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08.06.2011 18:00 [Interviews (english)] World of Risen talks with Björn Pankratz

Just before the E3 which takes place in Los Angeles from the 6th to the 9th of Juni, the publisher Deep Silver invited us to Munich. They wanted to show the current state of the newest Piranha Bytes project to the press. World of Risen used this chance to talk to game designer Björn Pankratz.

WoR: Can you tell us something about the party system? Will you be able to indirectly control other NPCs? Or maybe even change their inventory, their equipment or their character stats?

Björn: Emotion is the key word for us. Every party member has its place and its reputation in the world. And those are what they are. And their skills are what earned them this place and reputation. For that very reason - because they possess pre-defined skills - the player may want them to join him. If a party member has lost too much life energy due to a fight, you can revive him with Grog or other alcoholic substances. But you cannot alter his stats or his inventory. That part is fixed. It does not fit our style, anyway. It also prevents that the player equips grown men like captain Steelbeard with a rusty cheese knife and sends him to an evil monster just to see how he carves on that enemy for hours and finally falls down. Such actions would harm the believability of the characters. And believability is important for the story. Especially from Steelbeard, you want to learn something as player. He is an experienced pirate after all. Hence, he must be better and more experienced than the player at the start.

WoR: Firearms are great and a fresh element because you rarely see them in RPGs. Will there still be some bows and crossbows for fans of classical ranged weaponry?

Björn: Risen 2 will be a pirate game. Bows and crossbows do not fit well in this setting. For that reason, we put them aside this time.

WoR: How important is the believability of your game world to you? According to the information about Risen 2 that are available so far, consistency does not appear to have much importance to you. Some people think that your abrupt jump from typical middle ages sword-and-magic fantasy to the - admittedly interesting - early modern era colonial pirate fantasy harms the believability of your Risen universe as it existed so far.

Björn: Of course there is some evolution, that is right. But when you play Risen 2, you don’t feel that time jump. There are still many classical elements in the game. Personally, I think that the new pirate setting cleans out the dust from the cupboards and tries something new. It’s probably better if I don’t say anything more or I’ll have trouble explaining it (laughs). You and your difficult questions all the time! Well, it’s the community after all. You always inspect everything extra carefully.

WoR: Will there still be classical magic in Risen 2? Fireballs and summoned skeletons like we know them from Piranha Bytes games so far? If the trailer is any indication, there’ll be some form voodoo magic instead. A more indirect influencing of others...

Björn: Hey, we cannot reveal everything about the game just yet. Some topics have to be reserved for later. Therefore, I won’t say anything about magic at this time.

WoR: Will Risen 2 put more emphasis on the lore, as typical RPGs do? Background information scattered in the world, fillers that explain the world? In Risen 1, you as player were as dumb in the end as in the beginning. You learned almost nothing about the world, its background and its history.

Björn: There are, for example, books distributed in the game world which the hero can read (they will be picked up and opened in an extra animation). Those texts usually contain a small story and a hint to a special item that can be found somewhere in the world. Those books do carry some atmosphere. It’s both quest and background stories that are told there. We definitely tried to put some of this stuff into the world.

WoR: There are players who like it if the hero is brazen. Others find that awkward and would rather play a calm or gentle character. The latter type of players had some trouble with Risen because the dialogue options often did not represent the entire width of personalities. Will that change in Risen 2 or do you have to play the rude, swearing, spitting pirate?

Björn: We offer both. You can do both. There are always different dialogue options. One for being nice and one for being brash. I think that we’ll be able to satisfy a lot of people that way. Everyone can play the way he likes it.

WoR: It is already known that you can join factions (according to your interview with GamersGlobal). Will this be an exclusive membership? What are the consequences of such a joining? Will other quest sets remain hidden? Different places? Will NPCs react differently?

Björn: First of all, there will be no reputation system as we had it in Gothic 3. You will join a faction and learn their skills and abilities. And you will be able to recruit some members of that faction as crew for your ship. Partly, entire quest lines are exclusively reserved for a certain faction. So, it’ll be as in a typical Piranha Bytes game.

WoR: Will you be forced to join a faction or will you also be able to play as guildless loner?

Björn: Well, it’s a pirate game so you’ll become a pirate at some point. Additionally, you will need to build up your ship crew during the game and that will be difficult without visiting the factions and completing their tasks. There will be the pirates as main faction in which you can knock yourself out. That’s why there will be all those pirate skills. You know, typical admission quests. First you are a soldier of the Inquisition and in the course of the game, you come to the pirates and have to work your way up the ranks again.

WoR: In Risen 2, the armour equipment will be much more diverse than in your previous titles. What made you to move away from your old principle not to make a dress-up game (probably to the liking of many fans)?

