First off, here are some two-part sigils. The coats of arms are now all but finished, and just one more day is needed before I’ll be done with them and moving on to generating ruling families and civilization histories. There’s about a dozen potential components to these sigils and, as with all the others, any given symbol cannot be repeated more than once in the same world gen.
But now onto the crux of this entry. Recently I’ve had a few questions about the long-term plot and direction of Ultima Ratio Regum. Many have noticed – rightly – that 99% of what has been implemented in the game so far is best termed as world-building. Ziggurats are the only “gameplay” that has yet been developed, but they are obviously in their very early stages and lacking a large number of features. A few people have asked – what is the plot of the game? What will the gameplay actually look like? What kind of structure will the game possess in terms of advancement, leveling, and so forth? I’m therefore going to answer some of those questions. Some of them, however, I’ll be keeping secret, and some will be partial answers, since a large part of the game is going to be around uncovering what exactly there is in the game, how to decipher languages, gain access to new areas, find artifacts, and so forth. This entry is therefore going to let you know a bit about the structure, and some hints towards what some of the areas are, and what the overall “arc” of the story and the game are.
The game will consist of nine central dungeons, located in broadly random positions around the world map. Three of them will be “easy”, three reasonably tricky, and three very, very challenging. As long-time readers of this blog will know, Ultima Ratio Regum is not just intended to be a game which is difficult in a game-mechanics sense like other roguelikes – which require you to understand the game’s systems, think tactically about your choices, and balance large numbers of different factors – but also a game that will require the player to think hard about puzzles, riddles, cryptographic languages, and a number of other delicious secrets I’m not going to share yet. Although permadeath, each game is likely to last longer than a game of traditional dungeon-crawling roguelikes, and a significant portion of the game is coming to understand the world intellectually, not just learning how to defeat it mechanically. Much of the world building is important in this regard – noble family mottos might contain clues, for example, whilst city districts might harbour cults that can help you with particular dungeons or distant cities might contain trade routes that help you easily move between them.
The game plan roughly divides into four blocks as shown below. The first block which we’re a good 50%+ through now is the world-building block. This block is coming first because as I’ve developed the game it has become clear it needs to be done in this order. How can NPCs spawn in dungeons without a civ for them to belong to? How can there be any use to money and loot if there’s nobody to trade with? How can you survive for any length of time without people to buy healing items from? Not to mention the fact that a number of the plot details of the world need there to be civilizations in existence that can be affected by your actions in the nine central dungeons. Something I’m going to be announcing later in the year (think around May/June time) once I’ve finished my doctorate might mean Block 1 might be finished in the space of just a year rather than at the current pace (part-timing is tricky), but Block 1 is going to be the priority until the main five points highlighted below are finished. Once “the world” is in place, I’ll then be moving onto Block 2, containing the three easiest dungeons, and also the end-game dungeon. The game will therefore be winnable upon the completion of Block 2. Blocks 3 and 4 are for those of us who like going after our 15 Runes in DCSS, the toughest endings in ADOM and the conducts in Nethack.
Block 1: World-Building
– Town/Village/City Building Interiors
– NPCs, Schedules, Occupations, Conversations.
– Trade, Markets, Shops, Coinage, Mountain/Sea Travel
– Weapons, Armour, Shields, Ammunition, etc
– Combat mechanics, Move Sets, Skills, Stamina.
Block 2: The Early Game
– Dungeon 1, Ziggurats (three small structures, tropics, traps, riddle puzzles)
– Dungeon 2, (one large structure)
– Dungeon 3, Saal’s Cage (one large location)
– End-Game Dungeon
Block 3: The Mid Game
– Dungeon 4, (three small structures)
– Dungeon 5, The Garden of Forking Paths, (one large location)
– Dungeon 6, (one large structure)
Block 4: The End Game
– Dungeon 7, (three small structures)
– Dungeon 8, The Cog of the World (one large location)
– Dungeon 9, (one large structure)
As above, the model of the game is going to be akin to that of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (I do know what all nine areas are going to be, I just don’t want to reveal/name them all yet). Once you complete any three dungeons, of which naturally the three early-game dungeons are the easiest, you will gain access to the end-game dungeon (akin to the Realm of Zot). You can complete the game there… or keep playing, for the end-game dungeon will serve a purpose that is not just “the final dungeon”, but rather the actions you take there will affect the outside world as well and potentially aid your quest to complete all nine areas. Once you unlock the end-game dungeon, which will happen upon clearing three dungeons, you can close out the game or continue playing to try and seek out a higher-scoring victory. I haven’t even begun to think about the scoring system yet, but it will be very clear how many of the nine dungeons have been cleared when a player completes the game.
I’m also going to say a little about the story. The three primary inspirations for the story are Neal Stephenson, Umberto Eco and most importantly Jorge Borges. The core of the game’s story is basically an exploration of reality – to what extent is reality fixed, and to what extent is it contingent on our beliefs? Is there an external reality or is the universe just what we all “agree” it is? This is particularly relevant when considering Borges’ short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius which is a key inspiration for the game. In the tale a kind of “conspiracy” of intellectuals seek to change what we hold reality to be by imagining a new world that is roughly contiguous with the existing one but with many distinct differences, and that by replacing all records of this world with records of that currently “fictional” world, that world will “become” this – the consensus will be that this new world is the real world, for there will no longer be any records to suggest otherwise, and that therefore ideas and beliefs determine the reality we perceive. I think this is a fascinating idea (and this is partly the academic in me speaking now) and will be reflected within the game. I’ll be saying more about this later – but not much, as I believe in the Dark Souls school of minimalist overt storytelling – and once the early-game dungeons become fully implemented this will become clearer, but this concept will not just be part of the story but also have an important gameplay aspect later on. So that’s all the plot/game future information for now! Next week I’ll be rounding up the concluding parts of sigils, and then working on families and histories – see you all then.