Underworld Ascendant: Progress Report; Combat, Stealth, & Magic


Otherside Entertainment have published another edition of the Stygian Sentinel, their roughly monthly updates on the progress being made on Underworld Ascendant.

Last month, we started out testing the latest build of The Challenge of Ishtass with our System Shock 3 and VR teams. As often happens with initial rounds of testing, it was immediately clear that while we knew how you could have fun in the game, it wasn’t readily apparent to the uninitiated player. Since our goal has been for the player to be able to dive right in and quickly start experimenting and have fun, that was vital for us to nail. That meant readability and player feedback for picking up objects, the nuances of melee and ranged combat, and more.

From there, we did five more rounds of testing (from casual players to the Boston Indie Games Group, from devs at The Molasses Flood to Warren Spector), each time getting a little closer. The team was super focused and made solid progress each day, so we’d iterate, test, review, and repeat.

Over time, it became apparent that spells were where people were having the most fun, but they still weren’t clear exactly on how they worked so they couldn’t get to the more improvisational possibilities using combinations.

We put solving that problem squarely on lead designer Tim (Thief, System Shock) Stellmach’s plate. It was a tough challenge, but within a few days he had the featured spells working clearly and reliably, so players could really start tapping into their creativity.

It was a pretty intense few weeks, but, whew!, it was fun. It’s great working with a team of folks who have such a wealth of experience and can sort difficult issues in short order. There are still many hurdles left for us with Underworld Ascendant, but we came out of our recent milestone with a lot of confidence that the team can tackle any problem that comes our way.

It’s heartening, I think, to see some tacit confirmation that the Underworld Ascendant and System Shock 3 teams are working closely together, at least as far as developing game systems is concerned.

The aforementioned Challenge of Ishtass, by the way, will present players with a plethora of combat, magic, and stealth options:

  • The player can use a LONG SWORD to perform a light quick chop, a slow heavy swing that can damage multiple opponents, and parry to deflect oncoming attacks. All are useful, because while the LIZARD MEN have clear tells for their attacks, they’re tough and engage in group combat.
  • Using a LONG BOW, the player can launch FLINT ARROWS to attack or distract enemies or WATER ARROWS to put out torches. The Lizard Men use STUN ARROWS to momentarily stop the player in his or her tracks, which can be particularly troubling while you’re attempting to engage in swordplay or escape… the MIND CRIPPLER
  • Some of the available skills include HEAVE to pick up and throw heavy objects (which can provide cover for projectiles, interrupt attacks, and damage foes), STEALTH STEP when crouched, STEALTH SIGHT to gauge visibility based off light levels, or MAGIC SIGHT to view magic-recharging streams of mana.
  • One of the more fun featured spells is GRAVITATE, which allows the player to raise objects and assemble them into useful shapes, like a bridge to cross a chasm. (We’ve also seen players manage to weaponize it in a number of interesting ways…)

And if you happen to think that the wording here implies that a backer release may be coming soon…you’d be at least partly correct:

When do you get to play? Next month we’ll be announcing plans for rolling out the build to backers, after we complete another round adding more interactable objects and improvisational elements to the world.

As always, there’s more to read; click on through to check out the rest.

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