Master of Orion III -- Developer Chat
The fearsome foursome at Quicksilver software, Bill Fisher, Cory Nelson, Alan Emrich and Rantz Hoseley, field our questions about their upcoming game.
By - Dan Quick

GameSpy: The original Master of Orion was published in 1993, followed by Master of Orion II: The Battle at Antares three years later. Both titles have fared very well under review by both industry and fans alike. How was the decision to create Master of Orion III reached and why now?

Bill Fisher: There's quite a tale behind this.

It all started at E3 in 1999, when I literally bumped into a producer at MicroProse, Michael Mancuso. Mike and I sat down at a table in the lunch area and found that we liked many of the same things. He had just completed MechWarrior 3 and was looking for a new project. We were wrapping up Star Trek: Starfleet Command and were also looking for a new project. Many of us have been MicroProse fans for years, so it was basically a no-brainer that we wanted to work with them.

Mike and his boss came down to visit us over the next few weeks. He was a huge MOO and MOM fan and had been wanting for years to see a new version developed. It was just a matter of time, really. Then he made us an offer we couldn't refuse: he gave us a list of four potential projects to choose from, all of which would have been very cool. We decided we wanted to do MOO III. It was an easy choice.

Adding fuel to the fire, I knew that one of our designers, Tom Hughes, had worked very closely with Steve Barcia on MOO I (he's the one who ultimately found the copy of Star Lords, a.k.a. MOO Zero, that we posted on our Website). My very old friend Alan Emrich had written the MOO I strategy guide with Tom. Alan and I go way, way back -- all the way to kindergarten. So I called Alan and saidn, "If I happened to have the chance to work on one of the greatest 4X game properties of all time, would you perhaps be interested in working on it?" I had to hold him back from buying a plane ticket that very day.

A few months later, the startup paperwork was signed and we started moving on the design. Then MicroProse was bought by Hasbro, which then shut down the Alameda facility. Our producer and his boss were both out of a job. Fortunately, we ended up with an old Avalon Hill board-game guy, Bill Levay, in their place. Bill insisted that he was the one who should carry the Barcia flame, and we've certainly been very pleased to work with him. Bill then brought in Constantine Hantzopoulos, our current producer, who also joined in large part because of the chance to work on such a great title. Needless to say, we have a very enthusiastic team at all levels of the project.

One final note: last year, we started a new project with the US Army, a company command simulator. As it turns out, we needed a first-class wargame producer. It was destined to happen: At the Computer Game Developers' Conference, I ran into Mike Mancuso. Turns out he'd just left his position at Maxis and was looking for something new. I told him not to move, that I had a project he'd love to do. I hired him that day, and he's been doing a killer job on the project ever since.

GameSpy: The game is being marketed as containing the "fifth "X." For those that are not familiar with this terminology, what are the first four "X's" exactly and what is the fifth bringing to MoO3 not previously harnessed in its predecessors?

Alan Emrich: Oh, there's an old chestnut. The term '4X' game is one that I coined in the pages of Computer Gaming World magazine back when I was their first strategy games editor. I heard it from my MOO3 co-designer, Tom Hughes, liked it, put it in print, and was very chagrined to see the term '4X' had made it into the gaming vernacular when I read it in an ad (of all things!). The term '4X' means eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. These are the basic elements for every discover-the-world-and-then-conquer-it kinds of games.

With the '5th X,' I'm hoping to take this beloved genre and add more of the eXperience one should expect from the subject matter. Normally, these games give the player total knowledge, total control, and unlimited ability to do everything at all times within the limits of their resources. The '5th X' says that there's more to it than that. If you're leading a race that is supposed to me militaristic, and you conduct affairs in a pacifistic manner, you should suffer with unrest, revolt, or even revolution.

If you're sitting at the top of your civilization, you should be reading reports sent up from underlings, not managing every single spy or battle yourself -- you should be functioning at your level, like a chief executive, not like everyone from the janitor on up!

So, the '5th X' builds in some more simulation to a strategy game. There's more of a world capable of living and breathing on its own that you're there to guide, not micromanage. The player will enjoy the heroes and suffer the fools that emerge from within their civilization and must always make the best of things while pushing through to victory.

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