With Master of Orion’s rich space opera setting, Kelsey Howard, Lore Master, discusses the evolution of lore through the series and how the past shaped the future of the game.
Kelsey Howard about The Lore of Master of Orion: The lore has always been a grounding element for the development of the updated game. As Master of Orion evolved, so did our ability to give more depth and life to the races and worlds of the game universe. We started with the seeds given to us by the original development team and were able to continue their legacy in a way that strives to find clear path between the predecessors and the game we have now.
With the original game, the lore was mostly contained in brief paragraphs found in the instructional booklet. When I first played the early Master of Orion games, I printed the manuals and consulted them carefully as I tried to navigate my way through the depth of the 4X genre. Navigational notes scribbled in the margins, the manual guided me through the dense and rich gameplay. The manual was also my first encounter with background on the races I would later become so familiar with.
From pure Imagination to a vast Lore
The game and the manual both left much to the imagination – we got the headlines and bullet points of an empire’s strengths and weaknesses, but not much more. The cast of the space opera was there, but they didn’t have many lines. The races followed the guidelines of accepted archetypes and stereotypes; the gruff bears, the physically weak scientists, the charismatic humans. While our background on them was not detailed, they somehow felt familiar enough that players intrinsically understood what each race came to represent.
The original Master of Orion was done on a small budget and a tight deadline. They may not have had the time to devote resources to going as deep into the lore as they may have liked, but the foundations they set were stable enough to last for decades.
The idea of the player constructing and living within their own space opera carried on to Master of Orion II: Battle for Antares. The aggressive and terrifying face of the Antarans stares back at the players from cover, threatening their civilizations and empires from the darkness. More questions in the lore, more unexplained faces from the darkness of space.
As the Master of Orion series evolved over time, the races have remained as a familiar core for the players. The races are how we interact with the game – they are how we negotiate, explore, and battle in this created universe. They give us the means to make sense of the universe we have been dropped into. The races also represent facets of ourselves that we want to bring into our game: from the diplomatic Humans, the headstrong Sakkra, the elusive Darlok – the defining factors of these totally alien races are still traits that we recognize and identify with.
Updating the game and the races was something we approached with a lot of thought and care. We wanted to preserve the familiar while expanding on the races in a way that the series had not done before. All of the pieces and clues we were given by the original games became the framework for what we have today. The past of Master of Orion has not so much shaped the future as it continues to be the frame that we continue to build the lore off of.
Making Games How did you start out in the gaming industry?
Kelsey Howard I applied for the Research Assistant role at Wargaming almost three years ago. I turned that role into my current one over time and have never looked back! Wargaming is my first job out of college, actually. I studied English Writing and Rhetoric in school, focusing heavily in fiction and interactive narratives. I always knew that this is what I wanted to do and was lucky enough to find an opportunity so quickly after graduation.
Making Games Where does the passion for Master of Orion come from?
Kelsey Howard Science fiction has always been a passion of mine and coming across such a rich IP like Master of Orion has been a dream. It’s been a fantastic experience working so closely with the diverse races of the game. It was a blast to take these races which have been around for over 20 years and breathe new life into them.
»The Master of Orion series is about as old as I am.«
Making Games How does it feel to find quite a few people who share your passion?
Kelsey Howard It’s always a bit intimidating, but very cool. I feel like I am still learning so much about my work and the industry itself. Finding people who share the same dreams and passions as me is a constant reminder of how amazing this experience has been.
Making Games How does it feel to go from being a fan to becoming a part of the team that reimagine your favorite game?
Kelsey Howard The Master of Orion series is about as old as I am, so there was a lot of pressure and responsibility that went into respecting the existing property. I had always known about the game in a very distant way as one of the great old school games that helped define the genre of 4X. Being able to play the old game and be a part of the new version at the same time was a bit of a surreal experience. In a lot of ways, we were running full speed ahead while constantly looking over our shoulder.
Making Games What was it like working with NGD Studios?
