Ultim-Ancestor: Underworld Ascension

By Adam Smith on July 1st, 2014 at 4:00 pm.

Be still my beating heart. No, wait, not quite that still. Somebody fetch the defibrillator.

There’s a new Underworld game in development. That’s Underworld as in Ultima Underworld, as in a couple of the greatest RPGs that have ever graced computing devices. Underworld Ascension doesn’t have the Ultima name and we know very little about it, but the developer at the head of the team has just the right pedigree. Paul Neurath, founder of new studio OtherSide Entertainment, was a founder of Blue Sky (later Looking Glass Studios of legend), and worked as creative director during the development of several games, including Thief, Terra Nova and the original Ultima Underworld. I want to believe.

Do I have reason not to believe? Not as such, but I don’t really have reason to do anything right now. It’s not that I’m having an existential crisis, it’s that all I have to go on here is the name of the game, the genre and the statement of Neurath’s involvement. Here’s a brief introduction from the man himself:

Our team include some of the folks who created the original franchise. When we made the original we looked to redefine the fantasy RPG genre. With the reboot we’re going right back to innovating, and our goal is to make the franchise more vital than ever. We are just getting started so little to see as yet, but rest assured, in the weeks to come we will be showing more and more. In the mean time we’d love to hear from you, because as fans you are an essential part of this franchise. Hit us up on Twitter @otherside_games and let us know what you loved about the Underworlds. Stay tuned here for updates and news.

I’ll be sending some questions across to OtherSide so hopefully we’ll know at least a little more in the near future. In the meantime, there’s a big old interview with Neurath linked in this post wot Cara wrote before she jetted off on a worldwide word tour.

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63 Comments »

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  1. SominiTheCommenter says:

    I though there was already a third Underworld game? It’s called Arx Fatalis.
    http://arx-libertatis.org/

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      gnodab says:

      +1
      Arx Fatalis is criminally underrated!

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      Andy_Panthro says:

      The gesture-based spellcasting really put me off it.

      But I really should try and play it sometime, I do hear a lot of good things…

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        basilisk says:

        Honestly, I don’t know how they did it, but Arx is much clumsier than Ultima Underworld ever was. Their heart definitely was in the right place, but the thing never really worked for me.

      • Stardreamer says:

        Arx is…frustrating. Good ideas, poor execution, ageing very badly. A shame.

    • sabrage says:

      Paul Neurath actually worked on Arx Fatalis.

  2. XhomeB says:

    UU is easily one of the most influential games of all time, what a news.
    Hope they don’t screw this up, I want a living, breathing dungeon with unprecedented interactivity (and deeper RPG mechanics, UU kept things rather simple).

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      basilisk says:

      I wish for the opposite, actually. I know it’s not a popular idea, but I think “immersive sims” work better if they keep the RPG elements very simple. For me, the joy is in knowing that I can do the same thing in five different ways and pick the one that’s going to be most fun in this particular context, rather than just the one that I happen to have the right stats for. Having to specialise kills the main selling point of these games, IMO.

      That’s what Underworld did right, and that’s partially why I prefer System Shock to System Shock 2.

  3. araczynski says:

    finally, some good news.

  4. MadTinkerer says:

    WHAT. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT!

    Haha. AHAHAHA! SUCK IT SYSTEM SHOCK FANS! “Oh boo hoo, Bioshock is not System Shock 3″ Well System Shock isn’t exactly Ultima Underworld 3, is it? Yeah, that’s right, I was upset when I realized there were no more Underworld games, and despite how good Deus Ex was, it just wasn’t the same.

    But now, finally, my precious Underworld 3 is in development. I hope they’re going to go with modern FPS-ish / Skyrim-ish controls, extremely nonlinear levels (that’s what the compass and map are for!), and an oubliette. There has to be an oubliette at some point, and there can’t be a dialogue option to ask what the heck an oubliette is. Other than that, I’m pretty flexible on the details.

    • Drake Sigar says:

      I thought we already had an Underworld 3, it was called Arx Fatalis.

    • BooleanBob says:

      What’s a paladin?

    • Niko says:

      Oubliette?..

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      In what way was either UU or UU2 better than Deus Ex?

