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Underworld Ascendant Update #28: Stephen Russell, Lizardman Design, and Ultima Underworld Influences

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Underworld Ascendant Update #28: Stephen Russell, Lizardman Design, and Ultima Underworld Influences

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Tue 23 August 2016, 03:06:57

Tags: OtherSide Entertainment; Ultima Underworld; Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds; Underworld Ascendant

Ever since they announced that they'd moved on to the Vertical Slice phase back in early June, the folks at OtherSide Entertainment have been pretty quiet about the ongoing development of Underworld Ascendant. But not completely quiet. As summer draws to a close, now is a good time for a news roundup. In late June, OtherSide released a brief update announcing that Stephen Russell of Thief fame had been hired to voice Sir Cabirus, deceased founder of the Stygian Abyss colony, after which update frequency dropped down to once per month. Last month's update was more substantial, describing the evolution of the visual design for Ascendant's Lizardmen, who will appear in the Vertical Slice when it's released later this year. Here's an excerpt from that:

We've explored multiple looks for the Lizardmen over the past year and thought we'd share.

We started with a couple of different versions during the Kickstarter: A dinosaur-like take and one that loosely resembled a fishman from H.P. Lovecraft's Innsmouth. We even had a vote on which one the fanbase liked more. There was a healthy debate in the office, too.

After some time evolving in art direction of the game, we needed to come back around on how all of our creatures looked. Nate and the art team have been taking a new look at what the Lizardman might appear in this developing style.

[...] Although just clay, this is the first look at a Green Lizardman, the friendlier of the types you'll encounter.

Since they're a closely related species, we didn't want to deviate too drastically from the basic look. But as game developers we need to accomplish a few things when doing a separate species that is essentially the same. We've all seen this in games , the reds and the blues, the big and the little. In a 3d FPS game the silhouette is very important. Like spotters on ships in WWII being able to identify a silhouette at a distance can be the difference between life or death.

[...] To address this with the Red Lizardmen, we decided to adjust his shape slightly in bulk and to give them some easy-to-read attachments that Green Lizardmen don't have.
In the early study (above), you'll notice the frills on the Red's head and face... which Will wants to call it a "head sail" and Tim a "scalp tongue".

Another part we use to accent the silhouette is with armor and clothing.

In Nate's draw-over (on the right), he's added some feather attachments making it even more sharp and pointy-looking from a distance.

Now that the overall idea is agreed upon, the Red Lizardman is in the hands of art production and refinements continue to happen daily.
Today's update was about Ascendant's influences from the original Ultima Underworld games. Here too the Lizardman legacy is influential:

Ultima Underworld and Ultima Underworld 2 were ground breaking RPGs that influenced dozens of games - including, not surprisingly, our own. With Underworld Ascendant, our goals have been to do justice to those original games and be as innovative as they were at the time.

We have a number of innovative new features that we've yet to reveal (including a narrative system that our producer Chris Siegel calls "Looking Glass 2.0."), though intend to show in detail farther down the line.

But for many basic questions, like how survival elements should be handled or letting the player increase difficulty by descending to lower levels, we often look to the original Ultima Underworld for guidance. There's simply so much those games did right.

In our last update, we mentioned that the Green Lizard Men will be found in the neutral zone of Marcaul, an area featured in our Vertical Slice. That's a direct connection to one of our favorite moments in Ultima Underworld -- a game that, a year and a half before Edge Magazine famously said, "lf only you could talk to these creatures..." about Doom, let you decipher the language of a race of creatures, talk to them, and make alliances with them.

As you can imagine, we find this sequence pretty inspiring and intend to feature the Lizard Men prominently in the Vertical Slice. (We'll even drop the name "Ishtass" as a hint...)

Another one of our favorite moments in the series? In Ultima Underworld 2's Prison Tower of Tarna level, the player could: 1) fight your way through several levels full of goblins or 2) talk your way through past all the guards, access the jail on the top floor, and release a captured troll, who would then proceed to wipe out every single goblin in the place. Both were fun ways of solving the same challenge and allowed a large gameplay choice on a quest level.

As we've said before, in Underworld Ascendant, we provide players with a large toolbox and let them choose how to solve a challenge. While that's mainly meant on a moment-to-moment level, we're also seeing some interesting opportunities to feature Tower of Tarna-style quest choices as well.
The folks who have been worrying that Ascendant is going to be a pure sandbox might be happy to read that last bit. According to OtherSide developers on the game's official forums, the Vertical Slice is due for release "after summer". I suppose we'll find out what exactly that means next month.

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