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Paul Neurath talks about Underworld Ascendant at PCGamesN

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Paul Neurath talks about Underworld Ascendant at PCGamesN

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Fri 23 January 2015, 18:29:38

Tags: OtherSide Entertainment; Paul Neurath; Underworld Ascendant

There's a new interview with Paul Neurath over at the increasingly excellent PCGamesN, about his soon to be Kickstarted Ultima Underworld spiritual successor, Underworld Ascendant. This one goes into much more detail about the intended spirit of the game than anything we've seen until now, and I dare say it might help some of our more pessimistic readers sleep a little easier. Here's an excerpt:

Back in the early ‘90s, after Looking Glass had shipped Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds, the series “fell between the cracks”. Its publisher, Origin, had been acquired by EA and was entering its final form: swapping out managers and rearranging itself around the nascent Ultima Online. Talks around an Underworld 3 went back and forth, and eventually sideways. Looking Glass made System Shock instead.

The studio went on to greater recognition and financial success by further streamlining their sandbox simulation to yield Thief. But their founder couldn’t help but feel they’d left something behind: a “true role-playing game”.

“The difference between that and a Thief or even a Deus Ex is that you’re handing over to the player to make the character they want,” said Neurath. “There’s hundreds and thousands of different varieties of skills and equipment, how your character looks, all the magic you can learn and wield. So you’ve got this plethora of opportunity to craft your own hero.”

From Ultima, Underworld had taken the Avatar and the idea that the player had literally escaped, through a portal, from real-world mundanity into a fantasy realm. It was an allusion to classic literature that Neurath had always liked. When EA agreed last year to license Underworld and its fiction but keep hold of the Ultima name, he seized the chance.

“I’ve gone back to Electronic Arts a number of times over the last two decades,” said Neurath. “There were too many hurdles, but the stars kinda aligned and we were able to find a way to bring it back.

“We can basically take anything from the original games, like monsters and locations and items and some of the NPCs. But we can’t use the Ultima brand. In a lot of ways that’s okay because the Underworlds weren’t really designed to be Ultima - it was more of an incidental connection back in the old days.”

[...] Neurath draws a line between the possibilities of playstyle offered by a game like Dishonored and the moment-to-moment decisions players will make in Underworld Ascendant.

“At any given time, you can try different things out. The world doesn’t turn into a stealth game or a fighter game - the world is the world,” he said. “The NPCs might know that you did a bunch a stealth and they might respond, but when you come to a new encounter, you use whatever tools you want to use. It’s much more open-ended, much more sandbox.”

Player choice in Ascendant won’t look like two paths branching off into the darkness - it’ll concern how they go about solving a challenge. Rather than scripting the weapons a player might use or the levers they might pull, Otherside are building encounters to support five or ten different solutions - reliant on stealth, combat, magic, or simply outwitting the opponent.

“To us, success in this model is if players discover solutions that we as designers never even imagined,” said Neurath. “We had this happen from time to time in the original Underworlds and we’re going to try and have that happen more often.

“If a player can come up with a solution and feel really clever, like, ‘Boy, I’m the first person to think of this way to solve this challenge,’ I think that’s pretty wonderful.”​

It sounds like he gets it! Read the full interview for more information about Otherside and for Paul's thoughts on Looking Glass' legacy.

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