Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Final Frontier???

So the game development is slooooowly winding down. I think that I'm getting down to the last couple of crashes and bugs. Here's the readme file updates for my last two versions of the game.

Version 1.0.06 (Fri. May 14, 2010)
- Added some text feedback if a user tries to click on a menu option in the main menu, then they are told to press either R, I, or J.
- Data is now in a versioned folder system, so when a change is made the new data will be automatically updated without a user having to refresh their downloaded files.
- Fixed a problem with trigger squares not working on the bottom edges of dungeon rooms.
- Dungeon Shame's main ladder no longer dumps you in the ocean. (whoops)
- Spellcasters now have the correct maximum MANA. (it had been half of what it should have been)

Version 1.0.07 (Tues. May 18, 2010)
- Fixed problem where buying more than 50+ gems or keys would result in 99 gems or keys.
- Party will no longer move if all members are sleeping along with characters who are dead.
- Fixed bug where spellcasters were not getting xp for killing monsters with Tremor.
- Replaced any honor text with honour. (Keeping with the Lord British and Britannia theme.)
- Fixed the Open spell.
- Fixed a problem with dungeon graphics displays where ladders and fields were appearing where they shouldn't.
- Peer in gem, and casting view can no longer be performed while riding in a Balloon. You have to land first.
- Added some code to make the monsters be different on each random spawn.
- Daggers are now ranged weapons that are expended on each use.
- Monsters will now return fire when attacking with a ship's cannon.
- Monsters will attack after being hit by a ship's cannon (if they are right beside the ship).
- Combats no longer overlap when multiple monsters can attack the party at the same time.
- Monsters who died in combat from spell damage no longer get extra attacks.
- Fixed a crash that occurred for ranged monsters fighting when suffering from Jinx.
- Fixed any further possible animation crashes when monster attacks are interrupted by any sort of animation. (hopefully!!)

(whew... I think we're getting there.)

GDC was pretty cool. I saw people that I worked with six or seven years ago, and haven't talked to since then. It looks like I may have a game contract coming up pretty soon, working on a really COOL project! Nothing has been finalized yet... which would be nice to know that everything is going to work out for Jean and my summer. (EI payments stopped coming in as of this week.) But I think everything is going to work out... ya just gotta believe right?!?

My next work on Ultima... will be to turn it into a Facebook application. This way people will be able to log-in from any computer to be able to play their character. Also, I want to create multiple profiles so that you could play the game with a couple of saved characters. I think I'm getting ready to start advertising to the bigger game forums. Assuming that people don't find any BIG CRASHES in the next week or so (please keep emailing me at ultimabugs@phipsisoftware.com if you find anything people) then I will consider the project 'FINALLED'.

Also, there is one famous game critic who I happen to know. I've been waiting for the right moment to namedrop my project to him, but I don't know how he will respond. I think if the project has no serious crashes... then perhaps he might mention my game in something that would be a REAL DRAW to my site. I dunno. Jean seriously wants me to 'use my connections' but I feel like I should let my work 'speak for itself'. BTW: Speaking of getting the word out... somebody mentioned my site on a Korean internet forum. I'm now getting some serious hits from Korea and represents about a quarter of my regular hits on a daily basis. Go figure!?!

I've also had requests to put sound into the game... this is actually pretty easy to do. But I just want to make sure I've got some decent sound clips I can use in the game. I don't know if I want to go back to the 8-bit plonks and pings. People seem to want that... but I'm not convinced. I'm still of mixed minds about it. If I could find a decent library of sounds to use, then I might be more willing to 'make some noise'. ;)

Well that's it for now, I'll keep ya posted on how stuff develops over the next week or two. I've got a buddy who might be able to get me some business grant money to let me continue working on my project (on my own terms). This would be SERIOUSLY COOL!!!! I have an idea about continuing the Ultima 4 prototype to a whole new online role-playing game called mysteriously 'Project Infinity', but I haven't yet written up my complete design yet. But I should be posting something soon on my www.phipsisoftware.com website. (There is a link to this page in my Ultima game on the preloading screen... but the page is basically 'under construction' for the moment.

