in the technology area that provides them will reduce the size and production cost of those components.:100–102 Miniaturization also makes available modifications for most weapons, which usually entail a significant increase in their cost and size but can greatly improve their effectiveness in the right situations.:100
Master of Orion II provides a wide range of diplomatic negotiations: gifts of money or technology or even all the colonies in a star system; opportunities to demand such concessions from other players; technology trades; trade, non-aggression and alliance treaties.:138–142 The diplomacy menu, called "Races" in the game, also enables the player to allocate spies between defensive duties and spying or sabotage against other empires, and to check opponents' technological progress and diplomatic relationships.:42–43
The designs of colony ships, outpost ships and troop transports are fixed.:105–111 These three ship types can be destroyed instantly by even the weakest combat ship if they travel unescorted.:104 Colony ships, outpost ships, troop transports and warships may benefit from technological advances that increase the range and speed of all of an empire's ships free of charge.:74 Players can design warships, provided they choose the "tactical combat" option in game set-up.:11 A maximum of five classes can be designed at a time, but an indefinite number may be in operation. Players can also refit ships to take advantage of technological improvements not available through free upgrades.:111
Ships can travel to any star system within their range,:30–31 unlike games such as Space Empires or Master of Orion III, in which interstellar travel is possible only or mainly via "wormholes" and it is possible to set up easily defended choke points.
In Master of Orion II, space combat occurs only within star systems, either over a planet one side is attacking or on the outskirts of a system, if one side is driving away the other's blockaders or trying to prevent an enemy build-up. If the defending side has warships and several colonies in a system, they automatically scramble to defend whichever colony is attacked. In general, enemy colonies can be taken over only after all orbital and planet-based defenses have been destroyed and all defending ships have been destroyed or forced to retreat. However, a fleet including telepaths will mind-control the colony, unless the defenders also include telepaths. In other cases the only way to seize control of an enemy colony is by invading. In order to do this, the attacking fleet must include some troop transports, which will be lost if the invasion fails, and at least transports will be permanently deployed on the planet if the invasion succeeds.:75 A player cannot control ground combat: the result depends on numbers, ground combat technologies, racial ground combat bonuses, and some Leaders if present. However the game displays the progress of the combat and the ground combat technologies and bonuses used by each side.:118–132 Mind-controlled colonies are instantly loyal to their new owners.:23 Other recently occupied colonies on the other hand are disaffected, have poor productivity, and may rebel and rejoin the empire which founded them. Productivity slowly improves and the risk of rebellion slowly recedes, and there is a way to speed up these improvements.:81 Instead of invading, a victorious attacker may destroy an enemy colony by various means.:118–132
From time to time players are presented with the opportunity to hire leaders, for an annual salary and usually a hiring fee. Colony leaders improve the farming and/or industrial and/or research and/or financial productivity of all colonies in the system to which they are assigned, and some improve the efficiency of defensive or offensive spies. Ship leaders improve the combat effectiveness of their ships and some improve their travel speed. A few leaders of both types also improve the performance of warships and/or ground troops under their command, or contribute directly to a player's finances, or attract other leaders, usually for a reduced hiring fee.:113–116
From time to time there are lucky breaks, disasters or emergencies which are not caused by any player's actions. These can be disabled in the game start-up menu.:132
Master of Orion II provides 13 pre-defined playable races,:16–21 three of which are additions to those available in Master of Orion. The game also allows players to create custom races,:132 and a group of enthusiasts regard race design as a crucial element of strategy. Each player starts with ten "picks" (race design points). Choosing advantageous traits reduces the number of picks available, while choosing disadvantages increases them, but players cannot choose more than ten picks' worth of disadvantages. Most of the options are major or minor advantages and minor disadvantages in farming, industry, research, population growth, money, space combat, espionage and ground combat.:16–24 The race design system also offers "special abilities" that have various effects on various aspects of their effectiveness.
