As you might remember, back in August it became publicly known that 505 Games is to publish the long-awaited fantasy rpg “Underworld Ascendant” for PC. Well, since I just happen to have grown up playing “Ultima Underworld” 1 and 2. I simply couldn’t resist the urge to do an interview with OtherSide Entertainment and 505 games about “Underworld Ascendant“. So, that’s exactly what I did =) And that resulted in us talking about everything from the old “Ultima Underworld” games, old memories and the plans for “Underworld Ascendant”.
So without further ado, please enjoy our interview with OtherSide Entertainment’s Joe Fielder.
We always start off our interviews with having people introducing themselves to our readers. So please go ahead and do so =)
I’m Joe Fielder. Former game journalist, turned level designer, producer, and writer. I’ve worked on games like BioShock Infinite, The Flame in the Flood, BOOM BLOX, and [redacted]. I’m the game director and writer of Underworld Ascendant.
Would you be so kind and explain what “Underworld Ascendant” is all about? (the story, etc.) And how, when, where and why did the project came to be?
Underworld Ascendant is a first-person, emergent RPG, where the player is plucked from modern-day earth and dropped into a deeply-immersive, fantasy world, full of conflict and intrigue.
The game takes place in The Stygian Abyss, an incredibly dangerous, underground environment on the borders of The Underworld. It’s a place where life shouldn’t exist. And without your help, it won’t much longer.
You may have visited before, in fact.
Underworld Ascendant’s the modern follow-up to Looking Glass’ Ultima Underworld series, which has been credited with inventing the “immersive sim” genre and influenced developers of such games as System Shock, Deus Ex, BioShock, Thief, Fallout 4, Skyrim… Even Minecraft.
It’s our goal to follow-up on Looking Glass’ legacy of innovation, to make a game takes the immersive sim forward in some intriguing, new ways.
The game promotes experimentation and rewards creativity using The Improvisation Engine, a series of interwoven systems that oversee and direct the player experience to keep the game challenging and fun.
As far as how it originally came together? Paul Neurath, who co-founded Looking Glass, helped create the Immersive Sim, and designed the opening levels of Ultima Underworld, started OtherSide a few years back with the intent to bring back classic series like Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and more. Not long after, Underworld Ascendant had a successful Kickstarter and recently attracted the attention of 505 Games.
How comes that OtherSide Entertainment picked the Unity engine for “Underworld Ascendant”? And did you use any other engines during the early development process of the game? If so, which?
The team is comprised of industry vets who’ve worked on multiple engines over the years. All of them have their unique plusses and minuses. We found Unity to be a great fit for the project because it allows for rapid prototyping of game systems, which is key for creating an immersive sim.
We’ve had a lot of instances over the last six months of fans and industry friends asking, “Is that Unreal?!” We have to say, no, but our art director Nate Wells, who worked on the BioShock series and created the concept for its iconic Big Daddy character, helped define the look of games that have used that engine.
Back in March of 2015 OtherSide Entertainment managed to raise over 860,000 USD for “Underworld Ascendant” via Kickstarter (almost 14,000 people backed the game!). Well, since the Kickstarter campaign became a huge success, I would like to ask you what the whole experience was like from your point of view? (from the start to the very end, ups and downs).
I personally think crowdfunding is amazing, because it’s helped in the development of games like FTL, Darkest Dungeon, and others that we might not have seen otherwise.
The process of running a crowdfunding campaign is extremely intense, but we were able to rely on feedback and advice from industry friends who’d run successful campaigns in the past. We’re really appreciative of the support we received from the many fans of Looking Glass games and have an active fanbase, who we’ve been keeping up on the progress of the game with behind-the-scenes updates.
Since the “Underworld Ascendant” team consist of the following people:
Paul Neurath – Creative Director (Credits: Ultima Underworld 1 and 2, Descent, System Shock 2, Thief I & II)
Joe Fielder – Game Director/Writer (Credits: BioShock Infinite, The Flame in the Flood, Lost Within)
Tim Stellmach – Lead Designer (Credits: System Shock, Thief 1 and 2, Ultima Underworld II)
Nate Wells – Studio Art Director (Credits: Bioshock, BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us)
Warren Spector – Advisor (Credits: Deus Ex, System Shock, Ultima Underworld, Thief: The Dark Project)
I would to ask you what it’s like to work with so much talent under the one and same roof? Furthermore, how did the development picks happen for “Underworld Ascendant”? (who should work with what, and so on).
