19.06.2007 22:46 [Interviews (english)] Interview with Piranha Bytes' Project Manager Mike Hoge
1. First of all, congratulations for finding a new publisher. What will be different now with Deep Silver compared to Jowood? How did you come together, have you had talks with other publishers and how did you conclude an agreement?
Deep Silver (Koch Media) was our first choice and we came to terms very quickly. There are many reasons to favour a partnership with Koch Media.
First, we already had prior experience with Koch Media and we could assure ourselves they do a great job (e.g. distributing Gothic 3).
Simply speaking for all who are not acquainted with the business: the distributor is responsible for getting the game to all the storeshelves in sufficient quantity. And it worked very well indeed with Gothic 3.
Secondly Piranha Bytes and Koch Media share the same philosophy. Our prime concern is to produce a good game, not "making a fast buck”.
Thirdly, Koch Media is not a stock company, which means there are no shareholders pressuring for a quick ”return on investment”. Noone can exercise that kind of pressure on Koch Media.
Forthly, we stroke a fair deal for both parties concerned and the contract reflects this in its brevity and transparency.
Fifthly and most importantly for me: if you work together with certain people you sometimes get that "good feeling" about it. We have this good feeling now and you can imagine how happy we are about it.
2. The community is divided. One side is blaming you for the unsatisfactory Gothic 3, the others think the publisher is to blame. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. However, obviously Gothic 3 had not been tested extensively enough.
The balancing’s not right, quests couldn’t be finished, certain abilities couldn’t be acquired, and there were a lot of bugs beside that. What do you think, how did it come to this?
It’s clear that everyone involved had things that didn’t work out correctly. But I cannot and will not give any statements as to who made what mistake. We could resort to openly talking about the mistakes we think we were responsible for (the way we already did on the WoG forum). But we may not talk about the mistakes of others. However, I can prove one rumour to be untrue. Anything that might have been objectionable in the original release of Gothic 3, Koch Media had the least to do with it.
I want to make a statement regarding another accusation – namely that of dishonesty. The accusation was mainly about statements concerning the gigabyte patch made by Kai. I’ve gone out of my way and read all the old interviews properly and I have to say: what we said was absolutely true except for a few details (Kai is musician after all and not a project manager) but unfortunately is being ripped out of its context in many postings.
If someone’s really interested in the truth, he might want to take the time to do as I did – otherwise the old rule applies: “if you don't have a clue, shut the…”
3. Some people call JoWooD's intention of continuing the Gothic series as "theft of an idea". I myself don’t quite believe in a Gothic from a different maker. I like the idea of coping with some of those bugs with the help of the huge modding-community, though.
Several users are at it right now, completing the game as far as some details are concerned. Do you think you guys might be of help every now and then? Obviously JoWooD is recruiting modders from the Gothic community in order to fix the game. Are you okay with that?
Sure we think it's okay. We even very much regret the fact we can’t offer those fans any support, but in our current situation we have to concentrate on our new project with all we’ve got.
We know many folks out there think we could “just quickly” en passant respond to a few mails to support the modders. Well, you can’t.
Some of the questions we received already (always just “a few questions”) would have needed an extensive explanation of our systems, which costs time that we just don’t have anymore. We have a new contract and a new project, and that has to be our top priority. There can be NOTHING beside that.
A few questions down you ask what we want to do now to keep us from careering in the wrong direction again, like with G3. The answer is: full speed ahead to the goal and no compromises.
I can only hope for all those people out there to understand, that is just the only choice we have – especially now in the most important opening stages of the project.
4.Some users blame JoWooD for allegedly pressuring you to release an unfinished game that just didn’t have the time to mature. Those people have now taken an anti JoWooD stance after the break-up of developer and publisher. They call JoWooD's idea of continuing the Gothic saga "theft of ideas" and see the publisher as the bad guy. Can you comment on that?
No. I can’t. Even if I wanted to. I mean, if you just think about it and read between the lines, you get a good picture of the situation.
