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12.09.2014 12:00 [Interviews (english)] Interview with Piranha Bytes at the gamescom 2014
World of Risen: In some past interviews, you made the impression that Risen 3 will be the end of the series. Will there be a new franchise now? Who will own the rights to it?

Björn: I can only say that our future is not quite clear yet. Of course, we have some visions and are testing a lot of things. But we cannot say right now what it will finally be. It is too early for that. We just finished Risen 3. And that Risen 3 would be the end of the story… I do not know where that comes from. Did we really say that? With Risen, we created a universe in which we felt very comfortable as developers. In part 3, we packed all the things from the universe together and are convinced of the result. But what we will do next is not yet determined.

Jenny: What we said was that we tell this story and it will be finished. But that does not mean that we have to close the universe as well. Naturally, there are always question that remain open.

Harry: Phew, I believe the idiot who said the Risen series would be over was me.

World of Risen: Traditionally, PB games have a single, pre-defined character without any remarkable properties. It is up to the player to fill him with content. And no developer can make a pre-defined character that everybody likes.

Björn: In our games, we always told the story of a hero. We opened the book, told people that we want to play with this character and let an associated story play through. If you look at games with a character generation at the beginning, then this character is very generic at the beginning. For example, our character has his own voice. If you wanted to play another creature or a woman or a gnome, then you would face double or triple the voice acting for that one character. There are games which do that, but those are putting a lot of effort into these aspects. The next thing you would have to do is adapt a lot of dialogues in the game. Namely when people react to the main character’s gender or ethnicity.

That is all to take into consideration on this side.

World of Risen: I think, sometimes female players feel under-represented. Would it not be possible to prevent these problems for the player with a character generation?

Björn: Now we come to an important aspect. Which is that we want to tell a exciting story. And this works best if we use a character which we form and develop ourselves. A character with his own history and problems. It is better to develop if you focus on one single character.

We can imagine to offer a choice of characters but then we would have to change the gameplay radically.

Jenny: It simply depends on the story if the character is a man or a woman. At the moment, we are not planning a female protagonist. But it is possible, of course. Although so far, we always decided on a character who happened to be a man.

World of Risen: Currently, Linux is a hot topic in game development. Is it an option for you to make a Linux port? What does such a decision depend on? Is it simply a matter of budget or does the market need a certain size which it has not reached yet in your eyes? Often, the argument is made that the Linux market may be smaller in size but also less saturated which gives even smaller developers a chance to distinguish themselves.

Björn: Well, there simply is no order for Linux, Mac or the newest console generation. We started the project 2.5 years ago and at the time, we said: It will be a game for PC, Xbox360 and PS3. And we did that. Everything is possible, of course, but we need to get an order for that. The publisher is the one who has a better overview over the market, sales figures and possibilities. We could make it possible. But what the market is really like is something that the publisher knows better.

World of Risen: It often said that a game which uses OpenGL instead of DirectX is already 90% ported. Additionally, Microsoft sometimes restricts the newest DirectX features to the newest Windows version in order to “encourage” people to buy them. This excludes owners of older Windows versions from these features, which cannot be in the interest of game developers who would prefer to have all the features available to all the players. Would that not be good reasons to switch to OpenGL?

Björn: OpenGL would be, as far as I know, a big change. It is possible, of course, but we would have to take a close look. Currently, DirectX is the standard in PC games. But in the future… who knows? It is difficult to say right now. We will have to wait how the market develops.

World of Risen: Can we expect that your next project will switch to the new console generation?

Björn: To go to Nextgen is almost mandatory for me. No question. If we start a project of that magnitude again – we needed 2.5 years for Risen 3 – then it is clear that the new consoles will have a few years under their belt by the time of the release. So they will probably be in widespread use by then. To forfeit that hardware basis by not making the project use the Xbox One and PS4 is rather unlikely. I can tell that we take the new console hardware into consideration during our current research and prototyping phase.

World of Risen: Will it always be the lone-wolf RPGs with one optional companion at most? Or can you imagine a full-blown party RPG from Piranha Bytes?

Björn: So far, the story we wanted to tell in our games never allowed that. But in priciple, we can imagine to make a party RPG for a change.

World of Risen: Does a real RPG have to be of the sandbox or of the storytelling type? Or a mixture of both? And if the latter, how do you find the proper balance between them?

Jenny: From my point of view, it is definitely a mixture of both. The right balance can be found through the pacing. A RPG in which I have a lot of freedom to choice any direction is much more attractive. For example: If I have an area in a game that I can discover and find different things there, like NPCs who give me quests, interesting stories, items, crafting or riddles, or even monsters to kill, then this keep my motivation as a player up.
Hence, I think an open world without much to offer is just as boring as an exciting story in which I can’t move. I, as a gamer, wish for something as realistic as possible. We try to cover that as much as possible with our resources, so that the player can identify with the character, has greatest possible freedom and still an exciting story.

World of Risen: What do you think of the current retro trend? On platforms such as Kickstarter, gamers sometimes risk millions of dollars to get games like from 10 or 20 years ago. Is there a lesson to be learned from this for the business? Anything you can learn yourself?

Björn: I believe that the current games are in a phase of change. There are games which are very cinematic, where high budget are put into showing movie-like things on the screen. But with most of these games, the gameplay itself is less innovative and rather generic. On the other hand, the indie market tries to create innovations and new ideas through gameplay design with a lower budget. In our eyes, both developments happen in parallel. You can probably finance one thing with Kickstarter but not the other because you would need a much higher budget. At the moment, it is very exciting to see where this developments leads. Nobody can say for sure. Things like Free2Play and Micropayment also affect the development. Some things work, others don’t. Even big titles which went to the start with such a model did not reach the sales that were planned. Right now, it would be reading tea leaves to speculate where this whole thing is going.