      • MadTinkerer says:

        That’s not the point. My point is that no matter how good the wonderful cyberpunk immersive sim was, there was no point where you were stripped of all your mods, thrown in a dungeon to never see the light of day for the rest of the game, and have to ask a goblin to teach you how to fish so you don’t starve to death.

        In other words, It’s not that I dislike Deus Ex. I actually like it very much. But Minecraft Survival Mode, despite the lack of NPCs or storyline, is more like the Underworld games in tone.

      • fish99 says:

        I’d say for their time the UU games are at least as important, and they’re also the first really good 3D RPGs imo. Whatever you think of Deus Ex, it borrowed a lot of ideas from System Shock 1&2 since Warren Spector was ex-Looking Glass.

        Honestly if the UU series had continued, you could have seen some amazing RPGs from LG. I have to ask if you played UU or UU2 at release, because it’s always going to be unfair to judge a game years after release.

      • Yglorba says:

        Well, it’s more a matter of “different” than better, but they offered a more coherent simulation of their world overall, and gave you the option to explore it at will. Deus Ex forced you through a fairly linear series of set pieces (albeit very good set pieces, which you were free to explore while you were there.)

  5. rei says:

    If this ends up on kickstarter it’ll be the first game I kickstart, as the first UU was such a formative game in my personal development that it overrides any principles I have against paying for unfinished things. Wonderful news.

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    quietone says:

    What are you people talking about????

    WARFACE is out today!!! WARFACE!!!!!!!! WARFACEWARFACEWARFACEWARFACE!!!!

    WARFACE!!!!

    And no mention of it. It’s all politics here I tell ya!

  7. Shodex says:

    Completely unrelated, I just want to mention that I logged into Steam today and WARFACE.
    WARFACE WARFACE WARFACE WARFACE.
    STEAMFACE.
    WARSTEAM.
    GABEFACE.
    FACEGABE.
    WAR TO PLAY.
    FREE TO FACE.
    FACEWAR.

    WARFACE.

    Edit: I see I was beaten to the punch. May as well make an on topic comment then. I hope this new Underworld ends up good. An Ultima game from a post-EA world and a brand new studio is worrying though.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      It’s a new studio headed by Paul Neurath with a bunch of ex-Looking Glass/Blue Sky people working on it. My only worry is that people’s expectations are going to be blown out of proportion due to the pedigree.

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    JamesTheNumberless says:

    I could never get to grips with UU despite being a huge fan of the Ultima games. I came to the underworld spin-offs much later on and I guess I was expecting to uncover a long lost cousin of Dungeon Master and wasn’t prepared for the primitive ancestor of Daggerfall that I found instead.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Yeah, me too. The game was undoubtedly extremely forward-thinking and immersive for its time, but I doesn’t really hold up today, unless your’e just in for the nostalgia trip.

      • Casimir's Blake says:

        You’re both so wrong, on so many levels. Get used to the controls, and you’re in for the first truly immersive simulation of a dungeon crawler and one of the greatest to this day. Otherwise, you’re missing out on one of the most glorious, intricate, intelligent and immersive PC gaming experiences ever.

        A sequel to Ultima Underworld? Finally? After over twenty years.

        YES PLEASE!!!

      • MadTinkerer says:

        The controls and UI are a little too far in the past down the curve of “before we really figured out these 3D controls”. As I pointed out above, I hope they throw out the old control scheme but realize that all the innovative stuff, and old-school level design, should stay in.

        It is amazing, though, how far ahead of it’s time it was. While the Elder Scrolls accidentally evolved (re-evolved?) into something like what the Underworld series may have become if it had continued (the original proposal for Underworld 3 included an overworld), most other games stuck to either third person turn-based RPG-heavy design (Baldur’s Gate, Fallout) or pure 3D action and no one even tried to make what RPS now calls Immersive Sims other than former Underworld developers.

        Skyrim’s expansions show us what the devs are capable of when they don’t have to spread their efforts across a whole continent. Better, less formulaic dungeons sometimes with multiple paths. Better monster and friendly NPC AI (when Serana doesn’t bug out and decide to aggro other companions), more different ways to do stuff, actual exploration. NPCs with more detailed scripted interactions on top of the aforementioned AI improvements. Portals to other universes. A plot that sometimes makes sense. It’s still not quite what I would call similar to the Underworld games, but it’s less dissimilar.

