Master of Orion 2
Since I was a child, I wanted to rule the galaxy. The first time I proclaimed myself galactic emperor was while playing the original Master of Orion. With addictive gameplay, Master of Orion became the most common program to run on my computer in 1993. SimTex took its time before introducing the sequel. The question is: was the wait worth it? I received a surprisingly mixed answer. The surprise is, SimTex's implementation has both good and bad features, but in areas I did not expect (more on this later).
Master of Orion II is like Civilization. Rather than take over the world, you focus on the galaxy, taking worlds instead of cities. You pursue technologies, employ strategic fleet deployments, and engage in diplomacy. You will find similar design and scope in Empire, Civilization, Ascendancy, and Spaceward Ho, other games of the era. As you can imagine implementation is often key to a popular strategy game and SimTex did a fine job with this sequel.
Master of Orion II is enthralling for the same reason as Master of Orion I: The game has depth, allowing players to explore many avenues to success. Players might opt to win the game diplomatically, deviously setting all other races at each other’s throats. A more obvious method to win is through brute force using starships to subjugate the other systems. Along the way players make tough decisions to balance industrial output, research and food production. What technologies are keys to winning the game? Which race has the best advantage? How does one negotiate with hostile races? There is no single right answer and therein lies the success of Master of Orion II.
Stategy gaming from the Orion II era, and earlier, was often be an awkward hybrid. It was almost assumed that visual effects will be poor, but the game engine and AI will be robust. This is dangerous mindset for a game company. A solid design is crucial in making a popular strategy game because the engine, with its comprehensive and exacting rules of play, is accessed via the design! Gamers do not have access to a title's source code and will not see good programming in action unless it is part of the game itself!
SimTex is not a foolish company. The decision to incorporate 345 megs of art from the game CD was done to bridge the chasm between good game design and visual appeal. In fact, this was expected. Players of both Master of Orion I and Master of Magic roundly criticized SimTex for the sub-par graphics. With the release of Orion II SimTex demonstrated a capable art staff.
SimTex took a big step forward with music and graphics in Master of Orion II. This effort leaves all their previous work in the dust. The music is comparable to the quality work found in a serious competitor -- Ascendancy. And while Ascendency’s art was more creative, Master of Orion II sports more graphics, so you do not feel as if you are looking at the same place throughout the game.
With all the complexity of integrating vast fleets, armies, and planetary systems into a machine of conquest games often run long and hard. There are few objections to the time involved. Who wouldn't want to obliterate all traces of the bitter enemy? Master of Orion II fits the bill quite nicely.