Cheers everyone and keep travelling,

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Updates and GDC

Well I've got another update on my game for tonight. This one fixes a few brutal crashes that people ran into that kinda hurt their game. Hopefully there wont be too many more of these.

Version 1.0.05 (Thurs. May 06, 2010)
- Fixed a crash that would occur when casting a spell right before being attacked.
- Fixed a crash when a monster died in a Flame Field.
- Fixed the conversation data for Lady Tessa in Paws.
- Camping parties can no longer be ambushed by water creatures.

So tomorrow if the first day of the Vancouver Game Developer Conference. I've recently spent some time trying to update my webpage to show off my Ultima work. I'm really excited about attending and have made up some cool business cards to make me look professional. If wishes were fishes then perhaps I could find an investor to see the potential of making these kind of online RPG games.

The responses that I've gotten over the past couple of days have been AMAZING. I wish I had more time to mention all of them. But there were two comments that stabnd out. The first one was from a parent who thanked me because he showed (the game he used to play in his childhood) to his seven year old son, and the sone has been playing constantly for the past few days. That story really hit me. It's kinda the main reason why I work as a game programmer. The second one was from a guy who is working on his PhD in moral and ethical philosphy. It turns out that he decided to pursue this field of study because of the inspiration to think about morality from when he played the Ultima series.

There's so many people out there who have such fond memories of playing Ultima 4. I'd argue that fact alone is enough to qualify video games as art. Take THAT Roger Ebert. (Just kidding... I love your Tweets!)

All the best, and wish me luck tomorrow!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Updates and more to come...

So I just put a new version of Ultima on the website. Here's the list of updates and improvements for the past couple of days:

Version 1.0.01 (Mon. Apr. 26, 2010)

- Fixed a bug where a person who was asleep or dead could guard a camping party. (Weekend at Bernies anyone?!?)
- Fixed a crash when entering a dungeon room.
- Fixed an occasional crash when the last monster flees a combat.
- Fixed a problem that a party could teleport up/down a level and then enter a dungeon room from a non-normal direction and then the entire party is stuck at (0,0).
- Removed drop shadow from text to improve visual clarity.

Version 1.0.02 (Thurs. Apr. 29, 2010)
- Fixed a problem when entering/leaving a city and trying to move before the city data is fully loaded.

Version 1.0.03 (Fri. Apr 30, 2010)
- Fixed a crash in the guild purchase script.
- Repaired the ladder data for Dungeon Wrong.

Version 1.0.04 (Sun. May 02, 2010)
- Fixed Typo for Bloos Moss to Blood Moss.
- Players can no longer attack people objects: Ankhs, Fires, Water, or Wounded.
- Torches now reset when entering and leaving dungeons.
- Cleaned up party dead code. Removed uaser prompt when resetting data back to Lord British.
- Fixed problem where Balrons would heal party members with Energy Attacks when a protect spell was active.
- Fixed internal crash when fleeing from a city combat.

Also... how would ya like to have Ultima 4 running on yer website???

Put the following HTML code in your web-page:

<iframe src="http://www.phipsisoftware.com/ultima4/Ultima4Embed.html" width="664" height="418">
<p>Your browser does not support iframes.</p>

I've tried to give you the best size for playing the game... but I can tweak it a little more on my end if people want larger or smaller versions (tho I don't know how you could play it any smaller).

ALSO! I've got tons of stories and updates to share with people as word about the game is starting to circulate around the internet. Jean (my lovely wife) is working hard behind the scenes to try to get people hyped about my Flash version of Ultima. There were two GREAT posts that have really helped drive up my site traffic: http://www.ultimaaiera.com/ (thanks Ken!), and a thread from BoardGameGeek entitled "If you're a child of the 80s, any free time you have is gone..." (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/4974805#4974805). I'll be sending a thankful message to Chris Palermo (who started the thread) later today.

Plus, I've had a thought kicking around in my head... I might make a couple Ultima 4 T-Shirts and give them out to the first couple of people who beat the game!!! Shameless promotion... possibly. But you gotta remember that back in the day Richard Garriott would send you a certificate if you told him you completed an Ultima game. And this was just one guy running a company in the days when email was restricted to the military and academics. :P

Sooooo more info to come, and I'm hoping to have time to tell ya some of the stories about the last couple of days. But I'm trying to get my main website Phi Psi Software up and running 'cause I'm going to the Canadian Game Developer Conference next week. Who know's what'll happen??? I'm kinda DREAMING that I might get hooked up with some development money and perhaps get to build more complex 'Ultima-type' games. Hey who doesn't want to get paid to do something they love!

