Don’t forget! We’ve been posting regular updates via a monthly email newsletter, so if you’d like more frequent updates than you’re getting on Kickstarter, you can sign up through this link.
Here are a few highlights from recent newsletters:
A Special Word from OtherSide’s Paul Neurath
It probably comes as no surprise, but it’s taking longer than we’d hoped for Underworld Ascendant to come together. The release will extend beyond the original November 2016 date.
Our goal is to make a game that’s not only wonderfully fun and super polished, but also genuinely innovative. We’re pushing hard on the Improvisation Engine, going deep with making The Stygian Abyss feel like a living and breathing dynamic environment, on achieving the subtle interplay with the Faction politics, and more.
Innovating is hard work, and not an entirely predictable process. The team learned this lesson on the original Underworlds, and with Thief: The Dark Project and other games that pushed the envelope. We do feel that taking the time to make the game great is the right call.
Before we will be ready to share an updated release date, we want to get over the hump on the key innovations and know that they are working smoothly. In February, we expect to share a new Prototype build with Backers that shows much progress.
“We are hugely appreciative of your patience and support, and in being part of seeing this game come to life.
A Rewarding Announcement
To thank our fans for their patience as we work to ensure Underworld Ascendant is everything it can be, we’re providing two gifts…
First off, we’ve gone ahead and unlocked the current Stretch Goal for The Necropolis of The Ancients, a foreboding lower level location where the game’s most powerful Undead, hidden secrets, and rarest arcane treasure can be found.
We’ll also be providing to all Backers who have pledged for a digital copy of the game a bonus collection of seven, hi-res Underworld Ascendant wallpapers spotlighting the work of concept artist Robb (SHODAN, Garrett, Sander Cohen) Waters.
A Look Inside the Underworld Ascendant Bestiary
When you interact with a denizen of The Stygian Abyss in Underworld Ascendant, you’re encountering many hours of work involved in bringing it to life… Modeling, animation, AI, and -- what we’ll cover a bit today -- a core set of underlying design principles that dictate its role in the game.
The inhabitants come in three main forms:
· CATALYSTS – Beings who possess robust behaviors, advanced combat tactics, and, if intelligent, can converse, trade, or engage with the player. (Ex: The Lizard Men.)
· CONFOUNDERS– Creatures who enhance or detract in combat, like The Wailing Haunt or Lich, or act as environmental hazards, like The Ripper or Lurker.
· COLLABORATORS– Inhabitants with useful behaviors that the player can exploit, like the Earth Clot, a bulky, gelatinous mass that can be prodded down hallways to break traps or act as cover.
One of the core design principles of Underworld Ascendant is to educate the player about the rules of the simulated dungeon world without overt hand-holding. The goal of “teaching players to teach themselves” underlies the game’s level design, narrative, and even the combat design.
For instance, there are four tiers of CATALYSTS, whose roles in combat…
· TIER 1 - Teach the player the basic moves & skills of the CATALYST.
· TIER 2 - Make sure the player is paying attention.
· TIER 3 - Challenge the player.
· TIER 4 - Provide a fight to remember.
In the Vertical Slice, the player will not only face creatures from each category, he/she will find that a mix or an entrant from a higher tier can make for a much different encounter.
Ultima Underworld influences in Underworld Ascendant
Ultima Underworld and Ultima Underworld 2 were ground breaking RPGs that influenced dozens of games – including, not surprisingly, our own. With Underworld Ascendant, our goals have been to do justice to those original games and be as innovative as they were at the time.
We have a number of innovative new features that we’ve yet to reveal (including a narrative system that our producer Chris Siegel calls “Looking Glass 2.0.”), though intend to show in detail farther down the line.
But for many basic questions, like how survival elements should be handled or letting the player increase difficulty by descending to lower levels, we often look to the original Ultima Underworld for guidance. There’s simply so much those games did right.
In an earlier update, we mentioned that the Green Lizard Men will be found in the neutral zone of Marcaul, an area featured in our upcoming Vertical Slice. That’s a direct connection to one of our favorite moments in Ultima Underworld -- a game that, a year and a half before Edge Magazine famously said, “lf only you could talk to these creatures…” about Doom, let you decipher the language of a race of creatures, talk to them, and make alliances with them.
As you can imagine, we find this sequence pretty inspiring and intend to feature the Lizard Men prominently in the Vertical Slice. (We’ll even drop the name “Ishtass” as a hint…)
Another one of our favorite moments in the series? In Ultima Underworld 2’s Prison Tower of Tarna level, the player could: 1) fight your way through several levels full of goblins or 2) talk your way through past all the guards, access the jail on the top floor, and release a captured troll, who would then proceed to wipe out every single goblin in the place. Both were fun ways of solving the same challenge and allowed a large gameplay choice on a quest level.
