Master of Orion on the Mac
- 2008.07.01 - Tip Jar
I may have mentioned that my computer gaming days extend back a ways. Before I discovered networked flight sims, first-person shooters, and real-time strategy games . . . well, there weren't any of those kinds of games back then, really. Games, except arcade games and simulators, were almost all turn-based, and if there was any multiplayer support at all, it was almost always only of the "hot seat" type.
There were giants in the earth in those days. Some are long gone, such as the excellent series of flight sims from Lucas Arts and Sierra's Dynamix. Others, like SimCity by Maxis, were the dawning of franchises that exist to this day.
Master of Orion
One of my absolute favorites was a game called Master of Orion (MOO) by MicroProse. A turn-based sci-fi strategy game, it debuted in 1993 and was one of the early progenitors of the "4X" genre (from eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate).
In MOO, you start out with one planet, two scout ships, and a colony ship, as well as a rudimentary level of interstellar technology. You can use your population to generate industry, research technologies, build ships and planetary defenses, and colonize newly explored worlds. As you expand, you come in contact with alien civilizations controlled by the computer and you can form alliances, trade technologies, or give battle in an attempt to wrest control of their planets from them and enlarge your own domain.
The size of the game board and number and skill of AI opponents can be preset, and there are different ways to achieve victory. Probably the most interesting hook in the game is that you can design the individual ship classes in your fleet, leveraging your best technologies into a mixture of offensive and defensive weapons, drives, and special gizmos. These all have a significant effect on the tactical combat resolution sequences that take place whenever you find your ships occupying the same star system as an opponent's. Did you go for lots of small, cheap ships? Only a few massive dreadnoughts? Some mixture of the two? Did you optimize your ships for fleet combat or build special bombers to get in close and overwhelm your opponent's planetary defenses?
You can (and I did) spend days building galaxy-spanning empires, trying out the effects of some of the limitless combinations of ship design, research directions, and fleet composition.
The game was released near the end of the MS-DOS age. At the time, almost no serious Wintel gaming rig even had Windows installed; this was the day of "High Memory" in DOS machines (everything over 640 KB was allocated as EMS expanded memory or XMS extended memory) and custom boot disks for each game you played. Windows 3.x was just a memory hog that prevented a machine from dedicating all its processing power to the game at hand.
Broken by Progress
With the coming of the Pentium (in 1993) and Windows 95, many of these classics - only a couple of years old at the time - were rendered unplayable without Herculean efforts. Master of Orion, due to its configuration, was completely unplayable on Wintel machines until the release of the DOSBox emulator.
MicroProse attempted to capitalize on the game's popularity by releasing Master of Orion II in 1998 but made a classic mistake: Adding a host of new features only succeeded in cluttering up an interface that was deceptively clean and simple. The added complexity made for a game that lost playability for no real gain in fun. It was like trying to add dice to chess.
When I upgraded my main gaming rig from a 486DX/66 to a Pentium 133, I thought it was good-bye forever to Master of Orion. With each new upgrade of Intel CPU or Windows, I'd drag my old CD out and halfheartedly try to install it, hoping against hope that this shiny new PC - with gobs more processing power, tons more RAM, or a vastly slicker OS - would somehow be able to run some of my old favorites. Always it was no dice.
MOO for Mac
Thankfully, MOO was one of those games that was popular enough that a Mac version was released. As I got more involved in collecting older Macs, I started haunting the vintage software section on eBay. As it turns out, the Mac version was scarcer than the proverbial hen's teeth.
I lost a couple of auctions, reluctant to spend more than $20 plus shipping on my tight budget. (I watched one of those auctions spiral past $50 - tell me this wasn't a cult classic of a game!) I finally won an auction last year, but when the game arrived, it was Master of Orion II, not the original. Hoping to salvage something, I installed it on one of my older machines, but MOO II was just as disappointing on a Performa 636CD in 2007 as it was on a Pentium II/266 in 1998.
A couple weeks ago, my dream of a decade came true for less than ten bucks. The mailman came, and I nearly snatched the package out of his hands and tore it open. Yes! The original Master of Orion CD for the Mac! Looking around the house, I only had two Macs running the classic OS hooked up and running: My Power Mac 7100 and my G3/266 WallStreet.
While I knew that the 7100 would handle it just fine, there was something I wanted to try. The WallStreet was the same vintage as the Pentium II that wouldn't run MOO on a bet. How would the G3 Mac fare?
I bounced up and down on the futon in anticipation as the PowerBook spun up from sleep. I popped the disc in, held my breath, and . . . was greeted by an opening splash screen I hadn't seen in over ten years. Yes! Yes!
I wasn't disappointed either. Despite its somewhat primitive graphics and total lack of all but the crudest MIDI soundtrack, Master of Orion was every bit as fun and absorbing as I remembered. You really don't need the latest and greatest game or hardware to have a good time....
Now I want to try another experiment: My G4 Power Mac is currently only running Tiger, but I could install Classic on it, no sweat. And I'll bet up front that MOO will run fine on it, too.
I guess this is what worries me most about the various Snow Leopard rumors flying about the tubes of internets. Macs have long been known for their backwards compatibility. It's still present, in Mac OS X 10.5, even if in a somewhat stunted form.
I'd hate to see Apple's legendary commitment to the Mac legacy lost for a bit of Flash....
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