When I recently decided to try out an emulator called DOSBox I also stumbled upon Master of Orion 1. At first I didn't like the game. It's a bit cumbersome to control, and I'm not too keen on TBS games with lots of abstractions and simplifications.
The game grew on me however. Soon I discovered depth of the ship design feature, and I liked how you can fit more into the ships at later tech levels because of miniaturization. It was something which I had always wanted to see in this type of game.
I haven't played MoO2, but the art for the aliens seems a bit stale compared to MoO1's cartoony look. However, with my redesigns I have tried to incorporate some of MoO2's designs where possible.
I heard MoO2 had more micro management, something I'm not too keen on. Both games have their fans, but perhaps the MoO2 fanbase is larger.
MoO was developed by SimTek and published by Microprose in 1993. Atari now sits on the rights. There are a few other more recent '4x games' out there, with realtime combat, more detailed star systems, 3D star maps, colony buildings, 3D spaceship editors, etc.
What makes MoO1 interesting is that there's very little superfluous detail to manage, so you can concentrate on the strategy and thus be able to manage quite large empires. The game does the chores automatically for you (or completely abstracts them away), without playing itself. You're needed to make the difficult and interesting big strategical choices.
To the right: MoO1 screenshots. Play as one of ten alien factions (six per map). Explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. Engage in diplomacy or just kill everything in sight. Research new technology and design your own ships.
Apr 4, 2010 - Diplomatic wins are sometimes not fun because the depth of the game lies in the fleet combat. Wrote a bit about winning the game. Also watched Legend of Galactic Heroes and decided to elaborate on ship presentation ideas.
March 24, 2010 - Clarified weapons brainfart.
March 22, 2010 - Drafts for chibi versions of my aliens. Slight edit of the menu mockup.
March 20-21, 2010 - Clarified some parts which I didn't know were unclear until I had forgotten what I meant. I easily forget that I'm not telepathic and need to write the whole line of thought down. Gained some new insights regarding tech progress. MoO1 appears to be better paced at Average difficulty level. Ships get obsolete too fast on the easier levels. Unfortunately I'm quite bad at the game still. I also made some new chibi MoO1 aliens and a few planet illustrations. Made an index.
May 23-25-30, 2009 - Fixed typos, nonsense fragments, bad logic, bad writing. Well, I can't do much about the latter. Also sized up the illustrations and font along with page width. Made some new stuff.
Late 2008 - Found MoO1 and DosBox. Promptly started project, but ended up with a bit of a mess.
* In MoO1 the smallest ship is 40 'tons' and the largest is 5000. The length difference of the sprites might be around 4x, but as cubes, the size difference is 5x. If the smallest ship is about the density of a car or less, it might be around 15 m long -> With a density of 0.2 t/cu.m, the ship has a volume of 200 cu.m, which we can run a third root of 5.85, which we multiply by 2.5 to extrude the cube. In my experience, chunky spaceships like the ones in MoO1 often have a cube to shape ratio around 2.5. We end up with 14.62 m.
The largest ship could possibly approach 100 m if it's more hollow than the smaller ship. Surface area only goes up by 4x while volume goes up by 8x, and we can imagine that most of the weight of a ship is surface armor. Compared to other sci-fi ships or even WW2 naval ships, 100 m doesn't seem like much, but the MoO1 ships are rather square in shape (to fit in a square tile). Of course, a MoO1 ton (and Year) could be different from ours.
Yeah, stuff like this isn't that important to a game, but it's worth exploring if stuff can be made fun and plausible. If I have the choice between simplified, simplified and somewhat realistic, realistic, I choose the middle one.
Should the story explain how the players are the same when the star map is different? I don't know. Perhaps a vague explanation would suffice, such as:
The different alien factions arrived to this sector of space when they were still relatively primitive. Most of the alien cultures contain legends about a mysterious alien faction known as the 'Orionites'. It is said that long ago the Orionites moved a lot of aliens away from a great threat (the Antarans?). Then the Orionites mysteriously disappeared.
The players make their own story in MoO1, which is why I chose to call this section 'Setup'. Later in this document I propose a feature for aiding player generated stories. I did however draw a storyboard scribble:
A very rough storyboard paraphrasing the MoO1 intro.
MoO1 was running at a rather low resolution, so the player was forced to jump between screens to get an overview of the tactical situation. I like the idea of a icon drag-drop GUI for giving commands, along with the possibility to have several view ports up at the same time. For example, the player could drag a ship blueprint (design) into a construction queue of a planet.One thing which is really important is to sprinkle pictures everywhere. I want the player to feel present in the game world, and not feel like he's in the office in front of Excel. It's just like a comic where you have to draw an environment before you zoom in on the characters. The reader will then imagine the characters being in the environment, and this makes the panels with just the characters seem much richer.
I'm not a fan of tech styled GUIs, I prefer something simple and flat. This helps putting the focus on the illustrations and the various game elements which the player needs to be able to read fast. >
Being able to see global trends (past, present, future projections) is important and I find MoO1 lacking here. Since it's a TBS you will not see much movement, making it difficult to plot trends. You also don't see a lot of info about the fleets on the map for example. I think a game should provide the player with a lot of info really fast (best way is visual, by color and size coding) (and yes, audio can play a part here too), but at the same time the player should be able to filter out stuff and see the most necessary info first.
These GUI concepts (though featuring an alien faction of my own, the Greys), are intended to pay homage to the GUI colors and layout of MoO1. Orange can be used for some GUI elements.
Here I have replaced the space station with the guardian. There's a few ships coming out of the warp swirl, just as on the MoO1 title screen.
The vertical menu strip (left) could have options for setting up the game, map size, opposition, factions, etc. A little encyclopedia page (right) for each alien faction would add some meat to the universe. Each alien faction could have a few proverbs or quotes (paraphrases of real ones), and a random one could be randomly displayed during some kind of intermission screen.
Often, I think that just having interesting game verbs (like being able to smash blocks in Super Mario Bros) is more important than their fidelity (being able to smash the blocks realistically). Having a lot of game verbs can make the game deep and varied, promoting the emergence of interesting stories during gameplay. Increasing the fidelity of a game verb is a subject to diminishing returns, and if one is not careful, it can even make the game less playable. Of course, a game verb shouldn't be so sloppy it's buggy or useless. It's a balance, but the human mind is a wonderful thing which can make a living character out of a few pixels moving around (or even an @ symbol, as the case is with Rougelikes). Anyways, below I'll explore some ideas, and what level of fidelity that could be used.
In this document I'll explore different approaches to the problems at hand. It's difficult to decide on anything without having prototyped properly. I believe that improvisation plays an important role in game design, as it does when you draw a picture. You start with some ideas of where to go, you make a 'blob', and keep refining that, adding appendages and details. Iteration is also important. If you start with the details right away you will probably end up with a stale drawing.
From a story telling point of view, I think it would be interesting to have a game universe with a history that has a bit more scope than MoO1 does. I'd like a game session to feel like an epic which unfolds in a plausible way. I won't say 'realisic', because realism doesn't always make good gameplay. I think a game should be consistent with the physics and laws which is contained within the game universe. These laws could of course mimic the real world in some ways in order to create a setting understandable to humans. I also think that by making the game universe too abstract it will be harder for players to connect with it and make their own stories.
One thing bothers me in many strategy games is when near the end of a scenario I often have hundreds or thousands of units and all the best tech, but then the next mission I start with a lousy little base and two construction units again.
A way to get better continuity could be to make it possible to play the game on different scales, in different eras, each with a different goal. First, you start out in a small star cluster. After 10 years you defeat your opponent with a small armada. Of course, in the neighbouring region, 8 other alien factions have done the same, and the game opens up (via sensors and warp engines) to reveal those. After 30 years of war, an even larger scope is presented, and so forth. The game could stretch on for hundreds of years. This would require some good macro controls though.
Eras Year Locale Goals (aside from conquering local alien factions) ----------------------------------------------------------------- 100 Star system Develop star drive to reach other stars. Crystal babies? 300 Star Cluster Develop galaxy drive to reach other clusters. Amoeba 500 Galaxy Develop dimensional drive and defeat Antarans, Orion and Guardian, Tech.Sing.
Perhaps the technology list could stretch very far into the future, with the inevitable endgame being a technological singularity. It would be amusing to craft the game so it's possible to play in a galaxy so large that the game can be played for months or even years (hundreds of in-game years). A long term project.
There's a risk that a player might become really powerful early on, then that escalates, making the rest of the game tedious mop-up. At any rate, I think the technological progress should fit into a larger context, a bit like how Star Trek works. The TOS era ships wouldn't stand much of a chance against the TNG era ships, but each era has its own challenges and scope.
I also like the idea of not all species being balanced. It gives the stronger players a natural (not reverse-cheating) handicap. In MoO1 the Psilons are easy to play (I think perhaps their ground combat skill should be lowered though), and as I've understood it, Mrrshans are pretty difficult to play.
It is theorized that any alien life which we may encounter will either be very primitive (apes) or very advanced (angels). Given the age of the universe, how long it takes for life to evolve, and how fast technological evolution is, it is rather unlikely that a lot of aliens will achieve space flight all at once. I can do a little to make such a situation more plausible in the eyes of the player though.
