Underworld Ascendant dev talks about true player choice

In some (stone) circles I’m better known as Knightshade Dragon -=UDIC=-, so you know that I’m closely watching the Kickstarter from OtherSide Entertainment for their resurrection of the beloved Underworld series.  The new game, entitled Underworld Ascendant, is heavily focused on choice and giving ownership of puzzle solving to the player instead of relying entirely on scripted events.   The video above talks with folks like Warren Specter and folks from OtherSide to work through how the Improvisation Engine will enable you to solve puzzles the way you want.  The team wants to make you “King of the Sandbox”.  Let’s let Paul Neurath, founder of Looking Glass (Thief, Ultima Underworld, System Shock) and founder of OtherSide Entertainment explain how the game mechanics might work:

Welcome to the Stygian Abyss.

Welcome to the Stygian Abyss.

The original Underworlds pioneered much of what today is known as ‘sandbox’ gameplay.  Games that have come after that highlight their sandbox play, such as Deus Ex and Elder Scrolls, drew inspiration from the Underworlds.  Yet in more than a few ways, the latest games have not moved much beyond what Underworld offered all those years ago.

With Underworld Ascendant, our aim is to take sandbox play to a whole new level.  To offer players greater freedom of choice, and more open-ended ways to come up with their own clever solutions to challenges.  Making this all happen is the Improvisation Engine, which provides an array of sophisticated technologies for unleashing player creativity.

In Underworld Ascendant, instead of the designers scripting a set solution path for a player, the Improvisation Engine puts the problem solving in the player’s hands.

Our designers lay out an encounter; setting up the monsters, traps, the physical layout, and the like.  Then the world simulation is turned on.  A set of fairly complex interactions and dynamics take place of their own accord.  The player comes into this dynamic mix, and can permeate this situation in whole range of ways, some of which the designers may have never imagined.

As an example, let’s look at the game vignette we affectionately call, “Spiders on a Bridge” that Chris showed us in the video.   We saw Chris disturbing a nest of spiders.  Chris chooses to run, which, all things considered, is probably wise. There are a lot of spiders!

Chris has lots choices. For instance, he could:
– Turn and fight.
– Try to run away from the spiders long enough to lose them in the tunnels.
– Try to block the passage behind him, with a Fungal Growth spell for instance.

Instead, Chris chose to cross a wooden bridge, then destroy it behind him, cutting him off from the spiders. A clever player could come up with other ways to survive.

Let’s take our example another step forward.  Chris has destroyed the bridge, saving himself from the spiders.  What now?  That bridge was the only way across the lava chasm and now it’s gone.  What if there is treasure on the other side that Chris wants?

A lone adventurer, seeks fortune in the dark.

A lone adventurer, seeks fortune in the dark.

He now has a new problem to solve.  Chris might:

– Chris knows a mushroom growing spell.  If he finds the right reagents he can make those mushrooms fireproof and then create a spongy walkway across the lava stream.
– Use the plentiful spider webs that are around and construct rope and grapple.  Throw and secure it across the chasm and then hope your acrobatic skills are up to par.
– Build a boat from lava bat skins to cross the lava flow. They’re fireproof, right?

How you develop your Avatar will open up new solutions.  For instance, a Thief sort of character who developers advanced skills in acrobatics will have more options to consider.  A fighter sort especially skilled with ranged weapons could be effective at sniping creatures before they could get too close.  These character specializations will tend to lead to more unique experiences between players during their play-trough, making it more fun to play again as a different type of character.

When you think of player choice, few games even moderately approach the sorts of possibilities being described here. If that sort of player choice that matters is important to you, you might consider backing the Kickstarter campaign right here.  At the time of this writing, the project is at $466,130 out of the $600,000 initial goal, with cooperative play sitting at double that amount.   C’mon folks — let’s get this one off the ground!

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