5. I’ve always been keeping track on the development of the last Gothic games and we’ve been in touch too. So, this whole thing has left its mark on me as well. And of course I have questions. Above all I want to know, why did you discard so much stuff you had initially planned in those three years. KaiRo did say in his 2005 Christmas-Interview:
„The development of a computer game follows a path of internal releases, and with every release the current state of development is apparent. Some releases are being presented to the publisher as so called "milestones". With these milestones the publisher is able to keep an eye on the progress of the production. We had planned to do one major leap before Christmas, so we could have a few days off with the families. We’ve met this goal. Our current release saw the whole team misty eyed, and JoWooD as well was very pleased with the quantum leap that Gothic 3 has made at this point. Especially the new lighting system in the visual section had everyone excited, and the lavishly and fluidly choreographed fights with their motion-capturing-animations look extremely convincing by now. So we can celebrate Christmas with a good feeling and get back to business with fresh energy after that.”
Carsten told the PC Games in 2004 “the new architecture of the engine features DirectX 9. So now we can use all shader versions that are currently available to implement lavish lighting and postprocessing calculations. We are going to particularly implement High Dynamic Range Rendering, Normal and Specular Mapping as well as precise real time shadows. In addition to that, with the Gothic 3 engine we can explicitly simulate remarkable material attributes. And compared to Gothic 2 the successor will show more than double the polygon count. Generally, you can expect a huge step forward when it comes to graphics.”
In the same interview the PC Games asked “in Gothic 3 the promising «EMotion FX» emotions engine is going to be employed".
And Carsten responded “Yes, we’ve licensed that system in order to implement more elaborate animations in Gothic 3 compared to Gothic 1/2/Add-On”
Yes, that feature was lauded prematurely. We had next to no NPCs and city objects in the world at that time. That’s why the performance was okay.
When the NPCs with their path finding and their daily routines were added though, plus the town objects, all wasn’t well anymore performance wise. That’s why we had to reduce the number of polygons… in EVERYTHING.
The landscape, the architecture, the normal objects and the NPCs were optimised once more as well.
This miscalculation regarding the maximum possible polygon count per view probably cost us 2 months in the graphic data department. We just didn’t know how much of the performance would be sucked out by the other systems. These systems hadn’t even been finished yet.
We, the level department always aimed high when it came to graphics. That’s why we had difficulties to valuate the graphical possibilities a little lower upfront. We could have known better. We’re not doing this since yesterday apparently.
Still I think that this approach has got us very far as far as graphics are concerned.
If you develop an engine alongside the product, you always count on eggs still to be laid. And for not having any clue where we’d land with the performance it turned out quite well. It could have been far worse.
6. Reading all this I have the impression that you ran off in a totally wrong direction.
A lot of what you’d planned didn’t get into the game. I’ve the feeling that time somehow ran through your fingers. And now my question regarding this: it’s been told Jowood is the right publisher for you because they keep you at a loose leash. Might that have been the reason for all the problems? Would you have worked more efficiently under tighter surveillance?
Yes, definitely. But the control doesn’t inevitably have to come from the outside. Moreover, it’s important we control ourselves more inside the company, and that’s what we’re doing now. You shouldn’t forget at the start of G3's production half the team was still working on NoTR and important people (like Björn for example) could only offer little input to G3.
This time we won’t make the mistake of parting our forces. We’ll work from beginning to end on this one title as a team.
7. Artists don’t like to be forced into a time frame, that much I understand. But when there is a financial backer, you ultimately reach the end of the road one day. Will you learn from the past?
We already have, I think. Our next project will be in a much smaller world for instance (comparable to the size of Gothic 1). That alone will make planning clearer already. Besides, our “sponsor”, or rather our partner Koch Media welcomes this approach as well. As I said – we get along very well with our new publisher.
8. A lot of criticism focused on the testers. Are you going to find a way to let your next project be reviewed by normal gamers? We do have a lot of games in our forum-family and it’s repeatedly been the case that testing with professional companies returned unsatisfactory results. Are you going to find a solution this time, to have the game finished early enough in order for it to be checked left right and bottom?