So, for the typical map setup, the various alien factions could start at the point where they have just invented space flight. There could also be some alien factions which are still planet bound, but working on achieving space flight. Space flight could be a normal technology which has to be upgraded to a certain level. There could also be factions which are very advanced, but not hostile. Generally though, local alien factions would probably share or steal technologies and even out the playing field. I think that by having the alien factions scattered a bit over the spectrum like this would help to make the game universe seem more plausible, and less artificially tailored toward the player.
I didn't like the range system in MoO1 at first, but it's actually pretty useful as a game mechanic. Basically, the ships can not travel too far from friendly colonies (this might include allies, afaik). You can research an assortment of 'fuel-cells' which gives all ships the ability to reach stars farther and farther away. All ships are magically upgraded once a new fuel-cell range has been researched, which is inconsistant with how the ship otherwise have individual engines and such.
This range mechanic forces the player to expand his empire thoughtfully, and it also prevents the worst kind of 'zerg-rush'. It's actually just the fuel cell terminology that seems wrong. The fuel-cell idea fails to explain how all ships are upgraded. It also fails to explain how the fuel cells know how far away from friendly colonies they can operate.
I think a term like planet based warp beacon or something would explain that mechanic better. This beacon could project a warp field which makes all large gravity wells within a certain range 'warp-accessible' (techno babble), but only if you know the exact frequency of the field. Allied alien factions may share their frequencies. Perhaps it's also possible to crack the warp frequencies of other alien factions (with more advanced types being harder to crack).
There's a problem here. Fuel tanks would scale with the size of a ship, while a sensor something for the beacon would take proportionally less space on a larger ship, killing the small scout mechanic. It could work like a solar sail though, or rather, like a 'beacon warp sail'.
Multiple planets per solar system? I'm not sure what that would add except realism. It also makes it harder to spot global trends, as the playfield might require several zoom levels: Galaxy view, local star cluster view, solar system view, colony view (1).
Many years ago, I played a lot of Utopia and K240 (aka Fragile Allegiance on the PC), and there was a shareware(?) game for the Amiga called Colonial Conquest 2. MoO1, like Colonial Conquest, used one planet per solar system, but MoO1 hides the planet behind the star on the map (2).
K240 used asteroids instead planets (3), so a few abstraction problems disappeared. Each asteroid could be conveniently city-sized, and the distances between the asteroids allowed for reasonable fleet travel time without the use of FTL drives etc. The drawback is that asteroids are dead environments, so the playfield doesn't require much adaptation by the player. They did vary in placement, movement, size and mineral deposits though, and their surfaces had some cliffs where you couldn't build.
I like 2D and 2.5D, and feel that fully 3D playfields are less readable, strategy-wise. It's also harder to quickly identify units if they have to be recognized regardless of lighting and angle.
<- This is one way to solve the zoom problem. While there is a benefit from realism here (I love astronomy and space exploration), I can also think of a few problems:
One solution close to the one seen in MoO1 is to just hide the planets in the sun glare until you have explored them. Then the planets appear on the map. I also think the map should show the awesomeness of your empire better. Just some special overview with population, industry, bases, shields and stuff. The planets should not be so anonymous!
Here are some ideas for drawing the planet surfaces. I never really understood what's going on with all of the Terraforming, Sizes, Climates, Eco systems, etc, and how to make that work with my art asset approach, so I made my own structure. The idea is to allow a flow with pictures from Hostile climates up to Gaia.
These little 2:1 format pictures would be at the top of some tabs, but they could also used during colonization and invasion. The idea is to... hmmm, you know how many 4x games have colony construction where you place little buildings and stuff? Micro management like that is not really the MoO1 way, but, I think it's important to give each colony character. By combining a bunch of images of the planet surfaces, colony buildings, smog and shields, each colony can get an unique look, hopefully. The player might only be manipulating abstract sliders, but this doesn't mean that the colonies can not look alive.
MoO1 suffers a bit from the even star distribution on the maps. Variations in playfield character is very important for replay value I think. Imagine for example a map where the races are separated by a gap in the star, it would give the game an entirely different character (encouraging turtling). I'd like to see a few settings here:
One thing I'd hate to see is 3D starmaps. I think that they introduce a completely needless complexity... a realism masturbation which just makes things hard to read and navigate.
Scalability is important. Some players may want to be told what is going on on each and every planet, while experienced players may want to be able to run a large empire without getting swamped by information boxes which need to be clicked away.
Each of the player's colonies could have an alert level which the player could set. A planet with high alert level would produce a bunch of popups (along with a symbol for faster visual identification). A planet with a medium alert level could just produce little speech bubbles with symbols (in the star/planet map view). A planet with a low alert level would be silent unless something really bad happens. It's also important to give the player the recent alerts/events compiled somewhere else in case he clicks stuff away by mistake or does not want popups at all. In the case there are several alerts stacking up, they could blink in sequence.
I'm not sure what to do with the fleet icon yet. it should represent as much information about the fleet as possible, while also being small and simple to read.
One idea I'd like to take from Utopia (old Amiga RTS/Sim City) is the idea of colony administration advisers. It's basically a room with people which you can click on. Each one will give you a report (military, science, economy, etc). It's a more personal way of showing boring stats. MoO1 already have special characters which pop up and tell you about new inventions and stuff.
In the case on an event (alert), clicking on the alert bubble might take you to one of these guys.
These can be applied to some planets to avoid micromanagement becoming a burden. For example, during war, a ship production profile could be applied to some planets. These planets would then join in on various ship production projects. GUI-wise, there could be a strip with profile icons. These are then simply drag-dropped onto a planet and be displayed in its vicinity. This way the player can quickly tell which planet is doing what.
The paths between planets could be tweaked so the distance (LightYears/Parsecs whatever) points are always spaced evenly. E.g. a distance of 1.95 or 2.20 would become 2. One could simply add 0.50 to the distance, then turn it into an integer. This will help to avoid annoying situations where ships are placed so close to a planet that you think they should have arrived. A drawback is that the hyperspace communications tech will allow fleets to change direction while on route to a planet, and with my idea a fleet will have reached shorter/further than it should have, but only slightly.
One solution cold be to just nudge the ship to their real position if that happens. Where the ship is drawn could just be for looks. The HUD should not be cluttered. For presentation, distance 0 from the planet could be at the edge of the planet, and not at the center of it.
The fleets could draw a projection (arrow) of how far they'll go till next turn. A problem is here if you have several fleets traveling at different speeds along the same path. Also, if 2 fleets are at the same point, how do you show that? The fleets are already pretty anonymous, but one idea could be to allow fleet badges, little icons which you can bother attaching to special fleets. This icon would replace the little ship icon.
The planets could have blue lines around them for planetary (orbital?) shields, and little spikes for bases. It's not clear here, but I added a little icon in the corner. Clicking it might toggle the planet HUDs in different modes. Other modes could show stuff like population, factories or base counts.
Also, having map zoom and some basic stats up somewhere would be useful.
I'm not sure how the tabs should be controlled. The idea is that you can pop up 3 of them and compare data or drag drop between them. Each tab would have a picture and an info/help/description box, then the other GUI stuff. Some tabs might be brought up automatically when things are clicked, such as the alert bubble. If the alert is economical in nature, the economical advisor tab could pop up. Perhaps just pressing some keyboard key will bring up a tab where the mouse is.
The tabs may have sections which can be collapsed, and a scroll bar. (This will be needed for the research tab seen later in this document.)
The suns could hide the unexplored planets in their glare. This way I could have both stars and planets. One the planet has been seen, the planets appear instead of the mother star.
Some unrefined thoughts on the advisory board guys. These guys would give you summaries, show logs, statistics, and pop up when there are alerts, and when certain things are clicked they might pop up to give data on them. The main tab for them would only show condensed reports.
One thing which Star Control II made me notice was that, in the absence of voices, the background music will act as a voice during text conversations with aliens. In a similar way, each race could have a (discrete) button click sound, varying from robotic, slimy, etc. insect'y. This might increase immersion.
Also, planets could make an activation sound when you click on them, depending on their terrain type. A water planet could sound watery, a jungle planet could could like a jungle, and so on. A music ditty could be used during diplomatic conversations too.
The GUI parts could also emit ambient sounds, so if you have a factory tab up, you hear some faint industrial noises. Narration and immersion is important, and too many 4X games feels cold and GUI'ey... like a comic with mostly text and a few head portraits here and there.
Generally I like the idea of mainly having indirect control (macro management). One way to approach macro management is to use NPC helpers (AIs). Once the empires become large, the NPC's could be used to shorten the turns. If you don't like a part of the game (players do have different likes and dislikes) you can use an NPC helper as well.
On the other hand, it's not fun if the game plays itself. It's also not fun to feel that you have to micromanage to be really effective because AI's rarely are. What I really want to focus on in a game is doing the things which are difficult to automate, the 'apples or oranges' situations. I don't like chores being in the game at all. But what happens when you have an AI which can deal well with strategy? It will have to be coded since the opponents are going to need AI. Should the player be able to benefit from it? Should it be a difficulty setting thing?
NPC helpers (styled like people) could actually make the universe feel feel more alive (like you're a ruler over people and not numbers) and put focus on global strategy. Also, for better or worse, it could force the player to play 'in character', because the NPCs pull towards certain behaviors. However, it might also result in the player doing 'out of character' exploits because he feels confined. If the NPC helpers are retarded, there could be some frustration in having to fight the decisions of your own team.
