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Development Info Underworld Ascendant Update #41: End of Year Update


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Staff Member
Jan 28, 2011
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Tags: OtherSide Entertainment; Sam Luangkhot; Underworld Ascendant

Nearly three years after its Kickstarter, Underworld Ascendant finally feels like a game that's in full-scale production. Shortly after last month's update, OtherSide's community manager Sam Luangkhot began publishing weekly mini-updates on their forums, and earlier this month the team had their second developer roundtable session (partial transcript available here) with more on the way. In short Ascendant has come a long way, and so OtherSide have decided to end 2017 with an interesting monthly update summarizing all the progress they made this year. I quote:

As this year draws to a close, we’d like to thank all of you again for your support as we continue to work on Underworld Ascendant.

We started the beginning of the year working on our first area, the ‘Trial of Ishtass,’ which was used to make sure that the main core systems of the game were functional. There were three main goals we wanted to get right: player skills, world interaction, and the look and feel of the environment.

For combat, we made sure our movement skills were all working, and that the player could swing a sword and block, and to make bows functional. The AI was stood up to be able to ‘see’ the player and have some basic interaction with them. Combat in general has been a constant challenge. UA is not a fighting simulator, but we still want combat to feel good. For example, we spent a lot of time discussing how we wanted the sword swing to work, something that is seemingly mundane and straightforward (it’s not). Should it be fast? Slow? Movement based? What we didn’t want was a ‘chopping the tree’ simulator.

Over the year, we proved out the basics. Combat has been constantly tweaked on the AI side, and problems like timing and distance have been tuned. Where we haven’t spent time until recently was expanding out the player’s moves in combat. Over the next couple of months that will all come online, and I’m sure cause some more adjustments to the AI and creatures.

If you remember, one of the two creatures that was shown in the beginning of the year was the Lizardman. He could shoot a bow or use a sword. He was ok, but did not match the look and feel we were looking for, so he was sent back to the creature factory for some adjustments. The new and improved Lizardmen will be coming to the Abyss really soon.

Over the summer, we introduced our Skeletons and were able to use their more humanoid models to prototype a whole bunch of other behaviors for other bipedal creatures. Some of the more exotic creatures were tested out using some VFX or other models that were approximately similar. This has set us up so that when the real creatures make it in from the art team, we already have the basic groundwork for their behavior and in some cases animation, and we can get to tuning them all that much faster.

Stealth at the beginning of the year was simple. If hidden, the AI didn’t see you. If they did, they saw you forever. It was truly binary. Now it is a bit more complex. Creatures can see or hear you all based on your skills. If they do detect you, you can hide, and they will eventually forget about you. We have fooled with how many alert states they have, and how easily it is to fool them, and how easy it is to get seen. Some of the main factors of stealth are about creature behavior based on alertness and distance. It is pretty easy to make Capt. Omnipotent or Capt. Oblivious. The trick is to get it to feel… juuuuust right. Recently it is getting better, and with more interesting tools to play with, and the AI getting smarter about world states (like boxes making noise, for example), it should play very well soon.

Magic started the year with Repulse, Slow Time (“Prolong”) and Gravitate. Repulse basically was part shield and part physics-push-object. Repulse could push other rigid bodies around the world and also reflect projectiles back at their users. Slow Time well, slowed time. You could dodge an arrow, or take more time to do some other action before the time bubble burst. Gravitate would gravitate a number of objects and attempt to line them up.

What we quickly learned is Repulse needed to be simplified. In our enthusiasm, we sometimes over-design systems. That was the case with Repulse. The original idea was a shield, but in our excitement, we started amping up the secondary effect of being able to push objects. Sometimes you follow the interesting idea down the rabbit hole, but in this case, we backed off and kept it as a defensive spell for the most part. You can still use the push ability to great effect, especially around ledges over bottomless pits.

Gravitate started as a ‘hey look I can move a thing from a distance’ into a much more interesting and robust skill. We like the idea of magic being ‘smart’ about what it is doing, so we had Gravitatenot only grab multiple objects, but then attempt to rearrange them into something useful. The obvious thing to do was to make a bridge out of crates. That led to Gravitating on a bunch of burning crates and bashing enemies with them, which incidentally doesn’t get old and does a ton of damage.

We have since fleshed out the magic system and are testing it to see what kind of fun we can have with it. We have finally added some purely offensive spells – as “purely” as an OtherSide game can be anyway. Of course, we are already seeing other ways to use spells than originally intended.

Setting up the world has been its own adventure. From tweaking the art style in both world and creature design, to letting loose the level designers, the Abyss is starting to feel like a place. Amazing to think just a few months ago we had a single space to play around in. That is no longer the case. Art and design are in a good spot with helping each other out, and having gameplay and challenges work well with the look and feel of a space. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

With interactivity as the centerpiece of the game, we have been spending the bulk of our time on our core interaction tools: player skills and the systems the player can interact with. We try to break down into the smallest bits on what we want to allow the player to do, like play with physics, manipulate the AI, playing with light and darkness as some examples. The player skills, the AI and the world objects need to take these interactions into account. It can quickly become a nasty web. I don’t want to give away too much on some of the interesting ideas that we have been working on since some of them will be core to the game, and some others you are going to have to discover on your own.

Beyond the core of what we were doing all those months ago, we have also been forging ahead in everything that supports the core game. From the UI, to the sound FX and the Visual wizbang we are starting to put in, it really is looking like a game.
The full update also has some screenshots that demonstrate the game's progress over the course of year, and a few anecdotes about the various amusing bugs that OtherSide have run into during development.

Jack Dandy

Feb 10, 2013
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Nice. I don't remember why exactly I pledged for this project, but apparently I did. Hope it will end well.

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