"Greetings, ambassador, and welcome to my palace. This is where I conduct the affairs of my empire."
This is a Web page dedicated to the Master of Orion ("MoO") series of empire-building games. In Master of Orion, you choose one of several empires, each of which has its advantages and handicaps, and set out to expand, explore, and eventually win supremacy to become the Master of Orion. Essentially, you start out with a planet, a couple scouts, and a colony ship, and set out from there. How you win the game--through brutal conquest subtle diplomacy, or other means--is up to you (and, of course, your opponents).
I've loved MoO since I was first introduced to it back in '93 or '94. Back then, I was playing it on an old 386/16 SX with 5MB of RAM and no sound card. Boy did it run slow! Hit Next Turn and go get a cup of coffee... A few years later, MoO II came out and I was highly impressed with the improvements they'd made over the original. I spent many an evening or weekend day playing multiplayer with a friend or two. I even figured out how to play the game over the Internet without resorting to a third party like TEN.
Then, many years later, MoO 3 came out, after a lot of hype and promises, and . . . we were disappointed. What they did with MoO 3 was impressive, but I don't think it made for a very playable game--or at least, it wasn't the type of game that I and many others had expected. I think we had hoped for an improved version of MoO II, and that wasn't what 3 was all about. Still, it's a part of the series.
Master of Orion "0" - Star Lords (1993)
Star Lords is the precursor to Master of Orion. This is the game as it was originally submitted to Microprose in 1993. It's crude, but shows a close similarity to Master of Orion as eventually published. All the MoO I races are here, though some of the names were different. Mostly Star Lords is neat to have, to see the game in its early stages and to round out one's collection of MoObilia.
Master of Orion - retroactively Master of Orion I (1993)
The original Master of Orion is a classic. It was innovative, ahead of its time really (in terms of gameplay, not graphics), and there are many MoO fans who still prefer the original to any of its sequels. The graphics are crude, but the game plays very well, which I'd say is more important anyway. If you're put off by the not-so-pretty pictures, remember that MoO I had to fit on floppies (four of them, to be exact), so there really wasn't room for fancy imaging. But what MoO I did very well was make it manageable to administer an empire of nearly any size: the interface is simple, straightforward, and intuitive.
An effort by one fan was made to rewrite the game from scratch in Java, so it could be run in modern operating systems and various bugs would be fixed. Probably the most annoying of those was that if a computer player broke a pact with you, it would forever after think it was you who had broken faith with them. So Java MOO was begun, and I have an archived copy of it available here. However, since then the project has expanded into something much more impressive; it's now called Remnants of the Precursors and is available for free download.
Master of Orion II - Battle at Antares (1996)
MoO II came out about the same time as Civilization II. I immediately noticed an important contrast between the two. Civ II was basically a rerun of Civ I with (much) improved graphics and a few new features, but not many. One of the few substantive improvements was that it was easier to conduct diplomacy. MoO II, on the other hand, was very different from its predecessor. The game had been redone, with a different feel--though still set in the MoO universe. Like its predecessor, it was ahead of its time; the graphics and effects are pretty impressive considering it came out when Windows 95 was brand-new. In fact, MoO II shipped in both a Windows and a DOS version (both on the same CD). Overall I think the changes in MoO II were for the better, and this is my personal favorite of the series.
Master of Orion II came out when Windows 95 was out but lots of machines were still on Windows 3.1, so the game CD included both a Windows and DOS installer (setup.exe and install.exe respectively). The Windows version doesn't work so well on modern Windows systems, of course, but the DOS version runs just fine in emulators such as DOSBox, and I've read that the DOS version was more stable anyway. Regardless, in very exciting news, there's a group of fans now putting out unofficial patches for the game. They've fixed numerous bugs, such as the game crashing with a "Mark Block Stack Size Exceeded" message, or when you try to refit ships. They've also fixed bugs that make a lot of weapons not work the way they're supposed to, and have made a few other improvements such as adding a sixth ship design slot and improving the AI. They've made a number of mods available and have expanded the game's options and modding capability. If you're a fan of MoO II, it's well worth checking out—it installs side-by-side with your existing copy of the game so you can still run classic MoO II 1.31 if you feel like it.