At any rate, I'd like to at least see some richer behavior for the population, perhaps in the form of more advanced mechanics for the special events (such as rebellions). As for special characters... MoO2 had some (colony leaders and captains), but I'm not quite sure how they worked. While the MoO2 characters may have had stats and stuff, I think just having more pictures of aliens in the game would serve to animate and flesh out the universe (character portraits are better than abstract buttons).
As for the space battles... generally I prefer clicking the auto battle thing. I don't like to micro manage since I'm more into the macro strategy aspect of games. It's fun to see the ships move about on their own, and exploits against the stupid AI aren't possible (we're on even terms). However, if it is possible either watch or control the ships, then I often feel wasteful when using the watch mode since I could manage the battle much better myself.
If only an automatic battle function is used, then one might have to be careful to not include weapons which the AI won't be able to use properly. This risks making the battle system less rich and more of a shallow damage exchange event. Perhaps different shield and weapon types could be use to create an emergent Rock Paper Scissors system which will allow for some strategy. It's also important to make both small and large ships useful, without resorting to cheap lookup tables (aka. forced RPS).
With an auto battle only approach, there could still be some tactics involved in setting up the battle strategy before the battle begins. Naturally, the ships involved will determine the outcome, but there could also be fleet formation setups, aggressive and defensive settings. It's possible that one could come up with some kind of semi-interactive battle mode too, where the player gets to mark important regions where the ships should form up (a bit like WW2 battle control rooms where ladies push around markers with long sticks).
One thing I'm not too fond of is meta-games like 'inventory Tetris' or taking advantage of quirks of the game which arises because the game calculate values in a certain order. In MoO1 I think it mattered in which order you placed the weapons (in ship design mode), but the game wasn't very clear about that. Which weapon you fired first and on who had a large effect on the ship combat outcome, but the control over that was disjointed because it was placed far away from the actual combat. I'm not sure what to think of the mechanic of weapon order in itself, but moo has many little quirks like this (slider manipulation, etc) which are lost to most players, and perhaps not a lot of fun to have to deal with because of the meta-ness. I'm sure experts at the game has fallen in love with some of the quirks though.
The original option is of course to just go for something like MoO1's manual ship control, but I feel that it's a bit too tedious in the battles which doesn't matter (which is why I like how it's scalable with the auto battle feature). Finally, I can think of a solution where you're a busy emperor, and only are allowed to tend to a certain number of matters per turn. Not sure how that would work out. Alternatively, helpers, provided they are effective, could cost funds to use.
Elite 2 Frontier had a form of time control. Traveling to other stars stars would take a huge amount of time in realtime, even at 'warp speed'. The solution was to use functions for fast forwarding time. There was a warning system which slowed down time if something important happened. Mega lo Mania (a strategy game for the Amiga and PC) would also pause or slow down time (optional), triggered by certain events. In Baldur's Gate you could pause the game to give orders to your many heroes.
Time control could be an alternative to a turn based system. Turns feel a bit abstract to me, and generally I prefer time control. However, I can think of several reasons why turns are better than realtime:
With a realtime system the passage of time is constant, which may make some long term strategical events easier to grasp, such as fleet movements. With a turn based system everything is constantly interrupted. The work around is to plot the trajectories and speed of moving data (be it numbers or fleets) so the movement can be read even though the game is frozen. I think a realtime + time control mechanic could be interesting, because you could do the following things:
I'm undecided. I think the most important thing is the game semantics, the life of the game universe and the game verbs. Regardless of the realtime/turn based issue, I'll still have a fleet which I can move around and attack aliens with. Regardless of time model, the story which develops can be very engaging.
Turn Based is probably most to its advantage when you really need to see what each guy is doing. In X-Com that is important because you control characters which you can get very attached to.. In MoO1, maybe less so. The ship stacks can reach 32 000 ships. The combat screen is small so you can always see everyone, and you don't have individual names and stats for every ship, and you scrap them often, so there's less to get attached to.
2010 note: I'd say that I'm slightly partial to a turn based solution, although, I find myself doing auto battle a lot because I like to watch and dislike micro'ing... so I guess don't really know.
A detailed log file, HTML formatted. This log would contain a timeline with pictures of new ships that were designed, news items, and various other significant events. There could also be various graphs. The player could then edit these files to add his own story and comments, then publish them on the internet. Perhaps there could even be an ingame text editor (an Emperor's logbook) for players who want to roleplay while playing.
A ship with a large 'throne' module can transport the Emperor around. Ships with throne modules could get large bonuses when the Emperor is aboard, because the Emperor is an excellent commander. Losing the Emperor means losing the game (since the player is the emperor?). He'd be like the Commander in TA, or Brain in Cortex Command.
Also, the Emperor has to make it to the High Council ship at certain intervals. This is where the important voting takes place, and this could promote a map-wide truce. The High Council ship might be the long brown ship seen in the MoO1 ending. Perhaps this ship is an ancient but powerful Orion ship, so it can't be easily destroyed.
Well, I'm not sure what to think of this idea. It seems like a superfluous game element which requires too much micromanagement from the player. Perhaps it would be a hassle to nanny the Emperor, but the general idea of transporting a VIP around is somewhat appealing. It probably difficult to design a mechanic which prevents the player from exploiting vulnerable alien Emperors, and it's actually already possible to assassinate alien Emperors in MoO1. It also doesn't end the game for the alien empire. In addition, the player's Emperor can not be assassinated, which is inconsistent but probably necessary.
There's probably no reason for the Emperor to go anywhere in person. In MoO1 everyone meets via some kind of holographic technology I think.
News robots are old and advanced, similar to Star Contol's Melnorme, they deal mostly with information. Their ships are small and fast, probably cloaked and not visible until endgame. They lurk and observe, reporting what they see. The player will have to buy a news subscription. The more he pays, the more detailed news he gets. This setup explains in an ingame fashion how the News team is omniscient-ish. The quote "Another millennium under the rule of a ruthless tyrant" suggests that they are old, and thus probably advanced.
A more static population (i.e. slow reproduction) could make the game more realistic if the timescale for the turns is short. Also, it could result an interesting health bar mechanic, making population a valuable commodity. In MoO there are robots and industrialization which multiply with the population, so by making the population static we get radically different mechanics for the population and industry. However, the mechanic for fast automatic population growth is already different from that of the industry, so I don't know about this idea.
An interesting thing which could be done with a static population though, is that research could depend on population alone. Thus it would be possible to avoid inflation for the research leveling. Many techs could cost the same amount to research, which would be a system very different from... other leveling systems. Static population could also be used to explain why an empire doesn't take over the entire galaxy with exponential runaway speed.
2010 note: A static population is an interesting mechanic but I can't really tell if it's a sensible idea without prototyping. It removes the reproduction characteristic from say the Sakkra and Silicoids, which is not good, because the aliens should have diverse characteristics.
When landing on a planet it's possible to find alien artifacts. (Or when destroying any ship or colony.) It would be strange if these happen to be the same tech level as the player given the time they've been laying around. I don't like 'rubber band' game balance like that. I think it would be more interesting if the artifacts of a random tech level. However, the function of the artifact is hidden until researched. Finding out what it does is a chance based on the level of the artifact, the player's tech level in the relevant field, and the number of researchers. There's no progress bar, just a single dice roll at certain intervals (turns).
Then of course, if the player do figure out what the artifact is, building it without proper miniaturization techniques would be a costly endeavour.
If it's slower to tech up, I think bonding with new ship designs would be more enjoyable. Also, there could be a cost tied to designing a ship blueprint, making it a larger investment to come up with a new ship design. Also, some aliens may be able to build ships of various sizes, whilst other prefer just using medium sized ships. There could also alien specific technology (like certain weapons, shields, cloaks), although I'd prefer if each race had different research advantages instead.
Mass production bonuses could be interesting. For example, a ship could cost less to build if the player commits/wagers (an initial cost) to mass production.
The ships could be made from several parts, but I'm not quite which method is the best.
According to my calculations, it'd take quite a while to paint up all of the ships.
In MoO1 I generally don't build that many different ship variants per century. It could be neat to change style as time goes by, to give the player a sense of the old ship designs really being old. If the style doesn't change, new ships will look similar to old ones.
I want the player to be able to see the glory of what he has built. If the ships are anonymous, then at least ship combat should show off ship awesomeness better. It could just be a graphical effect for the beams and damage stuff. If shots are absorbed by a shield, then that needs to be shown graphically (and with sound).
Most of the monsters illustrated here are from MoO1, but I had an image in my mind after having seen an educational movie about viruses. There was a really striking picture of a virus which had landed on the surface of a cell, looking as if it was a giant spaceship.
Viruses (or Virii, whatever) inject bits of their genetic material into cells, then the cell proceeds to make viruses until it bursts. I thought it would be interesting to adapt that to a planetary scale.
The Legend of Galactic Heroes approach to space battles is interesting. Apparently their weapons often have an effective range of several million kilometers. At one m.km you see the enemy 3 seconds late, and it takes 3 seconds for your beams to reach the target. This might suggest that battle computers have to guess where to fire and also where the enemy might fire. The ships mostly use large front mounted beam weapons.
Size-wise, the LoGH ships are 40m for the 'Spartanian' fighters, around 150-200m for the destroyers, then 550-700m for the cruisers/battleships, and around 1000-1200m for the flagships. The battles often includes tens of thousands of large ships, a bit like late game MoO might on a huge map.