        Underworld-like games give you a place that doesn’t care if you succeed and doesn’t hold your hand. The tools to succeed: inanimate tools, NPCs willing to help, the basic needs of survival, and special abilities needed to progress are all there, but you need to go find them. And you probably will die a few times in the process (something that makes Underworlds different from Roguelikes). There are corridors, but they lead to open areas and it’s up to you to figure out when to fight and when to run and when to sneak and when to talk. In action games the answer is always fight. In survival horror the answer is usually run. In stealth games the answer is always sneak. In adventure games the answer is always talk (and give items). In Underworld, you have to figure it all out yourself.

        • Casimir's Blake says:

          Great post. Underworld 1 is still a benchmark for first-person dungeon crawling. Really, all OtherSide need to do is use a modern full-3D engine with decent textures, use some sort of Dark Souls-ish combat, but retain everything else – most importantly the maze-like (but still logical) interconnected level design, and the IMMERSION. If I’m looking at a stucco wall, tell me it’s a stucco wall! It was nice to know what everything was in the game, be it an important NPC, a weapon, a flying monster, or just a pebble. Immersion!

        • Yglorba says:

          It’s not a surprise that the Elder Scrolls games would be so reminiscent of Ultima Underworld — Daggerfall devoted an entire page in its manual to crediting it as an inspiration, IIRC.

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        basilisk says:

        I respectfully disagree. I played Underworld for the very first time last year, and I am dead serious when I say it was one of the best gaming experiences of my life. I thought it aged extremely gracefully and it can still build such a wonderful sense of place, of actually being there, that I find virtually unmatched to this day.

        • ansionnach says:

          Agreed. I played Underworld for the first time around 1998 and I found it captivating. Didn’t finish it then but went back to it late last year (starting again) and my opinion of it only grew. It’s hard to fathom how its makers not only did so many things for the first time, not only got them right…. but implemented them in a way that’s unsurpassed to this day. The developers stated that what they thought was important was how long they took working on level design and gameplay rather than merely the technology and this shows. They created spaces that were quite unique when games that followed were overly maze-like and comparatively poorly-designed (I never liked Doom at all and found Catacomb and Wolfenstein fun if repetitive). Underworld is also one of the few games that uses 3D space and physics well. It seems that as developers “learned” how to do 3D, they actually tended to restrict what you could do so it was easier to control. This is especially true of the console games often attributed with innovating. There are a few earlyish 3D games that I think suffered from using 3D space more fully than genre stablemates and relied on the player to be able to think three dimensionally (Underworld, 3D Lemmings and Gabriel Knight 3 to name a few). It’s amazing that Underworld made better use of 3D physics than many other games that followed for years to come. How many games even today let you throw all your stuff about?

          People often complain about the controls but even they are quite good. They come from an age where every game had its own controls and one size didn’t fit all. There’s a difference between people not liking having to adjust to unfamiliar controls and them actually being bad. The Underworld games and first System Shock (which wasn’t an RPG) were more about interacting with the world than later, “similar” games like Deus Ex, which focused more on action and shooting. Not that the Underworlds didn’t have much action, but once you got used to the controls you could achieve quite a lot of finesse, fighting and interacting with the environment at the same time in a way you couldn’t in those that adopted the id control scheme (which meant abruptly switching between two starkly different modes). While many say that later games had better controls, they also had less interactivity. I would actually prefer to keep the controls from the Underworlds. They suited what the games were (not first-person shooters with some other bits tacked on).

          I suppose the things that Underworld didn’t exactly get right were the different interacting modes, which were redundant since the general one allowed you to do everything. Some say that strength is far more important than the other stats, but you really don’t need to carry that much. In my UW2 game I’ve focused more on dexterity and have cut down on the weight I need to lug around by specialising in unarmed combat. You definitely couldn’t hit things very successfully without enough dexterity and while I didn’t find all spells that useful, mastering magic is more than worthwhile. There are certainly a few skills that are almost useless. You can swim well enough to succeed without the skill, especially with the right magic spells; stealth and track weren’t much use; search and appraise were kind of interesting but could be ignored; didn’t find missile weapons very usable.

