UPDATE: Transforming the World Into an Interactive Playground

Joe Fielder

Hello backers,

Joe Fielder, Underworld Ascendant’s game director and writer, here again with the latest update straight from the development team.

The last month’s been a pretty exciting time at OtherSide, because we’ve been busy…

Transforming the World Into an Interactive Playground

As you know, we recently stood up the core tenets of combat, stealth, and magic in an early area of the game called The Challenge of Ishtass. There, the player is first introduced to the array of choices available to them with The Improvisation Engine. We set the challenge, the solution is up to you, and we reward creativity.

Underworld Ascendant Screenshot OtherSide Entertainment Pre-Alpha

The Stygian Abyss is deep, dark, & full of interactable options.

Our recent milestone has been a key next step in inspiring and supporting player experimentation: turning the world into an interactive playground. The idea is that the systems that simulate this underground realm make sense. A wooden door can be burned down or chopped down, water can put out torches, physics act in logical fashion, and so on. So, when the player tests something out, they get expected results.

At its heart, this work has been about giving the player an abundance of options on how to equip their character and solve the challenge. We’ve expanded the playable area and added new skills and interactive elements. It’s intentionally designed to be replayed. We want players to experiment with different solutions and find what works best for them.

In terms of visuals, it demonstrates our visual style done to a fair extent of polish and now includes an initial pass at UI elements, but we will continue to iterate further on both during development. Current creature animations are not representative of the game’s visual target.  This an important area we feel deserving of concentrated effort and we’ll be locking our sights on it in subsequent milestones. Also, usability of items, skills and interactive elements is another area that we’ll continue to hone and polish.

The reason that getting these core elements working clearly and well is absolutely essential is because it unlocks the magic sense of discovery the player gets from combining different systems together.

External playtesting is reliably eye-opening in this regard. For the choices people don’t make, as much as the ones they do. Teaching players that they have choice (like, no, seriously, here are your tools, surprise us), after decades of games where they haven’t, is a fun, interesting challenge.

To explain, first let’s take a look at a few recent additions to the game world…

Underworld Ascendant Screenshot Pre-Alpha Torches and Archways

In this shot, you can see physics-based traps that the player can manipulate, the sticky bulb of the “glue plant,” and spreading fire.

The player might use a glue bulb and a crate to jam a trap, pass by unharmed, then use water to dissolve the glue, just as an enemy steps into the trap’s path.

Or they might cast a the Gravitate spell — a non-offensive magic originally designed as a way of creating bridges — on a pile of crates, setting them on fire, then to hold off encroaching enemies. Or, even better, lining them up just right and blasting them at enemies with a Repulse spell in a fiery rain.

Underworld Ascendant Screenshot Pre-Alpha Lizardman struck by Gravitate

It’s important to note that none of these results were planned in advance, they were discovered.

Whenever a new interactable element gets added to the game, all of us on the development team spend a few days playing around with it in conjunction with different skills, spells, and AI. Sometimes, we find bugs or areas where support is needed, but often, things just… work.

One of the most exciting aspects of external testing for us is seeing the inventive solutions that players come up with. We said back at the start that we want you to devise clever techniques that we haven’t imagined yet and every time we do a round of testing, we see a few things that we’ve never seen before.

For instance, one tester recently tossed a glue ball at the base of a whirring tick-tock trap right along the seam and stopped it dead in its tracks. We didn’t know that was possible, but of course, knowing how the systems work, it makes sense.

Another tester used the Gravitate spell to place and lock a crate right in front of the tick-tock trap’s whirring blades. It strained and strained against it, until the spell wore off and the crate was launched far into the air. (When it landed, it alerted a Lizard Man. Oops.)

We’re constantly reminded of when we first released the initial prototype of Underworld Ascendant to backers and within half an hour started seeing videos of spell and object uses we’d never imagined. (Like using a spell that lifts plants to create a magical elevator.) So, we’re really looking forward to seeing the inventive solutions you all come up with.

Now that the build has undergone a few rounds of external feedback, bug testing, and polish, we’re just about ready.

In fact, we’re close enough that we can finally reveal the release date of the Pre-Alpha Build: Those of you who backed at the ADVENTURER tier and above will receive details on how to access it on Steam on Thursday, August 10th.

Again, we appreciate your patience while we been refining the experience even further. As a way of thanking you for hanging in there with us, we’ll be kicking off the first Developer Roundtable the week after the Pre-Alpha Build’s release on Wednesday, August 16th at 1PM EST on OtherSide’s Twitch page. Save the date!

While these are intended for those of you who backed at the DIGITAL PROTAGONIST reward tier and above, this will be a bonus Roundtable stream that will be accessible to all backers and we’ll capture it for those who can’t attend.

We can’t wait to get the build in your hands and hear what you think.

Delving Deeper in The Stygian Abyss

Our next major milestone includes work on new areas, new and refined creatures, additional gameplay elements, standing up player growth and quest selection, defining our visual target for animation, and more.

It also involves next steps in combat, stealth, and magic, so it’s about perfect timing to have you play the Pre-Alpha build and get your feedback through our forums, Developer Roundtables, and more. The recent survey was the first step in this; this is the next.

In the meantime, here are a few peeks at what’s coming, including how the look of Underworld Ascendant’s skeletons have been evolving.

Underworld Ascendant Screenshot Skeleton Concept art

Concept by Art Director Nate Wells, who designed BioShock’s Big Daddy.


Underworld Ascendant Screenshot Eidolon Concept art

Early progress on the Eidolon.

Those of you who enjoyed the darker side of Ultima Underworld will find it well-represented in this new level.

In Other News

In case you missed it:

  • Please join us in welcoming executive producer Parker Davis and Walter Somol, vice-president of Marketing and Business Development, on-board at OtherSide. The two are alums of Rockstar, Eidos, Harmonix, and Xbox and have been helping us scale up and refine our efforts even further.
  • If you qualify for the Insider’s Developer Blogs (if you backed at Explorer & above), we’ve posted a few already and more are on the way.
  • Our own Warren Spector recent spoke with IGN Unfiltered about the highlights of his game career. (The answers may surprise you…)
  • SHODAN, the dark star of our sister project System Shock 3, recently made Time’s list of The 15 Most Influential Video Game Characters of All Time.
  • Our friends at Supergiant, Hinterland, and Fullbright have all released games in the last few weeks: Pyre, The Long Dark, and Tacoma. (The last of which was just confirmed as a 0451 game, by the way.) Worth checking out!

Until next time!