While the sequel to MoO II was in the works, a pre-alpha copy was accidentally released to PC PowerPlay magazine in Australia (hence "KangaMOO"), which published it as a demo. There was a big flap about it because 1) it wasn't supposed to be released, and 2) it was buggy, so subscribers complained about the "demo", which only made things worse. If I remember right, the guy who released it got canned. (Read the official announcement.) I consider this somewhat the MoO 3 equivalent of Star Lords. ;) A few people out there still have a copy of KangaMOO, and one of them was kind enough to upload it to me; if you're interested in checking it out, you can download it from here. For those with just a passing interest in what it looks like, here's a screenshot.
Master of Orion 3 - The Fifth "X" (2003)
And I thought the second MoO was different from the first!! MoO 3 (I would have assumed it would have been called MoO 3 to stay consistent with MoO II) is a thorough rewrite of the game. They did up a whole storyline for the history of the MoO universe which is very thorough, though it does have a couple of weaknesses, including some awfully sketchy retcons such as making the Sakkras an offshoot of the Trilarians—which is backwards, if anything, since the Trilarians were new in MoO II. But more substantively, they really changed the "feel" of the game. It's designed to be a game where you play the top-level overall ruler, leaving all the details of managing colonies to your colonial governors. One of the biggest complaints about MoO II was the amount of micromanagement you had to do, especially late in the game. The designers worked very hard to get away from that, and in the end, I think they succeeded too hard. Personally, I don't enjoy this version very much, because it just doesn't give me a hands-on feel when I play. MoO 3 is considered by many to be a huge disappointment—though it does have a dedicated following among some, including a vibrant modding community. It can be fun, but you have to be ready to play a very different game from the other MoOs.
Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars (2016)
Sometimes called MoO 4, this one is on Steam, and is the first version of MoO to run natively in Linux. I haven't played it myself but having read a bit about it, I gather that it's largely a remake of Master of Orion II, having discarded most of the departures from MoO 3. I've read that in some ways it may be disappointing to long-term fans of the series—that it's an adequate remake but doesn't offer a lot more than MoO II did. Again, I haven't played it myself so I can't speak to the criticisms, but I am glad to see this old classic getting some new attention, and with time it may see more development on Steam.
Master of Orion I had no multiplayer option. MoO II corrected that, offering Hotseat, Null modem, and IPX (not TCP, unfortunately--this was some time ago). MoO II also overcame a number of limitations (i.e., simplifications) that were fairly glaring in the first game. Solar systems in MoO I never had more than one habitable planet. In ship combat, all the units of a given type were stacked, and it never mattered what direction a ship was facing. You were also limited to 6 designs of ships (including colony ships), and couldn't modify or refit ships once they were built. Also, you didn't do your ground fighting with troops per se; instead you sent colonists from one system to another and they fought it out--even infants and the elderly, presumably. MoO II fixed all that, allowing ship refits and incremental design changes, adding marines and troop transports, making ship combat more realistic, and having multiple planets per system--some habitable, some not.
MoO II made colony administration more sophisticated, which may or may not have been a good thing. In MoO I, each colony offered sliders that let you adjust the percentage of its production going to shipbuilding, planetary defense, industry, etc. MoO II replaced that with discrete buildings that could be built at each colony to perform certain functions, such as increase research (much like in Civ). Technology was changed, too. Battle computers in MoO I, for instance, had the creative titles of "Class I", "Class II", Class III", etc. MoO II gave them more orignal names such as "Electronic" and "Cybertronic". Three new races were added, and now you could customize your race--not just with "+10% industry" but with cool new features like being extra lucky, or having knowledge of all the systems in the galaxy. Government types were added, each with its advantages and drawbacks. Now you could refit ships, and even modify individual vessels. Also, a third victory option was added. In addition to Senate vote and Last One Standing, you could defeat the Antarans, a mysterious and frighteningly powerful race of beings that periodically appears out of nowhere and attacks your colonies.
MoO 3 changed the game entirely. Colonies were made much more complex--now, instead of having a "Desert" planet, for instance, a given world would have different regions: some desert, some swamp, etc.--divided into Dominant Economic Activities (DEAs). This made colonial administration far, far more complicated: but they solved that problem by having the colonial governors do all the administration. The idea was to put you in the position of an overall CEO who delegates the micromanagement to the local administrators. But for me, as well as for many other die-hard MoO fans, this also removed the hands-on feel of the game. It even has your colonial governors handle your colonization of new worlds, building colony ships and dispatching them automatically to promising planets (or ones you've flagged to be colonized). Personally, I enjoy the hands-on feel of managing my own colonization program, and while you can do that in MoO 3, it's much more complicated and (to me) less interesting.
