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Join the original creators of Ultima Underworld on a 
quest to rekindle this legendary fantasy RPG series.
Join the original creators of Ultima Underworld on a quest to rekindle this legendary fantasy RPG series.
13,987 backers pledged $860,356 to help bring this project to life.

Consequence of Ecology

Posted by OtherSide Entertainment (Creator)

Last week we looked at how we might be using physics in Underworld Ascendant, particularly when it came to traps. Lots of great comments on the article from our readers in the forums! This week, our indefatigable producer Chris wants to talk ecology simulation. And who are we to stop him?

ECOLOGY AND YOU (Or, Everything Has Consequence)

Some of the tasks being tackled in Underworld Ascendant development include creating the backstory, ecology and lore of the world. I’m not going to reveal much about the lore and backstory- those are for players to discover later on.

But let’s talk about ecology.

The Underworld will have a working ecology. This will include a food chain and pyramid:

Part of the idea here is this just goes on without the player interference. There is a matrix of eat or be eaten that has been going on in the Underworld for, well, forever. And, without any outside interference it could go on indefinitely.

But, enter the player. Talk about a monkey wrench! Players will be able to affect, change and mold the ecology in ways not seen before in games. Whether the player does this intentionally or by accident, he will be able to see the effect of his actions in his environment almost immediately.

For example, our hero helps build a dam for the dwarves. Seems innocent enough, with the well-intentioned outcome of creating a water supply for their farms and forges. But, downriver this has the effect of drying out the riverbed which kills off the plant life in the surrounding cavern system. This in turn reduces the food source for the local herbivores who move away in search of a replacement. Their predators, who are not so capable of moving their home, begin to starve and resort to raiding a nearby elf village looking for sustenance (and maybe eating a few elves in the process).

Actions, well-meaning or not, all have consequences.

What creatures are apex predator in UA?

Honest answer – Dwarves and elves. But let’s put them to the side.

Fact is, we don’t know yet. What is our T-Rex? Is it a big bad thing, or is it a pack mentality animal? Hopefully it is something out of nightmares. Like this thing:

Can't wait to meet something as scary as that in the Underworld!

What are the secondary predators?

Almost all of our other monsters fit here. Almost all monsters in games fit here to be honest. From dire faeries and vorpral bunnies, through giant spiders and who knows what else. These are the biggest obstacle for our players.

 What are the herbivores?

Part of the role of the herbivore is to be food for others. We need some sort of herd animal like ox or cows. Maybe the rotworms can serve multiple roles in this case. They are the food source and the carrion eater. That said, we do have plants that move and mushrooms that are intelligent. Does this mean there is an herbivore that can hunt? What would a plant eater be like if the plants ran and could defend themselves?

What are the plants?

The ripper is the only plant we have at this point. We need flora. What does this mean in the Underworld? First we need to decide on other types of energy that plants have evolved to deal with. Since there is no sunlight, maybe plants absorb other energy like heat and magic. Plants should be dependent on some animals for breeding…like the service bees provide in our world. This may be a good role for dire fairies or our bats.

What are the carrion eaters?

Our rotworms and tunnel Trappers. These are the vacuum cleaners of the Underworld. They eat anything dead. Creatures eat them. They are food for many.

Of course we cannot build a real world simulation of all of this. But we can do enough, and honestly far more than most simulations have in the past to make the whole ecosystem teem with life. Life that is busy doing its own thing, not just being a backdrop for the player.

And, the reality is all we have talked about is the way our world works on a very basic level. What happens to an ecosystem when we add in magic? Where do undead fit in the food chain? Do rotworms like to eat the walking dead? Have some monsters figured out that animated skeletons will only attack what they are told to and use them as early warning systems? Do some creatures use magic, or magic like abilities for locomotion, hunting, camouflage or as lures. Is magic a food?

This is just scratching the surface of course, but this is part of the fun of early pre-production.


Chris Siegel ,  Sr. Producer


Last week the backerkit survey was sent out to all our Kickstarter backers. It is important that everyone fills out this survey so that we have your proper shipping address and email, as well as the answers to important questions regarding your order. If you have not filled out the survey yet, please take the time to do so soon! And, if you haven't received your survey please check your email spam filter as it may be sitting in there. If not, contact us directly at

Earlier this week, the online gaming magazine Polygon ran an article devling into the history of Looking Glass Studios. It's a very interesting read on what makes a studio great, and how everything must come to an end. Check it out HERE.

If you love spaceships fighting in underground environments as much as we do then do yourself a favor and check out the Kickstarter for Descent: Underground. These guys are in the last hours of their campaign and could really use your support! And, did we mention underground spaceship fighting?

The OtherSide Team

Aspartza, Mark Andrew Edwards, and 46 more people like this update.


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    1. Benjamin Lee on

      For a minute, I thought I was reading the update of one of the world sim games I backed. I consider that good news! I have always loved the idea of being a character in a world that could function quite independently of me doing anything. I like games like Skyrim, but it seems odd that all the hunting animals are out to get me, or that once they kill something, they just leave it and look to kill again. Which is terribly unrealistic.

      If you're going to have predators, they should be concerned about their food, not that I am the mighty and all important PC that needs to be attacked, energy expenditures be damned. They should only really attack if they haven't been able to feed yet, I'm getting to close to their kill, or I've wondered near their young.

      As for magic as food, that's a great idea. If that's the case, you need to explore what sort of waste product magical food creates when consumed and what sort of affect or effect concentrating magic into a creature or plant will be. There could be cave plants that have magic concentrated into fruit, since a plant will want to provide a readily available food source for its seeds. These fruits could help or hinder creatures.

