Saturday, April 04, 2009

Master of Orion

Those of you who are eld, like me, will remember in the days of computing yore when computer games came on floppy disks, not CD or DVDs (or downloads). Those of you who are elder will remember cassette tapes and punch cards, but I'm not that eld.

Well, during the early days of computer gaming (not the early early days, when Space War was cutting edge), about the time of that the mighty 386 processors were ripping by at up to 50 mhz (well, the 386SX2 could do that as I recall), and after the introduction of the amazing SoundBlaster card (which really was revolutionary at the time) there was a game called Master of Orion. It was essentially a primitive version of Civilization, but set in space. You control an empire, beginning with one world, and then explore other planets, expand to those planets, exploit their resources, and then exterminate all the other empires. This was, as far as I know, the first of the 4X space games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate). As you go along you allocate resources to things like producing ships (for colonization, to attack other empires, or to defend yourself from them), building new factories (which enhance the production of your world for everything else you do), researching new technologies (which allow you to colonize different types of worlds, terraform them, build more factories, and make better and better ships), or building defensive missile bases for your planets. You also, and this is the cool part, get to design your own ships using components that you have developed through your research. Those ships then rumble thee forth to the lands of the unbelieving scum on the other side (name that song, I dare you!). If it sounds pretty cool, it really is. If it sounds like lots of other games, it is, because it kind of started a whole genre.

When I got MOO (as it's affectionately called) I had an old 286 that could barely run it. When I upgraded to a 386 (my first upgrade ever) I was ecstatic to be able to play MOO at a decent processing speed. And play it I did. For many, many hours. More than I've ever played any other game (and that is saying a whole whole lot). This was one of the 2 or 3 games I can think of that I would play through the night on occasion (which was dumb, and really really geeky, but it was just that cool). MOO, for me, struck the perfect balance of challenge and possibility, strategy and tactics (very rudimentary tactics, which is good because I'm a very rudimentary tactician), complexity and ease of play.

So why am I blogging about it? Because it is, hands down, the number one Time Waster I've encountered. So much so that I still play it today! I run DosBox as an emulater and it works like a charm. One of my greatest disappointments with my linux box is that it lacks the processing power to play MOO at a good speed (DosBox is not all that tough on a modern system running at 2+ Ghz, and my Athlon dual core 6000+ doesn't even flinch, but my linux box is a dignified, classic, Athlon Thunderbird running at 1.0 Ghz), which means it struggles to run games that "high tech" in DosBox at a decent speed. If I had never touched MOO, and used all that time "productively," I'd probably have a second Master's degree or something. But then I would have missed out on wiping out all those alien races :o)

If you also have fond memories of MOO it's available online (here), as is DosBox (here). Check it out!

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