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Arcanum Underworld: Ultima Underworld-inspired pitch document for unmade Arcanum sequel

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Arcanum Underworld: Ultima Underworld-inspired pitch document for unmade Arcanum sequel

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Sun 15 November 2015, 00:16:00

Tags: Journey to the Center of Arcanum; Tim Cain; Troika Games

RPG connoisseurs have long been aware that the departed Troika Games had plans to develop a first-person Arcanum sequel with the working title of Journey to the Center of Arcanum, plans which of course never came to fruition. Despite being widely known about, there's precious little information out there about what kind of game JTCA was intended to be. Our 2012 interview with Tim Cain provided a short summary of its storyline, but little more.

That changed yesterday when legendary Arcanum modder and Codex alt suspect Drog Black Tooth reappeared on the Codex (with his original account) for the first time in over four years, with a link to what appeared to be a Journey to the Center of Arcanum pitch document dated to August 2001, allegedly provided to him by the leader of a Russian modding team. Interestingly, the document, entitled "Arcanum Underworld: Journey to the Center of Arcanum", directly references Ultima Underworld and promises a game with a systems-driven design rather reminiscent of the currently-in-development Underworld Ascendant. For example:

In JTCA (Journey to the Center of Arcanum), we hope to incorporate the best aspects of the most popular first-person RPG’s on the market, as well as include a new direction, one that is inherently Troika’s. If Arcanum has proved anything, it is that we know how to craft a well-balanced RPG, with memorable characters, a compelling story, and a character-development system that is second to none. The dichotomy between magick and technology gave us a perfect game environment to create an almost infinite number of playing styles, and we hope to translate that same environment into a 3-D world.

We hope to achieve a similar gaming environment as was presented in Half-Life or Deus Ex. The complexity of the levels in Half-Life, as well as the obvious care that was put into their design, created a game that was both fun and challenging at all levels. The use of puzzles and the intelligent placement of enemies helped players learn the use of the items presented to them, as well increasing their skill in items they previously had. The puzzles in JTCA would make the best use of these items, offering multiple solutions for every puzzle.

Imagine taking the weapons in Arcanum, such as the Tesla Rod or the Elephant Gun, and wielding them in a 3-D environment. The technological gadgets in Arcanum will almost drop into a game like this; lay down the Bear Trap and watch your enemies being trapped, struggling to get away while you pull out your Compound Bow and pick them off from a distance. Items like the Flow-Spectrometer could alter the game-view (think infrared-vision), where Mages and magickal items glow different colors and intensities, depending on their power. Mages will have an enormous number of spells at their disposal, and the size and power of those spells is basically limitless once we’ve moved into 3-D. A summoned Water Elemental could look just like flowing water, leaving behind puddles when it walks, exploding when hit with electricity or dissolving quietly when it dies otherwise. Fireballs, spewing flaming embers (particles), could track follow enemies around corners. And all of this in the world of Arcanum, with its industrial-age cities and magickal kingdoms and deep, dwarven mines and dungeons. The possibilities are endless.

As thieving in Arcanum very important, we hope to incorporate the best game-play mechanics of games like Thief and Thief 2. By allowing the player to move in the shadows, and to move quietly among enemies, we hope to offer a different kind of playing style than the mage, warrior or technologist. Strategy and success will be rewarded with audio and visual cues. Story elements will also support this playing style, as the Thieves Underground did in Arcanum.

Imagine having to enter a building, guarded by three men. Two guards are on foot patrol which takes them past the back door. The other man sits on a bench, near the front door. A skilled thief might stick to the shadows, timing his movements with those of the guards out back, pulling out his lockpicks at just the right moment and sneaking inside undetected. Or perhaps he’d sneak up behind them unguarded, Backstabbing them or covering their mouths with a Laudanum-soaked Rag. This might be the easier way to go, especially when the player notices that the guard out front falls asleep every so often. He snores loudly. There will also be magickal and technological items that will facilitate being a thief, from magickal Silent Shoes to an Auto-skeleton Key. Again, the possibilities for fun and interesting scenarios are limitless.

We contacted Tim Cain, who has become a frequent lurker on our forums in recent months, to verify the document's authenticity and to provide additional input. After some confusion, this is what he had to say:

Yes, Troika was working on a "Journey To The Center Of Arcanum" treatment, and yes, it was going to use the Source engine.

[...] I have three or four treatments for JttCoA, and they are all different. One I remember writing, and it is full of game system ideas, for skills and attribute changes. Another is written from the basis of using the Tribes engine instead of Source. Neither of those went to publishers either. We just wrote them as a "what if?" scenario to toss around during design meetings. Drog's document looks like one of those.

[...] So to clear things up...yes, this is a Troika doc on one possible treatment of JttCoA. I didn't write it, but I think I know who did. I never liked the "new metal which combines magick and tech" idea, because I thought it undermined the main motif of Arcanum, but the writer liked the idea, so he wrote it up for a design meeting. The doc was never intended to be sent to a publisher, just for us to read for a meeting, but I sent it to show the fan some of the ideas we were considering.
So there's another historical mystery clarified. Although this was apparently but one of several pitches for Journey to the Center of Arcanum, taking the series in an Ultima Underworld direction sounds like it could have resulted in something interesting. Not to mention, it would have been a clever tactic for preventing fanrage by directing attention to the existing precedent of a top-down party-based franchise successfully making the leap to first-person. I imagine things might have gotten awkward after Arx Fatalis was released in 2002, though.

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