UPDATE: Underworld Ascendant Progress Report


Hello backers,

Happy New Year!

As you know, we’ve been flying under the radar for a bit with Underworld Ascendant, waiting for several major gameplay systems and our evolving art style to reach critical mass before showing everything off. And… we’re almost there.

Fans on our forums recently asked if we’d give a peek at the latest, raw work-in-progress as we get closer and we agreed. So this month, we have an in-depth progress report, a glimpse at the level design process, and more to provide the sort of behind-the-scenes look at the game development process promised during our Kickstarter.

Hope you enjoy! Please pardon our dust.

Progress Report: Underworld Ascendant

Like we’ve mentioned last month, our current efforts on Underworld Ascendant are focused on creating a tight, polished experience that demonstrates its core distinctive gameplay.

A work-in-progress peek, pre-lighting and polish.

To do that, we’ve targeted an area on the second level of The Stygian Abyss, where the player is first introduced to the Improvisation Engine — the array of tools that allow you to experiment and create your own ingenious solutions to challenges.

The premise? The Lizard Men allow none entry to the key settlement of Marcaul, save the able. To gain access, you must prove yourself by completing The Challenge of Ishtass — a familiar character from Ultima Underworld, whose influence is felt throughout Underworld Ascendant.

In it, we provide you choices in combat, stealth, and magic. How you use them — to engage, evade, or manipulate the Lizard Men and horrific Mind Crippler — is up to you.

How’s it coming along? Long story short: We’ve been VERY BUSY!

Concept art/modeling reference by art director Nate Wells.

On the visual front, our art director Nate (BioShock, System Shock 2, The Last of Us) Wells is working closely with our team of modelers, creating concept reference for key characters and props, and digging into the look and layout of the level.

Besides designing BioShock’s iconic Big Daddy character, Nate was responsible for creating the stunning opening levels of BioShock and BioShock Infinite, so we look forward to sharing his progress on upping our visual bar, once we complete our polish and lighting pass. We’ll report that it’s moving toward a darker, dangerous aesthetic, closer to that in the original Ultima Underworld.

On the gameplay front, our lead designer Tim Stellmach and lead engineer Will Teixiera have been dedicated to the unique combat skills, stealth abilities, and magic spells that you’ll be able to choose from.

Modeling, AI, vfx, & sfx work continues on the Mind Crippler.

Those among you who are fans of Looking Glass’ Thief games may recall that Tim was the lead designer of both The Dark Project and The Metal Age. We’re understandably excited to have one of the developers responsible for inventing the stealth game genre working on the stealth aspects of our game AND collaborating with the incredibly industrious Will, a former gameplay programmer on Dungeons & Dragon Online and participant in countless indie game jams.

On the narrative front, our project director and writer Joe (BioShock Infinite, The Flame in the Flood) Fielder recently recorded our script with voice performer Stephen Russell, who you know from such memorable roles as Garrett in Thief, Nick Valentine in Fallout 4, and Corvo in Dishonored 2.

In Underworld Ascendant, Stephen plays the spirit of Cabirus, founder of the failed utopia seen in Ultima Underworld. His character is a mix of Marcus Aurelius and Captain Nemo and provides insight into The Stygian Abyss’ storied past and its unique role in the universe. The session with Stephen went phenomenally well and we can’t wait for you to hear his VO in-game.

Our current sprint is aimed at improving combat, refining stealth mechanics, animation and audio support to provide clear readability for those systems, implementing the narrative aspects, and perfecting the look of the Lizard Men and Mind Crippler.

Much to do!

Meet Underworld Ascendant’s Level Designer

Justin, mulling over challenging level design questions OR… nursing a headache?

We’d like to introduce the most recent addition to our team, Underworld Ascendant level designer Justin Pappas.

Before OtherSide, Justin worked on the narrative-focused first-person shooter BioShock Infinite, melee combat brawler Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, and surreal VR escapades Albino Lullaby and Here They Lie.

We asked him a few questions about the level design process…

What does a level designer do, exactly?

A level designer skirts the line between design and art. A gameplay space has to be functional, but it also has to look great. A level artist makes legos while a level designer builds with those legos. A good level designer/artist relationship is founded on the understanding that the line between the two is blurry and that the designer needs to meet the needs of the artist and vice versa.

A level designer’s core duties are to not only build compelling space, making sure there is enough real estate to allow both AI and the player to move about smoothly with interesting and impact-full choices for both, but to support the core art tenants of the game.

Can the player parse all the options available to the them without feeling overwhelmed? Does this level communicate a deep orbit space station, dwarven mine or cliffside village without relying on art assets? Does the space leverage the specific attributes of the themes in a way that meaningfully impacts game play? Can a single snot-nosed archer shoot at every corner of the map uncontested?

CAUTION: Level construction area. Level designers at work.

What are some of the challenges of creating a space that introduces the player to the Improvisation Engine?

The toughest part about creating spaces that showcase the Improvisation Engine is in cramming all those tasty options into a clear, readable space, with plenty of room to maneuver smoothly between them. We want players to effortlessly understand the buffet of choices before them, while still fostering a sense of discovery and encouraging exploration. We want players making a myriad of impactful, creative choices on the fly, not just picking a choice and being stuck with it for an extended period of time.

What’s your favorite Underworld moment?

I was hooked on Ultima Underworld in my first play session. I’d been moving very methodically, mentally mapping the space, and always keeping aware of where I was in relation to the entrance. I was gaming the game, rather than letting myself get lost in the world Looking Glass had built. I missed a jump, fell into a river and was swept downstream, over a waterfall, down a number of levels and into a deep, dark and distant underground lake.

Everything I had done to maintain orientation was out the window. The grand scale of the world was suddenly so much larger than I had thought it could ever be. Keeping track of this world the way one might keep track of a DOOM level was clearly impossible and I was finally able to place myself in it, giving into the fantasy of actually being there myself.

Fan Participation: Lizard Man Language Guide

Sstresh tosa, sseth?

We’re still a few months left until we begin our Kickstarter fan participation rewards, but in the meantime, we wanted to invite you to take part in a fun opportunity to help out with the game.

You’re likely well familiar with the sequence in the original Ultima Underworld where the player learned the Lizard Man language.

Since the Lizard Men will play a big role in Underworld Ascendant, we intend to expand their vocabulary even further.

Want to help? Follow this link to our forums and you’ll find a handy guide to the rules of the language by our lead designer Tim Stellmach, all currently known words, and ideas on where this list may grow.

Your suggestions for new words may make it into Underworld Ascendant, either in text form or even performed by our stellar voice cast.

For full details, visit the Lizard Man Language thread on the forums.

In Other News…

And finally, a few things you might find interesting:

  • ICYMI – Glixel, Rolling Stone’s new game site, recently interviewed OtherSide’s Paul Neurath and Warren Spector about reinventing the immersive sim. Read it here!
  • OtherSide’s VR action/strategy hybrid Underworld Overlord is not only available for Google’s Daydream Virtual Reality platform, it recently received a big update. Read details from lead designer Carl Ahlund here.
  • Our friends at inXile announced that their follow-up to RPG classic Planescape: Torment, Torment: Tides of Numenera will be released for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One later this month on January 27th.
  • OtherSide recently launched a new website! What do you think? Let us know on the forums.

Until next time!


The Team at OtherSide