Björn: In Risen 1, we had technical limitations. We had only a head part and a body part. That limited the diversity of possible armour pieces very much. In Risen 2, the characters are now composed of different modules. That allows us to represent each module as a slot in the inventory. So you now have hats, rings, amulets, shoes, trousers and chest clothing. This is very helpful to make sure that the NPCs don’t all look alike. And we can also let the player benefit from it because he now has access to different armour pieces.

WoR: Will you be able to consume potions during a fight? Will there be a drinking animation? Does the game pause when you enter the character menu?

Björn: You can assign the quickslots with whatever you like. Whether there will be an animation, for instance when drinking a potion, is not decided yet. This is part of the tuning process. If it does not have a negative impact on the gameplay, we’ll do it. Otherwise, we won’t do it. No final decision has been made so far. Currently, the menu is configured to pause the game when you bring it up.

WoR: About the quest system. Is each quest limited to a certain island or will there be some that will lead me to different islands? What is the motivation to travel to the individual islands?

Björn: The motivation is to follow the plot. In the end, to save the world. There’s a golden thread that spreads through the game and there are a lot of side quests which are optional. You will not find islands with just some generic monster to grind for some experience points in our game.

WoR: Who had the idea about the pirates? When was that decided? Already during the development of Risen 1?

Björn: We already experimented with pirates in the add-on to Gothic II. It worked somewhat well. The players accepted it rather well, because the rough language and the intentions of the pirates fit in our setting. Hence, we decided to mention pirates in Risen and to later make a complete pirate game. We were always fond of pirates. Anyone who ever visited us in our headquarters can conform that we have a relaxed atmosphere and flat hierarchies. So, in a way, we have a little similarity to pirates ourselves and therefore, the topic was on hand.

WoR: So there was no one single person who said: »Now we’ll make a pirate game« but more a consensus of everyone?

Björn: There were many supporters – I was one of them. I was also the one who implemented the story around Patty in Risen 1 and it was a personal wish for me to continue the setting in a game. But I was not the only one who wanted pirates.

WoR: Did you watch movies or made other research to get familiar with the topic?

Björn: Of course, there’s »Pirates of the Caribbean«. Those films are well-known and very successful after all. So we’re not that bold in our choice of setting because pirate stories are neither completely new nor unknown. So when we decided to make a pirate story, we knew that it would interest a broad audience. Hence, we’re pretty sure it’ll work out.

WoR: Some people left the company, other joined instead. Are new colleagues integrated quickly? How would you describe the difference in atmosphere between now and ten years ago in the age of Gothic I and Gothic II?

Björn: Ten years ago, Piranha Bytes was still growing. From a team of four (the original founders Tom Putzki, Alex Brüggemann, Stefan Nyul, Mike Hoge) more and more people came to us and in the end, the company was made of about 30 people. At the beginning of Gothic II, the company staff was split in two teams who worked on different projects. After the crash of Phenomedia, the restructuring and some ups and downs, we’ve been pretty well-placed for a couple of years now. There is a core team of about ten to thirteen people who have been here since Gothic I. This consistency in the core team is one reason for the kind of games we make. New staff members that joined during the years often stayed because they liked it here. Philipp [Krause] for example, who came to us during Gothic 3 and is now our lead programmer.

WoR: Who writes the dialogues for Risen 2?

Björn: A total of five people, me being one of them. And as »head of story« I’m also the one ultimately responsible. Other than me, there are guys like Matthias Filler, Stefan Kalveram or »Hoschi« [pronounced »hɔˑʃɪ«]. We also have some female help with the writing by now.

WoR: The soundtrack is made by Bastian Seelbach alone? Is he also responsible for all sound effects?

Björn: Bastian works with Dynamedion but he received a concept from us how »piraty« and »Kai-Rosenkranz-y« the music should be. I think he did a very, very fine job in that part. I believe we found just the right guy for the job. He captured and implemented the typical Piranha Bytes atmosphere very well. From the combat music over to themes for some dungeons to the musical background of a tavern atmosphere.

WoR: In a video we saw that he has his own office in your headquarters. Did he capture the atmosphere there to get a feeling for the right kind of sound accompaniment?

Björn: That’s correct. It works exactly like that.

WoR: A last question from the Russian community about »The Witcher«. The game is fresh on the market and many Russian gamers are divided regarding the evaluation of the new Witcher game. Mostly, it receives good critics.

Björn: Witcher is a well-made competitor which contains many things that can be found at our games, too. For example the rough language and the non-conform characters. The game is based on a very good setting and it’s a lot of fun to play. I think CD Project Red simply did a good job there. I was not able to play the new part myself though. But I have heard a lot about it and seen of it. I find it very appealing.

Interview in German conducted by Don-Esteban and Voland from the World of Risen.
Translated to English by foobar.

  written by foobar