As we’ve said before, in Underworld Ascendant, we provide players with a large toolbox and let them choose how to solve a challenge. While that’s mainly meant on a moment-to-moment level, we’re also seeing some interesting opportunities to feature Tower of Tarna-style quest choices as well.
As far as other direct connections go, you’ve heard the game will feature Ultima Underworld characters Cabirus, who attempted to found a utopia in The Stygian Abyss, and Tyball, the “big bad” wizard… who is returning as a lich. One of the two? Has a very major role to play in Underworld Ascendant.
Beyond that, we’ll save additional details about inspirations and links from the earlier games for future updates, but it’s safe to say that they influence us every day.
But, Wait --There’s More!
Want to read up more about the making of Underworld Ascendant?
You can find updates posted on our website here, including a look at the creation of the Lizard Men, word about the role popular voice actor Stephen (Thief, Fallout 4) Russell will be playing in the game, and more.
Again, thanks for your support!
The Team at OtherSide
It’s a start of a new year and we thought we’d update you on all that’s happened on the project since last fall. We’ve been posting regular updates via an emailed newsletter, so if you’d like more frequent updates than you’re getting on Kickstarter, you can sign up through this link. Also, add us on Twitter, while you’re at it!
Here are highlights from recent newsletters:
In October, We Showed Our First Prototype
The Prototype is tightly-focused around highlighting key areas of progress:
- We wanted to have a big step up on the visual bar from the rough prototypes we showed during the Kickstarter. The final game will look even better of course, but this snapshot shows a lot of progress.
- In the gameplay department, we’re showing some fun stealth gameplay, but flipped on its head of what we designed for Thief: The Dark Project. Here a stealthy monster, the Shadow Beast, is stalking the player. Our protagonist is a rogue who is virtually unarmed and must rely on her wits to defeat the creature. This interaction highlights the capability of Underworld Ascendant’s Improvisation Engine, from manipulating the lava flow and lighting torches to change the light levels to keep the beast away.
- Then there is the audio soundscape to help deepen the immersion, as well as select voice overs to convey the game’s narrative. If you listen closely to the soundscape, you’ll hear some ‘musical’ beats happening. We plan to work with sound as a game system and to enhance the character of The Underworld itself. We learned many lessons about audio and its importance on Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock 2. (To be clear, the VO of the rogue in the prototype is there only as a narrative piece to explain what the player might be thinking. There won’t be player voice-over in the final game, as it’s a true role-playing game and we don’t intend to speak for the player.)
The Prototype covers just a tiny corner of The Stygian Abyss and is focused on just the single encounter between a rogue character and the Shadow Beast. In the actual game there will be MUCH, MUCH more going on within the world and many more choices for a player. Regardless, we think the Prototype shows great progress since the Kickstarter and we hope you agree. It’s gotten some nice press, including Quarter to Three Podcast, GamesRadar Podcast, and An Early Look at Underworld Ascendant.
In November, Nate Wells Joined the Team as Art Director
Nate has joined the OtherSide team as our Studio Art Director. Nate has been the Art Director on some pretty impressive titles, like Irrational's Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, Naughty Dog's Last of Us, and the recent Rise of the Tomb Raider. Nate got his start back at Looking Glass as a level designer and artist on Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock 2. We’re thrilled to have another one from the Looking Glass fold!
Some words from Nate himself on his thoughts about Underworld Ascendant:
"The artistic vision for Underworld Ascendant is born out of my feelings about the state of fantasy in the world. Not just in games but in film, television, and books. Recently, fantasy has crossed over into the mainstream with Game of Thrones and the Tolkien movies. One of the things that I really feel is fantasy used to be fun and now it is gritty, brooding, and loaded with political allegory. For me, I just have the amazing memories of pen and paper gaming back in the early 80's and how much fun it was and what a sense of humor it had about itself and feel that fantasy has lost its self-awareness and its sense of humor. That was my jumping off point for the art direction for Underworld Ascendant.
