Master of Orion

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Master of Orion
Master of Orion cover.jpg
Developer(s) Simtex
Publisher(s) MicroProse
Producer(s) Jeff Johannigman
Designer(s) Steve Barcia
Programmer(s) Maria Barcia, Steve Barcia, Ken Burd
Artist(s) Maria Barcia, Jeff Dee, George Edward Purdy, Frank Vivirito, Bill Willingham
Composer(s) David Govett
Platform(s) MS-DOS, Apple Macintosh
Release date(s) September 6, 1993
Genre(s) Turn-based strategy
Mode(s) Single player

Master of Orion (MoO or MOO) is a turn-based, 4X science fiction computer strategy game released in 1993 by MicroProse on the MS-DOS and Mac OS[1] operating systems. The game is the first in its franchise, and the rights are now held by[2] The player leads one of ten races to dominate the galaxy through a combination of diplomacy and conquest while developing technology, exploring and colonizing star systems.


Master of Orion is a turn-based game. In the first iteration of the franchise, one can only play against the AI (the computer). Human and AI players control the management of colonies, technology development, ship construction, inter-species diplomacy, and combat.[3]

The software generates a map randomly at the start of each game; the player can only choose the size of the galaxy, and the number and difficulty of AI opponents.[4] In the first game, star systems have at most one colonizable planet and a few have none. Later games have more planets.[4]

Master of Orion has 10 playable races, each with a specialty. For instance, the Humans have advantages in trade and diplomacy; the Bulrathi are the best at ground combat; the Silicoids ignore pollution and can colonize even the most hostile planets, but have slow population growth.[5] Each race is predisposed to like or dislike some of the other races,[6] and is advantaged or disadvantaged in different research fields.

The game begins with a single homeworld, one colony ship, and two scout ships that can be used to explore nearby stars. The game will sometimes produce random events which can be harmful or advantageous. One planet is Orion, "throne-world of the Ancients" and most valuable research site in the galaxy,[4] protected by a powerful warship, the Guardian. Victory is gained either by eliminating all opponents or by winning a vote on peaceful unification.

There are seven normal and six hostile planet types.[7] The various hostile types require increasingly advanced technology to colonize.[8] Size determines the planet's initial population capacity. Mineral wealth dramatically influences a colony's industrial productivity while Habitability influences population growth rates. Hostile planets are the most likely to be rich or ultra-rich in minerals.[7] Artifact worlds contain relics of a now-vanished advanced civilization.[7] All planets can be upgraded to Gaia class with the appropriate technologies.[9][10]

The main screen, showing the planetary management controls on the right.

Sliders are used to allocate a colony's output between ship construction, planetary defenses, factory construction, ecology, and research.[8] Planetary population generates production, especially when assisted by factories.[11] There is a limit on the number of factories a unit of population can operate, but building upgrades can increase this.[12] Defence spending is used to build additional missile bases, upgrade missile bases or planetary shields.[12] Military and spy maintenance is deducted from every colony's production.[4] A planet's output can also be transferred to the treasury at a loss.

Ships can travel to any star system within their range and combat always occurs in orbit over a planet - it is impossible to intercept enemy ships in deep space.[13] Players can control space combat manually or ask the software to resolve combat automatically.[14]


Most techs are incremental improvements, but each field has unique techs.

The designers regard technology as the most important contribution to a player's success.[15] Funding can be put into one or all of the game's six independent tech tree fields, including Computers, Construction, Force Fields, Planetary Science, Vehicle Propulsion, and Weapons.

If a ship uses a component from a particular technology area, further advances in that area reduce the cost and size of the component; this effect is called "miniaturization". When one has researched all of the technologies in an area of the tech tree, further research can discover "advanced technologies" in that area, which do not provide specific new capabilities but increase the miniaturization of ship components.[15]

The ship design screen showing the selection of hull sizes and components.

Battles are almost always decided by numbers and technology rather than by clever tactics.[16] Players can design and use their own ships. There are four hull sizes; smaller sizes are harder to hit while larger ships can survive more damage and hold more components. There are eight types of components, each with different effects. Only six ship designs can be used at a time.


