Slashing Dragon Is Trying To Add Turn-Based Combat to Ultima 7 (Via Exult)


I’ve complained about the combat in Ultima 7 before, most recently in Episode 29 of Spam Spam Spam Humbug (and in Episode 17 before that).

Well, Slashing Dragon evidently agrees that, in general, the combat in Ultima 7 is terrible. And as a result, he has grabbed a copy of the Exult source code, and aims to do something about the matter:

Exult is one of the oldest and more popular Ultima fan projects; it allows you to run all the games using the Ultima 7 engine in modern platforms. It’s not a remake… it takes the data files from the original games and uses them to run a custom made engine, adding a lot of options for improved user experience in addition to making it dead simple to run in about any modern computer.

But, there’s another thing that Exult allows doing, it gives us a chance to fix things we don’t like about the original game. And that’s what I intend to do!

I want combat in Ultima 7 to be more interesting, more relevant, more tactical. I want to try and make it turn based.

The idea is pretty simple:

  • Exult already supports pausing in combat
  • We must detect when the party engages in combat and auto pause.
  • From here the player can either:
    • Move around a limited number of steps
      • This one may probably be the most complex thing to detect
    • Attack a monster (either melee or ranged)
    • Cast a spell
    • Use an item
    • Pass the turn
      • Requires adding a button to the UI
  • Once the player does any of these, the game resumes for about half a second, and pauses again if still on battle and the player is still alive.

And because Slash pursues side projects such as these with a good bit of tenacity, he has begun digging through Exult’s code looking at different functions which might help him craft a turn-based combat system. He has also begun creating a new module within the codebase that will contain all of the functions to control turn-based combat and its mechanics.

11 Responses

  1. Crash says:

    Interesting. I’d like to see it in action!

  2. Infinitron says:

    That’s not turn-based combat – everybody is still moving at the same time.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      True, in the strict technical sense, but still a darn sight better than what currently passes for combat in the game.

      Nothing to be a grumblegrump about.

    • slash says:

      I agree… full turn based combat may be a stretch goal, may be an entirely new miniproject.

      Once I gain more knowledge on the structure of Exult I think it will be possible to modify the actor’s schedule so they move one after another, thus increased the turnbasedness.

      That would be something to work on afterwards however 🙂

      • Stirring Dragon says:

        You could even consider “releasing” this special version in step with Denis Loubet’s release of his new Ultima VII box art!

        It could give people a reason to actually revisit the game again since RPG’s combat is a huge portion of its gameplay, so changing this will really create an entirely new game in a sense.

        Be sure to playtest the mechanics with the Ultima community and get feedback on the fun factor. You may not be able to create an entirely “pure” turn-based model, but if you can bring it closer to turn-based and make the combat more enjoyable, that would be a huge step I think.

        I’ve always said the turn-based model of the early single player Ultima’s was one if the main things that led to their success. Early Ultima fans craved a more table-top feel that only turn-based games provided. Single player Ultima fans liked to take their time and THINK before they acted, which I believe hearkened back to their table top D&D roots (as well as their gaming personalities). Ultima was never Zelda, nor meant to be. However, I feel that the console market and other pressures pushed the single-player Ultima’s in direction they should never have gone.

        Furthermore, I don’t believe LB ever understood just how important it was to have turn-based mechanics in his single-player Ultimas back then, or even now, since he clearly just abandon the turn-based combat model after Ultima VI in favor of more real-time action based approaches.

        In the end it was probably just a business decision that led Origin to abandon the turn-based model. Along with consoles, action based gamers were the larger market, and you can’t really appeal to both of them at the same time. They are different gamer types. Heck, if you look back, the whole gaming industry abandoned not only turn-based games, but also RPG’s in general starting in the early 90’s. Still, I would have loved to see Origin hold on to their turn-based roots and be the better for it.

        The good news is that RPG’s have been making a comeback and with that so are single player turn-based RPG’s; at least among us indie developers. This means all us old school turn-based Ultima fans can once again have our day!

        An interesting project and a good idea Slash. I look forward to seeing how it turns out!

      • Infinitron says:

        I think that beyond commercial reasons, it may have been technically difficult to implement turn-based combat in the Ultima VII engine even if they had wanted to. How would it have interacted with the game’s real-time out-of-combat simulation engine? The game’s combat was above all minimalistic – implementing real time-to-turn based transitions was likely out of scope.

      • Gileathane Dragon says:

        Just adding another bravo. Been thinking about giving this a crack for a while, very keen to see how you go!

  3. Stirring Dragon says:

    @infinitron Well, I can only hope that game designers don’t choose core design features based on whether or not they will be technically too hard and rather chose them based on the experience they want to deliver to the player. My guess is that Ultima VII lacked turn-based combat not because it was technically too difficult to implement, but because it was never in the design from the start. Deciding if an RPG will use turn-based combat or not is something that happens on day one, long before the engine is even built. Incorporating a form of turn-based action in the midst of real-time is always possible because turn-based action is just a subset of real-time if you think about it. It’s the other way around that is tough. 🙂

  4. WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

    Incorporating a form of turn-based action in the midst of real-time is always possible because turn-based action is just a subset of real-time if you think about it.

    Indeed, Divinity: Original Sin demonstrates rather handily that the two systems can effectively co-exist.

    Although it also demonstrates one of the problems Slash may encounter, namely the impact of turn-based mechanics on e.g. the day/night cycles and NPC schedules.

  5. Joseph says:

    Does this need another mouse cursor? While hovering to select a target for example. Anyway good luck!

  6. gwaine says:

    Man I hope you do this! What a great game besides the combat.