“So I went back and dug out my dusty old Dungeon and Dragons books from my parent's home and started thumbing through them. I asked myself what was it that I loved so much about that era in fantasy? What I found really was there was a sense of levity and this naiveté to the art, because a lot of that early art wasn’t done by professionals, it was done by game designers who could 'kinda' draw. So when you go back to those early 1st edition books, you think, ‘Wow, I can't believe that this piece of art actually made it into a book.’ These days, we have these amazing professional artists and they choose to use their skills to do fantasy and science fiction -- which is fantastic, but everyone is getting so deadly serious about it. They want all their fantasy to look... real and feel real. My feeling is most games in the fantasy realm lately have also caught this reality bug. It seems that most groups are about trying to bring fantasy to absolute realism with real trees, real grass, time of day, and all that stuff. I think chasing photo-realism in fantasy isn't the answer. I think to recapture a retro sense of fantasy, fantasy the way our inner child remembers it. We didn't have Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings telling us what a castle looked like or what a giant two-headed zombie looked and acted like.
“So for Underworld Ascendant, what if the world bore the authorship of a tabletop game? Think of the old lead figures, the miniature play fields, and what if Ascendant used that philosophy of everything being hand crafted and looking hand-crafted? Natural, man-made... All of it. All of it looks like it was sculpted by an artist. That and bringing back some of the levity to the fantasy. We don't have to be so deadly serious and bleak. A little more whimsy and a little less brooding. "
Just Before Thanksgiving, We Released the First Playable Prototype
The Playground Prototype all about physics-based puzzles set in a corner of The Stygian Abyss. The visuals have been intentionally kept very sparse, since wanted to completely focus on the gameplay aspects. So be forewarned, it looks as plain as vanilla.
The fun is in the physics puzzles, where we challenge you to solve tricky bits using an early pass of The Improvisation Engine. Even at this early stage, there are dozens of ways to solve challenges -- some which our team haven’t even discovered yet. Will you? The Prototype also features a first pass on the magic system, which likewise feeds into the open-ended nature of solving challenges.
If you are (or become) a backer at a Pioneer or higher pledge tier, you can get access now to the Prototype to as a $5 Add-On. With this Add-On, you’ll also earn a $5 credit good towards a future pledge. To learn more details, go HERE.
In December, We Smashed!
Fleshing out the combat system became a focus. We started work on an internal Prototype where you can smack things with… well, at the moment, a stone axe. Not glamorous, but it does the blunt work.
As with the other game systems, our goal with combat is to give the player a range of interesting choices on how to approach a problem. At the same time, we don’t want seventy-five buttons for the player to memorize. The trick is in striking the right balance between tactical depth and keeping the system streamlined enough so that players can readily get a handle on combat.
We also realize there are different types of gamers out there. Some love moving though a 3D space like an over-caffeinated ninja. Others prefer to be more careful and slower-paced about their actions. On the team, Chris is a twitch gamer. His idea of perfection of movement is Ninja Gaiden or running around in Mirror’s Edgeand Titanfall. Tim isn’t as much a fan of twitch gameplay, preferring more paced and tactical thinking in his combat.
Since we’re a role-playing game at heart, we’ll be leaning more towards tactical pacing for Underworld Ascendant.
A good example of more tactical pacing would be the sword fight from the film Princess Bride. In it, two masters use both their skills and the environment in an intense match, but don’t fly around a la Iron Monkey.
One way to introduce some twitch gameplay into the system is to have a handful of ‘twitchy’ abilities deeper in the skill tree. This way, players who enjoy these aspects can get it, if they work for it.
One concept we’re diving into is “running combat”: battles that span across spaces, where terrain, elevation, and obstacles paly into the tactics. Objects can become part of the fight; from picking up and throwing a wine bottle to causing a stalagmite to fall on your enemy. Sometimes disengaging and moving off is the best idea. What we’re trying to avoid is what we call “chopping wood” combat, where you stand there, click the button and… whack, whack, whack, the enemy dies.
Like all of our design, this is an iterative process. We build the foundation first, then start adding on layers. The initial core is mostly complete for basic combat and the same can be said for our movement. Then comes the testing, the refinement, and, if needed, the redesigning of the parts that don’t pass the fun test.
Looking Forward Into 2016
As the New Year begins, we’re busy making the transition to full production. The focus shifts to building out all the game play elements based on all the concept and pre-production ground work that has been done. Over the coming months, we’ll be laying out the various areas of The Stygian Abyss, placing loot and traps, populating with creatures friendly and vile, laying out the narrative arc, crafting player progression and skill trees – all that stuff that makes for an RPG. It’s going to be busy, but much fun to see all the progress.
The OtherSide Team
Since the end of May we have been releasing periodic updates on the game via direct mailings to our backers. If you’re not signed up for these mailings you do can do so through this link, and get all the fun details on our progress. For those who are not signed up for these mailings, every couple of months we will plan to post a summary digest on our Kickstarter page. Below is the first of these digests, covering the summer.