Master of Orion provides a wide range of diplomatic negotiations: gifts of money or technology; one-time technology trades; trade pacts that boost industrial output; non-aggression and alliance treaties. Players can also threaten each other, declare war and arrange cease-fires[17] Each AI player remembers others' actions, both positive and negative, and will be unwilling to form alliances with a player who has broken previous treaties with it.[6]

Under AI control, each race has a ruler personality and an objective, such as Xenophobic Expansionist or Pacifistic Technologist. These traits guide their politics and economic management; for example militarists maintain large fleets and prioritize technologies which have military benefits, while ecologists put a lot of effort into pollution control and terraforming.[18] Traits vary from game to game.[18] Each race has most probable traits and avoids their opposites.[6] Races may occasionally revolt and change traits.

Hostile actions do not automatically cause war. Clashes are even expected at the opening of the game, when all sides are sending probes out into the unknown. On the other extreme, a ground assault must be knowingly targeted at an inhabited planet, and is a massive provocation.

Colonies can be bombed from space, or taken in ground invasions. Ground invasions can be conducted through enemy defenses. Present enemy ships or missile bases will fire on the approaching transports, possibly destroying some or all of them.[19] The invasion itself is fully automatic.[20] Results depend on numbers, technology and (if one of the races involved is Bulrathi) racial ground combat bonus.[21]

Invasion is expensive.[22] In the first game, there are no special soldier units; colonial population itself is sent to fight, exterminate the existing inhabitants, and form a new planetary population.[21][23] The production capacity of any remaining factories can be gleaned, and plundering of technologies if enough factories survived the attack.[21] Controlling a new system extends the range of the invader's ships.


Master of Orion is a significantly expanded and refined version of the prototype/predecessor game Star Lords (not to be confused with Starlord, also released by MicroProse in 1993). Steve Barcia's game development company Simtex demonstrated Star Lords to MicroProse and gaming journalist Alan Emrich who, along with Tom Hughes, assisted Barcia in refining the design to produce Master of Orion;[24][25] and the game's manual thanks them for their contributions.[26] Emrich and Hughes later wrote the strategy guide for the finished product.[27] MicroProse published the final version of the game in 1994.[28]

Star Lords[edit]

Star Lords, often called Master of Orion 0 by fans,[29] was a prototype and never commercially released (its intro opens with "SimTex Software and Your Company present"). The crude but fully playable prototype was made available as freeware in 2001, stripped of all documentation and copy protection, in anticipation of the launch of Master of Orion III.[29] Major differences between Star Lords and Master of Orion include inferior graphics and interface, simpler trade and diplomacy, undirected research, a lack of safeguards to prevent players from building more factories than are usable and the use of transports rather than colony ships to colonize new planets. One feature of Star Lords that Master of Orion lacks is a table of relations between the computer-controlled races. The game was eventually made available for download on FilePlanet[30] and the home page for Master of Orion III.[29]


Review scores
Publication Score
AllGame 5/5 stars[31]

Emrich in a Computer Gaming World preview described the game as "the best that galactic conquest can offer", and summarized its type of gameplay as "4X", meaning "eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate".[22][32] He and later commentators noted earlier examples of this genre, including Civilization (1991)[33] and Reach for the Stars (1983).[34] In retrospective reviews, Allgame, GameSpot and IGN regarded MoO as the standard by which turn based strategy games set in space are judged, although Allgame regretted the lack of a multiplayer option.[35][36][37]

In 1996, Computer Gaming World ranked it as the 33rd best game of all time.[38] In 2003, IGN ranked it as the 98th top game.[39] Master of Orion is a member of both GameSpy's Hall of Fame (2001)[40] and GameSpot's list of the greatest games of all time.[41]


Two commercial sequels to Master of Orion have been released, Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares and Master of Orion III. The sequels are significantly more advanced in graphics and sound and feature large differences in gameplay, with some players claiming the original game remains the best version of the three.[42][43] In July 2013, bought the Master of Orion franchise from the Atari bankruptcy proceedings.[2] An upcoming "reimagining" was announced in June 2015.[44]

In 1997, MicroProse released a Master of Orion "Jr." scenario as part of the Civ II: Fantastic Worlds expansion for Civilization II. Master of Orion prototype developed as Star Lords was only released as freeware in 2001 as part of the promotion for Master of Orion III. In 2011, a clone of MoO II, titled Starbase Orion, was published by Chimera Software, LLC for the iPhone. The game setting has been the influence of Russian writer Sergey Lukyanenko's trilogy, the Line of Delirium.


