Ultima Game Developer: Crafting

Goblin Blacksmith


Crafting in role-playing games tends to go one of three ways. Too often it is all performed “off-screen” by NPCs, which then sell the results to the player. Some, like in the Ultima series, make combinations for all items that can be created that work the same every time, assuming the correct steps are followed. Finally, there are some games in which crafting skills must be learned and honed, so that in addition to the right ingredients in the right order, you must be skilled enough to succeed, and either do so or fail based on your rank in that skill.

When you design a game, determine what type of item creation you will allow. If you character can forge their own swords using rare and mystical ingredients, with very little guidance, then they will likely want to bake bread, enchant a magic shield, and brew their own beer as well. Each thing that is added increases the interactivity of the world, and the difficulty of a well-constructed game.

Whether you use a skill system or not, think about whether the player should always succeed. In Ultima VII, the Avatar has the opportunity to visit the Isle of Fire, and create the Black Sword, also known as Arcadion, or the Shade Blade. To do so, he must trick the daemon Arcadion into an ether gem, which he recovers from a neigh-indestructable dragon, and forge a sword from pieces of blackrock by properly heating the blade in magical fire and beating it with a summoned hammer. After quenching the blade, the gem was set into the pommel, giving life to the powerful artifact. If any part of this was performed incorrectly, it must be redone. For such a heroic feat, making it impossible to fail completely can be understood. However, the Avatar can also create loaves of bread from flour all day, never burning any. While the mechanics of this can be understood, it makes it seem less realistic. The Avatar also does not show any training in either profession, yet can perform both admirably.

If Ultima VII were produced using the Ultima Online skill system, it is likely that the Avatar would need to work on his Blacksmithy skill before he could attempt the forging of the Shade Blade, but if he failed the pieces would be returned to him for another attempt. If he failed his Cooking check for bread, however, the flour would be wasted and the bread lost. Using such a skill system is the focus of another Ultima Game Developer post.

For an Ultima-style game, the “do anything” model from Ultima VII is probably the best to use for single-player games, although you could consider adding a chance of failure to any attempt. Just remember that if an important combine fails, the player needs to have a recovery option. On the other hand, a social or massively multiplayer game might benefit from a full skill system, where crafting increases the diversity and opportunities for player interaction.

Browncoat Jayson

Join me in New Britannia!

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6 Responses

  1. If I ever come into a large amount of money to fund a game (hopefully within a year from now), the first thing I’ll buy will be a shitload of carrots to entice you with. Your mind seems to be in the right place as far as what I value in games is concerned.

    I’d be interested to know what your idea of the “perfect Ultima” would be. I like chains of actions within a reality-based context that create emergent gameplay. A physical simulation with infinite possibilities. And of course swords and magic and things that give you butterflies like noble acts of self sacrifice.

    • Browncoat Jayson says:

      Thank you, Kevin! I’m still a fledgling developer myself, but I’ve been designing games for as long as I can remember. If only I could do it for a living!

      I’d be hard pressed to describe a “perfect Ultima”. The Age of Enlightenment games (Ultima IV-VI) fulfill most of my criteria for a “good game”, and have mostly been updated to modern graphics, added depth to the characters, and gotten rid of some of the redundancy. So, a “new” Ultima, to end all Ultimas, would be an updated version of Ultima IV. I’d create it as a isometric 3D game, with limited multiplayer (optionally linked to social networking, like Facebook and/or Google+) to allow multiple players to seek the virtues. The game world would need to be huge, and full of NPCs like a living world needs to be. Adventurers should be a minority. The wilderness and oceans need to be huge, dangerous, and unexplored. Maps would barely exist, although a good cartography function would fill in the map as you explore. Events which can trigger advancement in the Virtues need to have repercussions; some Virtue choices should oppose one another, while some advance multiples. Magic is rare but powerful, and challenging to learn. Gaining companions would be more than simply finding the right ones, but requiring them to come to trust you, respect you, and you leading by example. While the game would focus on the Quest of the Avatar, there would be room enough for anyone who wanted to take up other pursuits; crafting, fishing, trading, roleplaying, etc. There is no “wrong” way to play, but there is also no way to “grief” other players. You choose who is in “your” version of Britannia (i.e., social network), so its up to you what you have to put up with.

      Now, after that spiel, I’ll confess that this isn’t the game I’m making. My game is set after Ultima IX, and based partially on the opening video/info for UXO: the Avatar and the Guardian have Ascended, and each are part of one entity. While you don’t “have” to follow them, the majority of the plot is based on quests they assign bits of to multiple people, and when the whole arc is complete they can manipulate the world slightly (or sometimes more than slightly). The Avatar is trying to “fix” all of the things he believes have been wrought because of him (i.e., the collapse of the Underworld, the destruction of Ter Mur, the death of the gargoyles, people relying on him instead of following his example, etc), while the Guardian is seeking to reawaken evil (spawning orcs, creating portals for daemons, summoning his Titans, etc). They also quest to stop the other from achieving their results. The only “end” I have for the game so far is simply helping one personality overwhelm the other, so they can complete their goals unopposed, but the players are free to continue indefinitely.

      • We certainly share similar visions. I like the idea about only allowing certain people to play with you. It’s like an MMO, but as you said with a pretty solid anti-griefing mechanism. A private server in effect.

        Pretty interesting story for your game. The idea that you’re player isn’t the Avatar is a breath of fresh air and makes sense since it’s multiplayer, though I suppose anyone could become an Avatar if they worked hard enough at it.

        Is there a site up for your game yet or is it still in planning or pre-alpha?

        • Browncoat Jayson says:

          Its all still in planning. While I have a bunch of stuff I’ve tested, its not committed to anything yet. I’m missing a lot of the basics, like models and textures, so I’m using free versions as placeholders. Plus, UDK hasn’t implemented the Facebook connect yet (though the code is there, so it should be coming in the future). Once its in place, it should be an easy way to create a shared world, assuming the server can handle storing all the settings.

          I’m really leaning toward allowing players to advance far enough to show others the right way to use the Virtues, but not become a new Avatar. No one should be able to exemplify all the Virtues at once. Maybe even letting the game assign them a “fatal flaw” depending on their play style, where you just can’t get that last Virtue rank. Still not sure, there.

          • I think it should be technically possible, but you could certainly make it difficult to stay pure for very long. It was difficult for me in Ultima IV to not lose an eighth regularly.

            One thing to be careful of when planning and executing a project are art assets. When I was doing my Ultima V TES3 mod years ago, asset production killed the project. There was no way in hell I would have had the time or skill to model and texture that many objects, much less animate them well.

            That’s the reason Sanctimonia has mostly 2D assets and uses photographs for objects; it’s faster.

  1. May 29, 2014

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