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Sep 15

Friday: THE BIG ONE

Friends, Ellusians, Avatars, it is my privilege to be able to announce that The Dark Unknown will contain NPC Schedules and a Day/Night Cycle!

I mentioned when I changed the game’s frame that I had moved the name of where you are to the bottom of the view, and then I was suspiciously silent about what I was using the top for now, and there was a sudden complete lack of screenshots or even many updates of what I was working on. So here is a new screenshot:

I was obviously inspired by Ultima V’s view of the sky, but unlike U5 my moons move in the sky to match their phases. (In U5, the moons were always in the same positions relative to the sun and each other, but their phases changed to dictate the moongates.) Interestingly, at the moment the moon phases have no bearing on the game whatsoever, but I included them anyway.

There is now time- grandfather clocks may be found here and there on civilized maps, and when looked at will tell the current time. Another change that I believe I have previously mentioned: time now only moves 5 times faster on the world map than the town maps. This change was necessary once I added day and night. Additionally, I have moved the command to change your weapons/armor to (R)eady- what used to be Wield is not going to be (W)ait, which is necessary once NPCs have schedules. One of the downsides to schedules is player frustration of needing to talk to Bob and Bob is asleep.

(Also, I removed the Awaken spell- I couldn’t cope with having to write what happens to every single NPC if you wake them up.)

As for schedules, the underlying code isn’t completely done, but my test suite passes for the majority of it, so I’m willing to announce it. I’ve been working on it for weeks, which is why updates dwindled on my FB page- I didn’t want to announce that I was working on NPC schedules until I had them working well enough to be sure I was going to use them. Between that and my work on the art book, I haven’t had a lot of updates that were worth talking about.

Before starting this I made a number of changes that were necessary for schedules to work but could stand alone if necessary. Adding time and day/night. Changing the ratio of town/world time to 5:1. And, expanding the maps. The primary actual reason for redoing the Castle and Naurglen maps (and of course more to come) was for NPC schedules- each character needed a house to go to and a bed to sleep in to make the schedules work!

Let me now show you an example of a schedule. Recently, I added the house that your character has been living in up until the game starts. Your tutor/guardian still lives there, and his is the first schedule I’ve made. First, your house:

That is the ground floor. You start the game with the key that unlocks the front door.

And the second floor. Your bedroom has the fireplace, the tutor’s bedroom is the smaller one in the NW portion.

At night, he is sleeping in his bed. Now, this is a view of what a schedule looks like in the schedule editor I had to write to make this workable:

So, in quick summary:

At 6am he wakes up and walks to the stairs, closing his door behind him. When he reaches the stairs he goes down, which technically is a different map. Then he walks to the chair behind the table on the first floor, sits down, and has breakfast.

Then, he walks to the middle of the room and just hangs out. He has a leashLength of 3, so he’s willing to wander up to 3 spaces from the center of the room.

At 3:30 he decides it’s time to practice and so he walks to the harpsichord and plays it for half an hour, then returns to wandering randomly around the room.

At 6:30pm it is dinner time, after which, yup, more random wandering.

Finally at 9:30pm he walks back to the stairs, goes up, re-enters his room (closing the door behind him), and sleeps until the schedule starts again at the beginning.

(And for the record, there is a bug in the above schedule that was fixed after I took the screenshot. There’s no prize for finding it. đŸ™‚ )

Why NPC Schedules, and why now?

This is a big question. Over 6 years ago I considered whether to do NPC schedules and at the time I decided they were more trouble than they were worth. You need a way to make time pass, I need to write considerably more dialog, and I have to write all the schedules. Why add it now?

There are two reasons. One is that, while I have all kinds of ideas for sequels and am liberally placing references and hooks, I don’t know if I’m actually going to get another bite at this apple. And if not… this one should have all the stuff I would ideally like it to have.

Ok, but is schedules on that list? Originally it was on the knife’s edge. But a couple of months ago I sat in on a recording of the podcast Spam Spam Spam Humbug, and Ultima/Gaming podcast, and it turned into a discussion of living worlds, and some people told moving stories about how, when they played Ultima VII, with its schedules and fully interactive environments, it felt like an actual living world… and it was a world they could escape to when the real world was shitty. And I said, yeah, ok.

Schedules impact on scheduling

Not gonna lie- adding schedules significantly pushes back the release of the game. I don’t know how far, but it will be sometime probably in late 2018 at this point.

Thanks for reading- this one was a long one. And thank you for bearing with me through “Announcement Week”. I hope this one at the least will cause some excitement. Onward into the Dark Unknown!

– Adam