A top down view is more iconic, faster to read, but it almost feels like I'm wasting space with half of the image being mirrored. I wish PS had a symmetry / radial painting mode like Deluxe Paint has.
One thing which I want to try with the ships is to separate them into groups by era, a bit like TOS Enterprise -> Enterprise A -> Enterprise D. This would prevent ships of the new era from looking the same as some antique ship, and thus reinforce the feeling of passage of time. It would mean more images to draw, or fewer variants per era though.
I started thinking about relative scales here. It's a bit silly to come up with values and scales for an abstract 4x game, but I wouldn't mind if a tile was 1 m.km (over 3 light seconds), and the ships were quite large (with not too much size difference graphically of course).
I think an isometric view will make the ships look more alive, as it's more descriptive (for better or worse, fuzzy can be good too). Unfortunately it's more cumbersome to draw a perspective view. I think chopping the ships into 3 segments would still work though.
Dec 2010 addition, a ship battle map mockup!
While the symmetrical ships could be flipped to show up to 4 angles, I actually think that's a bad idea.
I don't want to provoke the player into thinking that ship rotation matters. In a TBS units can warp around quite a bit, so attacking from the back isn't really a fun strategy, plus it makes you wonder why 2000 fighters are all facing the same direction. I feel that, given MoO1's abstract nature, there's a risk of a damaging feature creep to venture down the angle-of-attack lane.
I think it's best if the friendly ships are always seen from the front, because it makes them more recognizable. There would be little stack counters under the ships, but I also wanted to show this graphically. Oh, the ships could be sliced up, you know how they chop up old airplanes, then be recombined. They would have to match up at the joints though.
These settings would have nothing to do with the AI personalities and advantages. They simply function as scalers (cheats or handicaps). Alien species are primarily set apart by technological personalities, their physiology (e.g. Silicoids not needing to terraform, Sakkra reproducing faster) and cultural inclinations. Simple scalers to set races apart should not be used if instead an existing mechanic/game law/technology can be used. I wouldn't design one species to have much faster ships for example, because that's a technology. However, a species might be immune to Zorgon-Radiation and thus be able to invent and use the powerful Zorgon-drives. Or, perhaps they are just really good at inventing engines, thus getting good engine tech earlier.
This is a feature inspired by the Imperia series. A list of restrictions (saved into a short code or file perhaps) could allow players to set up and share different scenarios. Aside from a bunch of basic settings deciding map, difficulty, player race and the opponents involved, there could be more complex scoring system which encourages certain behavior.
For example, in Imperium Twelve the player plays as Meklar but is discouraged to research planetology (with the result that the planets will become polluted). Perhaps these restrictions need to be formulated in scripts (like LUA) if they are complex. It's probably better to use a scoring system rather than trying to change the behavior of the game to disallow things.
In MoO1 you can win by getting people to vote for you, but sometimes it feels like this ends the game prematurely, and that you're cheated out of the deeper war strategy part of the game. Perhaps a solution here is to make the diplomatic and politics more engaging, so it feels more like an accomplishment if you get a diplomatic win. Overall, I'd like to see more ways to win, as long as it's challenging and doesn't result in the game ending out of the blue. It might be fun to introduce special victory conditions for each race. A race of explorers might be searching for pieces of a holy grail, while a race of researches might be trying to make a certain discovery.
In Dwarf Fortress (and Cortex Command to some degree), losing is fun. It would be a good thing if losing is fun, and winning is fun (and playing of course). In Dwarf Fortress you don't get an abrupt 'Game Over' screeen. Instead you interact with fascinating events which eventually leads to your defeat. Because of the complex simulations going on, you can lose in many different ways. You often learn a new thing when you lose, like how water or lava can flood your fortress, or how to be more tactical with defenses. This makes you eager to return to the game to try something new, to play a different game. While there are some random elements in DF, you can often understand and laugh about the order of events which led to things going badly. The game tells you a story and a loss is memorable.
Winning and losing are game enders, and perhaps one should consider the idea to make playing the game fun for as long as possible. It could be done with lots of content such as techs, aliens, unique planets and monsters, and large (expanding?) star maps, and interesting diplomatic interactions. On the other hand, starting many new smaller games is fun too. At any rate, one has to end the game before it starts getting monotonous, or find a way to keep the player happily surprised.
While it's fun for a player to set up a new game and make a little scenario, perhaps such a setup works better with games where it's OK that all of the game pieces are known? Star Craft is an example here. It might be interesting to take a different route where the suspense of encountering new content is preserved. Giving the game some exploration elements might not be a bad idea.
I've probably commented on this subject elsewhere in this document, but I'm going to be more elaborate here. I think the points are important.
Turn based strategy games often have a lot of boxes with text stats, and that's what you as the player have to work with when imagining the story, however it emerges. Getting back into a game can be difficult, because you forget where you were and the momentum is lost.
There are a few things which I want to do to alleviate this:
1.) Pictures say more than a thousand words. I'm not talking about some icons, portraits or an occasional popup with an illustration of a random event. I don't want to present the icons/pictures separately on their own special Tech/Race/Ship/Galaxy screens. That would be like drawing a comic where all the characters and buildings and furniture is cut out and presented on its own page (with a text like "Note: Hulk sits in this sofa, breaking it." or "Note: Spiderman enters this building when it's on fire (not shown), rescuing Lana Lang. See characters page: Lana Lang and Spiderman.").
Instead I'd like to present the information like comics do, by allowing multiple widgets side by side or so. Perhaps images could also be combined to put the characters and furniture in the room, so to speak. I think I've discussed this in the Planet surfaces section. The tech lab could have paste-in images of the inventions hovering in some holo-display.
Deep inside a nebula on a war torn radiated planet, the Silicoids struggle to find a cure against a horrible plague.
2.) Showing the past, preserving momentum. Let's say one of your colonies were just bombarded, and you just reinforced the population count it with some colony transports. Could this be shown one turn later? Perhaps a smoke column could rise from the planet, and from the buildings on the colony picture. A warp track left by the colony transport is seen pointing to the planet. This would remind the player of what happened last turn.
If you're the one inflicting the damage, the sense of achievement could be increased/prolonged by showing colony damage along the borders of your growing empire. Ship debris could also be used, serving a similar role as the permanent enemy corpses in Quake 1. It creates landmarks and reinforces the sense of history.
3.) Log. It would not be difficult to save everything that happens in a log. A log (or replay file) for a TBS game is bound to be pretty small. It would be interesting to allow parts of the log to be used to generate a HTML file (with pictures, screenshots and diagrams), which can be posted online, and edited if needed. There could also be a player narration box where comments can be entered each turn. It could be used just for notes and reminders, or perhaps role playing.
Such a log could also be useful to the player who is coming back to an old game. He could watch a replay, or read his own narration in the HTML file. Another important thing which could be done is reinforcing point #2. A colony could display a little log of what happened last turn, such as: "received 21 colonists from Mentar", or under research: "Started researching this and that".
4.) Just like showing the past (#2), predictions about the future could also be made. Of course, spaceship traveling between planets could have a line drawn from target to destination, showing both past and present. In MoO1, the sliders tell you how much Industry or Ship production that you get for the next turn. It could be interesting to show both past, present and future for numbers (perhaps using icons or bars).
The readability of numbers is also important. I think it's more effective to show a stat with text, a colored icon, and colored numbers, like so:
5.) Information hierarchies. The most relevant information should get the most prominent placement and scale. Detailed, less important information could be hidden away in "hover over text bubbles", or submenus, or use a smaller font size, gray colors or so.
I started on some redesigns of the MoO1 aliens, but didn't quite finish. I've done quite a bit of exploration and iteration here. I made some changes to the original designs because I wanted to cover more ground in terms of height, width and build. Most of the MoO1 aliens were rather humanoid, perhaps to fit in the cloak worn during some scenes.
The Sakkra and Silicoids game me the most trouble. Since the Sakkra reproduce fast, I didn't want them to be big and blocky. Also, I've made the Bulrathi big and blocky because they are good at close combat. Making a skinny Sakkra seemed wrong though, so in the end I made a squat one with broad shoulders.
The Silicoid is tricky because I have this mental image of it and it eludes me. It reminds me of a 'house-worm' (Caddisfly Larva).
Master of Orion aliens - concept exploration, big lineup sheet, Human, Psilon, Darlok, Meklon, Silicoid, Mrrshan, Alkari, Bulrathi, Sakkra, Klackon, Elerians and maybe some portraits for Custom aliens (popular in MoO2). I don't like the idea of not having any identity for the MoO1 races, because that would erode their personality.
Silicoids - The thumbnails at the bottom of the sheet are the most recent ones. I had problems with the Silicoids having a very noisy (as in haphazardly textured) body, so I tried making the top textured and the bottom simple and smooth like a sea worn rock. I was going to use the bulbous belly look for the Bulrathi first, but I ended up making them more boxy. This freed up the bulbous look for the Silicoids to use. I'm doing the stubby legs thing again, yeah. The simple bottom allows me to put the detail focus on the head, so I can play around with different head types to give the guys some personality. Too much texture all over the body would create confusion I think.
