Ultima Ratio Regum’s Procedural People Are Handsome

Ultima Ratio Regum [official site] can be downloaded and played right now, but its appeal for me isn’t in the 4X roguelike’s unfinished alpha release. Much like its inspiration Dwarf Fortress, I enjoy URR because of its grand ambition, its commitment to procedural generation, and its carefully detailed development blog.

This week’s blogged about addition is particularly fine: procedural ANSI faces, as pictured above.

URR will eventually be a semi-roguelike with a world to explore, competing civilizations, permadeath and inspiration from everything from Umberto Eco to Europa Universalis. For now, it’s swathes of procedurally generated worldbuilding you can walk around. The faces are another part of that, designed to reflect the culture of the different factions as you travel and meet their NPCs. Solo developer Mark Johnson lays out his goals with the system in the post:

Firstly, it should be massively varied, and even if you spend a decent length of time just looking at the ordinary people in the street, it should take some time and under you see any two people who are identical. Secondly, it should be demographic – which is to say, each nation can have a set of preferred hairstyles, likely skintones, other signifiers (like turbans, tattoos, jewelry, etc), and these should be distinct in each nation. Thirdly, and following on from the second point above, there should be enough of these that (much like everything else in URR) you should be able to gain visual information: when you meet someone you’ve never met before, you should be able to make a reasonable guess about their nation of birth. Fourthly, any combination should be possible, as a means of undermining the idea that only “primitive” peoples will be found with certain cultural signifiers – in one game perhaps the people in the most technologically and militarily powerful empire all have extensive facial tattoos, for examples.

Unlike most other roguelikes which use ASCII, URR is powered by an ANSI tileset, which is similarly formed by letters and numbers but includes 256 characters instead of ASCII’s 128. This allows it to portray images in much greater detail, and Ultima Ratio Regum can be quite beautiful.

The faces will be able to seen in the next update of the game when you press ‘l’ to look at a character. You’ll also be able to see their other procedurally generated items they’re carrying, tabbing through “attendant images for all of those (clothing, shoes, any holstered weapons, jewelry, etc).”

You can read more about the game in our interview with Johnson from 2013.

And yeah, OK:


  1. Gap Gen says:

    The eyes, they be staring.

    • fylth says:

      In the comments on the article on the URR site he mentions he’s working on fixing the eyes so they don’t stand out so much

      • Gap Gen says:

        I was mainly pointing it out because of the running joke in the RPS article tags.

        • fylth says:

          Yeah I guessed that :P Just thought I’d point it out as it seems like a point of contention to many

  2. Harlander says:

    I’m still a little unconvinced about how good a game in the more traditional sense URR will be, but the random generation is some of the most fascinating stuff to come out of computer toys in recent times.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Yeah, this is always the risk with projects based on big ideas that are somehow incidental to the game itself. It’d be great if this kind of thing were something you could use in other projects, so you could plug different cultures and histories into Total War or Civ or a city builder or an RPG. This kinda goes into what Mike Cook was talking about in his series on here, where it’s relatively easy to pull examples for bump mapping shaders from the web but if you want to know how to code anything more complex than A* for AI you’re probably ship out of luck*.

      * I rewatched the Jazz Boatman trailer recently, sorry.

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      SoundDust says:

      I have yet to try a game with procedurally generated content that’s fun to play. So the way I see this – while it’s definitely fascinating – it could be used as basis for a story driven RPG or adventure game. Basically URR would generate the world and populate it, and then the game makers could write the story to fit that world, with NPC’s, items, interface etc to match.

      Or maybe I just can’t see past the “Ultima” word..

      • Gap Gen says:

        Oh yeah, I never thought of this (the expression is something that the French kings used to stamp on their cannons). I hope it doesn’t get trademark stomped on by the Ultima people.

      • PerspectiveDesigns says:

        Dwarf Fortress is truly fascinating. But most random generation games don’t stay that interesting.

      • Undermind_Mike says:

        If that’s true, you either have not played Spelunky or did not find it fun, and either way I find you strange and alien ;)

  3. Orija says:

    What are those yellow boxes with ages in them?

  4. Wulfram says:

    They look like the same two people with different haircuts.

    And I guess different skin colours, though initially it seemed more like different lighting.

    • Spacewalk says:

      One of those people looks like David Bowie.

    • Dilapinated says:

      Eh, it’s early days yet, and what a fantastic early days it is.

      I expect later there will be more varied facial shapes, noses, etc, that will dispel these similarities.

  5. noodlecake says:

    I’d be more impressed if they didn’t all look like brothers.