ORION is a first and third-person shooter/adventure game with role-playing, strategy, education, and puzzle elements created by ORION Interactive Group (OIG). The game was released as a first-ever massive joint title between four independent game developers, which took years of planning, development, coding, and testing.
According to OIG co-founder Dr. Rajad Mohammed, the ORION group was formed because "[...] we wanted to create a game that was all games. An experience for every gamer at every stage of their play. We wanted [ORION] to be the foundation for a new class of games - more than an MMO, more than an FPS: a super-game... a metagame," and that "[we] just needed the manpower and resources of a conglomerate with the flexibility and modularity of a couple of guys pulling an all-nighter in their dorm."
ORION is a fictional life ship, one of many, which was set to travel in the direction of Orion's Belt with the vast majority of its crew in cryosleep. A generational skeleton crew (about the size of a large city) are kept awake to monitor the rest of the crew and the status of the ship's Artificial Intelligence, also named "Orion." Long-range scans indicate that the leftmost star in Orion's Belt, Mintaka, contains three previously undetected planets, which may be viable for human life. A minor course correction is made, with Mintaka as the new destination. Upon arriving, the crew is awoken and re-acclimated to life outside of their tanks. Much of the crew has massive memory loss, which was an expected side effect of cryosleep, though for most the damage exceeds estimates. Mintaka, a binary star system, is exceedingly bright, with a binary eclipse every 6 days. Miraculously, two of the planets are habitable, while the other has no atmosphere, but is rich in iron and other metals. One of the planets, dubbed Mintaka Prime, is several times the size of Earth and features algae and moss-like growth around water filled impact craters. The smaller planet, Mintaka Beta, has rudimentary plants and is over 50% covered with water, but is slightly smaller than Earth.
The game itself takes place several hundred years after the arrival of the Orion and the establishment of a human presence in Mintaka. Several close-knit cities have already sprung up between both habitable planets, with sparse but constant trade between them. The uninhabitable planet, named Mintaka Omega, is the site of a rudimentary exploration and mining operation. In what is later referred to as "The Event", and featured in an opening cinematic, an exploration team on Mintaka Prime stumbles upon pre-built architecture in the northern pole, far older than even the plant life present on the planet. An unfortunate accident causes one of the scientists to activate a control panel, which brings the architecture to life. A tremendous eroded iron tower rises from the snow and rock just on the horizon, reaching up into the sky. At the same time, a similar mechanism activates at the other pole. All around the planet, a violent fear-inducing hum assaults the air accompanied by a metallic taste, followed by an unbearably loud snap, then silence.
The primary setting of ORION is hard science fiction, though the player may reduce their playstyle to that of a simple farmer, never seeing anything but the most necessary parts of a futuristic society. The setting has been described as "Real-time Stargate/EVE Online mashup Shadowrun universe with Halo, chess, Myst, StarCraft, Final Fantasy Tactics and SimFarm thrown in where appropriate."
The ORION story progresses in a linear fashion until the player has reached "present day," where they are free to act and work as they please as they watch new events unfold. Story arcs are arranged into chapters of distinct plotlines, though a few central stories and concepts carry through the entire story. Innovatively, each chapter includes stories and variations for a great many decisions the player can make, often changing the entirety of the rest of the story, promoting a great deal of replayability. For example, a player may choose not to engage in the current task, and instead leave to another area. Their previous task remains unresolved, possibly to their detriment, but new ones are available in other areas.
The initial storyline encompassed Chapters 1 and 2, and were shipped with the game. All other arcs are built around historic events that arise naturally as players interact with each other and the environment. According to Francine Maas, Lead Creative Developer, "[the development team] basically just provide a script and a goal to what the players are already doing, with some new twist or catch that throws them in a new direction and keeps things from getting repetitive."
Chapter 1: The Link is Made Edit
The Link Is Made is a short introductory story, bringing the player into the story and teaching them the controls and basic concepts.
Minutes before the Event, the player performs duties according to their chosen profession. Sometime between three and 15 minutes later, the Event occurs, which bestows the player and a handful of others with an Overlay, ghostly images, labels, and words in an alien language they do not understand. Some citizens become inexplicably hostile to those who see the Overlay, which the player must disable or kill in their own defense and in the defense of others. Assembling a group, these gifted meet in a home to discuss their new ability, providing the player with basic information. Soon, another group approaches the house, seeming to have some newly gained knowledge the Event and what has been done to the citizens of Mintaka Prime. They claim to be "Watchers," while the player's group are "Executors," and that they must work together with others called "Makers" and "Keepers" toward some yet unknown purpose. All further information is fuzzy and on the tip of their tongue, but ALL Watchers seem to know the same things at the same time.
