I’m taking a sabbatical from writing my CRPG to playing some at the moment. Hey, I’ll call it research… that’s the ticket. 🙂
Good Old Games recently started offering the first six games of the Ultima series for purchase. They come complete with PDF’s of the manuals and maps, as well as integrated DOSBox set to just the right speed. It’s a great deal; you can get each set of three for only $6 U.S.! They’re the PC versions, so they have some shortcomings… Ultima’s II and III looks terrible in EGA graphics, and neither Ultima IV or V feature music. There’s fan patches available to fix some of this.
I’ve decided I want to play through Ultima’s IV through VI, transferring the same character from each. I have never played any of these through on the PC, actually. I played Ultima’s IV and VI on the NES/SNES console, which are a very different experience. All three games feature turn-based tactical combat, which my own CRPG will have. So I want to see what works and what doesn’t, and what direction I want to go in my own designs.
Ultima IV is where I’ve started, and so far, it’s going pretty well. The game is both more difficult and easier than the NES version, which offers much more static and predictable gameplay.
Some observations on combat:
- There’s no penalty for using ranged weapons in close fighting and ammo is infinite, so there’s really no point in having melee weapons at all
- Only shooting in cardinal directions sucks… at least there’s no friendly fire
- The game is really cruel on mistakes; attempting to cancel an action always ends the character’s turn
- The hit/miss mechanics, as well as damage, are very wide in range. I’ve had my shepherd character strike with a sling and “heavily wound” a daemon, while a fighter with a bow is just “lightly wounding” them
- Unlike the NES version, attributes go up with level, which is nice. Your characters get better hit/damage ratios and their survivability goes up without having to enter the rather dangerous dungeons
- So far, Reapers are the worst enemy in the game. You need to use negate spells to prevent them from putting the entire party to sleep constantly, slowing down combat to the point it takes a half-hour to finish the fight
- The virtue system isn’t quite compatible with the old school combat. Letting fleeing enemies escape gains you compassion, but killing them gets you valor. Killing non-evil creatures (which are subtly mentioned in the manual descriptions) costs you compassion, and fleeing from any creatures costs you valor. The truly horrible situation is to attain partial avatarhood in compassion and valor and be attacked by non-evil creatures. You’re screwed both ways (Flee and you lose valor. Kill them and you lose compassion.)
- Music is cool, but the sheer weight of combats you get into would quickly make the combat music the most hated thing in the game. The PC version’s silence is actually preferable
- Monsters are pretty simple in the game, but there’s enough variety (trolls and ettins have ranged attacks, reapers cast sleep, gazers shoot fire/poison/electricity) that it makes combats interesting
My thoughts for my CRPG after some play-time:
- I think the best tactic for tactical turn-based combat is to make certain that in 80-90% of combats, it’s over quickly. Long fights should not be a goal, only an accident of design
- Gosh, it’s kind of fun to grind for experience and levels… maybe removing them was a mistake?
- Was also slightly tempted to re-add rations/food to my CRPG, but the sole purpose of them in Ultima seems to be to screw you over with mass-gremlin attacks
- Still bummed I can’t have multiple monster types in combat, due to graphic limitations