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Underworld Ascendant - What is the Improvisation Engine?

William Murphy Posted:
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When Paul Neurath and his team set out to make a new Underworld game, they wanted to make sure it stayed true to the originals from the early 1990s. Lucky for them, despite much success and critical adulation, no one’s quite made a game like Underworld since then. We chatted with Paul about Underworld Ascendant and its use of the Improvisation Engine to make a much more believable and unscripted world for its players.

The video you see below starts off with Warren Spector, an advisor on the title for Otherside Entertainment, talking about the original Underworld and its goals of making a game that didn’t have just one solution to a problem. That’s a primary goal of Ascendant’s design. 

Most games these days come with hand-crafted encounters where developers give you a problem that has a preordained solution. Your job is to figure that out and complete the task. In some games, like Deus Ex (Spector’s baby), you may have had a few designed solutions, but you were still limited to what the developer had in mind.

For Underworld, Paul, his team, and Warren want the players to have things set up like a stage… and then allow the players to do whatever they can or want based on their character’s abilities and their own imagination. The AI, physics, and overall power of PCs today gives Otherside much more freedom to allow this sort of gameplay.

There will be no right or wrong way to achieve a goal. Most RPGs focus on combat as the one and only way to get to your destination, and that’s not wrong… it just shouldn’t be the only way. In a true Role-Playing Game, you should be allowed to figure out a way around the giant demon blocking your path, if you don’t or won’t want to fight said nasty beast.  

Maybe you see a chandelier hanging from a cavern? If you can somehow get to that, perhaps you can get over the obstacle? Or if you’re a mage, and you know from experience that this particular baddy is not a fan of ice, why not set up a wall of ice around him and make your way past him unharmed? In the video above, we see a mage who wants to avoid spiders and does so by burning a bridge as they cross, causing them to fall into the chasm below.

Underworld Ascendant will never have a big sign held up in front of your face that says “go this way, and do this”. It’ll be your own ingenuity and ideas that carry you through the adventure, and in this way the world around you will react to your actions too. Let’s say you steal from the Dwarves, and they’re not too happy about it… because, well, dwarves. But there’s another faction called the Shamblers who loathe the mountain folk and they’ll be very happy with you for the things you do to slight their enemies.

With the factional system, the improvisational gameplay, and the in-depth character building (which we’ll learn more about later), there’s going to be a great deal of replay value in Underworld Ascendant. It may not come packed with multiplayer, but the stories you’ll share with friends and in videos will rival any sort of coop gaming you can imagine as no two play-throughs should come out the same.

Underworld’s Kickstarter is well on its way towards funding with over two weeks left to go. If you find what you’ve seen so far interesting, you can read more at the KS page and offer your own copper if you see fit. Expect more from us on the game as we track its development.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.