Space-themed 4X strategy game Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars is a “reimagining” of 1993’s Master of Orion. It is being developed by NGD Studios, with input from developers who worked on the original 1993 game. The game hit Early Access via Steam in February this year, but does not have a definitive release date.
To find out more about Master of Orion’s progress, how the developers are changing the game to be more accessible, and its release date, we chatted with Wargaming global publishing producer Jacob Beucler.
GameSpot: Master of Orion is in something of a unique position in terms of the 4X genre right now–Civilization VI was recently announced, Stellaris is blowing up, etc. What sets Master of Orion apart from these games?
Beucler: You know, one of the tags that we don’t have on our product is “the grand strategy.” So when you look at Civilization, and you look at Stellaris, the broader spectrum of grand strategy gameplay, it goes and encapsulates something that’s not necessarily specific to 4X. It relates, but they do different things in a different way. For us, we’re building what I would consider a more accessible, more consumable, and more dynamic experience.
Pretty lofty to say that, right? But that’s what we’re up to. That’s what I think we’re doing differently. And that’s what I, what we all, hope to be able to deliver to the audiences. Hopefully the accessibility of these products stands apart, and bringing back the IP makes us stand apart as well. We’ve got some humour going on, we’ve got a lighter-heart touch to it, we’re still going to have the “just one-more-turn” catch. That has to be built in. But I think that’s what going to set us apart.
What audience are you marketing the game for? You mentioned that you were making the game more accessible, does that mean you’re going for a more mainstream audience?
No, no, no. It actually doesn’t. We know the 4X audience, we’ve done our homework. Where they are, who they are, what they like, what they don’t. And we’ve been very open about engaging them with Early Access. This game is built for that audience. We want to bring back the feeling of Master of Orion, we want to be able to deliver that to our core audience.
We’re not going in a direction where we’re like, “Graaagh, let’s go make this market ten times bigger because that’s a great thing to do!” I mean, it’s a wonderful strategy, but we know who our audience is and that’s who we’re building this game for. We certainly hope to acquire new users into the market. We do focus on accessibility that way, but also to the point of, if you look back 20 years ago, the learning curve involved with getting into Master of Orion I think ruined a lot of people’s expectations about what 4X was. Like oh, it’s a spreadsheet game. No, we don’t want to be known as a spreadsheet game. So that’s the mould we’re trying to break.
How does player feedback influence how the game is developed?
Right now, we’ve done three Early Access phases leading up to what we would call a feature-complete build. So how it affects us from now is delivering on that feedback in a meaningful way. There are a couple of points of feedback that we can’t address and we’ve made decisions not to.
One of those is the tactical battle feedback. Some people say, “Why isn’t this turn-based?” It’s a polarising thing. Our goal is to make real-time tactical battles great. We felt like, and the original developers felt like, that was a good thing for Master of Orion 3. There’s not a lot of them, but that was one of them. Now we look at our player satisfaction on Steam and what the reviews are like and it’s super impactful for us now. For Early Access 1, 2, and 3, we were driving to get that feedback and to prioritize it, but we’re also driving to get the build to be feature-complete. Because it’s really hard to balance a product that isn’t done. If you don’t have all your races in, you don’t have your race traits, you don’t know what your ship builds are like, you’re throwing darts if you’re going to try and balance that. Now we’re at a place where we’ve got a wonderful amount of feedback, and most of it is constructive.
I’m honestly surprised at how incredibly constructive it has been, and continues to be. So now it’s about us delivering on that promise.
Can you give some specific examples of where feedback has led to something changing?
Sure. I think maybe the most interesting place to talk about that is the racial traits. A lot of the feedback in Early Access 1 was, “Hey, these [races] all kind of play the same. They all feel the same; I don’t really notice my bonuses.” Well, go play one of the races now, it’s vastly different. And I personally have to pay attention to those racial traits. So the race-trait balance is a big part of that feedback that’s been implemented. Another one is the tech tree and the decisions you can make there. Some feedback we got early on was like, “Everyone’s just going to make the same tech, what makes this fun?” That was a pretty good point. A lot of the research techs now, you have to pick one. You can buy, steal, or cheat to get other ones, but you’re making more meaningful decisions.
When will the finished game be released?
Definitely this year!
I mean, we’re almost halfway through the year now.
I can tell you that we’re closer than we’ve ever been, but I don’t think the community thinks that this is a legendary product yet. Hopefully we land on legendary soon. It could take a couple of more phases of Early Access, and that’s not the end of the world for us. We want to show the community that we’re listening, we want to deliver on that promise, and making a legendary product for us and bringing it to market on a specific time, that’s a secondary concern. You get one chance to bring back an IP like this. We’re not going to blow it. If it’s going to take a little more time, it’s going to take a little more time.
There’s a lot of competition out there. Stellaris, like you said, is making waves right now. There’s lessons to be learned from that as well. We’re moving as fast as we can, but we’re trying to make good decisions along that path.