Definitely. We are aware, that we can’t afford to release a buggy game to the market. The media and fans would rip us to pieces and that would probably be it for Piranha Bytes. We are going to put every effort into getting better regarding that critical point especially. What exactly the testing will be like, one cannot say at the moment – that would be too early.
9. Let’s get to the annoying question of rights. Thanks to a rather unfortunate contract you somehow lost the "Gothic" name. I guess that is not to be changed, but the name doesn’t make the game. The game, that is Diego, Gorn, Xardas and the other friends, who we’ve grown fond of. Apart from the name "Gothic", have we lost our friends as well or is there still hope? What’s with your “back to the roots”? Are you going to tell the tale of Gothic 1 once more in another form? Many have expressed that wish.
We’re certainly not going to make a remake of Gothic 1. Possibly at a later time, then we could also think about a remake of Gothic 2 and 3 – however, with Gothic 3 that would certainly have to include major changes – among other things, the world would probably become smaller and the story more linear and dense.
Regarding the rights, we’ve already extensively commented on that – the answer to most unanswered questions is: “it’s unclear”. Meaning, both sides have certain rights, and we will either come to terms on certain details in the future, or we won’t. Nevertheless, we don’t want to take any risks and will therefore use nothing but copyright-free content like wolves, trolls and similar.
10. The Gothic 2 modification «Khorana» has reached a level of interaction and immersion with a lot of care for details, the likes of which we’ve never seen in the world of Gothic 2. That’s been done with movers, for instance, who are more numerous than in the whole Gothic 2 world in spite of a comparatively small world. That can only be done with a high level of manual work. Regarding Gothic 3 people often stated, that due to the sheer size of the world a lot had to be automatised along with a lot of handy work. In the future, what will the ratio be between automatically generated content and manually designed stuff? How much manual work and corresponding detail is possible?
We will do almost everything manually again. That applies especially to manually placed items and chest contents as well as manually placed monsters. We don’t think we should pursue the path of automatic generation any longer. I’ve already said in another interview (Game Face) that in my opinion the automatic levelling system was the biggest weakness in the design of Gothic 3, because a lot of problems that occurred later in the game (for instance balancing) were a consequence of this decision.
Regarding more interactivity – that’s just the point we’ve put on top of the list besides a completely revised battle design – we’ve already started working on that as well.
11. What’s the direction you’re going now? For the very first time, World of Players has set up a webpage and discussion board for, as of now, a non-existent game. Will we be able to accompany you on your path to the new game?
The game doesn't exist yet? And what is it we’re working on now, then? ;-) Excuse my petty fogging. This game IS GOING to exist and it’s going to be the kind of game the fans expect from us. There is just no title for this game yet – everything else has been defined on paper already, though – main plot, major story turns, main characters – we know pretty well what our game is going to look like already. But there won’t be any spoilers.
12. A lot of fans are faithfully sticking with you and hoping that you’ll return to the old values which made Gothic what it is today: a compelling, atmospheric dense role playing game in an extraordinary world. We would like to help you, if we can do that with a forum and a critical and dedicated community.
I’ve been happy to see in these hard times (for us too) so many fans have voiced their support for us – and still do. We’re well aware that this is not primarily because of the things we’ve achieved with Gothic 3, but because of what we’ve achieved with the previous games. Those who still believe in us aren’t going to be disappointed. Even if a lot of the “fans of the first hour” don’t want to hear it: There are quite a few people out there who actually like G3 – that doesn’t mean that we’re going to create another game like that, but we’ve certainly reached a few people who had nothing to do with Piranha Bytes previously, and we’re happy about those fans as well.
Wrapping the topic up: Hopefully the “new fans” will also like a world that’s not so free anymore but much more complex.
13. The last question, is the question of all questions: tell a little about the new game.
Oh dear… well, at the moment we’re considering not to release any information until those things actually work out on our PCs, so as not to repeat our mistake with the “false expectations” blunder again. But we can reveal one small thing: the story will be divided into chapters, as it was in G1.
Talking to Mike Hoge: meditate