Keep journeying onward folks,

Thursday, April 22, 2010


And with tonight's (or morning's) update I now have zero bugs. So that means I have now released version 1.0.00 of my Ultima 4 Flash game!!!!!

Here are the updates for this version:

Version 1.0.00 (Thurs. Apr. 22, 2010)

- Fixed a nasty hang in combat that created two bugs:
o A hang when ranged monsters had a Jinx cast on them.
o A hang when trying to wake up sleeping party members with an Awake spell and getting hit by ranged attacks. (say during a Gazer ambush!)
- Fixed a bug where a player could be asleep in combat but still get an attack. (or anxiously cast an Awake spell!)
- Beefed up the Gazer range attack. (After all... they are one of the hardest monsters in the game.)

So what does this mean... well there will probably be a few more issues to resolve in the coming days. But there is a symbolic achievement for a development team when they are able to drop their active issues down to zero. This is usually when gold disks start to get mastered, and people start to go on holidays.

I'll probably be tweaking combat stats over the next little while... those edits are only to the XML data that runs the game. Hopefully I will not need to update any game code from here on in.

Well let's see how that goes. ;)

On a personal note... I can't tell you how much of a feeling of achievement I'm feeling right now. I wrote a game... well a rather famous game... by myself over the course of about 3 months, and debugged and polished it over a couple of weeks. There's nothing like being able to build a game from the ground up, and to slowly see the thing come to life. Or even better... when people start playing it and get excited! There is NOTHING LIKE IT, and continues to be the reason why I AM A GAME PROGRAMMER!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Almost BETA!

Well I posted a new version of the game tonight... and this one has LOTS of feature updates.

Version 0.9.13 (Wed. Apr. 21, 2010)
- Cleaned up the Inn haunting code.
- Animated the Entire Intro Menu Screen.
- Implemented the Animatic View in MainMenu.
- Fixed a bug in the Trinsic welcomer conversation script.
- Sea monsters are not longer stuck in brick tiles when attacking characters in a city.
- Sea monsters no longer drop chests in cities.
- Added in-game command help system.
- Added in-game links to Ultima 4 Online PDF Manuals.
- Added in-game email addresses, a link to my Ultima 4 Blog, and my online resume.
- Updated Intro to include link to PDF Version of The History of Britannia
- Updated Intro to mention the in-game help, documentation & email addresses.

So at this point... the game is feature complete to the original. The intro now starts up with all of the animating daemon, dragon, and animatic display. Don't ask how long it took to do all of that stuff. I mean I'm glad that it's all done... but work was pretty cosmetic and "fiddly". But it's great to see the original intro working in a web-browser.

What's left?

Well I currently have 4 bugs that I'm trying to track down (or in some cases confirm that they exist). Once these issues are resolved--possibly even by tomorrow--then I will consider the Ultima 4 project to be at Beta. At that point I'll start opening up the flood-gates by posting my link to numerous gaming sites. Then... we'll see what happens.

Wish me luck,

Soooo close...

So I've been working on the Intro menu for the past couple of days. It's pretty much done, but now I'm working on some internal help systems within the game.

For example, I've rescanned all of the Ultima 4 documentation (from a copy I bought on Ebay), and now have updated all of the posted PDFs on my site. (Click on the game links on the left to see 'em). For my next release I will have a bunch of buttons on the border of the main screen.

One will bring up a help system with text lifted from the Ultima 4 Reference Card.
Another will display a panel with links to all of my scanned documentation.
Finally, there will be a button with all of my relevant email addresses so that users can stay in touch with future updates to the game.

Hope to have this new (and almost Final) version ready later today!

Cya in Britannia,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Game Update... are your save games happy?!?

