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Game News Underworld Ascendant Update #7: Pillars and Prototypes


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Jan 28, 2011
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Tags: Bard's Tale IV; Chris Siegel; OtherSide Entertainment; Underworld Ascendant

This month's first Underworld Ascendant update is an interesting one, providing an overview of what's going into the game's first playable prototype, which is now in development. I quote:

We are currently midway into our first playable prototype. A playable prototype is small, working corner of the underworld. It includes everything from character movement, to the look of the place, to core systems. It is designed such that we can stop, take a look at it, test it out, and decide what works well and what not so much.

It starts with ideas, which we call 'core pillars'. Currently we have decided on 3 core pillars for our prototype.
  1. We are an Underworld game. What ties us back to the past?
  2. Player authored experience.
  3. Create a fantastic magical world.
Pretty broad right? We break that down further of course and pick a couple of key pieces from each pillar that we would want to prove out.

For example, for the player authored experience, we have already played around with physics, but have not spent too much time on magic, or physical object reactions such as burning things, smashing things and other generally destructive...er...creative ways of using the environment. So we have decided for the first prototype to focus on a couple of spells, using the actual bones of a real spell system, and ensuring that our design practices have objects in the world understand their physical state.

An example of this is a rope. For our vertical slice, our rope will think 'I'm a rope. I can bend and flow because of weight, and other environmental things like wind. I don't like fire and will burn when it touches me.' As with most of the Underworld, this is not canned, but reactive. Rope and wood burn. You can use that to your benefit, or your detriment.

So we have our core pillars and we start thinking about the layout of a map where we want to have gameplay. Design writes a script for the area, our thoughts of what this area is, and what will be going on in broad strokes.

Because this is just a proof of concept we do want an area that is tightly focused on our needs; we're not building out the first level of the Underworld or anything. We just need to have an area that looks typical for what it is, looks at different space sizes, and has room to experiment with some gameplay.

Art and design spend a ton of time sketching out a look and feel of the area. It has gone through a number of iterations at this point, but seems to be coming together nicely. Dwarven Byzantine Mini-Monumentalism is the descriptor we are coining for this current space. I'll get into the details of that in another update.

Design has been spending time making what we call a Phase 0 map. This is a typical map layout but made with basic editor shapes, and imported shapes from a 3D program. As we go on and are happy with the layout, we move on to phase 1 and 2 which has more detailed replacement assets.

So, a spiral staircase in phase 0 is easily replaced with a new phase 1 version. It's the same size, same shape, but with more detail. We then repeat the process with however many iterations on that staircase we want until it looks just how we like.

What this allows us to do is very quickly stand up all the gameplay, all the object scripting like doors opening, things swinging and other basic map specific tasks. This leaves our system designers unblocked and can plug in all the gameplay very early and very quickly, while art continues making the area more and more detailed.

So that's where we are at, about a week away from the final phase 0 map being completed with gameplay in it.​

See the full update for some images and a snippet from the script. Note that the script implies that the player character in Ascendant will have audible Garrett-like quips. That is pretty cool. In other news, OtherSide are running another cross-promotion with the Bard's Tale IV guys at inXile. Anybody who pledges to both games gets an extra $5 to use in his Underworld Ascendant Backerkit account. You can read more about that here.


So some more physics (do they still not get that advertising physics in 2015 is no longer exactly a novelty?), some more about presenting them as player "authored" phenomena (and we know why this happens and what it entails when it's the case, don't we), some more arcadey references (rope swinging and so on) just to be sure we scare some people away..

Underworld Ascendant, Tomb Raiding the Abyss

Aaaand.. zero on the 'past' or 'magical world' """columns""".. ie where either you have creativity and it shows, or you don't. Because if you had, twenty two years of this game in your head, plus another while in front of a desk..ideas don't need a budget now do they? :)
Before someone rushes to reply "that's probably the next couple of updates", i would like to think that if ideas and vision were aplenty, we would have had a taste already. Doubly the case when again usually, it is design philosophy and conceptualisation that goes about requiring the systems and mechanics to bring it about.

They cannot kill my curiosity in regard to its final shape and form, but boy have they not made it easy for me to have no hope, lol

(..i want to be wrong..i want even more to see a true UU3..and on an ideal level? A true UU3 with a 'retro mode'. A-la Shadowgate's remake. Keep dreaming..)

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