Gen Con 2001: Master of Orion III update

We've got an updated look at the space-strategy sequel from this year's Gen Con.

Infogrames is attending Wizards of the Coast's Gen Con convention this year, and it is showing the upcoming turn-based space-conquest strategy sequel Master of Orion III. The game itself is shaping up extremely well, and although not all the game's content is currently included in functional interface screens, the development team has already implemented an impressive amount of gameplay and features into the current build.

Fans of the previous Master of Orion space-strategy games are already familiar with the series' deep, but often exceedingly complex, gameplay. It's clear that the development team wants Master of Orion III to be a much more streamlined game that can make basic decisions for experienced players--so they can move on to more enjoyable aspects of play--and make helpful suggestions to newer players. Most of Master of Orion III's gameplay elements can be partially or fully automated, so that while players will have the option of micromanaging every aspect of their holdings, they won't be forced to. According to the developers, the game will have a "two-click interface" that'll let players get from any menu screen to another in no more than two mouse clicks.

For instance, over the course of the game, players will capture entire planets and star systems, and they must then manage the political, social, military, and financial aspects of each. Master of Orion III will let players set simple orders for each planetary leader they appoint; they'll be able to simply instruct a leader to employ defensive measures--like building defensive space stations and employing conservative trade practices--with a few clicks of the mouse and leave it at that. Likewise, players will be able to assign and deploy battalions of starships by carefully designing the armor, shields, hull layout, and weapon-firing arc (an element from developer Quicksilver Productions' previous game, Starfleet Command). Or, players can have the computer automatically compile a fleet of appropriate armament and composition to match their mission objectives. Space combat will be considerably more exciting in Master of Orion III than it was in previous games. Combat plays out in real time in 3D space, and it'll be far more strategic than tactical. Specifically, players' ships will have their orders and follow them to the letter, so that even though players can zoom in on each fight and plot out the destinations and targets of each of their individual ships, they won't have to, as each ship in their armada will know its own role and carry it out to the best of its ability all by itself.

Combat won't be the only way to win a game of Master of Orion III. The development team has added three new ways in which to conquer a scenario. First, players can actually use political disinformation to create a false heir to ascend to the Orion throne. Or players may join the Orion Senate and demonstrate sufficient diplomatic prowess to be elected into the council's leadership. Finally, players may research and scavenge the remains of the mysterious and long-deceased antarean race to recover the "fifth X," the secret of that civilization's technology.

Research will also be expanded in Master of Orion III. Players will be able to pursue six different kinds of research in the game: economics & finances, mathematics, energy, biological sciences, physical sciences, and a completely new type of research topic, social arts. Social arts describes the cultural growth of each of the player's planets, and it can pave the way for trade and diplomatic opportunities. Master of Orion III's actual tech tree--the pattern of development through research--will be so huge that the developers have actually been able to change it from scenario to scenario. In fact, the tech tree will be deterministic, so not all the options will be available in every game, and unlike in the previous game, not all the options will produce exactly the same results each time, so no single upgrade path will guarantee success. Players may also conduct "secret" research on the inhabitants of their own and others' worlds by using secret police to gauge popular opinions and attitudes. Players can use disinformation to deceive the inhabitants of an opponent's world, and they may even be able to convert an opponent's planet to their own causes. Of course, if players manage their own planets poorly, the inhabitants of those planets may become fed up and either migrate to an opponent's world or secede to form their own civilization. The final game will support up to 32 different civilizations per scenario.

Master of Orion III also looks quite good. The interface menus we saw were packed with information but clean looking, and they used large, legible fonts and clear color-coding, so none of them seemed cluttered. The game's real-time combat also looks quite good, as do its fully 3D, animated alien portraits. Master of Orion III will not only feature animated 3D graphics for each of its alien species, but it'll also feature a dynamic dialogue generator (called the "Diplo-Matic") that'll generate distinctive speech for each of the player's alien neighbors on the fly. All things considered, Master of Orion III looks quite impressive right now, and it should be released on time early next year. For more information on Master of Orion III, consult our previous coverage of the game.

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