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Alrik Fassbauer August 31st, 2007 22:15

A Thought
Today, while browsing through my old Ultima 9 handbooks, I got an idea, or rather: a thought.

It occurred to me that this system of "Virtues" is basically non-existent in nowadays games. Reputation, yes, but not such a strong, strong emphasis on the Virtues.

Which led me to the thought that the designers of the Ultima series had something in mind that is totally different from what today's designers have in mind and/or their marketing section(s).

Which led me to the thought that when looking at the goals and implemented design decisions, we can "reverse-deduce" (from "reverse-engineer") what kind of things the marketing team and/or the game designers had mind mind.

Example Dungeon Siege:

- Didn't have any "Virtues".
-> Virtues were considered not important for this game/kind of gaming/game world
-> Virtues were likely not considered to increase the sales, otherwise they would've been implemented (regarding the current trend in gaming to implement everything that could boost sales)
-> What was actually considered to be important to the game's implementation ? Seemingly everything that a) could increase the sales/or/and would be "cool" to generate at least some attention (a game must generate some money nevertheless)
-> what's actually implemented in DS are fights, struff, and collecting, at the same time as a streamlined gameplay and easy level-up
-> this means that not Virtues, but instead lots of fighting and collecting were considered important to the game
-> this means that the game was developed to things that were considered "cool" in a certain type of player
-> could this mean hat Virtues are nowadays "dead", in favour of fighting, killing, upgrading ? To become a 1337 k1ll0r ?

-> does this finally mean there have been a complete shift of philosophies ? Are the Virues considered "weak" meanwhile killing is "strong" ? Are the Virtues "dead" because other factors have become more important ? Is this the symptom of a rather material point of view (at least in design decisions) ? There are no real (rather) "spiritual" elements nowadays implemented in most RPGs I know of. Except as a filler for more combat (abilities like the diverse Auras of characters, for example).
Does this mean that the implementation of the Virtues are considered merely a loss of money (during development) ?

The bottom note:
-> On the other hand, the Virues were considered important in Ultima …

This is what I had in mind. This is actually kind of a line of several thought, one leading to the next one.

I believe that by analysing games this way, we are able to deduce (via kind of thought-reengineering) the design decisions and maybe even the philosophy that stands behind a game - stands behing the fdevelopers and the appropriate marketing.

We could do so with the Ultima series as Well. They are unique in the use of the Virtues, and this is exactl the point which currently dies out. Non-materialistic vs. materialistic point of view.

I'd like to read some thoughts from you (and please try to remain rather serious, so no comments like "has he gone totally mad ???" please ;) ).


Corwin September 1st, 2007 09:20

I like the way you think. That's why I love Ultima and found DS a boring waste of time!!

Korplem September 1st, 2007 11:38

Fighting for the sake of fighting has always been a main element in video games. If you read or watch some of Richard Garriot's interviews you'll see that he took the time to look at what he was creating with the Ultima series. He realized that there should be a point to the game other than just maiming hordes of npcs.

magerette September 2nd, 2007 00:07

Alrik, could you explain a little the system of the Virtues? I've never played the Ultimas and I only get a general idea from your post.

Any game that puts an emphasis on ethics is rare. There's a lot of talk about "choices' in games, but even in games that have them I agree that they don't usually play out as choices between right and wrong so much as what is most expedient, how do I get the most experience/loot and advance the fastest, etc.

Killing is definitely over used and often just a repetitive means to an end. Combat is fun when it's strategic and requires thought, as in chess or a difficult puzzle. But in RPG's there should be many more ways of getting to the end of the game, and I'm not averse to the idea of them making me think a little bit about moral choices. I'd like to see more games do this.

Alrik Fassbauer September 2nd, 2007 00:30

Suddenly, this, what I had been writing, reminded me of an old article over thare at RPGDot:

It's not the same thing, but (yes, I've read some interviews with Richard Garriott and found his view, why he invented the Virtues, absolutely fascinating) it goes in a way into that direction.

There always has to be a task for a player in orer to play a game - and fighting is the most deep rooted, most traditional task.

Fighting for what and why ?

The "why" question is in part covered by the "Virtues" system: If you fight only for killing, your Virtues are seemingly not very much existing. Then, you are in principle nothing more than a murderer, only, that you murder monsters which are actually there to be murdered, not people. MNot men. HNot humans, specifically, because fighting peoples of other races is normally allowed in games.

Today, I just began to read "The Last Hero" by Terry Pratchett.

Game designers should read this book, too. It has a number of very interesting ideas.