          Anyway, what was great about Underworld was its openness. There’s a video on youtube of a guy completing it in under twenty minutes! You only have to kill about two enemies in the entire game and I think you can almost kill every living thing and still succeed as well. While I think certain skills could have been jettisoned as they weren’t implemented to their potential, it’s still more fun to have them there.

          I have to say I was underwhelmed with Deus Ex. This was probably mainly down to the hyperbolic reviews that held it up as revolutionary, when it wasn’t. Its systems had quite a lot of potential but the end product was a rushed, linear game that didn’t come close to realising that potential. A good example of this is the Tokyo street level, which initially excites but falls flat when you realise just how limited it is. As the game progresses it increasingly hurtles from scene to scene in a way that suggests the developers stitched what they had done together in some order and released. I’m not saying I disliked the game, I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. Just think that much of what I read about it lacks perspective.

          I should probably give System Shock 2 another go someday. Never really got on with the controls as they made shooting and interacting two disjointed, separate worlds. Didn’t really think the RPG elements suited Shock that well either – much preferred the first game (which I still think is excellent).

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            JamesTheNumberless says:

            I’m not going to address story or character development or any other flavour stuff here, just focus on gameplay and immersion.

            Respectfully, you’re all talking shit.

            About the use of 3D in UU being groundbreaking.
            About it being a landmark game in terms of immersion.
            About it being even close to being the first RPG to do these things
            About UU having got either of these things right
            About UU being the sort of game that we should be remaking, from a gameplay perspective.

            Somebody mentioned the controls and the fact that the game was 3D before we really figured out how to do 3D properly, but to me this is not excusable or a minor point. Ways to do 3D definitely were figured out before UU.

            The definition of the immersive first person RPG was Dungeon Master, and to lesser extent the Eye of the Beholder games. These were 3D (oh come on, ALL 3D is fake 3D!) but their interface and control system still stand up today. UU by comparison has aged far worse. It’s fine to play a game with graphics that haven’t aged well but playing a game with gameplay that hasn’t aged well is a painful and fruitless experience.

            UU came out in 1992, 5 years after Dungeon Master showed us how to do an immersive 3D real-time first person dungeon crawling RPG with gameplay and controls that have aged much better. The dated gameplay in UU is the biggest barrier to entry. The controls are terrible and the environment doesn’t feel immersive when you can’t explore it with the ease you feel you should be able to, DM had this ease.

            UU should have been grid based because UU presents 3D with 360 degrees of freedom but has no idea how to use this properly, so at best it becomes a gimmick, at worst it cripples the potential of the game.

            Consider the Mercenary series on the Amiga/ST. It’s even older than DM (1985), has 3D with 360 degrees of freedom and has a better control system, greater immersion, and is the definition of “open gameplay.” UU2 came out in the same year as Doom, for crying out loud! That’s practically yesterday.

          • Wizardry says:

            Nah.

            Despite what certain people say, Dungeon Master wasn’t really “immersive”. Nor was Eye of the Beholder and most other Dungeon Master clones.

            These games were all about exploring dungeons full of puzzles and dancing around enemies that would wipe you out if only they could reach you. World building was minimal and there wasn’t really much else to do. You also tended to control whole parties of adventurers, which you had to micromanage in combat, breaking any immersion.

            In some games, such as Chaos Strikes Back, the dungeon design, while extremely enjoyable and full of difficult puzzles, was so contrived that believability is thrown out the window.

            Ultima Underworld was a different beast. There was more to it. It felt like a living, breathing place, with roaming creatures you could talk to and trade with. You also controlled just a single character and had more freedom to explore the environment as you wished. The lack of tile based movement and 90 degree turns only helped to make it feel more immersive.

          • ansionnach says:

            @JamesTheNumberless I couldn’t disagree more (surely this is a send-up?). The use of real-time 3d graphics in this kind of game was revolutionary even though they’d been around in flight sims for a while. Giving the player more degrees of freedom made it more complicated to control. I found the controls in Underworld quite intuitive. When Underworld was released Dungeon Master was five years old as you said. If nobody had pushed past that point because it was done right as you suggest, the last twenty-seven years would have been quite dull. It’s not that there’s a problem with first-person, block-scrolling, real-time dungeon crawlers… it’s just that the fruit of that many years of genre stagnation would be a truly terrifying sight to behold. Personally, I prefer such RPGs to be turn based if there’s more than one party member, or at least pausable (not sure if an example of this even exists).

