UPDATE: 2017 End of the Year Update and Recap
It’s only been a month since our last newsletter, but we have a lot of updates to share with you to kick off the New Year!
Let’s get started:
December Development on Underworld Ascendant
On the development side, we’ve been focused on fine tuning tools to ensure we can easily test out a lot of features at once. For example, Tim Stellmach added a command-line to extinguish all fires in a scene so we can easily tell what things will look like to the player who goes wild with water arrows. (The command is “smokeybear”.) This will help us check the design of our layouts for stealthy players and make sure that they can still “see” certain areas (or give us ideas on what we can hide in the darkness…)
…and of course, fine tuning goes hand in hand with creating lots of accidental bugs.
One of our favorite examples of this was discovering that if players plucked something from the environment, such as a simple apple, it would result in an infinite amount of that object in the player’s inventory. It was fun to traverse the Abyss with infinite distracting projectiles that also doubled as food, but we quickly patched it out.
Another bug we had fun with was crates would damage anything that touched them. We had recently tweaked the crates so that they would damage people if a crate was dropped on them. However, the crates became “over-sensitive,” and suddenly, the levels became an obstacle course filled with wooden landmines. The Abyss had never been more dangerous!
Animation has also been a big feature these past few weeks as we’ve been constantly bullying our test dummies to see how they will react in different situations. We want them to react in a multitude of ways, whether it’s “chase you for a while and then give up to return to their regular post,” or “keep their distance because they know you have a sword and can avoid you from the higher ground.” Recently, skeletons have been sliding across the ground to chase players instead of running because they’ve discovered it’s the optimal way to catch up. While it’s hilarious and slightly intimidating, it’ll be patched out after the holidays.
On Joe’s side, he’s been locked away this month working on fleshing out the bestiary, lore, and writing out Cabirus’ script for Stephen Russell’s VO work. Backers who pledged at the EXPLORER tier or above ($50+) will be able to see (and hear!) clips of Stephen Russell working behind the scenes in the “Making of Underworld Ascendant” backer reward, and perhaps we’ll be able to share something in the near future…
We’ve had a lot of meetings coordinating with artists, musicians, and other designers to work on Underworld Ascendant, which has been very exciting. One of whom we can now proudly announce…
Meet our New Audio Director: Jim Bonney
Yes. THAT Jim Bonney!
Jim is a BAFTA award-winning composer and audio director, and his credits include: BioShock Infinite (2K/Irrational Games), BioShock Infinite: Clash In The Clouds (2K/Irrational Games), BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea pt. 1 & 2 (2K/Irrational Games), Perception (The DeepEnd Games/Feardemic), and Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (Midway Games), to name a few.
We’re extremely excited to work with him, many of us for the second time or more!
December’s Developer Roundtable and Brainstorm Call
DIGITAL PROTAGONIST backers and above were invited to join our second Developer Roundtable on December 7, and the entire 2 hour session is now available here on YouTube!
We took a lot of notes based on your feedback and suggestions, so thank you again to everyone who could join us!
A transcript of the session is also being made on our forums, so for people who are searching for particular questions: click here.
We also held our first online Design Brainstorm meeting with ENLIGHTENED ONE backers and above on December 8th.
During the call, we discussed how to maintain player agency during tutorials, how to balance the appeal of the warrior, rogue, and wizard skill sets that we’ve been developing, and the importance of Underworld Ascendant as a role-playing game. We understand that a lot of the footage and gameplay you’ve seen so far seems open-ended and puzzle-based without a lot of story, but story is VERY much an important piece of the game. We’ve been testing the physics and improvisation engine as much as possible since we feel those are the systems we could use the most data on.
We also confirmed that there will be returning easter eggs, the ability to write notes on maps, runes, the lizardmen, and other features from Ultima™ Underworld 1&2.
And yes… the Mac and Linux builds are still being worked on. Thank you for your patience!
We hope to see all of you for our future Roundtables next year!
Recap: Looking Back on Underworld Ascendant in 2017
As this year draws to a close, we’d like to thank all of you again for your support as we continue to work on Underworld Ascendant.
We started the beginning of the year working on our first area, the ‘Trial of Ishtass,’ which was used to make sure that the main core systems of the game were functional. There were three main goals we wanted to get right: player skills, world interaction, and the look and feel of the environment.
For combat, we made sure our movement skills were all working, and that the player could swing a sword and block, and to make bows functional. The AI was stood up to be able to ‘see’ the player and have some basic interaction with them. Combat in general has been a constant challenge. UA is not a fighting simulator, but we still want combat to feel good. For example, we spent a lot of time discussing how we wanted the sword swing to work, something that is seemingly mundane and straightforward (it’s not). Should it be fast? Slow? Movement based? What we didn’t want was a ‘chopping the tree’ simulator.
