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Three Moves Ahead Episode 66: The SimTex Legacy

May 24th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 18 Comments · Podcast, Retro, Three Moves Ahead


Good Old Games has made the classic SimTex games Master of Orion, Master of Orion 2 and Master of Magic available for low, low prices. So Troy, Tom, Bruce and Rob spend an hour talking about what made SimTex special. What do we mean by personality in strategy games? Does the UI hold up? Which of these games has aged the most poorly? When is tactical combat an impediment in a turn based 4x game?

We answer these questions and more in this new analysis of classic game design.

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Troy’s Revisionist History on SimTex
Tom’s Retroview on Master of Orion II
Buy Master of Orion 1 & 2 and Master of Magic at Good Old Games.
Master of Magic Intro


18 Comments so far ↓

  • Patrick

    Looking forward to listening to this. I bought all three of these games as soon as they came out on GoG and was really hoping you guys would talk about them.

    I just read each of the linked articles. As a relatively young strategy gamer its wonderful to learn he history of SimTex. Also, I long for the day when I could be optimistic, like Tom was at the end of his piece, for the potential glory of MOO 3. I also weep for the day it came out and I realized how truly horrible it was.

  • JonathanStrange

    Oh..I thought you said Sir Tech! Bring back Wizardry 8 !

  • Oak

    And make Jagged Alliance 3 while you’re at it.

  • Ilya Belyy

    I was waiting for all this time for you to talk about MoM. I think you only mentioned it a single time (episode 5, IIRC).

    Although I expected you to talk more about its research: randomised CCG-like instead of a standard tech tree. You could pick a magic retort in ruins or from banishing another player, even of a colour you don’t have and spells were added to your research.

    You are totally right about being space fiction or high fantasy games, MoO/MoM have a luxury to introduce a lot more variety than a history-based Total War. It also had more emphasis on the strategic map, but it may be my subjective perception. I just wish for someone to make Total War: Master of Magic.

    Now, I wait patiently for the Stars!2 episode. I also think you mentioned this one only once. Although you do like Dominions that borrows from it, but is far less accessible due to UI.

  • Ian Bowes (spelk)

    The thing I remember most from Master of Magic when I originally bought it, was that it was bundled with a free t-shirt, with the MoM “eyes” logo and text scrawled across the chest. It was also only a Medium size, and I had to try and squeeze a Large body into it. Snug fit. When I paid for it at the game shop, with real money (we used to do that sort of thing in those days), the assistant made a comment about me being a “megalomaniac nerd”. The staff used to abuse the game buying public themdays, as opposed to the overtly cheesy gush fests of commonality you find in the stores these days.

    MoM and MOO were my first foray into strategy gaming from what I can remember. I was instantly hooked on MOO and it was to become a gateway game into many other clones, Ascendancy, Imperium Galactica, Stars! and thousands of others leading to Sins and Armada 2526. MoM however, overwhelmed me possiblities. I don’t think I’d ever come across a game that held so many secrets locked in such an obscure and obtuse box. I struggled with it for a good while, wearing the tight t-shirt with pride for a while, but ultimately never managed to conquer or get to grips with any of it. I still hold it as a dear memory of gaming times gone by. But I’m not sure I can stomach the interface nowadays. I think perhaps we’ll see how Elemental develops and I’ll eagerly await that t-shirt instead. An XXL please.

    Not sure I’m keen on Dominions being the TMA mascot game. It also has a lot of unfathomable depth, but quite possibly one of the worst put together interfaces and hideously animated 2d tactical replays I’ve come across. Slitherine’s early games do 2d combat replays infinitely better. Surely what Dominions needs is someone who has some experience in ergonomics and UI design coupled with someone who has sliver of artistic talent.

    I mean why can’t these monster deep games that programmers assemble come with a wrapping of finesse and usability that a lot of quite clearly inferior designed games get as a matter of course. Its the reason why Vic Davis should channel his gaming ideas through a coder and build his games well away from the prototyping hell of Macromedia. I guess its just a symptom of these strategy games being niche, not enough money to throw a proper team at them.

  • Jon Shafer

    RE to Ian’s last paragraph:

    A big part of the reason why indie devs do a lot of their own programming in unusual tools is because, well, they ENJOY it. :) Even if they HAD a full team they may not want to hand over the work to someone else. Sid Meier is a good example of that. In spite of having lots of resources at his disposal, he still programs all of the game rules and AI (and more) himself. Quirks are often a consequence of the direct control many designer/programmers take with their games, but hey, if they couldn’t do it “their way” and stopped having fun then you wouldn’t get the games at all. :)


  • Punning Pundit

    One of the things I rather like about MoO, and am annoyed that other games haven’t done, is that MoO 2 got logistics _right_. If I have enough food and freighters, I don’t have to worry about actually loading the food onto the freighters and telling them where to go. They just do it. I’m the president, I have to make sure that we’ve got enough of everything. Other people handle the movement.

    The only way the system could be improved is if my freighters showed up on the game map for my opponents to attack. GalCiv 2 does a version of this, but only for inter-empire trade…

  • Chris Floyd

    You asked for topics for classic game retrospectives. Personally, I would love you to look at Impressions city builders, although you had a whole show on city builders awhile back. Of course, next to Civ, XCOM is probably the game most often mentioned in the podcast. A show on why it’s so great seems obvious (I don’t think you’ve already done one).