It’s pretty amazing. There are times in company meetings where people will start talking about discussions that led to the birth of the stealth genre in Thief, which Tim was the lead designer on. A few months ago at E3, we had a breakfast conversation with Paul and Warren about the early beginnings of the immersive sim genre, which came from applying principles behind the Flight Simulator series to a dungeon in Ultima Underworld. It’s hard not to fanboy out, at times, honestly. I feel like every discussion I have with them, I learn more about game design.
I should note that Warren’s busy with his own project (System Shock 3) out of our Austin studio, but provides regular feedback on builds and is a great resource for me for narrative. We also benefit from developers like engineers Will Texiera and Chris Maire, who bring an indie/gamejam perspective to the team and worked with our designer Chris Siegel (another Looking Glass alum) on MMORPGs at Turbine.
The original “Ultima Underworld” game was launched back in 1992, and even though that’s over 25 years ago. The Underworld series still has a truly strong fanbase and community to this very day (“Underworld Ascendant” success on Kickstarter is a proof of this). So, why do you think that is? And do you think the FPS/RPG/dungeon crawler genre is here to stay?
I like dungeon crawlers, both from then and now, and think they have a bright future. However, I’d say that while the original Ultima Underworld and Underworld Ascendant both have dungeon crawler elements, they’re more immersive sim-like in nature because of the freedom they offer. (And I think you’re seeing immersive-sim elements become more and more prevalent in modern games, like the latest Zelda and the Dark Souls series.)
Immersive sims really capitalize on the interactive elements of games, which to me is what really separates them from other mediums and where they need to develop more and more in the future.
I could be wrong now, but “Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds“ was the last title in the old series right? (the game was released back in 1993). So I’m kind of curious to know why there wasn’t an “Ultima Underworld II”? Because from what I can tell, the series became pretty darn successful. Simply put, why has it taken such a long time for a new “Underworld” title to happen?
The quest to track down and secure the IP rights for the Underworld and System Shock series was long and arduous, but Paul’s patience and persistence are frankly astounding. Ultimately, it happened because of fans’ deep love for these classic series and belief in our ability to carry on Looking Glass’ rich legacy. It’s an amazing opportunity and one we’re all invested deeply in making good on.
What will the final minimum and recommended specs be for the game? (I’m not quite sure if the info on Steam is correct, nor final).
We’ll be announcing the final minimum and recommended specs for Underworld Ascendant closer to its final release date.
Do you have any idea how many hours of gameplay will “Underworld Ascendant” offer? (roughly calculated) And how big will the game world be? (to give some perspective. “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” = 84 mi2, and “TES: Daggerfall” = 62,000 mi2).
One of our main goals for Underworld Ascendant is to create a game that can provide a unique experience every time you play it, based on your moment-to-moment choices in-level and your larger decisions about which quests to choose, how to grow your character’s skills, and which Faction to align with. Because the game’s narrative and environments will be player-driven, the length will also be somewhat determined by each individual play style.
Since the game is said to be “the next-generation follow-up to Ultima Underworld”. I would love to know how true “Underworld Ascendant” will be to the legacy and nature of the Underworld series? Furthermore, I recall that the old games were pretty hardcore in terms of difficulty. So how forgiving Vs unforgiving will the game be?
From a narrative perspective, there are elements we’re following up on that series fans will definitely appreciate, but it won’t require that you’ve played the original games to follow it.
Underworld Ascendant will present a level of challenge where it’ll be in the player’s best interest to consider how to use their skills and opportunities in the world to stack the deck in their favor. The game rewards skill within constraints and creativity, so it’ll be fun for those who want to fight through a problem or think their way through. So, like in the original, the player will be able to moderate the difficulty level to their preference.
What’s your plans, hopes and expectations for the rest of the year? And is there anything that you would like to say to our readers?
We’re currently making a lot of progress with the immersive sim elements of the game (which are very exciting to see come online), expanding our bestiary, refining combat, stealth, and magic, and much more I can’t talk about yet.
I’m personally really looking forward to getting into the recording studio soon with Stephen (Thief, Fallout 4, Dishonored 2) Russell, who is a major talent and has been super fun to work with so far. There’s MUCH more to show and tell about Underworld Ascendant, so we can’t wait to share with everyone.
Robin “V-Act” Ek
Editor in chief
The Gaming Ground
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