Having a "pet" was never a part of the Ultima Trilogy. A party system was introduced in Ultima III, and all main series games following that had companion characters (some of whom were intelligent animals or monsters) who would join your party, but the idea of having a trained animal or tamed monster was never really part of the Ultima milieu, much less a part of the classic trilogy.
(Although, if I recall correctly, Ultima VI or VII did have a "falcon" you could have... but it was an equipable weapon that was basically a re-skin of the boomerang.)
So why are there pets in RetroQuest? The main answer is because they're fun. And while they don't fit in Ultima, they are a part of the retro dungeoncrawling scene... they date at least as far back as NetHack in 1987.
As for how they ended up here...
When I was coming up with character classes, one of my original ideas was that each class would add a dynamic to the game that the others lacked. While spitballing ideas, I came up with things like a rogue that would have a sneaking mechanism and an explorer who would have different ways of interacting with the map (like being able to see much more of it at a time and having fast-travel options). Obviously, a class that has a companion/fighting partner would be a good example of one that brings such a dynamic.
But after playtesting with test versions of those concepts, I came to two conclusions.
One, it would be better and simpler (and more in keeping with the feel of, say, Ultima I) if all characters basically had access to the same things and character classes just helped shape what you excelled at. That is: Rogues are better at sneaking (and related things), Explorers have some nifty quality-of-life enhancements to moving and exploration, Fighters are better at fighting, Wizards are better at magic, but at a basic interacting-with-the-game level everybody can do everything.
Two, having a pet was really very fun and there was no sense "penalizing" players who wanted to have one by forcing them to give up competency in another area.
So that's when having a companion became a basic part of the game. It can be a smaller part or a larger part. If you don't choose to focus any part of your character generation/development on your companion then it won't be terribly effective as a fighter... a good way of keeping yourself from being overwhelmed in fights against multiple opponents when soloing, but not necessarily the thing that tips the balance.
Being able to choose a companion is also a way to better define your character. If your main class is Wizard and you have a cat as your companion, you're one conical hat away from being a credible witch. If you have a zombie, you just need a hooded robe and you're obviously a necromancer.
You choose a companion type when you make your character.
The companion's basic capabilities only vary a little by type; much as a bear companion might be assumed to be an unusually friendly bear, it must also be assumed that that a cat companion is an unusually fierce and capable domestic feline.
The most noticeable difference is in behavior. A dog will tend to try to pair up with you, attacking the same targets you attack. A cat will do the opposite, fighting your enemies but pointedly trying to avoid fighting alongside you. A bear is protective and favors opponents who attack its master. A badger goes after whatever enemy presents itself. You can switch your companion's AI to "peaceful" and back to default at will. If your class is Beast Master, you also gain an alternate combat AI so you can alter the companion's fighting style if their default behavior is not desirable. (For instance, if you have a dog or bear and you don't want them to be all clustered up fighting the same enemies as you... or you have a cat or badger and you do.)
A companion typically has about half as many Hit Points as the character it belongs to. It can be summoned in an instant as long as it has Hit Points.
When defeated, it "flees" and then must rest for a set amount of time before it can be re-summoned. Pets can be healed through any means that can be used to heal other PCs, and they also heal slowly and steadily any time they're "away".
Choosing Beast Master for your primary or secondary character class increases your companion's fighting capabilities, HP, and regeneration rates. A Beast Master's companion is a more integral part of the character's abilities, and so will be defeated less often and require less time resting before it can be resummoned.
So far I have bears, cats, dogs, badgers, and horses. Planned types include slimes, hedgehogs, zombies, and spirits. I want there to be something interesting about each one. I don't think it would be worth it to try to come up with a completely different behavioral pattern/AI for each one, but by combining different combat AIs with different amounts of movement randomness and "leash lengths" I can hopefully make each one seem to act in a distinct manner.
I toyed with the idea of putting in humanoid companions (Guard, Archer, Mage)... I dropped that when I couldn't figure out what nomenclature to use for the class that focuses on companions if it includes things that can't be reduced to "beast", and also when I considered the dynamics of grouping with pets. If you have a party of three and everybody's got a companion out, it's going to be confusing enough even if all the party members are two-legged humanoids and all the pets aren't.
I might change my mind on that again. I have always favored the stance that classes aren't actual things inside the game, they're just meta-game handles for areas of competency. Or I could eliminate the Beast Master class and make everybody's pets of a more average combat capability.
I don't know. Now that I'm articulating this I really think I do want human/oid companions back in as an option. They diversify the number of stories you can tell through the chargen process... you can focus entirely on non-combat stuff but have a bodyguard, for instance, or you can have an old friend/adventuring buddy/sworn companion/henchman.
Stuff to think about. That's why I'm blogging about it.
Aug 10 2011, 5:06 pm