UPDATE: An Ever-Evolving Stygian Abyss
Kind thanks for all the positive response to the new footage, screens, interviews, and press from PaxSouth! We’re deeply appreciative of your support! The game wouldn’t be here today without you.
In this month’s newsletter, we’re excited to tell you more about three key aspects of the game: the constantly evolving nature of The Stygian Abyss, player progression, and a bit more about narrative aspects.
An Ever-Evolving Stygian Abyss
Many of you have asked about our plans for Underworld Ascendant’s environments. For example, is it a hub-and-spoke model? Is it a large open sandbox world? Or maybe one-off, discrete levels? In Underworld Ascendant, we’re taking a similar route to Ultima Underworld 2. The player will accept missions and bounties, acquire skills, trade for provisions and equipment, and interact with Faction intermediaries in Marcaul, a Lizard Man settlement and hub of trade and intrigue. Once you’ve readied yourself for your next challenge, you’ll navigate The Circle of Portals outside of town to travel to levels.
The primary reason we’re using this design is because it maximizes the amount of time players are in interesting and relevant environments. Second, this design leverages our small team in the most optimal way (currently 14 internally) and allows us to focus on making great interactive and dynamic environments where you can track even small changes as the narrative progresses.
New quests are offered by the Factions each day in Marcaul, and these range in challenge, reward, consequence, and location. You may even return to a level area two or more times over the course of the game. However, each time you visit a level, you’ll encounter new opportunities, challenges, and more. Helpful creatures like Lizard Man allies may be present or a swarm of Lava Bats may now inhabit the area. Useful flora like the glue plants may have been harvested and replaced with Nether Moss, which causes Deep Slugs to leave a sight-blocking smoke trail. Movement options also change, as the Outcast tribe’s construction efforts expand or are destroyed.
We’ll talk more about the Outcasts and their relationship with the Factions (and you!) at a later time.
As the game progresses, the world state begins to decay, causing the local ecology to become even more challenging, as fierce creatures crawl up from the lower depths and thermal vents appear.
These are a few of the ways we’re working to ensure that not only are levels different every time you visit them, but that you can play through the game multiple times and have a uniquely different experience each time.
In future updates, we’ll talk about the world state changes in depth, as well as its driver: our main nemesis, Typhon.
Feat-Based Player Growth
It’s been important to the team to closely examine RPG gameplay and story elements from the previous games in the series, to determine what to build upon and where to do something differently.
We’ve kept elements like The Silver Sapling, while eschewed others like stats and character classes. (Apologies those of you burning to play once more as a shepherd.) Instead, the player has a wide variety of combat, stealth, and magic skills and abilities to choose from to customize their character to match your preferred play-style.
We want players to teach themselves and reward them for experimentation as they explore Underworld Ascendant’s deep gameplay systems. It’s important to us to avoid overtly hand-holding the player, while teaching them the full depth of the opportunities within the immersive sim ecology, where logic-based simulated systems ensure elements like physics and physical properties make sense.
Our earliest example of this during our Kickstarter was a locked wooden door: You can burn it down, either with a spell, torch, or burning debris. You can pick the lock. You can bash it down, but the sound may attract foes.
Add to that a bevy of spells that allow you to alter physics, transform physical properties, manipulate creatures with exploitable behaviors, and, well, there’s much to learn.
So, instead of taking the traditional experience point route or requiring players to repeatedly use a skill to improve it, player growth in Underworld Ascendant is focused on a Feats-based system.
A “Feat” in our game is an action that demonstrates the player is hitting a key milestone toward understanding a play-style (combat, stealth, magic, environ, or key combinations) or game system. Think “the Labors of Hercules.”
Performing a Feat will gain the player a skill point. New skills cost one or more skill points. A few of our internal rules for Feats are that there should always be multiple ways to perform them and they can never be mundane.
One example? Many of our traps are physics-based, so can be blocked by heavy objects or stuck in place with adhesives. We decided to make this action a Feat after an external tester showed that she could stop a tick tock trap by tossing a glue ball directly at its seams. Which worked! (We’d never seen this before… Something that happens often when external testers play our game.) And that example is one of many ways to perform that Feat.
Through this, we hope to reward fun with more fun, while also not overwhelming the player with too many options right off the bat. And as you prove you understand and are actively engaging the many options available to you in the sim, you’ll unlock skills and abilities that grant you access to even more.
We’ve also spoken before about how the game rewards innovative problem-solving, but not who is giving the reward, what it is, and how exactly your performance is being judged.
In Underworld Ascendant, the society of the lizard man tribe known as The Saurians in Marcaul is based around self-improvement and the sharing of important survival skills. They were founded off the teachings of Ishtass, who — following the cataclysmic events at the end of Ultima Underworld — stayed on in the dangerous upper reaches of The Stygian Abyss, cataloguing all he learned using Memora, a magical means of preserving memory.
A central feature of The Saurian society is The Memoreum, a repository of great knowledge. In such a deadly environment, survival skills have great value. As you discover new strategies and innovative solutions and strategies, The Saurians reward you for it because sharing that information will make the whole tribe stronger and more adaptable in the face of the great challenges you all face.
The keeper of the Memoreum rewards your character for performance based on doing something well (within constraints, like not being damaged in combat or detected) or cleverly (combining systems together in interesting ways).
The Saurians also place high value on those who push themselves and experiment. They offer side-bounties to the Factions for tackling audacious challenges, like completing a quest unarmed or without extinguishing lives.
Ultimately, these goals and rewards are completely optional to the player. In a game that focuses on player choice, it’s completely up to you how you want to play.
But we’d be remiss in spotlighting all great fun to be had by actively engaging the deep systems and multitude of interesting options found with the immersive sim. (A recent metaphor from a conversation with Warren Spector: “You can always order the burger, but let us tell you about the specials…”)
There’s MUCH left to show and tell you all about Underworld Ascendant: spellcasting; numerous skills, spells, levels, and creatures yet to be revealed; the deeper narrative surrounding our main characters Cabirus, Aelita, and our nemesis Typhon; food and survival; and more.
We’re looking forward to sharing more about it all with you in the coming months and hearing your thoughts.
Underworld Ascendant T-Shirt Giveaway
We recently printed some Cabirus-themed Underworld Ascendant shirts just for the dev team, but we had a few extra and decided that we’d like to give them away!
The giveaway winners will be announced during our Friday stream from 4:30-5pm ET on our Twitch channel. Come celebrate with us!
FINAL REMINDER: We are locking down our BackerKit orders this Friday, so be sure to log in with your Kickstarter email and check on your pledge. You will NOT be able to edit your pledge once the orders are locked down.
The only exceptions to this are the LORE SEEKER backers and above ($300+), to accommodate for specifics on some physical orders. You will receive emails about this soon!
SXSW 2018: Underworld Ascendant Panel with PCGamer
Last but not least, for those of you in Austin this March, Paul Neurath and Warren Spector will be speaking at a SXSW panel with PCGamer on the development progress on Underworld Ascendant!
Even if you can’t make it in-person, we’d appreciate it if you “Like” the panel page or “Tweet” out your excitement!
We hope to see you there!
The Team at OtherSide
In Other News…
In case you missed it:
- Quantum Soup’s Chris Payne talks about “The Freedom to Make Bad Choices” in Ultima Underworld via Gameindustry.biz
- Want to work on System Shock 3? We’re looking for engineers and a Lead Designer! Read the requirements HERE.
- Peek into the work behind crafting the Citadel in NightDive Studios’ latest System Shock January Update
- Gone Home is now just $5 this week on Steam, and includes Achievements, official localization, Steam Cloud Saves and more!