The player chooses the empire's form of government,:22–24 which has almost as much influence on how it performs as the choices described above, but the "best" governments cost a lot of picks.:16 Dictatorships are the most common governments for the pre-defined races,:13–15 costing no picks while providing appropriately minor bonuses and penalties.:16 Democracy provides major advantages in research and wealth generation, but is the most vulnerable to spying and sabotage. Democracies also cannot annihilate conquered aliens, but also have the fastest assimilation rate. Unification governments provide advantages in farming and industrial output and defense against espionage, but do not benefit from morale and assimilate conquered aliens at the slowest rate. Feudalism provides a large reduction in spaceship construction costs, but suffers from very slow research and the population of any conquered feudal colony is instantly assimilated into the new government. The race design menu treats Feudalism as a significant disadvantage.:18–21 Each government can be upgraded once by research, but the upgrades generally increase the advantages of each without decreasing its disadvantages.:134–135
Players can manage their economies almost entirely from the Colony List. The Colony List allows the player to access any colony's Build Menu, and to change a colony's output by moving colonists between Farmers, Workers and Scientists.:1:35–36, 56–59 The Build Menu allows the player to queue up to seven items for construction at a colony, to refit ships in that colony's system and to design ships that may then be built at any colony.:60–62 At the end of each turn, Master of Orion II shows a report in which items link to the appropriate display, usually to a colony's Build Menu when a construction project has been completed.:29
The game was designed by Steve Barcia and Ken Burd,:153 and developed by Barcia's company Simtex, which had previously developed Master of Orion, published in 1993 by MicroProse. For Master of Orion II, Simtex provided additional pre-defined races, the option to create custom races, and multiplayer options. The first "Orion" game's graphics had also been heavily criticized, and the second included higher-quality artwork displayed at a higher resolution.
The main contributions were: design by Steve Barcia (lead designer), programming by Ken Burd (lead programmer) and five others; art by Dave Lawell (lead artist) and eight others; music by Laura Barratt; sound by John Henke.
In June 1995, MicroProse agreed to buy Simtex, and turned it into an internal development division. The acquisition continued to be known as "Simtex Software", and the Simtex logo appears briefly before MicroProse's while MOO II is loading. MicroProse released Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares for IBM-compatible PCs in 1996, and an Apple Macintosh version was published a year later by MicroProse in partnership with MacSoft.
Master of Orion II secured 10th place on PC Data's computer game sales chart for the month of November 1996. It remained in the top 20 for the next two months, in positions 17 and 20, respectively. By mid-January 1997, its global sales has surpassed 200,000 copies.
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Reviews shortly after publication were generally very favorable, and the game won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1996. However, reviewers' detailed comments on aspects of the game differed, especially in comparisons with its predecessor Master of Orion. Some liked the additional gameplay features in Master of Orion II, while others preferred the simpler approach of Master of Orion. Some reviewers criticized the level of micromanagement needed in Master of Orion II,  but Tom Chick found it fairly easy to control. Opinions also varied about the single-player AI, tactical combat, warship design facility and custom races. However, reviewers appreciated the replay value provided by the wide range of galaxy, race and other options.
Complaints that the loading of artwork from CD made the game run slowly led to recommendations to download the entire CD onto hard disk before play. A review specifically for the Mac version complained that the user interface was "clunky", as this PC port lacked features common in programs originally developed for the Mac.
Master of Orion II was a finalist for the Computer Game Developers Conference's 1996 "Best Strategy/War Game" Spotlight Award, but lost the prize to Command & Conquer: Red Alert. It was also nominated as Computer Games Strategy Plus's 1996 turn-based strategy game of the year, although it lost to Civilization II. The game was a finalist for Computer Gaming World's 1996 "Strategy Game of the Year" award, which ultimately went to Civilization II.
Master of Orion II was named the 39th best computer game ever by PC Gamer UK in 1997.
The Master of Orion series set a new standard for space-based 4X games, with a retrospective review describing it as "a towering monolith in the genre that has cast an eight-year-long shadow over everything that's followed... Master of Orion is still the definitive name in space opera games". In the same review, Chick added that Master of Orion II and its predecessor Master of Orion "loom large" in any discussion of science fiction strategy games. Master of Orion II has both influenced the subsequent development of such games and invited comparisons in reviews, with a 2006 GameSpot review describing it as "the pinnacle of the genre".
Other games have been noted for their similarities and differences with Master of Orion II. One review of Space Empires IV made several comparisons with Master of Orion II, commenting favorably on the complex tactical combat, while criticizing the relatively "sparse graphics and sound", concluding that it was the most sophisticated game available in the genre, but that it built "on the basic foundation of Master of Orion" instead of "breaking new ground". Other games which have been compared with Master of Orion II include Galactic Civilizations II, which James Lombardi praised as standing "proudly next to its famed predecessor" (although it "did not include the tactical battle option like Masters of Orion II"), and Lost Empire: Immortals, whose scale was criticised as "soulless" (relative to Masters of Orion) by Jason Ocampo.
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