More lower body experiments - I received some suggestions for more lower body approaches. I think, generally when the lower body is not seen in a game (it's the case in many sci-fi games, like Star Control and Starflight), I try to make the lower body pretty simple. The reason for this is because something simple is less likely to conflict with people's mental image of the alien. A worm is not so bad, it's a rather simple shape, but the Sillycoyds are seen wearing the space suits, and they seem to have legs on the ground combat sprite, so I don't know... I quite like the caterpillar idea though. I guess it could be 'prancing' to stand up.
Some ground troop reference images from Master of Orion - Ripped, but I tried to be careful when spotting the transparent pixels. These sprites are kind of hard to 'read'.
Misc. thumbnails The lower body of the Meklar trooper is based on the little sprite seen during ground combat. I like how Meklar spy looks like a lamp post. I'm not sure if the Meklar are cyborgs or completely inorganic. They are not immune to harsh environments like the Silicoids. The Silicoid trooper may actually have legs (they're hinted at on the ground combat sprite). They also carry some kind of staff as a weapon. The Alkari might have 'goat legs'.
I don't think the MoO1 alien factions were linked to any special faction color and ship style, but I wanted to try to do some matching. It might be possible to do team color tricks with the ships (some 'shader'), but I made them grey for now. Tried out a square Bulrathi and moved the bulbous belly idea to one of my own alien factions. I'm not really familiar with the MoO2 alien factions, but I think they look a bit dull with their more realistic style. MoO 1 had a lot of humans with animal heads though, but it was colorful and... tongue in cheek or whatever the expression is.
New 2010: Here's an even more cartoony take on the MoO aliens. Not sure if the style fits. It's a little rough, I might get around to touching it up and adding the rest of the aliens, even though I really should be doing other things.
I was thinking the Sakkra should be small since they reproduce fast, and the Silicoids should be big, because they're slow. The Bulrathi are beefy. I like this Alkari better than my previous attempts, although I won't know how much Alkari it feels until I've colored it.
Making little images for the armors is a good way to flesh out the universe and make visual identification faster. I could ignore armor material to reduce the amount of images I need to paint, unless I do a simple color shift to indicate material. Also, it's not always clear whether a new tech is an improvement over what you've got already, so pictures and text could help with that.
During ground combat, there could be one larger guy who's like the leader of the assault or something. Just a visual effect to show off the troops better.
Bonuses for armor material, armor type, weapon and forcefield are just added together to make some kind of combat value which is added to a dice roll. Here my Psilon troops are equipped with Neutronium(+30), Powered Armour(+30), Personal Barrier Shield(+30) and a measely Ion Rifle(+10). I only sent 5 guys, and only one was left standing after the Alkari had been wiped out. The ground combat engine is pretty simple. Not a lot of depth, but perhaps there shouldn't be, because then you'd start expecting things like tanks and realism creep.
With the current system in MoO1 my main gripe is that millions of people just upgrade magically even of they're on route. 40 million guys getting armor, weapons and shields must cost quite a bit of BC. Perhaps the 'stack' combat engine could be used to make ground combat deeper. The troopers could stack just like ships, and maybe be designed like ships (but with a lot less meat)... but it means a lot extra (possibly unnecessary) complexity, building the trooper stacks etc. However, it does bother me that you send millions of troops into battle. It seems more likely that 10% of the population are elite soldiers, and the rest are collateral/support.
So, to elaborate on the stack idea a bit more: I'd use something like the ship stacks but use it for storing armors/gear on a colony. This means a colony could have a large civilian population, or perhaps go for a large militia/military if it needs it (frontier colony) (meaning it's less productive). It introduces a lot of complexity. Should civilian populations be slaughtered? If not, can you take slaves? Can you mix armor types to make different stacks? Do you get to decide who (which stack) attacks who, like a simple version of ship combat? Why not send just troops, and massacre millions of enemy civilians? It would mean the defender is always getting the short end of the stick, and that the attacker has less on the stakes.
That 9 civilians must follow 1 soldier (10%) into battle isn't very realistic. Of course, you could always put the soldiers at the front, abstracting that civilians always seek shelter and are not touched until after the battle. Also, if a colony send all their armors away on an assault, they leave their civilians vulnerable.
Some of that stuff is interesting, but also a bit redundant. You can already focus on Bases for planetary defense (although that works against ships as well as transports), and to mirror the ship combat mechanic but with different symbols may not add anything new to the game, and just make the player more busy doing nothing new.
New 2010: Some thoughts on the invasion animation. The transports should 'plop down' fast, kicking up dust. The player shouldn't have to wait for an animation, but it's still neat to illustrate how the invaders arrive. The invading troops appear like letters being typed quickly (datatatata...), coupled with a brief sound (every 5 unit or so), a sound which is specific to the race. The Silicoids could have a stone sound, while the Alkari have a bird sound. I think this would reinforce the character of the aliens. Then the defenders appear over the city in the same way... as if rushing to defend, and the combat starts.
2010 idea. While MoO1 ground combat tech is researched in different categories (forcefields, weapons, etc), all of it is eventually condensed into a single combat value. The ground combat is highly abstracted. So, why not keep it that way, and add some narrative depth instead? It would look much more interesting and plausible.
I don't think the soldier to population conversion would be hurt by it either, especially not if I abstract the amount of units shown, rather than being literal, like MoO1 is with the soldier rows.
Splitting ground combat techs up into Tanks, Flying machines and Foot soldiers would also give me less things to draw, due to the absence of combinations (I wouldn't have to draw a foot soldier with a certain combination of weapons and armour).
Here are some ideas of weapon and shield mechanics to replace those in MoO1.
Once a weapon has been invented, it may come in several different size classes, such as light, medium, heavy and super heavy. On top of that, miniaturization research can make weapons smaller and cheaper (thus increasing damage by allowing ships to be crammed with more stuff). It's redundant to (on top of the miniaturization) also improve the performance of the weapons, and for the sake of readable tactics, it's nice to have some static performance. Battle computers might make targeting more efficient though.
Perhaps miniaturization is researched for each weapon technology field (rather than being a global thing like in MoO1). I don't think it's a good idea to research it for each particular weapon design. That might be a bit too micromanagery, plus it seems more natural for research benefits to spill over and affect the whole field. There could also be some smaller global miniaturization on top of this, of course.
Some races could have a preference for certain fields, giving their race character. Specific weapon implementations would rely on certain weapon technology fields being researched and available. So, if a race likes to research Beam weapons, they are likely to use weapons using this technology in battle. Another idea to play with is putting artifact deposits or environmental factors on planets, which makes researching some things easier, or harder. It's important that the... opportunity landscape varies. Space is pretty flat, and with an even star distribution, the same tactic will be viable almost every time, not forcing the player to adapt.
Anyways, a weapon would reference several technologies like this:
Meld ray gun (heavy)
The weapon above would require that a stream capacitor and phase rays have been researched, before the weapon itself can be researched. Once researched, light to heavy versions might become available. Perhaps heavier stuff requires a certain level of miniaturization before it becomes available.
Power generation. This is a field of research, subject to miniaturization (and levels).
Damage delivery. This is a field of research, subject to miniaturization (and levels). I choose to put the bulk of the shield penetration mechanic on the weapon side (rather than having the shields have different ways of absorbing damage).
Special impact effect:
Then there are weapons like bullets, grenades and missiles. These are not energy weapons, instea they fire a slow moving, long range projectile. The pass through shields and only affects hull. They also use ammo.
Ammo and (up to some %) health could be replenished after battle. Maybe the efficiency is dictated by racial trait (some race being good at on the fly repairs), as well as gadgets onboard, like ammunition and engineering sections. Shields are always replenished after battle, and perhaps some during battle, depending on type.
I'm not sure how the ship components would scale up with ship size. For example, imagine if shield generators could be stacked, like in Elite II frontier. As you may know, when a ship is scaled up x2 (width, height, depth), volume goes up by 8 and surface goes up by 4. So while shield generators have 4 times more surface to protect, a lot more of them can be fit inside the hull. Is this a problem or an interesting emergent tactical feature? I don't know.
I've prepared a few alien factions of my own, just in case I decide to 'file off the serial number' and just make something MoO'ish out of this project (to avoid copyright issues). It's also a good idea to allow custom aliens (player defined, perhaps loading images from a directory.)
I think the aliens have to be 'worn in' to solidify and grow on the player. I can understand that my ideas feels a bit "He's just making funny names and stuff up here!". I don't recall liking an alien design from any sci-fi game until I had played the game thoroughly. Now I'm even starting to like the Mrrshan, which I thought were incredibly cheesy at first. That said, I'm not too excited about some of the designs myself, but I think that might change as I develop them.
Here are some Unused roughs. Below are the alien factions I settled on.
Some 100 000 years ago, intelligent slug-like aliens called the Progenitors visited the Hatt-Slime homeworld and countless other planets. The Slimes once claimed to be the descendants of the Progenitors. They had some archeological and genetic evidence to support this, but it was destroyed when the space virus struck. Nowadays, every alien which is even remotely similar the Progenitors claims to be related, and perhaps many are. The loincloth, slug antennas and small legs seen in many cultures are derived from the Progenitors in one way or another.
Inspiration: Something tall and royal. The arches on the back can symbolize a laurel, crown or broken halo. The overall grey colors gives the impression of oldness, like a B/W photograph. I'm not happy with it yet. Bad silhouette.