    But for something more unexpected, what about the Warlords games? There were the RTSes, of course, but I’m also thinking of the turn based games. Are they worthy of being called classics? Not sure, although I know I played a ton of Warlords II.

  • Quinten

    I think a good classic retrospective would be Panzer General. It is something that comes up occasionally (mostly Tom comparing it to Advance Wars). A remake of the original Panzer and Allied General has come out, with the entirety of both games and a better interface: http://panzercentral.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=45039
    It’d be interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts on these games and how they felt about Panzer General 3D and such.

  • Rez

    Great episode! I never played MOO or MoM, but I absolutely loved MOO2, and was crushed when MOO3 turned out to be such a disaster.

    I found the discussion regarding single-player (SP) vs multi-player (MP) 4x games interesting. While I agree that the depth and length of a good 4x game makes it best suited for a SP experience, I find it much more satisfying to go toe-to-toe with a human opponent (or ideally more than one). For that reason I really enjoyed my time with VGA Planets, Stars!, and Space Empires 4 (5 was not as good in my opinion) back in the day, and with Solium Infernum and Civ, more recently. You spoke about the SimTex games having personality, but nothing beats playing with friends who role-play a bit to add to the personality of the game!

    Any chance for a discussion on MP strategy games in general? What makes a good MP game? Is player balance really all that important (I think not)? Are social media sites the key to making long-form MP strategy games viable?

    Regarding Dominions 3: I was introduced to the game through TMA, and the sole reason I started playing it was because of how much personality I saw in the game (awesome manual, by the way). For a time I wrote updates to my friends on how my game was going, and it was very easy to translate the game into an interesting narrative. But none of my friends will touch Dom3 because of the awful interface.

  • Ilya Belyy

    Warlords series (non-RTS) sure are classics. Warlords I was a very influential game, introducing the concept of heroes and their equipment.

    It’s also interesting in differentiation of nations, using the starting locations (the game had only one map), providing different units in capital and nearby castles. When you were conquering a player, you were gradually acquiring specific units from his territory. The sides weren’t equally powerful, yet the game had a local multiplayer mode.

    Also, it was probably the first to introduce vectoring – instant routing of produced units to a distance castle. Although, later games transformed that as automatic GoTo orders, to make newly built armies actually march across the map.

  • doctorfrog

    Here’s an interesting tidbit from someone who didn’t even have a computer when these games were out: I just watched the intro to MoM linked on YouTube. The poorly voice-acted NOOOOOOOO! makes an easter egg appearance on MoO2. Just adjust the volume for sound effects. NOOOOOOOOO!!!!

  • Tony M

    I wish someone had mentioned “Age of Wonders” in this podcast. Its a game that obviously pays homage to Master of Magic, but IMO AoW is a better game.

  • FhnuZoag

    Hmm, what do the panelists think of Sword of the Stars? I think the differences between the races (especially in terms of their drive techs) is very strong there.

  • Nightmare

    I thought it was fascinating hearing Rob talk about these games as a first time player, I wish there had been a bit more of that in the podcast. It is always interesting to hear how an older game stacks up through the eyes of a player new to the games. Not only can we appreciate these classics again through fresh eyes, we can also get a general sense for how far (or not) the genre has come since they came out.

  • MikeO

    Finally had a chance to listen to this one, and reinstalled MOO2. Amazing how good this game still is. Even the interface is pretty good. I really miss complex single player games like this — the Dominions games et al are fantastic, but much more compelling for multiplayer. On the other hand, I was never too fond of MoM…..a friend convinced me to give it another try a few years ago, and I just couldn’t enjoy it. I think it’s a great idea, but not so great in execution.

  • Jacob F

    Great topic, but you were unfair to Master of Magic. To dismiss MOM as uninspired, just “Civ with tactical combat,” is to forget how explosive that “unispired” idea was for strategy gaming in the context of the game’s 1994 release.

    In 1994, Civ 1 was three years old. Colonization came out that year, but wasn’t really a sequel. Emphasized economics, not conquest, and only minor interface and graphical improvements. Gamers were *very* ready for more of Civ’s conquer the world gameplay.

    And wizard creation wasn’t just juggling a few magic books. There were traits, too. And both traits and spell books could *dramatically* affect your strategy. It also made for a different tech tree each time you played.

    And on top of all that – the game had *tactical combat.*

    1994 was the year of turn-based tactical combat on the PC. X-Com. Jagged Alliance. Panzer General. (Steel Panthers a year later.) Marrying Civ-style 4x gameplay to a tactical combat engine may have been simple but it was brillant. I remember being *ravenous* to play MOM after reading a CGW preview.

    Younger gamers who missed out on MOM take note that the younger guy on TMA’s staff who’d just been exposed to the game had nothing but praise for its gameplay. Despite its flaws and its age, MOM has great gameplay and is extremely fun. Old timers should try it again and look for the 2.o fan patch – rebalances many things and eliminates many overpowered strategies.

  • Dirk Knemeyer

    While I thought the panel’s conclusions on the vanishing unique/asymmetrical playing experiences is correct – companies rounded out differences to create equality in multi-player games – that is an incredibly short-sighted design vision. Since most of these games ultimately come down to very precise maths (Civ4 is an obvious example, where everything breaks down to single units relative to hammer, coins, culture, etc.) it would be trivial for a designer to design a lovely asymmetrical playing experience and then simply have an option, which is perhaps default for multi-player, that buffs and nerfs everyone to make them even again. The lack of such an affordance in games today is, frankly, shocking. And to all of our collective detriments I might add!