Hiya all, here's a new update for the game:

Version 0.9.12 (Fri. Apr. 9, 2010)
- Resolved problem with whirlpools sometimes getting trapped on land.
- Fixed problem of previous topics of discussion appearing when trying to use an item.
- Fixed problem where inn usage stopped working after combat. (You would see a "' ' Killed" message.)
- Fixed combat sleep hang where when whole party put to sleep the game would seem to hang with multiple Zzzzz messages.
- Nerfed the monster sleep spell.
- Added a Pre-loader screen on start-up.
- Included a focus button on pre-loader sequence. ("Click on Ankh to Start")
- Fixed a problem with monsters being immune to fire field damage.

Things look like they are starting to settle down. I'm really trying to focus on any remaining crash bugs that are out there.

There is a small chance that tonight's update has destroyed your same games??? Please let me know if that is true and I'll try to get a 'quick'n dirty' way to get your data back.

I've got a new preloader & focus catcher control. That's just a fancy way to say "click on this" to start the game. It's just a way to get people to click on the game that is running in your browser so that all further keypresses go into the game. I'm starting to get into some really cosmetic stuff now... while I hunt down further bugs. I['m hoping to implement the title intro sequence in flash over the next couple of days. It's pretty much that last thing that is keeping my game from being "just like the original".

So Jean and I are back from our trip. LOTS of driving, and we were pretty drained once we got back. (I haven't even been able to make it to my running groups so that's how tired I've been.)

Thanks go out to Pete and Chris who've been picking away at the game. It's great to see your feedback guys. You're the reason I'm able to keep going when I'm super tired.

I'm hoping to do a few more non-technical posts. I want to start talking about how the Ultima games have influenced me over the years. I pretty much have a story for every iteration of the game.

Well I gotta get some sleep so cya,

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Lots of Driving and a micro update...

Well we're in Portland. CRAZY Weather driving down here but we made it in one piece. I-5 can be REALLY SCARY at times. Also, we stopped off in Castle Rock Washington. I thought it burned down after 'Needful Things' but that was the Maine variety. Not much to see... even the signs lied where their information center was supposed to be. I think it's a pizza express hut now. Apparently there's not much of a need of for information in Castle Rock. Go figure.

Quick update for tonight:

Version 0.9.11 (Sat. Apr. 3, 2010)
- Fixed problem with moongate flashing when blasting many commands into the keyboard buffer.
- Fixed problem with bridge troll fights being skipped when blasting many commands into the keyboard buffer.

I'm starting to get into fixing all of these keyboard buffer errors where people are holding down movement keys and then seeing weird behaviour in the game. There will probably be a few more of these still to clean up.

Also my brother apparently found a crash bug when his whole party was put to sleep by squid. I couldn't replicate it but I'll keep an eye out for it. PS. If you see a group of Gazers heading your way (they tend to hang out in the Deep Forest in later stages of the game)... then you better have a bunch of Negate spells on you, and someone who can cast them. I speak from personal experience. I hate it when my game kicks my ass. :(

I'm getting ready to work on animating the main menu. This will be among the last features I'll probably work on in this game. It feels good to be close to the finish line.

Nite all,

Friday, April 2, 2010

Holiday Fun and Updates

Well Jean and I are now in Washington. She sleeps calmly while I work away on the project. We're in this REALLY great bed'n breakfast. There's a rushing stream right outside our window. I can hear the water from here. I bet you could write a really great novel out here.

Here's another cool factoid. I got an actual copy of Ultima4 in the mail today. Thanks to some feisty bidding on EBay. Not that I have a C64 to play it on... but I did get actual manuals for the game. I'm hoping to scan them in and somehow make them available RIGHT INSIDE my flash game while people are playing. It didn't come with a cloth map tho. I don't even know how that would look when scanned. I guess I'll stick with the digital version.

Anywhoo, my brain keeps going... even on holidays. I've done a couple of fixes and posted a new version for the site.

Version 0.9.10 (Fri. Apr. 2, 2010)
- Fixed the Line of Sight Algorithm for Cardinal then Diagonal for Bottom Left Quadrant.
- Fixed the buffer problems when performing peer, casting view in a city, or using the Lyceum telescope.
- Added better feedback for single letter/digit responses.
- Jinx, Negate, Protect, and Quickness duration length determined by caster level.

