The Great Alpha Consultation

Welcome blog readers! This post is intended to give up-to-date info about the current state of Ultima Ratio Regum and my initial plans, and to let you – wise, well-traveled blog-readers that you are – tell me what features you’re most interested in seeing.

The alpha currently looks like this (click either to enlarge):

Currently, the initial alpha has four key focuses. They are as follows:

- Creatures.

Currently, all creatures in the game, player and AI alike, consist of a large number of body parts – heads, arms, torsos, legs, wings. The system I’m using allows any number of each body part be added to a create – say, three heads for a Hydra, or six arms for a Naga, or eight legs for a giant spider – and the game works things out based on this information, such as: how many legs does it need to walk?; how many weapons can it hold?; and similar. This relates to what counts as a kill – if a creature has one head, it only takes one broken neck or one shattered skull to slay it. More heads means a tougher foe.

By time of release, I hope to have perhaps a dozen different species (with their own subtypes, classes, etc) wandering around the overworld, and, hopefully, in dungeons. Depending on what people say, this variety could be a key focus for the early alphas. However, I am inclined to keep the number of creatures relatively small until you can recruit the intelligent ones and tame the animal ones properly…

- Combat.

Creatures will aim at whichever part of their foe’s body they think is most damaged. The player, on the other hand, has free choice of which body part to aim for, the success of which (as with creatures) is dependent on Dexterity. Body parts are not just “arms” and “legs” and the rest – each breaks down into many smaller component parts. A head, for example, can consist of all or few of: flesh, a skull, horns, eyes, ears, a neck, a jugular, and a windpipe. Damage is handled appropriately – a slashed jugular fountains blood, while total loss of eyes results in blindness. I am uncertain, thus far, how you – and other creatures – can regain lost limbs if they have time to heal themselves after a battle. Anyway – the alpha focus is on the depth of combat involving damage to flesh, damage to bone, damage to body parts, how damage to difference areas affects how you/a creature perform in combat.

You can also pin things to trees with a halberd, or knock them into a river with a battleaxe lodged in their skull, down which their corpses might subsequently float.

- AI.

Creatures will regroup, assess the battlefield, charge, flee, berserk, pick up and drop items, exchange armor, manage their ammunition, and more. A group from the same species fighting in unison will follow the orders of whichever of them is considered the ‘leader’. If not the player, the leader will be the creature they consider the most impressive – this is another potential focus for the alpha. I want to have creatures rising and falling within their own civilizations based on how impressive (or not!) their deeds are. If you are leading a group – recruiting allies has been greatly simplified for this first alpha – you are able to give commands to those under you, who will in turn give commands to their underlings. Again – if people think this sounds like an interesting focus, it’ll get more initial work. AI and army management will nevertheless be a central focus of the game in the long run.

- User Interface.

This is one I want a lot of feedback on. For any complex game – and therefore, any roguelike – a good UI to tell the player everything they need to know quickly and efficiently is vital. In Ultima Ratio Regum, you can view the condition of the body parts and armor of any creature (yourself included) that you investigate using the ‘Query’ function. You also get information about their alignment, faction, species etc, but that’s all in the very early stages. Key mappings cannot currently be changed, but I think they’re all pretty logical (‘e’ for eat, ‘w’ for wield, etc). Still – as the game becomes more complicated, I want to keep the UI as smooth and easy to use as possible.

So, those are the four major points I’m focusing on for the initial release before the end of this year. The initial question, therefore, is – do any of these strike you, reader, as being particularly worthy of initial attention? Which need trialing early? Which can wait? And is there any one of them you think looks the most important? While I hope to get all four to a reasonable standard before the end of the year, one in particular can certainly become the main goal if many people argue for it.

 

Beyond the first release, and those four major goals, there are other objectives. Again – opinions on which of these people want to see first would be great.

 

- Riding.

Currently, you cannot ride anything. Riding will both increase your effective health – since some hits will hit your steed – allow you hit higher off the ground against tall creatures, and potentially allow you to move faster, depending on how I get the speed system worked out. You will obviously be able to ride horses, but also a variety of other creatures you might tame.