            I don’t think Underworld should be remade as the originals can still be played and their gameplay stands up to this day. Even if the new games eschew major innovation and bring more of the same, I’d still welcome them if well-implemented. While the Underworlds have been hugely influential not many games have tried to directly emulate their style (maybe just Arx Fatalis, really should give that one a go).

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            JamesTheNumberless says:

            I think I disagree with most RPG commentators on the definition of immersion. Immersion in a game to me is how much I feel a part of what’s going on and how far my imagination can take what’s happening in the moment and run with it, and that has more to do with how the game makes me feel than anything else. Backstory, etc, has nothing to do with immersion for me. I feel more immersed in Skyrim when I’m stalking deer in a forest than I do in Planescape Torment when I’m reading books in a library. The two are just very different things. Yes you can be immersed in a story, but then you’re immersed in a story, not in a game.

            Also, there is almost no dancing around monsters (with some very notable exceptions) in EotB and less of it in DM than people like to think. In fact in those games it’s more of a choice than a necessity. People seem to remember it this way because Grimrock got the pace and balance wrong when it came to combat. This is also something that’s easily avoided if you place the focus on exploration and puzzle solving and not on combat.

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            JamesTheNumberless says:

            @ansionnach No not a sendup but perhaps deliberately provocative :)

            I really don’t see why DM can’t be described as having textured 3D environments :) I know that these environments cannot be seen from all angles but I also believe the restrictions in the gameplay of DM and its clones actually lead to more possibilities, and fewer obstacles, for puzzle design than modern 3D engines do. Yes of course UU was a pioneer of a particular technique for rendering textured 3D environments but it was neither one of the first games to let you move in 3 dimensions nor was it one of the first to look pretty.

            I don’t think DM was perfect at all but when I compare DM and other similar style RPGs with games ranging from Baldur’s Gate to Skyrim, one of the things I feel has been inexplicably lost, is dungeon design. I think RPGs have become hooked on a formula that involves storytelling, combat, loot and levelling up stats.

            This formula relegates environments to an afterthought or an art concern, dismisses puzzles and exploration and usually excludes survival as if somehow survival mechanics are more tedious than managing an inventory of 100 kinds of magic sword.

            There’s a massive emphasis on balancing numbers to the point where people relate to RPGs by reading tables of numbers, not by dealing with the things those numbers are supposed to represent. The supposed rationale for the numbers becomes less and less tenable the higher the numbers get, until you’re effectively playing a form of gamified accountancy.

            So while I don’t feel that we should have kept churning out DM clones in the past 25 years, I do feel that RPGs have gone off in one or two directions very fruitfully but haven’t really explored the direction that DM set out. There must be something to gain from going back to DM and iterating on what made it great. What I thought Grimrock did was revive DM, but most of what they added to the formula were concessions to the RPG-as-spreadsheet formula I outlined above and not explorations of the themes that make DM stand out… Minecraft, of all things, actually does that better in lots of ways!

            So my question for the makers of a sequel to UU would be, you already have Daggerfall which is in many ways the spiritual successor to UU and the continuation of the themes that made UU stand-out as a game, what are you going to do with the UU style game that the entire Elder Scrolls series hasn’t done yet? I would love it if a UU remake successfully brought a subset of RPG gameplay that we’ve lost, up to date and back into the mix, but I’m still backing the DM style to do that :)

          • ansionnach says:

            @JamesTheNumberless I can agree with you about some of the problems with the genre. More choice is often better, too bad some of these experiences are regarded as completely archaic. There’s no reason that true successors to these games have to make concessions to supposedly-but-not-actually more progressive design sensibilities such as leading players by the nose, linearity, non-interactivity and focusing on min-maxing. By budgeting accordingly and not expecting to sell millions of copies things can turn out well! Who knows? Perhaps scripted, linear bore-fests are reaching such a saturation point that the same Harvester of Spirits that came for Atari is on its way…

            I haven’t played DM much, but don’t see why it can’t be described as 3d with textured environments. That being different from real-time rendered 3d with texture mapping! I suppose many people only consider polygonal games as being 3d, even at the exclusion of vector graphics and voxel spacing. These people are wrong but there are plenty of them (Nintendo “invented” 3d with the SuperFX chip and N64 controller doncha know?!?).