For example:


"What exactly has Cohen the Barbarian done that is heroic ?"
"Well … you know … heroic deeds …"
"And they are … ?"
"Fighting monsters, defeating tyrants, stealing rare treasures, rescuing maidens … that sort of things."
"And who, precisely, defines the monstrousness of the monsters and the tyranny of the tyrants ?"
"Well … the hero, I suppose …"
"Ah, and the theft of these rare items … I think the word that interests me here is the term 'theft', and activity frowned on by most of the world's major religions, is it not ? The feeling stealing over me is that all these terms are defined by the hero.
You could say: I am an hero, so when I kill you that makes you, de facto the kind of person suitable to be killed by a hero."
That's just a shortened part of a talk within it.

Another thing is the fate of Evil Harry Dread, a classical, stereotype, "bad guy", who has abandoned his job, because the younger people don't know the code. They even block the secret tunnel a typical bad guy would use to escape … and set up just another, differently-named Temple of Deem somewhere else.

Cohen, the Barbarian is actually very pleased, yes I dare to say happy, that Evil Harry follows the code so much that he has (aftzer long searching) finally found some henchmen that were so dumb they could easily beaten by any hero - inclusing the keyring that's so big and so loosely attached to the belt of the hench-man one could easily take it away.

And he complains: Nowadays, young people don't do that anymore. They don't know how Evil Lords are properly set up. Instead they use paperwork.

And now, connect that with the layout and design of RPGs …

Alrik Fassbauer September 2nd, 2007 00:36


Originally Posted by magerette (Post 43248)
Alrik, could you explain a little the system of the Virtues? I've never played the Ultimas and I only get a general idea from your post.

Someone else please. I'm not too deep in them, but there was recently an interview with Richard Garriott explaining them a bit … Basically it's something you wouldn't see in today's games.

It's like having ethics in a game. You just don't allow yourself to murder anyone out in the streets, and so you don't do that in the game. I think the last surviving memory of that all is the reputation used in some games.

Also, I only have German-language descriptions of those, and I'm right now too lazy to translate everything.

Since I'm still fairly new into these games (although I've read the handbooks before), I can't elaborate too much on them.

Lucky Day September 2nd, 2007 01:20

There is a lot of interviews on the subject of ultima IV with Richard.

Key to his motivation was the constant complaint of the bad nature of video games in general. He wanted to put his money where his mouth is and solve this problem.

He went about a study of ethics and how to incorporate them in his next game. Although the magic number 8 crops up this is mostly a matter of binary logic and not Buddhism as he said his main source of study was the Bible. We see Hinduism (Om) and even Chivalric type influences such as Honour, and Courage.

Nearly every RPG out there was of the hack and slash variety. It wasn't uncommon to have a Paladin and a Thief in the same party for example. The Paladin conviently looked the other way when he noticed the thief picking pockets for example. Although there were alignments they were pretty much ignored.

You could play this in Ultima 3 - and it was very effective. In Ultima IV you meet a blind seer selling reagents. Its very easy for you to steal from her. However, the effect on one of your 8 virtues is devastating. This just wasn't seen in any game at the time; video or otherwise.

Achieving virtue could be very difficult at times. If you were in battle and your opponent faield their morale check they would start running away. You gained compassion by letting them but this could be at the cost of Valour. You had to hope you could kill enough opponents before they started running away. Other ways of gaining virtue were by giving donations.

The one problem with the system was its dependency on a work salvation. It didn't take into account human nature. The tediousness of constant combat also got annoying as it gave you the option to run away. You also had to be careful it didn't take you too long, and if you were stuck (and Ultima 4 is really complicated) this is could be costly.

You said these games were unique and they are. There is not a single game out there like it. These aren't just mere mailman or kill the boss quests and you did find those as well.

The virute system is complicated and takes careful planning to implement right. Its not that simple. It was no wonder games following looked to greatly simplify it.

Garriot himself said he didn't like the idea of Karma but his own company started implementing in their games such as Moebius (aka Windowalker). In U9 you see the Virtues are reduced to this oversimplified system as well.

Today we largely see reputation systems instead as you've mentioned.

Pladio September 2nd, 2007 02:04

I think that system is 'dead' for multiple reasons. A simple response would be that it must require a lot of coding just to create a really effective system of virtues. Another is that since most new RPGs are trying to make multiple factions available with different ideologies, the virtues should change depending on which faction you join. If let's say you join the Paladins, then those virtues remain unchanged. But if you join Pirates in a game, their perception of ethics and morality are completely different. Games like KOTOR and a lot of other games even have completely evil sides, so it should even go both ways, having vices as well (which would help the ones who join the evil factions). This adds even more work to the developers and I believe that they think it's not worth that much work to add these very nice features.

I hope I made myself clear, I'm a bit tired at the moment.

Corwin September 2nd, 2007 08:26

Magerette, could I STRONGLY suggest trying Lazarus if you want to experience what the Ultimas were all about. It would be WELL worth your time!!