- Siege weapons.

Ballistas, catapults, trebuchets galore! Load them with whatever you want; rocks for damage; burning pitch to set things on fire; or the corpses of your foe’s allies to devastate their morale.

- Taming creatures.

Just as intelligent creatures can be recruited, some animals can be tamed. The process will likely involve tracking them down, providing them with corpses or animals to hunt, aiding them, all the while making sure they don’t decide to take a bite out of you. Trying to tame the stronger wild creatures could prove interesting…

- Initial magic.

While basic spells like ‘fireball’ and ‘magic mapping’ will exist – at least, for the time being – I have planned complex systems for necromancy, geomancy, pyromancy and hydromancy. Generalized magic will come first, and the other four will come after. Only certain classes of certain creatures will be able to use magic – it will be a relatively rare, high-level endeavor. At least, beyond those basic spells.

- World generation.

World generation is currently basic. It includes ruins, mountains, land, forest and oceans, but they do not structure themselves in a particularly logical manner. In order to improve this, I think I will significantly need to rework the way maps are stored, which is proving difficult. Anyway – eventually I want both a greater variation in landscape, and a logical progression between deserts and plains, tundra and taiga, etc. Species and their cities will spawn in their appropriate areas.

- Villages.

Villages will be small, contained, and can be ruled by any number of different things – a powerful member of their own species, a member of another species, a worshiped creature who resides nearby, a demonic creature, or anything else. Some villages might contain people secretly practicing necromancy; others might harbor escaped fugitives; others might be under the thumb of a larger empire nearby; or anything else. I will likely implement villages prior to cities, but I’m not certain.

- Cities.

Cities will be few and far between – perhaps only three or four per world generation. They will be large, contain a high number of creatures from their respective species, and be an obvious hub for player activity. In a way, the number of cities can only become higher once a superior map system is resolved which allows me to store much larger worlds.

- Survival.

Whether on your own, in an army, or leading an army, you need food, water, and shelter to survive. The larger the focus, the greater the logistical requirements. Even if you’re on your own, you’ll need a fire to keep warm and ward off creatures; food and water to survive; and ammo, and… everything else an adventurer needs. This will be a big move towards realism, and towards the ‘strategy’ aspect once you get an army up and running.

- Armies.

At first, a player starting a game will be on their own. Then, you can join an existing army and fight in their campaigns. Then, if you survive and rise up the ranks, you can lead an army. This is a big one. As soon as this becomes a little more complex, the easy alpha ability to recruit allies will be removed, and you will instead be able to find a military to enlist in. Or, y’know, don’t, and go around in a band of vagabonds. Whatever takes your fancy.

And so, without further ado, here endeth the consultation. If you want to be kept updated, you can read this weekly devblog, join the Facebook group, the mailing list or follow the game’s twitter at UltimaRegum and be notified the moment the alpha appears!

Coming Monday 17th: Weapons. Lots of weapons.

Coming Monday 24th: Options for a new player, and embarking on your adventure.

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23 thoughts on “The Great Alpha Consultation

  1. Something like Dwarf Fortress’s arena mode would be good for testing combat, groups, morale, and items, but if you want feedback on other things as well, I guess you could put such a mode aside and work on the main mode that implements all the features you want tested. As for UI, I think having the enter button bring up a command menu (Angband style) would be good for beginning players who don’t know all of the commands by heart.

  2. Hmm:

    -I’d say UI is paramount, given that essentially everything else will flow from it as the grand intermediary between the player and your code/assets outright. The sooner it is working as intended along the usual tropes, so much the sooner you can flesh out content and underlying systems in a presentable way. Make sure it plays nice with full screen, larger fonts for those that need/like them, smart use of transparencies so as to not obfuscate the game field, etc. Other things that might be handy to have reckoned early on like Sound support and other such things that stir and tempt the prospective creative players might well also be considerations.

    I’m also curious on the current state of your technical end for the game, as I wonder how that one Python thing I ferreted out on the Rogue Temple forums ended up faring, alongside an apparent slate of issues between 2.7x Python generally stuck in time as ever and the 3.x line seemingly trudging forth while still lacking various legacy ports brought up to functionality.

