UPDATE: New Underworld Ascendant Screens, Stephen Russell Speaks, & Project Update

Joe Fielder

Joe Fielder here. I’m Underworld Ascendant’s game director and writer. I’ll be handling this month’s newsletter to give you the latest update straight from the development team.

A New Look at Underworld Ascendant

First up, enjoy a few new in-game screens:

Enter the Skill Shrine…

The Silver Sapling has grown considerably.

A Lizard Man meditates & levitates.

Stephen Russell Talks Underworld Ascendant, Looking Glass, & More

As previously announced, legendary performer Stephen Russell has joined the voice cast of Underworld Ascendant in the role of Cabirus, an enigmatic character with deep ties into the past, present, and future of The Stygian Abyss.

We recently interviewed Stephen about his roles in some of our favorite modern games, experiences working with Looking Glass, and work on Underworld Ascendant.

Hi, Stephen. You’ve recently been involved with some amazing games from Skyrim to Fallout 4 and Dishonored 2 to Prey. Any favorite roles?

I’ve had the good fortune to work on some really interesting, complex characters over the years and it’s the ones that confound expectations, the flawed heroes – Garrett in the Thief games, Corvo in Dishonored 2 and Nick Valentine in Fallout 4 and now Cabirus – that I find most enjoyable to voice. I love comedy, too, so any opportunity to crack wise is a good day in the booth for me. Codsworth, in Fallout 4, was particularly fun for that reason.

How did you first become involved working with Looking Glass on Thief? Any particularly fond memories about the recording process for Thief, Thief II, or System Shock

Twenty years ago this month, a Boston casting agent sent me to an audition for a role as a Scottish spy in a game under development by a local company. Six months later, I got a call from that same company asking me to come in and do some voice work on that game. By then the concept for the game and the title character had changed quite a bit. He was no longer Scottish, but he still had that world-weary snarky dialogue that I had found so intriguing in the audition. I’ve always been grateful that Looking Glass heard something in my audition that made them reach out to me, even though the read was no longer appropriate for the character. I spent about an hour working with Eric Brosius, the Audio Director, trying out voices and we eventually settled on the one that I used for all three Thief games I worked on.

Most of my recordings at Looking Glass were engineered and directed by Kemal Amarasingham, whose Looking Glass business card, which I still have somewhere, identified him as Audio Wanker. That should tell you a bit about his sense of humor and why we got on so well. Those sessions at Looking Glass were nothing but fun and it was always fascinating for me to walk through the offices and get a peek at all the incredible creative work going on. It reminded me a lot of some of my early theater experiences, working with scrappy young companies that were all about finding a path of their own, creating as much for the joy of creation as for any monetary gain. There was a definite feeling of collective inspiration in those rooms and I’m so glad to have had that as my introduction to this work.

What’s it like working with Paul Neurath and members of the Looking Glass team again on Underworld Ascendant?

There’s a comfort level in working with artists whose work you respect and admire and with whom you’ve shared the experience of creating something profoundly original. It’s a return to an atmosphere of ingenuity, passion and creativity. Paul’s work speaks for itself and part of what makes that work so good is that he manages to bring out the best in the people working with him. I know I did some of my best work at Looking Glass and I really believe that had a lot to do with that first hour sitting with Eric and the willingness to experiment, to try out different voices and to just play. Plus they’re all really nice people and fun to be around.

What’s been your experience so far recording the character Cabirus for Underworld Ascendant?

It’s been great! It’s often been said that an actor is only as good as the material he/she’s given to work with and I do think there’s a lot of truth in that. From my first meeting with you about the project, I could tell that character development and writing were being given a lot attention up front and that’s been born out by the dialogue I’ve had a chance to see. Cabirus is, indeed, one of those fascinating, complex characters that are such a pleasure to get inside. I can’t wait to go there again!

Thanks, Stephen! We’re looking forward to getting back into the studio for more.

In the meantime, as a special treat for our backers, we have several exclusive clips of Stephen’s Cabirus VO for Underworld Ascendant – the first time anyone outside the studio has heard his work in the game.

The Latest Progress on Underworld Ascendant

As mentioned last month, we’ve been adding new features and additional polish to The Challenge of Ishtass, the area in Underworld Ascendant where the player is first introduced to the bevvy of gameplay options available to them through the Improvisation Engine.

We’ve been focusing in this area on upping our visual bar and proving out our core gameplay — for combat, stealth, magic, and combining them with seemingly mundane objects in the environment to craft creative solutions.

In recent weeks, we’ve been adding additional interactive elements like sticky glue and fire, randomized caches of objects (some clearly useful from the start, some requiring… experimentation), and working out exactly how to reward the player for creativity.

Back during the start of development, we said that we wanted you to come up with ways of solving challenges that we hadn’t even thought of yet and that the game would reward you for it. We’ve made solid strides in this area, which we believe to be essential in unlocking the player’s creativity so they experiment and explore the deep interactive possibilities in the game. We’ll share more about this in the future when this feature is more complete.

The Challenge of Ishtass will be featured in the Pre-Alpha Backer Demo, which we appreciate all of you (who pledged at the ADVENTURER reward tier and above) waiting for so patiently.

We’re finally reaching a critical mass about what’s great about this game — what makes it the next step in Looking Glass-style, player-authored gameplay. So, that’s positive news. We’re holding back the Pre-Alpha Backer Demo and our next video footage a little longer so we can implement additional elements to further round out the core gameplay and get more meaningful feedback from backers on refining it further.

At the same time, any free hands on the team has are busy building out other levels, prototyping new AI, and working out a few ways to more closely involve you in the making of the game.

And therein lies our next topic…

The Latest on Backer Rewards

Those of you who backed at the EXPLORER pledge tier and above have been informed about how to access our new Insider’s Developer Blogs, which kicked off today. We’ll be continuing those periodically with a rotating cast of developers, including myself, lead designer Tim Stellmach, lead engineer Will Teixeira, and designer Chris Siegel.

With that rolling, we’re following up on our Developer Roundtables and other direct interactions with backers. We’ll be sending out a questionnaire to those who followed at those levels, so we can get your feedback on what aspects of the game you’d most like to weigh in on. Since over a whopping 1500 of you qualify for access to the Developer Roundtables, we also want to get a sense of just how many are interested in taking part and ideal times for scheduling. (Note: Because of that volume, we intend to follow up with a survey to ensure everyone gets a chance to share their thoughts.) The first Developer Roundtable will run the final week of June.

And, as requested on our forums, we’ll be looking into ways of capturing and posting these sessions down the line. More on the technical and scheduling details, as we have them.

We’re approaching a pretty optimal time to get your thoughts, as we’re working on finalizing Underworld Ascendant’s spells, skills, consumables, interactable objects, and bestiary. Your feedback will really help inform that.

Again, thank you. We know you’re as invested as we are in ensuring that the final game is as innovative and fun as Ultima Underworld, so we greatly appreciate your patience as we hone in on that challenging, inspiring goal.

In Other News

In case you missed it:

  • Our own Warren Spector and Paul Neurath recently spoke to Glixel about System Shock. Warren also spoke about System Shock 3 and new concept art just dropped.
  • Perception, the indie horror game by ex-Irrational developers, was just released on Steam and is due soon on Xbox and PlayStation 4.
  • Phoenix Point, the new strategy game by X-COM developer Julian Gollop, is wrapping up its final days on Fig.
  • Our friends at Supergiant have announced that their new game Pyre will be released July 25th on Steam and PS4.

Until next time!