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2003-10-22: GameSpy Dev Diary: Ultima X: Odyssey: Finding the Silhouette

Ultima X: Odyssey: Finding the Silhouette

This was originally posted at GameSpy [1] as part of their Dev Diary series, where developers would write about some aspect of game development.


Ultima X: Odyssey: Finding the Silhouette

The lead designer behind the latest in the Ultima series talks about creating memorable gameplay in our new developer diary feature.

By Jonathan "Calandryll" Hanna


Ultima X: Odyssey looks to carve out a unique niche in the MMORPG arena. It uses the latest Unreal engine technology to create fast-moving levels with lots of combat action. And instead of an endless leveling treadmill, the game is organized into quests that can be solved alone or with small groups of players. To keep with this adventurous feel, the game will even spawn off private quest areas for your party so you can fight the bad guys without interruption. As the game nears completion, GameSpy is pleased to present a series of developer journals chronicling the development of the game as they race to bring the world to life. This week, a glimpse into the thinking behind the game's questing system…

On a plane trip back from a demo at our corporate office in California my producer and I were talking about some of the systems in UXO and how we could make them better. For some reason, as we talked I remembered a quote from Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons. He was talking about creating a unique looking cartoon character and said: "The great, memorable characters in cartoons in the 20th century are characters you can identify in silhouette." It got me thinking. A silhouette is a collection of shapes with no details beyond the outline that those shapes create. What he was basically saying is that you know you've created something unique when you can strip away almost all of the details and the resulting shapes are still recognizable. When we got back to the office here in Austin, we took a look at our designs and started thinking about how we could create our own "silhouettes."

Think of the quests you have played in MMORPGs. If you described one of those quests without using specific details (the monster types, the names of maps, the rewards, etc.) to a friend, would he be able to tell which game you were talking about? Let's see: I walked up to an NPC and spoke with him. He gave me a quest to stop a creature that has been stealing from his farm. I traveled into the wilderness and found the creature. It attacked me and I fought and killed it. I then traveled back to the NPC. I then received a reward. Can you guess which game that is from? Probably not. That's because that description could be for just about any MMORPG quest. There are no unique, recognizable shapes in the "silhouette," so nothing stands out.

Now, let's say you are describing a typical UXO quest to a friend, again without using any real details: I was in the wilderness when an NPC appeared and ran up to me. I spoke with him and he gave me a quest to stop a creature who was stealing from his farm. I traveled into the wilderness and found the creature. It spoke to me and told me it was only attacking the village because he was hungry. Instead of killing the creature, I chose to help him find way to feed himself. I then received a reward based on the choice that I made.

Just say no. Without telling your friend the type of creature, the reward, or any information specific to Ultima X: Odyssey (like virtues or how combat works), he would know right away that this was a UXO quest. The recognizable shapes of the quest are, the NPC came to you, you were able to decide how you wanted to resolve the problem, and you got a reward based on the choice you made. Those shapes form a distinct silhouette that make UXO's questing very unique and a lot of fun!

Every major system in Ultima X: Odyssey, including combat, items, and even character advancement, has a unique silhouette. In future developer diaries we'll discuss the thought process behind those systems, and what makes them stand out from other MMORPGs.