    -”Creatures will aim at whichever part of their foe’s body they think is most damaged. “—with this part, what happens when they confront the undamaged, just some sort of random assault where, I dunno, a bear decides it absolutely must eat your ankle above all else? Long term, aside from martial mechanics to intelligent races, an “instinctual” one to varying degrees is probably something to give serious consideration to. IE, Wolves trend towards the throat if there is one, as they just flat out “know”, and so forth.

    -Magic and Survival would strike me as the best crop out of “bonus” implementations if/when all else is duly situated beyond a less-than-rickety framework. Each will likely stretch and expose the scope of things in different directions, which will probably give it all a good stress/logical consistency(flow) test in a roundabout way beyond just seeing how many entities you can generate until the FPS becomes worthless.

    For your school/class notions, I’d suggest tracking down some info on a rather brutal old cRPG called Deathlord, as somehow this project’s vibe twangs my understandings of it, as the game was unusually well stocked with various magic classes and the like.

  3. The way how enemies is very important. For example, canines are more likely to bite a human in the throat.

    This army and war idea. It seems epic. Taking part in the destruction of a civilization? Epic! Turning on your commander and assassinating him? Epic and fun! Being taken as a prisoner while fightining against an army with your comrades? Epic and heroic! It’s going to be difficult to handle but if done masterfully, it would be the most fun thing in the game.

    Magic should be rare, in my opinion. I mean in TES:Oblivion, even orcs can cast magic. Learning and succesfully casting a spell should be a lot difficult and rewarding. Enemy spellcasters should be rare too. A bunch of orc berserkers healing themselves over and over again is frustrating.

    A good reputation system is important. In most games people just talk like “wow, you are that guy who killed 3 titans in a row. I’m honored to meet you” and nothing more. I think people should give you gifts, challenge you to duel, attack you with a militia squad, etc, depending on your actions.

    About missing limbs, maybe a dwarf could do some of his steampunk stuff on you and build you a mechanic arm or a magician that can attach limbs to you or something. What about a hook for a hand? Arrrr!

  4. Thanks for the feedback all!

    @ Hoc – I have considered something similar for the first few releases, and I’m still considering it. Half of me thinks it would be useful, but the other half fears it would make some mystery from the game’s mechanics, that I want you to explore : ). I think that’s a good idea for the UI, to have a ‘second route’ to whatever command you’re after. I’ll stick that in asap.

    @ Getter – I’m working on allowing you to fiddle with the size of the screen. I’m probably going to have three different font sizes, and let you pick the size of the window, and the size of the font you use. I’m assuming nobody playing roguelikes is going to be on a tiny screen (and the game fullscreens!) but some ability to change things would be good.

    I’m using 2.7.2 at the moment, and successfully. If 3 becomes compatible with libtcod and a couple of other libraries, I will switch to it, but I plan to stick with 2.7.2 for now. I haven’t really come across any issues with it.

    Good question – I just edited the post to make it clearer. There is still some randomness, but the higher the creature’s Dexterity, the greater the chance of hitting its target. If all is undamaged, most creatures will aim for your torso or your head, unless they’re particularly small and can only reach your legs…

    Agreed – FPS remains high at the moment, but it will obviously drop for large armies. However, since a lot will take place in one ‘turn’ – your attack, the attack hitting you, and any orders you want to give out, etc, that hopefully won’t be a huge issue, and a lot of the under-the-hud stuff can happen between turns while the player is deciding on their move.

    I will hunt down Deathlord at once!

    @ Leatra – agreed on the first point, some creatures will definitely make a bid for certain body parts.

    This is exactly what I’m going for. The building, raising, maintaing, destroying etc of armies (or smaller forces) will be the focus, and hopefully you’ll be able to do everything you just listed! I’m not yet sure whether I’ll let the player join or raise an army first; I guess it depends on which one turns out to be harder…

    Magic is definitely going to be rare – I’m glad people seem to be agreeing on this one. Magic-casters might end up as a crucial part of armies that need protecting.

