Master of Orion in all its forms is a strategy game where you start off on one planet as a race with certain characteristics and spread out through the galaxy, expanding your empire and power base by settlement, diplomacy, research, and war. It belongs to the same group of games as Civilizationor Call to Power. MOO3 breaks the traditional mold of strategy game playby giving the player a very high-level interface that by default delegates the tasks of deciding which ships and infrastructure to build to AIs. The player is still able to dive down and micro manage if he chooses, leading to an "onion"-style interface that is associated with a rather steep learning curve. Even players who have come to love the game report being enormously frustrated and confused in the first few hours while they were getting their brain wrapped around the new concepts.
MOO3 in its original release has three types of major issues:
1. Obvious bugs. Example: After a planet has been marked for colonization, the AI will start sending colony ships until the colony is actually established. This means that if it takes time for the first ship to get to its destination, the AI will send more colony ships than needed. The excess ships will then just sit uselessly in orbit. In other words, the AI doesn't remember that it has sent a ship, and wastes time and resources by sending an endless stream of more ships.
2. Game play issues. Example: The production of troop transports is separate from the assembly of ground troops. The AI will happily produce transport ships in great number and even let you send them around the galaxy as part of a combat task force, even if they are completely empty, even if you don't actually own ground troops, and without any warning.
3. Threadbare documentation. Example: The Geodic race is silicon-based lifeform that does not require the usual production of food. However, the game still lets you set a whole host of "bioharvest" factors for the Geodics without explaining what these mean in their case, if there is difference between mining and bioharvest for this race, and what effect the biological science research advances have.
None of the problems are true show stoppers. The game is actually very playable and rather enjoyable once the initial learning phase has passed. This, in fact, probably just makes the impact of the current problems worse: Its hard to believe that Quicksilver was not aware of such a very noticeable and major bug such as the colony ship problem or the woefully inadequate documentation before release. A lot of this frustration and the bad blood it has produced in Infogrames' game forums could have been nipped in the bud with a quick patch fixing the most obvious problems.
Instead, the developers have given no date for even preliminary fixes -- there is talk of "weeks" -- but instead say they are concentrating on the documentation. There is no question that an enormous amount work remains to be done in that department. However, this leaves the actual game in its current buggy state and will just prompt people who have bought it to tell their friends that MOO3 is, in fact, "banana software" -- it ripens after you bought it -- and that they should avoid it till the patches come out.
Given that MOO3 had to be pressed on CD, packaged, shipped all over the world, and distributed amongst vendors, Quicksilver would seem to have had days, if not weeks to provide a patch that addresses at least the most glaring problems. Forcing customers to wait what could be months adds to the general frustration and giving the impression that Infogrames is not doing all in its power to address these issues, but would rather hush them up to sell more boxes.
Adding to this impression is a major communication problem. Trying to get feedback to the developers of the game has been made hard to the point of being an exercise in frustration tolerance, cutting them off from the most natural source of bug reports and enhancement suggestions. There is no way of sending feedback from inside the game itself; there is no email address mentioned in the documentation; there seems to be no web interface for feedback items. The only way to make bugs known to the company apart from maybe writing a letter or phoning them is to take part in forum discussions on the Infogrames web site. However, to post in the forum, you need to register with the company, and the sheer amount of spam, trolling, and other noise makes it seem doubtful that the developers could find the time to pick out the legitimate postings even if they wanted to.
The little documentation that is provided with the game shows that Quicksilver has grossly misjudged who their target audience is. MOO3 is a game that has a depth and complexity that will appeal to hard core strategy fans. The developers themselves seem to have realized this when they decided to keep the graphics to a bare functional minimum rather than providing eye candy so beloved with the point-and-shoot crowd. Anybody interested in a complex game and willing to climb the learning curve wants to know the details of how the galaxy works -- like, how is mining affected in percent of output if I am playing a Geodic race, am on a mineral rich planet with deep core mining and have a unification government? The handbook and the on-line encyclopedia both are too superficial to be satisfying. Since MOO3's "onion" interface is new, far more documentation then the rote cute background story that takes up about half the space in the manual and the superficial game play introduction is required.
The release of MOO3 will probably go down in history as one of the better examples of a great software product that was ruined by managers and marketing droids. Quicksilver's programmers have created an innovative, fascinating, and possibly ground breaking new strategy game with a scope well worthy of its predecessors. However, it is becoming apparent that the managers in charge, faced with the usual pressure to get the game to market, lost their nerve and released it long before the shakedown phasewas complete. Now, by not fixing the most glaring mistakes promptly and by making feedback next to impossible, they are alienating the original MOO2 fan base and rapidly giving the game a reputation as a bug-ridden, badly tweaked failure that threatens not only to destroy the proud franchise the game's name stands for, but also severely limit their sales on the long run.
This is a fate that no good game deserves; the fact that MOO3 had the potential to be truely great makes it a tragedy.