The Hatt are a form of spacefaring barnacles which came to have a huge impact on life in their region of space. While intelligent, they lack well articulated appendages. Because of this, they employ slaves. Early in their history the Hatt enslaved many of the species on their home world. The Hatt have remarkable persuasion and manipulation skills and effectively made the slaves enslave themselves. The most useful type of slave was a primate which very well could have become spacefaring if given a chance to develop independently. Incidentally, they later enslaved another, more advanced primate species which they encountered, Homo Sapiens.
The Hatt were once an advanced civilization with an empire spanning many, many stars. For hundreds of years they had expanded, absorbing many different creatures into their menagerie. They developed advanced genetic manipulation to make their slaves more controllable.
The need for slaves contributed greatly to the downfall of the Hatt. A space macro virus struck the Hatt empire. While the Macro Virus is devastating on its own, it's also able to emit a pulse which incapacitates carbon based life forms. Incidently, all Hatt slaves are carbon based. This left the Hatt helpless as the Macro Viruses torn their planets, and empire, apart. The Hatt themselves are silicon based and weren't affected by the virus.
A handful of Hatt survived, but without their slaves their technology level quickly regressed. The Hatt had learned their lesson though. Despite a deeply rooted biological and cultural inclination to use biological slaves, they now primarily employ robots.
Inspiration: Great Race (of Yith), The.
The slimes evolved on the same world as the Hatt, but on a different continent. They lived in a form of symbiosis with the primates on the planet. The Slimes are not intelligent on their own, but each have the ability to absorb and connect with neural tissue (brains) absorbed into their bodies. Because of this ability, the Slimes are farming the primates. The primates are then decapitated and absorbed by young Slimes. The skull is kept intact to protect the brain.
The Slimes were eventually driven off the planet by the Hatt who wanted monopoly on the primate population. What fate the met out in the hostile galaxy is unknown. However, early in their spacefaring history the Slimes had sent out several experimental cryo ships. One of these crashed on an distant unnamed planet, but only the the primates were awaken from their cryo stasis. They populated the new world, eventually even developing an industrial society. It was then the wreckage of the cryo ship was rediscovered. The Slimes, immune to the piercing weapons of the primates, promptly assimilated the primate population, and started over anew.
Inspiration: Green Devil (megaman), The Blob (movie), Slimes (RPGs), Roper (Tower of Druaga), Hattifnatt (Moomin), Spathi.
One of Hatt's many genetic experiments, the Greys are based on Humans (Homo Sapiens, presumed extinct) and a slug (Limax Aeruginosus, presumed extinct). The slug was indigenous to the Hatt's homeworld and also a relative of the Slimes. While primitive, this creature had two important traits, asexual reproduction and a strong tendency to accept social hierarchies. The experiment ultimately proved a failure. As it turned out, the grey slug had a latent desire to explore new territory, so many of the new hybrids simply ran away. The Greys are all female, have a pale teal skin tone and a pair of antennas of esoteric function. They got their name from the fact that they're no longer pink.
When the Virus struck the Hatt empire, a few Greys survived, stranded on a rim world. There they developed their own culture. (Perhaps they start with a Hatt artifact collection.)
Inspiration: Andorians (Star Trek), Slugs, Various generic alien designs (little grey men with antennas). I'm not sure what the cat is doing there. I think it was an early Mrrshan test.
Not the brightest bunch, but certainly diligent and persistent. The Russian built them as part of their space program. Then of course the Earth was conquered by the Hatt. But the robots survived. Marching out into space, in a spirit of cooperation, for the greater good. When the space virus struck the Hatt, the Mrxst were left unaffected. However, lacking creativity, they had made no significant technological advances in a long time. As they undertook the long journey out of the devastated Hatt empire, they stumbled upon another surviour, some kind of brain creature. It was the last of its kind. They became great friends, and the brain creature offered to help the Mrxst with their research.
Inspiration: Communists, Lunochod, Sputnik, Vostok, Soyuz. Space suits.
Note: Perhaps the brain creature is really just a bowl full of (nebula?) gas.
This tiny flightless bird is, despite appearances, very proficient with science. Cold as ice.
Inspiration: Chicken, Funnel.
Busy little creatures who specialize in strange conversations.
Inspiration: Zoq For Pik, Natracch, various fungoids, Corals. My Zebranky design (Star Control).
These brain squids want nothing more than to dissect other aliens which they encounter. This is hinted at by their outfit (and also their interior decoration) which is littered with various sharp tools. However, they go out of their way to not say straight out what their intent is. Instead they employ a very polite and friendly tone. Their attempts to lure people over are often quite transparent. (Fun diplomatic dialog aside, they might offer to trade technology or funds for population. This will make the remaining population unhappy, and make the emperor politically unpopular.)
Inspiration: Squids, Doctors.
Before they had gained space flight, the BB had a culture not unlike that of industrial age humans. They suffered from world wars, poverty and huge class gaps. Appearance-wise they looked like small scrawny lizards.
Despite having only one sex, reproducing asexually, the BB had evolved quickly thanks to their rather effective genome. At this point their skilled geneticists conducted several genetic experiments to create a super soldier. With the first experiment they had done everything right, successfully increasing intelligence, strength, stamina and reproductive capability manyfold.
However, the experiment was a catastrophic failure. She new super soldier was uncontrollably... peaceful and rational (although somewhat shy). This was not at all what the military was interested in. To make matters worse, the super soldiers escaped extermination, and eventually invented space flight and fled the planet, never to be seen again.
The second experiment was a success from one perspective. With a much lower intelligence and increased primal behavior, these super soldiers were more willing to hurt people. Unfortunately for the military, these super soldiers were uncontrollable as well. To make matters worse, the super soldiers escaped extermination (after laying waste to the test fascility), and eventually invented space flight and fled the planet (after laying waste to most of the planet).
Inspiration: Typical brute, Pretorian Stalker (Mutant Chronicles)
Polite, and genuinely sorry that they so frequently have to commit various forms of genocide.
Inspiration: MS-Paint drawing by some dude on the internet. Xindi (Star Trek), Various generic bug aliens, Preying Mantis. I might go for the tall blue version to avoid plagiarism. I just thought the brown one was funny.
This bulbous orange elephant-like aliens are pirates. They specialize in capturing enemy ships, upsetting trade and diplomatic bonds, as well as inciting rebellions.
Inspiration: Elephants, Ganesha, Drops.
Proud of their traditions and Empire.
Inspiration: Heraldic Griffons.
If the news robot idea isn't used, then perhaps some kind of weird space dwelling gas creature could be used. Such a being could be omniscient, and if necessary, not playable and impossible to kill.
Inspiration: The black cloud.
I've been thinking that it's silly how the various alien races are very... racist, always fighting other races... so perhaps I should use factions which are based on territory, alliances, politics and such things. This doesn't work well with species which get a bonus from their biological traits though (like the Silicoids being able to live on hostile planets). Perhaps there could be one faction at least which has several different aliens of similar biology. Maybe the bugs or coral guys.
A timeline according to Historical records kept by the Hatt, Slime and a few other alien factions who survived the Macro Virus infection.
Note: As per the anthropic principle, this story only details the survivors, not the countless of lost alien cultures. The idea here is also to arrive at a setup where a number of species have to exodus from one galaxy to another. Perhaps a better format here could be to write little short third person stories.
0 - Progenitors briefly visits Hatt-Slime homeworld, Base, and erects the 'Zero-Date monolith'. They also introduce several new hybrid creatures. In this period the Hatt are a form of Barnacle living near deep sea vents. This more primitive species of Hatt has developed methods of exploiting the other creatures in the communites formed around the deep sea vents.
Like the Sirens of Earth mythology, the Hatt can effectively mind control some species by 'singing' (stridulation).
Planet 'Base' had two continents. 'Visca', home to the Slime, and 'Kor', home to the Hatt.
700 - The Slime find a species suitable for neural symbiosis (the 'short beaked penguin').
1050 - First iron tools are developed by the Slime. This is the age of the First Slime Empire.
1090 - The Slime builds naval ships and discover the other continent, Kor, but never settles.
1100 - The short beaked penguin becomes extinct, probably due to penguin farming mismanagement and wars in conjunction with a warmer climate. The First Slime Empire promptly comes to an end. The Slime regress to their more primitive symbiont-less form.
Some sort of underwater catastrophe forces some of the Hatt to migrate away from the deep sea vents.
60 000 - After having adapted to living in the shallow waters of the Western Great Gulf of Kor, the Hatt takes the first step on land. The enslavement of a primitive form of primate living near the water was vital to this step in Hatt evolution being possible.
111 000 - While intelligent, the Hatt has made little cultural and technological progress due to their hermit behavior. It all changes when the Hatt starts forming small communities, making it possible to share discoveries and ideas.
111 500 - The Hatt discovers that selective breeding can make the primates more controllable. The Hatt come to see the slaves as an extension of their bodies. Written language and tools are developed, but the Hatt are to remain scattered in small communities for quite some time.
118 256 - Kexplex, an enigmatic genius and a radical, becomes the first Hatt Emperor. Kexplex not only devices new methods for more effective control of the Slaves species, He also devices a way to enslave other Hatt: Government! The Empire expands over the course of a thousand years, waging wars on those reluctant to be absorbed into it.
119 281 - The Global United Hatt Empire is formed.
