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Beyond MUDs: Kate Flack on Designing Ultima Forever
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Beyond MUDs: Kate Flack on Designing Ultima Forever

February 8, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

That has deep ramifications in the world, though, because if you've already killed a bunch of things, and then you meet a bunch of NPCs who give you these quests, and you've already done them.

KF: You'd have to factor it into the XP code, yeah.

And also the perception is that the gameplay becomes shorter -- the length of game becomes shorter. Some people feel that is detrimental to the experience. I wouldn't necessarily agree, but…

KF: Sure. But you've got to kill five wolves anyway, right?

Right. So what is your vision for the changes that you have made? You will obviously have to make some changes to the Ultima world.

KF: First of all, obviously, it's a great privilege to get to work on Ultima. It's a huge IP; it's had millions of people play it and some very talented designers work on it. It's a huge pair of shoes to fill. When I came to thinking about the game and I thought about the creative brief that I'd been given to fulfill, I ended up thinking, "Well, I don't want to replace anyone's memories."

We're not here to overwrite the canon; we're not here to change things and say, "Oh, all these memories that you have aren't important." So what we did with Ultima Forever is we set it 21 years after the events of Ultima IV -- so V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX haven't happened yet. We kind of created our own Ultima time stream; we kind of cordoned it off and said, "Okay, this is where we're working, and this is what we're doing."

We did things like -- obviously, the technology is a little bit more sophisticated -- so we can do things like a quest log. We can do things like 3D graphics. We can do maps. All the kinds of things that your modern player expects: more sophisticated UI, not having to remember 27 different function keys, and all those kinds of things.

But from a creative point of view, I think that games reflect the time that they were made, so when you go back and you look at the original interviews with Richard, he talked about it being a reaction to Mothers Against Dungeons & Dragons, a way of saying, "Hey, games can be good."

I think we're at a point now in the game industry where games can be sophisticated, and they can ask sophisticated questions about ethics, because the audience is mature, and is willing to think about more than just killing five wolves.

So I wanted to dig into the interactions between players. You have a multiplayer game, and you have virtues. [With this] you have some really interesting design possibilities that come out. Very often in roleplaying games, when you have the choice to be nice or nasty or whatever, it's about how you treat NPCs, whether you save NPC A or NPC B. Well, we've got that. Our NPCs do ask you for help. You can take quests and make choices; they branch out and all that. But you also have interactions between players.

For example, we have a thing called an honesty box, which is just the Prisoner's Dilemma, where you're adventuring in a dungeon and there's a chest. You open it up, and you have a choice; I can either share this with the group, which means we all have five gold, or I can take it all for myself. Am I willing to steal from my party? My party's not going to know, but what we do is we take away your honesty because you stole. So it's interesting to figure out whether players will on average steal from each other or whether they will on average share. I don't know how it's going to work out, but we will have that metric; we will know.

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Michael Joseph
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"I have never experienced that, but I have always thought it would be possible to have a moment where I really have to make a choice that I care about. But for me it's never occurred. I guess my brain has always just defaulted to whatever good path is offered.... I always presume that the game is created in such a way that I'm not going to be punished for a good deed;"

This reminds me of Heavy Rain where your character is presented with the option of murdering a bad guy to help save his son. Faced with this decision, the player invariably jumps back behind the fourth wall and starts weighing their options in terms of the game and not in terms of the morality or the emotions of the situation. Murdering the bad guy makes you feel like you would be losing the game somewhat or otherwise not playing as perfectly as you could.

Perhaps this is one of the problems with heavy handed narrative games where the player is asked to be someone else rather than to be what they want to be. It's counter intuitive perhaps that being asked to role play a character that is designed for you makes it harder to role play. You just end up trying to do things that stays true to the character. The character never really becomes an extension of yourself or an alter ego.

In other words, playing a character is not the same as role playing. I think it goes back to what Tadhg Kelly was saying in his excellent article.

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Michael Mullins
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I am so very very ready for design like this. It's nice in some ways to have diminishing ROI for pure technical advances and to have re-ignition of design concepts from the 80s and 90s. We're finally giving ourselves (players, developers, the whole community) permission to begin iterating and thinking deeply about all these unfinished threads. I'm excited.

Carsten Germer
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I love concepts like virtues, positive/negative reinforcement etc. in multiplayer games. Being a fan of "Ultima" from thee olden times, I always thought this is one thing that distinguishes the series.
Trying to implement mechanics and consequences like this in a multiplayer environment, though ... just from the description in this interview I see possibilities of loops an holes. Players will try to exploit every mechanic to find an optimal strategy, even if it's not "fair".
I am looking forward to see how it will be done in Ultima Forever, sign me up ;-)

Joshua Darlington
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Virtue as one metric? - Or something like Spenser's Faerie Queene?

"A letter written by Spenser to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1590[3] contains a preface for The Faerie Queene, in which Spenser describes the allegorical presentation of virtues through Arthurian knights in the mythical "Faerieland". Presented as a preface to the epic in most published editions, this letter outlines plans for 24 books: 12 based each on a different knight who exemplified one of 12 "private virtues", and a possible 12 more centered on King Arthur displaying 12 "public virtues". Spenser names Aristotle as his source for these virtues, although the influence of Thomas Aquinas can be observed as well. It is impossible to predict what the work would have looked like had Spenser lived to complete it, since the reliability of the predictions made in his letter to Raleigh is not absolute, as numerous divergences from that scheme emerged as early as 1590, in the first Faerie Queene publication.

In addition to these six virtues, the Letter to Raleigh suggests that Arthur represents the virtue of Magnificence, which ("according to Aristotle and the rest") is "the perfection of all the rest, and conteineth in it them all"; and that the Faerie Queene herself represents Glory (hence her name, Gloriana). The unfinished seventh book (the Cantos of Mutability), appears to have represented the virtue of "constancy.""