King of the Sandbox
The original Underworlds pioneered much of what today is known as ‘sandbox’ gameplay: instead of scripting a path on rails, players had the freedom to experiment and find their own path forward.
More modern games such as Deus Ex and Skyrim have taken up the banner of sandbox play. Considering the span of years since Underworld was released, the banner has been carried forward less so than one might have expected. With Underworld Ascendant our aim is to take sandbox play to a whole new level, beyond the current generation of games.
Making this all happen is the Improvisation Engine, which provides an array of sophisticated technologies for unleashing player creativity. Watch the video as Tim, Chris and Warren tell you more:
Many Solutions to Choose
In Underworld Ascendant, instead of the designers scripting a set solution path for players, the Improvisation Engine puts the problem solving in the player’s hands. Our designers lay out an encounter; setting up the monsters, traps, the physical layout, and the like. Then the world simulation is turned on. A set of fairly complex interactions and dynamics take place of their own accord. The player comes into this dynamic mix, and can permeate this situation in a whole range of ways, some of which the designers may have never imagined.
As an example, let's look at the game vignette we affectionately call, “Spiders on a Bridge” that Chris showed us in the video. We saw Chris disturbing a nest of spiders. Chris chooses to run, which, all things considered, is probably wise. There are a lot of spiders!
Chris has lots choices. For instance, he could:
- Turn and fight.
- Try to run away from the spiders long enough to lose them in the tunnels.
- Try to block the passage behind him, with a Fungal Growth spell for instance.
Instead, Chris chose to cross a wooden bridge, then destroy it behind him, cutting him off from the spiders. A clever player could come up with other ways to survive.
Let's take our example another step forward. Chris has destroyed the bridge, saving himself from the spiders. What now? That bridge was the only way across the lava chasm and now it's gone. What if there is treasure on the other side that Chris wants?
He now has a new problem to solve. Chris might:
- Find the right reagents to make the mushrooms of his Fungal Growth spell fireproof, and then create a spongy walkway across the lava stream.
- Use the plentiful spider webs that are around and construct rope and grapple. Throw and secure it across the chasm and then hope his acrobatic skills are up to par.
- Build a boat from lava bat skins to cross the lava flow. They're fireproof, right?
How you develop your Avatar will open up new possible solutions. For instance, if you develop skills in clambering and acrobatics, you’ll have more ways to maneuver around, or up and over, a foe. Refine your marksmanship with a bow and you’ll be more effective at sniping creatures before they can close with you.
Being able to develop specialized skills will mean your experience playing through the game may be quite difference from other player’s. This also makes it more fun to replay the game with different character.
Faction Influence: You Can't Please Everyone
Underworld Ascendant's sandbox design also feeds into how you interact with the Abyss’ three factions: the Dark Elves, the Dwarves, and the Shamblers.
Each faction's outlook towards you is shared by all of its members, based on your reputation and prior actions towards them. Their outlook is influenced by choices in conversation, larceny, acts of overt hostility, favors (for them or their rivals), or actions that may even seem inconsequential at first.
For example, slaying a Tunnel Trapper blocking access to the mines might put you in good with the Dwarves, but harm your reputation with the Dark Elves, who herded it there earlier to thwart the mountain folk's prospecting efforts. Likewise, the bark of the carnivorous plant known as the Ripper is highly-prized by all three factions. The Dark Elves craft it into light, sturdy mail. The Dwarves utilize it as an alchemical ingredient. The Shamblers employ it as a fertile, living bed for the growth of spores. Killing one of the creatures may provide you with valuable items to trade the Dark Elves or Dwarves, but put you out of favor with the Shamblers.
Keeping on good terms with a faction may lead to special quests, access to unique items, and even to becoming adopted into their tribe; all of which greatly affect your gameplay experience. It’s all up to your choices.
A Dynamic, Reactive World
When we say that Underworld Ascendant will be a “living, breathing world”, we mean that there's a complex ecology of flora and fauna existing around you while you play. This ecology will be self-sustaining, designed to flourish and grow.
The player can impact the ecology. For instance, killing a pack of Shadow Beasts may mean the Lurkers living in the watering hole nearby won't have a food supply. Their new home may end up being directly in the path of your next quest, or adjacent to an encampment of Dwarven allies.
Conversely, if you decide not to hunt the Shadow Beasts, their nesting habits may attract Cave Worms, who love to lay eggs in Shadow Beast feces. More Cave Worms means more Dire Faeries, who view Cave Worms as a delicacy. Suddenly this area is getting pretty dangerous!
Opportunities will arise for you to take an active hand in altering the environment. For instance, transforming a damp, humid bog into a dry, arid plain by damming a nearby stream will drive out the native species. Invite in others that favor the altered clime, and tip the area out of the Shamblers' control and into the hands of the Dwarves or Dark Elves.
The more you play, the more you'll come to understand the web of interrelated systems playing out around you, and how you can play within those systems. That's what “freedom of choice” means for Underworld Ascendant.
We have reached the halfway point of the Kickstarter campaign. Over 8,600 Backers and more than $474,000 funded! It’s been a crazy ride so far, more thrilling because of the passion our fans are sharing to help bring Underworld Ascendant to life. We are daily thankful for your support!
We are pleased as punch to announce that Denis Loubet will be contributing his legendary artistic talents to Underworld Ascendant. Denis illustrated the box covers of every classic Ultima game, including the Ultima Underworlds! He will be doing the illustration for the COLLECTOR’s EDITION of our game box, as well as other art for the game. Above is an early sketch Denis did while collaborating with us on the original Underworld box, along with a (naturally) artistic woodcut of Denis himself. Please check out Denis’ Patreon campaign (HERE), and his website (HERE ).
Not yet a week in and Underworld Ascendant has already reached the #17 spot of 1,718 games in Steam Greenlight! Huge thanks to all of you for putting in the YES votes. Keep the YES votes coming and let’s see if we can reach to the rarefied air of a top-10 spot.
Besides the Twitch session this afternoon at 3-6pm ET where we play Thief, we also wanted to highlight that this Thursday the 19th at 8pm ET we are being interviewed by Arvan Eleron on Twitch.
The Team at OtherSide