Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 18, 2014
I’m gonna take a break for the weekend on the Frayed Knights posts (more next week!), and just refer you to a couple of posts by The Digital Antiquarian about a game that’s very near & dear to my heart, Ultima IV.
First, the origin story – and some conjectures about the real history behind it that go beyond the short & sweet “official” story:
Now, as much as I like to wax prosaic about Ultima IV, because it really was a pretty landmark game and IMO still a great game to play, it is still a (relatively) simple game with simple mechanics. Although the interesting thing is that while modern games with complex faction systems may be far more sophisticated, the simple rules and ability to check with Hawkwind to monitor your progress may have actually strengthened the focus of the game and increased the verisimilitude than far more murky but “realistic” systems. Go figure.
But maybe a more significant factor – and reason that the game series is so beloved today – is suggested in the second article. Though violated as often as reinforced, a logic and consistency permeated the Ultima games. This was a part of game design as well as the fictional world-building. At least through the middle of the series, the games were far more simulationist than narrativist. The game ran on consistent rules with very little special-case code. The player acquired and learned to use tools to make progress in the game – from finding an artifact to fly over mountains to using a cannon to shoot a door off its hinges.
The magic system tried to follow that same consistency – it seemed to be created of a combination of elements, which included reagents some games, and runes in Ultima Underworld. Likewise, the virtue system was a combination of a handful of base elements. In Ultima VI and VII, crafting and simple economy were introduced much the same way, with a number of basic procedures allowing the creation of items in the game.
Maybe it was the transparency of these systems – and how they permeated the same game – that made players feel like Origin was living up to its motto, “We create worlds.” And maybe there’s a lesson to be learned by game designers (especially RPG designers) about the art of world-building.
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