I've got three or four pretty steady testers work'n away at the game. My brother Chris has joined them as of today. Welcome Chris. I hope Bung is able to level up and get into some of the more interesting stuff I've got prepped for him. ;)

Also a big shout out to ex-roomie Peter Rattray who is just blasting away at the game. I had to stop at the US border to answer all of the Facebook messages that he sent me yesterday. (I get dinged for roaming charges on my cell-phone when I'm in another country.) So before Jean and I leave Canada, I'm just finger typing madly on my IPhone to get responses back to him about what to test and try next. Kudos man! I owe you a nice frosty one when I get back!

Nite all, and happy hunting to all the would be Avatars out there.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More edits...

Still work'n away on my end. I've had a great day! The last BIG bug got resolved with the FireFox & Opera browsers now loading my Ultima4 page.

I'll mostly be resolving any remaining crash bugs that come up. The only things that I'm prepared to commit to for the last few things to implement would be a working animated title screen, and maybe a help system to let new players learn the 'alphabet soup' that is the Ultima interface. Also, I had a request to have a server-side save system so people could log on to multiple computers and play their character. Hmmm... methinks somebody is playing from home AND AT WORK. ;)

Version 0.9.9 (Thurs. Apr. 1, 2010)
- Streamlined a few of the merchant scripts: e.g. you can press return to get out of a buy menu.
- Fixed a problem where buying guild equipment would give the party 10 cloth armour.
- Fixed the sell armour routine.
- Fixed a crash bug when firing canons or casting spells while under monster ranged attacks.
- Removed the damage indicator that popped up when using the inn.
- Added an extra bit of text to indicate which inn rooms are more prone to attacks.
- Made it so that flaming oil or lava attacks will only leave a fire field or lava on a valid foot tile square in combat.

I will be away from my main computer for the next couple of days... but will still be receiving emails and facebook messages. Thanks to everyone who is helping to 'break' the game to make it better. I couldn't do this without you all, and your support.

Oh and in my play-testing... I've now achieved partial avatar status in all eight virtues. Using few if any cheats: mostly this was done to recover my game when I found various crashes.... honest. After all I'm an Avatar now... if I lie I lose an Eighth. ;)

Nite all, cya soon,

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Open Beta... why not?!?

I guess I could share the link to the Ultima 4 game on my Blog. I don't think too many ppl read this (if any) so if anybody wants to take the game for a spin then here is the message I sent out to my Beta testers:

I had planned to build it in one month... it ended up taking 2 and a half; however, this was the most fun I’ve had in programming for as long as I can remember. I’d love to know what other people think of the game, especially people who played the original back in the eighties.

So without further adieu:

When the Flash page loads up simply click on the menu page, and press I to Initiate a new quest. This will take you through the initial story, to the character creation questionnaire, and then into the game. From then on in you can ‘Journey Onward’ from the main menu to continue your old game.

I’ve posted a bunch of the original manuals online:
History http://www.phipsisoftware.com/ultima4/History.pdf
Mystic Wisdom http://www.phipsisoftware.com/ultima4/Mystic.pdf
Reference Card http://www.phipsisoftware.com/ultima4/RefCard.pdf
Small Map http://www.phipsisoftware.com/ultima4/Map.gif
Large Map http://www.phipsisoftware.com/ultima4/Map.jpg

Here’s a quick reference of some of the more important key commands:
Arrows move your party around.
E for entering cities and castles
O for opening a door
G to open up a chest (use a player with high DEX)
T to talk to townspeople (try JOB, HEALTH, NAME...)
R + W for readying and weapons & armor.
Z check out the stats and equipment of your party
Q to save your progress
K + D to climb up and down ladders
A to attack a creature
(beyond that check the reference card at the above link)

Finally, if (or perhaps when) you find a bug or other weird issue. Please send me an email. I’ve set up the following addresses to help collate new bug issues in the Ultima project:

Bugs and Gameplay Issues: ultimabugs@phipsisoftware.com
Game questions and general issues: ultima4@phipsisoftware.com
Compliments and letting me know when you’ve beaten the game: lordlegster@phipsisoftware.com

Cheers and let me know how your quest goes,
Blair (Lord Legster) Leggett

P.S. I have also found through recent testing that the game only works in I.E. and Chrome, but not in Firefox and Opera. I am attempting to resolve this issue asap.

