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Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter Update #44: Tim Stellmach on Magic

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Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter Update #44: Tim Stellmach on Magic

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Fri 15 May 2015, 21:27:42

Tags: Joe Fielder; OtherSide Entertainment; Tim Stellmach; Underworld Ascendant

In this week's Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter update, lead designer Tim Stellmach talks about the work he's been doing on the game's magic system, which we heard preliminary details about during the campaign. As with everything in Ascendant, the goal is maximum systemization:

In this early stage of Underworld Ascendant development, the fundamentals of the core game systems are a major design focus. We are fleshing out systems for movement, combat, character abilities, object interactions, and more. Right now, I’m up to my elbows in the magic system. The details are constantly changing (here I am, changing them), but the goals and overall approach are constant. So this week, we’d like to share a little bit about our direction for the game’s magic system.

As longtime fans will know, players chose spells in Underworld 1 & 2 by selecting sequences of collectible rune stones. One such sequence could be prepared at a time, indicating a spell that could then be cast repeatedly (while the character’s mana held out). Each rune was associated with a meaning such as “light” or “harm,” and the rune formulas for different spells had a kind of logic based on those meanings. This helped it to feel that certain laws of magic underlay the system, and players could even guess a few undocumented spells based on rune meanings.

The magic system in the original Underworlds was very well received, and a lot of things about it still hold up well today. There are also aspects of it that didn’t work as well, and things people liked which we hope to do even better. So, Underworld Ascendant takes that magic system as its jumping-off point, changing and improving the system where it seems appropriate.

First, as with every other aspect of the game, we’ll be modernizing the user interface. I’m developing systems now to reduce the large mouse-clicking overhead, making casting more streamlined and making it possible to switch prepared spells more smoothly.

Other changes in our approach to magic reflect the wider context of what we’ve learned about character progression in our years of development experience. The skill and progression systems in the 90’s took a lot of cues from pen-and-paper RPGs that don’t necessarily work as well through the veil of automation. As a simple example, maybe you have to make a die roll to successfully cast a spell in a tabletop game. You can see all the die rolls, because you’re the one rolling. But on a PC, if you try to cast a spell and it doesn’t work, the veil of automation can make that failed die roll hard to tell from a lost mouse click. So in Underworld Ascendant, the whole character skill system will be getting an overhaul to reflect the last 25 years’ advancement in user experience, and the magic system is no exception.

More fundamentally, we’d like to capitalize on the strong concept of the game’s rune language. As evocative as it was in the original Underworld games, players were ultimately still limited to a set of pre-authored spells. In Underworld Ascendant, we’ll be experimenting with using the runes as a true language for varying different aspects of players’ spells procedurally. For example, some Underworld spells had more powerful versions tagged with the “Vas” rune. But what if you could change the power level of any spell? Maybe change the way a spell is delivered to its target, or how it draws its mana? We have a number of ideas to try out, and these kinds of tests are a great opportunity afforded to us by our early access backers.

Finally, what it even means to be a wizard has changed as our culture has developed new ideals about adventurers of every kind. Gamers in the early 90’s had never seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. We can’t help but be influenced by Thief and the explosion of other stealth-action games since 1998. Truly fantastic abilities in RPGs are no longer the exclusive domain of spell casters. So the whole spell list is being reconsidered top to bottom, to make sure that each character building strategy has its own distinctive style and advantages. Hint:spider climb will not be a wizard spell, but not to worry, they’ll have other options of their own.
Also included in the update is the news that writer Joe Fielder, following the failure of The Black Glove project, has been promoted to full-time "Design Director" on Ascendant. The OtherSiders' next Twitch outing will be next Wednesday, playing Arkane's Dark Messiah of Might & Magic, so perhaps melee combat design is next on their agenda.

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