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            JamesTheNumberless says:

            You’ve raised the interesting subject of how the graphics are drawn in DM and I’m actually not sure how to describe it. Looking at the source of the windows/Linux port (and then bleaching my eyeballs) and at Doug Bell’s comments on Wikipedia you can definitely say that each scene was rendered in game-time, as opposed to all possible scenes being pre-rendered in some way.

            Walls, etc are built up from textures and lighting has to be calculated on top of this. While it’s true that this doesn’t have to be done 60 or even 30 times per second, it is a real-time game and especially when the player is taking actions you can’t hang around all day waiting for the screen to redraw.

            However, there are none of the things we usually associate with 3D happening in the pipeline here, there is no mapping of textures to geometry or projection of 3D space onto a 2D view. there is no 3D space actually, just a 2D array of where all the walls, monsters, etc are in the scene. You draw a bunch of pre-projected 2D pieces on top of each other in the right order and hey-presto you have a 3D scene.

            So is it a 2D game? I’m not sure. Since when are 3D graphics anything other than smoke and mirrors and when will they not be? When we have hard-light holograms, perhaps.

            SuperFX / mode7 is still one of my favorite ways of doing 3D, you can’t beat the original SNES Mario Kart with polygons ;)

            And then there’s 3D Monster Maze on the ZX81…

          • ansionnach says:

            I’d suspect that it’s now expected that real-time 3d games can render the world and its contents from any angle in real-time and allow for six degrees of freedom. The last bit may not apply as some games are rendered in 3d but have distinctly 2d gameplay. An example of this might be Escape from Monkey Island (or almost any “3d” adventure game) compared with Gabriel Knight 3 (which places you in the world and makes interesting use of 3d in places I can’t quite remember – but certainly not the moustache puzzle!).

            It’s funny how language has shifted over the years. Back when Underworld was released, phrases like “virtual reality” or “flight sim technology” were often used to describe 3d games because the likes of DM, EotB and even fixed-view isometric games were already described as 3d. “True” 3d followed and then just 3d. A lot of people who write or speak authoritatively about games know frighteningly little of what they speak (not a big deal so long as they flag uncertainties and don’t rely on accepted “wisdom” without any first-hand experience). Some of the earliest games (as you know) were 3d dungeon crawlers, albeit with turn-based gameplay. I’d imagine that rendering on the fly using some form of rudimentary 3d calculations would use up less space than storing pre-rendered environments on disk at a time when storage cost quite a lot. As you’ve said, there was no requirement that rendering be done at anything close to a high frame rate, easing the load on the other expensive component: the processor. While I guess that a lot of people expect true 3d games to be entirely consistent worlds controlled by nothing but their “realistic” physics, I’m sure a lot of this is illusion and trickery, even today. It’s just more convincing… but then the cutting edge usually is.

            Both DM and Underworld are 3d games but there’s a distinct difference in realism when it comes to simulating the world. That said, “immersion” really only means that you feel immersed in the virtual world and this is quite subjective. There’s no reason why a very detailed text adventure couldn’t feel more immersive than a “cutting edge” first-person shooter, especially if all you can do in the FPS is walk down corridors shooting at everything that moves. Underworld had a lot of elements: convincing 3d (for the time), unforced storytelling, character progression and the freedom to wander around, get lost and even fail at the game. In many ways, most modern games are only more immersive in terms of graphics technology… but then stand-out games that are both highly interactive and innovative are often in the minority no matter what era you look at.