ReadMe (0.9.7)

Just to show you all how busy I've been...

Ultima Read-Me

Version 0.9.0 (Tues Mar. 23, 2010)
- Initial Beta Version

Version 0.9.1 (Wed Mar. 24, 2010)
- Fixed Object Move Memory Burst
- Reset back Stage Colour as Black
- Party takes damage from storms on land.

Version 0.9.2 (Thurs. Mar. 25, 2010)
- Storms moving at sea.
- Land monsters no longer spawning at sea.
- Sea monsters no longer drop chests. (pirates drop boardable ships)
- Players now suffer damage for fields and lava in combat.

Version 0.9.3 (Fri. Mar. 26, 2010)
- Lord British 'Help' Activated
- Lost an eighth message now displays.
- Pirate ships now change icons to indicate their direction.
- View spell no longer 'locks' the display.

Version 0.9.4 (Sat. Mar. 27m 2010)
- Trolls no longer walk through water to flee a combat.
- Monsters now obey movement rules (unless they can move through walls).
- Slow movement is now based on a set probability distribution.
(Drawing cards rather than rolling a dice.)
- Moons no longer advance in combat.
- Players no longer suffer poison & starvation damage in combat.
- A paging cursor (flashing arrow) indicates multiple pages of text.
- Two Bridge Troll Ambushes (on the same Bridge) can not occur within 50 Turns.
- Monsters now take damage from sleep and fire fields, and lava.

Version 0.9.5 (Sun. Mar. 28, 2010)
- Fixed the problem where you could hold down the movement keys and override the collision detection. YAY!
- Horse movement now fixed.
- Can not enter dungeons or climb ladders while riding a horse.
- Dungeon view fixed for energy fields. (they would slowly lose their transparency)
- Added a door outline when on a door (non room) or a secret door in a dungeon.
- Fixed a crash when attacking a person in a city.
- Ghosts and Xorns no longer 'stack' on combat tiles.
- Lord British also cures as well as heals.

Version 0.9.6 (Mon. Mar. 29, 2010)
- Casting spells now cost mixtures instead of being 'free'. (Thanks to Peter Rattray)
- Cleaned up the text when Lord British heals the party.
- Rogues still seemed to be stealing from party members when they were not. (Knockon from nerfing Rogues stealing ability.)
- Fixed Peer when world data was messing up the view.
- Implemented the Lyceum telescope.
- Added Monsters, Chests, Transports, and People to the City and World Peer View.

Version 0.9.7 (Wed. Mar. 31, 2010)
- Fixed a crash bug when trying to enter when already IN a city or dungeon. (Thanks to Greg Lesky)
- Fixed a problem where food or gold could be less than zero.
- Added a little more gold to level 1 chests.
- Fixed a nasty bug where talking to the Seer could actually cause you to lose Avatarhood.
- Monsters can no longer shoot through walls.
- Ships now repair over time.
- Fixed problem where sometimes there would be no player prompt when starting a combat.
- Monsters respond when firing cannons or casting spells in the world view.


In Beta and Nearing Final!

Ok, so it's been a while for my posting on the blog... but I've been bus getting Ultima 4 out the door. It turned out that Dungeon and Combat took a little longer than I wanted. But some things take a while to get right. I pretty much had to create most of the combat algorithm out of whole cloth. I mean people pretty much know what to expect from a turn-based RPG combat system. But then you've got to make the whole thing data driven, and you've gotta tweak all the stats and stuff.

So I hit Alpha in the main game on Friday March 12th. I then hit Alpha for the complete game on Sunday March 21st. This milestone included all of the functionality which existed outside of the main game: saving/loading, intro main menu, create new character, and the 'endgame' sequence. I then took two days to kill a few of the 'critical' bugs, and reached the Beta stage on Tuesday March 23rd. YAY!

So for the past week and a bit I've been bug-killing everyday while my Beta testers try to break things on their end. So far so good! Things seem to be fairly stable so I think I'm pretty close to final.