Suddenly, one of the Watchers becomes "aware" of something that needs to be done, like a bolt of urgent knowledge out of nowhere. He notifies the group of a "foundational imperative" within a crater to the south. The Executors all notice a new label pop up in their Overlay, seeming to point to the south, and know that they must carry out this task. The Executor group and a few Watchers set out toward their destination, introducing the player to vehicle combat and travel.
The Executor group finds and explores an underground complex, whose hidden doors recently opened because of the Event. The vast complex houses strange machinery and alien weaponry, which the player may use. Enormous lizard-like creatures and smaller swarming flies inhabit the area, blocking many areas with papery nests and webs.
Deep within the structure, a long tunnel leads into a massive natural cavern, in the center of which is a floor-to-ceiling cylinder centered in a gyroscopic set of interconnected circles and a symmetrical web of computers. The Watchers with the group know what it is upon touching it, calling it the "Gateway Node Conduit," insisting that it be activated. Through experimentation, the Conduit is activated, causing a brilliant white light and a radiating cold to emit from within the cylinder. The cylinder begins spinning in its gyro cradle, to the surprise of the group, stopping abruptly in seemingly random orientations every few seconds.
The group returns to the surface to contact the others. Executors can now see differently colored dots in the sky of their Overlay, ranging from white to blue to dark red. One of the lights, a large blue dot, is blinking.
Chapter 2: Second Star to the Right Edit
The Watchers and Executors decide they need to gather the Makers and Keepers into their group before continuing on, knowing that whatever they are or do will be necessary. By this time, a Watcher named August is elected the leader of his group, while the player is the leader of the Executors. August and the player set about finding the Makers and Keepers across the handful of Mintaka Prime cities based on the player's direction and method of preference. During this chapter, an instinctually structured dynamic develops between the Watchers and the Executors, laying a foundation for the Makers and Keepers, as well as the whole story in general. The Watchers become aware of things, relying on the Executors to plan and solve them, like a sniper and their spotter. They meet more of the Watcher and Executor groups in every town they enter, but no sign of Makers or Keepers. One constant is unrelated mentions of citizens who have disappeared in the night, usually one or two per town.
At the last town in their search, the player finds a lead, stating that someone saw their neighbor walking off into the mountains north of the city. Listening to the man speak, a new label appears in the player's Overlay, this one featuring a triangle with three bars extending from its bottom edge. August takes this as a sign, and suggests they follow this new lead.
After traveling some distance, they begin to see a tall cliff ahead, into which is carved a multitude of windows and pillars, of a similar design to that of the Gateway Node Conduit facility. Upon touching the structure, August is suddenly sure they have come to the right place, and begins walking through the facility's high-ceilinged corridors as if it was his own house. At the end of an upward sloping tunnel, an automatic door slides open to reveal impossibly high crater walls rising in the distance. In the center of the crater sits a blackened and dirty tower, "The Forge," with pipes and ducts spewing soot into the sky. Around the tower, neatly arranged rows of squat rectangular warehouses radiate outward to the edges of the central platform.
Inside, a circular room is rimmed with blinking consoles and explosively loud heavy machinery, being diligently tended to by the Makers. They are greeted by the lead Maker, Utger, and told that they know what is needed, and are well on their way to producing it. The Makers all received a subconscious order to man the Forge in the production of equipment needed, not truly knowing what the equipment is, or why. Utger indicates that some of the "previous cycle" may still be usable, directing August and the player to one of the warehouses closest to the tower. Inside, they find newer, updated versions of the weaponry they found in the Node complex, and many devices they could not immediately recognize.
Touching one item, August receives a shocking realization that he must find his own place, begging the player to assist them in getting there. New labels spring into view, accompanied by a circle inside of a circular outline. August and the player notify the nearest town of their status, and make haste toward this new destination.
Chapter 3: Who Watches the Watchers? Edit
Who Watches the Watchers? is currently ongoing, with new events occurring as players progress the story. Many obstacles stand between the player and August's "home", which is a small subterranean orb, that August somehow connects to via an antigravity field sustained in the center. Inside, he slowly begins to remember or understand things that were previously fuzzy, urging the player to help other Watchers find their Listening Posts. More and more information becomes available to the player as they seat the Watchers in their Listening Posts, soon finding that the connected Watchers are acting as a singular mind, sending out psychic messages to others.
According to a recent OIG infographic, 67% of the Watchers are at their Posts. Randomly generated mini events, such as animal stampedes, forest fires, earthquakes, sporting events, and even murder mysteries happen regularly in addition to normal play and scheduled events.
