Scaring an Orc to death, part 1

Click to see full size. Bloody squares are clear; red ‘^’ symbols denote body parts.

“The Titan picks up the Orc Chieftain and hurls him through the air!”

“The Orc Chieftain hits the wall, and is eviscerated by the impact!”

“The Orc skirmisher screams in horror.”

How did things get to this delicious stage? Let’s take a few steps back, and start a hefty series about MORALE – which is to say, what will encourage your allies to fight to the death for you; your foes to sacrifice themselves defending their cities; creatures to decide, whether to throw their lot in with you, ignore the idiotic adventurer trying to recruit them, or join up and then turn on you when you fail them in battle; and and observers of eviscerated friends to lose their minds in the horrors of war. Oh, the horror.

In Ultima Ratio Regum, the morale system is based firstly upon the kind of brain – if any – each creature has. Creatures are divided into three broad categories based on their intellect, and assigned different behaviors, and interactions with morale, accordingly. The three categories are “brainless“, “animal“, and “intelligent“, in terms of the complexity of the morale functions assigned to them. This first entry will explain a bit about what is meant by each, and the morale understanding each has, before next time moving onto more flowcharts, and a discussion of both the positive and negative modifiers to any creature’s morale.

Brainless – these creatures either have no brain, or their brain is sufficiently primitive that they can think of nothing beyond attacking. Creatures in this category are the rarest, and include zombies, Shoggoths, various creatures in the ‘inhuman’ category, the eusocial creatures in the ‘giant insect’ category, some spirits, some other undead, and a few other things. These creatures will attack their foes unrelentingly no matter how dire the damage to them, and no matter how many limbs they have lost in the process. If you sever both a zombie’s legs or destroy a Shoggoth’s locomotor membrane, it will crawl/slither towards you across the ground; by contrast, any animal or intelligent creature having taken such damage will have given up the fight by then.

Importantly, brainless creatures can still be recruited to your cause by a variety of means, though interacting with them and gaining their favour is obviously not an option.

Animal – animals can respond to half of the morale modifiers in the game: the negative half. Which is to say, they respond just like any intelligent creature when they are injured, or lose a limb, or whatever, and will be slightly damaged by seeing their friends hurt, but their morale is not increased by witnessing the martial triumphs of their allies. Therefore, each individual in a pack of wolves, for example, will fight until it is too badly injured to go on – they may attack as one, but ultimately they care only about their own survival, and will likely fight on if they remain unharmed but their allies are killed.

Animals cannot be ‘recruited’, as such, as but it is possible to tame them. More on precisely how this is done in a later entry – both because it’s fairly complex, and because I haven’t completely worked it out yet.

Intelligent – these creatures have brains, albeit of varying quality, and the capacity to recognize what’s going on in the battle around them. Intelligent creatures respond to both positive and negative morale modifiers – they will be bolstered by seeing their allies succeed, and weakened by seeing their allies hurt. These foes are least likely to fight to the death – though they often will – but will be the most willing to back off, take stock, rally their team-mates and await a better chance to attack you and your allies.

They can be recruited by any number of means, but generally if the faction and species both like you a lot – or you have an organizational/hierarchical position of power – you might be able to get them to follow you.

For the demo/alpha, there will be hopefully a few creatures from each category wandering around the increasingly-large overworld, and any number of the dungeons beneath. If you have any thoughts on the ‘brain’ categories, and if there’s anything that strikes you as particularly stupid/clever about the differences, post below!

Coming Monday: Detail of the morale system, or: how to terrify an Orc into insanity (Part 2).

Coming Friday: Detail of the morale system, or: how to terrify an Orc into insanity (Part 3).


Item properties, and why we need them

Let’s talk a bit about items in games, and how little you can generally do with them. This was intended to  be an entry about the item properties in U.R.R, but I now realise a little bit of abstract discussion is required first in order to explain why I’m trying to model items so realistically, and why I actually care about the melting point of copper and stuff like that. When you contrast items in most games with individuals – the player, enemies, NPCs, whatever – items are almost impossible to do anything with, and you interact with them in a very linear manner. The extreme is obviously point-and-click advantages where the player must somehow work out which one item will connect with which other one item to move them forward, but this is still a strong trend. In the average FPS, the sequence is thus:

You cannot choose to drop a gun – but then, why would you need to? Gordon Freeman can apparently store all his weapons, bazooka included, in the apparently prodigious storage orifices the Hazard Environment Suit has designed, presumably, for this purpose. Or perhaps it’s a flat-pack bazooka and just telescopes somehow to fit in his pocket.

Whatever the cause, there are no more advanced options with the average FPS weapons than displayed above, and excluding keys, keycards, quest items, etc, there aren’t really many other items in FPS games. However, given that – to some extent – I’m making an RPG, let’s look instead at a quick flowchart I put together for weapons – which you can do more with than most items – in a relatively advanced RPG. Were Skyrim out, I’m sure I’d wax lyrical about it instead, but since it isn’t, let’s talk about Oblivion, and look at this flowchart.

This has a lot more to do. Sure, you can’t attack an Orc with a pair of rusty greaves, hack its arm off, pick up its arm and then beat it to death with it before kicking the battered corpse of the Orc out of the pool of its own blood and vomit (which, I feel compelled to point out, you can do in U.R.R) but you can still drop them, repair them, and (nominally) move them about even outside your inventory.

However, all of these actions take place in inventories – which is to say, some of the time the weapon is in your hands, sometimes in the hands of a shopkeeper’s hands, and the only time they are out of your hands are the moments between the slaying of a foe and the looting of its corpse, and there isn’t really anything you can do at this point.

Additionally, these items are generally invincible, except under specific circumstances. Which is to say – if you collect a sword from Oblivion, climb to the top of the tallest mountain, hurl it off the peak, then find it, leave it underwater for a year, then find it again, hurl fireballs at it, jump up and down on it, throw it against a cliff a few thousand times and then look at it again… it will be undamaged. Utterly. However, if you take this same sword and kill a bug with it, the sword will be damaged upon the conclusion of the combat. The weapon only actually functions as you’d expect in a very specific context (though, with that said, it would have to be some flimsy iron that becomes damaged by slicing a bug) and if you do anything outside that context, the item simply remains invincible.

Thus: what can be done to resolve this? To me, items in most games are almost ‘on rails’ – unless you do the specific actions expected, the item behaves as if it simply doesn’t exist at all. I’m hoping to try something different in U.R.R. However you use items – whether you wield that sword against your enemies, or throw it on the floor, or leave it in a fire, or dip it in the ocean, or a large enemy stamps on it, or anything else, the item will respond appropriately. If you leave your armour in the path of a rampaging horde of Titans, you will not have any armour left to come back to. If anyone has any thoughts on the narrow functions of items in games (or any property items should have in U.R.R. I don’t seem to have thought of!), then please leave your thoughts below…

Coming Monday: U.R.R. items: damage to decay, volume to weight, and material to melting point…

Coming Friday: Detail of the morale system, or: how to terrify an Orc into insanity.