Otherside Entertainment has been leading the charge with the announcement of their flagship sequel to their classic 1992 RPG game Ultima, Underworld Ascendant.
Paul Neurath is by all humble assessment, a game vet. He founded Looking Glass Studios, the imprint that brought us Ultima and went on to be the Creative Director of Zynga Boston. Over his career he has also overlooked the creation of many classic games including Thief, Terra Nova anf Flight Unlimited.
Paul Neurath, now the head over at OtherSide has undoubtedly been busy with the games’ crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, which is near completion too, almost reaching. So we thought it the most opportune moment to get a hold of Neurath to talk Underworld Ascendant, the impetus the 1992 Ultima Underworld brand has had on gaming culture and the direction of the new Ascendant project:
Tell us a bit of the narrative behind Underworld Ascendant
We aren’t ready to get to deep into the narrative at this time. I can say that “Underworld Ascendant” is a next-generation sequel to the legendary fantasy RPG’s “Ultima Underworld” & “Ultima Underworld 2”. It will not only modernise the series’ visuals and user interface to take full advantage of the today’s powerful PCs, it will innovate in bold new ways.
We have the rights to use pretty much everything from the original games except for the Ultima brand. I’m not sure how many players are focused on that brand itself these days. And the original Ultima Underworlds were fairly loosely connected to the classic Ultima games anyway. As a team, we actually like the fresh start of not having to ensure that this feels like an “Ultima” branded game. Gives us more creative freedom.
Interestingly, we are creating a fictional connection with Shroud of the Avatar. So we’re keeping alive the collaboration that Richard Garriott’s and our team had done with the original games, just in a new era.
What made you decide to develop the sequel to Ultima?
I have always wanted to make a sequel, but could not get it green-lit with EA over past two decades. A year ago, EA came to realise that nothing more was ever likely to come of the franchise unless we, the original creators, took it forward. It is hard for a new team to pick up somebody else’s vision for a game, and often the results are less than great. We secured the rights to take the Underworld franchise forward from EA, and here we are.
What were the challenges you found faced with bringing the classic Ultima brand game to the modern age? And how similar / different has it been compared to the challenges the team faced at Looking Glass delivering Ultima Underworld?
One challenge is to balance the expectations of those who love the original games, with younger gamers who probably have never played them.
Also the industry has moved forward over the past 2 decades. Not as much as one might expect in terms of game design, but hugely on visuals and audio production. The bar for AAA games is super high on that front. Fortunately, there is a thriving market for indie games that don’t have to go toe-to-toe with big budget AAA games. Players have come to realise that some of the most innovative and fun games are coming out of indie studios. And that is where we fit.
You’ve stated the many influences for the Underworld Ascendant game, including Doom, Thief, Deus Ex, Skyrim, BioShock etc. But what elements of the game would you consider to be the most reminiscent of the classic 1992 Ultima Game? And what is different with its predecessor?
One vibe we’re holding tight to be being thrown in a dark, vast and deadly underworld, and where at first you feel like a “stranger in a strange land”, barely knowing how to survive. There is real fear, and sense of the darkness pressing in close. Over time you grow into mastery of the underworld, and that arc of progression hold great satisfaction. An obvious place “Underworld Ascendant” is different is 100-fold more advanced visuals and audio to take full advantage of power PCs, as well as a modern user interface.
Tell us a bit about the Kickstarter campaign?
Crazy busy, crazy busy, crazy busy… but having fun.
Any particular reason you chose to fund Underworld Ascendant using crowdsourcing?
When we created the original game there was a wall between us and the fans. Publishers weren’t really thrilled to have us to reach out and have a dialogue. That was a lost opportunity to connect with fans. Crowdsourced funding and digital distribution are potent ways for us to open up and let the fans who supported the franchise all along come onboard and help shape Underworld Ascendant. Plus, we get more freedom to be creative.
The ’92 Ultima is arguably the forerunner for the style and language of modern RPG games. What would you contribute to Ultima having such a permeating quality across gaming history and tacit?
We were willing to break the rules of that era of what an RPG could be. Turned out we helped lay the groundwork for a new set of rules that have been used for the past 2 decades. Time to break some rules again.
Is OtherSide Entertainment working on any other projects in conjunction with Ultima?
Right now, our focus is on “Underworld Ascendant”.
Are there any plans to bring the Underworld brand to gaming platforms like the PS4 / Xbox One, or mobile?
As of now, we are focused on PC gaming.
The concept art for the Ascendant looks lovely. In terms of art direction what can we expect to see re look of characters and environments?
Your Dire Faeries will ruin childhood fairy tales the world over. I hope you are happy. But what is the team’s process when it comes to creature design in Underworld Ascendant’s universe?
We are happy indeed. We try to think deeply about which creatures to put in the underworld. How they fit in the ecosystem, how they provide interesting challenges for the player, and so forth.
It seems you and OtherSide have drummed up a lot of support for Ascendant already from fans and creatives alike. What collaborations can we expect to see on Ascendant?
We have some big announcements coming soon. Stay tuned!
If the campaign goes well when can we expect a beta / demo version of Ascendant to try out, and when do you expect to wrap up production on the game?
About 16 months out for the Alpha, about 22 months out to wrap things up.
So while there will be sometime until we can get our hands on the game, to see all the hard work and passion being intravenously pumped into its creation fills the games future, and by extension, future OtherSide project with great promise. And we definitely wish Neurath and his team every bit of success with Underworld Ascendant.
Are you excited for OtherSide’s Underworld Ascendant? Let us know what you think in the comments below.