Rock, Paper, Shotgun managed to corner Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar lead designer Kate Flack for a lengthy Q&A that covers everything from the distinction between remake and reboot to doing the virtue system justice (no pun intended) to how the free-to-play microtransactions will be implemented. A few questions and their answers:
RPS: There was an interview with Richard Garriott from a long time ago, where he said that one of the main inspirations for Ultima IV was the realisation that so many things that you did in RPGs, including the original Ultima trilogy, were bad things. Even in games like Zelda you’d just walk into a house and steal from a chest. He said he wanted to acknowledge that and, for me, that’s the main thing that Ultima IV did. The virtue system.
Flack: That’s our touchstone. That and the world of Ultima, which is much beloved, including in the online game, which still has an active community. Another thing that I wanted to do, aside from touching on an ethical system, was to take Ultima and keep it going.
When you work on a big IP, say Warhammer, LOTR or Batman, you know that there are designers, writers and artists that came before you. With Ultima I want to make sure there will be designers, writers and artists after me as well. That’s why when we talk about it moving on, we’re looking to bring the world to a new generation. It has to pass on in order to continue.
RPS: You mentioned ‘enhancing’ virtues. Are there actual bars that show how far people have advanced along each virtue track?
Flack: Well, our character sheet is separated into two halves. One is your physical body and external nature and the other half is your virtues and internal nature. To become the Avatar you need to excel in both of those things. It’s not good enough to be a brutish Conan, you have to be a warrior poet on the other side.
So one half is dedicated to your virtues and as you go through the game there are a couple of different ways to gain virtues. One is progressing through the main quest, the Quest for the Avatar, where the choices you make will result in virtue points. So, like, +37 compassion. That fills up an XP bar and then you go to a shrine, which you have to find around Britannia, and meditate. That causes your acutal virtue to rise.
You can also earn virtue by doing dungeon runs, which is about encouraging play with other people. So when you enter the dungeon we start tracking your behaviour and then at the end of that we drop virtue rewards based on what you have and haven’t done.
RPS: In terms of equipment and loot, which feels less important in Ultima games, perhaps because the character is more central than his stuff, will there be randomisation and all that sort of stuff?
Flack: Well, armour and weapons are useful and you need them but the main creative focus is choice and virtue. There are certain bits of gear that you can’t get until you have certain virtues at a certain level. It encourages people to work on the virtues and acts as a kind of reward for doing that, like, OK, you topped out your compassion, have the armour of compassion.