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Codex Interview RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Ian Boswell and Martin Buis on The Dark Heart of Uukrul

Crooked Bee

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Tags: Broderbund Software; Ian Boswell; Martin Buis; Retrospective Interview; The Dark Heart of Uukrul

Corrupted by the evil wizard Uukrul, the underground city of Eriosthe is but a shadow of its former self, its passages now twisted beyond a mortal's understanding. The Dark Heart of Uukrul, a first person turn- and party-based dungeon-crawling CRPG with top-down Goldbox-like combat released by Broderbund in 1989 for Apple II and PC, entrusts you with a single task: cleanse Eriosthe of evil, no matter the cost. And the cost will be high, probably higher than you imagine; Uukrul knows you are coming, and he will be prepared.

In this installment of the RPG Codex retrospective interview series, we present you with an interview with Dark Heart of Uukrul's co-designers, Ian Boswell and Martin Buis, as well as a brief retrospective introducing the game. I will quote generously from the interview for you to have a taste of it:

Dark Heart of Uukrul features some of the best dungeon design in the history of the genre, up there with such games as Wizardry IV or Chaos Strikes Back. How did you go about designing the dungeons, and what are the ones you remember the most fondly?

Ian Boswell: We didn’t want the maze to be constrained in a box, made up of levels, with each of them square. That seems very artificial. We wanted it to sprawl and spread out, including going up and down as well, like real caves and tunnels would. With a simple grid co-ordinate trick, we were able to implement this. It makes exploring the dungeon regions a lot more mysterious, even scary, because you have no idea where it’s going to lead or how far you are from your goal. For the player, mapping it becomes really challenging too.

Some of the regions are small, some are huge. Each has its own flavour, supported by the story narrative, and a design approach which makes each region feel different as you explore it. [...]

Martin Buis: The levels also tell a story and have a real location, so we wanted to convey a real sense of space through their spralling layout, or indicate that you’d reached a new area by a change in architecture. We were too constrained to do much with the visuals, so that was conveyed in the layout. [...]

Dark Heart of Uukrul is widely considered one of the most challenging CRPGs out there. Was it your intention right from the start to create an expert level scenario? What prompted that decision, and why the emphasis on puzzles?

Ian Boswell: [...] Both Martin and I were fond of puzzles and intellectual challenges, so we imbedded some of our favourites into the game, and created new ones of our own. The very best puzzles, I find, are ones where you see the pieces, but the “big picture” is hidden from view until you put the pieces together the right way, and then the logic dawns on you and everything makes sense.

Martin Buis: One of the design points we really wanted to get across was that dying was a really big deal in Uukrul, and that this would drive combat and exploring to be more emotionally charged and encourage times when the player would be aggressive and times when the player would be cautious. This meant that there had to be consequences to death, and even some fatal traps that you couldn’t escape. We were loathe to allow backups and reincarnation as these would weaken that feeling. Playing the game, and reading walk-throughs, I’m pleased that this aspect of the game comes through.

We both enjoyed puzzles a lot, and that was a big differentiator for how we thought about the game. A lot of the pleasure in games is about learning the rules of the game, and then discovering how to exploit them. So we tried to incorporate that at all levels of the gameplay. There are little puzzles, like how to explore an area, puzzles with longer arcs, like how priests work, and the overall game story. For the harder puzzles we worked to ensure that there were multiple solutions, so that you didn’t always need to solve them intellectually.

Dark Heart of Uukrul's character development is quite unorthodox, especially as far as magic users are concerned. Both the priest and the magician gain not only in levels, but also in the number and quality of rings equipped, each dedicated to specific deities or magic arcana. Obtaining new rings is a different form of character progression, woven in tightly to exploration and combat. What were the influences and the rationale behind this system?

Ian Boswell: I remember that whole system came to me while I was waiting at a bus stop, and there was a woman waiting there who was wearing these big, gaudy rings on every finger. In the game, the rings give a tangible measure of progression through magic powers, or spiritual powers, more structured than the usual D&D spell progression. Each finger represents a discipline or deity, and the metal of the ring on that finger represents the level of spells or prayers you can access.