            I’d strongly disagree that the Elder Scrolls games have carried on the Underworld lineage. While they have their own merits they are very different. I think you eluded to one of the advantages DM has over other games: there may be less freedom but the level design is more focused (as I haven’t played DM much I can’t attest to this personally). The Elder Scrolls games tend to have very large, randomly-generated worlds with the scripted parts hidden in there somewhere. I’m not saying this is necessarily bad but it’s completely the opposite philosophy to the Underworlds, especially when you consider that they are both hand-crafted and very polished. There are plenty of 3d games out there that give you loads of empty space to explore and this is sometimes nothing more than filler. Giving people large worlds presents a problem if progression is still limited by puzzles that are essentially finding a key hidden somewhere so you can move to the next area. A bit like how you can only find the lighter in Zak McKracken in one place in the entire world: if this happened in a 3d game with a lot more space to explore it would be even more ridiculous and certainly harder to find this needle in a much larger haystack. This is possibly why leading the player by the nose has become so popular: it’s essentially as much of a cop-out in 3d game design terms as limiting degrees of freedom and the amount of meaningful interactivity. The text-driven part of Darklands is a good example of not wasting the player’s time with pointless empty environments. Why create a huge town if the only meaningful interactions there are to go to a handful of locations? Sending players back and forth across such locations is more an exercise in cruelty than proper game design.

    • fish99 says:

      IMO you should never judge a game after it’s time.

  9. JFS says:

    Warface?

  10. TheTingler says:

    Excellent news, although hopefully they’ll change the subtitle as it’s in somewhat poor taste given the last time an Ultima game was called “Ascension”.

  11. Casimir's Blake says:

    This not only “a new Underworld” but it’s also the closest thing to Looking Glass “re-forming”.

    Crikey, I never thought I’d see something like this. OtherSide games just became top of my wish list, and they barely even exist.

  12. Borsook says:

    So I guess this is also going to be real-time instead of turn-based goodness… meh

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Dude, the Underworlds were always real-time 3D. That’s why they were a spin-off. You’re still getting Legend of Grimrock 2 if you want that. No need for “meh”.

      • Borsook says:

        Were you sleepy or something? I said it will be real time because UU1 and UU2 were real-time. I simply meant I am not interested in it for the same reason I did not care for UU games back in the day. And Legend of Grimrock is real-time too.

        • snugglez says:

          He was confused because your comment wasn’t clear at all. Of course it’s real-time, why would they change something so fundamental about the game. Your comment makes as much sense as saying meh because it’s in a dungeon and not in outer space with lasers.

  13. Samuel Hill says:

    Looking forward to a spiritual successor to Underworld.

    Brings back great memories of both of them, they have probably my favourite game music. It sounded good even without a Roland card.

    • ansionnach says:

      I loved the music in Underworld but find Labyrinth of Worlds’ music very naff and annoying. You can definitely tell that somebody else composed it!

  14. Bart Stewart says:

    This is one of the happiest game news surprises for me in a very long time.

    UU had So Many Features:

    * one of the earliest 1st-person 3D textured dungeon crawlers (predating Wolfenstein 3D)
    * full RPG with character attributes and skills
    * multiple ways to solve problems (the most important thing Looking Glass did IMO)
    * non-linear levels
    * swimming/levitating
    * ranged and melee combat
    * a combinatorial magic system
    * numerous weapons
    * numerous armor pieces
    * numerous magical artifacts
    * numerous opponent types
    * well-balanced difficulty nearly all the way through
    * boatloads of Ultima lore
    * a story that explained the social structure of the setting
    * humor (“you see an upset spectre named Warren” and a Wing Commander reference)
    * a small but useful invented language

    There’s more, but you get the idea. This game defined “immersive”; it was a shock, for example, to discover myself physically leaning as my character raced around a corner to get away from some attacker — I’d never felt anything like that from a computer game before.

    I don’t expect a “reboot” of UU to innovate to that same degree. Certainly I hope they make the leap to WASD+mouselook. :) (And don’t do some bizarro choice like going F2P or multiplayer or design-for-consoles-first.)

    But if they can recreate much of what made Looking Glass games so much fun for different kinds of gameplay interests…. Wow. Best gaming news in a long time.

    • ansionnach says:

      While I stated above that I’d prefer to keep the old controls since I find switching between modes jarring and ruins the sense of immersion, looking up and down definitely needs improvement. I remember the term “virtual reality” was used to describe Underworld when it came out as we hadn’t built up the vocabulary to describe it properly yet. Maybe modern VR could be used for looking this time? Not sure about this as I find playing Half-Life 2 in VR mode gives me eye strain. Perhaps the game could be controlled using two mice with full gesture controls?!?

