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Master of Orion reboot won't be free-to-play, will incorporate best mechanics from trilogy

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The Master of Orion reboot from Wargaming won't rely on World of Tanks' free-to-play model, but rather will be a fixed retail purchase and download game, the company told Polygon.

"This is strictly a retail download," said Chris Keeling, Wargaming's director of product vision. "It's not Free-to-Play and there's no persistent character or universe. Following the traditional Master of Orion model, we expect most players to be playing solo or over a LAN, but we will provide support for other multiplayer modes."

Earlier this week, Wargaming announced that the classic turn-based strategy game series was getting a reboot. The new Orion game is in development by Argentinian-based NGD Studios, with the help of key members from the original game's team.

Players can expect a revamped user interface, an orchestral score from the original game's composer, voice-overs by well-known actors and new user tutorials, according to the announcement. The game has no release date and is currently only in development for Windows PC, though the company is looking at other platforms for post-launch development.

Wargaming picked up rights to the property back in 2012 during an Atari bankruptcy auction.

"In 2012, the industry was taken a bit off guard when one of the first publishers, Atari, announced they were going out of business," Keeling said. Naturally, everyone, including us, looked to see what classic properties were going to come out of this. While we bid on several interesting IPs, we managed to secure Master of Orion, one of our top choices."

The property was a Wargaming top choice because of the significance the original held for Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi.

"Victor has often told me, as we moved through the development of this game, how Master of Orion was one of the games that helped him learn to use limited resources wisely, plan for contingencies, and create a comprehensive strategy that moved toward achievable goals," Keeling said. "It also showed him how and when to roll the dice and take a gamble on success. I think we see this reflected in how he leads Wargaming, balancing his long-term plans with a willingness to take chances to make powerful changes and legendary games."

As soon as the property was purchased the company knew it was going to make a new Orion.

"The only questions were who would make it, how we would make it, and whether we would create an entirely new game — a Master of Orion 4, if you will — or reboot the legend," Keeling said. "We decided to reboot the legend, and I think that was a wise choice. We decided early on to use a studio that had promise, but wasn't widely known, and leverage our own incredible resources to support that studio and lift them up to even greater heights."

The Master of Orion reboot is the first time the company is working with an external studio, Keeling said. They landed on NGD Studios after seeing the prototype the group put together.

"We were very impressed," he said.

Several members of the original team are also acting as consulting advisors on the project.

"This enabled us to keep the soul of the original Master of Orion and gave them an opportunity to help make the game they would have made 20 years ago if they had the resources, technology, and access to all of the improvements in 4X gameplay that have happened in that time," Keeling said.

The reboot will remain true to the original Master of Orion, making sure not to break the storyline in way that would make the sequels no longer make sense. And while the game's core 4X gameplay — explore, expand, exploit and exterminate — remains, the focus of the game has shifted.

Could a Total Annihilation reboot be next?

"We have focused on making the experience less of a spreadsheet juggling exercise and worked on making sure the pacing, balance, and rhythm of the game reflected the best qualities of the original," Keeling said. "We, as players, always want to be telling ourselves 'just one more turn to see how this turns out ... ' until we discover we've been happily playing for hours."

While the story and basic gameplay are relatively untouched, it sounds like the mechanics may be getting an upgrade in an interesting way.

"We focused on the story of the original Master of Orion, but we took the best game mechanics from each game to create a new version that incorporates the most interesting features of all of them," Keeling said. "One of our core design pillars has been to keep the game approachable and fun, and not make players constantly balance numbers, so while we have simplified the interface and made it easier to keep an eye on what you're doing, the depth and breadth of the original is there, and in some cases we've even added more meaningful decisions."

Master of Orion is a step in a new direction for Wargaming. While the company got its start making turn-based games, this is the first time they are publishing a game they didn't make.

And it sounds like it might not be the last.

Wargaming acquired the rights to Total Annihilation at the same time they picked up the Master of Orion rights.

When asked what Wargaming's current plans are for Total Annihilation, Keeling responded:

"Secret. They are secret plans. Shhh!"

He also said that he hopes that Wargaming's renewed interest in turn-based games could lead to a similar sort of game for World of Tanks.

"I hope so!" he said, when asked. "Besides the PC and console versions of World of Tanks, we already have the mobile Blitz version and the Generals online collectible card game. Who knows what else we might come up with?"

Keeling also said he hopes the new Master of Orion could have an impact on the 4X genre.

"We're pushing the genre even farther forward with Master of Orion! We're rebooting it with the full understanding of the advances in gameplay and design that have made each generation of 4X games surpass the last. We believe that this Master of Orion will be as legendary as the first one, propelling the resurgence of 4X games into the future."