Speaking of summer…
We have a special summer cross-promotion with Bard’s Tale 4 and Underworld Ascendant ongoing through September 23rd, where you can receive a $5 coupon for backing both games. Redeem your coupon or pledge now!
Also, this summer we reached the $900,000 Stretch Goal!!! We’re now going to localize the game in French, Italian, German and Spanish. Huge thanks to all our existing and new fans for the continued support. Next stretch goal up is the $950,000 Necropolis of the Ancients. We’re also adding a mini-goal at the $925,000 mark, the Wailing Haunt.
PROGRESSION OF AN ART CONCEPT (posted May 29th, 2015)
This week, Art Lead Dave Flamburis is going to take us through his process for creating concept art. Dave was tasked with concepting out how the natural caverns of the Underworld might be transformed into livable areas. Something the dwarves, elves or even some past race who existing in the Abyss might do.
WHAT’S IN A BIOME? (posted June 6th, 2015)
We've already revealed that we plan for Underworld Ascendant to have a functioning ecological system and will be filled with flora and fauna that are established in defined predator/prey tiers, feeding on each other, migrating when food becomes scarce, and proliferating when food is in abundance. This system will be self-sustaining and perpetual.
Well, at least until the player shows up and starts messing with things.
ENTER THE LICH (posted June 12th, 2015)
Liches are one of the most feared adversaries one can encounter in the Underworld. Old, powerful and full of hate, liches were once powerful wizards who, in a desperate bid for immortality, sacrificed their souls to gain forbidden knowledge and eternal life as an undead necromancer. Forever damned, liches sit on their thrones of bone awaiting the time when their powers are strong enough for them to rise up and dominate the living.
Soon these terrible beings will be in the game. Have fun with that!
ANSWERS FROM THE ABYSS #2 (posted June 22nd, 2015)
This week we're going to once again address the overwhelming darkness of the Abyss with questions asked by our fans on the forum. What answers will echo up from the depths?
"We know creatures in the ecosystem are going to function within it (i.e food needs, survival, and whatnot). Will this affect NPC's in the factions as well? Can I go hunting with Lizardmen?" - SteveC
Yes, NPCs and factions will be positioned in the ecosystem alongside the flora and fauna. This means that NPCs and members of factions will have needs and desires that hinge on accessibility and conditions of the environment: access to food, protection from predators, warmth, and so forth.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE (posted July 6th, 2015)
Hey, everyone. It's been a few months since I joined on as design director, so I thought I'd say hello, explain what I do around here, and hint obliquely at what's next for Underworld Ascendant.
INTERVIEW WITH A RETURNING START (posted July 20th, 2015)
The Shadow Beast. One of the more memorable terrifying moments from the original Ultima Underworld was the encounter with one of these horrifying beasts on level 7. But what were these creatures? Where have they been since then? Our esteemed producer Chris sat down with one of the shadow beasts that are finally making a triumphant return in Underworld Ascendant.
Producer Chris Siegel (CS): Hey thanks for spending a few minutes with me before getting to work in the new Abyss. What should I call you?
Shadow Beast (SB): Shadow Beast is fine. We don't like to reveal our real names to outsiders. This is why we always ask to get paid in cash, so we don't have to reveal our personal information to...you people.
PILLARS AND PROTOTYPES (posted August 3rd, 2015)
Exciting times in the OtherSide dojo! We have been up to our ears in concept art, models, level design, and AI creatures running about. We are on the cusp of seeing our world come alive for the first time in the coming weeks.
We are currently midway into our first playable prototype. A playable prototype is small, working corner of the underworld. It includes everything from character movement, to the look of the place, to core systems. It is designed such that we can stop, take a look at it, test it out, and decide what works well and what not so much.
BREAKING FREE OF FANTASY TROPES (posted August 17th, 2015)
As we've mentioned in our previous update, the team at OtherSide has been feverishly working on our latest demo. While we'd love to give you peeks at all the recent progress, we'd rather hold off for a bit and until it's ready for the full reveal.
In the meantime, we thought we'd share further details on how we're approaching Underworld Ascendant's world building and story.
The OtherSide Team
Howdy folks! This week sees the launch of a new feature for these updates: Answers From the Abyss. This is where we will answer questions posed to us on the forums from backers and followers like yourself, hopefully shedding more light on our development process and satisfying your curiosity on any Underworld Ascendant based subject that concerns you.
Before we get to that, however, we’d like to also announce that starting next week we will no longer be using Kickstarter for distribution of our weekly updates. Instead we will be moving the updates over to a direct email distribution method, which will give us more control of the format and contents of the updates.