Current Efforts Edit
Once the player has completed the historical events, they may enter into a number of different activities, progressing through separate stories and goals. Granted minimum requirements have been met, the player has access to all activities.
- Farming allows the player to operate a nearly realistic farm, acquiring equipment, seeds, and workers to grow native plants. Several farming unions exist, negotiating trade and pricing based on simulated demand coming from each of the cities. This food may be consumed by players or sold.
- Mining provides Mintaka Prime with needed resources, mined from a variety of locations and types of mines. Mines are dangerous, and place semi-permanent debuffs on the player over time, but can be extremely valuable.
- Fabrication, facilitated by the Makers, allows players to order items and equipment using resources available to them to then use or sell. Fabrication is an ad-hoc process, requiring the creation of individual parts (or as lots), the inventory of which is used by the Makers to suggest possible items to be crafted from them.
- Fishing is similar to farming, but requires much less commitment, time, and money, making it a popular alternative. Aside form sustenance fishing, players may compete in fishing tournaments for trophies.
- Collection brings together a gallery of the rare and interesting items the player has found throughout their journey. Some collectibles include old-world human items, toys, models, cards, stones, gems, alien artifacts, and bullet casings.
- Mintakan Rugby, a simplified version of the contact sport, simulates games of League Rugby, with monthly ladder tournaments between the cities and local pick-up games. In comparison to Rugby, Mintakan Rugby games are typically played much quicker, allowing entire games to be played in 15-30 minutes.
- Labor Unions organize the players toward a single task, usually construction of buildings, the laying of wires and pipes, and repairs. Each city pays its workers according to the work done, and can be a good source of income if the player doesn't mind repetitive work. Most projects are not permanent, but events such as earthquakes and meteor showers can cause permanent, fixable damage. New buildings used in the story are typically contracted out to the Labor Unions, giving players an incentive to do their part in order to usher in the next bit of the story.
Dynamic Mode Selection Edit
Often cited as ORION's most innovative feature is the ability to switch "modes" dynamically. Each mode presents the current situation in the style of a specific genre. While not all scenes and activities feature all modes, most allow at least one alternative except where only one mode is desirable.
The player may choose to switch game types between one or more alternatives per scene, providing many different ways to experience the content. The default mode is that of an FPS Shooter, similar to the Halo franchise; depending on what is taking place, various alternative modes become available, such as real-time strategy, point-and-click, top-down, and stage battle (mimicking combat from older Final Fantasy games). Special modes are available during holidays and events, such as the Bejeweled-like "match 3" mode during the April Fools Day event. Similarly, different game modes may be available for specific tasks, like the in-game Chess-like board game called Command, which is specifically viewed as a three-quarters view board game.
Event Generator Edit
The Event Generator is a continuously evolving artificial intelligence that produces mini events, such as earthquakes and local sporting events, according to complex algorithms weighing player interest, timing, and relevance. The engine is composed of a simplified weather and geological system, a catalogue of animal and plant behaviors, a generic study of human behaviors, and a regulator process heavily influenced by game theory. Memorial dedications spring up in communities affected by disasters, while murders and robberies occur as one would expect in each population. It has been reported that OIG is seeking a dedicated Event Generator team to expand its capabilities and possibilities to even more realistic standards.
ORION features an extensive achievements list, ranging in difficulty. OIG has stated that they are considering putting a reward system in place to take advantage of achievement progress, though no current work has been devoted to it. According to OIG Lead Systems Developer Bryan Okrand, "The achievement system is fully integrated. Every single action has a hook, ready and waiting to be tied to an achievement if we want one there. It's a really nice setup."
Within the game itself is the Command board game, which is similar in many ways to Chess, but executed like a tabletop miniatures game. Each piece has a weapon and the ability to move a set distance, with the goal of capturing the opponent's pieces before they can use their resources to complete their Command Center. Resources are built by the movement of the pieces, and lost as pieces are captured by the opponent. Several boards are set up throughout Mintaka Prime, allowing players to challenge their friends or NPCs.
OIG will be releasing a physical version of the game at the conclusion of Chapter 3, indicating that production has already begun.
The alien language used in the Overlay and throughout Mintaka Prime facilities is a fully fledged language and writing system created by linguist Dr. Mark Abbendis. While not comparable to a natural language, it has expanded since the game's release to nearly 1800 words and a concise grammar. Popularity of the language skyrocketed with the release of Dr. Abendis' Mintakan Language Primer: An ORION Supplement. While the player's character does not yet understand the language, the player can use their knowledge of it to read texts throughout the game, which hint at a long-dead civilization that once operated in this part of space and provide helpful clues.
Several communities for Mintakan speakers have sprung up in universities and the internet, quickly becoming a popular novelty language.== Trivia ==