MoO 3 added a number of races, but also removed several as playable races. The idea, said the developers, was to get rid of those that looked like a guy in a rubber suit. But as if to compensate for this lack of rubber-suitness, they changed the Trilarians from a cool-looking alien species to one that looks like a guy in a...need I say it? Check out the MoO races over time and see if you don't agree.
They made a number of other changes, such as even more realistic space combat, and an additional touch of realism: not every race likes a Terran environment best! Environmental preferences are a little different for each race, and there are even races that live best on gas giants. It adds a layer of complexity to the game, though it can be confusing at times. It also makes border overlap a real issue. In MoO II, you had the occasional sharing of a solar system. But in MoO 3, with different races picking different environments, you end up with a lot of shared systems--to the point where you start to lose a sense of your borders. Some probably find that exciting, but personally I find it unsettling, and it detracts from my gaming experience.
One major strategic difference in Master of Orion 3 is that it introduced star lanes, creating artificial choke points and defensive positions—whereas in MoO I and II your ships were limited by their distance from your nearest colony or outpost. MoO 4 retained the star lanes, making it not even worth checking out from my point of view. Star lanes are a showstopper for me, but I realize that's not the same for everyone, so if you don't consider them a problem, MoO 4 is probably worth checking out.
Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars has ditched all the new races introduced in MoO 3, though they've changed significantly: the Bulrathi now have a focus on planetology, for instance. Also, in the Collector's Edition, a new race (sorta) has been added, the Terran Khanate, which seems to be the equivalent of the Terran Empire from the Star Trek mirror universe. The game also has more victory conditions: in addition to conquest, election by the senate, and defeating the Antarans, one can now win by controlling the galaxy's economy, completing three scientific victory structures (similar to MoO 3's Antaran X victory?), and having the highest score at the end of the game.
Orion Empire -- Another multi-MoO Web site offering good info and resources
| Star Lords
Background and Download of Star Lords
| Master of Orion I |
The game itself (5MB): Version 1.0 Version 1.3 (patched and cracked)
Update to v.1.3 (1.3MB) (not needed with Version 1.3 above)
Game Manual: PDF (850kb) TXT (175kb)
Crack to disable copy protection (3kb) (Contrary to what the Underdogs writeup says, it is possible to crack this game without making it impossible to win.) (not needed with Version 1.3 above)
Java MOO: Rise from Ruin - A recreation of MoO I with some improvements, including the races of MoO II...but sadly, without sound or music
Remnants of the Precursors - the successor to Java MOO and with sound and much better graphics. The race names are the same, but they look quite a bit different than they used to.
Jon Sullivan's MoO I page (archived)
| Master of Orion II |
The game itself
Update to v.1.31 for Windows
Unofficial v.1.32 (technically a mod, not a patch)
Unofficial Update to v.1.4 (update for the DOS version only)
FAQ for Update v.1.4
Unofficial Fan Patch 1.50+ (for the DOS version only; successor to the above unofficial patches)
Game Manual (1.1MB)
Race Characteristics (23kb)
Gamespot's MoO II Strategy Guide
Master of Orion II Home Page by David Ledgard
| Master of Orion 3 |
KangaMOO, the accidentally-released alpha copy of MoO 3
Update to v.1.25: Windows (Installation check) Macintosh
All the official MoO 3 Patches
Combined Readme (75kb) (The official readmes for v.1.0 combined & corrected)
The Official MoO 3 site (hasn't been updated since 2003)
The Master of Orion Guardian (MoO 3 fan site)
Getting it to Work
As a DOS program, MoO I can be hard to get working properly. VDMSound can be used to get the sound working if that's all you're having trouble with. But more importantly, if you're having issues getting the game to run, DOSBox with one of its front-ends can be your best friend. MoO I runs just fine in DOSBox—even getting sound, which can be very difficult running this game natively in Windows. You should even be able to get MoO I running on a non-Windows computer if you're running Linux, Unix, or Max OS, since they have versions of DOSBox for those operating systems. MoO II, meanwhile, should run fine on really old Windows systems. Some Windows 2000 computers will experience video corruption issues (coupled with saved-game corruption), and I don't know what to do about that. Mouse issues in Windows 2000/XP can (hopefully) be fixed with this or this utility. Nowadays your best bet is to install the DOS version of MoO II and run it in DOSBox; if you set that up and then install the 1.50+ patch, it will set up a game launcher for you that includes options for playing classic MoO, improved (1.50+) MoO, or improved MoO with various mods. Master of Orion 3 should run fine on any computer that meets the system requirements, which are surprisingly low considering the game came out in 2003. MoO 4 runs in Steam on Windows, Mac, or Linux.