Stuff that remains:

1) One of the most annoying things I found out was that the game wouldn't play for the Flash Plug-In for Firefox and Opera. It worked in Internet Explorer since that uses the ActiveX plugin, but what was really weird was that the Flash Plug-In worked in Chrome. So before I'm 'done' I wanna make sure the game works for most of the current browsers. This may require a bit of 'twiddling', but I'll continually experiment over the next couple of days.

2) I have a static main menu at the moment. This is gonna change since I'm looking to do all of the intro animations like the original game. I mean... this is what Flash is designed to handle. (I might also redo all of the original Codex animations using After Effects. This would give me a good reason to learn a bit of that program for doing 'snazzy' animatics in Flash.)

I think once I've got those features in place, and I've been able to play through the whole game (without using cheatcodes) then I will consider the project to be at a firm Beta status.

So that's the plan (for now). Originally I wanted to write Ultima 4 in one month. Wow.... was that optimistic. ;) But I've learned sooooo much while I've worked away on this project. It feels kinda cool to have built something, by myself, from the GROUND UP!

Cya in Brittania,
Blair (Lord Legster) Leggett

Monday, February 8, 2010

Whither Ultima 4?

So when I tell people that I'm trying to rebuild a classic computer game I usually get the same response.... which one??? And then when I tell them "Ultima 4" I get one of two reactions:

1) They look at me kinda funny and don't know what I'm talking about. First they have never heard of the Ultima series, and second they are unsure about how the number 4 somehow qualifies the game as a 'classic'.

2) The other reaction is one of trembling incredulity... oh my god.... really?!? I haven't thought about that game in years! That's AMAZING! One person sent me an email saying that I was his new personal hero.

Those are two fairly disparate responses to a computer game. I mean I can understand if people don't know about it: twenty-five plus years have passed since Ultima 4 first came out. This is in an industry where most games are considered obsolete within three or four years. And yet the other response shows that there IS something special about this game.

So for those who are in the first camp... let me give ya some the other responses from the second group. One game critic who has been around for a while has the pseudonym Scorpia. She is notable for two reasons... she has been writing game criticism for over twenty years, and she is a woman writing about a fairly male-dominated medium. So here's her response when asked about her favorite game of all time: "Of course, "best game ever" isn't correct; what's really meant is "best game so far", since there is always the future, and something may come along to take top position. Until that time, the best game I've played so far, hands down, is Ultima IV." (http://www.scorpia.com/?p=114)

Here's another response: In 1996, Computer Gaming World named Ultima 4 as #2 on its Best Games of All Time list for the PC. (#1 was Sid Meier's Civilization & #3 was a game called M.U.L.E.)

Now arguably, most top 100 games lists might not contain Ultima 4, but I'd be willing to bet that they would contain at least ONE of the Ultima games: i.e. the recent top 100 games list from PC Gamer listed Ultima 7 at number 24.

Ok so why do people remember this game? Why would I spend-what will probably be-two months of my time to recreate this game?

I think there are three main reasons why this game stands out for me... but I'd luv to know what other people think.

1) The character creation system--though often imitated--was completely original for the time. Normally when you played an RPG from the time, you would manually assign your stats to a bunch of characteristics. You would 'roll' your character as if you were playing a table-top, pencil and dice role playing game. But with Ultima 4, there was none of that. Just a set of eight pick A or B questions that would determine what your character would become. There were no 'right' or 'wrong' answers, but simply responses that would determine the moral strengths and weaknesses of the character you were about to become. Nobody had seen ANYTHING like it before, and if you played the original game, then I'm willing to bet that you never forgot that moment when "Thy path is chosen!".

2) This was the first game where you would play in a single continent world called 'Britannia'. You would actually play in the same basic world in the next three Ultima games, each time you would see what had happened to the world as time had passed. In the same way that the children from the Lewis' Narnia series, you would get to go back to revisit the special world that you had previously explored. Also, Ultima 4 created a new system for 'talking' with people. In previous games you would talk at a person and they would say the same bit of 'canned' text. But in Ultima 4 you would have to give a response to be able to pump people for info. In such a way you could be talking to somebody in one city, and then find out you had to go to another city, find a particular person, and then ask them about a specific TOPIC. In some cases, this was the only way to solve certain problems, or find hidden objects in the world. So in the same way that you returned to the same physical world, you would get to visit with the same 'people', and see how they would develop throughout the series of games.

