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Underworld Ascendant Update #43: World Design, Player Progression

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Underworld Ascendant Update #43: World Design, Player Progression

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 15 February 2018, 00:01:13

Tags: OtherSide Entertainment; Sam Luangkhot; Underworld Ascendant

Development on Underworld Ascendant continues to pick up pace. In the latest monthly development update, OtherSide are now able to reveal to reveal the game world's basic structure. They plan to use an Ultima Underwold 2-style hub-and-spoke model, with the player embarking on missions out of the Lizard Man settlement of Marcaul. The update also has details on Ascendant's controversial character progression mechanic, where players are rewarded with skill points for discovering new ways to interact with the game's emergent systems. This mechanic is justified via narrative - the Lizard Men of Marcaul value survival skills and reward you with knowledge from their magical library in exchange for discovering new techniques. Here's an excerpt from the update:

An Ever-Evolving Stygian Abyss

Many of you have asked about our plans for Underworld Ascendant’s environments. For example, is it a hub-and-spoke model? Is it a large open sandbox world? Or maybe one-off, discrete levels? In Underworld Ascendant, we’re taking a similar route to Ultima Underworld 2. The player will accept missions and bounties, acquire skills, trade for provisions and equipment, and interact with Faction intermediaries in Marcaul, a Lizard Man settlement and hub of trade and intrigue. Once you’ve readied yourself for your next challenge, you’ll navigate The Circle of Portals outside of town to travel to levels.

The primary reason we’re using this design is because it maximizes the amount of time players are in interesting and relevant environments. Second, this design leverages our small team in the most optimal way (currently 14 internally) and allows us to focus on making great interactive and dynamic environments where you can track even small changes as the narrative progresses.

Exploration is an important feature of The Stygian Abyss and there will be plenty of dark tombs and labyrinthine caverns to explore, with the help of The Silver Sapling!

New quests are offered by the Factions each day in Marcaul, and these range in challenge, reward, consequence, and location. You may even return to a level area two or more times over the course of the game. However, each time you visit a level, you’ll encounter new opportunities, challenges, and more. Helpful creatures like Lizard Man allies may be present or a swarm of Lava Bats may now inhabit the area. Useful flora like the glue plants may have been harvested and replaced with Nether Moss, which causes Deep Slugs to leave a sight-blocking smoke trail. Movement options also change, as the Outcast tribe’s construction efforts expand or are destroyed.

We’ll talk more about the Outcasts and their relationship with the Factions (and you!) at a later time.

As the game progresses, the world state begins to decay, causing the local ecology to become even more challenging, as fierce creatures crawl up from the lower depths and thermal vents appear.

These are a few of the ways we’re working to ensure that not only are levels different every time you visit them, but that you can play through the game multiple times and have a uniquely different experience each time.

In future updates, we’ll talk about the world state changes in depth, as well as its driver: our main nemesis, Typhon.

Feat-Based Player Growth

It’s been important to the team to closely examine RPG gameplay and story elements from the previous games in the series, to determine what to build upon and where to do something differently.

We’ve kept elements like The Silver Sapling, while eschewed others like stats and character classes. (Apologies those of you burning to play once more as a shepherd.) Instead, the player has a wide variety of combat, stealth, and magic skills and abilities to choose from to customize their character to match your preferred play-style.

We want players to teach themselves and reward them for experimentation as they explore Underworld Ascendant’s deep gameplay systems. It’s important to us to avoid overtly hand-holding the player, while teaching them the full depth of the opportunities within the immersive sim ecology, where logic-based simulated systems ensure elements like physics and physical properties make sense.

Our earliest example of this during our Kickstarter was a locked wooden door: You can burn it down, either with a spell, torch, or burning debris. You can pick the lock. You can bash it down, but the sound may attract foes.

Add to that a bevy of spells that allow you to alter physics, transform physical properties, manipulate creatures with exploitable behaviors, and, well, there’s much to learn.

So, instead of taking the traditional experience point route or requiring players to repeatedly use a skill to improve it, player growth in Underworld Ascendant is focused on a Feats-based system.

A “Feat” in our game is an action that demonstrates the player is hitting a key milestone toward understanding a play-style (combat, stealth, magic, environ, or key combinations) or game system. Think “the Labors of Hercules.”

Performing a Feat will gain the player a skill point. New skills cost one or more skill points. A few of our internal rules for Feats are that there should always be multiple ways to perform them and they can never be mundane.

One example? Many of our traps are physics-based, so can be blocked by heavy objects or stuck in place with adhesives. We decided to make this action a Feat after an external tester showed that she could stop a tick tock trap by tossing a glue ball directly at its seams. Which worked! (We’d never seen this before… Something that happens often when external testers play our game.) And that example is one of many ways to perform that Feat.

Through this, we hope to reward fun with more fun, while also not overwhelming the player with too many options right off the bat. And as you prove you understand and are actively engaging the many options available to you in the sim, you’ll unlock skills and abilities that grant you access to even more.​

Now that Ascendant's design is finalized, it appears there's much more to come in future updates. The game will also be featured in the PC Gamer panel at the annual SXSW event in Austin next month, on March 16th.

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