We will still post occasional “update digests” to Kickstarter to ensure that folks who discover Underworld Ascendant via Kickstarter can still find out what’s going on with the game. But going forward our primary method for giving our backers and followers important information about the game will be via the weekly email updates.
For those of you who have backed the game via Kickstarter or our webstore, or who have signed up to the OtherSide Entertainment forums, you need do nothing to receive these future updates. We already have your email and so you will be automatically added to the distribution list. For those of you who have not backed the game nor signed up for the forums, and who do want to receive weekly updates on the game, we suggest you do one of those things in order to get added to the list!
We look forward to showing you the new look for our updates next week!
Answers From the Abyss
We’ll plan to do Answers From the Abyss every month or so going forward. In the week prior to each Answers From the Abyss update we’ll post in the forums a thread asking for your questions. We’ll pull from that thread the questions we think are most interesting and relevant for our readers and answer them.
So, without further ado, onto those questions!
“How much do you rely on (non-developer) playtesting in development? Are you bringing people in as early as the prototype phases?” –GameOutLoudRob
Some. Early on the team will be doing a ton of playtesting, some of the community, and of course our friends, family and other industry people.
One of the great things about going outside the inner circle for testing is you get fresh eyes. Fresh eyes are extremely important. When you are close to a game, you start accepting the warts and issues, and you have to be reminded they are still issues. Beyond fresh eyes, the more people that touch the game, the more ways we can see how people interact. What we want, and really what is our goal, is for someone to come up with ways of using all of our systems in ways we never thought of.
“What does the team envision for the soundtrack? Something akin to Arx? Something even more minimalist (I hope not)?” – CyberP
We haven’t yet sorted out just what we’re doing for music in the game. That said, we have talked about music being created around the factions and their homes. Dwarven Metal? Elvish bagpipes? Shambler…woodwinds? What do Shamblers listen to? Phish?
It would be great to ‘see’ the thing making the music; a minstrel, a choir, some weird dwarven contraption that plays crystals…
This adds to the whole Underworld experience. Ambient sounds become your symphony, sound and silence become important for gameplay and for atmosphere. And, maybe the deeper you go, the darker it gets, and the quieter it becomes. It’s where the real evil lurks, and you don’t know it’s there until….
“I’m curious how you are looking to scale the difficulty levels? Is it going to be similar to the system in System Shock, where there are certain sub-categories that can be scaled (eg Story, Combat, Puzzle) or is it just going to be one “Easy/Medium/Hard/Impossible” with the possibility of an Ironman mode?” - SirhcOran
This is a tough question, and not one we’ve put a lot of thought into yet. With the open-endedness at the core of Underworld Ascendant’s design, and the fact that most, if not all, situations can be resolved by means other than combat, the usual tropes of scaling the difficulty of monsters, for instance, probably won’t work for us.
Likely our difficulty scaling will entail dialing up the “bad” effects of numerous things across the spectrum of game play, not unlike the system from System Shock you call out. In harder difficulties players might regenerate mana/health slower AND endure greater effects from hot and cold environments AND find monsters to be tougher AND find monsters to have a higher awareness of stealth AND find NPCs harder to trick/sway/haggle.
Again, still early in the process. Once we have the game in a state where we can really start thinking about how we muck with difficulty we’ll surely try all sorts of different ways to do just that, and find the one that works best.
“Why do you think the streaming of the game world isn't used more by game devs in general? And what about the UA case? (well, ok, it's two questions )” - Ianael
In our case, it’s more a technical issue than a process one. With a constrained space like the Underworld, it would still be relatively easy to build it in individual levels with defined connection points, even if those were merged into one big world at run-time. However, a simulation-heavy game has to save a lot of object state, and streaming all of that in and out of memory can be a bit of a chore technically. It may be a solvable problem, but it’s not our top priority.
“Will there be damage types?” – Shadowtiger
Yes, absolutely. Crushing, slashing, fire, cold, etc. Some creatures and things will be more vulnerable or impervious to some types of damage, and players will be able to use this knowledge to good effect.
“How involved is Paul with the game's design?” – CyberP
Very much, and he teaches us things every day. This is Paul’s vision.
Last Wednesday we Twitched a play session of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Paul, Chris, Tim, Will and Scott had a great time discussing the very interesting combat system in this classic game. And Will sure did seem to like finding new ways to kill various guards, ghouls and pirates! Along the way we gathered some great ideas for use in Underworld Ascendant’s combat model. You can listen to the whole thing on Youtube:
Join us in a few weeks for another twitch session. We don’t know yet what we’ll be playing, but it will be fun!
The OtherSide Team