World of Risen: What things just have to be in a Piranha Bytes games – besides the usual catchphrases like “ruhrpott fantasy” and the rough language?

Björn: Key features of Piranha Bytes are definitely the open world scenario and the free choice of guild. Also the learning-by-doing, meaning that the player has to work for everything he wants to achieve. Another important aspect is the hand-modelled world. Also important is the freedom of the world: The player can go everywhere and even enter difficult areas right at the beginning. He’s just going to get a severe drubbing if he is not strong enough. I also think it is important that all characters have their own stories, their own lives and are embedded in the world in a believable way.

Jenny: Enemies don’t level with you, meaning we do not use level scaling in our games.

Björn: Right. That means that a weaker player has to really work for it if he wants to beat stronger enemies immediately. Other points are the versatility and that the arc of suspense is kept high.
No matter where you go, there is always a NPC who will explain the world to you. And with this high immersion, the player is drawn into the world. Last but not least the great sound.

World of Risen: What do you thing is Risen 3’s greatest strength? What are you especially proud of?

Jenny: The probably most important aspect we focussed on was the partial linearity that dominated Risen 2. We wanted to break that in Risen 3, reduce it. That is where we started with Risen 3, with the premise that it was not good enough and did not feel right [in Risen 2, translator’s note].
We wanted to make it more free: You play through the tutorial and directly after that, it is up to you where you and where you start. You can peek into all the guilds and pull it through consequently. To make the whole world bigger and more open was our main goal. Of course, the larger world then needs to be filled with content. Furthermore, the story team – and we are all sitting here right now – thought about how to make the whole thing more interesting and exciting. More twists and turns in the main story and not just make every location look different.
In Risen 2, many people did not like the tropical setting. Now we have more Northern areas which are rougher, deciduous forests and things like that. And the different areas with their guilds also have different problems. It is not just the minions. Every island has its own theme which you can play and when you go somewhere else, there will be some other theme. Those are the things which the story team concentrated on.

World of Risen: Are there any things you had to leave out due to time or budget constraints but really would have liked to put in??

Björn: Well, of course. There are always things like that (laughs and goes silent).

World of Risen: In the past, you insisted that you needed your own engine because only that allowed you to implement all the complex things you wanted to do. Today, as a result of the always increasing professionalisation in the business, there are many commercial engines that seem to be support things we know from the Gothic or Risen series plus some other things. Like modern graphics features and support for multiple platforms and operating systems. Unity, Source, Frostbite, Unreal, CryEngine… many studios, even big ones, nowadays dispense with the luxury of maintaining their own engine.

Is that a possibility for you as well, to license another engine? Or do plan of sticking to your own?

Björn: We do not feel that we would improve if we changed to another engine. We are a well attuned team and know our technology well. Just because you have some engine does not mean that the graphics are really going to look great. We always felt comfortable with our own development. We always realised the graphic demands within our limits to the points where we could be satisfied with the result and could compete on the market. If we decided to switch to a new engine, it would mean that we would have to spend at least a year just on the migration until we have everything working like now. That means a lot of things would have to be done twice. Games which are made with a new engine always have to go through that valley. Developers always have to start at zero and and implement their own things from scratch. Be it story or asset creation tools. Those exist but they still would have to be rewritten and changed to our needs. For many things we do not see any necessity to go through such a migration. That is why we never did. Naturally, we do not know what the future hold. But the tendency is to keep and maintain what we built over the years.

World of Risen: The inconsistencies and multiple changes in style within the Risen series where criticised by many fans who followed the whole series. Do you think you have a problem there? Do you plan on a new universe with a well formed out background for a new series? To have a basis from which to derive every new games and avoid inconsistencies? Or is that no priority of your work?

Björn: During the conception of the Risen universe, we primarily tried to make a well filled world and the story exciting. The occasional error happens. But basically we took the whole world in focus for Risen 3 and investigated the predecessors. The things that were important and well liked by the fans in the older games were then examined. Were there any questions still open in these aspects that had not been answered in the previous games? If that was the case, we tried to do it in Risen 3 and come to a satisfactory end. We put many background information in books and pulled many old characters up from the past. We also have to keep an eye on new gamers who do not know the previous titles. We cannot overload them with information that they have no context for. This is why we made a mixture of references to the predecessors and new things. We hope that this will satisfy most gamers and not just a few.

Jenny: Additionally, I think that we can avoid the continuity errors we made in the past simply through better documentation in future games. During Gothic times, our work was very chaotic and many things were not documented at all, for instance. This got much better over the last three Risen titles. The best documentation is currently for Risen 3. For example, we have an internal Wiki in which everyone can write all information about the world. And other can look it up to cross-reference their own work with it. We did not have that in earlier games. Someone wrote something on a piece of paper. And if you could find that paper later on, you were lucky. If not, well, that was just bad luck. This is why I am hopeful that our future work will be satisfactory.

World of Risen: Are there any settings you prefer for the future project? Or is everything still open?

Jenny: Well, we have a lot of ideas in all directions. But there is nothing definitive yet.

World of Risen: Could you imagine to license a third-party franchise, be it an existing pen and paper RPG or something else, to create a new RPG from it? Or do you prefer to make your own worlds and not be limited by the rules and restrictions of a licensor?

Björn: Difficult topic. What can I say that won’t be misinterpreted? Let’s say it this way: We cannot exclude it but there are no plans in that direction yet.

  written by foobar