Ultima Game Developer: Engines
When the Ultima series was being developed, each game studio had to generate the game engine for their titles separately. In some cases, these engines were used for multiple games by the same studios, as was the case with several Origin games: the Ultima VI engine was used for Savage Empire and Martian Dreams, the Ultima VII engine was used for Serpent Isle, and the Ultima VIII engine was used for both Crusader titles. Today, it is often worth using a mature game engine, and focus on the content rather than meticulously coding and testing games yourself. While you can use an existing Ultima game engine, such as the excellent Exult to create new games, you could also use modern game engies and populate them with Ultima-like assets and gameplay.
Creating an Ultima-inspired game is more than the engine, however. Other posts will focus on some of the things that makes an Ultima game, such as day/night cycles, NPC schedules, crafting, skills, and magic systems. For this post, however, let’s look at some of the current, free-to-use engines which can be used for developing games.
Unreal Development Kit – The Unreal engine has powered several of the most popular first person shooters of all time, and UDK now allows you to use an updated version of the Unreal 3 engine for free. Using this engine, you can create any type of game, and release it for all to play. However, if you make money from your game, you must pay royalties when your revenue exceeds $250,000. UDK can be used to create games for the PC, Mac or iOS device. Unreal 3 was recently ported to Flash by Epic, so it is expected that UDK will eventually allow the creation of Flash games as well.
CryENGINE 3 SDK – This is the engine that powered Crysis 2, and is available for free to create your own games and learn about game development. While you can use this engine for free, you can NOT release any completed content without a paid license.
Unity – The Unity Game Development Tool is a powerful engine that can create game content for all platforms – PC, Mac, Web, or mobile.
GameKit – GameKit allows you to create free games using cross-platform engines, such as Ogre, Irrlicht, and Blender models. While all the tools are present, there is a lot of engine work that may need to be done for a specific game type. GameKit is developed using open source software.
TileWorlds – Still under construction, TileWorlds looks to be a ideal medium for creating 2D Ultima-style worlds that play in a browser window.
Back to Roots – This tile-based engine is being designed to play Ultima 4 and 5 style games, as well as handling user-defined files and inputs. Once complete, it should allow users to create classic Ultima-style games.
Nazghul/Haxima – The Nazghul engine mimics the 2D, top-down, turn-based games which followed Ultima. Versions are available for the PC, Mac and Linux. Haxima is a full-featured game included along with Nazghul, both as an example and a fun play.
Ren’Py – Designed as an engine for creating visual novels, Ren’Py can be used to design a wide range of interactive cut-scene like games.
Arx Fatalis – Originally designed as the third Ultima Underworld game, this spiritual successor to the Underworld series released its source code to the public in January 2011, along with its final game patch. While having the entire source code for a game is a huge step, its worth noting that developers will need to be adept at creating content in order to utilize this code.
Doom 3 – The third installment of the quintessential sci-fi FPS game released its source code in November 2011. Like Arx Fatalis, having the code for a full game is a great start, but using it to make your own game is quite a journey.
Exult – The Exult engine has allowed Ultima VII to be played on modern computers, and even been ported to other operating systems. Using Exult Studio, it is possible to create an entirely new game with the same Ultima feel.
Note: The logo above is based on a wallpaper by Anarkhya.
In a similar vein, Ultima VI Online allows Ultima VI to be played as a massively multiplayer online game.
Underworld Adventures – This project was aimed at allowing Ultima Underworld to utilize modern hardware. Although it has been abandoned, it may be possible to pick up this project and start utilizing it to create new adventures.
Ultima Online – The original online Ultima MMO has had a sorted history of server emulation, engine replacements, and third party utilities created over the years. Its own engine has also been used to display entirely new games created by fan developers.
Neverwinter Nights – The original iteration of the Neverwinter Nights engine is a classic modder’s dream, and can handle total conversion as well.
Neverwinter Nights 2 – Obsidian’s landmark game allows developers to perform a total conversion, replacing the underlying Dungeons and Dragons system with their own custom scripts. Should NWN2 become the go-to game for Ultima mod makers? WTF Dragon thinks so!
Dungeon Siege – The Lazarus and the Ultima 6 Project conversions of Dungeon Siege show how well this game engine can be used in Ultima mods, and Project Britannia has ready-to-use assets for future developers. However, the Dungeon Siege game itself is difficult to find, making future projects harder to justify.
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – With the tools for Skyrim, it is only a matter of time before this game becomes a popular conversion platform. Several mods are already available.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – The Oblivion engine is being used to create a total conversion of the game into a Serpent Isle Remake. Much like prior total conversions, the Oblivion game has had several systems revamped and replaced to make way for the Ultima-style gameplay.
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – Similar to Oblivion, the prior incarnation of the Elder Scrolls engine can be utilized for mods and total conversions. The Titans of Ether are using it to create their Ultima IX Redemption game. In addition to the base engine, two projects are seeking to extend the Morrowind engine with improved graphics and features: Project Aedra and OpenMW.
Minecraft – The block worlds come alive in Minecraft, and there have been Ultima-themed Textures released for it!
DOUG the Eagle Dragon’s IRE allows the creation of games in a style similar to Ultima 6.
Adventure Game Studio – Another classic game engine, AGS can create point-and-click adventure games in the style of Sierra classics. While not specifically Ultima-esque, with work a developer could create a very complex game. Professional-quality games have been created using this tool, such as the remakes by AGD Interactive and their own Al Emmo game, and the startup company Wadjet Eye Games who created the Blackwell Series.
Dark Disciples II – A freeware game with a fairly comprehensive editor, DD2 features a Ultima-V style tile world, plus an overland map, inventory, and skill system. The level editor allows you to create an entire campaign, with custom assets; very close to a total conversion.
Worldforge – A Massively Multiplayer Online Gameengine, WorldForge has the potential to allow authors to create an on-line world. MMOs are notoriously difficult to administer without a dedicated team, however, and Ultima has a mixed history with online gamers. However, if you are interested in a Ultima MMO and Ultima Online is not your thing, WorldForge is a great place to start.
This list is still Under Construction. What engines do you prefer to develop in? Let’s update this with all of the best engines for use by potential Ultima game designers.