Unfortunately there is no way of playing MoO I in true multiplayer, though there have been some efforts such as MOOCE where various people would play using identical parameters and compare notes later. MoO II can be played multiplayer over a LAN if each player has NWLink, IPX/SPX, or IPX/SPX Compatible Protocol installed. Since IPX/SPX doesn't run over the Internet (which uses TCP/IP instead), MoO II can't be played natively on the Internet. Originally, TEN was supposed to allow it (for a price), but TEN is long gone now. Later, there was a considerable MoO II following playing the game over Kali. If you want to play with a specific person(s), it is possible to create a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which will transmit MoO's IPX packets over the Internet's TCP. It works well, but can be tricky to set up. These are my instructions for setting up the MoO VPN server. Lastly, and perhaps most promising, it seems that kako has worked out instructions for playing MoO II over the Internet using IPX in DOSBox. I haven't tried it myself, but I have managed to play MoO II multiplayer by tunneling IPX through TCP on DOSBox on my local network. In principle, you could do the same over the Internet.
I've compiled a page that shows the races in Master of Orion over time. Of course, those which didn't appear before MoO II or 3 don't show any images under the previous games. In MoO 3, some of the vanished player races reappear as Leaders, so I've been able to show pictures for those races; unfortunately, though, the other three don't appear anywhere (even as concept art), so I have nothing to show for them. Still, I think you'll find my chart makes for interesting eye candy. MoO Races over Time
Background & History
The MoO 3 crew wrote a background history for the Master of Orion series. I personally think their history of the Trilarians, Sakkras, and Darloks is kind of unnecessarily...weird...and it doesn't really square with the way things were in the previous games (e.g., the Sakkras and Trilarians didn't necessarily hate each other in MoO II). But otherwise I think it's an excellent background writeup: Background Fiction. If you're interested in the history of the earlier Master of Orion games, meanwhile, you'll probably enjoy this brief description: Master of Orion history.
Guides, Hints, Tips, and FAQs
The Internet hosts a wide array of guides for Master of Orion, particularly for the first two. These are some I've collected; they are unchanged, except for spelling and grammar corrections.
Master of Orion I
There's a whole slew of editors available for Master of Orion I, but Numero Uno is Oreo. (Mmm . . . oreo . . . ) The editor I'm most familiar with for Master of Orion II is Corion2. I don't know of any editors for Master of Orion 3, not that I've looked.
Star Trek in the MoO II Universe??
Yes! It is possible to simulate the Star Trek races in the MoO II environment, sort of. For that matter, you can simulate races or characters from any (usually sci-fi) series you want. I'm indebted to http://www.cs.tamu.edu/people/richards/ for this idea (that page is defunct now, but that's where I found it). What you do is start the game with whatever parameters you want, then save and exit. Open the save game in Corion2 (or your favorite Moo II editor), and modify the computer opponents. This can be used to create any custom computer players you wish; what the site above was doing was recreating the Star Trek:DS9 environment. I've taken that as my starting point and created a set of parameters to simulate ST:NG and the Star Trek universe from the original series. I've also created one for Babylon 5 (set at the point where the series begins). This method does work pretty well, but, I don't think it really gives the feel of the universe you're recreating, since all the images (ships, race leaders, etc.) are still MoO graphics. But still, it's a pretty neat idea, and it does let you simulate whatever sci-fi (or other) universe strikes your fancy. Here are parameters for the various scenarios:
Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space
How about going back to mankind's first steps into space? BARIS is an old DOS game that simulates the US-Soviet Space Race. Check out my BARIS Page for more information.
Machiavelli: the Prince
This game is an old favorite, all about trade, exploration, and stabbing your enemies in the back. Great fun! This site talks about "Machiavelli: the Prince" and the "Merchant Prince" series that it forms a part of.
A collection of games and other programs written in BASICA and GW-BASIC. This is great if you feel like indulging a little '80s nostalgia, or are just curious. These can also be good if you'd like a simple game to play for a couple minutes.
Send me an email if you have comments or suggestions, or just want to say hello.