    I love the duel idea for some creatures. May I steal it?

    As for limbs, a hook is something I will definitely put in! Probably different materials and different methods to make a limb that works in different ways, but it still needs a lot more thought.

    • Perhaps you could make it only available in some sort of debug mode that requires you to edit a cfg file to enable? And in this debug mode, you can provide advanced information to more tech savvy testers.

    • -Good deal on the multiple font sizes—I would also lobby for user-made ones possible and an option alongside some way to incorporate multiple thematically/for utility. Perhaps a good combat log one, good for prose, faction specific—a good way for things to come alive even beyond something like an eventual tileset.

      -Magic as a rarity would work indeed so long as the variety kept the sense of wonder. I liken it to something like the setting of classic Conan doings. It is good to have a sense of the expanding unexplained, such that “Wait, there’s ritual stuff here and not just Wizard/Sorcerer school casting? Espers? Demigods/possessed?” The best kind of magical rarity is that which manifests as personally unique, not like the idiotic D&D situation where you can have 30int/30Wis/30Cha, be max level, and not one time actually cast your own spell yet never questioning how this Melf or Aganazar or whatever legendary being actually managed to come up with a spell.

      • I doubly agree with rare/unique magic, though people should be allowed to start as a caster, if they desire. Imagine starting as a necromancer, and building an army to SHOW THEM ALL.

  5. @ Hoc – Hmm, also a possibility. I guess there’s a difference between how much I want people to ‘understand’ in an alpha and a later version…

    @ Getter – interesting. Hmm. User-made ones are an idea for the far future, I think, but I’ve semi-considered working on more than one font in-game.

    Re: magic, I totally agree. I want a wide variety of magic, but I want to keep it rare, obscure, and hard to master. The idea of ‘personally unique’ magic is pretty much what I’m after – I want spells to differ depending on the species of the caster and all kinds of things.

    @ Koliup – I think you can start as a caster, but it’ll probably be a very tough character to start as. Long recharge times, need for diplomacy, etc. Then again, if you raise enough undead, who really needs diplomacy?

    • -For spell uniqueness and such, well, there is yet another game that might do well to investigate at least a FAQ or so on: Spectral Souls: Resurrection of the Ethereal Empire. It is a rather….janky…. Grand Strategy SRPG originally for the PSP and was oddly one of the very first ports to Android, enhanced and still updated at that. Of the many odd quirks it has going for it, is something of an “inspire/invent” a skill/spell/technique system where there are many disparate parts, elements, conditions, etc that a given character, of many, has to reckon and tinker with to have something personally usable.

      -For a caster start, I’d say to favor subtlety and minor supernatural feats that gain in options and dramatic nature over time versus massive recharge times and the like. Things along the lines of “Huh, that guy is way stronger than he looks, maybe it is that sword? Or maybe…”, some sort of semi-secretive AI routine, minor divinations/enchantments, etc. A Necro start could be more fundamental, with skills in discerning the best targets to kill anatomically, grave robbing capabilities, poisons/acids, initial ritual knowledge that requires a number of living sacrifices… “OK fearless party, wait right here in this curious spot as I’ve something to take care of…”

      In general, to avoid the common trappings, I’d say it good to approach with an anti-timer/Mathletics mindset and more a circumstantial/situational one. If you have to create a spell with an insane recasting rate, well, might as well make it interesting and have another casing only attainable if you find a way to extend your own lifespan beyond the norm or somehow get somebody else willing and able, or enslaved, to cast it for your benefit.

  6. I will also add my vote for armies and magic.

    Just curious- could you create a creature with 4 torsos, and 1 of everything else?

    Another interesting idea for some very high-level magic would be the ability to graft other creatures’ appendages to yourself!

  7. @ Ultima Ratio Regum: I love the duel idea for some creatures. May I steal it? /quote

    Sure! It is an honor to have my idea stolen by such a talented developer for such a promising game :P

    I think player should start as a random guy. Without being a caster or having any combat skills (maybe not even a class). Generals shouldn’t even consider the player when they decide to hire a new cook. But I suppose the majority of players wouldn’t want this.