3) Finally, I think the reason why this game has such a lasting appeal is that it broke to traditional quest structure of computer role-playing games. Typically the story goes as follows... journey in a fantasy world, gain enough levels of experience, and then find the big 'baddie' of the game and kill it. Not much has changed in this regard... Wizardry, Diablo, Bard's Tale, Zelda, Fallout... they still follow this same general pattern. What did Ultima 4 do? Instead of having one baddie that you had to 'off' you instead had to travel the realm being and learn the moral code of the world. You would then enter into the toughest dungeon of the game, and when you made it all the way to the end you had to answer 'virtue' questions to see if you knew the code backwards and forwards. So the ultimate aim of the game... is to improve yourself and be a decent human being to the rest of the world. Not a bad concept on which to tell a story.

So I guess my overarching goal is to try to get the people from group 1 (what's an Ultima?!?) to have a little better understanding for the people in group 2 (you are my new hero, and when does your Flash version go live?!?).

I guess there's one other thing I'd like to share with ya on answering the question "Whither Ultima4?". I've worked in the games industry for a long time, and on all kinds of projects. I have to say, that beyond a doubt, that this is the most fun I've had coding in a long, looooong time. I wake up each day with a renewed vigour to see another bit of Britannia come to life. I can't wait to share my work with people. I want so much to be able to teleport new users back to the wonder of Britannia.

Next time I'll give you guys an update of some of the technical issues and reworkings that I've been doing.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Starting at the Beginning and moving on...

Hiya all!

So when I got back from the Christmas holidays in Ontario, I wanted to start writing a blog to help describe the project that I was about to embark upon. Well it's February now, and I haven't been very dilligent about sharing my thoughts... so forgive me as I start out in my first post.

I am an out of work game programmer. I've been in the business of software development for 10+ years now. Vancouver was hit pretty hard by the layoffs and studio closures of 2009. I am one among many people who find themselves out of a job waiting for the economy to pick up.

I'm a kinda weird 'guy' when it comes to programming. Bit of a 'jack-of-all-trades' kind of a fill in the blank person for a development team. Here's the deal... I have two degrees from Simon fraser University. My main 'techie' degree is in computing science with specializations in databases, and user-interface design. However, I also have a degree in English Literature, with minors in Philosophy, and Political theory. Go figure huh??? I was one of these wierd left brain-right brain people who could jump between doing physics, calculus and algorithms, and discussing Romantic poetry, Kantian Epistemology and how post-modernism is an intellectual cul-de-sac. I pretty much like my knowledge broad, and I like to be able to link LOTS of ideas together in a myriad of different patterns.

Ok so where was I??? Right! Christmas break, and what I've been doing for the past month while I hunt for work. Well. I used to enjoy programming. There will be more on this to come... but what I really love about making games is the challenges of building interactive stories. I love trying to apply standard storytelling techniques to building interactive worlds that people find engaging. So rather than sit around... I decided I would try to rebuild a world that had meant so much to me in my past.

I used to LOVE the Ultima games written by Lord British. In particular I loved his fourth game: Quest of the Avatar. For many, this game was a milestone in terms of its design and gameplay. (more on that later) So I have decided to rebuild this classic game in Adobe Flash. I've been working night and day on it for the past few weeks. My original goal was to have an Alpha version (i.e. be feature complete) ready for the end of January... well that didn't work out.

But I got pretty damn close! So I'm going to share with people on this Blog how the development process has gone and what I've gained by reliving a crucial game of my yesterdays from the inside out. By building it and remembering all the incredible things that made Britania (the world of Ultima) such an incredible place to visit.

Not only will I be providing technical stories here... but also some of the personal experiences that shaped my life as I played through each iteration of the game. It's wierd because when I first started writing down all the ways that these games affected me I was quite amazed that I had nearly a full page of short-form anecdotes.

So I'll try to keep the posts coming daily, and perhaps post a link to the play-testable version of the game when it's ready for outside eyes.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see ya in future posts,