Mark Damon Hughes  | Umbra: Design Notes



A simple computer role-playing game. The world is randomly-generated, but there is an eventual goal. Heavily influenced by roguelike games, Alternate Reality, console RPGs like Lunar 2 and Zelda: the Ocarina of Time, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.


Set after a magical apocalypse, the Great Old Ones have reclaimed the Earth from the infestation of Humanity. Humanity is extinct except on one isolated island, where Mogth is now waking. The player's goal is to gain enough power and information to defeat Mogth and free Humanity or escape the planet.

The Fundamental Design Principle: Simplicity of gameplay is more important than realism.

The classic example of this is commands in Roguelikes. Eating food, drinking potions, readying weapons, wearing armor, zapping wands, activating artifacts, and so on are all "using" an item. You never eat a potion or wear a wand, so why are they different commands? In Umbra, there's *one* command to use an item.

As another example, I also want food to be important, but tracking healing and starvation rates is complex and tedious, and gets worse when you try to run several characters. So instead, food heals you. Now you have a reason to carry food on long journeys, but without the bookkeeping.

After some thought, I boiled the commands down to: move, attack, talk/trigger, use item/skill/power/spell, item manipulation, quit/save.

Second And No Less Important Principle: Freedom of choice.

If you choose to do evil, you will pay for it, but you will never be forbidden from any reasonable course of action.

Third But Still Really Important Principle: A single, unified view.

Every presentation context switch leads to a moment of player confusion. The longer the player stays in a single context, the more it will be sucked into the world and suspend its disbelief.

There are a couple of roguelike games with wilderness levels (Omega and ADOM), but they use pregenerated world maps, use a different scale for it, and have different actions available. The original Ultima games had 3-D wireframe for the dungeons, but tile-based wilderness, but now they use tiles for everything - at least it's consistent. Console RPGs usually have a wilderness view, a town/dungeon view, and then switch to a battle map for fights.

I want the player to ALWAYS see the world at the same scale, from the same perspective, with the same controls.

A vast new world
3-D Graphics

What's New?

Version 0.10, released 2001Jul15

I worked on the magic system, but it's not available yet, so there's not much new this release (thus the restrained tone of the bullet items), but there are some significant bug-fixes.

Version 0.9, released 2001Jul08

Version 0.8, released 2001Jun17

Version 0.7.1, released 2001Jun03

I'm almost out of alpha, so I spent the weekend cleaning up the code, fixing bugs, and not adding much new functionality. Thus the version number. I don't know how much I'll get done next weekend, as I have other plans, but I'll see what happens. This would be a good time to really start playtesting it, if you're interested; if you can get above level 10, I'll be very impressed - email me, and I'll put you up on a hall of fame!

Version 0.7, released 2001May28

Version 0.6, released 2001May20

Alpha version 0.5, released 2001May13

Version 0.4, released 2001May06

News: 2001Apr30

Version 0.3, released 2001Apr22

Version 0.2, released 2001Apr16

Version 0.1, released 2001Apr11

The Future, Coming Sooner Than You Think!


Better NPC interactions; you should be able to influence their reactions with gifts or saying the right things to them.

New commands: "party reorganization" and "pool cash".

Give you more info on what NPCs are doing to you, not just the damage.

Ability to see into other sectors, instead of the current Thirteenth Floor-like wireframe; I need to boost the speed of sector load/save before this is a practical idea.

Customizable color themes.

Sound effects.

Wilderness caves, chock-full of treasure and nasty things that leap out at you with big sharp teeth.


Real names for all the humans, and probably no names on the critters. Then again, maybe I'll leave the latter alone for now; it lets you tell individuals apart, and "Shivu, a Rat" and "Xaa, a Rat" are better than "Rat A" and "Rat B".

Last modified: 2001Jun11
Cleaned up and linked into the main page


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