Alrik Fassbauer September 2nd, 2007 21:52

I believe there's actually so much combat nowadays in games thaz ethics are - apart from a cmisty "reputation" thrown over board altogether.

These games nowaday don't teach ethics. They instead teach how to be quick and kill before your opponents can rise their hands against you.

I believe these games teach the wrong thing.

And no, before the first one sass "but this is only a game" : You learn anyway. Like I learned while playing X-Wing that putting the joystick too much on one side makes you crash into the next starship.
I became a much more careful car driver, after learning that.

You learn things in games anyway. That's what game partially are for !

Corwin September 3rd, 2007 01:34

Games are actually an incredible teaching/learning tool. There are heaps of books available on that topic!!

Maylander September 3rd, 2007 02:30

Yes, they are. An example is my little stepbrother (we're decades apart) who learned most of his English from World of Warcraft. I know, I know, it's not the best source of English on the planet, but it really motivated him to learn the language, so he could understand more of the game.

Personally, I learned my English from watching Transformers, and playing early textbased games like Might & Magic and Larry.

woges September 3rd, 2007 02:50

Theres a wiki page on the virtues of Ultima:

A lot of detail there.

Pladio September 3rd, 2007 03:04

I learned my English and a great deal of history from games. Games also raised my interest multiple subjects (mostly history, but technology and art as well).

If I'm interested in this system of virtues, what game should I play? I prefer RPGs with choices and consequences (FO, KOTOR,…). And what's Lazarus ?

Fenris September 3rd, 2007 03:11

Lazarus is a Mod for Dungeon Siege. It recreates Ultima V with the DS-Engine.


And it's exactly the Ultima-Game I would recommend :)

Pladio September 3rd, 2007 05:02

The original Dungeon Siege or DS II, because I only own the original…

magerette September 3rd, 2007 05:12


Originally Posted by Corwin (Post 43298)
Magerette, could I STRONGLY suggest trying Lazarus if you want to experience what the Ultimas were all about. It would be WELL worth your time!!

:embarrassed: I've had the mod downloaded for some time but couldn't find my Dungeon Seige disks!! (NOT a game I'm fond of revisiting…..)

I managed to turn them up last night, though and will get it going. After reading the ideas posted here by Alrik and Lucky Day and the wikipedia information woges kindly supplied I'm definitely curious to see how this works in practice.

@Pladio: The original DS with all patches.

Alrik Fassbauer September 3rd, 2007 15:45


Originally Posted by woges (Post 43429)
Theres a wiki page on the virtues of Ultima:

A lot of detail there.

Ah, thanks ! :)

I've been thinking futher, actually. ;)

We learn. If we want it, or not. Take a tactics game, for example. You learn how to efficiently "use" your troops against an enemy. You learn what we call "tactics". That's what a tactics game is for.
More subtle, you learn that you need to developd different tactics depending on the troops you have - in any new tactics game anew.

Somehow I came to the conclusion that this learnibg effect is vastly underrated by the designers - and by the marketing, because the mareting is and to doing what marketing does best: Market games. ("Hur, hur, hur".)
Therefore, a marketing team wil most naturally take emphasis on what's making a game appealing to people in order to sell rather more "copies" of that game.

And most naturally, they will do everything to suppress theunwanted rffects a game might have - in any area.

For example, we learn to crawl, be silent, and sneak up to an enemy in the thief games. Okay, most of you (if not all) will now say, "but this is only a game, it has no relations to reality".

And that is the point.

I have come to the conclusion that the "but it's only a game" argument is used too often as an excuse to allow nearly everything in a game - and to leave ethics out.

Most naturally, in a children's game, children are allowed almost anything. That's the way it goes.

Except for really unpleasant things, for example, like grabbing a cat by its tail as a kind of handle and throwing it away this way. (I actually know of a case where a nightly car driver threw his unwanted cat out of his car and a friend of mine (in another forum) picked the small cat up - only to realize a day later at the veterinary that the whole bundle of nerves going from the backspine into the tail was torn by this brutal act. The cat had to be put down.)

"This child is just playing" or "this is just a game" is what we hgear most about children which are playing.

But - the same excuse we hear in video games. "But this is only a game", and "I was merely playing - this has no relation to reality !" This is as if the term "game" puts a game actually in kind of a taboo zone where criticism is not allowed, because it's just - a game.

And a game is fun. Otherwise we wouldn't play it. We play everything that's fun to us. Like soccer/football, for example.

So, we buy games which are fun to us.

The game, as we play it, if free from any criticism, because "it is just a game" and therefore operates in kind of a taboo zone.

So, we can do whatever we want.