Martin Buis: We also wanted to make a strong differentiation between rewarding the player for magic and prayers. We hit upon the idea of making the wizard very deterministic, and the priest very non-deterministic. I’d done psychology and was interested in exploring how Fixed Response and Variable Response schedules might be used in a game, and this worked. I think that it worked out pretty well. I particularly like the way the priest starts out frustrating and a liability to the party, but by the end is a mighty fighting machine.

Can you describe the reception the game got and your reaction to it? In retrospect, would you have changed anything about the game? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Ian Boswell: When Broderbund signed us up, there was a window where computer RPGs were hot property, but the window didn’t stay open long enough. It took us too long to complete the game, and I’d say we missed the market by 6-12 months. Broderbund published it, but by then RPGs were “last year’s model”. They did little to promote or advertise the game, and it sold only modestly, something around 5,000 copies.

The reception from the public however, from the few people that actually know about the game, has always been really positive. Even now 25 years later, I still get an occasional email from somebody telling me how much they enjoyed the game, especially the puzzles!

Martin Buis: We had aimed at beating the technical sophistication of Wizardry when we started, but it was a moving target and by the time we delivered we were a little behind the start of the art. I think that the lack of sound was probably a big factor in the game being overlooked in the market place. About the time Uukrul came out Id released Wolfenstein, and everyone’s expectations of what you could do with computers changed. Really, the whole genre of thoughtful games seems to have disappeared, and casual gaming seems to be pushing things further down the ‘stateless’ approach to gaming. [...]​

We are grateful to Ian and Martin for their time! I would also like to thank Alex, Jaesun, VentilatorOfDoom and Zed for their comments on an earlier version of the retrospective.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Ian Boswell and Martin Buis on The Dark Heart of Uukrul
 

commie

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When Broderbund signed us up, there was a window where computer RPGs were hot property, but the window didn’t stay open long enough. It took us too long to complete the game, and I’d say we missed the market by 6-12 months. Broderbund published it, but by then RPGs were “last year’s model”. They did little to promote or advertise the game, and it sold only modestly, something around 5,000 copies.

Butthurt detected. Sorry Ian but RPG's sold well for a few more years after 1990 before the DOOM hit.
 

Mortmal

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An amiga version of this with improved music and sounds would have really rocked , that and an automap feature, i cant feel drawing on paper again. A modernized ipad and android (dont forget android!) version is a great idea.
 

spekkio

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And automap is somehow missing in DHoU? PC version I mean?

:rpgcodex:

Anyway, great job BC. Great job Ian & Martin.
Two guys made a game that I spent at least a couple weeks on.

Also currently first on my personal "Man up and try this again, you little bitch" list.

:oops:
 

octavius

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Funny how they at one point says Uukrul predates a 1987 game and at another point says ID's Wolfenstein from 1992 predated Uukrul.

Anyway, excellent review and interview! I did wonder what had become of these guys.
 

CappenVarra

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:love:

I wouldn’t say Martin and I were ever in the industry. It was a spare time project, created on a shoestring budget, and something we can look back on, proud to have completed it. As a business proposition it would have been an utter failure. I think I estimated once that our time engaged on this project had yielded us income of about $2 an hour.

So I guess there was never any chance of doing a second game, unless the first one had been much more successful. The first one was done for fun and for pride. The second one would have to be a business proposition.
A classic tale of game development...
 

Mother Russia

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:lol:

Maybe the game would have sold well had it, you know, had more real crpg elements like the best selling crpgs of the time. You know, maybe proper char gen? Multiple classes? Not being forced to make a sole party every game (fighter, paladin, cleric, mage). Also, maybe less retarded puzzles and instead more varied and better encounters, as crpg players always prefer interesting, tactical and varied combat instead of shit kiddy puzzles (hint: there is a reason the adventure game market vanished. It's cuz the games SUCKED)

I'm surprised he didn't blame piracy as well.
 

Quarex

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Dark Heart of Uukrul needed more CRPG elements? ... Did you actually play the game? "A defined set of party members" does not lie in opposition to CRPGs. The character generation was just like Ultima IV's otherwise ... are you sure you are a CRPG fan?

Edit: For the record I am not actually denying that you like CRPGs, I am just surprised to hear anyone claim this game is anything but a CRPG to the very core.

Also, great interview, Crooked Bee!!! It was great to actually read something written in 2012 about this game.
 