Over the year, we proved out the basics. Combat has been constantly tweaked on the AI side, and problems like timing and distance have been tuned. Where we haven’t spent time until recently was expanding out the player’s moves in combat. Over the next couple of months that will all come online, and I’m sure cause some more adjustments to the AI and creatures.
If you remember, one of the two creatures that was shown in the beginning of the year was the Lizardman. He could shoot a bow or use a sword. He was ok, but did not match the look and feel we were looking for, so he was sent back to the creature factory for some adjustments. The new and improved Lizardmen will be coming to the Abyss really soon.
Over the summer, we introduced our Skeletons and were able to use their more humanoid models to prototype a whole bunch of other behaviors for other bipedal creatures. Some of the more exotic creatures were tested out using some VFX or other models that were approximately similar. This has set us up so that when the real creatures make it in from the art team, we already have the basic groundwork for their behavior and in some cases animation, and we can get to tuning them all that much faster.
Stealth at the beginning of the year was simple. If hidden, the AI didn’t see you. If they did, they saw you forever. It was truly binary. Now it is a bit more complex. Creatures can see or hear you all based on your skills. If they do detect you, you can hide, and they will eventually forget about you. We have fooled with how many alert states they have, and how easily it is to fool them, and how easy it is to get seen. Some of the main factors of stealth are about creature behavior based on alertness and distance. It is pretty easy to make Capt. Omnipotent or Capt. Oblivious. The trick is to get it to feel… juuuuust right. Recently it is getting better, and with more interesting tools to play with, and the AI getting smarter about world states (like boxes making noise, for example), it should play very well soon.
Magic started the year with Repulse, Slow Time (“Prolong”) and Gravitate. Repulse basically was part shield and part physics-push-object. Repulse could push other rigid bodies around the world and also reflect projectiles back at their users. Slow Time well, slowed time. You could dodge an arrow, or take more time to do some other action before the time bubble burst. Gravitate would gravitate a number of objects and attempt to line them up.
What we quickly learned is Repulse needed to be simplified. In our enthusiasm, we sometimes over-design systems. That was the case with Repulse. The original idea was a shield, but in our excitement, we started amping up the secondary effect of being able to push objects. Sometimes you follow the interesting idea down the rabbit hole, but in this case, we backed off and kept it as a defensive spell for the most part. You can still use the push ability to great effect, especially around ledges over bottomless pits.
Gravitate started as a ‘hey look I can move a thing from a distance’ into a much more interesting and robust skill. We like the idea of magic being ‘smart’ about what it is doing, so we had Gravitate not only grab multiple objects, but then attempt to rearrange them into something useful. The obvious thing to do was to make a bridge out of crates. That led to Gravitating on a bunch of burning crates and bashing enemies with them, which incidentally doesn’t get old and does a ton of damage.
We have since fleshed out the magic system and are testing it to see what kind of fun we can have with it. We have finally added some purely offensive spells – as “purely” as an OtherSide game can be anyway. Of course, we are already seeing other ways to use spells than originally intended.
Setting up the world has been its own adventure. From tweaking the art style in both world and creature design, to letting loose the level designers, the Abyss is starting to feel like a place. Amazing to think just a few months ago we had a single space to play around in. That is no longer the case. Art and design are in a good spot with helping each other out, and having gameplay and challenges work well with the look and feel of a space. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
With interactivity as the centerpiece of the game, we have been spending the bulk of our time on our core interaction tools: player skills and the systems the player can interact with. We try to break down into the smallest bits on what we want to allow the player to do, like play with physics, manipulate the AI, playing with light and darkness as some examples. The player skills, the AI and the world objects need to take these interactions into account. It can quickly become a nasty web. I don’t want to give away too much on some of the interesting ideas that we have been working on since some of them will be core to the game, and some others you are going to have to discover on your own.
Beyond the core of what we were doing all those months ago, we have also been forging ahead in everything that supports the core game. From the UI, to the sound FX and the Visual wizbang we are starting to put in, it really is looking like a game.
Forum Discussions and Hints of More to Come
Last but not least, remember to check in on our forums for narrative hints and more:
We’ll also be posting mini-updates on our progress every Monday (excluding holidays), so if you’re starved for content, you may find what you’re looking for on our discussion boards.
In Other News…
In case you missed it:
- Square Enix announces its plans for the next Deus Ex game
- Larian Studios’ Divinity Original Sin 2 surpasses 1 million copies sold in 3 months
- This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the original Ultima Underworld; check out an original sales pitch video in honor of #TBT
- Warren Spector was recognized as this year’s Playcrafting Bit Awards’ Game Changer Honoree
- Congratulations to our friends at The Deep End Games for winning PC/Console Game of the Year at the Playcrafting Bit Awards with Perception!
From all of us on the OtherSide, to all of you, we wish you Happy Holidays. Until next time!
The Team at OtherSide