Ultima Game Developer: Morality
The Ultima series assumes that you are a good character; after all, you are the one to complete the Quest of the Avatar and become the epitome of virtue. Some games in the series have a way of keeping track of your virtual morality, in the form of Karma.
Karma is an “invisible” statistic, intrinsically part of your character but not something that you can see on any view in the game. This value is arbitrary, to an extent, in that it only records actions that would greatly help or harm other’s views of the character.
Only in Ultima IV was Karma measured much closer. Each Virtue had its own Karma rating, and as you advanced through the various Virtues their ratings improved. Hawkwind the Seer was the only character who could reveal how far along the path of the Virtues you had traveled.
Adding a mortality tracking system allows you to keep track of your player’s Karma, and have various effects within your game.
Good or Evil
There are several games now that keep track of your actions, and change the plot to suit the player’s motivation. Is it possible to track “Negative Karma” in your game? Should you?
- “If you send someone to save the world, make sure they like it the way it is.” –XXX
Allowing “evil” characters is certainly possible, but doing so makes an assumption about the type of game you are creating. Evil characters do not have motivations that lead them to defeat the evil wizard, or seek enlightenment.
- “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” –The Dark Knight
Now, if you’re set to allow evil characters, then you have more than doubled your work. There will invariably be things that only “good” characters will do, and only things “evil” characters will do, and likely a bunch that could go either way. Additionally, you can’t ignore players who will straddle that “shades of grey” middle ground, never engaging in the enlightenment aspect nor maniacal slaughterfest that you’ve designed.
Karma is a good single indicator of good/evil, and can be maintained fairly easily by applying standard modifiers based on certain actions. For example, slaying an orc who is terrorizing a man might add 5 karma. Slaying a helpless villager might subtract 10. These can easily be added to most monsters and NPCs, so they automatically count toward the player’s total. Other actions, such as completing a quest, can have karma modifiers as well, each coded specifically for that case.
How else can you track player actions?
Some games use a Fame tracker, where positive fame causes NPCs to become more receptive to the player and can affect what they can do in a given area. A negative infamy, on the other hand, will cause NPCs to hide, not provide quests or clues, or charge more for a service than they normally would. This can be tied to Karma, or simply be a number that indicates whether someone has heard of the character, and basing their reaction to the player’s Karma.
Fame often brings to mind my search in Ultima VI for the humblest man in New Magincia. One of the characters said something like “He is the most humble man I’ve ever heard of!”, to which my friend and I blurted “Well, he’s not very good at it then!” Being famous and humble would be a tricky task indeed. It’s probably a good thing they didn’t track humility values for the Avatar after Ultima IV…
Other games track how many instances of “criminal” activity you engage in, and when that number gets too high, the NPCs respond by running and calling for the guards. Ultima itself has some of this type of behavior. This is most often done to dissuade evil characters and actions, but if the guards can be bested (either by running, ala the Age of Darkness) or defeated, it may allow a way for dark characters to advance.
Ultima provides a built-in way for you to steer characters to the path you want. The Virtues guide Britannians toward enlightenment, but some groups oppose the Virtues and their champions. Erstam led survivors of Sosaria to the Serpent Isle, seeking to escape “Beast British” and his enslaving “virtues”. Similar reasons could be given for any anti-virtue group that the player may join, start, or overthrow.
So how will you implement morality in your game?