119 499 - The Hatt, now afraid of the water, sends a naval ship crewed by mostly primates across the ocean. The Hatt captain and crew are killed in a mutiny, but the ship reaches a new continent, Visca. Free from the shackles of the Hatt, the primates populate the new land. When the ship does not return, the current Hatt emperor concludes that there is only one continent. Kor must be the center of the universe, a blessed island in an infinite ocean. This world view will be upheld by a long line of conservative Emperors.
119 850 - The primate population has spread across Visca and reached the domains of the Slime. The Slime find them suitable for neural symbiosis.
119 018 - The Hatt develops the steam engine.
120 120 - Iron tools are developed by the Slime, again. This is the age of the Second Slime Empire.
120 219 - A Slime naval ship reaches Kor. The First contact between the Slime and Kor goes well. Fortunately for the Slime, the current Hatt Emperor just broke a long line of conservative Emperors. The Emperor, Dax, is something of a peculiar character with a great interest in science and arts. Even though the Slime are less advanced than the Hatt, Dax sees their potential, and forms an alliance.
120 480 - Many Hatt, including the new conservative Hatt Emperor, Kell, are intimidated by the rapid technological advances by the Slime. A law which prohibits any Slime presence on Kor is proposed, but not passed. Regardless, tension has built up between the two species, and many Slime migrate back home to Visca.
120 506 - Just when Hatt and Slime are on the verge of starting a World War, a Slime and Hatt engineer constructs an airship and crosses the ocean. This collaboration catches the imagination of many Hatt and Slime, and the war is postponed.
120 540 - Due to a misunderstanding, Hatt and Slime air vehicles are engage in a dogfight far out over the ocean. As no planes managed to return, neither faction dares to pursue the air attack avenue on a more massive scale.
120 545 - The Hatt develops and detonates an atomic bomb as a power demonstration.
120 546 - The Slime detonates theirs. There is a stalemate which will last for decades.
120 570 - The Slime sends up the first satellite, 'Pong'.
120 580 - The Hatt experience a spectacular failure as all of their 10 rockets blow up on the launching pad. The Hatt accuses the Slime of sabotage, but halts their space program, starting to redirect their resources towards a military buildup.
120 600 - The Slime on the other hand, realizing how serious the situation with the Hatt is, have been pouring all their resources into a secret space program code named 'Century'. The first module is sent into orbit.
120 616 - A fungus infection affecting the primates on Kor is running rampant. The infection is rendering many of the primates immune to Hatt Mind control. The Hatt starts laying claims on the Visca Primates.
120 618 - The Century fleet is completed by the Slime. Thousands of rockets carrying the Slime (and primate) population rise towards the sky. The Hatt, interpreting this as a nuclear attack, launches a massive retaliation. The attack not only misses the target, it also devastates the land the Hatt had intended to conquer. A nuclear winter follows, severely damaging the eco system on a planet-wide scale. While the Hatt are pretty resilient, their slave species are not. For the next 500 years the Hatt will have to struggle in the darkness, trying to restore their civilization.
120 624 - A Slime colony ship is attacked by an unknown space dwelling entity, and is forced to plunge into the Hollow Nebula where it appears that the entity does not want to follow. It is soon discovered why. The gaseous shell of the nebula is extremely hostile ship systems as well as carbon based life forms. However, most of the crew were in cryo stasis and were somehow protected in this state. Safe inside the nebula, the ship's damaged autopilot makes a bad landing on the planet Kallkross. The primates in cryo stasis aboard wakes up, but not the Slime.
121 110 - The Hatt develop their first starship, and soon builds their first colonies on alien worlds.
121 2xx - As the Hatt expand their Space Empire, they find a devastated Slime colony on a planet. It's unclear what had destroyed it. The entire planet is radiated and crumbled, almost as if it had been passing though a digestive system of some hideous space monster.
The Hatt also finds several mysterious black planets. They're not emissive, can't be scanned and are completely unaffected by any from of attack. It is theorized that these entities are technological singularities; the remains of civilizations so advanced that they turned into gigantic supercomputers.
The Hollow Nebula is found, although the Hatt does not know what is inside of it. When an exploration vessel is sent into the nebula, it is discovered that the gaseous shell of the nebula is extremely hostile ship systems as well as carbon based life forms. The ship is presumed lost. In reality, the disarmed Hatt crew had been stranded on the planet Voorta, unable to operate any machinery to send out a distress signal.
121 3xx - As the Hatt Empire expands, the Hatt encounters several pre-space flight alien civilizations:
The mean spirited El-alg, the long lived Flasksvamp, the incomprehensible Talgbuske, the niggardly Sol-boll, the cheerful Trestegsstek, and finally the relatively advanced Homo Sapiens.
This species had just launched a primitive starship crewed only by robots (the Mrxst), but the Hatt ignored them as robots do not interest them. The Homo Sapiens were easily enslaved, and the Hatt creates many successful hybrids (and some less successful ones) with this species as a base.
121 399 - A Hatt exploration vessel picks up an alien signal coming from a nebula. The ship is crewed by a new form of experimental humanoid hybrids, the Grey. The signal appears to be both a warning signal and a homing signal. When the Hatt captain refuses to pursue the trail, the Greys, so eager to explore the stars, tosses the Hatt captain out the airlock and hijacks the ship. They disable the ship's homing beacon heads towards the Hollow Nebula. The nebula is in the Hatt database, but the Hatt were never able to find a way inside it. The Grey manages to use the ship sensors to find a weak spot in the gaseous shell, and enters the nebula sustaining only minor damage.
When the Hatt learns about the missing Grey, they respond by broadcasting a blind self destruct signal which destroys the stolen ship. At this point the ship had landed looking on the planet Vandrill inside the nebula to perform repairs. The Grey survives, stranded on the warm lush planet.
The strange signal would have to remain a mystery for some time.
121 4xx - The golden age of the vast Hatt Empire.
121 583 - A Space Macro Virus infects a peripheral Hatt world, and the Hatt are unable to respond to the treat. The Macro Virus has the ability to send to some kind of pulse which sends carbon based life forms into a comatose. This ability literally disarms the Hatt.
Below the crust of the planet thousands of massive viruses soon begin to crack the planet open. As a large Hatt fleet arrives, the Macro Viruses emerges to greet them. The Macro Viruses are not only heavily armed, but also have some kind of shield which makes them extremely resiliant. On top of that they can outrun any Hatt ship.
After a fierce but futile battle, the Hatt fleet is destroyed. In just a decade their entire Empire falls prey to the Macro Viruses. Some Hatt realize that their dependence on biological Slaves will be their downfall. A few Hatt creates information arks, and even tries to experiment with cybernetic appendages and robotic slaves. It is however to late for a reform of the scale needed. The thorough Macro Viruses leaves only shattered planets in their wake, except for a small collection of planets inside a Hollow Nebula.
Note: Technological singularities would be immune to any kind of attack.
121 601 - On Vandrill: The Grey have developed radio telescopes to continue their work with the mysterious signal, but also picks up a radio signal from Kallkross. It appears to be a primate propaganda broadcast detailing some internal dispute.
121 602 - On Kallkross: The Slime are awaken from their cryo sleep by the unwitting primates. The Slime absorbs the primates once again.
121 6xx - On Voorta: Over the centuries the advanced Hatt technology had been left to degrade as the Hatt had no way to control it. Stories about the Hatt's past were kept in oral traditions, but their culture had reverted to a more primitive state. For the first time in their history, the Hatt had to do things themselves, which is no small task if you don't have well articulated limbs. They were barely able to provide food for themselves.
121 651 - Crawling through space, the Mrxst discovers brain creature. The ancient creature is the last of its kind (and also the first of its kind, it says). It had been exiled for 'crimes of interference' by its brethren; a species of information gatherers. The brain creature knows of a safe place for the Mrxst and itself (although not even the Macro Viruses payed any attention to the Mrxst). The brain creature helps the Mrxst to upgrade their engines to reach the nebula. The brain creature also knows of a certain shield configuration which will allow the Mrxst ship to pass unharmed through the gaseous shell of the nebula.
121 720 - The Mrxst arrives at the nebula, enters, and finds the Hatt, Grey and Slime. The Mrxst chooses to share some of their technology with them. The Slime, just having been able to access their historical records, are not too happy about the presence of the Hatt, knowing that they will crave for the primate population now controlled by the Slime. However, the Hatt population living on Voorta have lived without slaves for centuries and are open to any solution that improves their situation. Having heard from the Mrxst about what happened to the Hatt Empire outside the nebula, many Hatt are less keen to try out their old solution. The issue isn't settled, but some relief supplies are sent to Voorta.
121 721 - The Grey begins constructing a starship, and also sends a probe to the artifact at the center of the Hollow Nebula. It's sending out a continuos signal which appears to be both a warning and homing signal. It is speculated that the whole nebula is actually one of many artificial constructs made by the Progenitors. Perhaps it's a safe haven, or bunker, designed to keep space monsters out, and perhaps the signal is the equivalent of a klaxxon.
The probe returns several intriguing images. The Progenitor artifact is starship-sized, black and kind of boxy. On the artifact there are glyphs portraying what appears to be the Macro Viruses, a giant Amoeba, a giant Crystal, and other strange things. The glyph for the Macro Virus is lit. There's also a large hatch with a platform to stand on underneath. When the probe gets close to it, a forcefield snaps into place creating an airlock mechanism. As the probes moves away, the forcefield shrinks back.
