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Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter Update #6: New Vote, Paul Neurath Interview at Rock Paper Shotgun

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Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter Update #6: New Vote, Paul Neurath Interview at Rock Paper Shotgun

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 11 February 2015, 00:39:04

Tags: OtherSide Entertainment; Paul Neurath; Scott Kimball; Tim Stellmach; Underworld Ascendant

The latest Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter update informs us of the results of the game's first vote and announces a new one. This time, backers get to vote on which of two flying monster races will be in the game:

Not a major update, but it seems like they're planning on releasing a larger one soon. In the meantime, have a look at this new interview with Paul Neurath at Rock Paper Shotgun, which has an unexpected focus on the pen-and-paper roots of the roleplaying genre. I'll quote the relevant parts:

By their nature, Neurath argues, RPGs are about experimentation and improvisation. His understanding of the craft of roleplaying goes back to the earliest days of Dungeons & Dragons, when the creators of tabletop systems would send out mimeographed maps to players. Through the Wisconsin roleplaying scene of the mid-seventies, Neurath encountered Dave Arneson, and the close-knit nature of that formative environment is something that he reckons online communities and crowdfunding can recapture, to an extent.

More importantly, he thinks that CRPGs still have a lot to learn from pen and paper roleplaying. The character sheet, the avatar and the player’s intellect and personality are tools with which to overcome challenges, and those challenges should offer a diverse range of solutions. Rather than performing a poor imitation of a human Dungeon Master, a computer can provide systems that encourage emergent play, allowing unscripted situations to develop. In Underworld Ascendant, as an extension of the original Underworld games, many of the dynamic situations will be symptoms of the faction system. As Neurath describes how it’ll work, I get the impression it’s the aspect of Underworld that he’s been redesigning and elaborating on for twenty years or so.

“In the original Underworlds there were some lightweight faction elements. Player could interact and befriend one group – becoming enemies of another group. It was fairly primitive stuff, with AIs interacting in fairly limited ways. We’re really pushing that aspect.

Creatures have their own agendas. At first the player may be mystified by the world but once you get beyond that you’ll slip into the politics of the factions. There are three main factions with much deeper dynamics between them. The player has to choose which faction to join with at some point in the game. That has deep repercussions.”

[...] In a way, Neurath is turning the idea of Kickstarter as a modern phenomenon on its head during our conversation, indirectly likening the crowdfunding process and fan participation to those early exchanges of maps and rulesets in the RPG scene that grew out of tabletop wargaming societies.

Those early experiences are important to him, clearly, and the closest he comes to criticising the current output of the larger studios is telling. There’s a tendency to borrow ideas from non-interactive media, whether that be books, films or television, while the social interaction of tabletop gaming is too often ignored. “Some AAA games lose the beauty of the interactive medium to hit a mass audience”, he says.

I question whether looking back to the nineties, and even the seventies, might be a mistake. Is there an inherent contradiction in attempting to recreate an experience that was innovative and ahead of its time?

“Part of the DNA of Underworld was looking way forward, and that DNA is alive and well. People can go and play them for the first time today, and once they get past the graphics, the gameplay still hasn’t been exceeded in some cases.” He talks, briefly, about the development of Ultima Underworld 2, which was more of a 1.5 as many ideas were dropped in order to finish the game on time.

Some of those ideas will be picked up again now and they are ideas that haven’t been fully expressed elsewhere. Despite his positivity about the gaming industry, Neurath acknowledges that progress can seem slow.

“I would never have imagined twenty years ago that the games industry wouldn’t have moved forward so much. It feels like we’re behind where we should be but remembering that we’re only three decades in.

“There’s plenty of space to grow and we’ll be looking to do that, but the game will feel familiar to people who loved the originals. At its core, Ascendant is an immersive dungeon crawl. Just as the success of the latest edition of D&D shows, some things are perennial.”​

It's interesting to see this kind of nostalgia coming from a man who in previous interviews seems to have been all about forward-looking innovation first and foremost.

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