UPDATE: Underworld Ascendant Progress Report

Joe Fielder

Many thanks for all the positive feedback about last month’s look at art director Nate Wells’ work on upping our visual bar. We appreciate all the kind words and support you’ve posted on our forums, like:

Flatfingers: “Much wowness. Looking good!”

Flug: “Looks wonderful, you’ve done us proud.”

Jordan Joestar: “After every update, I’m more proud and happy than before to be a backer of Underworld Ascendant. Very, very good job.”

Providing a peek at the game’s latest visuals had been one of your main requests, followed closely by progress on core systems and news about backer rewards.

So, this month, we’re digging into the rest!

Underworld Ascendant Progress Report

The last few months have been very productive and it’s clear we’re onto something. There’s much left to do, but we’re making steady progress, and tapping into player-authored gameplay in exciting new ways.

Ultima Underworld OtherSide Entertainment Screenshot

25 years since ‘25 Miles of Terror!’

That all feels particularly salient right now, since last month marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ultima Underworld’s release — an event which, by some accounts, is regarded as the birth of the “immersive sim.”


Our goal is to create a logical, deeply interactive world where the player is inspired to tap into their creativity and enjoy the magic of experimentation.

Last month, we started out testing the latest build of The Challenge of Ishtass with our System Shock 3 and VR teams. As often happens with initial rounds of testing, it was immediately clear that while we knew how you could have fun in the game, it wasn’t readily apparent to the uninitiated player. Since our goal has been for the player to be able to dive right in and quickly start experimenting and have fun, that was vital for us to nail. That meant readability and player feedback for picking up objects, the nuances of melee and ranged combat, and more.

This is, happily, the done pile.

From there, we did five more rounds of testing (from casual players to the Boston Indie Games Group, from devs at The Molasses Flood to Warren Spector), each time getting a little closer. The team was super focused and made solid progress each day, so we’d iterate, test, review, and repeat.

Over time, it became apparent that spells were where people were having the most fun, but they still weren’t clear exactly on how they worked so they couldn’t get to the more improvisational possibilities using combinations.

We put solving that problem squarely on lead designer Tim (Thief, System Shock) Stellmach’s plate. It was a tough challenge, but within a few days he had the featured spells working clearly and reliably, so players could really start tapping into their creativity.

We were almost sad to see this bug go…

It was a pretty intense few weeks, but, whew!, it was fun. It’s great working with a team of folks who have such a wealth of experience and can sort difficult issues in short order. There are still many hurdles left for us with Underworld Ascendant, but we came out of our recent milestone with a lot of confidence that the team can tackle any problem that comes our way.

When do you get to play? Next month we’ll be announcing plans for rolling out the build to backers, after we complete another round adding more interactable objects and improvisational elements to the world.

We can’t wait to hear what you think and see what unique, creative solutions you come up with. In the meantime, expect new shots and video soon…

A Peek at Combat, Stealth, & Magic

We don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery in The Challenge of Ishtass, but we can tell you that you’ll be presented with a bevy of options for combat, stealth, and magic.

Here are a few:

  • The player can use a LONG SWORD to perform a light quick chop, a slow heavy swing that can damage multiple opponents, and parry to deflect oncoming attacks. All are useful, because while the LIZARD MEN have clear tells for their attacks, they’re tough and engage in group combat.
  • Using a LONG BOW, the player can launch FLINT ARROWS to attack or distract enemies or WATER ARROWS to put out torches. The Lizard Men use STUN ARROWS to momentarily stop the player in his or her tracks, which can be particularly troubling while you’re attempting to engage in swordplay or escape… the MIND CRIPPLER
  • Some of the available skills include HEAVE to pick up and throw heavy objects (which can provide cover for projectiles, interrupt attacks, and damage foes), STEALTH STEP when crouched, STEALTH SIGHT to gauge visibility based off light levels, or MAGIC SIGHT to view magic-recharging streams of mana.
  • One of the more fun featured spells is GRAVITATE, which allows the player to raise objects and assemble them into useful shapes, like a bridge to cross a chasm. (We’ve also seen players manage to weaponize it in a number of interesting ways…)

The Challenge of Ishtass is where we first introduce player choice in the game, where you learn there’s not a “right” selection of skills, ability, and equipment, only “yours.” And that you must then use your wits to apply those selections with opportunities on the battlefield, in order to stack the deck against difficult opponents.

Developer Roundtables & Blogs Coming Soon

We’re happy to announce that we’ll be kicking off both the insider-only developer blogs (available at Explorer level and above) and online developer roundtables (available at Digital Protagonist level and above) in May.

If you’re due to receive access to one or both, you’ll receive details in your inbox over the next few weeks. Keep an eye out!                                                                                          

In Other News…

And finally, a few things you might find interesting:

  • Daydream District did a two-part interview with our VR team this month about their work on action/strategy game Underworld Overlord. (Click here for part 1 and part 2.) The game also made their latest list of top ten games for the Daydream!
  • RPG favorite Planescape: Torment recently received an enhanced edition makeover and was released for PC and tablets. (Details here.)
  • Our friends at Honor Code recently released their first-person, narrative-focused VR game Narcosis. (Details here.)

Until next time!


The Team at OtherSide