121 722 - A Macro Virus attempts to penetrate the gaseous shell of the nebula, but is disabled. Later this year the incident repeats. The Macro Viruses appear to be probing the Hollow Nebula for weak points. The Grey hopes that the Macro Viruses aren't as lucky as they were in finding a weak spot.
If the Progenitors did intend to use the nebula as a safe haven, it seems like they never got around to. There are fears that the gaseous shell has been left to deteriorate over time, and that the Macro Viruses can find a way inside.
121 722 - The Mrxst visits the Progenitor artifact, but the hatch remains closed. There's a scanner of some sort close the the hatch, and over it is a glyph portraying a pair of antennas. The Grey speculate that perhaps the Progenitors had built the device for use by Progenitor related species only. The Grey are partly based on a slug species with possible ties to the Progenitors, so the Greys suggest that they should try to enter the artifact instead.
A Mrxst ship brings a small team of Grey to the artifact. The ship parks close to the artifact, and the crew space walks over to the airlock. The forcefield closes around them, but the hatch remains closed. However, it appears as if the space around them is being filled with air. Scanners register a breathable atmosphere. When a Grey removes her helmet, the scanner near the hatch makes a bleeping sound, and the antenna glyph lights up. The hatch opens.
A robot stares back out at the Grey, studies the antennas, blinks, and scurries off into the dark passageways of the artifact. After a minute of silence occasionally interrupted by strange mechanical noises, the interiors of the artifact lights up. Moments later, there's activity all over the place. It doesn't appear as if anything is supposed to go into the artifact. Rather, it looks as if something is going to come out.
The Grey and Mrxst decides to get out of the way and head back to their ship, but this time the forcefield doesn't retract. Hours pass, then a convoy of small black ships leaves the artifact with some sort of components in tow. The components are fastened onto the artifact.
Days pass, and slowly it becomes clear that the components are fitted so they form an arc. After a week, a full circle have been formed, and the work stops. The interior of the artifact (now apart of the ring structure) has also changed It appears to have been configured into a control room.
The glyphs on the control boards inside the control room seems to indicate that the artifact is a gate to other galaxies. A means of escape from whatever malicious space monsters are out there. Judging by the glyphs, it seems to be impossible, or at least very unlikely, to travel to the same galaxy twice, and it's also a one way trip. Perhaps it is a security measure to shake off malicious pursuers. It is decided to hold off using the gate until more is known about it.
121 723 - The robots which came from the artifact remain dormant, standing in lines inside the control room. Their construction is actually rather simple, and doesn't appear to be the work of an advanced civilization. In fact, the whole gate construction is very basic, aside from one single piece which resists all probing attempts. The concept of something as advanced as s galaxy gate seems to be at odds with the technology involved. Perhaps the Progenitors didn't want advanced technology to fall into the hands of something bad. This could help to explain why the gate was kept in a disassembled state until a scan of a species with Progenitor genes had been performed.
It's discovered that the robots have no 'brain'. Another security measure perhaps. There's just a simple receiver in their head, so they must have been remote controlled. This catches the interest of the Hatt. One of the robot models, a four-armed nimble design, seems. The helpful Mrxst starts working on a way to replicate the robot. The idea is to replace it's simple receiver with one that can respond to the stridulation of the Hatt.
121 724 - The first batch of slave robots and technology are delivered by the Mrxst to the Hatt.
121 725 - The Grey finishes three medium sized starships, and the Slimes finishes 12 smaller ones.
121 726 - Another Macro Virus penetrates the gaseous shell of the nebula, and survives, but is badly crippled. A small fleet of Slime and Grey ships manages to destroy the Macro Virus while all of its systems are down.
TO WRITE: It's time to finally use the galaxy gate.
I've only played a couple of 4X games, so I explored a little and found a whole bunch of games, some with ideas similar to mine. So, here's my incomplete list of more or less well known 4X (or spaceship strategy) games. Keep in mind that I wrote this list Dec, 2010, so if you are reading this, far into the future, the links will be dead. Wikipedia has a 4X page.
|Let's start by just getting these commonly mentioned titles out of the way. I'm not gonna comment on these.|
|Galactic Civilizations (1-2)||-||-||-||-|
|Space Empires (1-5)||-||-||-||-|
|Sins of a Solar Empire||-||-||-||-|
|Sword of the Stars||-||-||-||-|
|Then move onto a few older games which I consider well known.|
|Master of Orion 1-2||-||-||-||-|
|Ascendancy||I keep hearing good stuff about this game. It has nice music for sure.||Video||Wikipedia||-|
|Star Control 1||The sequel was more of an adventure game, while SC1 had a rotating star map and a bunch of other 4X features. The ship combat remains the same in the two games (Space War! action), aside from the ability to equip ships with powerful artifacts in SC1.||Video||Wikipedia||-|
|Forerunners. These games predate MoO1, but might not be that well known now.|
|Reach for the Stars||-||-||-||-|
|Anacreon||I felt that this game has more of a hard sci-fi feel to it, perhaps because of the large numbers of ships and the story fluff. There are a lot of big numbers to look at, and not many pictures. A remake by the original author can be found ->||-||Wikipedia||Site|
|Spaceward Ho!||This game is up to version 5 now. Looks tongue in cheek.||Video||Wikipedia||Site|
|Armada 2525||The ship battles are pretty unique in this game, but a lot of its other features can be seen in MoO1. Fan art!||Video||-||-|
|Millenium 2.2 and Deuteros||-||Video||-||-|
|These appear to be indie games, some fairly recent, as of 2010.|
|AI War: Fleet Command||The game mechanics of this game are a bit different from typical 4X games. It somehow reminds me of Sinistar or older space games in feel. Your buildings and resource spots appear to be orbital, and you also have incoming worm hole nodes to defend or use. The factories can quickly churn out loads of ships. Combat seems to use a RPS mechanic. I think this game looks interesting.||Video||Wikipedia||Site|
|Star Ruler||-||Video Video||Wikipedia||Site|
|Armada 2526||Appears to be a loose remake of Armada 2525.||Video||-||Site|
|Gratuitous Space Battles: Galactic Conquest||Some sort of 4X strategy meta game seems to have been added on top of the regular ship combat seen in "Gratuitous Space Battles" (no subtitle). On a sidenote, The strictly topdown view of the ships in Gratious Space Battles works pretty well, despite the baked in light. I think the ships were 'pre rendered' images. In Star Control II the specular and shadows move across the ships as they rotate.||Video||-||Site|
|FreeOrion||This open source 4X game is developed using the "community effort" method (random forum guys blinking in and out of activity). I'm not sure how well it's moving forward.||Video||-||Site|
|Light of Altair||I haven't seen any ships used in this game, but I might be wrong. Ages ago, I thought that a game like K240 would be really nice if you could build stuff spherically around asteroids/bodies, like you do in Light of Altair.||Video||-||Site|
|And here are some games which I don't know much about. Hidden gems, or deserving of oblivion.|
|Star Lords: Imperial Order.||This is not the MoO1 prototype, sharing the same name.||Video||-||-|
|Lost Empire: Immortals||-||Video||Wikipedia||Squatted|
|Emperor of the Fading Suns||-||Video||Wikipedia||-|
|Conquest: Frontier Wars||-||Video||Wikipedia||-|
|The Outforce.||I can't find much info about this game. It reminds me of the naval battle aspect of Total Annihilation.||-||Mobygames|
|Hey, I've actually played these!|
|Colonial Conquest (1-2)||Actually, this is one of the games which I have played, back in the Amiga days. It focuses more on colony development (simplified Civ.) than space battles. The game is sort of obscure, so here are a few of my own screenshots.||-||-||-|
|Fragile Allegiance||I used to play Utopia K240 on my Amiga. Later, a PC version came out, called fragile Allegiance, but I never played it, despite finding an original CD in a 1 dollar store. It looks a bit different from the Amiga version.||Video||Wikipedia||-|
|Overlord||A NES game which looks very nice. I tried to play it, but the initial mystery meat confusion prevented me from getting into it. On the other hand, most 4X games suffer from this, and general accessibility problems.||Video||Wikipedia||-|
|These games seems to be more 3D realtime combat focused (with less/no base building stuff).|
|Nexus - The Jupiter incident||-||Video Video||-||-|
|Battleships Forever||Lets you build ships out of vector shapes and pit them against each other.||Video||-||-|
|Infinite Space||A Nintendo DS game which looks interesting. Well, perhaps just because strategy games on handhelds are rare.||-||-||-|
|Star Wars and Star Trek gets their own section, because.|
|Star Wars: Rebellion||I remember playing as Empire, building only Lancer Frigates. The ship looks like a banana-helicopter, but did well in auto battle, in groups of 70 or so.||Video||Wikipedia||-|
|Star Wars: Empire at War||You can do some base building stuff in the Galactic Conquest mode, if I understood it correctly.||Video||-||-|
|Star Trek: Armada 2||Video||Wikipedia||Site|
|Star Trek: Birth Of The Federation||Video||Wikipedia||Site|
|Also, if you're into these kind of space-battle settings, you might want to watch Legend of Galactic Heroes.|
Byline: Arne Niklas Jansson, 10 Dec, 2008, 24 May, 2009. W.I.P. - Master of Orion was made by Steve Barcia, SimTex, Microprose and perhaps the license is now owned by 'Atari'.