We can give a child a marble ball, and see what it does with it. We can give the child a bunch of lego stones and see what it does wioth it. We can give a child a model airplane and see what it does with it. We can give a child a gun, and see what it does with it.

That's what we do in many games. In a game - no matter which one, but in this text it's clearly the emphasis on video games - we are operating in kind of a taboo zone where everything is allowed. There are no parents indicating to us that killing someone might not be good.

Of course, we are mostly presented with monsters. What a lame excuse just to allow killing someone ! "Kill or be killed", is what we learn in games involving weapons and guns. It's as simple as that. And we learn, no matter what.

I personally believe that what we learn is kind of digested and tranported within our minds to other fields and applied there. Economy, for example. Take over your opponent (a competing company), or you'll be "killed", in a figurative sense.

In a gang-fight, it's just the same.

We learn, and we apply lerarned things to other areas. Otherwise we couldn't survive.

We learn through video games things we shouldn't apply to other areas - for example to sneak up behind someone. But I fear that we do so - regardless. It's built in us. We are built to transport and apply things we learn into other areas. Everyone raising a child can see that. A neuron network form through this.

So, my pont is, that games allow everything, because they're games, and therefore protected by kind of a taboo. In a game, everything is allowed.

At one point while thinking I came to the conclusion that games like "ManhunT" are a most natural evolution of this "everything goes" attitude. In a game, everything is allowed.

And in order to rather sell more games, ethics are left outm because they spoil the fun. So, in the last consequence, Manhunt is the most natural evolutionary development of this thought pattern.

Only our own built-in ethics refrain game designers from more ghastly, brutal games. In the movies, even that doesn't exist, movies like "Saw" for example show, or "Kill Bill" even tries to promote "killing" into an art in itself. Plus lots of blood, of course.
But movies are not games, though.

I personally believe, if games are designed forther into that pattern - operating in a taboo zone where everything is allowed thus giving the designers and the marketing enough excuses to incorporate everything that's allowed into them, we will see more and more games like Manhunt and other not so drastic "killing games", as I put it.

And of course, there omes the point when people say that video games are not "games" anymore, but rather "art" or at least "a new form of art". But still they operate in the taboo zone that was once in our deepest past erected just for children's games !

aries100 September 3rd, 2007 17:25

While reading this most excellent thread :) I headed over to Bioware Mass Effect's forums and found this thread:


The thread (or rather the posts in the thread ;) ) discusses the ethics in Mass Effect.
One of the question is whether or not you should kill an innocent man to avoid the killing of more innocent men, women and children?

As I understand, at least from what Bioware has said, ME will present the player with a range of questions, challenging the player's morales and ethics. One of the other questions discussed in the linked Bioware thread is this one: we have 10 or 12 people. There is a virus infection going on - but you, as the leader only have 1 or 2 antidote potions. How do you deal with this?

To me, this could be very interesting to put into the Virtue system. However, ME does not have a virtue system, instead it does have a paragon/renegade system that keeps tracks of your actions.

I would like to Manhunt 2 being released with some sort of virtue system and a system that actually rewards for not killing people…but that's probably just wishful thinking.

Alrik Fassbauer September 3rd, 2007 17:53


Originally Posted by aries100 (Post 43515)
I would like to Manhunt 2 being released with some sort of virtue system and a system that actually rewards for not killing people…but that's probably just wishful thinking.

Yes, that would be most interesting, imho. But on the other hand it won't ever be released, because - deducing from the design decisions apparent in most games of today - most game designers and marketing experts don't believe in this - or at least don't believe that this would generate/increase sales.

Which means that the people who designed the game - I tend to put both the "designers" plus the marketing into a team because imho both groups have the most influence towards designing a game - consider this ethical reasoning as "not important" in their aimed group of buyers/customers - otherwise they would include it, imho.

Which says a LOT about the point of view they have (the "Menschenbild") about their aimed customers.

Over there at the Larian forum there was once indeed a similar question: Lar wanted to know about similar "ethical questions" like you mentioned about Mass Effect.
It's here: Moral dilemma's in C-RPGs

By the way, my initial thought from the first post included a system - which I believe can be developed to some extend - to re-deduce the "system" standing behind design decisions for every game - and thus making it kind of a tool for a gaming database and especially for rating a game. I think if we could develop this far enough, we could be able to develop a set of "questions" which mich directly lead us - like in my complex example from above - into the design decisions and from then into the thought patterns and what I'd call in German language the "Menschenbild" behind this. (A "Menschenbild" is sort o how you think humans are made of - including their behaviour, ethics, reasoning, and thought patterns. A Menschenbild gone bad results in prejudice, for example ("all Dwarves are tunnel diggers not washing themselves *ever* and eating nothing but mushrooms") . )

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