    In Slaves to Armok: God of Blood, there was a spell that could remove any body part of your victim. You could literally take your enemy’s brain and hold it in your hands by casting a spell.

  8. @ Getter – sounds very interesting, and again, quite like the kind of magic system I think I’m going for. It’s been added to the list of things to check when I actually start putting magic in!

    I think that’s about right re: subtlety, as I don’t think I want fireball spells and stuff like that. Living sacrifices is one option I’ve thought about for you control resurrected creatures (say, x sacrifices to control creature y, based on value of sacrifice and creature); but, again, it’s in the future. But maybe not too far in the future, as there seems to be a fair bit of interest in this here necromancy lark : )

    ‘Limiting’ magic use is, as you mentioned, another consideration. I was thinking along those lines, that magic use might age you, or have other negative effects, but you can offset them. Perhaps Picture-of-Dorian-Gray style…

    @ Ryan – consider the votes cast! I could indeed – it would hop around, and ‘look’ ridiculous, and be almost incapable of combat, but the game would be able to make it spawn. Weirdly, my housemate suggested grafting other limbs to you – I think I’d need to think long and hard about balancing that, and making sure the game doesn’t just turn into “How much of a hideous freak can I become?”. Not that there would be anything wrong with a game of that sort…

    @ Leatra – Thanks for the very kind words! I’m still uncertain about what options you have when you start, but I think you will likely start off the game as a generic pleb; if you want to start off as something rarer, there will be hefty penalties to doing so. Regardless, there’ll be no way to start the game and instantly lead an army. All great Generals were cooks first, after all! As for spells that remove limbs – it’s definitely an option, but would have to be a very, very high-level one…

    • -More on Magic:

      -Good deal. Necromancy can have other tracks as well aside from the usual…ie Not all about becoming a Lich, some may aspire to Vampirism, Lycanthropy, Mummification, a myriad of things pehaps more apt for a Demonology slant or other super-being aligning,etc. Given the requests above for a multi-torso thing, another good angle would be Flesh Golems/Zombie stitching to tinker with, say, 4 armed, 4 hearted, 2 headed, former ally or so now set on rampages and deliberately aimed to be tougher by such considered augmentations.

      -Given you world/terrain plans, a good other aspect to think about Magically is resources outside of the player and tied equal parts to random generation initially on top of exploration with a dash of interjecting as things change over time.. Plagues and Pestilence with a populace, depleting the life force of a dense woodland to grow a desert, blowing up a sacred mountain, corrupting bodies of water—things needed for dramatic, or less dramatic, things with a nigh-global effect, if not at least regional, uncertainty as to who is behind it/the cause, natural segway for Druid types to go on alert, etc.

    • Well, there is always the class/race system but you could use the character background system in your game as well. All the cool devs are doin’ it! Most dungeon-crawlers use class system because who needs a background story if you spend the entire game in a dungeon right? If you are playing a game with procedural generation, background system goes well because every gameplay is unique.

      Player character is an adult and he must have a story! He isn’t created by a computer. He was a child once. Everybody has a story. Did he always had fights with his brother? Bing! +1 to Unarmed Combat. Did he read a lot of books? Bing! +3 to Intelligence, -2 to Strength, -1 to Endurance. Was his father a master thief? +1 to Thieves Guild Reputation, -1 to lawful characters’ attitude towards you and +1 to Dexterity. Okay the last one is an overkill but it sounds cool.

      A game called Liberal Crime Squad applied this system. I think they did it pretty well. It’s simple yet effective. You can create every kind of character. You can check it out here: http://lcs.wikidot.com/questions

      Wow, I was going to write only like 5 sentences. Anyway, just my opinions. I also want to thank you for paying attention to every kind of feedback and comment. I didn’t see comment that you didn’t respond. You deserve the kind words I said.

  9. @ Getter – I think you will definitely be able to use necromancy to ‘create’ creatures like you say, and I’d like some variation beyond an alive/undead dichotomy (like the ones you listed). Rather than having a class of zombies under ‘z’, say, pretty much any creature will be resurrectable (not a real word, but still).