  1. ^ "Master of Orion - PC - GameSpy". Gamespy. IGN Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  2. ^ a b "Wargaming Takes Master of Orion, Stardock Gets Star Control". 2013-07-23. Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  3. ^ MOO Manual (PC) p. iii
  4. ^ a b c d MOO Manual (PC) p. 2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MOO_Manual_PC" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MOO_Manual_PC" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MOO_Manual_PC" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  5. ^ MOO Manual (PC) pp. 39-41
  6. ^ a b c MOO Manual (PC) pp. 33-34
  7. ^ a b c MOO Manual (PC) pp. 11-12
  8. ^ a b MOO Manual (PC) p. viii
  9. ^ MOO Manual (PC) pp. 31-32
  10. ^ Planets can be upgraded in three ways:
    • Terraforming increases population capacity by a fixed amount for each tech level achieved, up to a maximum of 120 extra units.
    • Soil enrichment increases a planet's population capacity and growth rate but can not be used on hostile planets. The advanced version increases capacity by up to 50% of its initial value and doubles the rate of population growth.
    • Atmospheric terraforming converts hostile planets to normal ones, making soil enrichment possible there.
    Planet type does not affect the costs and benefits of terraforming and soil enrichment.
  11. ^ MOO Manual (PC) pp. 23-24
  12. ^ a b MOO Manual (PC) pp. 8-9
  13. ^ MOO Manual (PC) pp. vi-viii
  14. ^ MOO Manual (PC) pp. 27-28
  15. ^ a b MOO Manual (PC) pp. 25-26
  16. ^ Thomas, B. "Master of Orion - Sirian's Perspective: The Player". Retrieved 2008-05-21. 
  17. ^ MOO Manual (PC) pp. 21-22
  18. ^ a b MOO Manual (PC) pp. 42-43
  19. ^ MOO Manual (PC) pp. vi, vii
  20. ^ MOO Manual (PC) pp. 51-54
  21. ^ a b c MOO Manual (PC) p. 14
  22. ^ a b Emrich, Alan (September 1993). "MicroProse' Strategic Space Opera is Rated XXXX". Computer Gaming World (Issue #110).  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Emrich1993" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  23. ^ MOO Manual (PC) p. vi
  24. ^ Emrich, A. "Master of Orion: The History of a Game Series - One Man's Telling of a Cosmic Tale". Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  25. ^ "Star Lords". MobyGames. Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  26. ^ MOO Manual (PC), "Credits" page
  27. ^ "Alan Emrich Recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award". Retrieved 2008-07-27. 
  28. ^ Sources differ on this:
  29. ^ a b c "Master of Orion: The History of a Game Series — Star Lords". Quicksilver software. 2001. Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  30. ^ "Star Lords Info". 2002-06-06. Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  31. ^ Osbourne, Jason A. "Master of Orion - Review". Allgame. Retrieved 2014-06-04. 
  32. ^ Quick, D (2002-02-01). "Master of Orion III – Developer Chat". GameSpy. Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  33. ^ "IGN Videogame Hall of Fame: Civilization". IGN. Retrieved 2008-05-21. 
  34. ^ Bruce Geryk (2001-08-08). "History of Space Empire Games - The Early Years 1980-1992". GameSpot. Archived from the original on 2010-06-28. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  35. ^ Osborne, J.A. "Master of Orion". Allgame. Macrovision Corporation. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  36. ^ Chick, T. (2001). "PC Retroview: Master of Orion II". IGN. Retrieved 2009-05-09. 
  37. ^ Geryk, B. "History of space empire games – Master of Orion". GameSpot. CBS Interactive Inc. Archived from the original on 2010-07-01. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  38. ^ CGW 148: 150 Best Games of All Time
  39. ^ "IGN's Top 100 Games of All Time". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  40. ^ Fudge, J (2001-01-01). "Gamespy: Master of Orion". GameSpy. Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  41. ^ Ocampo, J. "Ridding the Galaxy of Klackons, One Solar System at a Time - Master of Orion". GameSpot. Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  42. ^ "Jon's MOO I Resources". 
  43. ^ "Sirian's Master of Orion Page". Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  44. ^ "Master of Orion: A Legend Reborn". Archived from the original on 2015-06-09. Retrieved 2015-06-09. 


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