Kelsey Howard NGD has been amazing through the whole process. They are a team that has been working so hard to bring something we can all be proud of to the fans. I’m honored to have been able to help them in any way I could!
Making Games Did you have the chance to meet with the original developers?
Kelsey Howard I briefly met them and spoke to them a bit over email. It’s been a huge help to have them around and know where they were coming from all those years ago. The older race development has always been a compass for me as we chart new territory for the races.
Making Games What does your job involve, and what exactly do you do for Master of Orion?
Kelsey Howard I am the Creative Writer behind the majority of content for Master of Orion. It started with writing the story bible that offers all the details on the races that anyone could need; everything from social practices, beliefs, and their dietary preferences. I continued to write the short stories you see online as well as supporting the IP wherever it may go in the future.
Making Games How long did it take to put together a story bible for the new game?
Kelsey Howard The story bible took me about a year to complete, but it is very much a living entity with continued additions as the game moves forward.
Making Games Who did you consult in the lore process of the game?
Kelsey Howard I worked very closely with Chris Keeling and Randy King here in Austin, especially at the beginning. I worked hard to make sure we always remained true to the original games, so I was frequently pulling up the old game manuals as well.
»The story bible took me about a year to complete.«
Making Games What difficulties did you face?
Kelsey Howard The most challenging part of the work was early in the process, back when the concept art was changing pretty quickly and we weren’t 100 percent sure what any race would definitively look like. Managing the lore overall could be challenging as well, as I was constantly updating the story bible to reflect every »canon« decision the devs were making.
At the end of the day, I was getting to bring these races back to life and put a modern spin on them. Coping with the difficulties of development is a lot easier when you genuinely love the work you do.
Making Games Which race is your favorite, and what is your kind of playstyle?
Kelsey Howard I’ve always favored the Darlok – who can resist shapeshifting spies? I also love playing as the Mrrshan and just messing with other races in the game. I played most of my hours early on in the first few builds and I’m looking forward to things slowing down a bit over here so I can sink a few hundred hours into the game.
I usually play with more of a diplomatic/scientific focus, so when I do end up playing with a more military focus I’m always proud of myself. I always feel bad for the civilizations I’m murdering!
Making Games How do you feel now that the game is almost live?
Kelsey Howard It can be a bit strange at times, but I feel really positively that the hard work we have all put in will pay off for the fans. I love being able to continue work on the series with other writing pieces so that the lore of Master of Orion continues to live and breathe even past the launch. However, now that the game is live and players are interacting with the lore, it’s been rewarding to see individual interpretations of the races.
Making Games Do you have any amusing tales to tell from behind the scenes of development?
Kelsey Howard Working with these guys has been an interesting journey, to say the least. I don’t have any specific tale that comes to mind, but working with a team that has a sense of humor has been a huge asset during the tough times.
»Now that the game is live, it’s been rewarding to see individual interpretations of the races.«
Making Games From your contribution to the game, what are you most proud of doing?
Kelsey Howard I love seeing pieces from the story bible reflected in the dialogue of the game. I’m proud of the amount of work put into making the races feel as independent, diverse, and fully contextualized as they are today. Each race stands on their own in the lore and in the game.
Making Games What’s the hardest/most rewarding thing about working on the game?
Kelsey Howard Creative work has its own challenges. It’s subjective, hard to pin a concrete value on, and many people don’t see the benefits of it. I’ve worked hard to prove that good writing not only engages the community, but that it brings more depth to the Master of Orion experience. The most rewarding experience has been with players who enjoy, interact with, and even question the lore.
Interview: Sebastian Weber
About Kelsey Howard
is Lore Master at Wargaming.
Kelsey Howard has been in the video game industry for around two and a half years, working for Wargaming shortly after graduation. Her primary duties are to create and uphold the background lore of Master of Orion. Kelsey also writes most of the fiction on the website, which offers a closer look at the races and worlds of the game.