    Interesting thoughts on magic and the map. I have a tentative list of places and things I want to appear randomly on the map, some of which are certainly magic-related (but will remain secret for now). Re: plagues etc – if I have anything like that, it won’t appear until larger worldwide dynamics like territory are established. That shouldn’t be too long after cities are up and running, though…

    @ Leatra – I’m still not sure about how much initial control I want to give the player on making their character. You’ll probably have a wider choice of starting equipment than starting skills. I think. I realy do want to avoid a class system, but since one focus of the game is on ‘making your mark’ in the world, I’m considering some way to generate backgrounds based on the player’s input. Your second paragraph’s much more the kind of thing I’m thinking!

    I’ve seen a few games that give you questions of that sort at the start. I think I’ll let you choose something similar, but maybe explicitly state what stat/skill changes they create. Also, you’re very welcome, and I fully intend to continue the community aspect of URR as best as I can. Some have suggested the need for a forum – maybe once the first alpha is out, one might be needed for bug reports, ideas, etc…

  10. “Coming Monday 24th: Options for a new player, and embarking on your adventure.”

    Does that mean – we’ll get our first playable build on the 24th of October?

  11. @ Lomaster – ah, no, afraid not. Sorry for making that unclear! Don’t even know if I’ll have my coding laptop back by then or not. Hopefully it’ll be a post about the options for a new player and what happens when you start the game, assuming I can get screenshots for it in time…

  12. I know I’m a bit late for this, but I’ve been out of town for a while..

    1. UI really is the most important. A consistent UI especially. Not like DF that has 3 or 4 different menu styles with different ways of navigating them. Uhg.
    Customizable controls would be nice for movement especially.

    2. Other than that my biggest obsession is AI, so that’d what I would request for myself.

    3. I love the idea of rare ritual magic. I can imagine putting in time digging up graves and etching sigils on my character’s skin, and sacrificing a captured demon to raise that first minion! I’m thinking more flesh golems than zombies, because zombies are fodder, you just unleash them in one direction and they’re not intelligent. But I like the necromancy angle as well, I think we’re all fond of it because its not really something players get to do in games.

    4. World generation! Mainly because I can’t figure out a good way of addressing the problem, and I know you’ve already found some sort of a solution and you maps are beautiful.

  13. 1) Yeah, agreed. There are two kinds of menus – letter-based ones for choosing items rapidly (as in, (a), (b), etc), but every other menu is a scrolling list. The latter hugely outweighs the former, but the former only exists for ease of access to very long lists.

    2) Understood! Once worldgen is finished, I’ll be back to AI…

    3) That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m thinking. Unlike more generic/freeform magic that individuals can cast in battles, the ritual ones will be much slower, longer-term, and potentially involving a pantheon of deities…

    4) Wow, thank you! It took quite a bit of figuring out (especially saving/loading, and keeping RAM usage low), but I’m pretty happy with it. Just need to finish what the human-scale map looks like in each square now : )

  14. Hmm. I’ve invented a system for magic much liek what you were talking about, whereby many different objects can be bound together in different orders to produce different effects, based on where they appear in the spell. It’d take an unholy amount fo work to do though, because every type of item would have a use in every “slot” so, the duration, the effect, the power of that effect, the target of the spell etc.
    Sometimes it wouldn’t matter exactly which item went in. If you had a werewolf arm, it’d be much the same as a werewolf leg in some slots, whereas in others it might indicate someting particular to the body part. Much work, but it would give a completely real “language” of magic, which could be learnt and mastered. Having insufficient skill to use a particular spell wouldn’t render it impossible, but you’d cast the spell as if you had parts missing, which would, of couse, be filled randomly on every casting by any of the possible .results for that slot.

  15. That’s exactly my issue – that it would simply become too complex. While magic is only a very long-term goal, I’m thinking of scaling it back a little. I still like the idea of a ‘language’ of magic, but it’ll probably involve fewer items, and more incantations/rituals etc, as that should be easier to program, easier to understand, and less daunting for all involved!

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