The original generation of "Master of Orion" era games was a breakthrough for MIM's understanding of the possibilities in computer simulation games. In those first-round science-fiction games, the player plans production without the aid of a market of individual consumers--an essential point of Marxist understanding of the economy.
"Master of Orion 3" (Moo3) is upgraded graphically and in terms of the intelligence of the computer players. As in the new edition of "Galactic Civilization," the alien species played by the computer are three-dimensional and moving. In fact, the brochures for the game include ads for "Civilization" and "Galactic Civilization"--the two games which "Master of Orion 3" is most like.
When it comes to combat, we like that Moo3 is a hard-core strategy game and offers the opportunity not to see any battles while requiring knowledge of their outcomes. This may allow players to concentrate on understanding other facets of the game; albeit, at the cost of sanitizing war, which in any case appears as multi-colored flashes of light blowing up ships, not as gruesome blood and gore.
When the game sets up for the first time, it spews out windows of text to walk the player through playing. At first it seems that this is the most overwhelming game yet, but in the end, the interface is no more complicated than previous games'. It's just that in this case, one will choose to leave much of the heavy calculating to the player's computer assistants, especially in economic and environmental development.
Political choices and strategies
From "Civilization" it appears that "Master of Orion" has borrowed the word "hive" to refer to a society in which "subordinates unfailingly obey commands from their superiors," possibly because the citizens "do not think of themselves in individualistic terms, and hence simply can't oppose their self-interest to the needs of society in general."(p. 90, manual) In "Alpha Centauri" the "Hive" is an obvious slap at the Chinese. One interesting twist that Moo3 adds is that the parameter or variable set for "weight of the government" bearing down on society and the universe is not high in the Hive, because big government is not necessary when everyone follows the orders of a few leaders.
As in prior editions of "Master of Orion," "unification" government is a step up and greatly aids those species able to handle it: "Citizens of a Unification government are conscious of themselves as individuals, but are willing to sacrifice their individual interests about what is best for society, and are willing to sacrifice their individual interests (or lives) should this prove necessary." (p. 91, manual) The Moo3 explanation goes on that: "among individualistic races, only the most idealistic of populations is likely to make it work, and even then Unification will only be an effective system of government as long as the population's zeal holds out." As MIM explained in its party Congress resolutions on this topic, the trick is to have the idealistic write the rules and referee society's economy and politics and design the circumstances that make people more "idealistic."
Species and race
The ideas of the game stem from variations seen in our cultures today. These cultural differences form the basis for wholly different species created in Moo3, a questionable point in the game; although fantasizing about alien species is bound to have some element of projection from our own experiences here on Earth in 2003.
In "Civilization" and other games we often see the bourgeois Liberal assumption that individualism leads to creativity, not the repression of other people's creativity. According to the standard sci-fi game, certain species just have it and some don't, which is fine except when we stop to consider that so many of the species' characteristics derive from national cultures among humyns in 2003. Alligators are less creative than humyns, but these games are often really saying that the Chinese and Japanese are less creative than the Western individualists.
In the Maoist view, scientific productivity and creation stems from opportunities that arise from cooperation. Imperialism holds back much creativity because it allows the full unleashing of creativity only among the privileged minority (20% of the world's population) living off the labor of the rest of the world. Imperialism and its class stratification so profoundly limits creativity that it does not even allow the very poor access to education at all: yet then it calls itself a "creative" system--which it is only in comparison to even more backward systems such as the slave mode of production. The 20% living in the imperialist countries are led to believe they are superior "individuals" when in fact their economic system provides them advantages over the Third World from birth or upon migration to the imperialist countries where the privileged 20% lives by supporting repressive regimes around the world, subverting Third World leaders who stand up for their people and by war for resources as in Iraq.
The historical backdrop of Moo3 is "the drive for territorial expansion" that came about with the end of the "Pax Humanica."(p. 68) How familiar it is to hear that each species claims that it was the rightful ruler of the universe based on ancient history. In addition an entirely new threat arrives in this sector of the universe--a harvester species that consumes all the existing warring and co-existing species. It raises the question of whether even if a species achieves internal harmony and "unification" whether or not there will be antagonistic contradictions at the galactic level. The same "unification" society without galactic competition and survival of the fittest among aliens could be perfectly communist in one set of circumstances but social-imperialist in another circumstance with the mere addition of galactic competition, money and war.
Among the species, there is still money for trade. Hence, while one may plan one's own species's production, there is still a market and corresponding economic competition on the galactic level. That's why we call this game a model of social-imperialism. As in previous games, one may "win" by getting elected ruler of the local universe, by exploration, by attacking certain species or by wiping out everyone else with members of other species surviving only through assimilation into the player's empire. The reviewer did not play out that scenario to the end to see, but in all likelihood we do not get a glimpse of the communist future, just a congratulatory video that ends the game. Given the circumstances it appears that the most favorable outcome possible is election of a unification governed species to the equivalent of being head of the UN of the Orion sector.
In contrast with the Moo3 end game scenarios, MIM continues to hold out the hope that if humyns do encounter galactic competition, that that competition is more advanced, already communist and beyond. Of course, if humyns do explore and find more backward civilizations with slavery, it may be time for just wars of liberation.
The form of government and species chosen affects the economy, but so do the player's directly economic choices. Because there are still empires and money at the galactic level, we are still in the era of social-imperialism in this game. When production is not influenced by competition and war but by needs rationally planned for in production, then we have communism.
Moo3 brings us some new social-imperialist twists. Above all, it is possible to buy off "unrest" as an item in the government budget. Especially in periods of expansion and contention with other species in distant places, this item in the budget is a good idea to succeed as an empire. We are happy to see "unrest" built into the game to the point where entire planets may leave one's empire if rulers allow the unrest to go unchecked.
No Leninist could miss that it is possible to buy off individual planets or even species depending on which planets one chooses to buy off by lowering their tax rates from the norm. In fact, it will be a good idea to reduce tax rates at the beginning of a planet's economic development.
Lest anyone think that the Moo3 view of taxes rests on an overly Liberal bourgeois assumption about the relationship between taxes and economic growth-- as in say "Sim City"--the money for a new planet's development still comes from the overall budget, partly as "gifts to the planets." In other words, players choose to subsidize development where they want: it's not a matter of some individual settlers "making it" somewhere where there are no taxes: attempting such a path by setting certain budget items to zero and not encouraging migration would result in ruin--especially given the other imperialist competitors waiting in the wings to buy off or conquer developing planets.
There is also enslavement in the game; although the player may choose not to take part and may get to vote against it at the galactic level. Players who do use slavery can then set how hard they work their slaves. Whether they have slaves or not, players are told directly that the harder they work the slaves, the shorter their life spans--something we are glad to see included. The game explains that slaves originated in war with captured prisoners, but the origins are not much evident or detailed.
Another strong aspect that is really the core of the game is the link between planet ecology and production. The player or computerized assistants must determine where to set up production based on the environmental characteristics of the various zones on each planet. We consider this aspect of the game to be direct training in materialism.
Although Moo3 definitely shows the limitations of its era and culture, it also shows us an inkling of what is possible. Relative to other computer games, we give this one some moderate approval.