What’s new with Underworld Ascendant? Things have ramped up considerably. Days are full of interesting challenge. Issues are raised, discussed, and are solved or scheduled, appropriately. Progress is occurring in level design, animation, spells, skills, combat, stealth, and more.Again, it feels like we’re onto something. We’re currently pushing for Alpha, which means standing up the entire game from beginning to end to a functional degree of completion. We know that much of the fun will emerge during subsequent polish and tuning passes later, but we’re endeavoring to get the game’s many different systems working so they come together in challenging, entertaining ways.Something new that longtime Ultima Underworld and Looking Glass fans might appreciate? Now that the basics of combat, magic, stealth, and a rich, interactive world are firmly established, some of the immersive sim elements are beginning to emerge…
The Stygian Abyss as a Functioning Ecosystem
One of the elements we loved most about the original Ultima Underworld was how the world felt like a real place that existed without you.
Our forum-goer Setho10 put it well: “I think maybe the best way to sum it all up though would be to say that the world reacted as you would expect. AI reacted in a far more realistic way than in any game I had played before. I specifically recall wounded enemies fleeing from battle. It was the first time in a real time game I can think of where enemies did more than follow one simple basic pattern. These AI had different states and that was impressive and immersive in a way that is just indescribable. […] It felt like this was a real living world not a set of levels created by a designer, and more than anything that is what makes Underworld so impressive to this day.”
This goblin has places to go…
We knew that Underworld Ascendant needed to be designed as an interactive world, but also one that lived and breathed when the player wasn’t around. Everything from the lighting to the creatures’ animations are all being considered as integral to Ascendant’s world-building.
One element where this immersive ecology has been coming online is mana, which our lead designer Tim Stellmach describes as, “Not only is it the resource used to cast spells, it is actually concentrated in packets in the material world. Characters recover mana by touching and consuming these invisible free-floating bits of mana in the air.”
A skeleton burning off mana inside its ribcage.
How does that affect the world? The entire in-game ecology is based around it. Wisps – benign, ethereal creatures who float throughout The Stygian Abyss – feeding on mana in the environment and excrete “sunlight” (infrared, ultraviolet, and visible light). They fill the role of “the sun” for the flora and fauna in The Stygian Abyss, they are an essential part of the underground ecosystem.Meanwhile, undead creatures, rather than being seen as capital “E” evil, have a parasitic relationship with mana, devouring it to ambulate in a sad parody of life and giving nothing in return.Another recent aspect of this in-game? This “sunlight” leads to flora, which is eaten by various fauna, like our “ambient” creatures, who generally mind their own business in the world, but have interesting behaviors that the player can exploit to their advantage.Our current favorite ambient creature is the Deep Slug, who can be baited with certain types of food and leaves useful effects in its wake, like a flammable slime trail. Toss its favorite food into the patrol path of a few enemies or by a wooden support of an archer tower, add fire, and enjoy. (Feed it something else interesting? And discover the results…)We recently peppered The Umbral Mire area of the Underswamp with Deep Slugs, loaded the level up, and soon came across a scene where we witnessed a few careening by in distress, pursued by angry skeletons. We’ll have more visuals to share on the Deep Slugs soon!We’ll definitely need to tune interactions between different creatures, but it’s nice to see the ecology starting to take hold.
Streams & Developer Roundtables Update
Last month, we held our first Developer Roundtable with our Lead Designer Tim Stellmach, Designer Chris Siegel, Lead Engineer Will Teixeira, and Game Director Joe Fielder. We answered questions during the stream and discussed our ongoing plans for combat, stealth and magic. For those who missed it, you can watch the archive on Twitch or on YouTube.
We are aiming to host our next Developer Roundtable in November from our new office. (Yes, we’re moving!) More information will be released soon.
In the meanwhile, be on the lookout for our streams on Fridays around 3pm EST where we feature games that we at OtherSide love as both players and developers. Older broadcasts will be publicly archived on our Twitch, as well as the last Developer Roundtable we held discussing design decisions.
Hope you can join!
Underworld Ascendant at Unite Austin
We will be showing Underworld Ascendant at Unity’s Unite event in Austin, Texas from October 3-5.
Unity will be hosting a livestream from 11 am – 1 pm CT on October 4th and the 5thfeaturing a wide range of speakers and exclusive game footage from hundreds of Unity projects. Our Lead Engineer, Will Teixeira, and our Art Director, Nate Wells, will be talking about Underworld Ascendant’s development process during the livestream, so be sure to tune in!
We’re happy to announce that we have a new Community Manager, Sam Luangkhot!
Sam has worked on several mobile and PC games as a Producer and Artist on indie projects, and this will be her first time working in a studio. Her projects have ranged from art exhibition games like Survival, which tackles how people with social anxiety interact with public spaces, and silly casual games like Pickup Pup, which is about finding homes for as many stray dogs as possible. Sam is as active on Pokémon GO as she is on social media, and particularly loves playing dungeon-crawlers.
Having a Community Manager at OtherSide means that we’ll be able to keep everyone updated more frequently, and make sure that we are meeting your expectations. (We read everything on the forums, trust us.)
We’re very excited to have her on board, and you’ll see her around soon if you haven’t already.