      • snugglez says:

        I really don’t understand how the UU control scheme creates “immersion.” Using the mouse to control movement has got to be about the dumbest thing I’ve ever experienced. I loved the game but there is no way they are keeping that scheme–and for good reason!

        • ansionnach says:

          If you could imagine that somebody could get used to the controls then it shouldn’t be that much more difficult to accept that having two separate control methods (one for movement, the other for interacting) can be jarring. First time I played Underworld I used only the mouse, last time I used a combination of mouse and keyboard. The WASD method of control wasn’t popularised until Quake multiplayer took off, and even then it wasn’t the default. The keyboard controls for Underworld are remarkably similar, except you’ve got to use Z and C to sidestep. There’s no mouse look, of course. That also wasn’t a default until after Quake, but at least the 1, 2 & 3 keys needed are at your left hand (and it isn’t a game you need to look up or down in much). If you can get the hang of it you can move around while picking things up and performing other interactions… which you can’t really do with separate movement and interacting modes. Would be nice to have the option of a single movement/interaction mode.

          I certainly don’t see any basis for calling mouse-based control dumb. Underworld was made at a time when mouse-based interfaces were becoming more common and the movement arrow is quite similar to the likes of Ultima VI (hybrid mouse/keyboard controls don’t work that well in the Ultima VI-engined games, though). Anyway, they included both mouse and keyboard controls in Underworld, the keyboard ones being quite similar to WASD (but at least four years before it). All they didn’t have was mouse look (which I think was born as a console-only command in the original Quake).

  15. dethtoll says:

    Now, can someone tell me why I can’t get UU to run at a decent clip in DOSBox? Over 10 years, 4 different computers of increasing power, and it still runs like dogshit compared to even System Shock.

    • ansionnach says:

      Hi. You may need to alter the number of cycles in DOSBox. CTRL-F12 increases, while CTRL-F11 decreases. I found that leaving it on the default (auto) in dosbox.conf didn’t work. It’ll vary depending on your machine. I have mine set at 18000 right now, but that’s more for Labyrinth of Worlds. Might have played the first one through at either 12000 or 15000. Sure, try some of those and manually adjust until you get it running smoothly (and not too fast!). Once you’re happy, change your dosbox.conf (or make a conf file specifically for this game).

      EDIT: If this doesn’t work it may be worth considering the speed of your machine. Not sure what the system requirements are when running in DOSBox, but it’ll need something much beefier than a 386. Perhaps a Core2Duo? Anyway, if you can’t run it in DOSBox you could try running it natively by setting up FreeDOS on a machine. Would then need to install a compatible soundcard for sound, though…

  16. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    Best gaming news of the year so far.

    Hopefully it will be fully moddable, so some clever folks can remake the first two.

  17. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    This is amazing news, totally out of the blue, I hope they make a new terra nova too, it’s something i’ve been considering making a spiritual successor to but if the original devs make it I wont have to!

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      +1, I loved Terra Nova
      I wonder if the controls are integral to the experience or if the game would be just as good with WASD and mouselook.

  18. Myrdinn says:

    I’m a huge RPG fan who never played any of the first person Ultima games but judging from screenshots it looks fairly similar to Daggerfall. Is it like Daggerfall?

    • Yglorba says:

      I mentioned this above, but IIRC Daggerfall’s lead dev devoted an entire page in its manual to how it was inspired by Ultima Underworld. So, yes, in that respect, it’s like Daggerfall, but set in one giant cave (think World’s Largest Dungeon) with its own interdependent civilizations, ecosystem, and so on.

    • ansionnach says:

      I’d say that while Daggerfall is influenced by Underworld, it lacks its coherence, hand-crafted scenario and polish. It’s a completely different game, really. I liked Daggerfall too but its faults mean it’s in no way an absolute classic like Underworld is and its developers failed to emulate Underworld in any meaningful way. Since so much of what made Underworld great was its hand-crafted and meticulous world design, Daggerfall’s developers surely missed the point.

  19. Brtt says:

    @Adam: Please ask the guy when they plan to have a proper website instead of stupid tweeter (not necessarily with those words though).

    UU was full of love, and they’ll have my undisputed support… as long as it doesn’t become yet another retarded Steam exclusivity, since it’s been “the thing” for quite some time.