Mortmal

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Well in dark heart of ukrul you are forced to make fighter paladin, cleric, mage, in other game you have to pick them yourself to have a chance to survive, not a colossal difference and party generating is not so common, ultima dont have it, magic candle dont have it either . Put back the game into context 1990 ,its as varied as it goes in encounters. I dont know what kind of mental image people get of golden era games,theres not so many strategic options in any of those.
Also if adventure games disappeared its probably because publishers said they were out of fashion, like rpg, everyone focused on 3D.
 

hoverdog

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(hint: there is a reason the adventure game market vanished. It's cuz the games SUCKED)

You see, it's funny. The adventure game market vanished, but somehow there still several classic point&click adventure games being produced every year. And just how many new real cRPGs you can count? But yeah, adventures sucked and no one wants them anymore :roll:
 

Semper

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there is a reason the adventure game market vanished. It's cuz the games SUCKED)

the market vanished? right now there're 21 adventures released/in production to be released in 2012, not counting the dozens of hobby creations out there. without the adventure community and tim there would be no kickstarter hype and perhaps no revival of classical crpgs. if something's dead and long gone then it's the crpg genre - replaced with awesome action popaqte shit ;)
 

Crooked Bee

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Dark Heart of Uukrul needed more CRPG elements? ... Did you actually play the game? "A defined set of party members" does not lie in opposition to CRPGs. The character generation was just like Ultima IV's otherwise ... are you sure you are a CRPG fan?

Edit: For the record I am not actually denying that you like CRPGs, I am just surprised to hear anyone claim this game is anything but a CRPG to the very core.

Also, great interview, Crooked Bee!!! It was great to actually read something written in 2012 about this game.

Thanks Quarex, and welcome to the Codex! Glad to see you around here.

Mother Russia is a troll, by the way. We keep his kind around for entertainment, but he's not to be taken seriously.
 
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But there is the odd hidden joke, like “muzaq” which is a spell that brings forth a terrible noise.

Nice one.

Also, excellent interview and write up. The old saying usually goes 'everybody has a good book in them', well it seems like for these two, they had a good game in them.
 

ArcturusXIV

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I am so fascinated by this game.

Any chance I can get it working on a modern system? I've not messed around with DOSBox, what Settings do you guys use to get this game to run?

I'm on a Windows 7 Netbook, widescreen ATM. :/
 

octavius

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One thing I would have liked to know more about is the combat system.
Why no ranged attacks (not counting spells)? And why can the enemies run rings around your characters who are always stuck with only being able to move one square per round? (Is it possible that Crooked Bee is not a combatfag?)
 

Crooked Bee

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Behold: The Dark Heart of Uukrul... in RPGMaker: http://pilole.com/uukrul/
:eek:

I gotta LP that someday.

One thing I would have liked to know more about is the combat system.
Why no ranged attacks (not counting spells)? And why can the enemies run rings around your characters who are always stuck with only being able to move one square per round? (Is it possible that Crooked Bee is not a combatfag?)

Too late to ask them questions now, but personally as far as I'm concerned that's a question of balance. I know you will disagree (judging from what I remember of your comments in the Uukrul LP thread), but playing through the game I felt the encounters were really well-balanced and perfectly challenging, in contrast to many other old CRPGs. (Apart from the endgame if you're overleved.) However, with the balance as it is, ranged weapons would've broken the game unless they would've been gimped, and would've just required a different kind of encounter design. And I felt monsters having an edge over you is part of the game's challenge; I didn't find that problematic.
 

octavius

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Behold: The Dark Heart of Uukrul... in RPGMaker: http://pilole.com/uukrul/
:eek:

This is sad...yet another classic lolified by pedophiles. :(
Or are the lolies hard coded in RPG Maker?



Too late to ask them questions now, but personally as far as I'm concerned that's a question of balance. I know you will disagree (judging from what I remember of your comments in the Uukrul LP thread), but playing through the game I felt the encounters were really well-balanced and perfectly challenging, in contrast to many other old CRPGs. (Apart from the endgame if you're overleved.) However, with the balance as it is, ranged weapons would've broken the game unless they would've been gimped, and would've just required a different kind of encounter design. And I felt monsters having an edge over you is part of the game's challenge; I didn't find that problematic.

I guess you're right.
Still, I'd like to have both more options and for it still to be balanced and not too easy. But it's nitpicking, really.
 

Metro

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The Dark Heart of...

steve-urkel.jpg
 

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