      I'm looking forward to what you guys can craft. I skipped the Polygon article, however. I couldn't bring myself to click on a link that leads to them, but I did check out the Descent: Underground link! I've seen it before since Star Citizen has posted on it, but I just lack the money right now.

    2. Ryan "Keokuk" Smith on

      looking good I want to see this game in the next 2 years heres to a good run!

    3. krayzkrok on

      If you're going to have a food chain, you'll also need mechanisms for creatures to reproduce. Will they just spawn into being, or are you planning basic reproductive rules? Some creatures may simply grow and bud off genetic clones of themselves, others may produce young assuming there are both males and females in a particular environment. To reproduce you also need resources, so again reducing access to food or space or whatever could limit reproduction and cause extinction, or perhaps cause a more aggressive behaviour to seek out pastures new. It doesn't have to be complex to get a decent little ecosystem going, and there are all kinds of emergent possibilities for the game.

    4. Missing avatar

      Hylton on

      This is without a doubt the most exciting thing I've heard about this game. Modeling the ecosystem is a fantastic idea!

    5. Missing avatar

      Baudolino05 on

      I really enjoyed the reading. I can't help but see a logical glitch in your description, though: Time.
      The changes you describe at the beginning of the update, for instance, in the "Areal world2 would take weeks, probably months . I have an hard time imagining an RPG long enough to make this kind of consequences believable time-wise.

    6. Missing avatar

      Skapningen on

      Hey! That big ugly thing is not a Tunnel Trapper anymore!

    7. Darreljackson|Middydj|AoUA on

      Enjoyed reading the polygon article!

    8. Cheryl Savageau on

      Lichens are a great idea - algae and fungi create a whole new species in symbiosis. Green plants' magic is photosynthesis, turning light and air and water into sweet food. You need to have (at least as backstory for yourself) something like that for your plants - what magic turns heat or ??? into food? Do the plants know how generous they are? Do you need to ask them or thank them for their gifts?

    9. Jason T. Reimche on

      Radon gas. It's a huge problem, still not in the mainstream consciousness, with institutions being formed for spelunkers/cavers who don't know or didn't care. Warriors and prey are likely to die before they get throat and lung cancer. If the inside of the Abyss is sealed up so we never see the outside, then ventilation issues, with built up gases from decaying or feeding organisms, and respiration, and decaying isotopes, and sulfurous magma, etc., could have organisms and normal magic cleaning up and fueling off of it all. When races are pulled in through portals, they seem to be transformed and adapted physiologically anyway. Harvesting concentrates of materials from organisms that absorb and repurpose these gases could add to the ecology and economy and adaptations. A lot of this stuff is never even considered in stories, so it could be refreshing, but I'm not meaning to come off as imposing an expectation or obligation.

      Also, as a fan of LGS's Thief titles, ideas were introduced but never built upon in the final canon, with hints there possibly was more at one point. The Dark Project had a bunch of bits that seemed to be building toward something.

      (SPOILERS for potential new taffers!) One that has always held promise for me was this text, that Constantine left out for Garrett to read as he tested him in his manor. It seemed a perfect way to capture The Eye, a sentient rock in simplest terms:

      "Compendium of Natural Magic, Chapter 15
      Tatyana's Flowers
      These flowers grow primarily in the icy mountain caves of the Esse range. By way of
      defense, they have evolved a method of warming and swirling the magical energy of the
      sentient plants and rocks discussed in the last chapter, lulling them to sleep. The
      flowers are named after archemage Tatyana Yokobik who pioneered their use in the
      temporary negation of magical spells and systems."

    10. Sir Chaox on

      Keep pushing the envelope guys! This sounds amazing...

    11. Howard Kistler

      As I biologist I find this approach fascinating. One thing I would add is that a critical "plant" in your ecology could be lichen. They are actually complex, composite organisms composed from creatures from multiple branches of the tree of life, and thus can take on a wide variety of forms and roles. In addition, some types are renown for their ability to break down and even metabolise minerals. Imagine a cavern carved out entirely by a wild lichen "forest"!

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      Robert West on

      Sounds awesome!

    13. Murray Lorden on

      The vorpal bunny really tickled my fancy. :)

    14. Murray Lorden on

      Love it! I'm coincidentally just reading this update before starting to work on my ecology system for my little tile-based old-school RPG game XP-Lore, still in early development (that I'm developing with my girlfriend @FutureStateMach). :) So it's a funny co-incidence!

      Super excited to see how this stuff pans out. My mind boggles at trying to create something so systemically complex. Off to make my much simplified approach now. Hehehe. :)

    15. Logan on

      Looking forward to seeing more in game when it's ready.

      The concert for that "T-Rex" is pretty sweet and I love the bunny (am I the only one to think of Monty Python?)

    16. Todd Greener on

      These kinds of things are what made me contribute to the game. You could have half-baked character RPG mechanics and nail these simulation parts, and I'd think this is the best game ever. Have you looked into Dwarf Fortress? It has some pretty cool simulation stuff too that might be interesting if you haven't seen it yet.

    17. CatInSpace on

      Very cool and exciting. :)

    18. Charles Davies on

      I'm honestly a bit scared about this modual, if it's dynamic rather than scripted I can see problems.

      But that doesn't mean that I don't have my fingers crossed with much excitement for it!

      Good luck guys!

    19. Missing avatar

      Mark Andrew Edwards on

      Polygon article, huh? I'll need my asbestos suit and a whole lot of salt.