FENIX Bazaar contributor Ritchie ‘The Papadum Geek’ Plunkett chats Master Of Orion with Wargaming.
In no rush to leave “Early Access” and get the official full release that fans have been clamouring for, Master Of Orion developer NGD Studios is still looking for ways to refine the experience.
I sat down with Global Publishing Producer at Wargaming, Jacob Beucler, to chat about the game’s development, its challenges and innovations, and how it works with hardcore fans of the series’ legacy.
How do you balance staying true to the original games, while also ensuring it is accessible enough for those both new to the franchise and to the genre?
It is the ultimate question. Carefully, diligently, respectfully. You have to pay attention to where this product came from and what its strengths were, and you have to acknowledge the weaknesses of the IP as well.
It also comes from a place of passion, so you have to care. That’s the thing which resonates with this team: we all care, and it matters to us. This isn’t about putting a product on the shelf, buttoning up and moving it. This is about bringing back a legend. This is making a legendary experience that is Master of Orion new again, for a new generation.
But that doesn’t mean we can walk away from what made this IP great to begin with over 20 years ago. You look at the data, you engage with the customers, you play the product as much as you can, and you respect that it’s going to take time to do this.
When you are talking about balancing and talking about Wargaming, we all know that’s a difficult thing to do and we are not afraid of it. That’s what we want to go and get, and so by integrating old guys from Master of Orion 2, bringing them on to help us reimagine this game, it really helped solve some of those early balancing issues.
How much of an an impact did the guys from Master of Orion 2 help shift the game in what we see today?
I think it’s been hugely impactful. Honestly they have been with us every step of the way. From the first prototype and getting it off the ground. And like I said earlier, this is something we all collaborate on, on a daily basis. This isn’t ‘let’s check out the build this month’. No, it’s what’s new today, how did it play today, what’s the balance like, what’s the pace like.
Have you found the game shift towards any specific earlier entry in the Master of Orion series, or was it more of a blend of all of them with a fresh new take?
For us to reimagine Master of Orion we had to be honest about what worked and what didn’t with the other products in the series. This isn’t mast of Master Of Orion 4. We’re not making Master of Orion 2.8. This is our reimagination brought to you by Victor and the rest of the team wanting to provide a killer experience. Something that is legendary, something that resonates with the new audience and gives goosebumps to the old school guys. That’s a really cool moment.
We want fathers and sons to play together and to learn and have those experiences. It’s a challenge, but as long as you are honest about what worked and what didn’t, we’ve got access to the guys who built those games. There are lots of lessons their.
What have you learnt about the community and just the general progression of the experience from the Early Access?
Exactly, that has been the intent. You’re in for a real bad time if you are going to run an early access programme and not listen to the feedback. So it’s a humbling experience, honestly the people who are providing the feedback for the most part they are really constructive and they are really honest and they are coming from a place of love. They love this game. We bought the IP, but you will be surprised by reading the boards. You would assume all these people own the product too and that’s the point of early access. It’s cool, we’re down, we gather that feedback and read that feedback. It doesn’t mean it’s hard to read, it doesn’t mean we’re not bummed out that we can’t please everybody. Of course we would love too but that’s not realistic. What we can do and the reason we are in early access is to really build the best product we can and we can not do that without the feedback.
You look at early access one, two and three for us and we pushed to be feature complete, and now what we are doing is to push to deliver on the promise of integrating that feedback. We care a lot, we’ve listened a lot, we want more feedback.
Have you found yourself returning to mechanics from the original game, or were there maybe some older mechanics you felt wouldn’t fit in with today’s audiences?
You have to take into account what making a great 4X game means and you have to look into the pacing. So when you’re talking about how quick can you get into it, or how quick do you get hooked, for me it’s how many turns does it take me before I’m stuck. “Just one more turn Loop”, and then you look up and it’s four in the morning. That was a lot more turns than I really intended. Trying to figure out the pacing for that and do it for the product, we are not focused on this age group and this demographic, this market. This is about the experience to Master of Orion and we know as a company what that means to us, and so that’s what’s inspiring us to bring these features out.
An example perhaps, some of the mid game, late game, tactical battles stuff we’ve got going. We have seen major improvements from early access and it’s been a polarising conversation with the community. Some people love it, some people hate it, some people are like meh. Ok well that’s fine, it’s something that matters to us, the full spectrum, the experience that we are going to have. We have to add all of the parts together to make an incredible experience. That’s what we are after.
Which new features do you feel do a good job of embodying both the old and new of Master of Orion?
We are doing a couple of things better now based on some feedback from early access. Thinking about the balance of the racial traits of the original races. They are a little different than they were in the original game. That’s because they need to be impactful for this version. If you look into the way our technologies are unlocked and researched. That’s a different experience, which works better at a playing user experience level than the original titles.
In the collector’s edition you can literally compare the two, boot Master of Orion 2 and check it out and then boot ours and go. We have made some good decisions there but a lot of that stuff has been inspired by hardcore fans and Victor and the original developers.
Come October is the 20th anniversary of Master of Orion. Are there any big plans that players can look forward too?
20th anniversary is a reason to party for nothing else. I’m hopeful we can do something fantastic for it but I can’t really speak to that. Teasers are good, so that’s where we are at.
Thanks for that chat!